The Ireland Trip: Killarney

Our second city in the week was Killarney, and, being a professional Ireland traveler with four whole Irish cities under my belt, I can honestly say that Killarney is probably the best of the lot.

Mind you, to get there we had to drive an additional few hours from the Cliffs of Moher, and it was a great hardship because we had to keep passing beautiful ruins and be reminded that we didn’t have anything of the sort in America.

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In the space of two hours, you’d see upwards of five stone ruins, and that’s just if you kept to the “main” roads without ever following the tempting motorway exit signs that promised an abundance of castles.

Killarney won me over immediately because the hotel had an electric kettle for tea, something which the Galway hotel did not have. As it turns out, the Galway hotel was a bit of an anomaly, because all the rest of the hotels had one as well.

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With little cookies and everything. As it should be.

James and I were walking around the town as late as eight or nine at night, and marveling about it. We really didn’t imagine that Ireland would be that much farther north than where we had come from, but it didn’t begin to get dark until around ten and started to get light again around four.

This would have been unbearable for me if it had ever been sunny. Fortunately, the clouds hid me in darkness.

When we were wondering towards the hotel for the night, we noticed that there was a massive church spire of some kind rising over the back of it. It was very eye-catching, because there really isn’t much in Ireland that’s tall in any sense of the word.

So, without any phone usage, we just went looking for the structure.

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The back streets of Killarney were cute. And this is about 9:30 at night.

The spire, we discovered, belonged to St. Mary’s Cathedral, which was probably my favorite cathedral in Ireland simply because of the spontaneous late-night adventure we went on to find it, chasing the sight of the steeple over the rooftops.

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In fact, the spire was too tall for my phone too capture without cutting out some part of it, be it length or width-wise. Beautiful thing, though.

It was too late to go in, but the gates were all open so we circled the thing anyway, because if Ireland really wanted to keep nosy Americans out they’d lock up better.

Killarney was also the first place I tried black pudding, something I’d never wanted to do because, frankly, it sounded gross.

It was gross, but that’s because it tasted like meatloaf, and I hate meatloaf. Yes, even your mom’s meatloaf. All meatloaf, stop asking.

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James loved the “full Irish breakfast” option, because it was consistently the most artery-clogging dish to be found.

Killarney had an adorable and very touristy main street from which James and I purchased a great deal of Bailey’s ice cream, which is possibly the highlight of my ice cream experience in life thus far.

But the greatest part of Killarney, according to me, Killarney expert, is the Killarney National Park. At least, I think that’s it’s name.

From the hotel, we could walk around two miles to get to Ross Castle, through beautiful fields and the first real amount of trees I had seen in one place. And there were mountains in the background! Mountains, Gandalf!

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Sure, you had to frequently move off the road to make way for one of the horse and buggy tours, but that was nicely reminiscent of Lancaster PA. 

On the way to Ross Castle, for no reason that I can think, I started laying a penny out on the forest path every fifteen feet or so, creating a neat little trail of shining copper. Then I moved to nickles, then dimes, then a solitary quarter. I don’t know why, I think I was bored. Regardless, I know I would have been thrilled to find a trail of Euro coins in the woods in America.

Ross Castle, meanwhile, met my low castle standards.

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There’s really no telling what it used to look like, because the tour we took of it covered the fact that until recently no one cared what happened to a castle that their family happened to own, and they tore bits down or put new bits up, but the restoration they had done to it in recent years was very good. I couldn’t tell where the old parts stopped and the new parts began.

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Along with the tour, you were allowed to climb over almost every inch of the place. No guards or cameras or even ropes to keep us off parts, on the assumption that we’d be respectful and think carefully about our actions.

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Nah.

No pictures were allowed on the tour, which was very informative and surprisingly fun. Our tour guide was very excited that I had a question about the place- namely, which part of the roof had been torn off to avoid paying taxes on the place.

It was the top part.

People will do anything to avoid paying taxes.

I don’t think he ever got many questions on his tours, he seemed notably more energetic after that.

Nice fellow.

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I took a quick picture out of the top window of the castle anyway, for rebellion’s sake.

When we walked back to the hotel, all the coins I had put down were gone.

The next part of our Killarney experience was going to see the Torc Waterfall. We piled into the tiny car and made our way through tiny streets and down tiny winding roads through the very large forest, following our unreliable GPS for Torc Waterfall. At one point, we came across a fork in the road, where the GPS told us to go to the left and all the official signs told us to go right, so we went right and discovered that the parking space for the waterfall was filled to the brim with tour buses.

So, turning around, we went back down the other fork. We drove, and drove, and drove. It was very narrow, and there was nowhere to park along the way and no signs, so when we began to approach the point on the GPS we parked the car on the first tiny flat space we found alongside the road and walked from there.

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This was the first place we’d been that was really devoid of people.

It was a bit of a walk, but fortunately, we had brought our newly-acquired Irish whistles with us, to the despair of the local wildlife.

But we passed the point on the GPS with no sign of the waterfall, and at this point we had climbed quite high, so we figured we must be above it. We kept walking for a bit, but the road went on through the trees, so instead we decided to climb down through the woods, something many enterprising people had already done, judging by the widened deer trails.

So, as many stupid young people do before they are lost forever and eaten by wildlife enraged by the sound of poorly played Irish whistles, we decided to cut down through the woods to the other road, and walk to the waterfall through there.

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Actually, it was quite nice.

About halfway through we realized it would be Hellish to climb back up, but we figured there was no use in stopping just then, so we kept going. And, miraculously, we came right out into the full parking lot- now obviously mostly empty- and the official path straight to the waterfall.

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6/10 as far as waterfalls go, 8/10 because it’s in Ireland.

We were hanging about near the waterfall, dreading the steep hike back up through the woods, when we realized the paved path from the parking lot to the waterfall didn’t end there- concrete steps on the hillside disappeared up into the forest. Figuring we could follow it as far as possible, we started to climb.

We climbed for a long time, and started to veer very off course, which made us nervous. At last, though, the path reached flat ground, and split off in different directions. We took the one that brought us in the general direction of the road with our car.

It deposited us into a parking lot above the waterfall.

The place where we had given up and crashed through the forest instead was hardly two hundred yards down the road, around a bend.

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Ireland looks a lot like the Pacific North-West sometimes. Okay, only in Killarney.

To celebrate our stupidity, we went to “Ireland’s only Lord of the Rings themed pub” for dinner.

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The fake grass really makes it.

We had read a poor Google review about the place before going, claiming that it was only “vaguely” Lord of the Rings themed, and barely had anything to do with the series at all, but as James later remarked, it turns out they were just mad that the place didn’t directly transport them to Middle-Earth. In reality, it was about as LOTR-themed as a place could get while still being a regular pub.

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It was very green, though, and hard to photograph. If you squint, you can see the Elvish inscription on the ceiling.

We spent our last night in Killarney drinking “Hobbit Juice” and “Frodo’s Lager.” John tried a shot called a “Nazgul,” which was appropriately menacing. The live music started around 9:00, and when it was all said and done we walked back to the hotel when it was still light out.

Too much daylight around there, if you ask me.

Vacation Like a Rich Person

If you want to escape it all for the weekend, to commune with nature in the wildest parts of America, I highly recommend anywhere besides the Poconos, which might have been nature at one point but is now just a lot of rich people pretending.

Still fun, though.

On the weekend my board gaming friends booked a “cabin” in the “woods,” although in this case “cabin” means “fancy wood-paneled home with Jacuzzi”, and “woods” means “some trees in a gated community surrounding a ski hill.” I had figured going into it that we were in danger of being hunted down by serial killers as we lay defenseless in our ramshackle cabin, but there was a security system and you couldn’t get through the gate if you looked like a murderer.

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It’s a cabin because it’s brown.

While there were technically woods surrounding us, all the houses were very closely packed in, lining the twisting roads like an otherworldly suburb. It was quite nice, actually- they had clearly put in an effort to preserve the trees when they built, and regular suburbs could benefit from the increased amounts of nature.

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All the other “cabins” were at least partially hidden by the trees, allowing you to pretend you weren’t within 200 yards of another vacationing family.

It was St. Patrick’s Day weekend and we had hundreds of board games to get through. It was heaven.

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I came very prepared for St. Patrick’s Day.

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The hot tub was built into the enclosed porch, which was excellent because it allowed us to get very hot, step outside, roll around in the snow, and submerge ourselves again while icy.

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I may have taken a creepy picture of two of my friends talking in the early morning, but they were very cute, and I have no shame.

We spent most of our time in intense relaxation, being as we are all introverts who need a little space throughout the day. We would converge in the kitchen for meals, feast merrily for an hour, and then retreat to quiet corners and watch Planet Earth for a time before board games commenced again. It was lovely.

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And then, when it got too stuffy indoors, a group of us adults would swarm the nearby sledding hill and show the local kids just how slowly you could slide down a hill on a sled that was the 1971 Chevy C10 of racecars.

We returned to our normal lives reluctantly, but satisfied in the knowledge that we had made a lot of exceptionally lazy memories. We also learned that there’s no limit to how sick you can get in a minivan with six other people on a winding hilly road in the Poconos.

Fairy Houses

I have an app on my phone called “Home.” Home is a bit like micro-transactions in an online game, only for real life. You spend a few dollars on a cute pillow, a few dollars on a neat bracelet, and soon you’ve spent $450 and you’re still not winning.

And the other day, Home, because it knows me better than I feel comfortable with, suggested a miniature tea set.

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This is the face hand of impulse buying.

I’m easily enraptured by pretty girly things. Taking care of three to six boys will do that to you. But this set, especially, reminded me of the miniature tea sets my sister and I used to have when we were little. It also reminded me, in a round about way, of the “fairy houses” we used to make out in the woods.

Fairy houses are easy to make. First, you look around for building materials in nature. Then, you spend an hour carefully setting everything into place. Finally, you step back and cry a little because your creation looks like a dumpster compared to what people on Pinterest put together effortlessly. It’s very rewarding.

So as I looked at this little tea set, I thought to myself, “Wouldn’t it be fun to take these out and build a fairy house in the park somewhere for someone to discover?”

I went to the park today.

I hadn’t made fairy houses in years, but I remembered vaguely that purely working with sticks is the devil and that finding some rocks would help weigh everything down. As it turns out, the east coast has no rocks this time of year.

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Seriously, there could be diamonds under that foliage and I’d be none the wiser.

So I begrudgingly started with sticks instead. Not only sticks, mind you. There were, fortunately, quite a few pinecones around as well, and they made lovely insulation.

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Pay attention, Pinterest.

I forced a few sticks into the ground, dropped some pinecones on top of each other, and did the same thing to the other side. I laid longer sticks across the roof, covered the whole thing with pine needle tufts (only the ones that were already dying, don’t look at me like that), and put in a few additional sticks for support.

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And here we the trailer park home of the Welfare Fairy.

It was decidedly underwhelming, but I was running low on childlike wonder and people on the paths were starting to stare at the grown woman squatting under the tree with a bunch of pinecones in her hands.

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It was something. It would be something better with miniature teacups.

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The table and tablecloth came next, and I only severely injured myself on the bark once. And then…

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All right, now that’s adorable.

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I needed to improve my fairy house skills, but a spider moved in while I was working on it so a) it couldn’t have been that bad, and b) I wasn’t going anywhere near it again. It actually did look a little less like a heap of randomly placed sticks in real life, fortunately.

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It wasn’t completely easy to spot from the path, but there’s enough foot traffic in a day that I think it won’t take somebody long to find it. Hopefully a little girl gets the tiny china.

I still have some china left over, so I’ll try again another day and maybe my building skills will improve.

Naturally soon all the building materials will be covered in leaves covered in snow, so this might be more of a spring activity.

A Spot of Wild

I was restless this morning. The children have only half days all week in order to make room for parent-teacher conferences, and I had a few short hours before all three to six boys would come rampaging through the house again. I cleaned my room, tried a new orange spice herbal tea that tasted like a fall candle steeped in water, and sat on my bed listening to Mrs. Parent and the maid converse in the kitchen on the other side of the wall.

And then, before I went utterly mad, I grabbed my hiking shoes and my car keys and drove five minutes to the nearest miniature wilderness.

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Which was currently being terrorized by the Rolling Rock Bandit.

I miss the country, you see. I miss being able to walk in a straight line and not getting hit by a car or running into a building. My sort of country is the one where your nearest neighbor could be demented murderous scarecrow-demon, but neither of you like company so you avoid each other and it’s not a big deal.

And I miss the silence. Even in this park, which was good-sized, I could still hear the traffic all around and if I walked more than two miles in a straight line I would be in someone’s back yard.

Nevertheless, it was beautiful.

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Either the rain had driven everyone else out of the park or we were all silently circling it about half a mile from each other.

One of the biggest adjustments of moving to the east coast was how very green it was. In Idaho you had one month of the year in which things were green- May- and then things turned brown and stayed brown until May came around again. Sure, the trees were technically “evergreen,” but they are the unfriendly sort of green because Idaho really doesn’t like having people in it.

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Here, things stay green all summer. And then they turn golden! How cool is that?! It’s like nature here likes you!

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There’s a trade-off, of course. There are ticks here that like to kill you very gradually. There’s venomous snakes. There’s poison ivy. All the dangerous things here are stealthy, unlike Idaho, which has the decency to maul you quickly via large predator.

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“Leaf of three, let it be,” they say, as if every single plant in this forest weren’t three-leafed.

Though I’ve been here only once or twice, my very favorite part of this park is after you follow one of the trails for a mile or so. You spot a little wooden railing in the middle of nowhere…

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…and there in the middle is a single, solitary gravestone. There’s no houses nearby, nor any sort of marker or monument. Nearby are some other stones that may once have been something else, but now are just stones. This place has clearly been maintained, but no attention is drawn to it.

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Gertrude Provost / Wife of Jonathan Provost / Born Jan. 10, 1809 / Died Feb 22, 1839

So here is the memory of Gertrude, who died when she was barely 30. I did some complicated research involving the Google search engine and came up with absolutely nothing in the first three minutes, so I gave up. Perhaps someone else knows something about the pair of them.

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And then you walk some thirty feet, step out of the treeline, and the trail goes full circle. If nothing else, it greatly helps a nanny preparing for the second bout of Thursday to relax a little.

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Though I’m afraid to say that the Rolling Rock Bandit’s sidekick, Dog Poop Person, is on the rise.