Chasing Sheep in the Gap of Dunloe
Arriving in Killarney was very special. The town is super cute lined with skinny brick streets, trees and churches. It's also near Killarney National Park, the first national park in Ireland, which covers over 25,000 acres of woodlands, mountains and lakes. Just on the edge of town, lies The (adorable) Black Sheep Hostel. After check-in Khao offered a bite for dinner, serving Thai street food. The pho bo, a beef stir fry with rice noodles and spicy broth, was delicious.
As the sun set I walked toward St. Mary's Cathedral looking for the park's entrance (it's a bit hidden and across a small bridge). In the morning I'd be heading out quite early on a tour and wanted to be prepared. Before returning to the hostel, I picked up some ice cream at a shop in town.
Day 1: Morning | Cruise the Lakes of Killarney
With only one full day in Killarney it’s best to see as much as possible. My hostel suggested taking a boat tour into the Gap of Dunloe (had no idea what I was getting myself into). The tour was €15, €5 at my hostel and €10 directly to the boat driver - and when I say tour, I mean that lightly. You're completely on your own for the entire day.
After breakfast, I made my way to Killarney National Park on foot. My instructions were to catch a boat from Ross Castle. Once you enter the park, signs lead you directly to the castle. The walk is about a mile and a half and takes thirty minutes or so depending on your pace and how often you stop. The park was gorgeous, covered in green with cows mooing and deer bouncing around. It seemed to go on forever.
As I approached Ross Castle I started to panic. It was full of tourists and I couldn't find the meeting point. Down at the water behind the castle I found a man setting off in a tiny black boat. This was it. I hopped in with six others: three Irish women, two Australians and a German.
Our guide was adorable. He cracked jokes every chance he got and fed us information about the area. He was incredibly knowledgeable. We began the trip in the largest of the lakes, Louge Leane, and rode by the tiny island of Innisfallen, then we rode across the lake entering Muckross Lake. The weather was super chilly so I'd recommend bringing a sweater to keep warm.
We passed Dinis Cottage and landed in the Meeting of the Waters, where all three lakes meet. At the Old Weir Bridge we hopped out of the boat and walked along the shore so our boat could pass in low waters. The guide explained that water levels vary greatly depending on the rain and sometimes passages dry up or even flood the bridges.
As we continued down the river, we saw Eagle's Nest - a mountain where the last eagles lived before they were wiped out. Local farmers killed them in order to protect their lambs. Over the past few years, Ireland has begun reintroducing the white tail eagle with success. And locals have been promised compensation if they lose a lamb, so everyone wins.
Our guide continued on to Upper Lake, the most beautiful of the three. It's surrounded by mountains on all sides. There, we could see the backside of the tallest mountain in all of Ireland.
After an hour and a half on the water, we reached Lord Brandon's Cottage. There, I joined three of the ladies for an egg salad lunch and cup of tea. We all had Bailey's and coffee, hoping to warm up.
Day 1: Afternoon | Hike the Pass of Dunloe & Chase Sheep
Let's first note that my hostel made this trek sound like a simple boat tour where you hop off and take a little walk to catch the bus back into town (not even close).
Instead, it was a seven mile hike between two mountains called the Pass of Dunloe (without so much as a sign in the right direction). The hike does follow a paved road so it's fairly easy to navigate but only one afternoon bus delivers you back into town, so time is of the essence.
Tips: Pack a bottle of water, snacks and a raincoat in case the weather turns, as it usually does in Ireland. Also, wear boots or tennis shoes at a minimum.
As you begin, take the path behind the cottage toward the left. Walk until you see a church and head right at the next intersection. The road zigs and zags up through the Pass of Dunloe where the views were incredible. Sheep grazed along the road but were extremely camera shy, so good luck getting any close-ups.
You'll work up quite a sweat during the first half of the seven mile hike. It's uphill until you reach the passage where both mountains meet. I kept up with the ladies but had to run at times. They seemed to be in it for the exercise rather than the experience.
Once you pass through the gap you'll cross a stone bridge and a few small lakes. The landscape was incredible. Everything in sight was super green and full of life.
As for the sheep, the colors help owners keep track of them as they wander the countryside. Owners put a different color on the rear of sheep to mark when they mate.
After hours of hiking, we reached a little village with a coffee shop and Kate Kearney's Cottage. All of us had a drink, cider for me and hot toddies for the others, and rested our feet just in time to catch the afternoon bus back into town. Make sure not to miss the 4 o'clock bus or it's another six miles back. And try Thieves Cider if you get a chance, it's delicious!
Day 1: Evening | Shepard’s Pie, Wool & Whiskey
Back in town, I went for a bite at Cronin's, trying the traditional Shepard's pie with chips but I can't say it was my favorite. Afterward, thought I'd give wool another try since I didn't find much in Dublin. Aran Sweater Market was in town and offered everything you could imagine. I picked up an authentic sheep's skin rug for my bedroom, a scarf for my dad's birthday and a few bars of sheep’s milk soap. The shop was even kind enough to ship everything home - free of charge (minimum purchase required).
Fun fact: Irish whiskey is distilled three times, American whiskey only once.
That evening I made sure to book my train ticket for the following day. I'd be heading back to Dublin and heard tickets sell out quickly. My train would depart at 2:21 p.m. for €40.99. In addition, I booked a day tour to Giant's Causeway in Northern Ireland for €46.85 through Giant's Causeway Tours. The tour would be leaving at 6:30 a.m. on Monday morning from Dublin. Can't wait!
Black Sheep Hostel is a super cute place to stay. Beds and linens are very comfortable with curtains for privacy and built in storage underneath (bring a lock). Towels are provided for $2. Individual style bathrooms are nice but showers have push buttons with luke warm water. The kitchen, lounge and dining areas are all on the main floor and offer great spots to relax.
Black Sheep is located between town and the cathedral, a short walk from downtown. Staff is helpful but not overly so. I recommend going on the boat tour and hike through the Pass of Dunloe but be prepared for a long hike. Killarney is a must see - loved it here!