Well, although we went to bed early, we were all (except for Ebabe) woken up at 12:30 by the fire alarm at the hotel going off.  It rang for about 40 seconds, then cut off.  We didn't hear any other noises - no doors opening, no one moving around - so Chip called the front desk.  Apparently they were using steam to clean part of the spa area and it triggered the alarm.  Nice. 

We got up, checked the weather and made the decision to head to Killarney National Park, Ireland's oldest National Park today, rather than tomorrow, as the chance of rain was significantly lower. Hopefully it isn't too wet when we head into the Burren tomorrow, but the chance of rain is about the same there for today and tomorrow.

The drive from Limerick to Killarney was somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours.  It was incredibly scenic!  We went through quaint little villages, mountainous areas, and took in as much as we could.  Besides round-abouts, the thing we saw the most of were signs for traffic calming.  This means that there will be a drop in speed and a narrowing of the roadway ahead, usually as you approach a town.  It's the same thing as a speed zone in the States, but traffic calming just sounds so much more peaceful. 

Our first stop in the National Park was Ross Castle.  The description below comes from the Killarney Website.
"Elegantly located on the shore edge of Lough Leane, the 15th century Ross Castle was built by O’Donoghue Mór. During the Second Desmond Rebellion in 1580 the castle changed ownership to the MacCarthy Mór; this was short lived as the castle and surrounding lands, all of which now make up Killarney National Park, were transferred to Sir Valentine Browne, Earls of Kenmare. The legends believe that O’Donoghue still remains trolling Lough Leane and wakes from his slumber on the first of May every seven years to patrol the lake on his magnificent white stallion. O’Donoghue’s prison refers to a large rock that lays at the entrance to the bay."

"Ross Castle was amongst the last castle in Ireland to surrender to Cromwell’s forces during the Irish Confederates War. Another legend surrounding Ross Castle said that it would only surrender if a ship were to sail on the lakes; artillery forces arrived via the River Laune where General Ludlow attacked and took ownership of the stronghold. When the wars were over, the Brownes stated that the heir was far too young to have been involved in the rebellion and so were in a position to retain the ownership of Ross Castle and lands."

 "Due to the Browne’s relationship with James II of England, they were exiled from the property around 1688. Thereafter, the castle was operated as a military barracks and remained so until the 19th century."

We had a quick bite to eat from the small stand in the garden area and enjoyed the views of the castle and the lake while we ate.

I had hoped to take a boat to visit the ruins of a 9th century abbey on Innisfall Island, but the timing didn't work out.

After spending some time climbing and exploring the outside of the castle, we decided to take one of the hiking trails around the peninsula to view Library Point instead.

The trail went through a forested area where we enjoyed the large trees! The girls wanted to see if we could reach all the way around the tree, and they managed to do it.

We had gorgeous views of the lake on both sides of the peninsula. 

And finally, the view from Library Point.

If you look closely at the photo below, which was shot from Library Point, you can see the glimpse I got of Innisfallen Island and a whisper of the ruins there.  Maybe we'll get to explore those next trip.


 On the trail back to Ross Castle, I happened to notice an odd area of greenery.  I took a closer look and saw a sign.

The sign reads, "Ross Cottage" so we forged a path and walked around the outside of the ruins.


We couldn't get too close to the windows as there were bees and all sorts of vegetation, but a quick peek through shows the vegetation has taken over the inside of the cottage, as well.

Coming off the trail and heading back toward the parking area, I snapped this quick picture of all the fishing boats along the stream behind Ross Castle.


 Our next stop was Muckross House and Gardens.

"Muckross House is an elegant 19th century Victorian Mansion nestled within 26,000 acres of National Parkland and on the shores of Muckross Lake, the second of Killarney’s three lakes, famed for their beauty and inspiration."

"Designed by Scottish architect William Burn, Muckross House was built specially for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary Balfour Herbert. The Herbert’s occupied as many as four houses over the period of 200 years in which the family had lived on the Muckross Estate. The construction began in 1839 and was completed in 1843."

 "Astonishingly, the Herbert’s began extensive works on the house and gardens in 1850 in preparation for Queen Victoria’s looming visit in 1861. During the following number of years, the Herbert’s experienced significant financial strain and these said works are believed to have made it unbearable, so much so that it forced the sale of the Muckross Estate. It was purchased by Arthur Guinness in 1899 who wished nothing more than to preserve the estate in its natural setting."
Resting on the lawn of Muckross House
 "Some years later in 1911, the Muckross Estate was again sold to a wealthy mining entrepreneur, William Bowers Bourn. As a wedding gift, William and his wife presented the Muckross Estate to their daughter Maud and son-in-law Arthur Rose Vincent. The couple resided at Muckross until Maud’s death in 1929."
"In 1932, a number of years after Maud’s death, Mr & Mrs Bourn and Arthur Vincent very generously presented Muckross House and 11,000 acres of estate to the Irish State. The donation of Muckross combined with Mrs Beatrice Grosvenor gifting Knnockreer and Killarney House formed Killarney National Park; Ireland’s oldest and largest National Park."

The windows of the house are currently undergoing renovation.  Each one is carefully removed and sent to London for restoration. It is a long process!

We took a tour of the house, but photography was not allowed inside. The rooms are kept dark to prevent the fabrics and wallpapers from fading, but the rooms are interesting and fully furnished.  One of the rooms in the basement is used by the Muckross Weavers and we got to see wool being carded and spun.

 After our tour, we grabbed an ice cream cone from the cafe and explored some of the gardens.



 Then we strolled through the rock garden on the way to the parking lot.

Our next stop was Torc Falls.  A quick 5 minute walk from the parking area through the woods, Torc Falls is tranquil and worth the visit.

If you follow the path up the falls, there are are more than 207 stairs, but after the first set of stairs, you'll come to a great view of the middle lake.

Our final stop was to visit the Old Weir Bridge.  We weren't sure exactly how to get to it, but found the parking area for Dinis Cottage and began our hike. The sign at the start of the paved trail said that it was a 15 minute walk to the meeting of the waters, which is the general location of the bridge.  We hiked back by Torc Mountain and enjoyed the view.

After about 15 minutes, there we started to see glimpses of the lake, but no trail to the bridge.  We continued walking, even though the kids were starting to get tired. The trail opened up and we saw the Brickeen Bridge across the water.

After another 10 minutes, we saw the trail for the Old Weir Bridge.  It was about a 10 minute hike back in, so the sign in the parking lot was probably not correct.

When we arrived back there we heard a guitar and noticed a tent set up just a bit from the bridge.  It was cool to be in such a private location and be serenaded while we soaked up the beauty.

By the time we made it back to the car, we'd hiked about 9 miles for the day.  It was about 9pm and we were exhausted, but not too tired to enjoy the sun setting on our drive back to the hotel. 

We are off to bed so we'll be ready for our journey through the Burren tomorrow.  Stay tuned!
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