There is Ireland and then there is County Kerry. I say that because the Ireland tourists see in this beautiful county is, in my humble opinion, a little different to the Ireland in which I spend my daily life.
The city of Killarney is filled with restaurants, shops and bars catering to tourists from afar, not to the likes of me who has driven 500km south, from her front door in County Leitrim. Shamrock mugs abound with Aran jumpers, patchwork hats and handwoven capes, which none of my friends would dream of wearing, let alone buying. Many of the pubs boast traditional music sessions, which are not a regular occurrence in my local, and there is the opportunity to sit outside, which is not favoured either, the north west being a bit damper than the south west.
I stayed in a charming B&B just outside the town, walking distance to the centre and found a more down to earth European eatery, Café du Parc, where I enjoyed a fish burger, cooked to my stringent demands, with a heap of skinny fries and served with a sunny smile.
Many thanks to the young waitress who ran back and forth conversing with the chef as I cross questioned her about the menu, which was not extensive, but varied and good value for money. It’s great to receive good service and good food after a long journey, so I thank them wholeheartedly.
My visit to Kerry this time centred around a guided tour of Muckross House, (pronounced Mucras by the locals). It is set on the shores of Lough Leane and the River Flesk, and in August 1861, Henry Arthur Herbert, in the hope of gaining money and a title, was host to Queen Victoria.
The house is well worth a visit and I am sorry I was not allowed to take photographs of the stunning interior, most definitely fit for a queen, or in Victoria’s case, an empress! The rooms are filled with stunning inlaid furniture, Waterford crystal chaneliers, fabulous paintings and Herbert certainly went all out to accommodate his royal guest. The tragedy was he neither recouped his money, nor received a title. A few months after her visit, Victoria’s husband died at the age of 42, leaving her a widow of similar age, with nine children. Understandably the sudden loss of her beloved Albert sent her into a depression and Herbert’s aggrandisement was forgotten.
The exterior of the house is aesthetically pleasing, surrounded by beautiful gardens, with views over the lake and mountains. Inside the walls are adorned with hunting trophies, a remembrance of when golden eagles roamed the skies and the woods were filled with deer and mountain goats. Eagles from Norway can now be seen, although I didn’t see any, and I didn’t spot any goats or deer either, but then again, I read the National Park is home to a wide range of flora and fauna, the latter probably having the better sense to steer clear of nosy tourists, keeping themselves hidden in the woodland.
During my tour of the house I discovered the origin of the term “drawing room”, which I always thought meant a room in which the ladies of house participated in artistic endeavours. Seemingly not. The ladies withdrew to such a room, leaving the men to discuss matters of the day in the library or in the male host’s office after dinner.
It’s little snippets of learning such as this which encourages me to visit old houses, although in Muckross, I had a fine glimpse of how the gentry lived in Victorian times, not to mention those who worked downstairs in the kitchen where I was shown an early ice cream maker, a huge pestle and mortar for grinding salt and sugar and a hand turned knife sharpening tool.
Downton Abbey – eat your heart out!