From One Ring to Another

We left Portmagee and continued our way around The Ring of Kerry.

There is so much to see along The Ring of Kerry that you end up stopping every few miles, which can make the trip a great family adventure, but a little tedious too. We, however, decided to just drive and enjoy the magnificent scenery as it went by and pass up some usual tourist stops. Ahead of us was another famous peninsula to explore. Mind the sheep crossing though!

The Dingle Peninsula is the next peninsula north of The Ring of Kerry. To get to it, we went through Moll’s Gap, which was the last place in Ireland to get electricity. Believe it or not, they didn’t get it until 1972! After the gap we traveled through Killarney National Park with Lough Leane and Muckross Lake, it is truly a national treasure. This was actually our second time through this area because we traveled the ring counter-clockwise. Seeing it again made it no less wonderful.

We headed for the small town of Dingle, where our next bed and breakfast awaited us. Devane’s BnB was wonderful! It is located on the main street right in the middle of Dingle. Our hosts were terrific. They made us feel at home right away. The room were neat and tidy and the home cooked breakfast was delicious. Bed and Breakfasts are the only way to truly experience Ireland!

Elijah and Mish went out to explore the town while I caught up on some much needed rest. All of the driving was getting me tired, so I decided to take a nap. After a while, Elijah and Mish came back from their reconnaissance of the area to report they had found a cool pub for dinner. I woke up hungry, so off we went!

The main reason for selecting The Dingle Pub wasn’t its name. It was for David Geaney. David is the five time world and current Irish dancing champion. He regularly performs in his family’s pub. Amazingly, he was quietly waiting and busing tables as we anxiously awaited for “the dancer” to come out. No one knew that the humble young waiter was THE dancer! You’re never too famous to work in your father’s place. I guess that is pay back for the years of dance lessons.

When he took the floor everyone stopped to watch in awe. His feet flew so fast you couldn’t even see them! He danced to live music and thunderous applause. It was quite the dinner show. After he did a set, he simply went back to waiting tables. Amazing!

 

 

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The Famous Ring of Kerry at Last

Probably the most well-known and traveled road in Ireland is The Ring of Kerry.

This was our second time on it and we were just as excited as the first time. The first time we ventured around the ring we did the whole thing in one day, which was way too quickly. This time, we are taking three days. (FYI, drive the ring counter-clockwise to avoid getting stuck behind the tour buses, they have to drive it clock-wise.)

The first leg was the longest. We made for Portmagee on the very tip of the Iveragh Peninsula. This small town is about as west as you can go in Ireland. It sits way out into the North Atlantic Ocean on the rocky coast. We felt almost vulnerable being exposed on the treeless point. Luckily we found a wonderful bed and breakfast, Skellig View, within walking distance to the edge of the land.

The land ends dramatically in enormous cliffs that plummet over 200 feet to the crashing waves below. It looks like a gigantic sword sliced the peninsula off at its tip. Standing on the top of them was both exhilarating and terrifying. We felt very tiny and insignificant in comparison to the landscape.

We ventured around the area by car and found some cool sites and another chocolate factory! By now we have seen several stone forts, but they are still cool. Even though I have been to many chocolatier’s too, why miss one? So, off we went to see forts and chocolate. The forts were enormous Stone Age structures that have withstood time and the elements. Skelligs Chocolate Factory was much newer, but still amazing. They have free samples! I bought their Irish Whiskey Creme Truffles. Wow! They are amazing!

That afternoon, a violent storm raged in from the ocean. We hunkered down in our little cottage as the wind howled outside and the rain beat down on the roof. Despite being trapped inside, we were quite cozy and relaxed. We spent the night relaxing and reading. It was actually a very nice change of pace from all of the driving and walking. It felt very authentic Irish.

The next morning dawned windy, but clear. Off the coast we could clearly see the original Jedi Temple. Ok, it is not really, but it is the site in the Star Wars movies where Luke Skywalker goes to do Jedi stuff. The island is actually called Skellig Michael. It is one of only three World Heritage Sites in Ireland. It has been a revered holy place long before the Jedi. It is the home of the most western Christian Monastery in Europe. The monastery consists of several ancient stone beehive huts that are only accessible by boat and then climbing a long steep flight of uneven stone stairs to their high perch. The hour long crossing is rough, even in relatively calm weather, so we opted not to go. Besides, I’m a Trekkie anyway. Even from the mainland, however, the island is impressive. May the force be with you!

 

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The Sheen Valley and Bonane

After an amazing hike in Gleninchaquin Park, we went for a scenic drive to rest our legs while still exploring Ireland on our family adventure!

Just across the Kenmare suspension bridge is the Sheen Valley. The heart of the valley is a small town called Bonane. We decided to make for it and see what was there. The drive, of course, was magnificent!

Along the way to Bonane we happened to stumble on a chocolate factory and shop! Benoit Lorge is an award winning chocolatier from Lorraine France who traveled the world making delicious treats before settling in Ireland. His shop is Lorge Chocolatier Handmade Chocolates on the Glengarriff Road. We had to stop in to sample his creations (I never turn down good chocolate.). We were not disappointed. His chocolates were exceptional! If you are in the area, stop by his place for sure.

Now that we were rewarded for our hike, we continued up the Sheen Valley. The next unexpected stop was the Bonane Heritage Park. This award winning park is an archeological treasure chest that was discovered only ten years ago. It showcases real archeological sites from the Stone, Bronze, and Iron Ages. It provides an incredible window into Ireland’s ancient past. As you stroll along the Druid Walk, you will see stone forts, astronomical sites, a famine house, and stone circles, all of which you can actually touch and learn about. We had a nice picnic lunch amid the ruins overlooking the valley.

We left the park and kept driving deeper into the valley. The road starts to climb steeply, but the views get better and better. Almost at the top, where the road passes over the Caha Mountains, is another surprise worth stopping for, Molly Gallivans. The legendary Molly apparently was, among other things, a bootlegger. She made illegal whiskey which she sold to locals and passerby’s to supplement her income. Today, her cottage and farm is open to tour so you can see what life was like in rural Ireland 200 years ago.

As usual, Elijah made friends with all of the farm animals. The enormous pig especially latched onto him (probably because he had carrots and bread). Even Mish found a friend. Once she fed him carrots he followed her around like a puppy, until he could not go anymore and brayed loudly in protest.

We went up and over the Caha Mountains and leisurely made our way back to Kenmare. The Sheen Valley is an amazing place to explore! There is a something for everyone. Mish got stone circles, Elijah got animals, and I got chocolate!

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Possibly the best hike in Ireland

After driving for miles through the beautiful Irish countryside, we were ready to stretch our legs.

The amazing landscape of Ireland beckoned us to explore it. We really wanted to go hiking in the spectacular green hills, but did not know where to go. We asked for recommendations at the Kenmare Tourist Office. One of the helpful ladies offered some suggestions for a day hike. A private reserve called Gleninchaquin Park looked promising, so we planned our next family adventure!

Since the day was already getting late, we decided to head for our next lodging to freshen up and get some dinner. We arrived at The Caha’s Bed and Breakfast Kenmare before dark and was greeted by the friendly owner. The Caha’s BnB is walking distance to downtown Kenmare, which was very convenient. After relaxing for a bit, we headed into town.

Mish really wanted to hear some good music, so we listened our way around town. Not surprisingly, we found several lively pubs with good music, enticing smells, and amiable conversation drifting out of them. We selected O’Donnabhain’s Townhouse. We made a good choice! The food, service, music, and atmosphere were all fabulous! We listened to some authentic Irish music as we ate our delicious meals and soaked in the Irishness of it all. This Irish pub life is addictive.

Well rested and fed, we headed out early the next morning for Gleninchaquin Park. Finding the park took a little effort. It is definitely off the beaten path, but well worth the trek. It is located 14 miles off the main road at the end of a very narrow and curvy gravel road. When we finally arrived, it took our breath away!

The park is at the end of a large coombe (that is Irish for shallow valley) on the northwest side of the Beara Peninsula in County Kerry. Flowing down the back wall of the coombe was a magnificent waterfall that fed a few lakes in the valley. The sides of the coombe were emerald green with rock outcroppings. Standing out against the green were the white fluffy shapes of the ubiquitous sheep grazing along the steep slopes. The whole scene was incredibly picturesque and serene.

We were greeted by a friendly docent who happened to be a member of the family who owned the park. She provided us with some background information and directions about the park. The entrance fee is 6 Euro for adults, 5 for students, and 15 for families, cash only (there is no ATM nearby). She also informed us that just yesterday, Ridley Scott helicoptered into the park with a guide to do a location check for an upcoming movie. If you do not know who Ridley Scott is, he is the science fiction guru that created such iconic films as the Alien movies, Blade Runner, and The Martian. Elijah and I are huge fans of his. We couldn’t help but speculate if he was looking to film the next installment of the Alien saga here. We are even more anxious to see the movie now. He and I were already excitedly picturing how the park would work for the film. Mish just laughed at us for being science fiction geeks.

Inspired and energized, we headed off on a trail into the park. Almost immediately we started to climb the wall of the coombe. The views were breathtaking. With each step up we were rewarded with a new and even better vista. After about two miles, we reached the top of the coombe and were awestruck with the view. Beyond the waterfall was a hidden high valley devoid of any human presence. It was otherworldly and hypnotically beautiful. I do not think I can describe the intense feeling we all had looking into it. I can see why Scott may want to film here. Elijah really wanted to explore further, but, unfortunately, time was not on our side and we were forced to break our gaze and head back down. Someday I want to come back and stay longer. Places like this are what make Ireland extremely special.

 

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Where’s Bilbo Baggins?

We worked up quite an appetite walking around Muckross House and Gardens, so we decided to head into Killarney for some dinner.

I happened to see a sign on the way into town advertising a Lord of the Rings themed pub. Being a huge J.R.R. Tolkien fan, I could not pass it up. I was really excited to see if it was truly an authentic Middle Earth establishment.

The Shire is a unique one of a kind pub in downtown Killarney. It definitely stands out from all of the other restaurants and bars in the city. You can’t miss its black with gold lettering front among the surrounding buildings. Excitedly, we ventured inside.

You enter the rounded front doors and are instantly transported to the Prancing Pony in Hobbiton. A sign declaring “No one allowed except on party business” hangs over the counter. Take heed and prepare for a fun time! As you walk back into the bar, you can order Bilbo’s Beer, Gandalf’s Ale, or Frodo’s Lager. If you’re hungry, and daring, you can continue back into Mordor. Yes, you can simply walk into Mordor!

Elijah and I ordered The Two Towers. These burgers lived up to their name. I could barely finish  mine. 100% dragon meat (maybe). Elijah has a hobbit appetite, so quickly finished his. Mish opted for a more spicy burger and ordered The Fires of Mordor. She needed a cold cider to wash it down. I tried to not say “One ring to rule them all” when I ate each onion ring. The Tolkien puns kept coming.

The Shire was a wonderful unexpected treat. The food was good and plentiful, the staff was very friendly, and the atmosphere was over the top! We had a great time. It was ENTertaining! (ugh!)

They are expanding too! We will have to go back to see the new addition. One more reason to re-visit Ireland!

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Off to Kilarney!

Twice now we have passed up a chance to see Blarney Castle with its famous stone.

According to Rick Steves and others, Blarney Castle is really more of a tourist trap than historic site, so once again we are going to pass it by.  If anyone has been there, please let us know what you thought.

Instead of kissing an old stone, we headed for Muckross House in Kilarney to see some traditional Irish farms. Muckross House was the first national park in Ireland. The house was built in 1843 on 11,000 acres. The last owners donated the entire estate to the people of Ireland in 1932. Eventually, it would become the center of Kilarney National Park.

On the grounds the Irish park service built a rec-creation of a traditional rural townland. You can visit complete working farms of different classes from early 20th century Ireland with docents in period dress to explain and answer questions. It was very informative and fun! Elijah really enjoyed meeting the farm animals, especially the farm dogs. He now wants an Irish Wolfhound. Great, he’s already expensive enough to feed! The Border Collies wouldn’t let him go!

Mish found a friend too.

I liked seeing how old Irish schools taught. Well behaved students paying attention in class to the teacher. Ah, the good old days!

Muckross is a wonderful place to stroll through beautiful gardens, tour a 65 room elegant mansion, learn some history, pet different animals, picnic on a lake, shop for unique crafts, and have some tea and treats. So, there something for everyone in the family. We highly recommend it if you’re in the Kilarney area.

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Back to Kinsale

Kinsale in County Cork is about as quaint picturesque Ireland as you can get.

We visited this small seaport town ten years ago and fell in love with its colorful buildings, great food, beautiful harbor, and quaint shops. It is a great place to go for a relaxing vacation by the sea. Many Irish and European visitors flock to it every summer too, so mind the crowds during the peak season. One of the reasons we planned our Irish road trip in June was to beat the onslaught of tourists. Our strategy seems to be working, as we have encountered very light crowds wherever we have gone so far.

I don’t want to appear hypocritical. I know that I’m a tourist too. Its just that too many of us in one spot usually ruins the experience. Ireland is a very popular destination. We really wanted a relaxing tour of the island without the hassle of fighting others for the same thing. If you are like us and want Ireland as much to yourselves as possible, then do not go in July or August. The seemingly endless parade of tour buses deliver throngs of vacationers from all over the globe. Small towns like Kinsale quickly become overrun. The magic of Ireland can get lost in the crowds.

June weather is not as ideal, but we have been having amazing luck so far. Warm, sunny days followed by cool nights has been the norm. We capitalized on our good fortune and took along walk out to Charles Fort. The walk to the fort is approximately three miles, but is easy and very scenic. It is a newer fort built in the star formation. There is not much to see inside to be honest. Since we saw it on our last visit, we were not disappointed that it was closed when we arrived.

Kinsale does not have much in the way of ancient Irish ruins or landmarks. What it lacks in antiquity, however, it makes up for in quaintness. It is a great place to just relax and take in the sea air and eat some great pub food. Amazingly, outside of one pub I saw a brass plaque honoring a fallen United States Navy SEAL. Who knew?

We stayed in the middle of Kinsale at a nice bed and breakfast called The Seagull Guest House. It is owned by Mary O’Neil, who travel writer Rick Steves calls the unofficial “Godmother of Kinsale.” She is a very nice elderly lady who took good care of us.

On the recommendation from a local, we went to Kitty O Se’s for dinner and live music. It was amazing! Great pub food, good Irish music, and a warm welcome, it does not get more Irish than this!

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The Most Haunted House in Ireland

On the end of the Hook Peninsula in County Wexford sits a desolate old mansion that locals say is haunted by the Devil.

Loftus Hall, formerly Redmond Hall, has a long and turbulent past. We had not even heard of it, so were not planning on visiting. Elijah, however, learned of it from researching haunted sites in Ireland. The Hall has been the subject of several paranormal documentaries, books, and horror movies. So, naturally, he really wanted to go and see for himself. Since it was near the Hook Lighthouse, Ireland’s oldest functioning lighthouse and second oldest in the world, we decided to stop by. We never know where our family adventures will take us!

Loftus Hall wasn’t open until later, so we went to the Hook Lighthouse first. The lighthouse is impressive, it was much bigger than we expected. The current structure has stood for 846 years. We had a casual little second breakfast at the cafe overlooking scenic Wexford Harbor and then walked around the grounds.

Elijah, however, was impatient to get to the main attraction. He had read some intriguing stories about Loftus Hall and was ready to experience it himself.

This is one of the stories surrounding The Hall:

“It is for many years said to have been visited by the Devil, so many people from the surrounding area are nervous to enter the place after dark. Legend has it that during a storm at sea, a dark stranger approached the Hall on horseback after his ship was driven into nearby Slade Harbor with rough seas. He was invited in to seek shelter and spent some days with the Tottenham Family who were living at the Hall at the time. The young Lady Anne Tottenham was especially taken with this dark stranger and fell head over heels for him. One night during a card game, she dropped a card and upon bending down to retrieve it, she noticed that this dark stranger had cloven hoofs instead of feet. As soon as he realized what she had seen, he shot through the roof in a ball of flames.Anne never recovered, she went into a state of shock and madness and her family locked her in the tapestry room for fear that anyone would see her.She died a couple of years later, still quite young, but her death was no release as servants and family members reported seeing her wandering through the house at night. The family had the local catholic priest Fr. Broaders exorcise the Hall but he could not exorcise the tapestry room.”

We took the plunge and went on a tour. The guide was very good, good at keeping us scared. I’ll admit, I don’t believe in ghosts, but the place is more than a little creepy. You are not allowed to take pictures inside, so you’ll need to go see for yourself. You can also watch The Lodgers on Netflix to see the hall (Disclaimer, the story is not real, just the setting.).

We left Loftus Hall and headed for Kinsale in County Cork. Kinsale will be the first place we re-visit in Ireland. We were there 10 years ago and are anxious to see it again.

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The Rock

If you say you’re going to The Rock in California, everyone would assume you’re going to Alcatraz  in San Francisco Bay, but in Ireland its the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary.

Also known as Cashel of the Kings and St. Patrick’s Rock, this hilltop ruin is immersed in legend and history. Irish myths tell that the hill was formed when the Devil took a bite out of a mountain 20 miles north and spit it out on the plain as he was fleeing from St. Patrick. The Devil’s Bite, as the mountain is called, does look like a huge bite was taken out of it.

It is also reputed to be the site where St. Patrick converted the last pagan King of Munster to Christianity in the 5th century. For many centuries afterwards, it was the seat of the Kings of Munster. In the 12th century, it was donated to the church, who built a cathedral on the hill.

You can clearly see The Rock from any direction as you approach. It is a magnificent example of Celtic stone work and architecture. We highly recommend taking the open tour, about 45 minutes, to learn about the site. Since it is a very popular tourist spot, you’ll want to get there early before the loads of tour buses arrive.

The round tower reminded Elijah of every Disney fairy tale princess tower in movies. He was bummed that he couldn’t scale it. You aren’t even allowed inside for safety reasons.

Across from The Rock of Cashel is a less visited ruin of an old abbey. We packed a picnic lunch and headed over to see it. You have to be careful to dodge the minefield of cow patties on the way. The ruins themselves were impressive, but they also offered an amazing look back on The Rock.

Elijah’s favorite activity was exploring old ruins.

Next up, Elijah made us detour to the most haunted house in Ireland!

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The Oldest City in Ireland

Long before it was known for crystal, Waterford was an important port city in south east Ireland.

To be honest, we really had no interest in going to the famous Waterford Crystal factory. Even though it is internationally renowned we decided to pass it up. Maybe other family travelers can comment about it. An important distinction we learned is that the crystal is named after the city, not the other way around.

The most interesting thing for us was Reginald’s Tower. This 54 foot tall stone tower was built on the site of a wooden viking fortress and has been used as a fort, prison, home, storehouse, and mint. Most notably, it was the site where the legendary Strongbow (mentioned in my last post) married Irish princess Aoife.

It was only a couple of Euro to visit, so we went up. Inside is a small museum with displays, artifacts, a short movie, and good views of the city. Best of all is a cannon ball embedded high in the outer wall, a left over from a failed siege long ago.

The rest of Waterford to be honest is pretty lackluster. In fairness, it is a working class city with people doing jobs and not catering to throngs of tourists. It did make, however, a good base of operations to explore southeast Ireland.

We stayed at a wonderful Air BnB owned by Pat and his wife, Maureen. They recommended we try Brooklyn Restaurant in nearby Tramore for dinner. It was a very popular place with locals, so you know it has to be good. Luckily, Pat made reservations for us. The food was delicious! Since it was on the beach, we had great views too.

After a good nights sleep, we headed north for a day trip to the Rock of Cashel.

Up next, The Rock!

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