While visiting the pubs in Kinsale we met a happily drunk group of Canadian golfers who insisted we absolutely had to visit Old Head where they lost their golf balls in the sea. One of the revelers called “Mikey” snuck away to the Actons Hotel with the intention of one last whiskey after a comedic rendition of Tura-Lura-Lural. Intending one last beer, we found Mikey and everyone’s good intentions flew away as good conversation ensued. A brilliant business man, he counseled me on building a customer base, his winning personality and eyes shining. The first to comment on our ages, Mike said he wished he’d brought his wife to Ireland when they were younger; she died a few years ago. We heard versions of his sentiment throughout our holiday. The messages we brought home are live every day, joy comes through experience rather than possessions, and saving for old age is a gamble at best. Again, human connections rounded out our day of sight-seeing and we slept with a cool salty breeze blowing in from Kinsale harbor.
A hardy Irish breakfast under our belts, we drove the long way to Kenmare via Old Head Kinsale, which took us up the cliffs, then wound us through country back roads all the way to Killarney National Park and Ross Castle. Not the quickest route, but the Canadians were right.
Ross Castle, built in the 15th century and home to the Earls of Kenmare, is beside Killarney’s lower lake, Lough Leane. It was the last stronghold in Munster to hold out against the bastard Oliver Cromwell. I think the prefix is part of his legal name in Ireland and Scotland.
Built in the 19th century, Muckross House is comparably modern. We chose to skip the tour for a walk that tuned in to a hike around Killarney’s middle and upper lakes.
A pathway next to Killarney’s middle lake led us away from the crowds and into the woods, which provided a rougher uphill terrain, and made me grateful once again for a splurge on high-quality hiking boots that tightly cradled my ankles and supported the arches. Waterproof hiking boots are my #1 footwear suggestion for Ireland and my # 2 is Sketcher Go-Walks for ladies on pavement.
The path dwindled after the upper lake, but still, I hoped that it would lead me back to the immaculate flat lawn of Muckross House.You never realize a path disappeared until you are well off it, however we were halfway back, just a little lost. My stamina almost spent, I could not hike back the way we came, so my husband went up a hill to appraise our options. Luckily he found a shortcut. Unluckily, it entailed me climbing over a log, up a steep hill, and down again to our original woodland path.
As I weighed my options that really were not options, he of course snapped a shot of me. Unaware that I mistakenly set the camera to video, it caught an under-my-breath reference to sweating like a $2 whore. Nice souvenir.
After resting on the lawn for a good half hour, we drove a short way down the road to Torc Falls. Killarney National Park covers 26,000 acres, basically a walking and gawking expo.
Torc Falls in Killarney National Park
The Ring of Kerry, terrifying drive with large tour buses crowding a trim road, but luckily there are pull-offs to catch your breath.
Down the road from Killarney is Kenmare and Sheen Falls Lodge, our accommodation for the next two evenings. Kenmare is the jewel in the Ring of Kerry, and Sheen Falls Lodge, a fantastical manor hotel to which I often return in meditation.
Fish & chips stop in Kenmare
Kindly Siobhan led us to our room on the second floor of Sheen Falls Lodge and handed us a key with a huge fob on it. A king size bed dressed in pure white and light gold, a bathroom the size of most hotel rooms, and Louis XV cream brocade chairs still left plenty of room to walk around comfortably in our opulent haven. We built in a slow day midweek so I could write, rest, and gain energy for my husband’s walks that turn into hikes and other escapades, and he could go fishing. My swollen ankles and fatigue indicated perfect timing.
First, however, a Portugese gentleman in the lounge regaled us with pictures of his seaside villa and hilarious stories about marriage to an Irish woman who didn’t go home after holiday. An older Irish gentleman, to our benefit, competed for our attention. Jokes and stories kept us up laughing and making new friends until midnight, a pewter statue of Molly Malone as witness.
Rushing water and birdsong
The next morning I sat on the balcony at 7:30 a.m. in a soft white robe with a cup of coffee and eased slowly into my unstructured day, while my husband had to meet his fishing guide with a full-on hangover, so rushed down to breakfast after groaning about that last pint, or maybe the last two. I almost felt sorry for him, but we were in each other’s company every minute of the past four days, and pulling rainbow trout out of Loughbarfinnity is to him what writing is to me. We were both better for it.
Following a light breakfast, I found the pool. A pungent herbal aroma and lilting Celtic notes lent to a healing vibe as I lazily floated on my back. A couple laps and a soak in the blue glass hot tub were restorative. Then I explored the hotel with my camera and notebook.
Getting lost at Sheen Falls Lodge
I settled on the patio next to the river and wrote some horribly flowery prose in my state of infatuation, then sought out a book of Father Brown’s photography I spied earlier in the library.
When he returned hungry from his adventure and found me with tea in a sunny yellow drawing room, he smiled and shook his head a little at my extravagance, then showed me the picture of his fish and told me about Damien the guide on the way to the car.
Chapel on Ring of Beara, where tour buses cannot fit.