Day 8 (April 27, 2011)
Itinerary: Killarney National Park – Visit Ross Castle, Killarney for ice cream, walk to the Old Weir Bridge and Dinis Cottage, jaunting horse carriage on Gap of Dunloe
Today is another gorgeous day in Ireland. These gorgeous days where the sun in shining are few and far between. The locals are marveling at the weather this week and we are lucky to be here to enjoy. I seem to be waking up around 6:30am every morning (and going back to sleep) so the sun must come up then and shine through our window. Our Cottage is working out very well for us and we already feel at home. It sure is nice to be based out of one location for the bulk of the trip even if it does mean a lot of driving to the sights.
Our first stop today was at Ross Castle just inside Killarney National Park and just outside of Killarney. This tower castle was built during medieval times (of course) as a defense tower from the neighboring chieftains. I hear the middle ages were a rough time to live with lots of battle. Most castles in the area are tower castles built as defensive towers. Some of the defensive methods were built right into the architecture. For example, assuming that most people were right-handed, the spiral staircase was built clockwise so those coming up the stairs would be limited by the staircase on their right and not be able to swing a sword at the guards standing in the open doorway to a room. The guards in the doorway, meanwhile could swing with thier right hands with lots of space. Another defense mechanism was the way the oak doors were built with two layers of planks laid in a cross hatch pattern. Nearly impossible to knock down, most attacking members would burn down the door. However, the door took about half an hour to burn giving the guards inside a chance to plan the attack. Holes in the floor above the entry way were called murder holes because as attackers would enter the castle, the guards upstairs could drop ammunition, boiling water, or large rocks down on top of them. Of course many other defensive mechanisms were built into the castle such as narrow windows so you could shoot out, but not in; rifle holes pointing at the entrance, a walkway on the roof to drop ammunition on the attackers, and more.
We had a very interesting tour of the castle that went through the room on each of the 4 levels. The first floor was for the guards to defend, the second floor was a small dining area, the third floor had the one and only bedroom where more than 10 people would sleep on the floor, and the fourth floor was the grand hall. The grand hall of course was where the chieftain would entertain, complete with a musician area, cooking area, and eating area. The floor of this room was built of 70 tons of limestone sitting on a wicker arch over the bedroom that held all of this rock. The construction was rather amazing how an arch of wicker could become the base to hold those 70 tons of rocks. But it worked and still works today. It was neat to get a good tour of a castle since Ireland seems to be full of them. Many of them are in ruins around the country, but Ross Castle has been restored close to the original condition.
The Killarney tourist information office was helpful to help us find and plan the rest of the day. We stopped again at Murphy’s Ice Cream to partake in some more Irish ice cream. This time the flavors tasted included the brown bread ice cream, honeycomb, dark chocolate, and possibly some others. Ice cream is still good.
We spent the afternoon walking to the Old Weir Bridge. It was advertised as about a 15 minute walk from the trailhead, but we stopped along the way for photos of course. The walk was along the same lake as the Muckross House we saw yesterday and at one point we could even look out across the lake and see the house. We aren’t quite sure about the significance of the bridge, but it’s a two-arch stone bridge crossing one of the streams connecting two of the lakes. Nearby is a little cottage called Dinis Cottage that had turned into a tea room at this point. The flowers surrounding the cottage were all in bloom, including some huge magnolias.
In the late afternoon we went to visit the Gap of Dunloe which is a winding one-lane road between two sets of mountains/hills. I had been told that we’d be able to drive the Gap, but only late in the day or early in the morning. After 6p was not late enough, however, and the jaunting cars were still running. The jaunting cars are traditional horse drawn carriage rides. One horse can pull up to 4 people in a tiny cart with only 2 wheels. It’s not like the full size carriage you might be picturing. It is really more like a rickshaw. The problem with the jaunting cars on the Gap is that a) they don’t want you to drive since they are losing business and b) it is hard to pass the horse jaunting cars on a one lane road.
In any case, we decided we wanted to take a jaunting car and 4 of us took the trip to the fourth lake, however far that ended up being. One of the lakes was in an echo canyon and the guide of course demonstrated the echoing. We learned a few things from him on the ride since he grew up in the area. The trip was bumpy, but a fast way to see the Gap. Otherwise, we would have been walking and would have taken a few hours that we didn’t have.
Once again we were near Killarney for dinner time, so we found a place that specialized in the bocksty dish. Alan has a favorite place in Tulsa that serves the Irish bocksty and he wanted to see how the compared. The bocksty is a potato pancake with a filling. In this case everyone got a lamb curry filling. I ordered the mysterious looking nutroast which turned out to be delicious and a perfect small helping as well. The nutroast was basically a mash of cooked nuts and vegetables and spooned on the plate so it looked like meatloaf or mashed potatoes, though a much darker color. We were all very happy with our dinner and afterwards of course headed back to the Killarney Grand for their 9-11pm traditional music session. Tonight there was a trio including a fiddle, banjo, and a guitar.
(once again, a slow internet connection means no photos today; soon though!)