Few places have impressed me as much as Ireland’s Killarney, with its breathtaking landscapes and welcoming people. While in Killarney, you can’t be anywhere else than in the now. Hostage to green pastures, misty mountains and clear waters, your mind can’t escape the spell. The sensation is similar to what you can feel on Mount Olympus in Greece, or in the Saklikent Gorge in Turkey. This is the story of a one-day trip around Killarney, a glimpse into the promise of a wonderful road trip on the Ring of Kerry I’ve just added to my bucket list, and you should, too.
I’m on a bus from Killarney to Kenmare, with a group I’ve just met. We are all travel aficionados, willing to improve our craft for offering you, the reader, a better representation of the world. We are here to attend the TBEX conference. Maureen, the wondrous representative of our hosts, Failte Ireland, shares with us an old Irish adage that instantly sets my mood to relaxed: “When God made the time, he made plenty of it.” Unlike ancient Irish people, most of us seem to have forgotten it, concerned with chasing gold and glory rather than with taking pleasure from life.
The Ring of Kerry, Nature at its Best
Killarney and Kenmare are both on the Ring of Kerry, a circular road that takes you around the Iveragh Peninsula through a fascinating coastal scenery and through charming little villages with their small homesteads and pointy, tall churches. If you drive a bus, you won’t be able to go straight from Killarney to Kenmare on the Ring of Kerry, because buses are only allowed to go one way, which is the exact opposite. This is nothing to bother you, though, as you can always see it as another chance to allow your senses to roam freely along the green grass stained with white sheep and bi-color cows grazing peacefully under the morning sun. They must know there’s plenty of time.
I don’t know about other seasons, but fall is a fantastic time to take a road trip on the Ring of Kerry. Your camera will love the vivid colors of the foliage, the raw green of the pastures, and their reflections in the natural blue water mirrors. Ireland is also full of castles, ruins of castles and abandoned churches that can serve as the ideal subject of landscape photographs. If you are lucky to see the sun, you’ll also have a magnificent sky, full of fluffy white clouds. However, you can also expect dull skies, so be prepared for both.
See the Seals on the Seafari Cruise
The Seafari cruise is the thing I’ve embarked on this adventure for, as it has promised to take us to the realm of seals, otters and eagles. Encountering seals for the first time is an enriching experience. Playful and agile, young seals behave similar to kittens, rolling over and spreading their limbs, climbing on their peers and staring at tourists with their beautiful, black eyes. Captain Raymond Ross and his crew give passengers binoculars. Beware, though, if you use binoculars for the first time, you may need to seek for advice on how to adjust them to actually see something.
Captain Ray is a knowledgeable and entertaining character. He knows how to sneak technical details about his boat and seal facts into his stories, and how to awaken our interest for wildlife. Smiling and polite, he explains that we should avoid all sudden moves and loud noises while sailing along the coast, nearby the seals. We all freeze, our hands on the cameras, pointing towards the shore where seals of all ages do their thing. We learn from our captain that speed boats aren’t allowed to get to these areas, as the waves they generate may hurt the seal pups. He also tells us that seals are already familiar with his boat, hence the ability of getting that close to the shore without frightening them. Every now and then, the captain blows a horn that replicates the sound made by seals. We all take photos after photos, in our wish to capture the dynamic of this colony of seals. I feel sorry for not buying that tele lens before the trip. My 35mm prime lens does a great job, but bigger zoom would have been better.
About two hours later, the Seafari boat tour ends in a different place than the starting one. Paul, the Kerry Coaches driver is already waiting for us by this other pier. We say goodbye to the crew and we cross a beautiful lawn to get to the bus. I would like to stay here for a little longer to take some more photos, but we need to get moving, as we have a fixed time for returning to Killarney.
Dromquinna Manor and the Sheen Falls Lodge in Kenmare
The bus takes us through hills and rivers to the Sheen Falls Lodge, where we take a glimpse into the comfortable life of the wealthy traveler, ready to spend as much as needed for a customized experience that pampers all senses. This hotel feels like home, with its welcoming fireplaces, desks and coffee tables. We visit the property and we are offered a short drive in the carefully restored 1936 Buick. This ride gives us the chance to visit one of the cottages on the property. Secluded yet comfortable, this luxury cottage makes me want to come by with my friends, and rent it over a couple of weeks.
I wish I had ten pairs of eyes, to absorb more of this realm’s serenity. This is the place to be, if you want to breathe in the nature without giving up on the comfort you’ve been used to. Beware, though, this is not a vacation to enjoy when living from paycheck to paycheck.
The lunch, kindly offered by our hosts at the Sheen Falls Lodge, gives us the opportunity to get to know our teammates better. I share a table with Saskia, author of kidseropuit.nl, a family travel blog, Terry, author of Strangers in the Living Room, Asdghik of the Jetsetter Diaries, and two other lovely ladies whose business cards I’ve unfortunately lost.
Molly Gallivan’s Life in a Difficult Age
Ancestral greed makes the human race a horrible breed. In not so ancient times, Irish families had to pay a window tax. The devilish minds of the rulers of the country came up with the idea of making people pay for having natural light into their homes. It’s easy to understand that poor families couldn’t afford too many windows, so they had to spend their days in the darkness of a home they had to share with their animals. I’ve had my eyes full of tears for a couple of times during our tour of Molly Gallivan’s Cottage and Farm in Bonane.
Our host and his wife, Frances, have bought this place which is now a lively and well-preserved piece of Old Ireland, with its traditions and lifestyle. With eyes sparkling with passion, this couple tells the story of old Irish farmers in a way that makes you fall in love with them. This is a unique chance to take a glimpse into a challenging past, when only the strongest survived. You’ll also witness a two-minute kneading of a bread, and learn the craft of poitin making.
As there’s a lot to say about Molly’s Cottage and Farm, this will be the topic of a future article. For now, if you want to build a house in Ireland, make sure you don’t erect it on a fairy path. According to our host, this is something you can test by building the foundation and letting it sit for one year. If within this time nothing moves, you can build your house. Otherwise, it means your future home will be on a fairy path, so you should actually abandon its foundation and test a new spot.
The Irish Way Is All About Passion
You may wonder what is the silver lining path of all these stories. They have one thing in common, which is the passion for everything you do in life. Maureen, The Seafari Captain, the couple at Molly Gallivan’s, as well as all other people welcoming us so warmly are driven by passion. They all love their jobs, and they are all proud of who they are. This is a strong foundation to build on. A small bunch of people standing together, playing their individual roles the best way they can, have managed to rebuild this island into a prosperous country while also preserving its language, its traditions and its cultural heritage. The fairy path test seems to be working very well for them.