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Glengarriff, the Ring of Kerry, and a Silvery Sunny Day
The cold and damp of Waterford did a complete 180 today, as Silversea’s Silver Explorer dropped anchor outside of the village of Glengarriff, Ireland on one of the warmest, sunniest days the region has had all week, rising to a stunning 26 degrees Celsius.
This pleased me, as I woke up with a bit of a cold this morning. If we were in Vienna, I’d blame it on the fohn, but since we’re here in Ireland, I suppose I’ll lay the blame squarely on the damp of yesterday, which sounds appropriate.
Located in County Cork, Glengarriff served as the starting point for a massive, 9.5-hour tour that took us through the famed “Ring of Kerry” which, as you might have guessed, resides in nearby County Kerry. After a warm and particularly beautiful zodiac ride ashore, we boarded one of three coaches arranged to take practically the entire ship’s compliment on this all-day adventure.
After about ten minutes` drive through County Cork, we passed into County Kerry by way of a narrow stone tunnel cut into the road which gives way to some of the most stunning valleys I`ve ever seen.
Three years ago, I visited Belfast, Northern Ireland on another cruise and was struck by the soft, rolling hills and lush greenery, and while the179 kilometer-long Ring of Kerry boasts the same oversaturated shades of green, its landscape is far more rugged, having been carved and chipped away by retreating glaciers during the end of the last ice age.
We made a photo-stop at Ladies View, just further down the road from Moll’s Gap. Think of the postcard-perfect version of Ireland, and you’ll not find Ladies View to stray too far from that vision. From its perch on the cliff next to the small, two-lane highway, Ladies View offers up a romantic view of the Irish countryside in all its glory. While I stood there, goats grazed peacefully alongside the hills, while sheep occupied the lot next to the motorcoach. Cows were in a field further down the road. The hills of Ireland, it seemed, were alive indeed.
Around 11am, we arrived at a grand old property with a somewhat funny name: Muckross House. But there was nothing funny about this property: this was a serious mansion in its day, constructed in 1843 for a wealthy man named Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, who fancied herself a bit of an artist. If you’ve ever seen the 2002 movie Gosford Park, you’ll get a fantastic idea for what this place was like in its heyday.
There`s a cool story behind Muckross House: it seems old Herbert got wind that Queen Victoria was planning to visit Ireland, and he went out of his way to secure the contract for her visit, inviting her to stay at Muckross. She accepted, and Henry Arthur Herbert spent the next six years in anticipation of Her Majesty`s arrival, going to spectacular lengths that included having new curtains woven in Paris and new furniture constructed for the house and shipped over from Italy.
Queen Victoria did indeed stay at Muckross House, arriving for two days in August 1861. By all accounts the Queen enjoyed her stay with the Herberts, and even participated in a wild game hunt on the grounds of the property.
Henry Arthur Herbert was thrilled, and a royal title or additional lands were sure to come his way in consideration for all the trouble he went to. But when Queen Victoria`s husband died suddenly three months later, the Queen promptly forgot about Muckross House and Henry Arthur Herbert.
Overextended after the improvements made for the Queen`s visit and faced with bankers who increasingly sought to add Herbert`s head next to his numerous trophy game pieces, he was forced to sell Muckross House in 1899 to a member of the Guinness family and drifted into poverty thereafter.
While it was fascinating to see the rooms the Queen resided in, it was the presence of two little brass knobs in every room that really captured my imagination. These knobs, placed discreetly near fireplaces or entryways, could be pulled by the family or visitors and would then trigger one of 30-odd bells in the servant’s hallway in the basement, each of which made a different sound. I imagine the servants learned very, very quickly what the repercussions for failing to identify that ring were.
Regrettably, photography of any kind was not allowed inside the House, but the spectacular lunch in the town of Killarney that followed expressed no photo-shyness.
We were invited into the elegant Killarney Royal Hotel for lunch, which we enjoyed in a private dining room with just the 30 or so passengers on our motorcoach; other guests were taken to another restaurant somewhere else in Killarney. It made the entire experience very intimate and enjoyable, and the food – including vegetable soup, dessert and your choice of stuffed chicken or salmon accompanied by fresh vegetables – was flavourful and fresh.
But I do have to admit to being perplexed that the beer they served those of us who wanted it wasn’t Guinness – I just assumed that being in Ireland, Guinness would be everyone’s go-to beer. Instead, it was Budweiser. So my quest to finally enjoy a pint of Guinness while in Ireland still continues!
After lunch, we were given ample time to explore Killarney, so I immediately sought out the oldest bookstore I could find (I love searching for maritime books that are tough to find in Canada) and made a special effort to photograph the churches and cathedrals and lose myself in the winding streets before re-boarding the coach for the return drive to the Silver Explorer.
Best of all, today didn’t cost a penny – tours like this are all included on Silversea’s Expedition voyages aboard Silver Explorer. The cost to do everything we did today would have easily been in the hundreds of Euros per person if it had to be purchased separately. Not that I escaped today entirely free of charge – I ended up buying some nice handmade souvenirs on my way back to the coach!
Upon our return to the Silver Explorer, the Hotel team had taken the liberty of creating a special sail-away party up on Deck 6 aft. In the unusual Irish heat, Silver Explorer raised her anchors and got underway, her guests mingling amongst the other passengers, crew and expedition staff for this postcard-esque departure.
I’m playing a bit of a hermit this evening, though, ordering room service instead of dining in The Restaurant so I can call it an early night and not find myself still battling the internet at 1:30AM as I did last night. Reception strength has been great for most of the voyage, but last night it was a touch spotty. Tonight, on the other hand, I’m hoping to have a bit of time to watch one of the many complimentary “on-demand” movies that Silversea offers on TV, including videos of past expedition voyages.
With dinner laid out on the table in my suite and the Irish countryside passing just outside my port-side windows, it seems like a fittingly relaxing end to an adventurous day ashore, and a great example of one Thursday that, I think, will remain unmatched in my memory for a very long time.
Our Live Voyage Report from aboard Silversea’s adventurous Silver Explorer returns tomorrow as we spend an afternoon in Galway, Ireland and the Connemara countryside!
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