Sunday Times report on their Horse Vacation in Ireland
GALLOPING ACROSS HILL AND DALE IN LOVELY IRELAND
Killarney, Ireland – This land’s wildness, mysteries and brilliant shades of green make it one of the Earth’s natural wonders. A horse named Misty took me swiftly on a tour of fancy. I rode over Ireland like a conqueror claiming hitherto unseen lands. With a group of six other tourist and one guide I rode around Killarney’s Lower Lake. Afterward down the Iveragh Peninsula through the Ring of Kerry, traipsing through terrain only the hardiest hikers could tackle, seeing scenery denied to buses and cars.
Gallop on the Beach.
Then we did what one can experience only on horseback, a gallop on the beach. It is an experience available to everyone, even those who have never set foot ina stirrop before. Misty belongs to Killarney riding Stables in County Kerry, Ireland’s south western most region. The town of Killarney thrives because it is near three pure and brilliant lakes at the edge of Macgillicuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s tallest mountain range. Yet the town’s population extends hospitality unmatched by most other cities whose sole commodity is tourism. Donal O’Sullivan, 42, owns Killarney riding Stables. After a dozen years of renting out horses for short afternoon treks, O’Sullivan started his seven-day, 100 mile Killarney Reeks Trail holidays in 1982. He also offers three-day minitrails covering any part of the weeklong route. Both packages include lodging, meal and transfer of luggage. Killarney Reeks Trail is open to all comers, not just tour groups; O’Sullivan runs the trail even if only one person signs up.
A tour often consists of people from Europe, South and North America; many participants only get acquainted with each other when they gather at the barn.
Riding horses of legendary Irish stock past exhilarating scenery herds strangers into a close camaraderie. Even language barriers do not interfere with the good time. Aside from the variety in ages and nationalities, Killarney Reeks Trail caters to all levels of riding experience. By the end of the second day, O’ Sullivan said, first – time riders are settled into the necessary procedures, with the trail guide giving lessons and suggestions along the way, instilling confidence. Nevertheless, riders may skip any leg of the journey that might be taxing. People of “reasonable physical fitness” can take the complete trail, O’ Sullivan said. Everybody gets sore, experience and novice alike, but muscles incapacitate, and the scenery soon subdues the physical senses. The only preparation needed for Killarney Reeks Trail is to buy riding boots and jodhpurs, though blue jeans work fine. O’ Sullivan supplies the riding hat. He also supplies the horses. Horse Matched to Rider After casual conversation, O’ Sullivan matches the appropriate horse to the personality and skill level of each rider. These horses become more than just a means of transportation; like our human companions on the trail, Misty and her colleagues become our buddies. At the end of each day’s ride O’ Sullivan joins groups over pints of stout and pots of tea to discuss the trail and cater to his charges’ comfort. The after-trail drinking, in fact, took more out of the riders in our group than the 17 miles a day on horseback. O’ Sullivan hospitality, horse sense and service still proved to be only subtle supplements to the trail’s overriding attraction; the sights and sounds of Ireland. The first day’s trekking was to get us used to horses and vice versa while exploring the lush, lake-endowed land around Killarney. We rode around the shores of Killarney’s Lough Leane (the lake of learning), know more commonly as Lower Lake. After first stopping at Innisfallen, an evergreen-covered island containing the remains of an 11th Century monastery, we rode past Ross Castle, a stone fortress ruin from the early 15th Century.
Though not a grand structure along the order of romantic Welsh, feudal English or eccentric German castles, Ross Castle does add a dose of Irish mystery to the lake’s natural attributes. Ross Castle once was home to Prince O’ Donoghue, whose misguided attempts at attaining eternal youth by magic resulted in his jumping from the castle’s tower into the lake.
He now has a kingdom below the waters of Lough Leane, and on some days you can see his golden city from a boat. One look at the rainbows rising from the lake adds credence to the tale. O’ Donoghue himself is said to rise from the lake in May, clad in brilliant armor on his white steed. After a lunch if sandwiches, scones. apples and soda on the lake shore, we rode into the Knockreer Estate, a park on a hill overlooking the lake and laced with bridle paths. Each turn up the hill offered an ever-expanding view of Lough Leane and its crown of mountains.
These bare-domed mountains literally appeared purple under the misty skies, while all around us lay emerald pastureland, with grazing horses that must have had legs shorter on one side to be able to stand on the steep hills.
The second day we started our trek to the Ring of Kerry and up the mountains. Heading for Lake Caragh, we rode through a landscape in constant change, with overhead cloud formations bathing a hillside on our right in a splash of sunlight and forming a halo over a valley to our left. The trail first followed the main highway along Lake Caragh to the Devil’s Elbow, a dangerous curve (in a car) with a view of the lake, Dingle Bay and mountains of Dingle Peninsula in the background. Farther up the road we turned onto a lane of pavement battered more by time and elements than by heavy use. This lane meandered through rocky pasture where tiny, timid rams and annoyed cattle shared the tundra among scattered boulders. We now we were in the Ring of Kerry. The normal route for cars and coaches is a highway that runs along the Dingle Bay shore, then cuts across Iveragh Peninsula at the end of the mountain range. They drive around the Ring of Kerry. We were surrounded by it. The only tourists who drive where we rode are the ones who get lost trying to make some sense out of Ireland’s road signs. The most heart-seizing view of the day, though, came that afternoon after a picnic ina stand of trees by the Caragh River. Our guide led us onto a road that disappeared upa mountain. The mountain’s name is Seefin, and it rounds off at 1,621 feet, almost 1,600 feet higher than the picnic area we had just left. From the valley this dome appeared rich brown, but as we ascended we rode through a landscape of Picasso colors; dabs of white in the sheep, grey in the boulders on a field of green brush, with specks of yellow and purple flowers.
The road soon became a rutted farm land, and after passing through a gate we rode a stony grass track up the mountain to a bouldered alleyway known as Windy Gap near Seefin’s summit.
No stress on Rider.
The horses did all the straining, leaving us free to sightsee as we passed through the gap. Seefin’s Windy Gap opened onto a view of Glenbeigh and its narrow valley, a slice of green wedged into a ring of golden mountains. Beyond, Dingle Bay lay like a sequined fabric of blue glittering in the sun, with sandy beaches forming a tan, felt-tip pen outline. More gold was heaped in the row of Slive Mish Mountains across the bay, the backdrop to this moment. The ancient gods would have made this pass their home so they could while away the ages staring at the mortals’ domain below, down where the scenic route takes motoring tourists around the Ring of Kerry. The three-mile gallop on Rossbeigh Beach came on the third morning. It seemed that we were floating down the beach at Mach 2.5 (we were ‘flying’ at 25 m.p.h.) surrounded by Ireland’s primitive landscape. We rode to Coomasaharn Lake for lunch, where the sun shone from above and below, its intensity reflected in the water. The name for this body of water is Irish for Horseshoe Lake, set as it is at the foot of Coomacarrea, a horseshoe-shaped mountain that is 2,000 feet of angled cliff from lake surface to sky. The lake has only one access point, a road-com-lane-cum-path from Glenbeigh. Its isolation made Coomasaharn ideal for lunch in a setting where one could bask in the recollection of the morning gallop. This was the end of my minitrail; the rest of the group were continuing on theseven day trail. Despite what I had experienced, I was told I was missing the most interesting scenery of the trail – farther down the Iveragh Peninsula to the beaches of the Atlantic. I found that hard to believe. I couldn’t fathom how anything could surpass the ever-changing views of Lough Leane, the scene form devil’s Elbow, the ride through Seefin’s Windy Gap, the gallop on Glenbeigh Beach or lunch at Coomascarrea.
I took my farewells from our guide, the group, O’Sullivan and my good buddy Misty, I embraced them all, just as I had embraced them all, just as I had embraced the land of Ireland.