Thursday, March 22, 2012

Leaving Killarney

A final breakfast at Murphy's and we're ready to drive back to the Cork airport so we can fly back to spend a couple of days in London with Jamie and Carla before they return home to Kentucky.

But first we stop in a local shop, buy some Irish wool stuff, and an old-timer tells us there's an ancient sacred well, St. Mary's Well, just a block or two away. We find it in an alley between two buildings. 

If this well has been a place of pilgrimage since 1302, it's probably been known for a lot longer than that.

Ancient wells get a lot of love from these two.

Driving to Cork we pass through the village of Macroom (which has a castle in the middle of town) and decide to look for a place to eat lunch before we get to the airport. I see a parking spot and say "park here." Vaughan's Cafe is right in front of us so we decide to give it a try.

The castle from the cafe's window. 

According to Peggy (below), the castle was the first thing built in Macroom, then everything else was built around it later. In recent years all but the exterior wall was torn down for safety.

The best and freshest scones I've ever had.

Soup and sandwiches, please. They had just finished serving a bus load of musicians from Philadelphia.

Peggy is our friendly and helpful host. If she made the scones, she's also a genius. The egg-mayo sandwiches were fabulous too. Take my word for it, if you're ever passing through Macroom, stop here at Vaughan's Cafe. Great atmosphere. Great food. Love it.

Exactly the kind of Irish dining experience I hoped for when we planned this trip.

Jamie, Carla, and Robin socialize while I snap away. Or as we iPhone photographers say, "tap away." 

Still lots more to come...

Skellig Sunset

As we continued along the roads that make up the Ring of Skellig, we caught another glimpse of the Skellig islands. 

Eventually we left the main road and down a steep hill, past a small village to a concrete pier in an inlet, and came upon a nice view of the two islands, which appear overlapping from this view point.  

Robin contemplates the Irish Skelligness of it all.

A mysterious figure descends the steps at the end of the pier. 

Robin and Carla enjoy a unique Irish sunset.

Portmagee and The Ring of Kerry

Since at least half of us had a good night's sleep (Jamie and Carla, not so much), we took off Sunday morning for The Ring of Kerry. This part of Ireland is County Kerry and the scenic drive around this southwestern part of Ireland is called The Ring of Kerry. 

Our first stop is Portmagee, another fishing village. The best known restaurant here is The Bridge Bar, overlooking the harbor.

The Bridge Bar opened for the season two days ago. Good timing.

View of the Harbor and Valentia Island from a Bridge Bar window. As you might have guessed, there's a bridge to Valentia Island just out of view. Not a spectacular bridge, but a still a bridge.

A very busy place. Either because it's popular, or because it's the only place that's open. Maybe both.

Larger than it looks from the outside.

I liked it, but nothing compares very well if you've eaten at Out Of The Blue in Dingle. 

Refueled and ready to carry on.

The Atlantic. 

When we left Portmagee we decided to take a side trip to The Ring of Skellig, a smaller loop off of the Ring of Kerry loop that takes you to views of the Skellig Islands. The Skellig Islands are two rocky islands, the larger of which is Skellig Michael, with a 6th century monastery near its top, and 700 stone steps leading up to it. Between April and October, weather permitting (and it's not permitting more than two-thirds of the time), you can take a boat to the larger island and climb to the monastery. 

The Ring of Skellig highway, above, is not a major highway. Or maybe it is. Hard to tell here. 

This road kept Robin on her toes and alert. A winding, narrow lane with blind, sharp corners.

The Ring of Skellig drive provides lots of different ocean views.

Jamie takes advantage of the photo ops.

Aha! Our first glimpse of Skellig Michael. At this point we thought it was the probably the only view of it we would have.

I'll bet this road is packed with cars and tour busses in the summer season.

Our search for the Skellig Islands continues.

Birthday Dinner on St. Patrick's Day

The four of us had dinner reservations at Murphy's elegant Lord Kenmare Restaurant. A great meal, birthday gifts from Jamie and Carla, and a Happy Birthday song from the Lord Kenmare staff.

T-shirt birthday gift from Jamie & Carla. 

As we chatted after dinner, this guy came up to our table and said "We have something in common. Today's my birthday too."

Traditional music at Murphy's. On St. Patrick's Day. It doesn't get much more Irish than this unless a herd of sheep comes in. 

David from Indiana bought a birthday cider for me. The band sang Happy Birthday to me, and announced that I was 47. David asked "How old did they say you are?" I said "They said 47 but I'm 67." 

During the ensuing conversation I told David about how we were in a pub in Cork and how an older gent who worked there had said "That's our mission: to feed the hungry and the poor." David said "You say you're 67, and this other guy was older. How old was he?" I said "I'd guess he was about 68."

Jamie and Carla somehow manage to get front row seating. 

Pipes and beer.

After the musicians stopped playing at Murphy's around midnight, there were plenty of other clubs and pubs in the immediate vicinity going loud and strong. Jamie and Carla take the lead as we go on patrol.

Walk to Ross Castle

When we returned from Dingle Friday evening, Robin and Carla retired to their rooms. I went down to Murphy's pub, grabbed a cider, and made friends with a couple of mates, one from Killarney, the other a friend of his from London. They get together every St. Patrick's Day. They started buying. I started drinking. Jamie came and went without us ever seeing each other, even though I was standing within a few feet of the door. Eventually I saw Jamie walk by and grabbed him. He'd been down the street checking out all the other pubs that were in full party mode. 

Show me, I said. OK he said. We made our way through the crowded street to a pub with amplified Irish music blasting out the front doors. We were able to squeeze inside a foot or two, which put us about a foot from the two musicians and the amplifiers. The musicians, especially the singer, were fantastic and the crowd in the narrow, long bar were into it big time. Dancing and shouting. Maybe that was singing. Hard to tell. After listening to 5 or 20 songs we explored further down the street for a while. I decided to get some rest so we went back to our rooms at Murphy's. 

Luckily for me, and Robin, our room was on the 3rd floor and on the backside, away from the street. The only thing we could hear was water dripping from a gutter. Jamie and Carla's room was on the second floor, overlooking the street. No sleep for four nights. You'd think Sunday night would have been quiet, the day after St. Patrick's Day. But no, it was the worst. Jamie said the party outside didn't stop until about 4 a.m. Monday morning. Monday was a "bank holiday" so I guess St. Patrick's Day in Ireland is a little bit more intense than it is in Santa Fe or Louisville, Kentucky.

In spite of little or no sleep Friday night, on Saturday Jamie and Carla joined us for a walk to Ross Castle, located just outside of Killarney, on a lake.

The walk took us past an old abandoned house.

1839. That's brand new around here. 

Nice woodsy scenery all along the walk.

This castle belonged to an Irish chieftain and his clan. It's a tower design with an outer defensive wall. When the tower was attacked, the clan of about 150 people, most of whom lived outside the walls, would gather up all the livestock and put them inside the walls, then they would go in the castle for protection. These raids were not long-term sieges, but instead were hit-and-run attacks by Vikings or other clans, stealing cattle or maybe just celebrating St. Patrick's Day. The tower was fascinating and incredibly well preserved. It's estimated it would have taken the clan 5 years to build it. It took 50 years to restore it. As usual, no photos allowed inside.

On one of the islands in the lake just a 10 minuter boat ride away are the ruins of a monastery and an abbey. Fergus, our boatman, said European princes were sent to this island for education. I know, sounds unlikely, but I didn't ask questions. 

It's a bit nippy out here on the lake. Fergus said it was warmer on the island.

It's not warmer here. And he forgot to mention the billion mosquitos and gnats that either live or vacation here. I stopped wondering why Fergus stayed down at the dock.

Ancient Celtic cross.

Robin and Carla conjure up memories of their Druid past lives. 

Just how hard is it to get all of these stones across a lake and onto a small island?

On the walk back to Killarney we pass a group of deer. Or unicorns. Around here, you can't be sure.

Back in Killarney I spotted what must have been two tiny Irish fairies, peeking out of a patch of flowers. I love this place.

She didn't buy hats in Dingle, but after listening to Irish musicians every night she couldn't resist buying an Irish accordion.