Mary is just about the best woman a person can imagine. She’s a gentle soul, but at the same time, she can turn into a bit of a lioness. She loves working with international students and, if she feels any in her brood are not getting out enough, she pushes them out of the nest until she feels they are better acclimated to their new home. Other times, she just likes to take everyone off on wild adventures, whether they be scavenger hunts or trips to National Parks.
This particular weekend, it proved to be the latter.
Out of our house, Newbie and I were the only attendees, as well as Ellen, a friend of mine who originally hails from LA (and, whenever she tells people she is from Los Angeles, the response is almost universally “ah! the city of angels!”). Newbie, of course, immediately found the cute guys and commenced to flirting. Ellen and I rolled our eyes, but we all piled in and headed off to Killarney National Park. Mary informed us we would have three basic stops: Muckross House, Lunch, and Ross Castle. Lunch is included because, well, Mary is sort of like your grandmother when you and all your cousins end up in one spot together. “I want a group picture! And another one! Did you eat breakfast this morning? I think you should have some more. Are you cold? You should be wearing a sweater. Oh! That’s so cute, hold on, I need a picture. Hey, act like you like each other, you two, this’ll be a great picture. Don’t get mud on that. Oh! This would be a great spot for a group picture. Here, have a snack.”
It is weirdly strange (or strangely weird) how, after living by yourself and kinda sorta taking care of yourself (like a cat: someone should probably take care of me, but if they don’t, I’ll figure it out and be fine on my own) to have the maternal worries suddenly assert themselves. It most definitely is not resisted; actually, it’s a bit funny and endearing and enjoyable. It was also kind of fun to see someone else setting Newbie on the straight and narrow, rather than having to do it myself (although I think those boys are going to be trouble–Ellen says they also live in our apartment complex).
Both Muckross House and Ross Castle had guided tours (there was, unfortunately, no guided tour of Lunch). Muckross House is big and complicated, with a twisted history that not only involves Queen Victoria, but a man from California who was basically a water baron. In short, the original owners sunk a ton of money into upgrading their already fabulous house so Queen Victoria, after she visited, might grant them a higher title, which she would have done, except Prince Albert died and she went into mourning, so they had to sell their house or lose it (which would never do for a person of rank, unlike the average Irish peasants, who nobody really cared about), and it was bought by a series of people until this California dude bought it as a wedding present for his daughter who was marrying into nobility, and then she subsequently died and her husband tried to give it back to her dad because it reminded him of his wife but the dad wouldn’t take it back because it reminded him of his daughter and so eventually the Republic was established and the clear solution was to give the Estate to the government. And that is how Killarney National Park began.
The House actually has a large variety of very interesting and historic things, and I would have been quite happy to be left alone in the library for a few hours (that, sadly, was not to be). The grounds are also amazingly gorgeous, and Ellen and I both resolved to haul our families out to see it the next time they visited. We also briefly discussed camping and canoeing, but, due to our short stays, purchasing the proper ingredients for that recipe for disaster would have proved overly expensive. Still, the Park is amazingly beautiful, and we skipped out on (most) of lunch to be able to enjoy it more (if we had skipped out on lunch entirely, Mary would not have been happy).
After lunch, we all piled back in and went around to Ross Castle, which has been partially restored. The restoration was necessary because, at one point in time, taxes were figured by the number of roofs on any particular property, so the early owners of the Estate had taken the roof off of the castle, artificially aged it, and then made it into a tourist trap, meaning they not only did not have to pay taxes on it, but they got to make some money from it, too. Ellen and I were the only ones from our group to take advantage of the tour (Mary had made sure we all got OPW cards when we first arrived, which allowed us free or nearly-free access to pretty much every interesting thing in the national parks. If you plan to do any extensive touring in Ireland on your own, the OPW card is definitely worth it). We still managed to have extra time afterwards to climb around and take pictures. From one of our vantage points we were able to spy on a wedding. When we headed away from the castle, we also spotted a vintage car, which, judging by how it was decked out, was intended for the bride and groom to depart in.
It was a long, but enjoyable day. It was good to see Ellen outside of the context of Mexican food. We discussed perhaps trying to get a group to go dancing by the loch again. I must say, I think this is one of the best parks I have been to, and I do hope to go several more times before I leave.