Ireland Recap Day 9: Muckross Abbey, Torq Waterfalls, Kenmare

We awoke to our last full day in Ireland on Thursday. Not wanting to stray too far across the country, we decided to drive the N71 between Killarney and Kenmare to see the many ruins and natural sites along the way. We drove this route a couple of days before, but were on a time table to start the Ring of Kerry after Kenmare, so we skipped many places along the way. We were chatting with the woman at the hotel reception desk trying to pinpoint were the Torq Waterfalls were. She said if we were driving there, we might as well stop at several other points along the way, marking them on a map.

The first stop was Ross Castle, built in the late 1400s by local ruling clan the O'Donoghues. Ross Castle is located in Killarney National Park and is a short drive off N71 right from Killarney. Located right on Lough Leane, there are many boat hires to tour around the lake to places like Innisfallen Island with many ruins. Parking is very easy as this is also one of the many entrances to Killarney National Park. You could easily spend a whole day exploring the park, either on foot, horseback or boat, but we had much more to see along N71.

Our next stop was a few kilometers down the road to Muckross Abbey. Construction began around 1440, about the same time as Ross Castle, and the Abbey opened in 1448. The Yew tree in the Abbey cloister was planted when the Abbey was built making it over 560 years old and the oldest living thing in Ireland. The Abbey was undergoing some minor construction when we visited, largely work to shore up walls and preserve what is left of it. Much of the Abbey was still open to visitors and is simply amazing to see and touch. This is a must stop for anyone in the area.

We packed back into the van and drove a few more kilometers to Torq Waterfalls. Part of Killarney National Park, Torq Mountain is a very lush and heavily wooded region of the park. The path leading to the waterfalls is surrounded by so much life it's almost overwhelming. Everything here is alive and the vibrant colors reflect this. When I think back to the wasteland of the Burren a few days earlier, the contrast is staggering. We took some photos of the waterfalls and Roger, Anne, and myself decided to take a short forty minute walk on the yellow trail. After quite an uphill hike, revealing stunning views of Lough Leane and County Kerry, we eventually made our way back to the parking area where Jen, Dave, and Stephanie were patiently waiting. While the trail was definitely a moderate hike, the short trail to the waterfalls is very easy and should not be missed if you are in the area.

We continued to drive south to Kenmare, stopping at Ladies view for some pictures and food (there is a cafe and gift shop here). Unfortunately, there were problems with the power so the cafe was closed for the day. Everyone was starting to get very hungry for lunch and not wanting a revolt, I remembered a cafe at Moll's Gap a few more kilometers up the road. We loaded up the van and pressed on, through the winding roads of N71 which were even more spectacular in the sunlight (it was quite foggy a few days earlier).

We arrived at Moll's Gap and the Avoca Restaurant. Not being quite sure as to what kind of food to expect, we were overwhelmed by the amazing gourmet quality of the food they had to offer. It was our oasis in the desert. The ladies running the restaurant had a variety of quiche and salads (including a particularly grand mushroom salad). You received a mountain of food which was very reasonably priced. I didn't think I would finish it all, but being so tasty that didn't seem to be an issue. After days of pub grub, the quality of food in the cafe was refreshing and amazing. Almost too amazing, scary amazing...I almost felt a little like Hansel & Gretel, waiting for the nice ladies to cook us up in a pot...but that never happened, instead we browsed the vast gift shop located here. The tour buses started to roll in from the Ring of Kerry, so we piled back into the van and proceeded to Kenmare.

Kenmare is pretty easy to navigate once you get your bearings. Which, of course, took us several minutes while staring at a map of the town and trying to determine where we were. We finally spotted the tourist information office, which we knew the stone circle to be only a few hundred yards from. The Kenmare Stone Circle is reported to be the biggest in the south west of Ireland. Stone Circles were built during the Bronze Age (2,200-500 B.C) for ritual and ceremonial purposes. They were often orientated on certain solar and lunar events , such as the position of the sun on the horizon on a solstice. In the center of the circle is a Boulder Dolmen, which is unique for stone circles. Dolmen's often marked the burial place of someone important. We spent a while playing, relaxing and enjoying the sunshine and mild temperatures.

The day was wearing on so we decided to head back to Killarney and the hotel to freshen up for dinner. Once back in town, we located Murphy's Pub on College street (right behind our hotel). An gentlemen in the corner of the pub recommended the Guinness Stew (reported to be the best in the area, if not the country) which a few people did try and enjoyed. I had the fish & chips (something I had been wanting since we arrived) and pint. We had a great evening listening to live music at The Grand (I think that was name) located on Main St, a short walk from the hotel. We didn't stay out too late though. We had an early morning with a two hour drive back to Shannon to catch our flight to the states. We packed up that night feeling a little blue. I think this was the first vacation Jen and I had taken where we felt we belonged...so anyone up for Ireland in 2010?

Pictures of the days adventure can be found here