There is no ‘bucket list’ - Lynne and I are both well, thank you – but we have arrived at a point in our lives where we have the time, the money and the good health to indulge in a passion for travel. We know how lucky and privileged we are to be able to do this, and we know it won’t last for ever, but while it does…..

Saturday, 30 July 2016

Killarney to Kenmare: Part 7 of The West of Ireland

Much of this blog concerns our travels in Asia where it is surprisingly easy to encounter huge cities largely unknown in the outside world. If I had not been there I would never have heard of Coimbatore (India) or Taiyuan (China) though they are home to over 5 million people. Ireland is different; you do not have to be Irish to recognise names like Tralee, Killarney and Tipperary though their combined population is less than 50,000.

Killarney is 30km south of Tralee and after a leisurely though slightly smaller breakfast (we can't keep up the pace) and a short drive we were walking down Killarney High Street by 9.30. It is a pleasant, cheerful looking town, but we were too early and the butchers and souvenir shops were as closed as the caf├ęs and seafood restaurants.

Killarney High Street
With its rugged coastline and fishing tradition we had expected seafood to be high on the list of local attractions, but the odd fish dish on pub menus apart we saw very little. We spotted specialist restaurants in Dingle and Galway as well as Killarney, but they were high-end establishments requiring booking - not user-friendly to those just passing through. Seafood, it seems, is not part of everyday life on this coast.

Tralee, Killarney and Kenmare in County Kerry
Leaving the high street we headed a few blocks west to St Mary’s Cathedral. St Mary’s was completed in 1855 to a design by Augustin Pugin (who died in 1850), an Englishman, catholic convert and leading light in the Gothic revival. This blog has encountered Pugin before, at Cotton in Staffordshire and Bolton Abbey in North Yorkshire. He was also responsible for the interior of the Palace of Westminster, and his son designed the building where I spent the last twenty years of my teaching career.

It is a handsome building sitting in a field away from the centre, more like a priory than a cathedral. The proportions are traditionally Gothic but the design of the west end with its three lancet windows is typically Irish. The redwood tree marks the graves of children who died in the Great Famine (1845-52).

St Mary's Cathedral, Killarney
The interior is pure Gothic revival, particularly the use of rough stone above the columns.

Killarney Cathedral
We attempted to walk back into town, though the road we took was a poor choice. Before turning right and setting off in a more appropriate direction we found ourselves beside the little River Deenagh. Hearing splashing we looked over the wall, peered through the foliage and saw a heron plodding along beside us through the shallow water.
Heron, River Deenagh, Killarney
Back in the centre we stopped  for coffee then took another run down the now open High Street to buy a few gifts to take home.

The Ring of Kerry has been a tourist route since at least the 1850s when Killarney was the place to hire your horse and carriage for the 110 mile drive. It remains popular but we had time for only a part of it, despite not using a horse drawn vehicle it can still take a day or two - there is much to see on the way.

The first stop on the Ring of Kerry is Ross Castle on the shores of Lough Leane barely 2km from the town centre.
Built for the O’Donoghue clan in the 15th century as a bog-standard tower house inside a square bawn, it passed to the MacCarthy’s in the 1580s during the Second Desmond Rebellion (see the Adare post) who later leased it to Sir Valentine Browne.
Ross Castle, Killarney
The Castle put up stout resistance during the Cromwellian Wars (1641-53) until General Ludlow hauled a ship overland to Lough Leane, mounted his artillery on it and sailed up to the castle wall. The Cromwellian forces introduction of artillery into Ireland changed the balance of power, ending the days of the hitherto impregnable tower houses.

The Browne family claimed their heir was too young to have participated in the rebellion and were allowed to keep their land. There is however, a limit to how often you can back the wrong side and get away with it. Supporting James II when he was ousted by the Glorious Revolution of 1668 led to the castle's confiscation. Until being abandoned in the 19th century it was a military barracks and all the buildings other than the bawn and tower house date from this time.

The guided tour took us up the tower house which is fully furnished, has excellent views across Lough Leane and must have been reasonably comfortable, at least when there was not a shipload of artillery floating outside.

Lough Leane from Ross Castle
When the tour finished we popped back into Killarney for lunch (a cup of tea and a sandwich) before continuing a little further round the Ring of Kerry to Muckross.

Muckross House – a Victorian mock-Tudor stately home – and its 5,000ha estate were donated to the Irish nation in 1932 and became the nucleus of the current Killarney National Park.

The entrance is 3km south of Killarney. In the carpark beside the N71 is an array of jaunting cars, their jarveys (as jaunting car drivers are apparently called) touting for the honour of driving you though the estate. We gave them a wide berth, I have an allergy and prefer to avoid horses and anything that has been in contact with them, including jaunting cars and jarveys, at least in their work clothes - it is nothing personal.

We decided to eschew the house and instead stroll to Muckross Abbey. Leaving the tarmac to the jaunting cars….

Jaunting Cars, Muckross Estate
….we found a pleasant path through the woods by the lake...
Path through the woods, Muckross Estate
 ….which wound its way round to the remains of the 15th century Franciscan Priory.
Muckross Abbey
The large complex has survived turbulent times, being partially destroyed and rebuilt on several occasions and is now largely roofless though the ruins are well preserved and in good repair (at least for ruins!).
Inside Muckross Abbey
Several sources say the most impressive feature is the two-storey cloister enclosing a large and gnarled yew tree – but is that a yew tree?
Two storey cloister and alleged yew tree, Muckross Abbey
Back on the road we drove past Muckross Lake, which is connected to Lough Leane, and then climbed to look down on Upper Lake, stopping for the photograph below at a spot called Ladies View. When Queen Victoria passed this way in 1861 her ladies-in-waiting greatly admired this view; I was quite impressed, too, though I am neither a lady nor was I waiting for anything.
Ladies View, County Kerry
7km further on we passed through Moll’s Gap. Technically it is a pass but with the road sliding from one valley to another via a notch in the valley wall, it feels like something else, though I am not sure what. The original ‘Moll’ ran an unlicensed drinking den near here when the road was under construction in the 1820s. There are supposed to be good views of the interestingly named Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountain range, but we rather missed them.

We gently descended to Kenmare 10km to the south at the head of the Kenmare Bay.

Kenmare is a small town (pop 2,000) but was even smaller in 1656 when Oliver Cromwell gave it (and more) to Sir William Petty as a reward for his mapping of Ireland. Petty had risen from humble beginnings to be a founder member of the Royal Society and is usually described as an economist, scientist and philosopher, though he was obviously also a cartographer. That, though, was not the limit of his abilities - an impressive polymath he was at various times instructor in anatomy at Oxford University and Gresham Professor of Music in London.

He lived in Ireland for 20 years, laying out the new town of Kenmare in 1670 and devoting himself to studying the local economy.

Kenmare centre
But the roots of Kenmare are far older. Two minutes’ walk from the town centre is the largest Bronze Age (2,500-500BC) stone circle in Kerry. There are 15 stones and a boulder in the centre balanced on a (part buried) burial dolmen.
Kenmare Stone Circle
Before leaving Kenmare I will add that it has an impressive array of pubs and restaurants, as befits a town where tourism is the major industry, and is home to the Kenmare Kestrels, one of the 13 teams in the British and Irish Professional Quidditch League. While that last statement is not literally true, it is correct.

It was late afternoon and time to return to Tralee and later to the Brogue Inn for more Guinness, traditional hearty Irish fare and a splash of Jameson’s whiskey.

The West of Ireland

Part 1: Galway

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