(Against the stunning verdant landscape of the McGillyacuddy Reeks at the Ring Of Kerry)
We nosed up north then towards Bantry Bay where we paused to tour Bantry House, another resplendent mansion set in landscaped gardens. However, the house was closed for renovations, but we did catch a glimpse of the gardens and the charm of the stable yards. Our drive took us then into the town of Glengariff where we saw the Eccless Hotel, a favorite haunt of the dramatist George Bernard Shaw. Next, we took the lovely Tunnel Road to Kenmare, so called because the road winds through a series of tunnels past nerve wracking hairpin bends. We passed through spectacular scenery along the way, in the Caha Mountains that encompass the Beara Peninsula, seeing those forty shades of green for which the Emerald Isle is famed.
By late afternoon, we stopped for lunch and to browse in an antiques store in Kenmare, a beautiful village that makes a great starting point for a drive around the Ring of Kerry, perhaps Ireland’s most visited peninsula. The 109-mile Ring of Kerry encircles the McGillacuddy Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range, and offers magnificent vistas of the Iveagh Peninsula at every turn. Farm and field, coastal villages and rustic hamlets, hills and downs, sandy beaches and rocky bays, wrapped themselves around a very narrow network of roads and combined to create a patchwork of visuals so pleasing to the eye. Every so often, we passed through towns with lyrical, tongue-twisting names such as Cahirciveen, Ballybunion, Derrynane, Glenbeigh, Skibereen, Clonakilty and Killorgin and some that were familiar from old Irish songs such as Tipperary (“It’s a Long Way to…”) and Tralee (“The Rose of Tralee”).
Finally, we arrived at Killarney, a town crawling with tourists and filled with enticing shops selling pure Irish linen, paper-thin Beleek porcelain and glittering Waterford crystal—not to mention the ubiquitous Aran Island fisherman sweaters and cardigans in shades of buttermilk and cream. Here, we made Mulberry House our accommodation for the night and were very comfortably settled in by our hostess Eileen Tarrant who gave us many tips for exploring her beloved town. Before settling in for the evening, we strolled through the streets of Killarney and had dinner in a pub called Mulligan’s where I finally ordered a Guinness and loved its creamy texture, lovingly hand-drawn by a skilled bartender who gave the stout several minutes to settle before filling the glass to the top to achieve its foamy crown. On our way back, we had the chance to listen to traditional Irish music featuring flute, fiddle and banjo at an open-air concert in the park.
The next morning, we began our driving tour of Killarney National Park, an exquisite expanse of land dotted with lakes, mountains and valleys.
Eileen insisted that we visit fifteenth-century Ross Castle (left) on the shores of Lough (pronounced “Lock” meaning “lake” in Gaellic) Lenane before we headed off for a tour of Muckross House (below left).
This imposing Victorian mansion was built in 1843 in the Elizabethan style. Our tour of the home took us through elegant rooms in the company of a guide who pointed out the period furnishings. Queen Victoria and her consort Prince Albert stayed at Muckross House with an entourage of a hundred people which caused the home-owners to become bankrupt, though Victoria was delighted by her visit. Touring the Queen’s set of rooms, we could see why she so loved the place. Her bedroom looked out on to the beauty of the lakes, where “jaunting cabs” or horse-drawn carriages today take visitors on escorted rides through the estate’s wooded acres. As usual, Llew and I spent a lot of time in the carefully structured gardens, where the perennial plantings thrived, much to my envy.
Leaving Muckross House behind us, we drove around the National Park taking in Ladies View, so-called because Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting gasped with delight at the scenery during their1851 visit to the Park, and Moll’s Gap, where we saw a distinct division or gap between the mountains. Heading south towards Cork, we stopped at Blarney Castle in order to do the most “touristy” thing in Ireland—kissing the Blarney Stone (above) in order to be blessed by Eloquence, in keeping with an old belief. We climbed the hundred odd steps up a very narrow turreted tower to the very ramparts of the castle where the Stone is lodged on a wall that is linked with the main structure by an iron grid. To kiss the stone, one has to lie down and literally bend over backwards. An attendant holds on to one’s feet to make sure one does not literally slip through the cracks and fall several hundred feet below. We went through the motions of kissing the stone though Llew expressed the opinion that I did not need to kiss any stones to acquire the Gift of the Gab as I already have more than my fair share!
Having kissed the Blarney Stone, we were content to rumble on towards greener pastures (is there such a thing on the Emerald Isle?) and make acquaintance with the Cliffs of Moher and the verdant expanses of Connemara.