Counties Kerry, Limerick and Clare
Following my itinerary, I left Gabriel House and rolled my bags down the hill and across the river to the Cork central bus station, where I boarded the 10am #40 bus bound for Killarney in County Kerry. About halfway across County Cork, following the River Sullane the bus passed through the town of Macroom. I’d just heard of this market town when I had blue cheese from it (and loved it!) and my notes indicate that I’d found the countryside wonderful, and found Macroom to be quaint with its narrow streets lined with shops, situated in a valley. When I return to Ireland, I really want to spend at least a few days there.
An hour and a half on the bus, I arrived in Killarney with sprinkling skies as I rolled my bags to the Tatler Jack to drop them (too early to check in) and then headed to the train station. Leaving for Tralee, the weather didn’t improve by the time I left that station. Hailing a taxi, Maurice was willing to take me the 10km to Ardfert and the ruins of St Brendan’s Cathedral and Friary. Gusty in spitting rain, and wait to return me to town.
Fortunately, there is a nice small museum set in the side building to the cathedral. Multiple displays explained the history of the friary and the cathedral, showcasing recovered stones and markers now protected from the elements. Out glass doors and directly into the former nave, wet slate paths led through the gravel base. Adopting a process whereby I’d keep the camera pointed down, raising to take a photo quickly, then lowering and wiping the lens, I managed to get at least half without “waterspots”.
Hustling back to the taxi, Maurice took me back and dropped me at the Grand Hotel in Tralee, 50€ lighter, which is what I’d figured. Settling in for lunch, I had a Smithwick red with the Guinness and beef stew, accompanied by mashed potatoes.
The return train was at 3pm, so I took my time and had a minimal wait after a 700m walk dodging yet more rain. Back in Killarney I was able to check into the hotel. After minimal unpacking (getting the sleep apnea mouth gear out in the open air to dry) and grabbing my hat, I headed to the Pugin-designed Cathedral of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
A tall stone building with a spire/bell tower over the crossing, once inside I found it dark. The windows of the side aisles and clerestory were short and narrow, filled with stained-glass depicting Christ’s life above and episodes of saints below. Gray stone and blond wood were the primary colors, without an excess of ornamentation. In the south transept was a carved stone structure surmounted by a calvary which housed the tabernacle shining an emerald green light towards the wall. The baptistry was in a small offshoot from the nave; beautiful tiling covers the floor and monochrome mosaics are on the walls.
To my delight, the organist arrived and began practicing hymns. I found a seat and just relaxed for about 45 minutes.
Resuming my photo taking, I made another round, including a short video, and noticed the rood cross at the entrance to the chancel.
Exiting, the weather persisted, and many of my outside shots bear evidence of the relentless rain. I returned to the hotel, taking a few street shots of this seriously touristy town, and checked email. My tour driver confirmed the pickup the following morning, I learned that both Mary and her brother Michael would not be available for lunch, and then headed down to the hotel’s restaurant/bar. Featuring three Killarney Brewing Company ales, I opted for a sample of each with my order of chicken wings, followed by the Irish stew special.
Taking a tall glass of ice and a small can of British tonic, I headed up to the room. (I’d asked, but I couldn’t drink my own gin in the bar or restaurant.) After backing up my photos, I checked back in my journal to see what additions I’d put in the gin when I’d distilled my bottle’s worth back in Belfast nearly 4 weeks before. [Juniper, coriander, angelica root, mace, mint, star anise, ginger, cinnamon, Cajun spice, horseradish, elderflower, lemon zest, elderberry, wormwood, rooibos, and mango.] To me, it persisted in tasting like cardamon. I checked on the progress of Hurricane Ian, and it looked like it was heading straight for Venice.
Completing another blog (for the southern portion of Northern Ireland), I was pleased to have accomplished it without a desk or chair in the room. Sipping my G&T, the band played downstairs. The camera batteries, the Chromebook and the phone all needed charging, so I read for a bit as I juggled the two USB plugs and adapters (for the UK-type power). My last note in the journal was that I didn’t think I’d journal again until I reached Galway, two nights plus hence.
This Wednesday was going to be special: first, I would be on a private tour of the Ring of Kerry and get to meet another Irish cousin, and also because I was once again overseas when a hurricane (beginning coincidentally with the letter “I”) would impact my Florida home. At 7:15 I was roused by heavy rain beating on the skylight over my bed, which I took as a bad sign. But, hey, it’s Ireland and it rains! Rolling over to snooze for another three-quarters of an hour, I was cleaned and dressed and downstairs for porridge and a banana for breakfast by half past. After collecting my backpack, jacket and camera, I walked out the door as Liam, my driver guide I'd engaged through ToursByLocals.com, was reaching for the door. The next hour was spent chatting while Liam got us away from Killarney and onto the Ring. The weather was gray, cloudy, overcast; showers visited sporadically.
Our first stop was in Cahersiveen, the town where my great grandmother Julia had grown up before emigrating to NYC in the early 1880’s. Liam brought me to the Daniel O’Connell Memorial Church of the Holy Cross. Unique in the Roman Catholic naming, it is the only Irish church named for a layperson, someone not a saint (or the Trinity). It is the burial place of Hugh O’Flaherty, who was the subject of the Gregory Peck film The Scarlet and the Black. I found the large, impressive church beautiful, and wondered how a town of a population of just over a thousand came to have a structure as large as some cathedrals I’d visited.
Following the Ring (N70) a bit west out of Cahersiveen, we veered off and down to Reenard Point. There we had a brief wait (I took pictures of the inlet that runs back past Cahersiveen) and then boarded the ferry to Valentia Island. From Knight’s Town where the 5-minute ride ended, we traversed the island to the bridge to Portmagee. Continuing along the Skellig Ring, we came to the Kerry Cliffs on the west side, and rolling fields dotted with sheep inland. The mist lifted to allow me to see the small Skellig Islands before we found a stunning beach, where a few youngsters were testing the waves.
A bit further on was the Tobar Fionáin Holy Well, where I dipped my hand into its waters to wash my right hand and forearm. Despite 15 months healing, I was still bothered post broken elbow. I hoped that I might experience its mystical powers. Continuing, we pulled into Skelligs Chocolate and Café in Ballinskelligs. A modern stone-and-glass structure, they were in their last week of being open: tourist season had ended. After a rest break, I sampled bits of both milk and dark chocolate (taking 4 bars with me) while Liam got a hot chocolate.
Espying large flat stones, both horizontal and vertical, I asked Liam to stop as I thought they might be preChristian structures. Per the website irishstones.org, it might be the wedge tomb in Coom. We made a beach stop to view both the local ruins of an abbey/priory and castle. Onward, we joined up with the N70 and soon rolled into Waterville. Plans to have lunch with my cousin Mary, her brother Michael and possibly his daughter fell through, but I did get to meet Michael’s daughter Lisa who has taken over as postmistress from her father. (She commutes to Waterville from Valentia Island.)
Leaving the post office, I spotted a statue of “the Little Tramp”. Apparently at the suggestion of Walt Disney, Charlie Chaplin had visited Waterville and, as a good place from which to fish, became a regular. Hence the statue. Following the Ring, the vistas were stunning. We stopped at an overlook to spot a (reconstructed) ring fort. The dark wet rocks of the wavering coastline and the hazy mist from the low skies gave an eerie glow to this westward land. From Derrynane Beach I climbed up a hill to visit the ruins of a church surrounded by an active burial yard. A bit further on, still off the Ring, was a standing stone, an Ogham Stone.
Back into the car and another 10 minutes we stopped at Glanbeg/Brackaharagh Beach for yet more stunning views. Climbing up the road away from the water, we came to another ring fortification, this seemingly constructed of flat stones without the use of mortar. It reminded me of my visit to Gordes in the Luberon of France, where round homes similarly built, called bories, had been in use for centuries. The walls had been filled with soil, making for a more defensible fort at Staigue.
Continuing on the Ring we came upon The Ladies’ View, a scenic vista point overlooking rough fields filled with dying heather and grass, bits of inlets and hills, and the ever-present clouds. Our next stop was in the Killarney National Park, where we climbed to the Torc Waterfall. On our walk down from the falls, Liam spotted a group of red deer. Within the park is the Muckrose House and Gardens. Too late to visit inside the mansion, we strolled about the exterior and into the gardens.
Liam dropped me back at the hotel, and headed back to Cork; he had to return the next day for another group who start in Shannon, visit Limerick and briefly see the Ring. He remarked that I was a great guest, as we conversed (rather than having him run a monologue) and thanked me for showing him an alternate (he said better) way to take pictures of buildings. I went up and dropped my camera, checked email briefly for news from Florida, and then went on a wander in the sprinkles. I visited a bookstore and bought another bag to mail my collection of pamphlets and souvenirs, and then started my restaurant hunt. I was in the mood for (red) Italian, but most options were chicken and mushrooms. I noted that many of the menus posted in windows and on walls seemed similar in their offerings. I guess you offer what the customers want?
So into Hillard’s at 7pm, I went with my tried-and-true, a Smithwick red ale while I perused the menu. Vegetable spring rolls to start, which were very spicy and tasty – a surprise for me. Then seafood paella, with Cromane mussels, monkfish and prawns, despite the warning I’d received back in 2018 while bicycling in Andalusia that I should restrict my paella to midday. I did find the paella very filling, even after skipping lunch.
Back to the hotel, I snagged a Killarney red ale which I took to my room, after I greeted a group of American who were over for golf. I heard them render “God Bless America”, accompanied by the guitarist who was singing covers. The word from Florida was that they had lost power and that it was very windy. I packed for the morning’s departure and crashed.
After breakfast, I headed back to the stop near where I’d arrived at (Killarney Train Station ) to catch a bus at 9:20, only to find I needed to be at the Killarney Bus Station. (3 minute walk) So I took the 10am bus to Limerick, which encountered a lot of local traffic and didn’t arrive until 12:30. The walk to The George Boutique Hotel was over several blocks and then down a slight hill another 4-5 blocks. When I arrived, they were able to check me in, so my gear went up to room 3012. After removing several items, I returned to the streets and did a bit of wander.
When I was researching, I’d read that there had been a cathedral in Emly, some 35km away. There was no local transit between there and Limerick, and a taxi company had quoted me 120€ for an hour. As I had a 2pm tour scheduled, and the research had indicated that they were unsure of where even the cathedral had been, I passed and headed to the Art Museum, my rendezvous point. I was early, and entrance to the museum was free, so I went in and walked the pair of exhibits.
When Kaitlin arrived, I learned I was her only patron, so she began with an introduction. A young law student from nearby Patrickswell, she was all business. A program to perform, with little interest in a dialog with the audience. From Pery Square we walked past Sacred Heart, to the River Shannon waterfront. Passing Arthur’s Quay, we made a cursory pass around King John’s Castle and then Saint Mary’s Cathedral (CoI). The three hour tour ended early, as her focus had been on how Limerick had played its role in the history of Ireland, (architecture, personages, events) and I didn’t need to return to the starting point. I was annoyed because, while alongside the Cathedral, knowing that it would close in 15 minutes, she declined to allow me the option to enter the church. And then blew me off shortly after 4 as we stood outside St John's(RC).
As it was past closing time at the Anglican cathedral, I went into Saint John’s, with its tall single spire. The wooden vault in the nave is above the clerestory windows and columns in the side aisles. A rood cross fills the arch before the sanctuary and over the altar which sits up 4 steps at the crossing. This marble altar is elaborately carved and features a bas relief carving of the angel stopping Abraham as he went to sacrifice his son Isaac. Behind, columns support a baldachin over the tabernacle and cathedra. The reredos alcoves are filled with statues of saints.
I particularly noted the various tiles used in the flooring, both the central aisle and the sanctuary spaces. The organ pipes in the rear loft were alternating shades of pale green and a moss green, stenciled with gold crosses. Stained glass windows, tall between narrow framing, showed scenes from both Old and New Testaments, with newer windows showing elements of Church history.
Returning to St Mary’s, a production crew was moving equipment into the church. A Limerick Police service had reserved the cathedral for the evening, so it was a firm, hard “no” to allowing me in. I wandered the graveyard looking for angles, still feeling frustrated. The grounds had been gifted in 1168 by King Donal Mór O’Brien, whose sculpture stands in the grounds. Departing, I ambled about, crossing a few bridges and looking out at the river and its tributaries. Passing the Treaty City Brewery, I attempted to enter for a quaff, but was diverted to a bar down the street, as they were unable to accommodate anyone for about a half hour.
Heading back to the room, I got on the Internet to make a few calls to Florida – there was roof damage, but no leaks. Power might be off for up to 2 weeks (5 days, actually.) On my walk to the museum, I’d spotted an Italian restaurant with a menu which appealed, so I headed back and climbed down to the entrance of La Piccola Italia. With a glass of primativo, I started with Piatto di affettati misti e formaggio (plate of sliced cured meats and cheese). The cheese plate was passable, but the wine lacked. So with a glass of montepulciano, my main was Saltimbocca alla Romana (veal with mozzarella, Parma ham and sage.) Across from me was a table of five women, all Irish, about 40-50’s, who carried on as if this were a regular gathering at a favorite place. It was entertaining to watch, and kept me from noting how I enjoyed my main. I did have dessert – a hazelnut ice cream – that was divine.
Returning to the hotel, I organized my morning trip and did my usual backup, email and reading. Packed and ready, I went to sleep.
After porridge, I checked out and left my gear with the concierge. Off to Arthur’s Quay (rather than the main bus/train depot) to catch the bus to Ballina in County Tipperary. Upon arrival, I walked to the bridge over the River Shannon, crossing into Killaloe in County Clare, onward to the Saint Flannan’s Cathedral.
With origins in the twelfth century, the blocky Romanesque style of unornamented stone walls with few windows, this Church of Ireland cathedral sits very close to the riverbanks. A tall stone wall, with foliage growing over in places, surrounds the grounds. Gates and walls prevented me from getting about in the yard, but I was able to enter the building. To the right, the carvings on the preserved Romanesque doorway were beautiful. The footprint has the square castle-like tower at the crossing, and a stunningly carved glass and wood screen divides the nave from the narthex, reducing the worship space by about half. In the narthex were a pair of crosses and a carved stone baptismal font, filled with flowers.
In the nave, a single, nicely tiled aisle separates the eleven pair of pews. Under a dark peaked wooden roof, there are memorials mounted in the white plaster walls. Behind the altar in the east wall, a three-panel stained-glass window features 13 figures: with Christ at the center, Mary and the faithful 11 apostles are represented. On the side walls, the single narrow panels display the episcopal arms of the neighboring dioceses.
Exiting, I wandered up and down the street to find a point where I could get that best representative shot. That 6-foot solid stone wall, as well as established trees, stymied me for a while. I returned to the bridge and walked along the canal towpath, past a boathouse, which allowed a different, albeit still blocked view. The return bus was an hour away, and I elected to visit the tourist office. Spending a half hour chatting, I learned there was a castle and mound fort of Brian Boru nearby. Killaloe had been the nation’s capital during his reign near the turn of the first millenium.
I returned and crossed the river and walked back towards the bus stop where I finally found a shot I could appreciate. The widening of the river, locally called a lake, provided enough distance to surmount the wall. Catching the bus back to Limerick, I was able to get into St Mary’s Cathedral.
I’d heard many praises for its interior, but my notes indicate I wasn’t overly impressed. Given its age, the blend of Romanesque and Gothic is evident, the recent refurbishment has left the interior stones (particularly in the arches) bright and clean. Newer windows allow light to enter. My favorite elements were the misericords, the clever, humorous carvings under the seats in the old choir stalls.
Back to the hotel to collect my gear, I proceeded to roll up the mild hill and over to the bus station, missing my planned bus but catching a #51, which rode along the River Shannon (and the Counties Limerick – Clare border) until the town of Shannon before turning north about half way. In Ennis, I was a bit out of town where the nearly full bus dropped me, so I took a taxi to my lodgings. I dropped my gear at the Temple Gate Hotel as the room wasn’t ready, and headed into town and the cathedral.
The Ennis Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul is at the intersection of Station Road and O’Connell Street, which afforded unobstructed outside views. Cruciform in footprint, it has the traditional east-west axis with north-south transepts. A single tower and spire lords over the west entrance.
Front the rear of the nave, the narrow white square columns rise to support a flat vault comprised of colorful stenciled squares. Behind the simple altar table, icon-like portraits of Saints Senan and Flannan join Peter and Paul below a painting of the Ascension. The raised bishop’s chair and crozier are at the center of the back wall behind the altar. Lofts with seating fill the transept, as well as a bowed loft at the west end with the organ and pipes. Another instance of a statue of St Brigid holding the representation of a cathedral and a crozier, St Mark’s ox at her feet raised my eyebrows. The parish church officially became the cathedral in 1990, and had been refurbished after a fire in the sanctuary in 1995.
Departing, I wandered, exploring Ennis. A quick visit to the ruins of the old abbey, a walk along the River Fergus, strolls by various monuments and public art. About 5 I checked in at the hotel, and after simple unpacking, I came down to ask about whether I could (discretely) drink my own gin at the bar. Since the LAN was patchy and not working in my room, I sat at a table in the bar checking email.
A group of 10 younger men were having a stag weekend and invited me to join them, first for drinks and then for dinner. My meal started with “seasonal leaves tossed in balsamic dressing with roasted butternut squash, red wine poached pear, toasted walnuts and blue cheese.” (Copying off a photo of the Legends Dinner Inclusive Menu) The main was “Oven roasted fillet of pork carved on red cabbage puree with honey and thyme glazed apple and a cider au jus.” Dessert was included, so the Temple gate Dessert Plate appeared with “Classic opera cake, apple and berry crumble, mini lemon meringue tart and rum and raisin ice cream.” Despite my efforts (both at the dining table and at the front desk later), I was unable to contribute to the check. The men, well lubricated, were off to a bar to continue partying, despite an early start for golf the next morning. I elected to retire as I had a very early (for me) bus ride planned for a quick road trip the next morning.
Eight in the morning, and it was a 10-minute walk to the bus. I’d been up before 7, had my bowl of porridge with berries before checking out and leaving luggage. The prompt bus had me in Kilfenora before 9.
A partial ruin, the structure of St Fachtnan’s Cathedral is now a historic site, with the former north transept protected by a glass roof to preserve three high crosses. Rather early, I walked around the structure, getting outside shots, and peering through gaps and windows. The church door was locked, and, once I’d checked at the local shop, learned that Timmy would be along to open the door for visitors. The neighboring Burren Culture Center had closed that Saturday to begin renovations during the off-season. A rainbow appeared over the path to the holy well, passing derelict outbuildings.
The man on a tractor arrived with the key at 10:45, so I was able to get inside. Six pairs of pews, with the front ones having a doored stall. Few fixtures, clear glass in the windows, even the rather uncomfortable cathedra was simple. Accessing the covered north transept, I was able to get “up close and personal” with the three high crosses.
Having exhausted central Kilfenora (I learned from passersby that hiking was awesome), I found a covered spot to sit and await the return delayed bus to Ennis. Once back, I decided to use a taxi, so was driven to the hotel where the driver waited for me to retrieve my luggage, and we headed back to the bus depot. On the 13:25 #51 bus bound for Galway, I enjoyed the 80 minutes as we passed from County Clare into County Galway. With only a slight incline and active commercial streets, it was about 4-5 blocks to walk to The Western Hotel. I was able to check in and move my gear to room 324.