From my travel journal, dated Saturday, April 12, 2008:
Some things will stay with me after I leave Ireland–the pastures green under cloudy skies after a soft afternoon rain, the rugged western coast tumbling down to the breaking waves below, ancient stone fences and woolen dots speckled on the mountainside, and the warmth of the friendly locals. But on this day, what stayed with me most were memories of the full Irish breakfast I ate. I could feel it, for eight hours or so, in the pit of my stomach, the two juicy links of sausage, the glass of juice, the slices of ham, the buttered toast with marmalade, the over-easy egg with a generous sprinkling of pepper, the coffee with milk and sugar, and, not least, the two patties of black pudding, an Irish tradition made from pigs’ blood. Like patê , I probably would have enjoyed it more if I hadn’t known what it was. David liked the blood sausage; I, recognizing the importance of keeping traditions, will be happy to let the Irish keep this one.
Thus, with loosened belts and lightened spirits, we set out for the Killarny National Park and the Muckross house, dating from the 1830s. David and I stopped by the public W.C. which was being freshened by the cleaning lady. His uninhibited bladder led him right in; I discreetly used the single restroom with luxurious grab-bars, a strangely low sink, and a curious ancient Irish symbol which resembled the profile of someone in a wheelchair.
Approaching the house, it was hard to resist the jaunting cart driver’s offer, “Would you like to hire a horse, lads?” Everything just sounds more appealing when they call you “lads.”
The house had a beautiful green lawn stretching to a protected cove off Muckross Lake. I thought it interesting that the carriage entrance was at the side of the house, leaving the large entertaining rooms to face the lawn and the water. The tour was interesting, especially seeing the shields on stands near the fireplaces to protect the soft wax on women’s faces, as well as hearing the story of Queen Victoria’s visit. The house cost thirty thousand pounds to build, but the owners took six years and took out a sixty thousand pound mortgage to prepare the house for the queen’s arrival for a one-night stay, with hopes of being given titles, and thus increasing their wealth. Prince Albert died just a couple months after the visit, and Queen Victoria never got around to bestowing a title. Muckross House was repossessed and eventually sold, the owners helplessly in debt. The lesson: Be content with what you have (especially if it’s a fabulous mansion on a secluded Irish lake); or, if that lesson isn’t enough, then remember that the English will get you every time.
Afterward we began hiking. David thought we were on the wrong path, but I became increasingly convinced that we were headed toward the Meeting of the Waters. The topography of the Torc Mountain (seen in above photo on left) and its appearance on the contour map assured me of my bearings. We were each so sure of our respective positions that we bet a pint–and then David upped it to two–which he later discovered he owed me.
We made it to the Meeting of the Waters, which sounds like a magical place–the sort of clearing from which Frodo and Sam might set off, where Boromir might die, perhaps where Aragorn may even have a kingly vision or dream of Arwen. In realty, the Meeting of the Waters looked more like a curve in a stream. Only with a good map eye, a sturdy foot on rocky trails, and a dash of imagination could one envision this place being out of the ordinary. We’d come 4.5 kilometers not to see the curve of a rainbow on shimmering golden water, or even a water nymph in a gossamer gown, her slender bare arms playing a small lute, her chestnut hair pinned up at the nape of her neck, her pale skin white against the rose of her small pouty lips. No. It was a bend in a creek, with a nearby coffee and pastry shop with picnic tables out front. David, sharing in my disappointment, suggested the name should be “A Meeting of the Waters,” or “The Meeting of Some Waters.”
On completing our nearly 4-hour hike around Muckross Lake, we walked up the lawn as dark clouds rolled above the manor. And then, to my delight, the sun emerged and lit the house in a brilliant yellow beneath the angry clouds. I’m proud to say I caught this moment on my digital camera.
It was easy to refuse a jaunting cart ride this time around as the parking lot was only 100 meters away, and we’d just walked nearly ten kilometeres. With a small square of Toblerone and a newly purchased disc of Irish jigs and ballads on the car’s stereo, we were on our way to Dingle Town.
There, we checked in to the Bed and Breakfast with Mary and admired the view of pasture, bay, and tower from the window. Dinner was at John Benning Moriarty’s (Beef & Guinness stew with a Smithwick’s for me) with some out-of-tune accordian, guitar, and Irish bagpipe music. We walked over to the Small Bridge Bar where I had a pint of Harp and we were able to sit close to the skilled violinst & recorder player and guitar player, finishing the evening with a little good Irish craic.