Sunday, 10 May 2015

Yesterday, Krystal and I took a Paddywagon bus tour through County Kerry. Each time we have previously tried to take this trip, the weather was disagreeable. The west coast, with over 4,000 miles between Ireland and the U.S., tends to receive more rain than the country's counterparts. I have been watching the weather forecast like a hawk for the last couple weeks, hoping for a sunny day, or at least a non-rainy one, to take the tour. We were very fortunate that although the sky was cloudy, we only felt a couple of rain drops.
Although the tour cost €65, we covered a lot of distance and had better weather than we could have hoped for (considering), so overall I was pleased with the result. As I've mentioned in previous posts, the Paddywagon bus drivers are all one-of-a-kind characters. They are adept at storytelling, will play Irish tunes for you, and sometimes sing for their passengers. Our tour yesterday had two drivers, Fintan and Mike, both of whom I enjoyed listening to very much. Through the course of the day, we made our way through the six counties of Kildare, Laois, Tipperary, Limerick, Cork, and Kerry. Towns which we drove through included: Adare, Newcastle West, Abbeyfeale, Milltown, Castleisland, Castlemaine, Killarney, Farrenfore, Tralee, Camp, Annascaul, and Moneygall.

Our first stop of the day was a town called Adare, about a three hour bus ride from Dublin. The town is well-known for its traditional thatched-roof cottages.

From Adare, we traveled through the towns of Newcastle West and Abbeyfeale. At one point in recent history, the small town of Abbeyfeale contained 60 pubs. 54 of the 60 still carry a license today.

We then stopped in Killarney National Park, Ireland's oldest national park and consisting of 26,000 acres. The Lakes of Killarney are a popular tourist destination, consisting of Lough Leane (the Lower Lake and the largest of the three), Muckross Lake (also called Middle Lake) and Upper Lake. It also is the site of the McGillycuddy's Reeks mountain range, the tallest mountain range in Ireland, and the Mangerton mountain range. Ireland's highest peak is Carrauntoohil Mountain, at 1,038 m (3,405 feet) tall. Rainfall of more than 0.39 inches per day occurs an average of 223 days of the year in Killarney National Park.Purple Mountain, which is not part of the McGillycuddy's Reeks, is famous for its summertime bloom of purple flowers which color the mountain purple, even from a distance, throughout the summer. It is home to two types of deer: sica and Ireland's native red deer, which are only found in this region of the country.

Within the park, our first destination was Torc Waterfall, which is approximately 18 meters (~60 feet) tall after a heavy rainfall. Lucky for us, the previous day had received plenty of rain. To get to the waterfall, it was a 200 meter walk along the river through a wooded area in which every surface was veiled with thick moss, making it appear as if it came straight out of a fairytale.

Torc Waterfall, at the base of Torc Mountain

Krystal and myself

Muckross House, a Tudor-style estate located in the park built from 1839-42, became available to the public in 1964. I've learned from Wikipedia that it consists of 65 rooms! However, a tour of the house was an hour long, and since we were only given an hour to see the entire estate, we opted out of taking the tour - and there was more than enough to see outside the mansion.

On one end of the estate, there is Muckross Lake, and "jaunting cars" (horse-drawn carriages) can be taken around the perimeter. There are also numerous greenhouses and two magnificent gardens on the property, as well as a restaurant for tourists.

Krystal and I spent a few minutes discussing how there are so many things here which appear to be fake, simply because they are so extraordinary. The fairytale-moss being at one end of the list, the insane amounts of ivy present were another. The tree branches grow at all sorts of deformed angles, and the grass is just too green to be real. Ireland really does appear to have stepped straight out of a fairytale novel.

How is this real???

These views were breathtaking

Jaunting car at the base of the mountains at the Muckross estate

Muckross Lake, the second largest of the three Lakes of Killarney, is the deepest of the three with a maximum depth of 73.5 metres (241 ft).


New favorite flower - they were so tiny

New second-favorite flower...what a gorgeous color

After leaving the park, we arrived in the town of Killarney on the northeast shore of Lough Leane. It is a quaint, colorful town with a small center, and was named the Top Tourist Town of Ireland for 2015.

Our tour guide, Mike, suggested The Porterhouse for an afternoon meal. It was decently priced and our server was terrific.

Mushroom soup, Irish soda bread, and Knppoque 12 yr whiskey

Apparently, Killarney is home to Ireland's only Lord of the Rings themed pub, The Shire

Next, we drove en route along the Dingle Peninsula, which provides a great view of the Slieve Mish mountain range. Villages at the westernmost part of the peninsula, such as Dingle, are Gaeltacht, meaning they speak Irish as their first language. The scenery you encounter here is part of Ireland's Wild Atlantic Way.

Krystal and myself
After leaving the lookout, we passed through a town called Killorglin, located on the River Laune. This town is known for its annual celebration of the Celtic festival "Puck Fair," taking place every August. After learning about this festival, I am disappointed that I will not be present in Ireland to experience it. According to our guide, dating back to 1613, this is one of the oldest festivals in the world in which a wild mountain goat is captured, brought down from the mountain, and is crowned king of the village. He is then placed on a high pedestal for 3 days while the town drinks, sings, and dances in the surrounding streets. People come from far and wide to pay homage to the king goat ("King Puck") and enjoy the festivities of street stalls, music, and much more. After the festivities have ended, the year is carved into the goat's horn to prevent him from being chosen in subsequent years, and he is released back into the wild on the mountain from which he was caught. 

Our last stop in County Kerry was Inch Beach, one of Ireland's most famous beaches renowned for surfing and fishing. It is along the Atlantic shoreline and stretches three miles.

Krystal and myself

Although we did not stop for more pictures, I did get a few good shots through the bus window (mind the dirt specs and reflections in the pictures..).

Blennerville Windmill in Tralee, County Kerry
On our way home to Dublin, we did make a stop in the village of Moneygall. For anyone who hasn't heard, President Barack Obama is said to have traced his ancestors to this region of Ireland. As a result, the president made a visit to Ireland in 2013. He visited Moneygall whilst he was here, and after his departure, the village built a gas station/food court combo with an upper level museum dedicated to President Barack Obama which is named the Barack Obama Plaza. The museum even features the glass from which he drank his first pint of Guinness in Ireland. On a side note, in case anyone is interested in some Irish satire, here is the song and video "There's no one as Irish as Barack Obama" by the Corrigan Brothers. Be warned, this song is entirely too catchy and there is a good chance it will be stuck in your head for the rest of the day. If you do choose to listen/watch, note that "Obama" in the song was translated to the more Irish version: "O'bama."