No, it’s not yet the 25th of December but that song from the 1950s inspired today’s blog post title and a return visit to a welcoming town in southern Ireland. We had been there several years ago with our London friends, Jan and Bob, and we enjoyed that visit so much, we wanted to return. Since both of us are railroad buffs, we took the train from Galway, with a change in Dublin, to arrive in Killarney just before afternoon tea was served at the Great Southern Hotel (lobby photo here on the left). Built in 1854 the hotel name is from its location beside the railway station that was once owned by the Great Southern Railway when they operated all of the trains throughout the Republic. In keeping with the traditions of other grand station hotels we’ve enjoyed, they too have maintained the elegance from the “Golden Age of Travel”.
The last time we were in Killarney we had a car which was great for exploring the outskirts, including driving the Ring of Kerry, but now we were on foot so we wanted to see what options we had. Walking out the front of the hotel gave us our first hint of how to get around: a jaunting car with its jarvey or translated into American English, a horse-drawn carriage and driver. Since we were standing at the edge of the Killarney National Park I could understand why their most popular tour starts there and takes you through a small portion of the park to the 15th century Ross Castle (featured photo above) all while you listen to, as their brochure says, legendary stories told by your guide “full of Irish whit.” It also (ominously, perhaps) says, “All bookings go ahead despite very bad weather,” for this one-hour tour that costs 30€ per person. Luckily for us it was a beautiful fall day.
Not as atmospheric but at half the price is the double-decker Hop-on-Hop-off bus tour that can also get you to the castle as well as other national park highlights such as the Torc waterfall and the Muckross House, gardens, farms, and abbey, all on an hourly schedule. Adjacent to Muckross House, a restored 19th century mansion, are their craft workshops for pottery, bookbinding, and weaving where Bill found a tweed flat cap that came in very handy on some cool Irish mornings.
Exploring downtown Killarney was easy enough on foot, which is what we prefer anyway and the guidebook that we were following, Daytrips Ireland, said that it would only take an hour to wander the town. That didn’t take into account any stops into traditional Irish pubs, but we’ll talk about those later. Our first stop was St. Mary’s Church of Ireland that was originally called Cill Airne which is believed to be how the city got its name since a religious building has existed on the site since at least the 13th century.
Across from the church we could see the stone wall surrounding our next destination, Killarney House and Gardens. It’s part of the national park and since their website said that the building we would be viewing, constructed in the 1720s, was “once the stable block of a French chateau style residence that you would find in Normandy and Brittany,” we certainly wanted to go there.
At that point we were within the national park so we just continued on one of the paths to Deenagh Lodge, built in 1834, and thatched with the local river reed. It’s a tea house yet we had another type of “brew” in mind, but we had one more photo to take and we could see our destination from the Lodge. Construction on St. Mary’s Cathedral was begun in 1842 but was interrupted by the Great Famine when it was used as a hospital before it was completed in 1855. A mass grave of some of the victims is marked by a giant redwood tree by the western doorway.
For something much less somber we went to find a comfortable pub for a pint of Guinness. We wanted a place in the center of town, that would be both cozy and traditional. At the top of the list was O’Connor’s on High Street, followed by Courtney’s on Plunkett St., Murphy’s on College St., and Reidy’s on Main Street said to have, “lots of nooks and crannies. There are so many long side rooms, and booths you could nearly get lost.” Interestingly, we had been in Reidy’s exactly 8 years to the day prior when it was a candy shop and we bought traditional hard candies and now we were enjoying a different style of sweet treat!
It was great to be back and as the lyrics of the song say,
Our hearts are light
Our spirits bright
We’ll celebrate our joy tonight
It’s Christmas in Killarney!