Ever since we arrived in Ireland, the weather forecasters have predicted rain. It's probably safer that way, but we hadn't seen any precipitation until we reached County Kerry. That all changed for our 4 days here. Every day has been a mixture of brief but heavy rain squalls, a lot of light drizzle, generally overcast conditions, and occasional short flashes of bright sunshine. Coats or umbrellas are an absolute necessity, but the everyone seems to take the fluctuating conditions in their stride.
Some friendly locals (they're everywhere!) told us that last summer was much better, that this one has been cold and wet generally. We told them that the temperatures here (10-15C) are colder than back home in winter, but in truth (we read in the online news), Sydney has had a record cold spell!
Killarney was the base for our soggy stay in County Kerry. It's a relatively modern town by the standards of this ancient land. Medieval and Norman artifacts are here, but they are not so in your face as they are in, say, Kilkenny. Killarney is home, however, to the magnificent Killarney National Park (some of the first real bush we have seen so far in Ireland), and nearby, is the fabulous Kerry coast, of which more in subsequent posts.
We entered the National Park from the inner suburbs of Killarney, it's that close. That also makes it crowded, and a popular way for tourists to get there was via horse and sulky from downtown. Driving there, we discovered by the horse transports are effective traffic-calming devices.
Many people hired bikes and rode around fine tracks through the bush here, and you can also take boat trips on the huge lakes. We opted to walk. The flora was sufficiently thick to protect us from the occasional heavy squalls that blew in, but we still managed to get pretty wet.
We encountered the remnants of an old copper mine. Read very old here! This was an underground bronze age endeavour operating thousands of years BC. The interpretative sketches were amazingly evocative, and showed us how they refined the copper from the ore using what looked like no more than bush fires circled by stones. Metallurgy was obviously coming along fine even that long ago!
Ross Castle is a keep and tower house within the boundaries of the National Park and adjacent to a large lake, Lough Leane. This is no ruin. It is in exemplary condition and probably has been restored and renovated extensively. It was first built in the 1500's by the O'Donoghue family who ruled Killarney at the time, and occasionally changed hands between clans in various rebellions. Ross Castle resisted Oliver Cromwell's English invaders in the 1640's but surrendered eventually when attacked from the lake in warships.
On a very modest hill overlooking Killarney is Aghadoe. Apart from a misty view over the lakes and mountains of the National Park, there are some fine ruins up here, including the 13th Century Parkavonear Castle. For a Norman keep, this one is apparently unusual in that it is circular in the more medieval tower style. Nearby is an old graveyard, and the ruins of an 1158 church. A monastery here was mentioned in annals as far back as 939AD.
The township of Killarney and the spire of Saint Mary's Cathedral as seen from the Aghadoe graveyard.
Back in town, we found that dining is quite pleasurable in Killarney. Traditional Irish food in pubs is always tasty and hearty, but a bit of research and serendipity enabled us to up the quality ante a bit. At Gaby's Restaurant we were able to sample a wide variety of fresh local seafoods (they called it a Mozaic) including local specialty fish Turbot. At the bright and modern Cucina Italiana, which we stumbled across in a back lane, we had superb meal of fresh pasta with prawns and pancetta.
Mike has also been sampling various Irish whiskeys. Jamesons is the most common, of course, and is easily obtainable world-wide. One legendary superior brand is Red Breast, Midleton is exquisite but way too expensive, but Mike's favourite has become Yellow Spot. This whiskey apparently derives a unique flavour by being aged in Spanish Malaga casks. Clare has discovered Dingle Vodka, and declares it to be a good drop!
In yesterday's local newspaper, no less than 18 pages in the Sports section were headed GAA, but the articles appeared to cover both hurling and Gaelic football. A knowledgeable bar hostess called Denise put us straight, by explaining that the GAA organisation manages both sports and also handball, but the last is the least popular. Different regions prefer one to the other.
Walking around, we encountered the Killarney railway station, and were lucky enough to see the train to Cork arrive. It was a modern 4 carraige diesel electric set, and the station had a good number of travellers, including a lot of young backpackers, to get on board. The old terminal, now next door to the current station, has been converted to a factory outlet store.
Our hotel in this town is Scotts, which fronts Scott St, now a pedestrian mall. It has a modern facade but seems to extend its tentacles into older surrounding buildings. Our room on the 1st fllor, extremely spacious with a gigantic bathroom, overlooks extremely busy College St. We seem destined in Ireland to attract noisy rooms. Opposite, a pub has its live music speakers blaring into the street, and in the mornings the garbage trucks, street maintenance vehicles and delivery vans arrive in force. Luckily, the room has sound-proofing windows, but again, no air-conditioning to circulate the air in the shut up room. But we slept very well here - ear plugs are a great invention. The car park is underneath the hotel and mall and must have been designed by the devil. The columns are so close together that it's really difficult to manoevre our Volvo, and there's no way you can open the doors, once in a spot. The hotel is very popular with bus tours - it's very busy. It's fascinating to watch the tour groups getting read for their morning departures.