Thursday, May 17, 2012

Visiting Ireland: County Kerry

The last portion of our trip was to County Kerry, on the southern coast. My mother-in-law's parents were born in a village called Anascaul, and she promised County Kerry would be spectacular. At that point on the trip, I had seen breathtaking basalt formations and cliffs, so I was a bit dubious but she was not kidding! County Kerry is one of the most beautiful places on earth, with rocky beaches, primordial forests, steep cliffs and incredible clear waters. I was pretty sick by the time we got there, but I didn't want to miss anything, including our visit to Killarney National Park.

The park contains Muckross House, a Downton Abbey-esque Victorian mansion that was visited by Victoria herself! It was beautiful, and is surrounded by gorgeous gardens, both manicured and wild. Guests can tour the national park by foot, bicycle or by carriage.

We opted to travel by foot from the house to the Muckross Abbey, a 15th-century Franciscan friary. On the way, I saw incredible ancient trees, winding and twisting and covered with thick, dry moss. It truly looked like a fairy forest.

The abbey is wild...on the surface, abandoned ruins, but with narrow hallways and staircases free to be explored. Its graveyard had graves from the 1400s up until only a couple weeks ago.

I gotta say, I got a thing for barrel-vaulted ceilings. This is in a courtyard that overlooked a beautiful yew tree.

Later that day, we went to stop for lunch at Inch Beach. I had one of the best burgers of my life (Irish beef and cheddar are SO GOOD and flavorful) at Sammy's. Miss Margaret said Inch Beach was one of her favorite spots in the world. It overlooks mountains, with farms butting right up to the cliffs over the ocean. 

Me, at Inch, where parts of the 70's film, "Ryan's Daughter," were filmed.

The real fun, to me, was going for an impromptu hike on the dunes. They don't look very tall in this picture, but trust me, they were a bit precarious.

Sean navigated like a pro.

We saw something I'd never seen: kids sliding in the sand, like they were sledding on a snowy hill. Presh.

We stayed in a rented house in Anascaul, where at 10 p.m. on a Friday night, the whole village marches down to the South Pole Inn, a famous pub opened by Antarctica explorer Tom Crean.

We happened to be in town for the annual Ballinclare Fair, a completely surreal festival where everyone gathers on the town streets to buy and sell horses, chickens and even ferrets!

Staying in Anascaul was a nice change of pace from bouncing around the country's hotels and B&Bs. We had time to take a breather, and even skip stones! We also met the Irish cousins...I couldn't understand everything they said, but they were sweethearts.

On our last day in Ireland, we went for a drive around the peninsula. Picturesque doesn't begin to describe it. We saw the ruins of Castle Minard...

And on the drive around the peninsula, an abandoned house.

But nothing compared to Slea Head, a promontory on the furthest west point on the peninsula. It almost looks like Hawaii, with its dramatic colors and shapes, but has the simple homes and sheep that you only see in Ireland.

From Slea Head you can see the Blasket Islands, which were populated solely by Irish speakers until the 50s, and one fun island called Sleeping Man. Do you see him?

We finished our sightseeing, and effectively our trip, with a stop at the Gallarus Oratory, a very early Christian church built with no mortar and still standing! Impressive, for sure.

Thank you for touring Ireland with me! I have one last post planned on the food we ate and then we'll be done talking about travel for a while!

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