Blarney Castle, Blarney Woolen Mills, Blasket Island Interpretive Center, Blasket Islands in Irelend, Bunratty Castle and Folk Park, Carberry Castle, Castle McCarthy Mor, Castlemaine Ireland, County Kerry Island, Dingle Peninsula, Durty Nelly's Pub in Bunratty Ireland, Gallerus Oratory, Gap of Dunloe, Great Blasket Island, Irish Adventue, Irish People, Kate Kearney's Cottage, Kerry Bog Village, Killarney Ireland, Killarney National Park, Lady's View in Killarney Ireland, Lake Lein in Killarney Ireland, Lakes of Killarney, Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, Muckross Traditional Farms, River Shannon, Shannon Airport, Standing Stones, The Lake Hotel in Killarney Ireland, Tor Waterfall, Travel in Ireland
What has a week in and around Killarney got to do with New England? Let me explain…
For me personally, some of my not-so-distant ancestors hail from that land rich with lore, legend, history and boundless natural beauty. I think many New Englanders can relate to this relationship.
Through ‘the troubles’ and the famines, many Irish citizens emigrated to America; a good many resettled into various New England communities. This connection has affected the initial fascination Patrick and I have with Ireland. The land and the people, the country itself, once experienced; has cemented that connection. We’re addicted.
And besides, in the springtime it is said that, “Everyone is at least a little bit Irish”.
I have had the wonderful blessing of visiting Ireland several times, each visit is another magical experience.
On our last 2 visits, we stayed just outside the charming village of Killarney in County Kerry, located in the southeast corner of Ireland. We took day trips from there to other locations in the region. This worked out really well as Killarney is conveniently located near many Irish attractions and a wonderful destination in its own right.
I will summarize the experience and the highlights of a week, in and around Killarney, for you here. First let me introduce you to the region.
Let me first share with you, our choice of lodgings. A few years ago, we discovered idyllic accommodations adjacent to, the Killarney National Park.
The Lake Hotel on the shore of Lake Lein, or to use the colloquial term, Lough Lein, in Killarney, could not be more perfect. The hotel advocates an environmentally friendly policy and most of the rooms in this hotel face the lake. Although tastefully updated to contain all the latest conveniences, The Lake Hotel, created in 1820, still exhibits many elegant interior period details of an earlier time. Gracious fireplaces (lit on damp afternoons and evenings), vintage paintings and furniture, and tin ceilings in the public areas create a warm and welcoming presence.
The unique setting alone would be enough to keep us at the hotel, but the service and award-winning culinary fare are also beyond compare, including a very sustaining breakfast buffet offered daily.
The hotel restaurant, Castlelough, overlooks the lake where it is not unusual to spot wildlife just beyond the window. An Irish Pub; The Devil’s Punch Bowl, resides on-premises, and includes great views, imaginative food choices and features live Irish music on a regular basis.
On the shores of Lake Lein, in front of The Lake Hotel, sits the remains of 12th century Castle McCarthy Mor, destroyed in battle in 1645. The hotel overlooks the picturesque ruins, adding another touch of magic here.
The view from the lake shore is like an ever-changing landscape painting. A series of hills and mountains on the far side of the lake, spans the range of blues, greens and purples as the daylight changes, with mist rising and falling to reveal more or less of the distant landscape as the day unfolds. Islands appear and disappear with the mists and daylight.
A pair of swans calls the reedy area in front of the hotel grounds home, and wading birds fish there daily. Families of ducks and red deer are often seen swimming and wading into the lake. Red deer are only found in two places in Ireland; this is one.
Come; share a week in and about Killarney with us!
We arrive in Ireland the last week in April and the weather is damp but relatively warm; 50s and 60s during the day. Some days are sunny and some are overcast and misty with rain mixed in. The weather is always very atmospheric here. We turn off the main road and drive through a wooded enclave, arriving at our hotel. The view before us is without compare. I am literally speechless. We check in quickly and return outside as soon as possible, not wanting to miss a moment of this vacation.
We tour the grounds of the Lake Hotel, spying red deer grazing nearby, and hike one of the trails that lead from the hotel into the 25, 000 acre Killarney National Park. Soon, we arrive at Muckross Abbey, an Irish National Landmark.
The abbey is an incredible historic site over 500 years old with an enormous yew tree growing in the courtyard dating from the abbey’s establishment in 1448. Many ancient Irish poets are buried in the churchyard surrounding Muckross Abbey.
We eventually return to the main path and continue on to historic Muckross House and Grounds. This site is an Irish manor house, restored to its full glory. Like The Lake Hotel, Muckross House hosted Queen Victoria on her visit to the area in 1861. Regular tours bring this country estate to life. The gardens are beautiful and there is much to see and learn here. An interpretive center located in the stable block, includes information about local historic sites, hiking trails, maps and nearby natural history locations. A shop in one of the stone outbuildings has ‘everything Irish’ for sale, including a great selection of Irish books.
After exploring this historical site, we continue along the trail through the storybook forest and take a side trip to experience majestic Torc Waterfall. This natural wonder is awe-inspiring, to say the very least, with crystal water cascading down a steep mossy crevice in the mountainside.
These treasures all border one side of Lake Lein and are well worth the time to visit and explore. They can all be walked to from the hotel and enjoyed in one day if you employ a well-planned itinerary.
Nearby Muckross Traditional Farm opens to the public at the beginning of May and is a wonderful heritage site worthy of many hours visit. The farm is another stop along the walking trail leading from the hotel.
At the end of the day, we return back to the hotel, enjoying a delicious meal in the dining room. We bring books and a laptop to the sitting room, overlooking the Castle McCarthy Mor ruins outside the window; highlighted with soft spotlights and reflected in the lake beyond. The fireplaces are welcoming as evening brings a bit of a chill and we review our long and eventful day.
Up before daylight, I step out on the balcony above the lake. Hearing something in the water below, I notice a large red buck and several does stepping into the water, apparently heading to an outcrop a short way off. The deer appear ethereal in the first blurry light of dawn.
Today, we stay in the area and drive a couple of miles north toward Killarney village, stopping at Ross Castle, one of the few authentically furnished (tower house) castles of its period in Ireland today. At Ross Castle you may tour the castle proper and hike the extensive grounds with trails leading to old copper mines and other interesting destinations.
Rowboats are available at the castle to take upon the lake, or you might hire a jaunting cart to bring you around to the many special place,s in and around the village of Killarney.
Killarney village is just a few miles easy walk or drive from The Lake Hotel and it’s full of historic architecture, Irish culture, and many authentic Irish pubs.
We pick up a few grocery items in town at various markets and drive back to our hotel where we enjoy a picnic lunch on our balcony overlooking the lake and mountains.
After lunch, we explore some of the area beyond the mountains we see across Lake Lein. Along the way, we stop at a few scenic areas, one with a crumbling castle tower, and check out a couple of local golf courses.
We stop in Killarney Village on the way back to the hotel and check out some of the many interesting sculptures and architecturally interesting buildings there.
We drive northwest toward the Ring of Kerry, stopping at the Gap of Dunloe, one of the notches between nearby mountains. Views of, and from, the gap are quite dramatic. There are hiking and pony cart trails through the gap and a wonderful tearoom; Kate Kearney’s Cottage, sits at the base of the trails. This charming café, pub and gift shop was originally a hunting lodge, converted to a tearoom over 200 years ago.
Our next stop is the restored Kerry Bog Village, once inhabited by peat cutters and crofters, located between the villages of Glenbeig and Kilgorin.
After leaving the bog village, we stop and explore the incredible remains of Ballycarberry Castle.
Next we head to majestic Lady’s View, a must-do scenic pullover site, overlooking some of the Lakes of Killarney. It really makes you feel on top of the world looking out over the mountains and lakes here.
Returning to the The Lake Hotel, we eat supper there and watch the sun set on the lake. After a very satisfying meal, we drive to Killarney village where we park and walk to several local pubs with Irish music on offer. It’s a wonderful way to round out the day.
Showers over night and tapering off by morning. Listened to it rain and the lake birds calling during the night, with our sliding balcony door open. Watched the swans swimming below in the early morning light, undaunted by weather. It all seems a bit surreal…
We’re eating by a window in the restaurant, enjoying a leisurely breakfast, when a rainbow breaks through the clouds and reaches into the lake before us! Nearly overwhelmed, we are completely awed when a second rainbow appears beside the first! I am so mesmerized; I nearly forget to take a picture until one has nearly faded! The luck and the magic of the Irish appeared to us in living color! We watch until the specter finally fades and the day opens up, crystal clear.
We drive northwest to the village of Castlemaine (inspiration of the Wild Colonial Boy fame) where Patrick still has relatives that he keeps in touch with. We tour some of the local homesteads that had been in, or still remain in, the family. We visit family members and pay respects to cemeteries where ancestors sleep the final long sleep. We stop into a local pub for lunch and take a scenic road back to Killarney, over mountains and past peat bogs, through small villages with a lot of interesting countryside along the route.
Dinner is a simple picnic of Irish Brown bread, Irish cheese and fruit, overlooking the castle ruins in front of the hotel. We take a walk on one of the nearby trails until nearly dark, passing a small herd of red deer grazing in a field behind the hotel. It stays light in the evenings here until about 9 pm this time of year. It’s wonderful to be so close to nature and see so much of it every day.
Again, I want to pinch myself to be sure I am not dreaming!
This day we travel west to the Gallarus Oratory first, located on the Dingle Peninsula outside the village of Ballyferriter. This is an early monastic site complete with a beehive-shaped dwelling, or place of worship, built entirely of stone without mortar. It is estimated to hail from the 6th to 9th century AD. Daunting. We had our Irish picnic on the grounds there before traveling on to the charming fishing village of Dingle town.
Dingle is a very picturesque coastal Irish village, where pastel cottages with lace curtains and interesting shop fronts, line the hilly streets.
Next, we visit the Great Blasket Island, one of several Blasket Islands off the coast of Dunquin on the Dingle Peninsula. This island has a wonderfully rich history of art and literature. The island was ‘cleared’ of the last inhabitants in the 1950s but the abandoned remains of a couple of stone cottage villages provide testimony to the Island’s significance in Irish History.
The Blaskets were one of the last bastions of pure Irish Language in Ireland. Great Blasket Island, closed to visitors for decades, has just recently ‘re-opened’ for daytime visiting if you connect up with one of the locals who take folks out in their boats.
Today, the islands are inhabited only by sheep and donkeys. Playful seals provide endless entertainment when they visit the beaches.
The Blasket Interpretive Center on the shore of Dunquin, brings many of the wonders of the Blasket Islands to life. If you decide to go, I strongly suggest doing some research on this island community on Great Blasket before visiting, to fully appreciate your experience.
Finally back at the hotel again, we eat a light supper in the pub while the sun sets beyond the lake and mountains. We linger in the pub and enjoy some Irish musicians performing late into the evening.
All the destinations in Ireland are amazingly rewarding; and the journeys to reach these places are filled with breathtaking scenery of lakes, ocean views, mountains, castles, standing stones, quaint villages and historic ruins of all sorts. Be sure to allow time in your rambles to check out these wonders as you travel.
Many small farms still dot the rural landscape. The inhabitants in the villages, towns and cities are down-to-earth and eager to be helpful. We’ve frequently been invited into family homes for tea when we’ve only asked for directions. We were even invited to a family wedding once!
We get an early start today to make the most of our travel time. Blarney Castle, house and grounds, the furthest day trip we have taken, is about two scenic hours drive southeast to the village of Blarney.Blarney Castle
Unlike the typical tourist attraction I suspected this site to be, it is refreshingly unspoiled. The castle, complete with dungeons and towers, is an incredible ruin with signs and guides to interpret each section. And yes, you can even kiss the Blarney Stone, which is a bit of a thrill, but to me, the view from the ramparts is even more stimulating!
You can easily fill the rest of your day with gardens, hiking trails, standing stones, picnic areas, mystic sites and the historic Blarney House all right on the grounds here. Nearby Blarney Woolen Mills is worth a visit as well, with a view of the castle and an array of just about ‘everything Irish’ for sale, especially, woolen knit and woven items.
We opt for a late dinner in the hotel when we return and we spend a quiet evening in the great room beside one of the fireplaces, planning our next day’s journey.
Our last full day in Ireland. We bid farewell to the Killarney region, where we already feel at home. An early breakfast and we hit the road. Heading north, we take a ferry across the River Shannon, saving several hours of driving time. Some days, dolphins accompany the ferry across, leaping out of the River Shannon!
Bunratty Castle has been here for hundreds of years but the village that originally encircled it has vanished. However, a ‘new’ old village, has been recreated here, complete with a village main street, out-lying farms, a church and many stone cottages and manor houses.
Dozens of vintage historic public buildings and private dwellings have been moved to this site from all over Ireland; many from threatened locations like the current runways at Shannon Airport. The old buildings were carefully moved, restored and reassembled here, creating a quaint village and educational living history site surrounding the castle.Bunratty Thatched Cottages
The folk park is authentically landscaped with cottage gardens, cobbled streets, fields of crops etc. Entire farms were moved here, home now to a variety of farm animals. Several of the homesteads, farms and other sites here are actually miniature museums within themselves, displaying relevant themed items.
Bunratty Castle is enormous and the tour is quite thorough. Medieval Feasts are held here regularly and are open to the public. Be sure to check the web site for days and times if you plan to attend one of these special events. There are easily a full day’s activities at Bunratty, and two days would allow more leisure.
Fortunately, Bunratty is located about 1/2 hour from Shannon Airport, making it an ideal place to start or end an Irish vacation. There are also many interesting places to stay in the area. But that’s another story…
On that note, I wish you an awesome Irish Adventure!
Thanks for keeping us company.