June 15, 2012 – Killarney and Crashel (Cashel)
You know well before you travel to Ireland that it will rain while you are here, possibly every day. Nonetheless, when you have three beautiful days starting when you touch down on the Shannon runway, you start to forget this. So, when it does start raining, you are sort of crestfallen because everything started out so well and your photos were all amazing ... and now they're grim and your camera and nose gets all damp and icky. That's what our Friday was like. We pretty much knew on Thursday that the trip out to the Skellig Michael Island was out, because the boats only run out to this majestic monastic settlement on perfectly calm days because of the difficulty of the boat landing. Bridie O'Connor confirmed our disappointment in the morning – no boats to the island. We were sad. This was one of our don't miss excursions because the brightly colored puffins (so photogenic!) live on the island and you have to climb something like 618 hand carved stone steps to get to the pinnacle, where a thousand years ago monks built a tiny settlement on top of a mountain in the middle of a harsh, blustery island just to get closer to God.
Part of me was relieved, because I have been worrying about DM climbing all those steps. All my planning -- learning certain nautical knots to rig up a rope harness to attach her to me -- were for naught. So, we executed plan B, which was to drive the rest of the Ring of Kerry and visit Killarney. (A note to those debating whether or not to do the Ring of Kerry or the Dingle Peninsula. Choose Dingle. The sights were more interesting and the coastline was even more impressive.)
We pulled into Killarney, which is very touristy since all the tour groups use this town as their base because of the sheer number of shops that can sell tourists key chains and four leaf clover-bedazzled knick-knacks before they herd the cattle on the big buses.
First order of business was to find dessert. Don't ask me why. We just felt like it. DM had a real moment in Killarney because it is the location where she ordered and ate the best food item (for her) in Ireland. It was a giant puff pastry, filled with clotted cream and topped with strawberries. Strawberry shortcake on steroids. I had some terrible weak coffee. Mmmmm. We went into a few of the ever-present shops, hit the ATM, and the tourist office to get directions out to the Gap of Dunloe. In Irish, it's known as Dún Lóich, which means "Lóich's stronghold". The gap is a narrow mountain pass between Macgillycuddy's Reeks (mountains, to us in America) and Purple Mountain in County Kerry.
We drove out to the base of the mountain and parked at Kate Kearney's cottage, a typical tourist cafe and shop. You can find one like it around every natural scenic wonder in Ireland. It all started out well. DM and I were determined to do something in a pony cart while in Ireland. Don't ask me why. We just don't think you're seeing Ireland unless you're trotting along behind a horse's ass. That came out wrong. Anyway, you can rent a "jaunting car," a fancy way of saying a pony and cart to drive you up the narrow path through the gap. After four hours of rain, we actually got some sun at the bottom of the mountain and went trotting off in our cart, pulled by a brown horse named Charlie and driven by a very polite man named Jim.
Jim referred to us either in plural or singly as "lady," as in, "And Lady, here we are at Coosaun Lough, where ye can see the lovely ash tree growin' just there. And if ye want me to stop, Lady, so you can get yer pitchers, well just let me know, Lady, and we'll pull over."
We got about a quarter of the way up to the gap when it started raining again. Then, it really
started raining. The carts have two seats, so passengers can sit facing each other like a subway. Our driver was actually sitting on one side, so DM and I were side by side facing him. I was closest to Charlie, so I got the brunt of the rain as we trotted along. It pelted me in the face, making it impossible for me to see anything other than the occasional squint at Charlie's rump, which I didn't need to see as I could smell that it was still there. DM hid behind me, using me as a windbreak. Before long, DM and I were soaked, even with our rain gear because the water was streaming in under my rain coat hood and dripping down off my coat onto my jeans below. You know DM and I though, we were so miserable, we started to get the giggles. We are determined
Jim, our guide, started coughing, which might have been a ploy for a larger tip since he and his pony were working in such desperate circumstances. Despite all this, he kept on pointing out the sights and stopping the cart so we could photograph the hazy scenery with our fogged cameras. "And here is Black Lake, Lady, which gets its name from the way the mountain shadows the water. And here is the old arch bridge called the 'Wishing Bridge,' so named because it is said that wishes made while upon it are destined to come true. Make yer wishes, Lady." He stops the cart. DM and I are pretty desperate to just get on with things so we can get out of the rain and stop the stream of rainwater(?) dripping off our noses. So, in a moment of rash desperation, I vehemently wished that it would stop raining, and ... it did. Wow. I wanted Jim to turn around and go back to the bridge so I could wish that I would win the lottery. That was a monumental error of judgment, and all because of a little inconvenient rain. If you ever visit the Gap of Dunloe, wish for world peace or at least fabulous wealth.
We returned to the car park with dampened pants, if not dampened spirits. We were actually pretty thrilled. If we can't pretend we're monks, toiling away on a mountain top in spartan devotion to God, then at least we can trot wetly behind a horse's butt in a deluge.
After the Gap of Dunloe, we drove to Muckross House, an old manor house famous for hosting Queen Victoria on her vacation in Ireland just before Prince Albert died. The house and grounds were beautiful. DM and I like this sort of thing. The tour of the house is interesting. We saw the enormous grand dining room with a table set for at least 16 and a huge mahogany buffet displaying an striking collection of silver tureens and serving dishes. Waterford crystal chandeliers hang in almost every room, and we were told you could tell the really antique crystal from the newer models by the shine. Newer crystal has less lead content, and thus is brighter, lighter and more reflective.
Most of the house (except the nursery, thank God) was occupied by a herd of dead deer poking their heads out of the walls, hunting lodge style. Seriously, there were more deer than tourists. There were some large stuffed fish too.
The entrance hall, which also doubles as a ball room, is lit with a sparkling crystal window the size of a billboard that was ordered as frosted crystal on purpose to hide the view out back to the servant's courtyard and stables. The view from the front, by contrast, is a gob smacker of lake, rolling lawn and ancient forest. You can see this view from the "queen's quarters" and the family rooms. Servants got the underbelly and attics of the house.
The kitchens were one of the most interesting things about the house, with row upon row of polished copper pots, pans and mysterious implements. The ovens and scullery put a Michelin restaurant to shame. My favorite thing about the house was the servant's corridor, in which about 35 bells hung from left to right in steadily increasing size. Each bell was hooked up to a bell-pull mechanism in each room of the house, and although the bells have small plaques indicating which room is ringing, illiterate servants could tell which room by the tone of the ring (higher for the small bells, and deeper for the largest bells at the end of the corridor.)
With the sun intermittently peeking out, DM and I took a quick spin through the remarkable gardens and stopped for sandwiches and a chickpea salad at the cafe on the grounds. I couldn’t stand my wet britches anymore, so I did a quick change in the car before revving up and heading to Cashel (pronounced CASH-ul, not ka-SHELL, as we were corrected a couple of times). This next part is depressing.
We made it safely into Cashel, where I parallel parked the car a block from our hotel on the main street. We hadn't gotten out of the car yet when BANG! A silver Ford Fiesta crashed into our front tire on the driver's side. All this driving on the left and careful parking and navigating tiny roads and hedgerow-lined country lanes, and we get hit while parked a hundred feet from our hotel! Jim Mahoney from California was the culprit. Also in a rental car and on vacation, and apparently struggling with the whole drive-on-the-left thing, Jim miscalculated and got a leetle too close to the parked cars on the busy main drag.
The really weird thing is that our car only sustained minor damage in the form of a scrape behind the driver's side wheel well, but Jim managed to break his front axle, probably by wedging his tire behind ours and then attempting to correct course by yanking to the right. At any rate, his right front tire was pointing to toward the center of his grill ... and so was his left tire. Because he could not drive the car, he managed to halt rush hour traffic for an hour.
DM walked a block to the gardai station and returned with a stoic garda with a notebook. After ascertaining that everyone was okay, he sternly tells poor Jim that he can't leave his car here in the middle of the main road. He said two or three times, "ye'll have to shift the car, sor." Um. Jim and DM, who frequently needs a translator even if the Irish are speaking English, both look at the garda with confused expressions. I explain to the garda that the front axle of the car is clearly broken and it won't be driving away under its own steam, so to speak. The garda then repeats to Jim, "well, ye'll have to shift the car, sor." DM said later she thought he was saying we should all shoulder up to the car and physically shift it off the road. I ask about wrecker options and the garda calls a wrecker. Jim seems satisfied that I have taken charge. We exchange information while waiting for the tow truck. Jim's mannerisms and speech are so like my dad, I'm having a weird deja vu. We offer the hapless Jim a ride to his B&B because he’s in a foreign country with no wheels and we felt bad for him. He comes to our hotel to ring his B&B owner, who comes to get him. We part ways the best of friends to call our respective rental car companies. Avis seems unsurprised when I give them the details and email them the photos I took of the damage. I'll bet they deal with this a thousand times a day. It just sucks that it's us this time.
We wilted into Bailey's Hotel and try to get over it. I feel a vague sense of guilt even though there was nothing I could do. We were parked, for Pete's sake. We check in at Bailey's with the help of a very sweet blonde 20 year old receptionist. When we ask her about pubs that may have live music, she lists a couple places but hesitates on the second place, saying apologetically that it's kind of a club ... and we may not like it there. I think she is trying to tell us that we are too old for this happenin' Irish club scene, so I say, "What, we don't look like we are down with the hot club scene?" She explodes into giggles, confirming what I thought -- we are too old.
So, we head down to the Cellar's Bar & Restaurant in the cellar (surprise) of our hotel. Plenty of old people in there. I had the fish cakes with chips and salad, although the "cakes" were actually fist-sized balls. It's a weird concept: fish balls. Fish balls. Hmmmm. DM ordered the open faced steak sandwich with chips. We both liked our choices, and liked the fact that they had wireless Internet more.
Trying to salvage our evening, DM and I walk out to visit the Rock of Cashel a few blocks away to work off the stress and our dinners. Unfortunately, it's still light out at nearly 9:00pm and will not get dark until 11:00pm, so the Rock is not yet lit up with the flood lights I've seen in photos. I wanted to get a photo of it with the lights but there is no way I'm going to be awake at 11:00, so we squelched back to the hotel in another light rain. We call the day a wash (no pun intended) and got back to the room only to discover that there is no WiFi in the rooms, only land-line Internet. It's weird that they have it in the bar, but not the rooms. DM is bummed because now she can't instant message. Oh well, over and out for the night.
Make a wish at the Gap of Dunloe