Hiking Connemara National Park and Killarney
The San Clemente beach trail is under my feet
today and my eyes see the Pacific Ocean. In my mind my boots are sinking into the
bog and the waves are rolling toward the Atlantic shore. I am dreaming of the green hills of
Shannon Airport, west of Limerick
After a 9 hour non-stop flight from LAX to Shannon, Scott
wheel on the right side of the small red rental car. Shoving road maps at me
on the left side of the car, he started the engine, “You’re the navigator now.” (I can’t read in
a moving car without getting motion sick.)
“Why don’t you practice a few turns around the parking lot?”
“I’ve thought about this 3 hour drive to
Connemara everyday for 3 months,
if I’m not ready now I’ll never be!”
Off we went jockeying down narrow, shoulderless two lane roads
north toward Galway grazing a vine-covered stone wall with the left fender. In a
matter of ten miles and after negotiating numerous round-abouts (traffic
circles) he relaxed his grip on the wheel. “I like this. It’s fun! Give
me those maps.”
I relaxed relinquishing my role as
left-handed and a power commuter from Orange County, this driving challenge engaged his
mind like a New York Times cross word puzzle. I on the other hand
wondered why the oncoming buses weren't hitting us? At this high speed, how were
clipping the grazing sheep or the hikers and bikers burdened with bulging
backpacks? I closed my eyes. Soon, in a
light rain, we tailgated through Oughterard, James Joyce country, where the Quiet Man was
In many ways this land reminded us of northern Minnesota around Grand Marais,
low, wet and boggy. Soon the rolling countryside changed as we wound into the valley of Connacht’s
highest mountains. We passed through the town of Leenane ( where the film The
Field was shot) on our way to the Delphi Lodge in County Mayo; the sporting lodge
Marquis of Sligo in the early 19th century.
We turned down a narrow tree-lined driveway into
the woods. Gleaming in the shadow of monstrous green hills, the lodge on Finlough
( Fin Lake) leaped out at us.
As we opened the over-sized red door of the manor,
Hanne Blake greeted
us and whisked us up a flight of stairs to our spacious room. Taking her leave
from us and hearing of our long flight and 3 hour drive, she offered “You’ll be wanting some tea, coffee and biscuits down in
the library now. Cocktail hour is 7:15 and dinner is at 8 o’clock—guinea fowl.”
Our room, without key or lock, was located directly above the library looked out on
the still surface of Finlough. (lough is pronounced lock) Salmon
erupted on the lake like small volcanoes jumping so high their tails were out of
the water before splashing back under. The lodge is famous for wild salmon and
Guide books had warned heavy suitcases
will be a burden. Scott struggled to get our bags up the steps. This is not a
hotel with bellmen and a front desk. Rather you are treated as a welcome guest
in this home.
Hanne's fire still smoked in the library fireplace. This room bulged with
salmon and trout fishing books, books on Irish history and left-behind paperbacks. Mouse, the house Jack
Russell terrier, begged for the biscuits crumbs on my plate. I savored my first
taste of Irish tea:
hot, steaming, full-bodied Darjeeling with real cream.
Our room location would prove interesting as the evening progressed. The
lodge was full of Americans, some just graduated from law school. Their jubilant
rendition on the piano of God
Bless America at 12:30 am was rousing enough to wake the dead. I only wished I had the energy that night
to join them. Since rooms have no TV's or radios it usually quiet.
Connemara National Park
Without losing a beat, the next day we rose
early and devoured made to order scrambled eggs, fruit, raisin scones and tea.
Like the previous evening's meal of roasted goat cheese salad with poppy seed honey mustard vinaigrette,
fowl with oyster mushroom dressing, roasted potatoes, spinach and shredded
carrots and a chocolate torte with cappuccino crème, it proved to be the most
wonderful food ever. A Springer spaniel puppy made the rounds of all 25 guests at the table pushing a friendly nose on
our laps as a gentle reminder that the chef's dog was starving.
Making the short drive to Connemara National Park we
arrived just as Sean, the Park
Ranger and his assistant from Galway College, majoring in environmental
study, were starting a guided hike of the bog. They advised that everyone needed sturdy shoes.
Glad we had dragged our hiking shoes to Ireland, we fell in step with the
We followed them through the bog like
ducklings. Bogs are squishy, wet, lush and oozing water. Once Connemara was
a heavily forested area but long ago ancient man chopped down pretty
much the last of the trees. Sean said it has only been in recent
prosperous times that the Irish people could look to preserving their precious
As the blanket bog plants die they never completely
decompose due to extraordinary amount of rain falling over 250 days a year,
the highest precipitation in Ireland. Today was one of those rain days. While his
out the four different kinds of heathers, I scrambled to pull on rain pants
and jacket. A slight
white-haired English lady somewhere between 70 and 90 changed from street shoes
into pink flip-flop thongs and donned a plastic
rain hat. Soon after that we noticed she
was walking barefoot. When Scott slipped and fell down in the bog, she was
the first to offer a hand to pull him to his feet. I only wish I had taken
Sean pronounced his T’s like this : tousand instead of thousand. You
can listen to the Irish talk all day. They have a positive upbeat lilt to
everything they say: "That’s grand! You’re brilliant! Have a lovely day!" This is the Irish
character. At the end of the tour we expected our boots to be caked with bog
mud. But clean the soles were with just a few grains of soil clinging to the
bottoms. Our little lady already knew this secret!
The next day Hanne at the Delphi advised us the hike we were planning would
be treacherous and slippery after 2 weeks of rain. She suggested we do a
favorite walk of hers from Old Head to Louisburgh along the cliffs.
Old Head to Louisburgh
the deserted beach on Clew Bay on the Atlantic Ocean, we began the 2 hour hike
out and back hike. Hanne said we couldn't miss the trail, "Even dogs
can find it."
We climbed the path leading away from
the beach to the cliff top. Under blue sky and brilliant sun the grazing sheep made way for us to
across the rolling green fern-covered hills. Fences had to be negotiated but when we nearly climbed over one marked "electric fence
danger" we knew we had lost our "track" as they call it. Doubling back it was obvious
that the trail led through commonage where sheep grazed. The fenced areas where
cows nibbled the grass were not for trespassing. Seeing clearly the track from a high
vantage point we saw what we thought must be the road to Louisburgh
rambling past neat white farm houses. It looked much farther than an hour's walk
While popping juicy blackberries from thorny bushes
into our mouths 2 women and a dog caught up with us. "Are we on the road to
know we're just out walking" they shrugged. We pushed on and soon were
funneled via a back road to the main street of the two hundred year old town.
Seated at the Derrylahan Pub we ordered vegetable soup, brown bread, an open face
chicken sandwich and Guinness. The Guinness in Ireland is 4% alcohol,
unpasteurized and instead of carbon dioxide they use nitrogen." One of the
locals told Scott as he was taking a sip before the head had all settled. "Ya
need ta let it cook."
On the way back we found a shortcut to Old
Head. We stood transfixed as 2 border collies herded sheep along our road
so fast it was nearly quicker than the eye. They simply vanished from our sight.
Back at Delphi Lodge
Dinner at the Delphi lodge proved to be another gastronomical
of Duckling with a celeraic and a hyssop jus, roasted monktail with a tomato and
olive butter and coriander pesto and tart tatin with honey and walnut
ice-cream. This night instead of 25 guests at the table there were only 4 of us.
We dined with a charming couple from London who were on their way to visit the
family farm in County Clare. They confessed they couldn't believe how many
Americans now had found their secret hideaway! We confirmed what they surmised,
the internet had led most of us Yanks to Delphi.
Reluctantly the next morning we hugged Hanne goodbye, packed up the car and
drove 9 hours to Killarney for the start of Scott's business meeting. I thought
then even if I had to go home now I would have treasured memories of Connemara!
Little did I know the memories to be made in Killarney.
Killarney, County Kerry
At first glance, Killarney seemed to be a tourist trap. We longed
for the rough, woody country of Connemara. Tourists have been coming to this
town for hundreds of years--our waitress said," Everyone knows the Lakes of
Killarney!" Soon the secret mountains and lakes were revealed to
On our first day in Killarney Scott hired John for
a one-way jaunting cart fare through
the Gap of Dunloe. Georgie, his horse, pulled out with a quick start then settled
into a plodding gait. John got out and
urged him on by running alongside when the going got steep. We had hands in
pockets, the sun had not yet penetrated the Gap.
We jostled by Echo Lake, Black Lake and Ager Lakes. At the halfway point John
stopped. "This is as far as we go. You're my only fare today, I'm goin' ta the beach!"
John now had $55 dollars in
Georgie and John galloped away leaving us to
walk back through the still dark Gap. We were
disappointed to be on pavement with cars passing us. But lightened up as the sun
mounted the Gap and we recognized the ruins of an old bouley house,
shelters in the summer for sheep tenders. Then
Scott spotted a real trail up on the ridge-a way to get up into the
MacGillycuddy Reeks above us. Scott poured over the topo maps he had ordered
before our trip.
We wound up the trail to the top of Strickeen
through heather and gorse stepping carefully over tiny butterwort plants. The
baaing sheep made me think Scott was calling my name. At the top we were
rewarded with panoramic views of the Lakes of Killlarney. Piles of rocks may
have been megelithic tombs.
On the way back down we met a man from Kent, Wales. In town for the horse
races in Tralee, he was anxious to tell us a horse from New York had won big. He
said it had taken him 6 years to find the trail we came up.
The first night’s Garden Party at Hotel Europe took place on the shore of
Lake Leanne where perfectly manicured green lawn was bordered by hedges and
Outside the white tent I watched an exhibition of fox and hounds staged for
the kids. Fifteen fox hounds responded to their names called out by the lead
hunter wearing a red coat and blowing a horn. Another young man rode O’Sheenan,
a majestic white Celtic horse that stood seventeen and one-half hands high.
Shamrog, a well-known Dublin band, had been brought in just for
our group. With fiddle, bodhran (pronounced bow-rawn) drum, electric guitar, acoustic guitar and pipes they
spell-bound us with driving traditional Irish ballads.
One of the foxhounds wouldn’t go back to the pack sniffing the BBQ
grills. Finally one of the chefs, chicken breast in hand, lured him back The
evening ended with cigars outside the bar and a white stray cat sitting on Scott’s
Killarney National Park, Muckross House
The next day we hiked in Killarney National Park, just 3 K out of the
town of Killarney. Our start began with an outstanding guided
tour of the Victorian Muckross House. Built in 1843, this 19th century great
house was eventually owned by the daughter of a wealthy
San Francisco magnate. It now belongs to Ireland. A young tour guide skillfully
led us through the manor. Gazing up at Waterford crystal chandeliers and down on
priceless inlaid Muckross furniture crafted from the local trees gave us a view
into the lives of the upper class. The billiards room included a 3 ton pool table. Queen Victoria
stayed in the house in 1861.
Outside of the house the sky looked like an old
bruise. As we walked toward the woods, jaunting cart jockeys
warned us of the pending rain. We waived them off. We were prepared and had
enough of jaunting carts!
downpour camped us under a hazel nut tree. In the hush we heard a nut
fall to the ground. The tree's large broad leaves kept us completely dry.
When the rain let up we followed the Arthur Young Trail. Hiking the
Muckross Peninsula we were walking through Europe's most extensive natural
yew, oak, arbutus and holly woods around Muckross Lake. At Dinis there was a
cottage. We ducked in for a sandwich here at the Meeting of the Waters.
Finally back at the Muckross House we devoured a bowl of mushroom soup and
brown bread. American Express must have wondered about the unusual credit
card activity as we purchased 3 hand- loomed blankets and a wool scarf in the seven
minutes we had before the bus left for our hotel.
Our last day in Killarney we decided to forego the bus trip to Blarney
Castle and spend more time walking around Killarney. From our hotel we began
the walk into town via Ross Castle. The Fossa Way wound through dark woods,
past golf courses and out into oak sheltered meadows. Now, so used to
walking in the rain, Scott just called out the command "Umbrella"
to which I responded by grabbing the umbrella from the pocket of his back
pack and handing it to him. He'd pop it up for the 2 or 3
minutes of rain and I'd stow it again as the sunshine came as quickly as
Along the trail came 2 puppies, one brown and one black. They did not dally
but pumped tiny legs along a determined course on some sort of mission unknown to
us but probably having to do with food.
At one point in our hike Scott stopped and said," If we're quiet I think we
might see some deer." Not more than 10 steps forward a Sitka deer bolted deep
into the woods.
Finally after nearly 2 hours of walking, gloomy Ross Castle appeared in our
view across the lake.
Built in the 14th century, it was the last important stronghold in Ireland
taken by Cromwell's armies when blockaded from the Lake. Beautiful swans swam
in the placid water. Boat loads of tourists swarmed the grounds. Like the
puppies on a mission we decided to forego the rest of the hike to the Castle and head into
Outside of the Laurels Pub a crowd pressed close to hear Kauzay a band
from Peru play My Heart Will Go On, the theme from the movie Titanic.
Later, Paul Kelly, in kilt and feathered hat, pumped a hurdy gurdy
The memories we cherish of our trip came from the ordinary daily
images of life in Ireland and the moments the Irish people shared
their good humor and indomitable spirit with us. The words of a
song the band Shamrog played for us summed up our experience in
It's a long long way
Gets further day by day
It's a long long way from here to there."
But we'll definitely be back!.
www.delphilodge.ie Delphi Lodge Tel: 353-95-42222 Fax: +353-95-42296
Mr. Peter Mantle
Connemara National Park
Entrance is west of town of Letterfrack on N59. Open 10AM to 6:30 PM year
round. Entry fee.
Muckross House House & Gardens and Killarney National Park
Route N71 south from Killarney for 6 kms, entrance on right.
traveling to Dublin City www.theclarence.ie