An Arthurian Tale

Monday, December 14, 2015 Road Junkies 0 Comments


GAELIC GETAWAY, CHAPTER 13:  IN WHICH WE GO AWOL

Day 14:  Bantry to Kenmare.  After two nights, it was time to leave Bantry and County Cork behind as we continue our journey up Ireland's west coast.  A few minutes after we turned north on R584, we found ourselves back in Kealkill, where the now mighty Ouvane River was still frothing and gushing as it had been a couple of days ago, threatening to burst out of its banks.

Ouvane River wants to go wandering.
Along the banks we came upon the ruins of Carriganass Castle, a tower house built about 1541 as one of four fortified residences of the O'Sullivan clan.  After the clan was defeated the castle survived as a military fortress for a time, eventually falling into use as a farm building.  In 2002, the O'Sullivan family donated it to the community.

Carriganass Castle
Continuing on R584, we drove through the Sheahy Mountains, and at the behest of our Garmin GPS, we turned onto L3402, a scant, puddly asphalt lane with no markings.  After about 12 miles on this road, we picked up the N22 in Ballyvourney, turned northwest, and entered County Kerry and the Derrynasaggart Mountains. Just 20 miles further, we reached Muckross House in Killarney National Park with ten minutes to spare before the 11:00 tour.  After paying our senior admission fee, we walked from the ticket office to the house proper with our tour guide "Claire."  There we joined another eight Americans who were waiting for the big event.

Muckross House
Constructed in 1843, this 65-room Tudor style manor on the shore of Lake Muckross was built for Anglo Irish politician and copper magnate Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife Mary.  In the 1850s, the Herberts invited Queen Victoria to visit, and a date in 1861 was agreed upon.  Official records suggest that the Irish were hoping to impress the monarch into supporting Ireland, and in particular Killarney, as a tourist destination.

The Herberts also wanted to make a personal impression on the queen.  Toward that goal, they engaged in years of exorbitant preparations—commissioning custom tapestries, mirrors, Persian carpets, silverware, musical instruments, linen, china and even special servants' uniforms for the occasion. Practically the entire house was redecorated...for a two-day visit.  The curtains that still hang in the Muckross House dining room were woven especially for the monarch's visit.  Extensive work was also done on the grounds and gardens.

Muckross Dining Room (photo from Muckross-House.ie)
In all likelihood, all this profligate preparatory spending plus the cost of keeping the large royal party in the manner to which they were accustomed were major factors in tipping the Herberts toward bankruptcy.  Eventually they had to sell the estate, and it was purchased by another Arthur.

The second owner of Muckross House was Arthur Guinness, great grandson of the legendary Dublin brewer of the same name.  A generous philanthropist, Guinness stated a desire to preserve the Muckross landscape.  He never lived in the house but used it as a hunting lodge for friends and business associates before he sold it in 1911 to yet another Arthur.

Muckross House
Actually the house was purchased next and renovated by a wealthy American entrepreneur as a wedding gift for his daughter Maud and her Irish husband Arthur Vincent.  The Vincents lived happily in the house until Maud died suddenly in 1929.  Unwilling to continue living there without his wife, Vincent and Maud's parents decided to give Muckross to the Irish nation.  After sitting vacant for 35 years, the house was opened to the public as an attraction of Killarney National Park.

Irish elk antlers (aka giant Irish deer) in center
One of the most interesting artifacts in the house, though we never heard whether one of the Arthurs or the national park installed it was a massive rack of antlers from an Irish elk, an animal which became extinct around 7,000 years ago.  Standing around 6.5 feet tall, the animal's antlers could be as big as 12 feet across and weigh 100 pounds, thought to be the largest rack on any animal.  Like all deer, the elk would shed and regrow the antlers each year.  This particular specimen was found preserved in a local bog.

Though "Claire" was obviously quite knowledgeable about the house, its furnishings and history, we realized rather quickly that she had not kissed the blarney stone any more than I did.   As many people as we have met who truly exude the Irish "gift of gab" and can spin spellbinding tales at the drop of a leprechaun's hat, "Claire" unfortunately was not one of them.  Her recitation of disconnected facts made the tour seem to drag on until we were rescued past the one hour mark by an unexpected hero—Ken's bladder, which had grown more impatient than we were.  When we spied an exit sign as the tour was turning a corner into yet another wing of the house, we took advantage of our position at the back of the group and bailed out.

After making our escape and finding the needed facilities, we cobbled together a tasty picnic lunch in our car.  Though a pair of demanding local crows paced back and forth outside the car, loudly insisting we should share with them, we noted their healthy appearance and kept our food to ourselves.

Muckross Abbey
Before leaving the area, we checked out the nearby Muckross Abbey ruins.  Founded in 1448 as a Franciscan friary, the abbey was used for some 200 turbulent years, a period which spanned the Protestant Reformation, resulting in repeated attacks on the friars and cycles of damage and reconstruction.  After it was burned by Cromwellian forces in the mid-1600s, it was never rebuilt, though the stone skeleton remains in good condition.

The legendary yew
An ancient yew tree grows in the middle of the courtyard, and some believe it is as old as the abbey itself.  Others have contended that the courtyard may have even been built around the tree as the yew is treasured as the tree of life in Irish lore.  The abbey's graveyard continues in use as a burial ground today and shelters graves spanning several centuries.

Ladies View
Convinced by all we've read that the town of Killarney has prostituted itself to tourism, we bypassed the city, driving from Muckross to Kenmare through the park.  Along the way, we searched unsuccessfully for a letterbox hidden near Ladies View, a panoramic vista featuring the Lakes of Killarney and the Black Valley.  The name stems from the awestruck reaction of Queen Victoria's ladies-in-waiting when they saw the spot in 1861.

One of many roadside sheep we saw while driving through the park.  A local sheep farm posted Adopt-a-Sheep signs.
Though we hadn't made a reservation in Kenmare, we had selected the Brook Lane Hotel.  When we arrived, a local adult choir was performing holiday music in the restaurant and the car park was full.  As it turned out, however, we and another couple were the only overnight guests for the night.  Siobhán, the friendly front desk agent, offered a very favorable rate which included breakfast and a partial dinner voucher in the on-site restaurant, Casey's.  Their food was not only well priced and efficiently served, the combinations were creative and flavorful.  Warm brie in a filo basket with tomato relish and organic greens.  Need we say more?

Tomorrow we plan to set off from Kenmare, following the famous Ring of Kerry scenic drive around the coastline of the Iveragh (eye-VEER-uh) Peninsula.
Daily Stats:
  • Started in Bantry, ended in Kenmare
  • Mileage - 86 (Trip total: 5,636)
  • Weather - 51° to 57°, cloudy, rain, repeat
  • Miles walked - 3.5
  • Sunrise - 8:40, Sunset - 4:25 
MONDAY, 14 DECEMBER, 2015

More Photos from Today

Bantry still sleeping when we left at 8:30
Ouvane River shows its power.
L3402 
Billiards table in the gentlemen's room at Muckross House
Muckross Abbey cemetery still in active use
Beautiful abbey ruins 
Muckross Abbey 
Muckross Abbey again 
Burials still standing inside the nave at Muckross Abbey ruin
Muckross Abbey
Ruins of an 18th century constabulary near Ladies View on the Killarney-Kenmare road