wildness, mysteries and brilliant shades of green make
this land stand alone among earth’s natural wonders’ as
Ireland itself stands alone on the edge of Europe.
such a land did a horse named Misty wing me away on a
tour of fancy, riding over Ireland’s earthbound heavens
like a conquistador claiming hitherto unseen land,
with six other tourists and a guide, I rode around Killarney’s
Lough Leane, down the Iveragh Peninsula and across the
Ring of Kerry, traipsing through terrain only the hardiest
hikers could tackle, seeing scenery denied buses and cars.
Then we did what one can experience only on horseback:
gallop on the beach.
is an experience available to anyone, even those who have
never set afoot in a stirrup before.
belongs to the Killarney Riding Stables in County Kerry,
Ireland’s southwesternmost region. The town of Killarney
thrives because of its proximity to tree brilliant lakes
at the edge of Macgillycuddy’s Reeks, Ireland’s tallest
mountain range. Yet the town’s population extends
hospitality unmatched by most other cities whose sole
commodity is tourism silver.
O’ Sullivan, 42, owner of the Killarney Riding Stables,
exemplifies such “Irish charm” in both his presence and
his trail-ride operation. After a dozen years renting
out horses for short afternoon treks, O’ Sullivan started
running his seven-day, 100-mile Killarney Reeks Trail
holidays in 1982. He also offers three-day mini-trails
covering any part of the wee-long route. Both packages
include lodging, meals and transfer of luggage.
Killarney Reeks Trail is open to all comers, not just
tour groups: O’ Sullivan runs the trek even if only one
person signs up. A tour often consists of complete
strangers from Europe, South and North America who do
not meet until they collect at the barn.
Yet riding horses of legendary Irish stock past exhilarating
scenery herds strangers into a close camaraderie, and
treks end with tearful partings. Many riders follow
up their new friendships with letters and an exchange
from the variety in ages and nationalities, the Killarney
Reeks Trail caters to all levels of riding experience.
By the end of the second day, O’ Sullivan says, first-time
riders settle into the necessary procedures, with the
guide giving lessons along the way. Nevertheless,
riders may skip any leg they feel might be too taxing.
of “reasonable physical fitness” can take the complete
trail, O’ Sullivan says. Everybody gets sore, experienced
and novice alike, but muscles rarely groan loud enough
to incapacitate, and the scenery soon subdues the physical
senses. The only preparation needed is to buy riding
boots and jodhpurs, through jeans will do fine.
O’ Sullivan supplies the riding hat.
also supplies the horses. O’ Sullivan matches the
horse to the personality and skill level of each rider.
These horses become more than just a means of transportation:
like our human companions on the trail, Misty and her
colleagues became our buddies.
the end of each day’s ride, O’ Sullivan joins groups over
pints of stout and pots of tea to discuss the trek and
cater to his charges’ comfort. The after-trail drinking,
in fact, took more out of the riders in our group than
the 17 miles a day on horseback did. O’ Sullivan’s
hospitality proved to be only subtle supplements to the
trail’s overriding attraction: the sights and sound of
first day’s trekking was intended to get us used to our
horses and vice versa while exploring the lush, lake endowed
land around Killarney. We rod around the shores
of Killarney ‘s Lough Leane, part of which is known as
first stopping for long looks at Innisfallen, an ever-green-covered
island containing the remains of an 11th Century monastery,
we rode past Ross Castle, a stone fortress in ruins dating
from the early 15thCentury. Though not a grand structure
along the order of romantic Welsh, feudal English or eccentric
German castles, Ross Castle does add a dose of Irish mystery
to the lake’s natural attributes.
was once home to an O’ Donoghue chieftan, whose misguided
attempts at attaining eternal youth by magic resulted
in his jumping from the castle tower into the lake.
The chieftan drowned, but he did defeat old age.
He now has a kingdom below the waters of Lough Leane,
they say, and on some days his golden city can be seen
from a boat. One look at the rainbows rising from
the lake adds credence to the tale.
a pack lunch of sandwiches, scones, apples and soda on
the lake shores, we rode into the Knockreer Estate, a
park laced with bridle paths rising on a hill overlooking
the lake. Each turn up the hill offered an ever-expanding
view of Lough Leane and its crown of mountains.
These bare-domed mountains literally appeared purple under
the misty skies, while all around us lay emerald pastureland,
with grazing horses that must have had legs shorter on
one side to be able to stand on the steep hills.
second day we started our trek to the Ring of Kerry and
up the mountains. Heading for our first destination,
Lake Caragh, we rode through a landscape in constant change,
with cloud formations roaming overhead bathing a hillside
on our right in a splash of sunlight and forming a halo
over a valley to our left. Crayola Crayons, in their
box of 500 colours, has yet to capture all the shades
of green featured in Ireland’s countryside.
trail first followed the main highway along Lake Caragh
to the Devil’s Elbow, a dangerous curve ( in a car) with
scenic overlook of the lake, Dingle Bay and the mountains
of Dingle Peninsula in the background. Farther up
the road, we turned onto a lane of pavement battered more
by time and elements than by heavy use. This meandered
through rocky pasture-land where tiny, timid rams and
annoyed cattle shared the tundra.
now were in the Ring of Kerry. The normal scenic
route for cars and coaches is a highway that runs along
the Dingle Bay shore, then cuts across the Iveragh Peninsula
at the end of the mountain range. Most drive around
the Ring of Kerry: we were surrounded by it. The
only tourists who drive where we rode are the ones who
get lost trying to make some sense out of Ireland’s road
MOST heart-seizing view of the day, though, came that
afternoon after picnicking in a stand of trees by the
Caragh River. Our guide then led us onto a road
we could see stretch out before us, disappearing up a
mountain’s name is Seefin, and it rounds off at 1,621
feet, almost 1,600 feet higher than the picnic area we
just left. From the valley this dome appeared rich
brown, but as we ascended, we rode through a landscape
of Picasso colours: dabs of white in the sheep,
gray in the boulders on a field of green brush with specks
of yellow and purple flowers.
road soon became a rutted farm lane, and after passing
through a gate we rode a stony grass track on up the mountain
to a bouldered alleyway known as Windy Gap, near Seefin’s
summit. The horses did all the stress and straining,
leaving us free to merely stare as we passed through the
was like the technological trick in “The Wizard of Oz,”
as Dorothy opened the door of her house after the tornado
had blown it to Munchkin Land and the film turned from
black-and-white to colour. Seefin’s Windy Gap opened
onto a cinemascopic view of Glenbeigh and its narrow valley,
a slice of varying green wedged into a ring of golden
mountains. Beyond, Dingle Bay lay like a sequinned
fabric of blue glittering in the sun, with sandy beaches
forming a tan felt-tip pen outline. More gold was
heaped in the row of Slieve Mish Mountains across the
bay, the backdrop to this brilliant moment.
ancient gods would have made this pass their home so that
they could while away the ages staring at the mortals’
domain below, way down there where the scenic route takes
motoring tourists around the Ring of Kerry.
three-mile gallop on Rossbeigh Beach came the third morning,
out-stripping all the glories of the previous two days.
Roaring into free flight for the first time like that
– my world encased in the sound of rushing wind and four
hooves pounding through tide-swept sand – goes beyond
fantasy, affecting a dozen more senses in the body than
the five that science knows about.
rider shares the hors’s muscular notion, a motion so gracefully
powerful it has enthralled painters since cave walls were
canvas; yet the ride is as smooth as the back seat of
a Rolls Royce. It seemed we were floating down the
beach at Mach 2.5 when we actually were flying 25mph,
all the while surrounded by Ireland’s primitive landscape.
we rode to Coomasaharn Lake for lunch, where the sun shone
from above and below, its intensity reflecting in the
glare off the water. The name for this body of water
is Irish for Horseshoe Lake, situated as it is at the
foot of Coomacarrea, a horseshoe-shaped mountain that
is 2,00 feet of angled cliff from lake surface to sky.
lake has only one access point, a road-cum-lane-cum-path
from Glenbeigh. Its isolation from work-a-day humanity
made Coomasaharn ideal for a lunchtime repast, a setting
where one could still bask in recollection of the morning
gallop. This was the end of my min-trial; the rest
of the group were continuing on the seven-day trail.
Even with what I had experienced, our guide told me I
was missing the most interesting scenery of the trail
farther down the Iveragh Peninsula to the beaches of the
found that hard to believe. I couldn’t fathom how
anything could surpass the ever-changing views of Lough
Leane, the scene from Devil’s Elbow, the ride through
Seefin’s Windy Gap, the gallop on Glenbeigh Beach or lunch
each day’s experience had surpassed the previous enchantments
of the trip.
took my farewells from our guide, the group, O’ Sullivan
and my good buddy Misty. I embraced them all, just
as I had embraced the land of Ireland, if only briefly.
Killarney Riding Stables,