Sometimes we think that to explore new places we have to travel far from home. But, if we really think about it, most of us haven’t fully experienced our own towns — our own “now” if we’re going to add a mystical element to it.
I’ve actually had tourists — people who don’t even live here – come up to me and say, “Have you done such and such? It was great!”
And my answer is “Well, no, actually. I haven’t.”
And of course, I have no good answer to their follow-up question of, “Why not?”
I’ve lived here for years and, still, there are places or events tourists make a point to experience during their short vacation that I have never done.
So I’m going to be a tourist in my own town. I’m going to explore places I’ve never been, see what tour books say to do, and go places people recommend. I’ll let you know how it goes. 😉
Most Irish grocery stores expect you will bring your own grocery bags to the store. Sometimes they will have paper bags available at the check-out, but it will cost you extra. So save the planet a few trees (and yourself a few disproving looks) and plan ahead. 🙂
I know most tourists hike the Gap of Dunlop when they go to Killarney, and perhaps, someday, I will too. I have no doubt it is beautiful. But in the height of tourist season, I wasn’t so keen to share my landscape with hundreds of others.
Instead, I explored the National Park. Sitting just on the edge of Killarney town, I was surprised to find it less cluttered than I had imagined. Except for certain roads punctuated with the occasional clip-clop of the carriage tours, the rest of the Park seemed solely at my disposal. I paused, standing on a slopping hill, and breathed in the scenery: the sweet, grassy fields, the forests, the blue-purple hills, the lakes… all blended together in a perfect harmony that is only born of some deep, long-ago magic.
I would be happy to write and write of my experience in the Park, but sometimes, a picture tells it best. Enjoy. 🙂
The next time I visit Killarney, I will be sure to attend a mass at St. Mary’s Cathedral. Not because I’m particularly religious, but because the architecture is so beautiful, it makes you want to go church.
This visit, however, I simply took a moment to slip inside one afternoon. The only sound was the soft murmur of choir music drifting from hidden speakers and the hushed whispers of tourists and prayers.
Quietly, I lit a candle for my Grandfather. I don’t know why I did it, but I always light a candle for him when I go into one of these churches. Perhaps it is because he is Catholic and this is one way I can honor and remember him. Or perhaps, for some reason, this kind of physical act simply makes me feel more connected.
After lighting my candle, I settled down on a long, wooden pew. I watched my candle flicker; standing side-by side with dozens of other candles. Dozens of stories converted into flickering flame. I wondered who they were all lit for. Were they prayers? Or, like mine, lit of remembrance and love?
My gaze then rose up the stone columns to the vaulted ceilings; massive stone high above my head. And everywhere, interspersed through the walls of that great stone, and tucked under arches, shone intricately stained-glass windows.
As you sit in St. Mary’s, you can’t escape the feeling that you are surrounded by a great vastness; the air is permeated by the reverent quietness of the place.
Silence is a beautifully, profound thing. And even if this church is not part of your religion, I would recommend a visit. Take time to sit down and embrace the silence. Breathe in the quiet, the flickering candles, and the space…this is a moment to leave the rest of the world behind and dwell in the quiet of your own thoughts.
Petit Delice was a fantastic discovery I made one afternoon in Killarney. It’s slightly off the beaten path, which means that even in the height of July, odds are you can still find a quiet corner to sit in.
The afternoon was one of those “soft” Irish days where the rain comes down in a gentle misting sheet rather than individual drops. Weary of the streets and the drizzle, I began craving a hot mug of coffee and a cosy hideout.
From the moment you step inside Petit Delice, you immediately leave the busy hustle and rush of the streets, and are wrapped in soothing, rustic ambience and delightful smells. Fresh croissants, wedges of pie, cookies, tarts, and an abundance of other breads and delicacies filled the glass counters.
The only problem you will have in this place is there are so many choices and they all look fantastically delicious.
After deliberating over the offerings and finally selecting a decadent chocolate tart, I ordered my cappuccino, and nestled down at one of the wooden tables.
My steaming cappuccino clasped in my hands, the taste of chocolate tart on my tongue, and a book to keep me company, I was perfectly content. Outside the world strolled by without a passing thought, while inside time seemed to slow. The murmur of soft music, the smell of coffee, and the gentle clink of mugs on saucers filled the room. People leaned towards each other, chatting amicably over their coffee; their plates holding crumbled traces of delicious treats.
Sound fantastic? Don’t take my word for it. Visit yourself….and enjoy. 🙂
Killarney — in full summer — is a throng of tourist packed streets, music, and color. It projects a vibrancy specially designed to attract the tourist like bees to the honeypot. And of course, its location, tucked among the green mountains and sparkling lakes of Kerry, speaks for itself.
Each person’s encounter with a place is uniquely their own, and for me, it is no different. Killarney (and the reason I return to it) is complied of a series of special attractions. The three, in particular, I have chosen to share in the coming posts are Petit Delice Bakery, St. Mary’s Cathedral, and the Killarney National Park.
It may sound silly to write only on these select few, when there is so much more to Killarney, but this is my experience. And while I throughly enjoyed following a lively trail of music into a pub, or meandering through the town peering in shop windows, the places I have selected are especially memorable to me. They are the pieces that stand out; that shape my encounter with Killarney. And when other memories around them fade, these three are the ones I will spread out on a cold winter’s night and remember with fondness.
I’m talking about the Irish breakfast; that heaping mound of protein you are supposed to be able to eat all in one sitting. I remember staring at it one morning as my B&B host set it down before me: A large plate filled with sausages, rashers (thick slices of bacon), eggs, black and white puddings, beans, potatoes, and tomatoes. Not to mention the thick slices of brown bread and toast in the basket next to me, and the large pot of tea at my disposal.
It looked delicious, but, I, who come from the world of choosing between cereal, yogurt, toast, or, on the rare occasion, an egg, felt like I was looking at the breakfast of a body builder.
“Aren’t you going to have any cereal?” asked my host, worried she had brought out the plate too soon.
I glanced over at the plentiful cereal bar – cereal, granola, yogurt, and fruit – then back at my plate. To myself I thought, Cereal! How on earth am I going to be able to eat cereal AND all of this?! This could be my meal for the next century! (Which, considering I was traveling on a budget, could actually be quite helpful.)
But instead, I glanced up with a smile and said, “Err, maybe later?”
I don’t know if I’ll ever get over the Irish Breakfast. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a “breakfast person”. I never miss eating it, and I can eat it at 4am just as well as 9am. I just don’t eat it to this kind of proportion. And, of course, I know that just because it’s called an “Irish Breakfast” doesn’t mean it is the breakfast all Irish eat every morning. I think rather, it’s one of those traditions that tourists and restaurants take part in more than your average local. But regardless, I can never help but feel intimidated every time I face it.
The end result, readers, was that over the course of the next hour, I did eat my Irish breakfast. I even finished off with an apple as a pallet cleanser (although I never managed to get to that cereal).
And, what’s more, I didn’t feel hungry until later in the afternoon…and that was after I had spent hours hiking up and down a mountain. 🙂
Kilkenny Castle – the big attraction that pulls the tour buses to Kilkenny by the dozens. Especially on summer weekends.
To be fair, I do understand why the tours would want to come. The Castle is beautiful and well worth a visit. Especially if you enjoy history. But if, on the other hand, you’ve had your fill of castles and the idea of wandering through corridors and dining rooms doesn’t appeal to you, take a stroll around the Castle grounds.
(Admission to the grounds is free and open to the public all day.)
To be honest, the grounds were one of my favorite parts of visiting the Castle. Beautiful grassy lawns, wooded pathways, and even a duck pond; all tucked into the radius of a few kilometers. And after gathering lunch items from a nearby street market one sunny afternoon, I enjoyed a leisurely walk and a wonderful picnic.
Another day, when the weather was wet and miserably grey, I went to the Castle’s Tea Rooms and cozied up with a coffee and a scone. Later, I wandered down the hall to the exhibit in the Butler Gallery (free admission).
As simple as this adventure might sound, like my picnic, this is a fond memory of my time spent in Kilkenny; particularly because I enjoyed the exhibit so much.
The Kilkenny based animation company Cartoon Saloon had recently released their film Song of the Sea. A tale of last Seal-child and the fantastic journey she and her brother embark upon. This same company created the Oscar nominated film The Book of Kells, and their work continues to display a beautifully magical and authentically Celtic feel to it. I’ve borrowed a few photos from the Internet to give you some idea.
The exhibit was an interactive, multi-media illustration of the animation process. Hundreds of sketches, prints, and storyboards lined the walls of the gallery; some black and white, some in color. As I strolled along the walls, moving from room to room, it was as if I were following the pathway of creativity and imagination. At the end of that pathway, I entered the third and final room. It was dark, decorated to resemble a cave, with blue and white lights dancing all around. You could almost feel the magic. Then suddenly, before you, the animation come to life. Projected onto the wall in a way that made you feel a part of it.
Standing there in the dark, I realized I was grinning in that childish “I just saw something that made me wonderfully happy” kind of way. Because it was one of those moments; the kind where you can’t quite explain what you’re experiencing, but you can feel it.
Kilkenny is a great town for music. In the evenings, some fellow travelers and I would simply stroll around the downtown; lazily deciding which pub we would land in for the night. That’s the wonderful thing about pub music…there’s no cover charge, so you can literally wander the cobblestone streets popping your head into different pubs. And when you hear something you like, you can sit down, order a pint, and stay for a while.
And the variety of music in Kilkenny is extensive – especially considering it’s not that large of a town. So despite differences in musical preference, you are almost guaranteed to find something you’ll enjoy.
During my stay I listened to traditional Irish music (which also featured some Irish dancing), contemporary folk and bluegrass, blues & rock and roll, and – although I didn’t go into the pub — nearly had my ears blasted out by loud rock music as we walked by. 🙂
And the best thing? All of this is within an easy walkable distance…all of this is available for the price of a pint. So the next time you are in Kilkenny, don’t worry about going to a particular pub; just go out. Stroll the streets and have a listen…go where the music calls you. 🙂
St. Canice’s – Gothic cathedral, and home of the best preserved round towers in Ireland. (And I might add, one of the key tourist sites in Kilkenny.) If you love architecture, it’s worth a visit in that regards alone, as the Cathedral dates from the 13th century and the round tower is even older. And although, I personally did not pay the entry fee to go inside or climb the tower, I thoroughly enjoyed strolling the Cathedral grounds, reading gravestones…. Some were faded illegibly; others lichen covered. And still more clean and recent; with flowers laid by their gravestones showing the grief felt by their loved ones.
That’s what’s beautiful about walking around this Cathedral. Over 800 years of stories are buried on these grounds….people who lived, loved, and worshiped in this place. You can feel the history.
And check out this tower! Perhaps proof as to how it was feasible to keep Rapunzel in a tower so long? 😉
(Note: it is a long, narrow climb to the top of this 30 meter (~98 feet) tower – do not undertake if you get claustrophobic.)
This is just me being nerdy about architecture, but this door is SO cool I had to share!
And finally…. Sometimes, unexpectedly, you find an image that is simply poetic: life and death twined together…. Life growing in the very heart of stone.