When you first walk into the city all you see is cute little shops, pubs, and loads of green paint. Through the sleepy daytime streets and nighttime bustle is a rigid range, sporting Ireland’s largest mountain and enclosed with a gleaming loch. This is Killarney, a natural gem and tiny, friendly Irish town a leap away from Cork.
After a cup of tea and a fruit scone I was off on my first quest. First I had to find the place where the tour of the national park would begin. After asking three different people and walking past a pungent tire shop, I finally got to the old bicycle place next to the funeral home and across from the cathedral. Slowly people gathered: a couple from Germany, a brother, sister and mother from London, and another couple from Ireland and Poland. We were met there by Richard, a humble and cheery Killarney native, accompanied by his dog, Rua, who had a beautifully rich red coat. Really, who better to give a tour than a quintessential Irish man who speaks Gaelic?
To my surprise, it happened to be the day in which Killarney would break the record for longest tree hug. There were slews of school children in uniforms finding trees to hug. We joined them, finding a line of trees with enough trees for each member in our group to hug one.
When we were through with making history, Richard lead us through the verdant landscape, through old, swooping trees and through hearty pastures full of deer. The wildlife was immaculate, several types of grasses, lovely flowers, and Kerry cows. These coos have stood the test of time, being a breed dating back to the stone ages.
There was a castle in the distance, a cottage tucked in the woods, and fences to be climbed over along our passage through Killarney National Park.
One notable stop was an old tree with coins stuck in it. Richard told us the story of the tree, a story possibly dating back a thousand years ago. He read it in a book published two hundred years ago, but who knows how long the oral tradition went.
In the spirit of oral tradition, I will tell the story to you, possibly missing, replacing, or changing the details.
It goes something like this:
There was an old monk who lived in a monastery tucked away in the mountains. One day he decided to go on a walk while reciting his prayers. He went very far, a little too far and ended up at the old tree that at the time had not coins stuck in it. Being so far away from his home, and so very tired, he decided to sit under the cool shade of the tree for a quick rest. He must have gotten really comfortable, because before he knew it, he was snoozing.
When he woke he began heading back to the monastery, however the forest he looked quite different. He managed to find his way back to the monastery, but that too looked quite different. Confused, he knocked the knocker and waited for the door to open. A young man poked his head out of the window above and called down, “Who are you?”
The old monk explained that he was part of the monastery and had been for over thirty years. The young monk let him in and opened up a big book with names in it. He followed the lines with his finger, then stopped. “Ah, I know who you are. About 200 years ago you went for a walk in the woods and never returned.”
The tree with the coins stuck in it has seen a lot of days. It looks as though it would creak with the wind, yet it stands tall and strong. It served me as a proper symbol of a culture steeped in tradition yet green with youth.
So, step onto the streets of Killarney and experience the luck of the Irish.