March 5 – April 1, 2022 (Spring)

The grass is always greener in Ireland. Literally, when you’re coming from the Algarve. We planned our arrival assuming a functional transit network, with a flight in to Dublin and a direct train down to Killarney. Only Irish Rail had neglected to inform us our train was now three trains. And also part bus. And our transfer would be a couple hours late. And the layover station was closed at night and oh by the way it’s freezing.

An inauspicious start to our stay. But one that left nowhere to go but up.

For starters, we loved our cute Killarney townhouse. It came well-stocked with peat for the fireplace. Chilly nights were no match for a cozy hearth.

We were on the opposite side of town from Killarney National Park, our main attraction. We spent most days there anyway.

Our neighborhood wasn’t bad. Close to the train station and equidistant from the charming downtown in one direction and supermarkets in the other. But how could we stay still when vistas like these beckoned?

The natural wonders are supplemented by awesome man-made landmarks. Ross Castle stands guard over Ross Island (which is in fact a peninsula).

Nature and history intersect most dramatically at Muckross Abbey. This massive yew overflows a courtyard of the structure that marks the far eastern border of Lough Leane.

Just a short walk away at the entrance of the National Park is picturesque Muckross House and its gardens.

Killarney proper is mostly dominated by typical Irish row houses. The most prominent landmark is St. Mary’s Cathedral – tallest not just in town, but in all of Ireland.

Swampy woodlands ring the watersheds around Lough Leane and Muckross Lake. High-and-dry gravel trails and well-kept boardwalks keep boots dry on long hikes.

The red deer in the park are as easy to spot as they are to miss. With little traffic they’re accustomed to being remarkably close to people. But if not for their bright-white bottoms, they’d seem to vanish entirely.

Killarney anchors the famously scenic Ring of Kerry, star attraction of southwestern Ireland. We treated ourselves to a guided tour of the best spots.

Naturally the west coast is awash in beautiful rock formations✨, albeit not as pronounced or famous as the Cliffs of Moher.

Cahergal Stone Fort ironically stood out to us among all the other attractions. This massive ring fort blends into the surrounding landscape despite 15-foot-thick walls. A local farmer sold selfies with an adorable baby lamb in the parking lot for a modest donation. And yes, you bet we did✨.

Another roadside stop offered even more adorable lambs to look at. Though mom eyed (ewed?) us with suspicion and kept this cutie too far away to pet.

Early spring meant there was still more brown than green at altitude. But the views were still more than worth the trip.

Without much canopy moss and ferns do a lot of the heavy lifting to keep our photos green. But that didn’t put a damper on our smiles✨.

The area around Torc Waterfall is one of the most verdant year-round. Also one of the most popular as it’s just a few steps from the parking lot. We, however, had bigger plans.

The trail up from the falls continues straight up to the top of Torc Mountain. Grass stays a crunchy straw yellow up here in the wind-swept height of winter.

Again we were impressed by the quality of trails around Killarney National Park. Much of the mountainside is an easy trek over gently-sloping boardwalks and occasional stairs.

After a few kilometers we reached the top of Torc Mountain and earned stunning vistas of Killarney and her lakes.

Of course, we couldn’t help but plan our trip to Ireland to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day, right? Haha, not really. We completely forgot about it until a few days before it snuck up on us. Thankfully Covid restrictions had eased and the celebration (and corresponding parade) were on!

Many floats that had sat unfloated for years got their day in the sun, including a few clearly meant for Christmas or other occasions. But the headliner was still the legend and namesake of the holiday himself.

The celebration in Killarney is a much more family-oriented affair than we feared. Don’t get it twisted – streets were absolutely ruined with drunk teens and twenty-somethings partying all night. But not to the extent of Dublin or Irish-heritage-heavy cities in America.

Also for the first time in years, we augmented our own two feet with a ride of metal and wheels. Don’t worry, we didn’t forget. Riding a bike is like… well, you know.

The goal: to make it up and over the Gap of Dunloe and back around to Killarney in one piece. The bike rental place assured us it was possible to pedal the entire ring in a few hours. If we were fit.

The ride up the pass was indeed strenuous, but nothing we couldn’t handle. We were glad to come during such a quiet time. In busier seasons the tranquil lakes and bucolic views are easily marred by crowds and an endless stream of car traffic.

Ultimately we did make it to the summit, even if Danielle found it more achievable to walk her bike than to ride it in spots. A breezy picnic was our reward. As we started down the long series of switchbacks on the opposite slope, the gravity assist was much appreciated.

Danielle managed the treacherous downhill portion just fine. It wasn’t until the beautifully smooth, flat, car-free stretch of path in Killarney National park that she decided to do an unscheduled front-flip over her handlebars.

And that✨, kids, is why we always wear our helmets.

So we took it easy for a few days. Luckily there was plenty to entertain us✨ in town. Cozy pubs like Courtney’s and Husseys offer a warm place to unwind. Live music could be found nearly every night – a surprising but welcome tradition.

And while the Irish dining options were admittedly rather underwhelming, we were glad to have a few international options for once. Khao Asian Street Food served some of the best (and only) khao soi we’ve eaten outside of Chiang Mai.

Ireland’s weather naturally reminded us of Seattle, which is probably why it so effortlessly felt like home. We enjoyed spring showers without an umbrella. After all, if the River Deenagh doesn’t need them, do we?

But it was easy to forget that the temperate weather in town swung wildly at altitude. Our last and most climactic hike to the Devil’s Punch Bowl had us climb through myriad climes.

T-shirt weather at the base gave way to frosty tundra midway and finally bundled in every layer we had and braving hurricane-force winds at the peak.

We didn’t have much time to savor our victory. A quick peek around and then we scrambled to return warmth to our extremities at a lower altitude.

We started our stay with nowhere to go but up, and up we went. It was glorious. Killarney knocked it out of the (proverbial and literal) park.

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