Friday, October 12, 2012

Of Falconry, the Burren, and a Fairy Tale Castle

Our drive north from Kenmare included a stop at Adare, a village that we recommend be included on any visit to this area.  Several thatched hut homes now serve as shops or restaurants, although several have been preserved as private residences.  After a stroll through the village, we walked the grounds of Adare Manor for lunch there and were glad we did.  While the grounds themselves are simple and even untended in parts, the formal garden in front of the Manor itself has been beautifully restored and maintained.  The Cedar of Lebanon, purportedly the oldest tree in Ireland, hugs the fringe of the garden.  The Manor Home itself, replete with paneled rooms and intricate ceiling detail, was designed as a calendar home and, accordingly, has 365 windows and 52 chimneys.  The architecture is spectacular. 

Adare Manor

Continuing north, we skirted Limerick and headed toward Newmarket on Fergus and Dromoland Castle, our final accommodation for the trip.  Although the grounds are not as striking as those at Adare Manor, they are nevertheless impressive and the Castle has been fully restored and operated as a first-class hotel for years.  The huge property includes extended trails, buggy tours, and a private lake where guests can borrow a boat for fishing.  Several amenities are offered, including falconry and clay pigeon shooting, both of which Linda and I enjoyed. 

Our falconry lesson included some quality time spent with a trained Harris Hawk and our knowledgeable guide, David  Atakinson.  The hawk would flutter about and return to us, alighting on our gloved wrists to peck away at a small morsel of meat.  What makes them successful hunters, our guide explained, is their extraordinary eyesight.   Whereas the human eye might see a bush, the hawk will discern leaves, twigs, and any animals hidden in the foliage.  Further, the rare trait of hunting in pairs, to tire and lead unsuspecting prey toward another hawk, makes the Harris Hawk a formidable predator.

This is David Atakinson, Falconer.  This is harder to acheive than a PHD.. Amazing guy!

Clay pigeon shooting was also enjoyable, as was a buggy ride around the property.  Today, it is believed that the gardens and sculptures may have been arranged with mathematical precision to mark days of the calendar of astronomical events.  Such efforts were not uncommon on estates of the era. 

Our last off-site tour consisted of a drive through the Burren, a geographically unique spot with significant flora not seen elsewhere in Ireland and huge limestone sheets that dominate the landscape.  The barren region reminded us of the Scottish highlands, although the terrain was not as varied.

We enjoyed our last Irish meal at the Castle, shared a Cuban cigar on the outdoor smoking patio, and an listened to an evening of traditional music in the circular bar rimmed with ceramic alcohol kegs and colorful mugs.  It was difficult to accept that a trip which, for me, had commenced in Iceland was now drawing to a close.  As we packed, I began to wonder where our next trip would be.  As I mulled over various possibilities, I checked my email and discovered an invitation to speak in Japan during the first quarter of 2013. 

Dilemma solved.  Japan...and maybe onto Cambodia, Vietnam????   Stay tuned....
Dromoland Castle

Killarney, Kenmare, and the Ring of Kerry

The only day of significant rain during our entire trip was when we visited Killarney.  While we enjoyed lunch and shopping in town, it was difficult to appreciate the beauty of the surrounding countryside.  We visited the beautifully restored Muckross House and, during a break in the weather, were able to stroll the property a bit and take in the stunning lake views.  As wonderful as the House may be, it can't hold a candle to the vista of rain-dappled water that stretched away to the multi-hued mountains in the distance.


We traveled from Killarney to Kenmare, via Moll's Gap, which qualifies as our most challenging drive in Ireland.  A narrow, mountain road bordered by stone cliffs on one side and a sharp drop to the lake on the other, the Gap becomes a series of blind switchbacks as it climbs upward.  More than once, we were met by descending tour buses and our only safe option was to veer as close as possible to the cliff face and allow the bus to negotiate its way past.  When we finally emerged from the Gap, the winding road hugged the mountainside and afforded expansive views of the countryside far below.  Unfortunately, Linda's fear of heights prevented her from appreciating the spectacle as she was preoccupied with embedding her fingernails securely in the dashboard.

We arrived at Kenmare unscathed and were welcomed by the inviting staff at Sheen Falls Lodge.  Our room looked out over the cascading falls and the handsome bar offered quality martinis, so we toasted our adventurous drive and booked a trout fishing expedition for the next day.


There were seals in this pool the day before!

Low tide out one of our windows
Our engaging fishing guide took us to a river near Killarney, to avoid any mountainous roads, as requested by Linda.  While our catch consisted of one nice brown trout (released), we nevertheless enjoyed being outdoors in one of the most beautiful areas in Ireland.  Our guide somehow persuaded Linda to allow him to return to the Lodge via a different mountain pass, which ultimately merged with Moll's Gap.  Needless to say, we hit the bar immediately upon arriving at the Lodge and did some damage to its supply of vodka.

Last place before Moll's gap, Linda crying silently in the back seat...  Hate heights..hate!

Kenmare is a nice, little village with a cluster of pubs that all offer good food and traditional music.  We stayed late and enjoyed a few impromptu songs and jokes when a few audience members joined the scheduled entertainer to the delight of the audience.

Our last day at the Lodge saw a significant improvement in the weather and we toured the Ring of Kerry with a driver.  The views of the sea and beaches were magnificent, as were the row upon row of stone fences which seem woven together in a pattern that blankets the countryside.  The cliff-hugging road near the tip of the peninsula was daunting, but the Ring of Kerry should not be missed.  We say a few places where peat was being dug and dried, and saw  bog ponies, short and stocky horses bred to haul peat from the bogs and light enough not to sink into the soil as would heavier animals.

Bog ponies
Peat cut into blocks for firewood

 The land is haunting and so beautiful!

 We spent our final night in the village, enjoying a nice meal and an evening of music, and looking forward to the next day and our trip north to Dromoland Castle.


Wednesday, October 3, 2012

From Muggort's Bay to Mallow

We swung southeast from Waterford to Dungarvan, a town with a picturesque harbor and pleasant central square.  A few shuttered shops were sad reminders, however, of the economic difficulties Ireland faces with the collapse of the Celtic Tiger.  People were uniformly pessimistic about the chances of the economy recovering any time in the foreseeable future.  Indeed, conditions could get worse before they get better as many businesses have been 'hanging on' in the hope of a recovery that has proven elusive.  Despite this situation, however, we found the people unflaggingly helpful and always willing to share a laugh. 

Farther down the coast, Ardmore is a maze of twisting, narrow streets that, if navigated carefully, or luckily, will lead one to the Cliff House hotel.  Poised high on a cliff side outside of town, the hotel has a stunning and expansive view of the Celtic Sea.  A glass-walled restaurant, and a spacious outside deck, allow a visitor to enjoy excellent lunch while taking in the panorama of towering cliffs, green fields, and a roiling, white capped sea. 

We travelled onward to Cork, then north to Mallow and the Longueville House, a traditional Irish country manor home that is operated by husband/wife third-generation owners who go out of the way to make guests feel like part of the family.  The bar and, particularly, the lounge are great places to enjoy a cocktail and relax and the food and beverage manager is as helpful as the owners in making guests feel comfortable.  On Sunday, as a featured course for brunch, the chef-owner roasted a pig in the fireplace lounge.  The aroma was intoxicating and we anticipated, justly, a great meal.  All in all, the meals at Longueville were spectacular, including the best lamb that either of us has ever tasted.


Sunrise out of our window

The conservatory turned into a fairy tail of lace and garlands

That's a piglet roasting in front of the fireplace

We took time to stroll a small part of the 400 acre property and enjoyed playing with the family dogs and watching a flock of sheep mill about.  Although we didn't try it, Longueville also boasts terrific salmon fishing.  A wedding took place on the property while we were there, and it is difficult to imagine a prettier or more tranquil setting for a couple to celebrate their nuptials.

Owner's kids and friends we're playing in the hay loft

The egg yolks were bright orange, this is why.

This is why the lamb was the BEST we'd ever tasted!

Ruins of the original Longueville Manor across the way

Mallow served as our base to explore the Kinsale area to the south and its beautiful harbor.  We enjoyed the variety of shopping in town and lunch at the Fishy Fish restaurant.  The meal was memorable, as all of the fresh product is locally sourced, a fact emphasized by framed photos on the wall of the fisherman who supply what the restaurant serves.  A short drive from Kinsale is Timoleague, which we visited to view the abandoned abbey ruins, sited on a hill with a view across an aged graveyard to the sea beyond.  A gripping, fitting view for us to remember as we prepared to head west to Killarney and the Ring of Kerry.