29 Mar Killarney
Every visitor to the Southwest has to see Killarney. The town itself may be given over to tourism and choc-a-bloc in summer, but the immediate surroundings of the Killarney National Park are not to be missed and, if you can evade the milling coach parties and wheedling ‘jarvey-men’ (pony-trap drivers), it takes on the grandeur of genuine wilderness. Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s highest mountains, lie just outside the National Park, but are clearly visible on fine days.
Out of the town, the choices for exploration are bewildering. To the south (the east shore of Lough Leane) lie the Muckross estate and various well-known beauty spots on the Kenmare road up to the pass called Moll’s Gap. On the way, you may be diverted by the 15th century Ross Castle by the lakeshore, and Muckross Abbey, a 15th century ruin surprisingly well preserved after a Cromwellian visit in 1652. The main pull, however, is Muckross House and the surroundings gardens and car-free parkland. To explore the extensive grounds, you can either accept a ride from one of the jarvey-men, or hire a bike.
Muckross House is a furnished 19th century neo-Tudor mansion designed by William Burn. Attached to it is a folk museum, where craftsmen demonstrate their trades, and several reconstructed farmhouses. The lakeside gardens have wonderful rhododendrons and azaleas, best in early summer. The Meeting of the waters is a popular spot between the Upper Lake and Lough Leane, where arbutus trees flourish in the mild climate. lake boats ‘shoot the rapids’ here, and close by is the Torc Waterfall, plunging 20m down a mountainside.
Beyond Muckross House the road winds on through woods, heather moors and mountains, becoming ever more beautiful, but requiring care at hairpin bends and tunnels.