First of all, what was someone thinking when they came up with the name “blood pudding”? What a way to make you opt for something else for breakfast, for heaven’s sake! Not Dan though; he’ll eat almost anything, and he loved the rasher (seriously, who makes up these names? This sounds like something you need an ointment for) and scones we had with breakfast at the Killeen House this morning. Dear foodie friends, I’m sure I sound completely unschooled and uncultured when it comes to trying anything – guilty as charged. But let’s script this out, so I can make my point.
Kind Server Lady: Would you like some blood pudding for breakfast?
Me: (Trying really hard not to say it aloud) WTF?
Dan: (Making sounds like psychotic caveman with weird brogue) Mmmm,
I had scrambled eggs (with smoked salmon because that’s evidently very Killarney. And scones. And tea. And that’s all the food I’m going to talk about for a while, and I’m glad the blood pudding and rasher gave Dan energy because we started out at Torc Waterfall.
For those of us who have been to Filmore Glen or Buttermilk Falls, or Taughannock Falls, or pretty much anywhere in Ithaca, it was nothing new, but it was pretty and there were a lot fewer railings – like none. I’m great going up in those conditions, but Dear Ireland, the klutzy women of the world – especially the ones with bifocals, would appreciate just a wee railing. And I don’t mean to diminish the breathtaking beauty of Torc Waterfall – it is spectacular – but having grown up with the aforementioned chasms and falls, and being mentored by Howard Cogan, the PR guru who came up with the Ithaca is Gorges slogan, I would feel like I was cheating on NY to compare them.
We did meet some really nice people during the walk though, and we bonded with a German couple spending 30 days’ holiday here. As the passenger in her duo, she completely empathized with being lightheaded because you’ve gasped all the air out of the vehicle while trying to telepathically move the car just a smidge to the right as the branches scratch the passenger-side window, the rock wall behind it close enough to reach out and file your nails on, and the driver blithely insisting, “I have tons of room on the left!”
After the fall, we headed to Killarney National Park, where we toured not one, not two, but three traditional Irish farms circa 1930. Each farm grew in size and scope and each represented a different socioeconomic level. It was a walk, but it was so beautiful that we couldn’t help but imagine what it must have felt like to come out every morning to milk the goat or cow and get to see all of those mountains in the distance. We met an older couple from London, and they mentioned that they were embarrassed that “Americans get to see us when we’re squabbling over the EU.” I told her I was pretty sure the entire USA was grateful they had taken just a little of the spotlight off Donald Trump for a minute or two. She nodded and said, “Yeah, lassie, if he gets in, your country is doomed!” The poor woman who was working as the “wife of the manor” simply couldn’t stay in character, and I’m pretty sure she ruined a whole batch of scones in the fire just watching to see where the conversation would go.
We saw a blacksmith doing his thing, and it was nice to have a chance to chat with him about his profession, which he says is dying. While we were chatting, he was making a beautiful metal coat hook, and it was pretty cool to see that up close because, though I know Dan can do that, I’ve never had a chance to actually watch him. But seriously, what can’t Dan do – besides fold his shirts and remember that shoes should go in the closet not wherever you feel like taking them off?
We spent a lot of time at the farms, even hanging out in the ‘saddle repair shop’ on site and checking out old farm tools and implements. Then we stopped in the one-room schoolhouse, where I learned that girls always had to take coursework in needle point and the home economic arts, while boys could take “manual instruction.” That made me laugh because I have never, ever seen a man consult a manual! Ever.
After the farm, we decided to take a walk down to Muckross Abbey, which is not used anymore and doesn’t even have a roof on it, but it sure was cool. In the center of the abbey is one of the country’s largest Yew trees, and one of the locals told me it’s a wishing tree, so I had to go make a wish on it. I hope he wasn’t kidding, but if he was, about thirteen other people joined me because they believed me. There were also some cool graves in the cemetery on site. I was a bit creeped out that people buried their loved ones IN the abbey itself, but they didn’t ask me if I thought that was a tacky thing to do, so I just looked at the stones and sent a silent prayer heavenward for those whose graves had not been tended in a long time.
We walked down a path to the lake and hung out to relax for a while; the weather today was just perfect – sunny and blue-skies, and we enjoyed the walk and the songbirds immensely. For afternoon tea, we stopped in at Monk House, where we enjoyed our “food porn” shot of the day. We had vegetable soup with an onion scone, and a three-cheese tart, and I convinced Dan to try one of Monks’ famous juice-blends. Our server said her favorite was pear, apple, spinach, and rosemary, so we ordered that one. You’ll see a photo of Dan just before he tasted it, but that was mostly for drama because wow! It was delish! The whole meal was yummy, and after walking all morning (and trying NOT to think about blood pudding), we were hungry.
Since we had a little more energy to burn, we decided to head to Killgorin (also in the Ring of Kerry) just a bit down the road from our hotel, and we found it to be much less touristy. Or maybe that was because it was after five, and I’ve hardly ever known a downtown area that stays open into the evening. However, we did find a neat shop there that was open and had its own bakery and deli on premise. Of course we bought a couple of goodies to bring back to the room (we were, after all, skipping dinner), and the very nice cashier (who has food allergies and can’t eat much of what they bake there) told me I should try the Skelligs Handmade Irish Chocolate Truffles. If you know me, you know that she did not have to twist my arm too hard, so when we arrived home, Dan asked Patrice, one of the women who works here, if we could have a pot of tea brought to our room. A bedtime snack when it’s still daylight out (and will be for almost two more hours) seems guilt-inducing, but we spend so much time in that abbey today, I’m pretty sure God will forgive us. By the way, can anyone explain to me why the bottoms of the vaults (crypts sounds so very creepy) have ventilation? Is that so the ghosts have a way out for nighttime haunting, or is that really just in case someone was buried alive? Either way, it freaked me out a little. So did the un-level ground around some of the older graves, where time and erosion have taken a toll, and clumsy girls like me seem to have a knack for finding every un-level spot. I must have excused myself to the dead at least a dozen times today alone. I hope the dead in that cemetery/abbey are a forgiving lot.
All these trips to cemeteries made me think of something I am just realizing about myself. Whenever I am at a cemetery, I always try to say a few special prayers for the people in the graves that have not been cared for or have been long forgotten. When I used to be able to visit my grandmother’s grave, I’d stop at a nearby Burger King and bring lunch along to help remind me of all the lunches we’d shared together while she was alive. Before I left the cemetery on those visits, I’d always try to visit the grave of someone whose grave was not cared for. I’d brush off the detritus and leave a stone, so they’d know someone had visited. Now I’ve done that in Ireland, too, and I hope if, heaven forbid, someone doesn’t get the memo and buries me instead of sprinkling me somewhere wonderful, maybe someday someone will do the same at my grave. By the way, if someone does stop, instead of a stone, leave me a couple of French fries from your fast food lunch – at least the nearby birds will get a high-cholesterol treat, and my ghost will totally appreciate the thought.
Tomorrow we leave Killarney and head for – oh my God, I can’t remember where we go tomorrow. But it doesn’t matter because there are two things for certain. 1. We’ll get lost, and 2. We’ll have fun. Okay, three things. I’ll also be terrified on the road.
Ireland is beautiful, and the more I see, the more I understand why Irish immigrants to the USA found their way to upstate New York and the Pennsylvania mountains. The rocky slopes that test you physically and as a farmer are as unforgiving as they are beautiful, and the people who live there have to be resourceful, creative, and have some real inner strength to weather the elements and still remain positive and find peace and happiness. And they have to have a pretty good sense of humor to be able to laugh at themselves when they catch a loose rock and slide down the hill on their asses – not that it’s ever happened to me. I know many seek out their ancestors on their Ireland trips, but I don’t need to do that. I’ve always known what I was made of; it’s just nice to see and feel firsthand that the ones who came before me and formed the foundations for who I am were a strong lot. And it is nice to see that strength (some might call it stubbornness at times) is indeed a good thing.