Ireland, Day Four: Tralee and Killarney National Park

by Jenn (eating bender) on July 18, 2014

Previous recaps:

I swear I blinked and July was half over already. The summer is flying by as usual, and we’ve been having a lot of fun spending time with family and friends. Can’t wait to share more on that soon, as well as – gasp – perhaps even a recipe post. But first…more Ireland!

Watching footage from The Open Championship thus far (yay, Rory!) makes me all the more excited to talk about our fourth day on the Emerald Isle. We played what ended up being four of our personal best golf rounds on an absolutely gorgeous day at Tralee, which ultimately became my favorite course (thanks to said personal best round and absolutely gorgeous day).

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We were greeted by the above view directly after getting out of the van. Tralee was the first European golf course designed by Arnold Palmer. The front nine is said to be the more scenic and easier of the two, with links holes that hug the coastline and offer close-up views of historical ruins. The back nine, on the other hand, is a series of mountainous dunes with thick rough and crazy carries across ravines that, as our caddy said at one point, “You couldn’t even find a car in.”

Excited for the challenge, we made our way to the first tee for our 8:06 am tee time.

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My mom was a stunner on the front nine, with two birdies and several other great shots that had the caddy telling her she ought to consider trying out for the LPGA. Bobby, Eric and I played pretty steady, too, but the highlight for me was soaking in the scenery. I kept stopping to close my eyes and take deep breaths of the cool ocean air as the morning sunshine warmed my face.

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Some of the ruins were in the distance, while others were right on the green! The tower at the back of the third hole par-3 – called The Castle – dates back to the 1190s.

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My mom was the ball on the green – she made the birdie putt! We snapped a quick picture in front of another ruin while waiting to tee off on the eighth hole.

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When we reached the back nine, we immediately noticed the stark contrast. The hills abounded!

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And oh boy, was it an adventure. The biggest challenge was by far the 12th hole, called “Bracken,” which takes no prisoners with its approach shot that must carry all the way to the green to avoid mortal peril in the form of the thickest rough you’ve ever seen. Yep, mine definitely didn’t make it, nor did anyone else’s. We all ended up playing that hole pretty badly except Bobby, who was the low scorer with a spectacular shot out of that tough stuff!

You can get a good feel for what I’m talking about with this view of the next hole, the par-3 13th. I definitely hit my ball too far and wound up in that giant hill behind the green. But hey, I found it!

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We couldn’t resist another group picture on the green. Have I mentioned yet that our caddy was awesome? He was just as excited to take pictures as I was and pointed out all the best photo opportunities along the course.

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Case in point: the view from the top of that mound behind the green. Oh my goodness.

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Bobby and I birdied the 14th hole, which made us doubly happy when the 15th tee box came around and we saw – wait for it – our daily dose of grass-fed cows!  You knew they’d show up, right?

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The “most memorable” hole on the course is the 17th, a par-4 that takes your breath away with its sweeping views of the beach. Apparently that beach was where many ships ran aground, including one vessel from the Spanish Armada in 1588.

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I mean…I wouldn’t have minded getting stuck here. This landscape was also chosen for the film “Ryan’s Daughter,” which is not-so-coincidentally the name given to the 17th hole, as well.

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Our round ended in style on the par-5 18th, called The Goat’s Hole. Bobby and Eric both ended up with great shots into the green. Bobby putt in for his birdie, while Eric putt in for his EAGLE! As you can imagine, they were both thrilled.

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We all ended up in the 80s! I had an 84, which I was very happy with. I think Arnie was proud.

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All that good golf worked up quite an appetite, so we went into the clubhouse for some celebratory Guinness and seafood chowder, both of which were very tasty.

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Then it was time for our afternoon adventures in Killarney National Park.

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Just when you think it can’t get prettier…

The weather was perfection for the entire day, which made our walk around the park all the more enjoyable. We started by walking the gardens of Muckross House, a 19th century Victorian mansion that reminded me so much of Downton Abbey.

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Muckross House was built for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, the watercolorist Mary Balfour Herbert. The gardens themselves flourished in the 1850s when they were expanded in preparation for Queen Victoria’s visit in 1861.

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The lawn leads directly down to the lake, and there were a lot of people soaking up the sun.

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The rhododendron bushes towered over us in a multitude of pinks and purples.

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As I mentioned in a previous post, our tour guide, Mike, is from Killarney. He told us that with more time he often takes people on entire day trips of the park, and I can see why. That said, we did have enough time for him to show us one of his favorite spots, so we quickly followed him past the rhododendrons and out onto a trail full of horses pulling jaunting cars. More idyllic views!

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We turned off the main path and continued down a tree-lined trail that was virtually empty – the first sign that we were truly being shown a local secret. But nothing could have prepared us for what we saw when the trees finally cleared.

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It’s hard to do the panorama justice, but let’s just say that it was hands down one of the best secrets I’ve ever been entrusted with. Mike said he often likes to come to this spot – which is blissfully quiet beyond the sounds of nature – and spend the afternoon reading.

I told him that he was a very lucky guy.

We reluctantly left the safe haven and headed back through the park to see Ross Castle just before it closed for the day. The date of its foundation is uncertain but it was probably built in the late 15th century by one of the O’Donoghue Ross chieftains,” according to the Heritage site.

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One thing I know for sure: whoever built it knew what they were doing. Being a guard back in those days wouldn’t have been my dream job, but looking out at this view may have made it a little easier.

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Papa Bender also shared with me a picture from his morning walk in the park. Although I didn’t have a chance to see Torc Waterfall in person, I was glad to experience it vicariously through him.

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We got back to the hotel around dinnertime and relaxed for a bit before heading to a restaurant across the street: Mareena’s Simply Food. The reviews on TripAdvisor were super positive, so we were very intrigued.

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We started out by sharing a great bottle of Spanish wine called Remondo La Vendimia.

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The roast supreme of chicken wrapped in parma ham caught my eye for the main dish, and it did not disappoint. It came with a variety of steamed veggies and prettily placed mashed potatoes, all topped with a rosemary jus that was phenomenal.

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We all decided to share a dessert, as well: warm chocolate cake topped with a deliciously rich sauce and served with a scoop of ice cream. As you can imagine, this was devoured in seconds.

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Then it was time for another night on the town! Mama Bender and I did some window and souvenir shopping for a bit while the boys headed to the Killarney Grand to secure us a table for another night of live music. While we perused, we passed Granda Charlie’s Auld Sweet Shop. It was practically calling our names.

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After drooling over the decadent array of goodies, we settled on testing out “flying saucers,” a disc-shaped candy that is wafer-like on the outside with a surprisingly sour punch on the inside. We also bought a bag of bonbons – the apple and black currant was my favorite!

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We arrived at the Killarney Grand to find the boys had secured us prime seats – hurray! The musicians on our second night in Killarney were just as brilliant as the first. They really seemed to feel the music, too. It was cool to watch (and listen). The bar was packed once again.

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Bobby and Eric decided to have a Murph’s this time around, too.

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We had an absolute blast and stayed rooted in our spots until our tired eyes began to betray us. Now that I am home and have had time to fully reflect, I can say with 100% certainty that our time in Killarney was the best! We loved all of Ireland, but wish we would have stayed in Killarney at least another night. There is still so much we want to see and do there – maybe someday!

Until next time…sláinte!

Abrazos,

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Previous recaps:

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Our third day in Ireland was one big scenic road trip, with Killarney as the final destination. We woke up early once again to grab breakfast from Doonbeg Lodge before we headed out. I started with a glass o’ freshly squeezed orange juice…

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…and ended with drop scone pancakes served with a fried egg and bacon. Yum!

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The journey began with a ferry ride across the River Shannon.

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Once we docked on the other side, we hopped back in the van and made our way toward the Dingle peninsula. Along the way, we stopped for some gorgeous views of the Irish countryside, complete with – you guessed it – more happy cows!

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We arrived in the heart of Dingle mid-morning. The clouds looked a bit iffy, so Mike suggested we venture out to Slea Head Drive while the sun was still shining.

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We hoped to see some of the many stone beehive huts that we knew peppered the hills. It was yet another moment where we were glad to have someone with us who was familiar with the area: Mike drove us straight past a site full of tourist buses and parked us in front of a residential property instead where, for a couple of euros, we were able to walk among herds of sheep and check out a collection of Fahan stone structures.

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I was impressed by how cool it was inside. These would come in handy in Arizona!

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Although dating the huts can be difficult because they were used as early as 3100 B.C. and as late as the 1950s, there’s a good chance that these go at least all the way back to when the Normans came during the 12th century.

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We continued on Slea Head Drive, enjoying the gorgeous cliffs and turquoise water. Although it was a bit too cloudy to see all the way to the Blasket Islands, the sights were still breathtaking and the mist was refreshing.

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Toward the end of the drive, Mike stopped us in front of this stone and said it was a historical relic dating back hundreds of years. We all stared at it in awe until he started laughing and said, “Just kidding. It’s a prop from the movie Ryan’s Daughter.” He picked a gullible audience, haha!

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Back in Dingle proper, we were delighted to find the sun shining again – and it was hot, hot, hot. We decided to eat lunch al fresco at The Boat Yard Restaurant & Bar.

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I wanted a local brew so I ordered a pint of Tom Crean’s Irish Lager to try. It was delicious!

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The group shared a couple of starters, including these calamari rings that were lightly breaded and served with a sweet chili mayonnaise. Definitely some of the best calamari I’ve ever tasted.

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The locally oak smoked salmon salad was also a hit, served with capers and homemade brown bread.

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For my main dish, I chose the crab toastie special. Toasties are open-faced sandwiches most often served with ham, tomato and cheese. This one substituted with crab, of course, and the result was fantastic. One of my favorite meals of the trip!

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After lunch we walked around the town for a while, passing a variety of shops, restaurants and pubs. I was in love with the colors on all of the buildings. Mike told us that there is no particular pattern – owners are able to choose whether or not they paint their exteriors like this, but it’s certainly encouraged to add to the cheerful atmosphere.

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Eventually we made it to Murphy’s Ice Cream, a completely local shop that boasts the slogan, “ice cream that knows where it’s coming from.” They use fresh from the farm milk, local cream, free-range eggs and organic sugar. In other words, hand me a spoon immediately, please.

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It was very hard to decide on flavors, but I ultimately decided to try real strawberry (sú talún) and Dingle sea salt (salann, shown on top below). Even the salt is made from Dingle seawater.

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We could definitely taste the quality and proceeded to gobble our cups down quickly!

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Once we had finished, we took a brief walk around the pier before piling back into the van.

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We were in the final stretch toward Killarney at this point, and eventually the shoreline could be seen to our right with more beautiful views of the water. That’s when Mike surprised us (again) by turning off the main road and coming to a stop…at a beach entrance!

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We later learned that Inch Beach is a popular place for surfing and water sports. If you had asked me before the trip whether I thought there was even a remote possibility of getting sand in my shoes, I probably would have laughed. We truly lucked out with the weather and wasted no time rolling up our jeans and running into the Atlantic Ocean. It felt just as awesome across the pond!

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The picture above is a bit grainy because someone (not naming names) isn’t quite as big of a fan of the water. ;) The boys, on the other hand, decided to channel their inner surfer dudes.

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Bobby and I had to snap a quick pic together, as well – if only we’d brought our beach attire!

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A short time later, we arrived at the Killarney Park Hotel and checked in.

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Each of our rooms were unique, from classic to contemporary. Ours had a more modern feel.

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There was also a balcony with views of the greenery behind the hotel.

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We dropped off our bags and headed out almost immediately to explore Main and High Streets.

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After a bit of shopping, we came across Bricin, a highly recommended boxty restaurant. Boxty is a traditional Irish potato pancake. We were very curious to know how it tasted, so in we went.

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We all shared a bottle of wine – two thumbs up for Vina Siegel Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon.

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I went with the special for the second time that day – a beef stroganoff boxty. I’m so glad I did because it was incredible! The boxty acted like a crepe that kept the beef and sauce inside. I would love to recreate this at home.

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After dinner, we made our way over to the Killarney Grand for our first taste of Irish nightlife and live music. It was a recommendation from Mike since Killarney is where he lives, and we knew from experience that he wouldn’t steer us wrong!

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While waiting for the music to start, we ordered a round of drinks. Instead of going for a Guinness, I decided to keep with the local/regional theme of the day and ordered a Murphy’s Irish Stout, or “Murph’s,” which is brewed in Cork. It was very similar in look and taste.

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The Killarney Grand has performers seven nights a week, and we could tell immediately that it was a popular spot. I even overheard the bartender talking with a couple of customers about the fact that Michael Fassbender had been in recently. Turns out his family is from Killarney and even used to run a restaurant up the street called West End House. Who knew?

Our musicians for the evening were super talented. By the time we left it was standing room only!

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I captured several songs on video and the below clip gives you a good taste. Awesome, right?

Reliving these memories really makes me want to go back to Ireland immediately. I hope you’ve enjoyed the recaps thus far! Can’t believe July 4 is coming up so quickly.

Do you have any plans to celebrate?

I’ve got a special visitor coming to town, so it promises to be a fun long weekend!

Abrazos,

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