The Ride: About 35 miles, 1,900 feet of climbing. For a map, click here.
After leaving Killarney we turned off onto a hard-packed bicycle track through Killarney National Park and soon came to the ruins of Muckross Abbey.
The first monastery on this site was built in the 6th Century. Franciscan monks began work on the surviving building in 1440. Legend has it that the monastery once housed a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary. In 1641, the monastery was suppressed on the order of Henry VIII. It was re-established in 1612, though it was sacked and burned by Cromwell’s forces in 1652, after which it was abandoned.
The ruins include a beautiful vaulted cloister, in the middle of which a yew tree planed in 1440 still grows.
About a mile farther up the bicycle track we came to Muckross House, which is not at all a ruin but a magnificently preserved mansion on scenic grounds that prove the British landlords did quite well for themselves while the Catholic Irish were starving during the potato famine. Construction of the 65-room mansion began in 1843 for the family of Henry Arthur Herbert. The famine began in 1845.
While the famine didn’t break the Herbert family, Queen Elizabeth I’s visit in 1861 did. The family spent a fortune renovating the house for her visit and was forced to sell the estate as a result.
Muckross House’s later owners donated the mansion and grounds to the Irish state for Killarney National Park in 1932.
You can tour the grounds for free, but there’s an admission fee for the mansion.
From there were cycled along a quiet, winding path on a spit of land between two lakes to the “Meeting of the Waters” at a stone bridge. Not far beyond the bridge we were back at the main Killarney-Kenmare road and began a long, steady climb of about 1,000 feet over 10 miles or so to a pass called Moll’s Gap.
Along the way we came to Ladies’ View, a scenic turnout that got its name after Queen Victoria’s ladies-in-waiting stopped there to take in the view of the McGillicuddy Reeks (mountains) and the upper lake.
Up high, along the road, the land is barren and rocky, as if the glaciers that shaped the land had done so only last winter.
We stopped for lunch in the restaurant at Moll’s Gap, where we had two choices for our afternoon ride. One was a quick six-mile dash down into Kenmare. The other was an 18-mile ride to Kenmare that began with a ride along a ridge several miles west and away from Kenmare before dropping down to the coast and then riding over some undulating terrain back east into Kenmare.
Refreshed by lunch, most of us chose the latter.
Kenmare was in the midst of a music festival when we arrived and the streets were crowded. Our group, split between a couple of B&B’s, agreed to meet at a restaurant later. After showering, I set off for a prehistoric stone circle just a couple of hundred yards from the town center.
I found the stones, arranged in about a 30-foot diameter, on a neatly manicured green space atop a small rise. Another rider who came with me to see the stones talked of sensing the “energy” of the stones.
Not me. But upon reflection later I thought maybe she was sensing the vibrations of the carnival rides that had placed incongruously nearby for the festival.
That evening after dinner, the three Americans in the group stopped off in a pub to listen to Irish music. The rider who had gone to see the stones with me was soon up and singing Irish songs too. The crowd loved it. Some sang along. One guy who’d obviously been perched on his bar stool for a while, shouted and shook a fist with delight. Another took her for a spin on the small open space near the entrance the passed for a moment as a dance floor.
Interesting thing about Irish pubs. When the music starts, you’re expected to shut your trap and listen. If the talking gets too loud, someone will pound a half-empty glass on a table to call for proper respect for the musicians and singers.