Pushing the Boat Out

content writer KillarneyGiven how elderly I’ve been feeling since the Lakes of Killarney Marathon, there was something rather appropriate (if desperate) about heading to an island associated with everlasting youth. Inisfallen is the island you can see if you stand in front of Ross Castle; it is also believed to be the site of the mythical Tir na nOg (land of eternal youth) featured in Irish mythology.

To my shame, despite my claim to be a Killarney native and my double stint working in the local tourist office, I had never been to the island before last Saturday, so when the chance arose this weekend, I jumped (well, bobbed enthusiastically) at it. The fact that getting there would involve rowing proved particularly attractive, mainly because rowing is not running…

We headed out on a dull, grey, lifeless day, which as a newly anointed boating expert, I now know is perfect rowing weather.  Whatever notions I had of gliding effortlessly across the water were soon forgotten, as I shunted the boat around by the copper mines ad Governor’s Rock on Ross Island and out into the open lake. Swans and ducks paid no attention to us, despite the crash of oars and frequent lurches in the wrong direction, and the lack of engine made the whole experience quite mesmerising. If it is possible to be mesmerised while you are sweating profusely…

Content writer KillarneyDespite my floundering, it didn’t take long to get to the island, which is really a rather beautiful nugget of cropped green spaces and leafy woodland clustered around the ruins of a monastery. The green areas are more chewed than manicured, the reason becoming obvious almost immediately:  As soon as we landed and started out on the broad path that circles the island, the shadows began to move and, one by one, young Sitka deer emerged to feed. Like the swans and ducks out on the lake, they were not particularly interested in us either. Sometimes it’s great to be ignored.

Among the ruins is a little oratory with an arched Romanesque doorway. Inside, you’ll find the remains of a pillar bristling with coins, some of them are well darkened with age, but some are quite recent additions, with euros scattered among the 5-cent and 10-cent pieces. What is it with Irish heritage sites and coins? I really don’t get it.

We spent about half an hour on the island and then rowed back to shore, dodging the wake of the Lily of Killarney waterbus to make it back to Ross Castle intact. It’s definitely a more leisurely way to see Loch Lein than puffing around it three times, but the Dingle Marathon looms in September, so it’s back to grinding out the miles by foot…



Around the Lakes and Down the Stairs Backward

Lakes of Killarney Marathon content writing
Running with Deer (courtesy of Valerie O’Sullivan, a.ka. the most talented photographer in Ireland)

Just before the start of every race, I look around at all the other competitors and decide that I am completely unprepared and should really turn on my heel and go home. I hear the tinkle of a hundred different models of GPS device, see the array of gel belts and hydration packs and other bondage gear, watch the convoluted stretching and warm-up routines, and panic. Yesterday was slightly different because the Lakes of Killarney Marathon is a small one and takes place barely two miles from my home, so I could afford to be almost late, thus limiting the amount of time I had for feeling inadequate.

I turned up, picked a spot between the balloons of the 3:45 4:00 pacers, and shuffled off when the man said go.  My plan was to stick with the 3:45 pace for the first lap, then drop back so that I was just slightly ahead of the 4:00, and muddle to the finish line in my own good time. I admit that it was not really the most technical or detailed of plans, but then I don’t even wear a watch while running, so technical detail is not really part of my running agenda.

The race starts just past the entrance to the playground in Killarney National Park and heads along the bank of the Deenagh River under a canopy of beech trees in the direction of the Castlerosse Hotel. There were about five men clustered around the 3:45 pacer, who looked oddly festive with his yellow balloon bobbing madly in the breeze. We swung around the Castlerosse Hotel and trotted through the golf course, views of the Lower Lake opening up to our right as the course hit the first hill. Then it was downhill to Deenagh Cottage and off to the Queen’s Bridge and the first water stop, following the river as it curved toward the lake. On the first lap, you can appreciate things like the sound of the birds in the thick canopy of leaves over your head, glinting waves scudding across the lake, and the scent of wild garlic lying heavy in the air on Ross Island. (By the third lap, however, that smell is downright nauseating).

Lakes of Killarney Marathon Content writer
The marathon with a castle

There was another water stop at Ross Castle and a loop around Ross Island, where we met the race leaders powering toward us. As the miles slipped by and we headed back into the park via the Ross Road, I wondered how long it would be before my hamstring started creaking or my quads seized up or my back gave out, but I made it back to the Castlerosse Hotel and the arrival of the half-marathon winner feeling surprisingly comfortable.

I stuck with the 3:45 pacer for the second lap too, checking my vital signs to discover that I was still surprisingly alive. As soon as I had decided that I had cracked this marathon business and it was going to be ultras all the way from now on, I died. I took a cup of water and a gel pack from the steward (my daughter), jogged around the hotel to the golf course, and then fell apart. As the sun spilled out from the chasing clouds, I started to feel disoriented and sick, and my thigh muscles clenched so tight it was an effort to stretch one foot out in front of the other. The yellow balloon started to recede into the distance. And I had almost eight miles to go.

It was time to talk. Once you start to feel utterly wretched, you really have to escape from your head and go bother somebody else. So I chatted (okay, grunted between gasps) to a guy from Tyrone on his second marathon and another bouncy man from North Cork who was on his 98th (yes, really), and it helped, at least for a couple of miles. Then it was really a case of counting down the miles, slow and all as they were, and calculating how long it would before I could actually stop moving and accept death.

The entrance to the Castlerosse Hotel car park appeared like a genuine light at the end of the tunnel, my daughter waiting to finish the last few yards of the race with me, and the clock flashing 3:49. I got my medal, gallons of delicious flat cola, and a personal best. (I would say PB, but it always suggests peanut butter to me).

And, once I can go down the stairs without looking like an arthritic crab, I may even start to consider another marathon.

What to Do When It Rains in Killarney: 5 Best Places for Lunch

content writer killarneyWhen I worked in Killarney Tourist Office in the early ’90s, I was a human Google—at least on the subject of Killarney. You could have asked me or any of the other fetchingly be-scarfed staff anything about our town and its environs, and we would have recited the required information in virtual ballad form.  There was one question that dominated all others, however. Any day that offered even a hint of damp or a smattering of grey clouds (i.e. almost every day) sent tourists scurrying to the desk to enquire, “What can you do in Killarney when it rains?”

In those days, we would send them to Muckross House, the vintage car museum, or their hotel swimming pool (hey, sometimes we got desperate). Today I would tell them to go and get stuffed. The quality of food on offer in my town has definitely improved in the past decade, but what draws me to my favourite spots is not always the edible stuff. There follows, in no particular order, a list of my favourite places to go for lunch:

Dyne, New Market Lane, High Street

Tucked away in a lane way between Quills and O’Connor’s Pub on High Street, DYNE started life as a wonderful social experiment called Pay As You Please. Along with quirky mismatched furniture, old movies projected onto one entire wall, and soup served in bread bowls, Pay As You Please asked you to leave as much as you felt your food was worth. No doubt they got burned and overpaid in equal measure, and I know that some people felt uncomfortable with the entire concept.

Suffice to say, they have repackaged the same delicious brunch and dinner fare as DYNE—with prices on the menu this time.  It’s mainly pizza, salads and hearty vegetarian dishes. I have my eye on the latest addition to the menu: buffalo milk burrata with grilled asparagus, mint and toasted almonds.

Avoca, Moll’s Gap

The address is officially Kenmare, but I’m prepared to claim Avoca for Killarney because the food is just gorgeous. It is fresh and delicious and tasty and all those things you want in the middle of the day, but it is also simply beautiful to look at. The colours of the salads are straight from the rainbow, and they add lovely little touches to everything—think pots of herbs on the tables and water jugs packed with fresh mint. For dessert, try to resist roulades oozing with fresh strawberries and whipped cream or succulent slabs of fruit cake. And the views out over the Gap of Dunloe and Carrauntoohill are an aptly stunning accompaniment, even in the midst of drizzle.

content writer killarneyNoelle’s, Old Market Lane

Noelle’s is like a cosy blanket that you can wrap yourself in and forget about the grey skies outside. Duck in out of the rain and into the comforting interior, twinkling with cabinets of old crockery and knick-knacks and a giant aquarium of jewel-toned fish. The staff are friendly and the food is fresh and interesting, with delicious salads and quiches and chunks of home-baked cakes and pies to insulate you against the cold. What I love about Noelle’s is the way it is laid out in a sequence of little anterooms so that you can always find a quiet table to have a chat or people-watch on the sly. And, should the rain disappear, there is a delightful little sun trap of a courtyard outside.

The Lane Café Bar, Ross Hotel, East Avenue

With its pistachio and magenta stripes and a window that takes up almost the entire front of the premises, the Lane Café Bar at the Ross Hotel is a world away from Noelle’s. This is a place to go on a good hair day. Sit at the bar and order one of their Mojito Royales, if it is going to be a long kind of lunch. Or lounge in one of the comfy couches by the window and watch the world go by. As a Libran, I can never make up my mind, but I don’t have to with the tapas platter. It’s full of good things like tiny naan breads, mushroom bruschetta topped with prosciutto, and a gorgeous little smoked duck and blue cheese samosa. You get little home-baked biscuits with your coffee too, which really pleases my inner six-year-old.

content writer killarneyDeenagh Lodge Tea Rooms, Knockreer Estate, Killarney National Park

Food has very little to do with my choice of the Deenagh Lodge as a top place for lunch in Killarney. The fare is grand: Soup, sandwiches, and pre-prepared wraps of chicken or tuna are usually on the menu; there are lovely big mugs of coffee; and there is always some kind of sticky cake or apple tart to tempt you. The proceeds go to the local branch of Down Syndrome Ireland, and many of the staff are adults with Down Syndrome. What makes Deenagh Lodge special, however, is that it is the closest thing to Hansel and Gretel’s gingerbread house that I have ever seen. And it’s plonked right in the middle of the national park. Grab an outside table on a sunny day and watch the world and his mother wander past on foot, bicycle, pram and jaunting car. Yes, we do have sunny days in Killarney…