Into the West

It was one of those glorious Irish Summer days, the entire southwest of the country basked in glorious overcast weather. The scales between catching pneumonia and sunstroke were in perfect balance. Perfect weather for a day trip.

After wolfing down some breakfast we moved as a family unit to the car outside. Before we knew it we were bolting down the N22 – our destination was inter-county.

Killarney is one of those great spots in Ireland. Located next to one of the best national parks in Ireland and on the shores of Lough Leane. Historically it is important due to a number of significant religious settlements and monasteries and is steeped in folklore with tales of St. Finian and High King Brian Boru.

But today we were not on a pilgrimage. We were here to discover the town, the surrounding halls of antiquity, maybe spot a red deer. We would definitely be a pot of tea (or two).

We parked the car up and grabbed that pot of tea (and scone!) before striking out into the town beyond. Our first encounter, on Mission Road, was a familiar one.

At 18 Hugh O’Flaherty had a scratch handicap at golf and a scholarship at a teacher training college. At that point he made the decision to join the priesthood. Later he rose to the ranks of Monsignor. Time spent in Cape Town, Rome, Egypt,Czechoslovakia, Santo Domingo broadened his horizon so that when WW2 came about he took a stand against evil. Together with a select group of confidants he was responsible for saving 6,500 Allied soldiers and jews from German capture. His ability to evade Gestapo traps earned him the moniker “The Scarlet Pimpernel of the Vatican”.

In 1983 a television movie was released that chronicled this episode of history. With Gregory Peck starring as the Monsignor and pitting his wits against Christopher Plummer’s amazing performance as Colonel Klapper it is one of the best movies ever and John would watch it again and again with his granny as it was her favourite.

Victoria’s Vacation

In 1861 the then Queen Victoria and her husband Prince Albert decided to spend a few days holidaying in Killarney after visiting their son, the Prince of Wales in Dublin. Back then neither the Brehon or Killarney Park Hotels existed so she chose the Earl of Kenmore and his Killarney House for her stay.

Today the original house is no more but on it’s site is a refurbished Elizabethan-revival mansion house and fully restored gardens. We were to be in luck as it would be the first week of the house being open to the public and we were able to join a tour.

Our guide worked as a footman in the house as a younger man. He guided us through the various rooms and pointed out little details and pieces of furniture including some amazing clocks and a great harp. He also set the stage and regaled us the names of visitors past -> Alfred Tennyson, William Wordsworth, Jane Austen, Walter Scott. He also told stories of how he was present when Grace Kelly visited also in the 1960s.

After the brief tour we took a wander throughout the gardens as we made our way into the National Park proper. The landscape was quite special with tree lined walls to either side the vista from the back of the house opens up to take in the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks mountains and Lough Lenane in the background and the Desmense in foreground. With clouds coming in over the mountains it made for one atmospheric moment.

The Breaking of the Fellowship

After skirting along the edge of the National Park and back into town it was decided by the group mom that we should split up. The girls would go shopping while the boys would find another part of Killarney to explore.

During our tour of Killarney House it was mentioned that the original seat of the Earls of Kenmare was in nearby Ross Castle.This would also bring us into the wooded area around the lake and a chance of spotting some Red Deer. So off we went.

Ross Castle is a 15th Century Tower House and Keep and before the Earls of Kenmare it was the ancestral home of the O’Donoghue Clan. By the time we arrived those earlier clouds has dispersed for the sunshine portion of the day.

Being right on the lake there was a lot of activity both human and avian alike.

But there was to be no Red Deer except those that were seen in the distance 😦 The only close up we got of any real “wildlife” were the jaunting cars and their drivers.

Finishing Touches

After picking up the girls we decided to go home a slightly different route and this allowed us to stop in at one more site – Muckross House and Estate.

Killarney National Park did not just exist. It was never just one park but many different pieces that have come together over time. That first piece was the grounds and lands of Muckross House that were gifted to the State in 1932. The house itself was designed and built by Scottish Architect William Burn (1789-1870) and is one of over 600 country houses that he built. It is built in the Tudor style and with over 65 bedrooms is quite large. As part of Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861 it underwent extension improvements and it is said that this effort is what bankrupted the owners into selling it to the State later on.

When taking in the house and it’s gardens one is immediately conjuring up images of those great British Period Dramas – Brideshead Revisited, Wolf Hall and Jane Eyre.

And that was a little slice of Killarney. Like the Queen’s, poets, actresses and tourists before us, it was time to depart back home… via the Outlet Shopping Centre…of course!

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