Clip, clop, clip, clop. The horse’s hooves beat a rhythm on the road, swaying the cart from side to side as we bounced along the ruts of the muddy road. On one side of the road, a brook meandered along, on the other, a red deer. And this was just part of the day’s jaunting around.
The day’s main event was a better-known excursion – circumnavigating the Ring of Kerry. That item falls into everybody’s things to do Ireland list. (Even the locals.) Located on the southwest coast of Ireland, it’s full of rocky headlands, scenic overlooks, mountains, little towns; everything you could ask for in a vacation getaway. And the kickoff point? A town with a good Irish name – Killarney.
This was not my first trip to Ireland. Way back in 1980, when the world seemed much younger (or at least I did), I spent a couple months doing the youth hostel routine around western Europe. Ireland was one of the early stops on that trip, and Killarney and the Ring of Kerry were a special part of that trip’s memories. Long term friends, long term memories, I was looking forward to the return.
Of course, this time around I was traveling on a tour bus, with a wife and a group of folks of a more “seasoned” age that we were just beginning to get to know. Perhaps some of them will become long term friends as well.
There’s a trick to riding a tour bus on the Ring, one I didn’t know when we started.
The thing is, sections of the road around the Ring are quite narrow. No shoulder, just barely enough lane to squeeze in a vehicle. Imagine driving one of those big tour buses or a fully loaded semi, and you come around a tight, skinny corner and find yourself face to face with another bus or semi. Not fun. In fact, even if you’re driving a small rental car, suddenly facing up to one of those moving monoliths would be enough to cause permanent fingerprints embedded in the steering wheel. For this reason, there’s a gentlemen’s agreement among the drivers to go counterclockwise around the road. (I’m not sure the rental agencies tell folks that – be warned.)
The upshot is, it’s better to be sitting on the right side of the bus, since that’s the side all the coastal views will be on. We, naturally, were on the left side. So despite my flowery words about the scenery, I didn’t take many pictures while en route. There’s only so many profile pictures of the guy sitting across the aisle with a bit of scenery in the background that I need in my collection.
No, the guy across the aisle wasn’t an old goat, royal or otherwise. This statue represents the mascot of the oldest festival in Ireland, held in Killorglin, one of the first towns we passed. It’s not certain when it started (probably pre-1600’s) or why. One story suggests it celebrates a heroic billy goat that, when startled by Oliver Cromwell’s raiders ran into town all agitated and let the townsfolk know something was amiss. In any case, it’s an excuse for the country folk to gather, buy and sell goods, and party until 3 AM. (Special dispensation to keep the pubs open later.) At the beginning of the 3-day celebration, a wild male goat (a puck) is captured, kissed by a virginal young lass, crowned King Puck, and placed in a cage on a high scaffold where he surveys the fun for the duration. Afterward, the goat is returned to the wild.
I can give you one nice panorama from a viewpoint on the western tip. No profiles included, but perhaps a bit of courage, standing atop a rock wall, being buffeted by 20-30 mph winds.
As always, click for a larger view of any picture.
After stopping for lunch at an inn our guide swore had the best scones in the country (they were good, but mostly because they were fresh from the oven), we wandered a bit and came across this river.
Heading back inland, the lack of ocean views on our side ceased to matter, and we began to enjoy mountain valleys. Rugged and rocky, although they wouldn’t compete with the Rockies or Alps they were picturesque and a climb would likely trigger ye olde huff and puff generator. And I could be wrong, but I think the real mountains, Macgillycuddy’s Reeks may be hiding behind those clouds…
Getting closer to Killarney we entered into Killarney National Park and took in the view of the Upper Lake.
And closer in still, I believe the lower end of Upper Lake.
There was, however, no Lower Lake. Muckross Lake, yes. Lough Leane, an even more substantial body of water, yes. But no Lower Lough, or even Loch (saving that for Scotland.)
We must have been wicked on the trip. After arriving back in Killarney there was no rest; it was straight to the Jaunting Carts. These horse-drawn carriages have long been a traditional way of getting around in Ireland, well before those newfangled auto-mobiles. We used one of these to jaunt around the park near Killarney town.
Along the shores of Lough Leanne lay luscious livid (say that real fast) green foliage, abutting Ross Castle. The castle was typical of fortifications for Irish chieftains, and was probably built in the late 15th century.
And after clip-clopping along, taking in the views of the park, its lakes, fields, rivers, bogs, houses, and even castles we headed back to town. But even there serendipity had a hand. As we passed the race course, on one of the few days of the year they have horse races, just as we clip-clopped past an open view, a field of racehorses came storming into view.
I was almost tempted to emulate Eliza Dolittle in My Fair Lady and rise up to shout out commentary as they thundered past.
Finally, we made it back to the hotel, with a couple hours of free time to check out the town and grab dinner.
And after dinner? More thundering. Irish step dancers, doing their song and dance thing. Similar to Dublin’s show, but with its own spin.
After all that jaunting around, your head is probably spinning. Just the same, I hope you enjoyed the ride.