21 November 2011

My Ireland Dream - Land of Leprechauns!

My Ireland Dream
After weeks of planning and research, we are finally at the airport ready to board our SAA Flight 220 to Heathrow. Great excitement, totally hyped up, as I always am just before a long flight, we enter the SAA Business lounge at Cape Town International. Here the atmosphere is very subdued, with all quietly munching away, sipping drinks, reading and looking generally bored with life! Not my scene at all, the main departure hall at least looks livelier with the odd foreign accent to remind us that we will soon be listening to that lovely Irish lilt! Talking of Lilt, have you ever tried the cool drink by that name in the UK and Ireland? Really a stunning combination of flavours, just tingles the taste buds!

After a good flight we land at Heathrow, my favourite airport! Our flight to Dublin with British Midland takes off late but is hassle-free and a piping hot Panini goes down well. A 50 minute flight and we set foot on Irish soil for the first time! The soft yet soaking rain welcomes us to Ireland and makes me wetter than I have ever been! Needless to say, we are the only fools without an umbrella! We check into our hotel, Pembroke Townhouse Hotel in Ballsbridge and then set out on foot to locate the bus for the Dublin City Tour. We flag down the wrong bus but the driver, seeing our drenched state, kindly drops us off at the correct bus stop.

Our first stop is at Dublinia which houses an exhibition of life during the medieval times in Dublin. Christ Church Cathedral stands on a site where a wooden church was erected around 1030. The Cathedral is Dublin’s oldest building, has a magnificent organ, beautiful stained glass windows and the world’s largest full-circle peal of bells – 19 in all. Dublin has survived a turbulent history with many years of decline particularly after the 1798 uprising when Britain dissolved the Irish Parliament. Dublin
began to revive in the early 1990’s after two centuries of decline and today is known as the Celtic Tiger. The Spire of Dublin dominates O’Connell Street, tram lines are being built and planning application notices are attached to railings all over the city.

 We walk around Grafton Street which is very lively, being a pedestrian area and stop off at one of the many pubs in Dublin for an early supper. I opted for the roast turkey and ham which was served with no less than 4 different types of cooked potatoes! Something tells me the Irish love their spuds!
It was a Friday night in Dublin and the business guys and gals were out in force, congregating on the pavements with beers in hand. (The rain had cleared by this time)
The cell phone providers must do a roaring trade in Ireland as the Irish people seem to chat to each other all the time. After all that potato, we needed dessert so wandered further and found a lovely café where we had delicious dessert and about 4 cups of tea! A long walk back to our hotel after a busy first day in Dublin where, despite the traffic noise from our room, we crashed.   
Day 2 – Dublin
Started our day with a good breakfast – in fact this hotel did the best omelette in all of Ireland – but the staff were anything but Irish! Reminds me of our sojourns at the Bayswater Hotel in Bayswater, London where you are lucky to hear an English word spoken. Our first stop today is the Guinness Storehouse where we discovered the entrepreneurship of Arthur Guinness and tasted our first (and my last!) pint of Guinness.
"On the last day of December 1759 a determined young man named Arthur Guinness rode through the gate of an old, dilapidated ill-equipped brewery sited on a small strip of land on Dublin's James's Street. He had just signed a lease on the property for 9,000 years at 45 per annum. His friends shook their heads in disbelief. For ten years, Mark Rainsford's Ale Brewery (for such it was) had been on the Market and nobody had shown any interest in it. The Street was already festooned with similar small breweries, all attracted to this spot by a good supply of water. Throughout the city of Dublin there were about 70 breweries at that time, all, it must be assumed, small. Mr. Guinness's newly acquired brewery was no more than average. But Arthur was about to change all of that. He was 34 years old. He knew that the products of this teeming, almost domestic, industry were highly unsatisfactory. Trade fell off badly when import regulations which favoured the London Porter breweries, were prolonged. At that time, beer was almost unknown in rural Ireland where whiskey, gin and poteen were the alcoholic drinks most readily available. In spite of this and the poor quality of beer available in larger centres like Dublin, it was recognised, paradoxically, that brewing - although constantly under threat from imports - was probably the most prosperous of the very few industries in Ireland at that time. In addition to ales, Arthur Guinness brewed a beer relatively new to Ireland that contained roasted barley which gave it a characteristically dark colour. This brew became known as "porter" so named because of its popularity with the porters and stevedores of Covent Garden and Billingsgate in London. "Porter" had been developed in London some years earlier and was imported into Dublin to the detriment of local brews. Arthur Guinness finally had to choose between porter and the traditional Dublin ales. Deciding to tackle the English brewers at their own game, Arthur tried his hand at porter. He brewed the deep, rich beverage so well that he eventually ousted all imports from the Irish market, captured a share of the English trade and revolutionised the brewing industry. The word Stout was added in the early 1820's as an adjective, qualifying the noun "porter". An "extra stout porter" was a stronger and fuller bodied variety. "Stout" evolved as a noun in its own right, as did the family name of Guinness. In 1825 Guinness Stout was available abroad, and by 1838, Guinness' St. James's Gate Brewery was the largest in Ireland. In 1881, the annual production of Guinness brewed had surpassed one million barrels a year and by 1914, St. James's Gate was the world's largest brewery. Today, Arthur Guinness would have been proud of St. James's Gate. No longer the largest (although still the largest Stout brewery) it is certainly one of the most modern breweries. Guinness is now also brewed in 35 countries around the world, but all these overseas brews must contain a flavoured extract brewed here at St. James's Gate. So the very special brewing skills of Arthur's brewery, remain at the heart of every one of the 10 million glasses of Guinness enjoyed every day across the world."
We also saw how the art of “Coopering “It is one of man’s most important inventions and coopers have been making them for thousands of years. Highly skilled, taking years to refine their art, Coopers were in high demand. Really fascinating to watch how the barrels were made and put together to form a water-tight seal.

Next we walked within the grounds of Trinity College – if only those walls could talk!
TRINITY College is the oldest university in Ireland. Founded in 1592 by Queen Elizabeth I, the College is in an enviable position in the very heart of Ireland’s capital and in 1992 celebrated 400 years. Trinity College on its 40 acre site retains some of its ancient seclusion and its cobbled squares, gardens and parks have a tranquil atmosphere compared to the bustling streets outside. The campus contains a unique collection of buildings dating from the 17th to the 20th century.
The College is famed for the great treasures it has the honour to be guardian off. These include the BOOK OF KELLS, a 9th century illuminated manuscript, the books of Durrow and Armagh and an early Irish harp. These are displayed in The Colonnades exhibition Gallery and the Long Room which is the most impressive library in the College housing over 200,000 of Trinity’s oldest books.
Our next stop was the Temple Bar area which buzzes with people, café’s, interesting shops and has a vibe distinctly it’s own. You just have to enjoy a drink in Temple Bar!

St Stephens Green, is a beautiful park in central Dublin.
St Stephans’s Park has a photographic display along the railings very similar in concept to Hyde Park in London. Mostly Irish scenes but as we had not yet explored Ireland in any depth, we did not succumb to temptation! I had not yet met The Little People – maybe things would have turned out differently if they had taken over my thoughts at that stage!

We saw some stunning photographs of Table Mountain, Soussousvlei Dunes, Namibia, and excellent wildlife shots. The photographer, an Irishman, visits Africa on an annual basis and just loves it – his photography certainly shows his love for Africa, its scenery, and wildlife. The Sealink Express, which ran aground in our first storm of a much delayed winter, was still stranded aground off Sunset beach in Milnerton at this stage and we feel he was very tempted to fly to Cape Town to get this unusual shot of Table Mountain! We never did get to photograph this as she was pulled off by the John Ross salvage tug the night before we arrived back home! In the park there were many young people lolling about in the sun, old men chatting to each other, mothers with pushchairs, toddlers running free and a general air of well being prevailed amidst a very peaceful and tranquil setting. The flowers in Ireland were amazing; truly brighten the streets, the buildings, and the spirits of all who gaze upon them adding such a splash of colour to those grey days, which seem to outnumber the sunny ones. Our time in Dublin was drawing to a close but we had gained some knowledge of this vibrant city teeming with shops, historical buildings, people, buskers, pubs (about 752 in the Dublin area we were told!) but we decided that a ride on the Dart train to Howth was a good idea so off we set again. The poor feet and legs were taking strain by now as we had walked EVERYWHERE so a train ride was sounding increasingly tempting. I had to really convince James that it would be worth the effort as he was ready to collapse on his hotel bed – no staying power at all!

The nearest Dart to our hotel was only a short walk away through a very pleasant area. Apparently, Ballsbridge is one of the most expensive areas in Dublin. The Dart station was Lansdowne Road next to the famous rugby stadium of the same name. The train goes at a fast pace with the countryside hurtling by but the feet were saying, “Thank you, we have served enough for one day” Little did they know!  Howth was busy with people taking a stroll along the sea, as the weather was being kind with blue sky. We walked around the village much to the disgust of “The Feet” but in the end had to succumb to their plaintive cries. We found a lovely Italian restaurant called “Porto Fino” in Harbour Road where we drank beer (not Irish!) and ate well.  Our trip back on the Dart was too short but quite entertaining watching two young guys trying to pick up two girls. They chickened out when one of the guys asked if he could visit with his CD collection and seemed to heave a sigh of relief when they got off at the next station. Irish girls are very hip with their earrings and rings through ears, eyelids etc.          

We say good-bye to Dublin as we collect our car from Hertz – a Fiat Punto with sunroof!  We spoke to an Australian couple who were also touring – her husband is also called James! Then another couple arrived and he was called James – three at Hertz within the space of 30 minutes. Must have been a popular name around the late 1950’s! We settle in and head off towards the Wicklow Mountains.

Our little car is great fun, we open the sunroof to let the breeze in – no rain today – praise be. Suddenly, before us on the highway we see a tractor trundling along. There must be some mistake, I say, this farmer has lost his way. Tractors, bicycles, and people do not belong on highways. Oh how wrong I was. Everywhere we went in Ireland, we saw the strangest sights on the highways, byways and little village lanes. Tractors became such a common sight that I missed them when we arrived back in (civilized!) Cape Town. Bicycles being ridden in the pouring rain with the riders looking as if they really wished they had died and gone to heaven. Even on the “good” days, the cyclists looked unhappy – all those deceptive looking little Irish hills! Towards the end of our trip, I could no longer contain myself and asked a friendly, local lady if she really meant that the day was “fine” when the sky was bleak and grey and an icy wind was blowing. Oh aye, to be sure tis a fine day – tis’nt raining is it? A “good” day to be sure!

Powerscourt House & Glendalough:
Our first stop of the day was at Powerscourt House and gardens approx 19km south of Dublin.
The original house built in the 18th century burnt down in 1974. 
The gardens are magnificent and include a Japanese garden laid out in 1908, an Italian garden which was started in 1840 and took 100 men and 12 years to complete.
We carry on along a very scenic road and find some cars parked. Curiosity gets the better of us so we get out to take a look. At first, we can see nothing and presume it must be the start of a hiking trail but as we walk further towards the edge, we find a beautiful little valley with a river running through and a lovely private beach. Lucky farmer! But as usual, tis a fine day in Ireland.      
The road we took to Glendalough was very narrow and bumpy but this was really our first introduction to the country roads of Ireland. That is how they are – narrow and so bumpy in a way that makes your intestines feel that they will never untangle ever again. The verges have the most amazing hedges, fuchsias, and blackberries growing alongside the roads and this, in part, makes up for the continual discomfort. After a really bumpy ride, stop the car and pick some ripe blackberries or just gaze in wonder at the magnificent fuchsias that you cannot get to grow at home no matter how much you talk to them, water them, and feed them! Nothing to beat it for an instantaneous lift!
A Christian monk, St Kevin, established a monastery in the beautiful setting of Glendalough, Glen of the two lakes, in the 6th Century. This is a beautiful place, full of mystery but also full of tourists. It is apparently one of the most visited places in Ireland but given its history and historical remains a definite must see.

"The wildlife is central to the story of St. Kevin. The most often told story is of Kevin adopting the position of the tree/cross for meditation. He stood with his hands upturned with total silence and lack of movement. The hand near the window was noticed by a blackbird who laid her eggs in his hand. Kevin remained in position until the eggs had hatched and the baby birds had flown. Seamus Heaney writes a poem about this event and explores the relationship between meaning and myth. In Glendalough, reality also falls in to the equation and familiar sounding myths can be considered in an environment hardly changed since the day that the stories were first recounted. St. Kevin was said to have spent one hour praying in the lake every day and to have fought a great serpent that attacked him and wrapped itself round his whole body. Taken in conjunction with the stories we hear about his effect on the local ladies and his battles to resist the temptations they offered we can start to come closer to the purpose of metaphors that may seem at other times (such as with George and the Dragon) to be trite.

Comment from Eimear - Monday, November 4 2002, 03:53 pm
I live in Glendalough and there are many enchanting myths, including the one of how a woman named Cathleen became obsessed with St. Kevin after he became a monk, apparently she followed him everywhere and enraged him so much that he threw her into the lake where she drowned! Many locals claim to hear Cathleen's cries to this day." 
Many families were taking advantage of the blue skies and were out in force with their picnic blankets. Some were playing ball games with their children, some just taking advantage of the sun – yes, the sun actually did come out and the day was truly lovely. After we had had supper, there were still families on the lawns showing great reluctance to pack up and head for home. Justified, when you get such a grand day!

Our stay in the Glendalough Hotel was lovely, good food, friendly staff and at 8am the next morning we were the only souls about. Nobody in Ireland seems to rise early; many shops stay tightly shut until 10am.

From Gendalough we headed towards Laragh, Rathdrum, Avoca, Arklow, Gorey,EnnisCorthy, and New Ross.
We visited the reconstructed Dunbrody Emigrant ship and I felt seasick and claustrophobic just standing inside. What hardships these people suffered can only be imagined, many of them never to see dry land again. We have too many comforts these days and cannot begin to envisage what the Irish went through during the famine years of 1845 – 1850.The bunks were small and dark and entire families slept in together in one bunk.   I found a certificate of a Bridget Kean who arrived in New York in 1867 after leaving Ireland at the tender age of 20.
We continue our journey feeling quite humbled by the experience of the plight of the Irish so our stop at Waterford Crystal leaves us totally unemotional and not in buying mode. Although the crystal is beautiful so are the prices and we decided to leave it to all the rich Americans and Germans and we hang on to our precious Euros for another few hours. A vase at E154.00 was TOO MUCH!
       If you have ever driven in Ireland you will know how frustrating one’s first experience of getting lost in Ireland can be. After all, we are all mature adults from well-signposted countries and we were quite dumb struck that we could not find Dungarvon Castle. This was the first of many such experiences and many heated arguments. I eventually seemed to master the Irish system so James could not understand why I kept telling him he was going the wrong way when he had diligently obeyed the signs. I think it must have been my great-great-grandfather, born in Tralee, whispering to me that the Irish are confused. I think it’s from all that Guinness that they consume under the impression that “Guinness is good for you” If ever there was a good marketing strategy this one must take top honours as the Irish still believe this after centuries of staggering home to a very irate wife. However, we did come across this view from the top of the hill where the sky and the sea blend into one and the wind nearly turned us into ice-cubes, but hey, this is fun, not so?

Our next turn off was to view what I read as “Ireland’s Tiniest Village” Great, this is what we came to Ireland to find – all these quaint little villages in way out places. We drive, drive, and eventually reach a town of fairly large proportions. Have we taken a wrong turning again? No, we are in fact in Ardmore but it is certainly not tiny. We spot another sign and dash up to find that it reads “Ireland’s TIDIEST town” What a let down but consolation was on the way when we discovered another Round Tower just like the one in Glendalough. It is claimed that St Declan established the first Christian settlement in Ireland here. The church dates back to 1203.
The tower is 12th century and still in good condition with a stunning view in all directions.
Yougal, Cork & Cobh:              
Yougal, pronounced Yawl, is an old town having been founded in the 13th century by the Anglo-Normans, maybe on an earlier Danish site. I wish I could have bottled the smells of Ireland but alas, this technology is not yet available. Not that I know of anyway! The town smelt really old; add to that the fumes of a Bank Holiday traffic jam and we really did not want to linger. The mothers were out on the pavements with their children – most Irish lassies seem to have at least three – chattering about heaven only knows what whilst the fathers were nowhere to be seen. Maybe keeping their health in good shape with some of that “good for you” Guinness.  A forlorn figure of foreign origin was playing his puppet band and looking weary so we tossed him some of our Euros. The smile of thanks that lit his face was so spontaneous it seemed to take ten years off his age.
Had we known how we would suffer trying to find our hotel in Cork, I think we would also have headed off to have some of the “good” stuff! We certainly needed it as we battled in the traffic in Cork and got hopelessly lost, ending up on the opposite side of Cork to where we needed to be. Eventually, really rattled, we managed to get good directions from a local and found the hotel in the opposite direction. The Maryborough House Hotel is a lovely hotel in leafy surroundings in Douglas. We were greeted with some much-needed punch. At that stage, we could have drunk the whole bowl but being conservative South Africans, we restrained ourselves! The rooms were spacious, tea & coffee waiting to be made, lovely thick toweling gowns just inviting one to take a shower so that they could be tried on for size! A good dinner plus excellent service helped to lessen the traffic frustration – until the next morning anyway! The breakfast was a let down; I tried about 4 plates before I found one that looked reasonably clean, the scrambled eggs must have been the worst I have ever tasted. Not a good start to the day but ever optimistic we set off to the local shopping center in Douglas to find a new memory stick for my camera. A very friendly assistant finds one for us and we order two more for collection the following day. We also end up buying two umbrellas in the local supermarket, Tesco’s, as the rain looks set to carry on for the entire day.

 We head towards the ferry to take us across the river to Cobh. The ferry costs is minimal, is very quick, and runs all the time until quite late at night. Cobh has a fascinating history and the Queenstown Story tells it all. In the rain, this is a good way to while away a few hours.

Cobh, pronounced Cove, was named Queenstown (after Queen Victoria) from 1849 until 1922. It is situated on Great Island, one of the three islands in Cork Harbour and the only one that we had time to visit. As well as being the last port that many Irish emigrants saw, it was also the last port of call for the Titanic in 1912. Of the 143 passengers who boarded her at Cobh only 44 survived. In 1915, the Luisitania was torpedoed by a German submarine with a great loss of life. This brought the USA into the First World War. Cobh was a major port until the advent of air travel and is now a very pretty port of call for tourists from all over the world. It has a beautiful cathedral, St Colman’s, which was completed in 1915 after commencing in 1860! The rows of terraced houses interspersed with tiny shops are a delight to wander around even in the rain! We even spy a South African flag flying proudly from one of the windows in the square – I wonder if they miss the blue South African sky?

We set off to the ferry once more and head towards Blarney. This was an exercise in pure frustration, with bumper-to-bumper traffic in Cork again. After about an hour of this and getting nowhere fast, we eventually managed to turn around and head back to the hotel. We must be the only visitors to Ireland not to kiss the Blarney Stone and do you know why? Because Cork is set to become the European Capital of Culture in 2005 and they are presently digging up everything in sight to lay the Cork Main Drainage System, the largest environmental scheme ever undertaken in Ireland. Does the travel agent tell us this? Oh no, we found out all by ourselves. I really do not care what Cork will look like in 2005 and how visitor friendly it will be then, I was in the here and now and unable to move at more than snail’s pace. Do we need traffic jams on holiday? NO! Had we known in advance, Cork would not have seen us for dust. But then you do not get dust in Ireland it is too wet. The shop assistants and customers in Douglas village shopping center eased our frustration by telling us that Blarney was not actually worth a visit so we felt better. One lady told us that she had booked her ticket to South Africa for E599.00 and was looking forward to her trip in 2004. We hope she has many positive experiences in sunny SA. On arrival back in our room at 4pm, we find it just as untidy as we left it at 8.30am. More frustration! What is it with the Irish – this is a 4 star hotel, nogal! Eventually, the chappie arrives full of apologies, explaining that they have a staff shortage. I’m not surprised; I would also have just curled up and gone back to bed after seeing the morning rain but you would think they would be used to it by now. He compensates by being very chatty and offers us some extra biscuits for our tea. I am pacified instantly! After my dose of caffeine and choc chip cookies, I head off to visit the Swedish massage parlour in the hotel. While my back was being massaged, I heard all about the “Biltong” Club in Cork. The masseuse is married to a South African from Pretoria and lived in SA for 20 years. She says the number of South Africans in Ireland is growing but they don’t seem to be absorbed totally into the Irish culture and get together on a regular basis to compare notes and have a “lekker skinner” The Irish came across to us as having a very strong identity, a wonderful love of music, great singing voices and all the time in the world. After their tough history of starvation and poverty, this is quite understandable and it cannot be easy to be accepted into their circles. We are not talking pub circles here – enough Guinness and everybody is your greatest buddy!

After another grotty breakfast, omelette this time, we head out of Cork. Well so we thought! Wrong direction again but eventually we find the road to Kinsale. A pretty little town which apparently has very good restaurants and a statue.
Model Railway Village at Clonakilty – The West Cork of the 1940’s
James was in his element at this model railway village with the little trains choo-chooing along! The village is very well done with people, cattle, houses, and an isolated Irish cottage and, of course, the stations and moving trains. He dashed from side to side with the video oohing and aaahing and I’m sure if I had disappeared at this point I would not have been missed until his stomach told him it was time to eat again. As we had not yet found the “little people” he would have been really puzzled! Maybe I’d done an Alice in Wonderland and fallen down a hole? Hopefully, he would have been distraught enough not to go and find a good Irish lass in the next pub.

Around the Coast:
We follow, or rather we try to follow, the coastal road to Skibberdene and Bantry. Tractors are so commonplace in Ireland that we truly missed them when we got home. The traffic snarl-ups that they cause are amazing and you have to learn to accept the slower pace of life in Ireland or go stark staring mad within two days. We were rather slow to learn to chill out after the busy pace in Cape Town – OK,OK,Vaalies, maybe not as fast as you, but 120% faster than in Ireland! However, this cannot be a bad thing and surely must lesson the risk of a heart attack at 49! By the end of the holiday, I was so laid back and into the swing of things that my children would not have recognized me.
We saw wonderful views of the Beara peninsula and Whiddy Island before reaching Glengariff where the huge Eccles Hotel dominates the scene. We had not intended to drive around the Beara Peninsula
but in Ireland one tends to do the unexpected without quite knowing why. It was the forerunner of our Irish peninsula trips. Very pretty, narrow roads, lots of modern houses but also abandoned old cottages as a reminder of the famine years.
We take the narrow road to the cable car for Durnsey Island. Although it was already heading towards late afternoon there were still people queuing to take the cable car across the sea to the island. It would have been good to spend a day traipsing across Durnsey but we needed to push on towards Killarney.

The drive to Kenmare is on truly narrow roads but well worth the extra time as the scenery was beautiful. We stopped just before Killarney to see the views of the lakes in this area.
We check in at the 4* Muckross Park Hotel, a beautiful old building, well decorated and with a helicopter waiting to take the very well-heeled guests golfing. Our bed is huge and the room has a lovely view over the gardens and the helicopter pad! We had the set menu in the dining room – good food and excellent service. After a drive around Killarney, which was full of tourists, we returned to the hotel for our first taste of some traditional Irish music and what great fun that was! Molly d’Arcy’s pub seems to attract quite a local following and they were very entertaining to watch. Kids running around with streams of toilet paper, adults engrossed in their conversations, some serious drinkers trying to stay upright on the bar stools. When the musicians started playing the little kids ranging in age from 2 – 8 years, dashed up to a front table, sat chins in hand totally engrossed in the music for about 2 minutes then they dropped from their stools and carried on with the toilet paper game. The parents remained totally oblivious to the fact that the loo’s would be paperless and ordered another round. Suddenly, back they dashed to their chairs and sat for another 3minutes or so all eyes and ears on the musicians! Eventually, the parents saw the paper trail and hauled them off.  
We are booked into our hotel for 3 nights as we have much to see and do in Killarney. Although it is a tourist trap, the natural beauty of the area is worth the stay and if you are not staying in Killarney itself you can avoid the feeling that you are just a number in the tourist statistics.  It also pays to ask the locals and not just rely on the guide books and tourist brochures. Our hotel receptionist told us that we could do the “Gap of Dunloe” by car – the pamphlets said take a tour which would last about 6 hours and cost lots of euros! We set off early after breakfast to avoid the pony traps with all those statistics in them. A very winding and narrow road but after driving around the Beara Peninsula we were already very blasé about the whole thing! I did not feel that the scenery was as spectacular as New Zealand but had we had sunshine all the way, maybe we would have seen it all in a different light.       
A very cold wind was blowing and I was ever so thankful that I was not in a pony trap! We reached the bottom of the valley known as Black Valley which has houses and a school. Talk about isolation! We also came across our first peat bog which James had filmed from up above the previous night thinking that the bags were sheep! I was really excited at this sight having read so many novels over the years mentioning the peat bogs. A great sense of peace was present in the valley and were sorry when the joined the main road again.
Our next ride was a Jaunting Car! We succumb to total tourist rip-off and allow this rather morose Jaunting Car driver to take us to the waterfall in the park. I don’t even want to tell you how much he charged us because it is so ludicrous! He was not even very informative about the park, his horse or anything in fact! As a non-communitive Irishman I think he takes the prize! Maybe it was a bad hair day which would explain the hat! He managed to chat to his buddies while we strolled to the waterfall though. Most probably counting how many loonies willing to part with their hard-earned Euro’s in the park on that day. Oh well, you can’t escape totally all the time and I suppose he has a band of little Irish toilet paper chasers back home waiting eagerly to share some of the spoils.                                                         
Muckross House is very large and larny. The kitchens have the most amazing collection of copper pots and pans but unfortunately no photos were allowed. Wish I could have brought some home – just what I have been looking for, for my kitchen!
"If mountain, wood and water harmoniously blent, constitute the most perfect and adequate loveliness that nature presents, it surely must be owned, that it has, all the world over, no superior."
Alfred Austin. (Quote 1900’s)

Central to Killarney National Park are the world famous Lakes of Killarney, which make up almost a quarter of the Park's area. The three lakes are known as the Upper Lake, Muckross Lake (Middle Lake) and Lough Leane (Lower Lake), and are joined at the 'meeting of the waters', a popular area for visitors to the Park. It is here that the Old Weir Bridge (thought to be over 400 years old) can also be seen. From the meeting of the waters a narrow channel known as the Long Range leads to the Upper Lake, which is the smallest of the lakes but set in the most spectacular location, in the heart of the rugged mountain scenery of the upper Killarney Valley/Black Valley area. The sandstone and blanket bog of the catchment area means that the Upper and Middle Lakes are slightly acidic and low in nutrients (oligotrophic). A fast run-off in the mountainous catchment also means that in heavy rain the level of the entire Upper Lake can sometimes rise by up to a metre in a matter of a few hours.
Muckross Lake is the deepest of the lakes with a maximum depth of approximately 75 metres (250 feet) close to where the steeply sloping face of Torc Mountain enters the lake. Both Muckross Lake and Lough Leane lie astride the sandstone/limestone boundary, and the presence of limestone means that both of these lakes are slightly richer in natural nutrients than the Upper Lake. At lake level, there are many caves in the limestone which are formed by the dissolution effect of acidic waters on the exposed rock, especially when combined with wave action. Nowhere are these caves more marked than on the northern shore of Muckross Lake.
Lough Leane is by far the largest of the three lakes, at approximately 19km², and is also the richest in nutrients. Organic pollution (particularly phosphates from domestic and agricultural sources) entering Lough Lean e has led to a partial eutrophication of the lake and several well publicised algal blooms have occurred in recent times. Although they can look unsightly, these blooms do not, as yet, appear to have had a severe effect on the natural life of the lake. If enrichment continues unabated however, the lake ecosystem may be altered to the extent that the character of the lake will permanently change, and a broadly-based review of land use within the entire catchment is therefore currently in progress in an effort to address the issue. A community-based initiative aimed at minimising the use of domestic and agricultural phosphates is also currently in progress, and it is hoped that a sustained effort will improve the water quality in years to come.
There are many Brown Trout in the lakes, in addition to an annual run of Salmon. Unusual fish species include the Arctic Char (usually found much further north, and thought to be a relict species left behind in Killarney after the last ice age) and the Killarney Shad (a land locked form of the Thwaite Shad unique to the Lakes of Killarney). The discovery of a small number of Roach a number of years ago, a potentially explosive breeder that was presumably introduced accidentally by visiting anglers, led to fears that the trout may be displaced in some parts of the lake however this fear has not materialised and Roach have not been recorded for several years.
Unfortunately, even 3 nights in Killarney were not enough, we could have spent far more time in these beautiful surroundings and in the Park itself. It is quite easy to get away from the “tourists” as the Park is large and most people don’t want to walk too far! However, Ross Castle was next on the agenda so after another missed turning and another u-turn we found the parking spot! What James would have done without power steering, I shudder to think!  The traffic in Killarney was quite bearable and always seemed to flow even with all the Jaunting cars on the roads. Lots of fertiliser for the tyres in Killarney – be careful if you are actually walking anywhere in this place – you could go home with more than you bargained for! We also found that the local lassies seemed to favour the “F” word – they would blithely pepper their sentences quite oblivious to passers-by. The shops were also on the make – a memory stick that cost me E89.90 in Cork was E100.00 in Killarney.

Ross Castle, County Kerry

"There are few castles anywhere in Ireland that can boast such a dream-like enchanted setting as this ruined tower house on the shore of Killarney's Lower Lake. Built in the late fifteenth century, it is fairly typical of its type, with square bartizans on diagonally opposite corners and a thick end wall containing a tier of chambers and a winding mural stair.
The tower stands within a square bawn defended by round corner towers, two of which survive, the others having been removed in 1688 to make room for an extension, the ruins of which remain on the south side of the castle.
The castle was the chief seat of the O'Donaghue Mors, hereditary rulers of this district and descendants of the ancient kings of Munster. After the Desmond rebellion their fortified lands were acquired by the MacCarthy Mors from whom they were purchased by Sir Valentine Browne, ancestor of the Earls of Kenmare. In 1652 the castle was held by Lord Muskerry against a Cromwellian force of 1,500 foot and 700 horse soldiers, commanded by Edmond Ludlow. It fell after floating batteries were brought over land to bombard it from the lough as well as from the land. The Brownes, who retained the old faith, remained in the castle until they lost their estates in 1690 for supporting the Jacobite cause. Although their lands were recovered around 1720, they were unable to regain possession of the castle, which had been taken over as a military barracks. They subsequently built a grand new house a little further to the north, close to the town, and in time the old castle was incorporated as a picturesque feature of its landscape park."

The Banqueting Hall is right at the top together with the communal toilet – the only one in the castle. Heaven help you if you had a urgent call to nature and were at the bottom of the very narrow, winding staircase! Tiny slit windows made it very secure. The beds were shorter than we know them because the occupants usually sat up to sleep as many of them suffered from asthma from the cold and damp. Can you imagine how cold, dark and damp it must have been inside with those tiny windows and no ELECTRICITY! I bumped my head very hard going through the small doors – thank goodness I was not a soldier in those times – my brain would have been beaten to a pulp.             
We had weddings on at hotel on two nights that we stayed there – during the week! The first night the best man passed out at 8pm and had to be carted off to his room while the party carried on as much in Molly D’Arcy’s as in the reception venue upstairs! Every now and again a couple of wedding guests would pop into the bar, order some drinks, chatter away and eventually saunter back to the reception! Some of the more well-oiled guests decided the pub was more fun so they promptly joined in with the two singers who eventually had to admit defeat and call a halt as they just could not compete with the volume at which these people were singing! They played a gentle accompaniment to this raucous noise with grins on their faces! We escaped for awhile to the more sober sounds of a lone singer at the Holiday Inn where the kids were out in full force again. However, this was actually too tame so we headed back to watch the antics before retiring to bed, shaking our heads.
At the wedding the following evening somebody kicked the chair from under the bride and she was taken off to hospital for X-rays! Charming people these Irish. On this night we watched in amazement as a group of gents kept drinking and talking, drinking and swaying. This could be fun; he is going to fall over. We watched with bated breath as the gentleman made a few unsuccessful attempts to get off his chair. Will he or won’t he? I could not stand the suspense any longer when he suddenly took a deep breath, stood up, stepped back and went whoops over and out! Flat on his back he landed with a thud, I shrieked out loud in mirth – it was just the funniest sight. His friends suddenly realised he was no longer in the chair – they looked around, spied him on the floor, collectively gathered around him, lifted him up and deposited him back in the chair without so much as missing a beat. This is local is lekker in Ireland! 

Do yourself a favour and visit this charming country = the people are entertaining, the countryside is great, the history is absorbing and there is never a dull moment.

IRELAND – The land of leprechauns and little people!

© Judelle Drake


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