Tuesday 20 February 2018

Barry Egan in Kerry: Thy Kingdom Come - and baby too

Short breaks in Ireland

The Long Range River, Killarney, flows between the Eagle's Nest mountain and the Ring of Kerry road.
The Long Range River, Killarney, flows between the Eagle's Nest mountain and the Ring of Kerry road.
The FMD crisis is a big threat to deer like this in Killarney National Park . Pic: Eamonn Keogh (MacMonagle, Killarney)
The beautiful and luxurious Malton Hotel is in the heart of Killarney.
Barry Egan

Barry Egan

From McGillycuddy's Reeks to Killarney's Malton Hotel, Barry Egan

It was the sight of Luke Skywalker on Skellig Michael in the last scene of Star Wars: The Force Awakens at Christmas in the local cinema that inspired my wife and I (and baby) to go to Kerry for our summer holiday  - and not a galaxy far away like Florida, Sydney, Hanoi or New Delhi.

So, old Kerry suited us fine.

In fairness, we have always loved Kerry, so much that we usually find a reason, any reason, to visit The Kingdom once a year. We have long been sensitive to the force of Kerry.

I promise not to use any more Star Wars metaphors for the remainder of this 1,200 word homage to Kerry. I'll go for some lovely Lord Of The Rings ones instead. . .

This is because when we visited the Gap of Dunloe and up past the McGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland, and down through magical places like The Black River and Echo Valley, Purple Mountain and the Eagle's Nest, it was tantalisingly Tolkien-esque and then some.

The FMD crisis is a big threat to deer like this in Killarney National Park . Pic: Eamonn Keogh (MacMonagle, Killarney)
The FMD crisis is a big threat to deer like this in Killarney National Park . Pic: Eamonn Keogh (MacMonagle, Killarney)

Our 16-month-old daughter, cooing and pointing excitedly, was truly in thrall to these sights; indeed, as we were. . .

I suspect no matter how many times you visit this part of Kerry, it is impossible not to feel something, deep in the soul, about the absolute magnificence of nature at its most emotional and powerful, and indeed its most tranquil - if you don't count that the only noise seemed to be the echo of the wind whirrin' across Echo Valley and up to the Eagle's Nest.

There is something about 1000 metre high mountain ranges that brings out the chin-stroking existentialist/Yellowpack William Butler Yeats in me.

Rest assured, however, that whenever I start to rhapsodise ridiculously on all the bucolic beauty around us, my wife likes to tell me to shut up.

Or to check the baby's nappy for something whiffy. But I digress.

After our day's escapades it was a real treat to get back to our hotel, the beautiful and luxurious Malton in the heart - if not the heart - of Killarney town; it was originally built in 1854 as The Railway Hotel. We then went for a long re-envigorating dip in the hotel's swimming pool, and to the playground in the garden afterwards. We watched little Emilia climb up the slide with the same intensity and fascination as if she was climbing up the McGillycuddy's Reeks. After all that, there was nothing else for it but to retire to our room, to bathe baby and change our clothes before hitting the town - Killarney town - with a gusto.

The owner of The Malton, Joe Scally, whom we had met while we were en route to the playground - whereupon he held the baby while we talked for 20 minutes about the rich history of The Malton - had invited us to dinner at the nearby Killarney Royal hotel, which Joe bought from his wife Margaret's parents back in the day.

Joe, sporting a golf polo-neck, was joined by his daughter Anne Marie and her South African husband Ettienne van Vrede, who is the GM of another property of theirs, Hayfield Manor in Cork.

Over dinner and a bottle of Killarney Royal's finest wines, Anne Marie and Etienne told me their enchanting love story that swings from Cape Town to Cork and back to Kerry again, where they now live together.

Anne Marie, who is from Killarney, and Ettienne who is from Plettenberg Bay in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, met up in Hayfield Manor in 2006. "I was managing Hayfield and she was doing the interior design. I said to her I liked what she was doing. That was the start of it," recalls Ettienne. "We kept it low-key for months as working together and dating can be a difficult one. I knew she was the owner's daughter. Almost like royalty."

Be that as it may, they got married in Camps Bay in Cape Town in January 2010 and now have two young girls, Marie Claire and Annabelle, five-years-of-age and two respectively.

"I love Kerry," added Ettienne. "We've been living here for the last two years. It's now my home town with slightly different weather. It's much easier here than in a big city."

This much, my wife and I and baby readily agreed with the next morning as we explored the picture postcard-beautiful town of Killarney, investigating the local shops and listening to the locals waxing lyrical - one of whom told me that there were humans in the Killarney area in the early Bronze Age, circa 4,000 years ago.

After a while, your mind starts to restart from Dublin time to Kerry time. This particular mixture of slow-motion and the manic cultured poetry of the people is personified by what Micko's son John O'Dwyer told me in Killarney last year:

"We are kind of hewn from the rock and the mountain and the sea. We are surrounded by natural elements. We have to work on our wits. We are on the periphery. We are on the west coast of Ireland. And as a result of that we have to be able to bring a bit more to the table than others."

Speaking of tables, we had lunch in the glorious Garden Room restaurant - the original Victorian dining room of The Malton - before we drove to the National Park for a long walk amid the wonderland provided by Mother Nature.

We needed plenty of sustenance as we cycled through the woodlands to the Torc Waterfall.

In the sunshine, my wife Aoife sat serenely on a fallen tree and read her book, Celeste Ng's Everything I Never Told You, while I took the baba on walkies near the base of Torc Mountain and into the spooky edge of the forest.

We were half expecting to encounter Luke Skywalker being pursued by Imperial troops in the darker-most part of the forest - and us all swept away on a space-ship to a galaxy far, far away - while Aoife was oblivious on her branch by the waterfall reading her book.

I will tell Emilia about it when she's older.

Getting there

The beautiful and luxurious Malton Hotel is in the heart of Killarney.

The Malton is Killarney’s premier historic hotel, a Victorian gem nestled in six acres of stunning grounds, located in the heart of Killarney town.  For magnificent architecture, unrivalled location, seamlessly melded with every modern luxury, The Malton Killarney is a destination in itself.  For the best value exclusive offers at The Malton, visit The Summer Sale on www.themalton.com/special-offers.html

(064) 663 8000

Sunday Independent

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