June 9 -17, 2017:
Betsy's Ireland Adventure
In early 2017 I started thinking about taking a trip in June, more specifically a Road Scholar (previously Elderhostel) trip. My husband and traveling companion, Mike, encouraged me in this endeavor even though he did not plan to accompany me as he does not usually care for organized tours. I, however, find I like organized tours. I had taken trips with Road Scholar before and thoroughly enjoyed myself.
So I began looking at the Road Scholar catalog and website. I didn't want to go someplace just to take a trip - I wanted to go someplace new and exciting! And that's when I stumbled across Costa Rica. Yes! I wanted to go! So I signed up and began to familiarize myself with the places we would be visiting.
Then came that fateful day in March, when I found a voice mail on my phone from an unknown number. "Hello, is this Elizabeth? This is Robert from Road Scholar. We're so sorry to tell you your June trip to Costa Rica has been cancelled due to low registration." Well, sh*t! How disappointing was that! I'll show them - I'll find someplace else exciting to go.
Click on the photos below for a larger image.
So it was back to the Road Scholar catalog and website and suddenly there it was. "A Wee Ramble in Kenmare". Just my kind of trip. No big cities, just lots of hiking along the beautiful southwestern coast of Ireland. I had never been to Ireland before and even though I was not keen on the long plane trip across the Atlantic, it sounded too intriguing to pass up.
Not too long after that I was on the phone with my friend Petra. After I told her about my upcoming trip to Ireland, she asked for the link to my RS itinerary and soon decided she might like to go also. And I was glad to have her company.
On June 9th, Petra and I flew from Pittsburgh to Chicago and nonstop from there to Shannon, Ireland. The flight, though long, was really not too bad. We stumbled off the plane at 7:00 a.m. in Shannon and were met by our guide for the week, Paul. Most of the rest of our party were there also and we began to get acquainted as we boarded our bus for the week that would soon be on its way to Kenmare. We were ferried by our driver, "Pedal to the Metal" Werner (my name for him), a German transplant to Ireland. He did an excellent job all week transporting us along those narrow and winding roads. Thanks to you, Werner, we all made it safely, even though everyone was driving on the "wrong side of the road".
Our lodging for the week was the Kenmare Bay Hotel.
My room was spacious and comfortable.
The bathroom was equipped with a shower and a tub, but my choice was the tub - narrow, deep and almost long enough for me to stretch out full length. I availed my self of its excellent comfort every day of my stay.
Also unique was the Walker's Drying Room. This was a small, superheated room where you could leave your wet things from the day's hike in hopes they would be dry by the next morning.
Before we get into the descriptions of our wonderful hikes, let me tell you about our group and our leader. There were 18 of us in the group and we represented quite a few different states in the US. As we got to know each other through the week, I think we all felt lucky that we had landed with such companionable folk. Each person was interesting and welcoming in his/her own way. And Paul, our Irish tour leader, was delightful. He was a fount of knowledge about the countryside and its history but besides that, we could tell he genuinely enjoyed his job. He answered our questions, helped us with any problems and actually left us feeling we were doing him a favor by coming on the tour!
So. . .on to our Wee Ramble in Kenmare. I'm not going to take you on our day to day schedule, but rather try to give you a sampler of our time in Ireland. First on the list is Breathtaking Scenery! I have to tell you, I am a sucker for any coastal views, but our hikes in Ireland took us to places that were magnificent. I could not restrain myself from taking picture after picture. And even though the weather was mostly cool, misty and in the high 50s to low 60s, to me it seemed perfect. It was Ireland!
Oh, did I mention the wind? We had several very windy days!
The following shots were taken on the Beara Peninsula, the Kerry Trail, the Sheepshead Peninsula, and the Natural Preserve of Gleninchaquin (no coastal views there, but just as beautiful!)
I loved the winding roads and paths that snaked off into the distance. For me, they brought to mind the traditional Irish blessing "May the road rise up to meet you . . ."
As we walked across the fields, we often came to stiles, a way to cross a fence without having to have a gate. In this photo I am about to cross over the stile. Every time we went over these contraptions I was reminded of the old English tale I often told to my library classes, "The Old Woman and her Pig". If you are not familiar with it, the story tells of an old woman who went to market to buy herself a pig. But on her way home "piggy won't go over the style and I shan't get home tonight".
It was interesting to stumble across this sign. John, our guide for that day, felt the land was not really "poisoned", but the landowner did not care to have dogs on his property (perhaps because of livestock) and was using this sign as a preventative measure.
Stones were another wonderful feature of the countryside - stone walls, stone buildings, stone ruins, stone bridges, stone circles.
We visited several stone circles, all of which had an ancient and mystical feel to them.
The Kenmare Stone Circle.
Other stone circles we visited.
I'll call my next section Gardens and we'll start with Killarney National Park. Near the town of Killarney, this national park created in 1932 was the first national park in Ireland.
Our first stop in the park was Muckross Abbey.
The ruins of the old Abbey were liberally sprinkled with valerian in shades from white to dark pink and red.
A sense of ancient quietude stole over me in this place and I felt I could have stayed, wandering amidst the old ruins, for a long while.
Killarney National Park was an amazing place filled with giant tree, ferns and rhododendrons.
The Yew Forest
We wandered the paths and narrow roads as tourists on bicycles and horse drawn carriages occasionally passed us.
From our walk through the greenery, we emerged at Muckross Lake, where boats were waiting to take us on a pleasant half hour trip across the lake to Muckross House.
Notice the chain in this picture? It was along the underside of the bridge in the above picture and was to be used to drag your boat under the bridge if you happened to be against the tide.
Muckross House, a 19th century Victorian Mansion in Killarney National Park. The house and its 11,000 acre estate were donated to the Irish nation in 1932, becoming the first National Park in the Republic of Ireland.
Next stop, Garinish Island. The sheltered harbor of Glengarriff in Bantry Bay and the Gulf Stream team up to create an almost subtropical climate which allows a wide variety of trees, shrubs and flowers to flourish. The island was bequeathed to the Irish nation in 1953 and is maintained by the Office of Public Works.
Beautiful stone buildings and structures provide a perfect backdrop for the garden's plantings.
Part of the Italian Garden.
Once again, I could not stop taking pictures. Each view and setting seemed more lovely than the last.
Whimsy in stone.
The view from Garinish Island.
Individual flowering plants begged to have their pictures taken.
Next let's look at some of the towns we visited. Adare in County Limerick is renowned as one of Ireland's prettiest towns.
We saw many thatched roof cottages.
And tidy cottage gardens.
Outside of the town, Petra and I took a walk along the River Maigue.
There we came upon this stone marker etched with a stanza of the lovely poem by Gerald Griffin, an Irish novelist, poet and playwright.
Where glides the Maigue as silver clear,
Among the elms so sweetly flowing
There fragrant in the early year
Wild roses on the banks are blowing
. . . from the poem "Sweet Adare", inspired by the beauty of the town by that name.
We saw quaint and colorful fishing villages.
I believe this is the town of Bantry.
The foremost vehicle in this photo is the "baby bus" which transported our group.
Here we are in Killarney. It was the biggest town we visited and the most touristy. We enjoyed the ice cream at Murphy's (Made from the milk of Kerry cows, a rare, native breed of cattle in Ireland. Their milk is high quality, high butterfat and the ice cream is delicious.)We also had fun tasting whiskeys at a bar/cafe that had more bottles than you could shake a stick at.
The life-size bronze sculpture shown here was done by Don Cronin and celebrates the saving of the Killarney Red Deer, the oldest species in the country.
Once again, Petra and I took a walk and discovered the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Assumption, better known as St. Mary's. It is considered to be one of the most important and best Gothic Revival churches of the nineteenth century in Ireland.
Right next to it was a Giant Sequoia.
No, this is not an optical illusion. The tree really is almost as tall as the cathedral.
What trip would be complete without a visit to the beach? John Fitzpatrick, the resident seaweed expert, told us all kinds of interesting facts about his favorite subject.
I never realized there were so many kinds of seaweed.
Here group member Jerry tastes a seaweed popsicle made by John Fitzpatrick's wife. Jerry was trying the cucumber/lime/mint variety. I had banana/vanilla/coconut and thought it was pretty good. John let us sample many varieties of seaweed and while they were "interesting", I can't say I found any of the others exactly tasty.
You can see from our attire it was not really a balmy day at the beach.
Other visitors, however, were partaking of the joys of swimming.
Some residents of the beach rocks: periwinkles, mussels and barnacles.
Let me talk for a few minutes about some of the flora and fauna we encountered. I was entranced with the foxglove which I am used to as a garden flower. In Ireland it grows wild and you will see it featured in many of my pictures.
Fuchsia, which I am used to as a hanging plant on porches, decks and patios, grows in hedges along the waysides in Ireland.
It isn't native, but has escaped from plantings.
We saw many other wildflowers and even orchids along our way as we hiked, but unfortunately I do not have photos.
Lovely rhodies in bloom.
And then there was the Gunnera. I remember reading about Gunnera in several novels set in England and I also remember seeing the plant in Scotland.
We say lots of the ubiquitous bracken fern, but it was a real treat to see this Hart's Tongue Fern. It is named for its long, tongue shaped leaves and the Hart - an adult male red deer.
As for the fauna, I loved the English Robins - so small, perky and friendly.
Here I think I captured a picture of a thrush called a Fieldfare.
I know cows aren't unique to Ireland, but they made such willing subjects for my photos.
The wooly black faced sheep also presented one after another photo op.
This is a sheep, not a goat. We were told all sheep in Ireland looked like this back before humans got ahold of them.
What's to drink in Ireland? Well, as I always suspected, Guinness is good for you!
Actually, I liked the stout from Killarney Brewing Company and also Murphy's Stout better than Guinness. When I mentioned this to our leader, Paul, he suggested I might not want to say it too loudly!
Usually I'm not a big IPA fan, but with a name like Scarlet Pimpernel IPA, I just had to try it. Delicious!
Another good choice, Stag Rud Irish Red Ale by 9 White Deer Brewery.
One of our group ordered a cider and it came in this glass. What's up with that?
Who could leave Ireland without trying an Irish coffee?
Here's Petra enjoying hers.
And now for the food. Sometimes we ate at the hotel and sometimes we went out to restaurants, but wherever we ate, I knew what I was going to have. When you're a seafood lover like me, there's no better place to be than the coast of Ireland.
Thai fish cakes, and that's just for "Starters".
Followed by a main course of melt in your mouth sea bass.
Crab fettuccini - yum!
Mussels. Read all about them in the next photo.
Delicious salmon. Every where we ate, they served each diner the main item he/she ordered and then brought platters of mashed or roasted potatoes and steamed veggies to be served at the table family style.
Seafood chowder . . .
served along with a bit of Irish music.
Not pictured here, but also eaten by me: Grilled tuna, grilled hake, smoked haddock fish cakes, seafood vol au vents and tempura sole.
And so as I, at long last, end my story, I raise a glass to my friends and companions who helped to make this such a wonderful trip. Slainte!
Many thanks to my husband, Mike. Without his expertise and patient help I would not have been able to put up this webpage.