Aongus and I held a vote the other night. Our best day since moving back to Ireland from London? We unanimously agreed:
Our day cycling in Killarney National Park.
This was one of four days we spent in County Kerry, and the 20 or so hours we spent in Dingle ranked a close second (see prior blog posts on Dingle, Slea Head, and stone forts along the Ring of Kerry).
Awakening from Lockdown
When the Irish government said “Lockdown is lifted–go forth and spend your money on domestic tourism”, we readily agreed! “Let’s head for Kerry,” I exclaimed. “It will be a treat to see Killarney when it’s not full of tourists!”
Indeed, Killarney, its National Park, and its famous Muckross House are typically packed to the gills with Americans.
We arrived safely after a 3.5 hour drive from our home in Dublin. As this was right at the end of lockdown #1, we had not yet been able to buy a bike rack for our car.
Arriving in Killarney, we found many people who were delighted to welcome tourists. Those in the hospitality industry have really suffered, financially, during lockdown. Nonetheless, we found one hotelier who was terrified of my accent. “No, I’m not straight off a plane,” I reassured her. “Dublin is my home.”
After a fair night’s sleep and breakfast in a nearly vacant cafe, we rented bikes in Killarney town and headed for some scenic routes.
Our first stop of the day was Muckross Abbey, a place I’d never visited before. The stone abbey is absolutely spectacular. It is surrounded by a cemetery, woods, and fields.
We spent a good hour exploring the Abbey’s multi-story ruins.
Muckross Abbey offers magnificent views at every turn.
Sweeping panoramas abound.
And there are some beautifully preserved details, like this stone relief.
To the side of the worship space is housing for the monks. The plan is straightforward enough, but when exploring it you’ll experience a maze of rooms, passages, and stairs. Delights are tucked away. They reveal themselves, to the persistent traveller, piece by piece. Most rooms are well lit, but Aongus found a dark and spooky one (photo below).
The highlight for me was the central cloister with its ancient Yew tree. Such incredible majesty, reaching up to the Heavens!
We discovered spiraling stairs to the upper floor…
…where I got so mesmerized looking around that I whacked my head on the lintel of a low doorway! I think I was gazing up at the chimney (shown below) when that happened.
I recovered, though, and discovered the Monks’ sleeping quarters. At the end of the room, we found even more stairs. These went up to the main tower.
The inside of the tower was architecturally spectacular.
In spaces like these, the iPhone’s panorama feature provides loads of fun.
We had a great time exploring each nook and cranny.
Here’s a view looking back down toward the main entry of the worship space, and the relief we saw earlier.
Here I am walking the lane back to the Abbey’s carriage parking area, where we had left our bikes.
When you visit, if you are not on bikes, consider taking a carriage ride out the Abbey.
On this tourist-free day, the horses had little work to do.
Muckross House & Gardens
Muckross House itself was closed, though the gardens and cafe were just opening back up from hibernation.
Approaching the house by bike we enjoyed this view:
The surrounding landscape was carefully crafted and meticulously cultivated.
The picturesque view out from the front terrace of the house nearly takes your breath away.
The whole place is a masterful work of art.
Here’s a Yew tree in the garden:
Leaving the house, we headed out toward the National Park’s stand of ancient Yew trees.
This ancient forest of Yews is simply unforgetable. So lush. Covered in mounds of plush green moss.
It’s hard to do justice to this dramatic landscape.
But suffice to say, I felt like a Hobitt!
At the edge of the forest we found dramatic views of the northern lake.
Our bike rental guy had shared ideas of where to stop–including important pointers since few spots were going to be open for lunch. Dinis Cafe, he thought, would be open today. It had been shut for lockdown and this was its first day back in action.
I arrived at Dinis a bit before Aongus:
Dinis Cottage is a quaint little house perched on the hillside, overlooking the southern lake from two terraces with picnic tables.
I enjoyed a nice hot bowl of soup and picturesque views (of the lake, and the man).
And then we were off again….
…to explore some more.
Our next big stop was at Torc Waterfall.
It’s a short walk up hill from the car (and bike) parking area.
Viola! Here’s the waterfall in all its splendor. Aongus isn’t too keep on heights, so he’s hanging on to ensure I don’t fall over the edge!
Or perhaps he’s considering shoving over the edge? 😉
The stairs upward beckoned, promising more adventures, paths, and views. We decided to get going downhill, however, as we had another big adventure in mind.
We did take time, though, to marvel at various trees on the way back down to the car park where we’d locked our bikes.
Muckross House to Killarney
Our tour route took us back around, past Muckross House for a second time.
Returning to Killarney town, we found a second wind and continued on toward the Northern Loop.
Throughout the day, we set our bikes aside, taking side trips by foot.
I long to canoe here someday. Canoes are rare here, however. Kayaks and motorboats are far more common. Aongus didn’t even know what a canoe was!?! People here often call kayaks “canoes”.
Isn’t this view inviting? It makes me want to paddle away….
On the road to Ross Castle, we discovered more phenomenal vistas:
These photos are of Ross Castle, operated by Ireland’s Office of Public Works (OPW), but closed on this Covid-ridden day.
Our tour around the Ross Peninsula rounded out the day so nicely.
Offering more moss, more green, and so much more lush. Here Aongus models a fine Marino wool sweater we brought back from our last trip to New York:
Memories of this place are great fodder for dreams. There’s almost no place I’d rather spend a day.
Overnight in Killarney
After out adventure, we returned to Killarney for a second night.
We’d not dined out for all of lockdown, and this was a very welcome treat! Aongus loved his first night’s chicken burger so much that we returned to the same pub for night #2. He’s very serious about his food:
The next morning, he was recharged and ready to roll!
We caught a final view of the Killarney lakes from the famous “Ladies View” on our way westward, toward the Ring of Kerry.
As with many iconic sights of Ireland, Aongus had never seen these places before–it took an American to show him America’s favourite highlights!
We are both delighted we grabbed the opportunity while it existed. Once lockdown #2 lifts, we certainly will return again!