Biking Through Killarney National Park and Muckross House and Farm
August 10, 2010
Today we woke up bright and early to have a traditional Irish breakfast- scrambled eggs, toast, beans, tomatoes, pudding (which is some sort of bread-like substance) and for me, banana pancakes- and to rent bicycles in town.
We biked about several miles through the park, enjoying beautiful mountain and forest scenery and stopping at a ruined monastery and cemetery. Now, I am usually the Queen of Macabre, but this place was creepy. A couple of the levels had long stretches of hallway that were really dark and dank. Never mind the spiders and other creepy crawlies scurrying about in the cracks and crevices of the old stones. Places like this make you think that the spirit of a tortured monk or a screaming banshee are going to run out at you if your group leaves you behind.
We stopped at a lake to take pictures, skip stones and do our best yoga poses on the rocks sticking out near the water’s edge. The mountains rose up in the background, a fine layer of mist trailing down their forested sides and providing us a mystical backdrop for our photos.
Then it was back to the trail, which for someone slightly out of shape and with bad knees-like me- was excruciating during the points of uphill cycling. I know how to work my gears and aside from them occasionally slipping, I struggled to get up the inclines because of the wear and tear on my knees. Most of the group members glided up and down the hills fairly effortlessly though and I trailed after them, wheezing and huffing.
The downhill cycling was worth the struggle though. There’s nothing that compares to soaring down a mountain trail with the cool breeze rushing over your face and fanning out your hair while your bike picks up speed. But having not been on a bicycle in a good seven or eight years, I had to make sure I didn’t face plant in the gravel and give my orthodontist more work to do.
We met the bus at the top of one of the hills so that we could make our cycling group smaller. The roads leading down to our destination, Muckross House, are treacherous because the roads are narrow, the hills are steep, the cars speed and often don’t watch where they’re going and little room is given for bicycles to travel on, unlike the rest of Ireland. But a handful of cyclists single file is doable. I was one of the ones that clamored on the bus, my knees in agony, and happy to enjoy the scenery from a less tortuous distance.
At Muckross House, we went on a guided tour through a house built in 1843 for Henry Herbert and his wife, Mary, a talented watercolorist. In the 1850s, the family was given a six years heads up that Queen Victoria would be staying there so they house underwent some very expensive and elaborate redecorating. After an entire suite of the house was set up and ornately decorated for her, Queen Victoria stayed for two nights.
The house has had different families live in it, with different decorating tastes, up until the point that it became a museum. It has since been restored to its original Victorian age decor, with 70 percent of it being original to the house, according to our guide. The inside of the house was lavishly decorated with game that had been killed in hunts, tediously carved furniture and expensive drapery and pattered wallpapering. In stark contrast was the servants quarters, where everything was drab and pragmatic, tailored to the servant’s jobs as opposed to comfort.
Then we had a quick run-through of the nearby farm, where we got the opportunity to pet numerous farm animals, including pigs, donkeys and goats and see how farmers and their families lived back in the day.
Tonight, we had the special treat of meeting Irish author and journalist, T. Ryle Dwyer, author or many books on Michael Collins and Irish politics. Though half of his lecture (the back and forths between historical events and various politicians) completely escaped me, I enjoyed his discussion with us. He is obviously a wealth of knowledge about Ireland and world history in general is enthralling. But as it always is when I’m in the presence of very intelligent people, I feel like the more that I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. But ahhh, such is life.