Monday, 5 March 2012

Kiwi's Big Day in Kerry

Today was going to be a big day for this Kiwi girl.  She is only going to be meeting the Minister of Arts, Culture & Gaeltacht [Irish speaking regions] Jimmy Deenihan, who has been asked by the Certificate of Irish Heritage team to present her with her own Irish Heritage Certificate honouring her great grandmother, Lizzie Emerson.  More about Lizzie  & Jimmy later. 

On the way from Kenmare to Killarney we had plenty of time to stop off at some lovely spots along the way through the Killarney National Park.  The drive from Kenmare through to Killarney along the Kenmare Road N71 & through Moll's Gap offers superb views of the lakes and Killarney Valley .
Ladies View located between Kenmare and Killarney is in the heart of Killarney National Park & one of County Kerry's best known panoramas.  This spot derived its name from the pleasure expressed by Queen Victoria's Ladies-in-Waiting on their visit here in 1861.

Ladies View, Killarney
For those with more time, there are a network of popular walking & cycling tracks throughout the Killarney National Park.
Just 4½ miles from Killarney, we stopped to take a look at the Torc Waterfall, well signposted from the N71.  Easily accessible from the carpark, it is a short 5 minute walk to the falls through lush green mossy wooded forest. 
Torc Waterfall, Killarney National Park

Torc Falls, Killarney National Park, Co. Kerry

Killarney National Park, nr Torc Waterfall, Killarney

Killarney National Park
Killarney National Park

As we approached Killarney town, sign posts directed us to Muckross House, situated on the shores of Muckross Lake.  This impressive mansion was built around the late 1830's, early 1840s for a family by the name of Herbert, who occupied the estate for nearly 200 hundred years.  There is much to see here at Muckross, set in amongst the Gardens of the estate & the woodlands that surround it.  Again we had a perfect spring day to wonder around & watch the horse drawn jaunting cars, which offer an enjoyable way to experience the National Park.
Muckross House, Killarney
Muckross House, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Muckross House, Co. Kerry

Muckross House, Killarney, Co. Kerry

Horse drawn Jaunting Cars, Muckross Gardens, Killarney
With time still up our sleeve, we decided to wander around Ross Castle which can be accessed from the N71 just outside the Killarney town.  Access to the castle is by guided tour only with a maximum of 15 people per tour & lasts about 40 mins.  We were only 3 days shy of it opening for the spring/summer season.

Ross Castle, Killarney, Co. Kerry
Probably built around the 15th century, Ross Castle is considered a good example of the stronghold of an Irish Chieftain during the middle ages.

We met the lovely Grainne from the Irish Heritage Certificates Team at a nearby hotel in Killarney & she chaperoned us back to Ross Castle to await the arrival of the Minister himself.  Already there, waiting for us was the lovely Eammon, who was going to be taking photographs of myself & the Minister. 

And take photos he did! I mean he really did!  I guess he was trying to get the perfect shot of me & I could tell he was having a hard time of it because truly, he must have taken over 100!  Not all of the Minister because he was on a tight schedule when he showed up 5 minutes later with his PA who was trying to hurrying him along.

Minister of Arts. Culture & Gaeltacht, Mr Jimmy Deenihan presenting me with my Certificate of Irish Heritage, Ross Castle, Killarney
 The Certificate of Irish Heritage is a beautiful certificate with the recipient’s name beautifully printed on it and underneath, the name of your ancestor, their year of birth & birthplace in Ireland.  It was beautifully framed for me & when the Minister arrived, we were quickly moved into position to simulate the presentation.  What an honour for me. 

Lizzie was born in Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh in 1866 & made the long journey to New Zealand on her own, when she was only 18. Her journey by sea would have taken over 3 months, New Zealand was as far away from Ireland as you could possibly be. Lizzie was an assisted emigrant whereby her passage to New Zealand was partly or wholly paid by the central government.  Once in New Zealand, Lizzie never returned home. She left behind her parents, 5 younger siblings, the youngest of whom were just 10 & 12 years old. She was never to see them again.   

Fifteen minutes after the Minister's arrival, he was off to another very important meeting.  I hope our photo shot was as memorable for him as it was for me :)
Once the Minister had gone, dear Eammon kept taking photos of me every which way.  He made me feel like he was working with a masterpiece but in my heart I knew he was going to be disappointed when he got back to the studio to take a look at them all. 

I have Susan Byron from Ireland’s Hidden Gems to thank for putting my name forward to the Irish Heritage team for this gift, the team at Certificate of Irish Heritage, for gifting me the Certificate & arranging for the Minister to present it & lastly, but by no means least, the lovely Grainne for taking care of us while we were in Killarney.    The whole experience will be one I’ll not forget in a long while.

Just outside of Killarney, there is a Castle I'd read about which sits in the middle of farmland.  Looking out for directions to Ballymalis Castle we found one solitary brown signpost on the left on the N72 a few kilometres out of Killarney, which pointed to it, but you could easily miss it if you weren't paying attention.  Look for the white cob cottage with a thatched roof & you're at the turn off.

Ballymalis Castle, nr Killarney
This large 4 storey rectangular tower castle which sits quitely in the middle of a field was built in the late 1500's & you can get good views of it from the small country lane that surrounds it, if you find like we did, that access to it is closed.   Apparently, slits in the floor of the turrets allowed hot oil or water to rain down upon invaders, while dumb-bell shaped holes in the walls were designed for musket use.

Thatched roof cottage nr. Ballymalis Castle
Our next stop on our way from Killarney to Dingle was Kilorglin to get a glimpse of the famous statue of King Puck [well,famous in Kilorglin anyway], the main attraction at the equally famous Puck Fair held every August & reportedly, the oldest fair in Ireland, dating back to 1603! Each year a wild goat is captured from the surrounding mountains and is crowned King Puck after which he is released back to his mountain home.

King Puck, Kilorglin, Co. Kerry
King Puck is the symbol of a vast tradition whose origins, it is fair to say, have been lost in the mists of time.   One theory for the origins of Puck is the tale of a herd of goats, which had been grazing in the countryside nearby & were 'spooked' by pillaging “Roundheads,” the soldiers of Oliver Cromwell. One goat [the he-goat or puck] galloped off towards the town in a state of fear, thus alerting the townspeople to the approaching danger, which gave them time to protect themselves and their stock.   So, in recognition of this good deed, a yearly festival has been instituted in houour of the goat, known as King Puck!
Sounds like a jolly good excuse for a party to me.  And party they do, with around 100,000 people descending on Kilorglin every year to join in the festivities.

Blackfaced Mountain Sheep taking the highway, Co. Kerry
From Kilorglin we headed on down the R561 toward Dingle & stopped off at Inch Strand.  This vast beach of smooth sand stretches for 6 kilometers & was made famous when David Lean chose it as the beach location for his movie "Ryan's Daughter".   It was also used for the opening scenes of Nicole Kidman & Tom Cruise's "Far & Away" movie.

Inch Strand Beach, Dingle Peninsula, Co. Kerry
On this late afternoon, the beach was pretty empty, except for several walkers & a few cars. 
For the adventurous, driving onto the strand offers a memorable experience but we had parked the car up before we realized that cars had access to the beach.  Apparently, the closer you get to the end of the strand,  the sand gets very soft.  It's not uncommon for cars to get stuck on the beach then find they have to wait hours before a tow truck can make it out to them, by which stage, it is more than likely the tide has come in flooding any vehicles still stranded.  By the way, 4WD are not allowed on the beach, unless of course you're driving the tow truck!

Dingle town, Co. Kerry
The Lighthouse B&B, Dingle
We'd rung through to a B&B in Dingle the previous night to book our twin room.  The Lighthouse B&B was highly rated on Tripadvisor, so we decided to make this our lodgings for the night.   Our room at The Lighthouse was really spacious with a grand view over Dingle Bay where you could spot the fishing boats returning in the evening.

View from The Lighthouse B&B
After a quick chat with owner Dennis on places to eat & where to hear some traditional music, we set off into the village.  We decided on John Benny's Pub for dinner & I decided to order their Beef & Guinness Stew, an absolutely classic Irish dish.  I've yet to acquire a taste for Guinness so I was a little worried it would taste of stout.  My worries were unfounded, this stew was delicious!

Sculpture of the famous Dolphin called Fungi, Dingle, Co. Kerry
We had been recommended The O'Sullivan's Court House Pub for a good session of traditional music & we weren't to be disappointed.  We were there early & took a seat at the bar beside an Australian couple also there to enjoy their first experience of the Irish Pub traditional music session.  The lights were low & the small fire gave off a warm glow as we waited in anticipation for the musicians to arrive.

Traditional Music Session, O'Sullivan's Court House Pub, Dingle
Around 8.30pm, the musicians started to roll in with their instruments under their arms.  A few of them looked like they'd been well lubricated with the 'liquid black stuff' so I was keen to hear if this improved their musical skill level.  Whether it did or not, they were great.  This was our first taste of traditional Irish music, performed unrehearsed more often than not, in small cozy pubs up and down the length of Ireland on a nightly basis.   One of the musicians, an anebriated lean man with greasy lank hair, squeezed himself between myself & my Australian friends sitting at the bar & ordered another pint of Guinness.  I wondered how on earth he could play his mandolin so beautifully when he could barely balance himself as he waited for his pint.  He eyed me up & down unashamedly then had the cheek to say “now ye kin stop givin me thee oiye, cos’ oiym married”!  I thought to myself, ‘you are surely joking man’!

An Droicead Beag Pub, Dingle
Dingle Harbour at Dusk

Dingle's population is under 2,000, yet it has over 50 pubs. Our stay would definitely need to be extended if we were to frequent them all, but sadly we're here for just one night so I made sure I got my fill of The Court House Pubs music before having one last nightcap & heading back to the B&B to tuck myself up for the night.


  1. Fabulous photos! So fantastic we should have been having our Irish adventures, from kiwiland, at the same time :)

  2. Hi Rachel, Oh how I wish I could have the adventure you're having in Ireland. Should have gone to Ireland when I was your age & I just might have stayed. But they were pretty unsettled & violent times in the 70's & early 80's, so I decided to not go, even thou I was living just across the waters in the UK for 4½ years. I will follow your enthusiastic blog with great interest, so as to relive the wonderful memories I have of my month in Ireland in March. You may find some interesting places to visit yourself from my blog too. I'd love you to revisit them for me. Thanks for dropping by. From one [much older]Kiwi gal to another[much younger]. :)

  3. Amazing Photos. Killarney is a refreshingly unspoiled destination for travellers seeking an escape from the crowded city. Visit for an authentic country experience.

  4. Hi Paddy - what a lovely thing receiving that certificate from the Minister! I'm curious as to why it was presented at that location? Above it says your Great Grandmother was from Enniskillen - why not closer to there?

  5. Anne, the reason why I was presented with my Certificate of Irish Heritage at Ross Castle in Killarney was because the nearby town of Kilorglin is where the Certificates are made. The Minister was in the area that day too, so they decided Castle Ross was to be the place for the presentation. It was such a great experience.

  6. How wonderful ! :-)