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What’s an Abbey? August 2, 2019

I wish we could have spent more time exploring County Kerry, but we had other adventures planned. We got an early start, making a brief stop in downtown Killarney. The blanket Tricia had purchased the previous night had a pull in it and she wanted to see about exchanging it. The lovely shopkeeper was able to fix the pull in the blink of an eye and we headed north to Connemara.



We passed so many places we wanted to stop but Kylemore Abbey was our planned destination and with last admission at 4pm we had limited time to make it there and do some touring. Not being Catholic, I wasn’t really sure what the difference was between an Abbey and a Monastery. Honestly, I’m still not sure I understand it, but the story of Kylemore is rather interesting. It began as a home for a wealthy businessman in the late 1800s. During World War I, it became the home of Benedictine Nuns fleeing Belgium and is still run by the Benedictines today.


Kylemore Main House


The sun was valiantly trying to shine when we left Killarney, but the clouds continued to build and rain showers intermittently fell followed by a couple of snow flurries. The moment we put the car in park at Kylemore it began to hail quite violently. I was worried about the car being damaged and the rental agency charging me for it.


When the hail let up a bit we made a dash for the visitor’s center. The ground was completely white with hailstones the size of large marbles! We get hail in Florida, but I’ve never seen it come down like this.


That is all hail!


At the ticket counter we learned the main house was closed for renovations but we could purchase a discounted ticket to tour the grounds and visit the chapel. Tricia thought I was crazy to want to tour the gardens in this weather, but the sun had come back out and we were already there so we bought the ticket and waited for the tram to the walled garden. (It was a reasonable distance away and I wasn’t completely crazy. There was still a little rain and a lot of cold wind).


Even without much blooming the walled garden was a sight to see. The brick wall helped to cut the wind, the rain had now stopped and the sun was shining brightly. I don’t remember seeing anyone else out here so we pretty much had the place to ourselves. We spent around an hour admiring the design of the garden and visiting the head gardner’s house, a rather cozy and well appointed home.



We took the tram back to the visitor center and then walked past the Abbey to the chapel. There was a bit of hail along the way, but it was much smaller and only a brief shower. I’m glad we carried on. The chapel was amazing.


To think this was built for the man’s wife and obviously no expense was spared is mind boggling. I can’t imagine how much it cost to maintain much less build. We studied many of the intricate details, but could have spent hours more marveling at all of the carvings.


Kylemore Chapel


I sat in one of the pews to soak in the atmosphere and say a silent prayer. While I sat there, the clouds that had formed during our walk parted and a shaft of sunlight fell through one of the tall windows right onto where I was seated. It was a special moment that gave me goosebumps and I hope I will always remember.



My little hot pad


After a peaceful and restorative time in the chapel we ambled back to the welcome center as the sun was starting to dip down to meet the mountains. We had just enough time to pick up a couple of souvenirs. I found these hot pads with the cutest sheep comics on them. My mom used to collect hot pads with photos of waterfalls or other nature scenes from our trips to North Carolina when I was a kid but now they are hard to come by. I struggled to chose just one for her and a smaller one for myself.


Fortunately, our drive from Kylemore wasn’t too far, and we managed to arrive at our new bed and breakfast just before dark. We found this place on AirBnB and weren’t quite sure if we were getting the whole cottage or if the host/hostess would be on site. I am thrilled the hostess was on site because she was an absolute gem and a true highlight of our entire trip. I’ll tell you all about Pauline and Furrymelia Cottage when we meet again next week.



Birds of a Feather July 19, 2019

Killarney reminds me of a resort town one might find in coastal New England. The street we were staying on was lined with Bed & Breakfasts with a small hotel here and there and a few restaurants. We would make it into the town proper later to see more, but this morning, we were going on an adventure I never imagined I’d be involved with, a Hawk Walk.


You see, when I was in high school, I was in an aviary at the zoo and a large bird landed on my head. I had very long hair at the time and the bird proceeded to get tangled in my hair. Ever since, I’ve had an aversion to birds. I have mellowed over the years, enjoying watching birds from a distance, but now I was going to have birds of prey flying to me!


About a year ago, I had an idea for a character that was into falconry. I had no idea how I would research that but I filed it away in my idea folder. When I was doing research for this trip I had a whim to search for falconry in Ireland and I found Falconry Kerry. After reading some reviews I sent the link to Tricia to see if she was interested. She replied with a resounding yes and I sent an email to make a reservation.


We loaded the address into the GPS and found the farm where we were to meet Liam, the falconer. He greeted us and told a little about the farm and what we would be doing, then introduced us to Pablo, the falcon. (I can’t remember exactly which species of falcon. If you recognize it from the pictures, please let me know in the comments.)


Pablo was gorgeous! This was his first flight in about a week as he had been molting, so when Liam let him loose, Pablo took off, floating on the stiff wind. We weren’t sure if he was going to come back, but Liam had food and was able to lure Pablo back after several minutes.


Liam and Pablo


Pablo was gorgeous! This was his first flight in about a week as he had been molting, so when Liam let him loose, Pablo took off, floating on the stiff wind. We weren’t sure if he was going to come back, but Liam had food and was able to lure Pablo back after several minutes.


Tricia and I each had a chance to feed and fly Pablo while Liam gave us some background on falcons in general and the work he has done with them over the years. Previously, Liam worked for the Killarney National Park until he was bit by a tick and developed Lyme disease. Now he helps rehabilitate injured birds and does these Hawk Walks.


Tricia and Erin


After fifteen minutes of playing with Pablo, he was retired and Erin, a Harris Hawk, was brought out. What a smart bird! She followed us to the large field, flying from fence to tree to fence, tracking our movement. Again, we each had a chance to feed and fly Erin. To have these large birds flying right at you is impressive and can be intimidating, but I didn’t feel any fear, only awe and excitement.


After Erin had her fill of chicken, we went to a shed where two travel boxes were already waiting and Liam introduced us to a pair of his owls, Freddie and Bobo. Freddie reminded me of both my cat, Mia, and the Tootsie Pop owl. Their feathers were so soft and watching them turn their heads nearly 360 degrees was amazing.



Before we left, I shared with Liam about my experience in the aviary and the aversion to birds that had instilled in me, but that I hadn’t felt any fear during this encounter and I’d enjoyed it immensely. He was surprised to hear I’d been afraid as that hadn’t come across at all. That did make me feel a little warm and happy inside. I am so a happy we decided to book this. I have a better insight into what it means to be a falconer and I have a new contact I can reach out as I start to develop that character in a future book. If you are going to Kerry, I highly recommend the Hawk Walk. They are private sessions and truly a unique experience.


Next up, we would be driving the ring of Kerry. That was a full day in and of itself, though, and has so many breathtaking pictures, I will save that for next week.



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