GALLOPING ACROSS HILL AND DALE IN LOVELY IRELAND
Killarney, Ireland -
This land's wildness, mysteries and brilliant shades of green make
it one of the Earth's natural wonders.
A horse named Misty took me swiftly on a tour of fancy. I rode
over Ireland like a conqueror claiming hitherto unseen lands.
With a group of six
other tourist and one guide I rode around Killarney's Lower Lake.
Afterward down the Iveragh Peninsula through the Ring of Kerry, traipsing
through terrain only the hardiest hikers could tackle, seeing scenery
denied to buses and cars.
Gallop on the
Then we did what one can experience only on horseback,
a gallop on the beach.
It is an experience available to everyone, even those who
have never set foot ina stirrop before.
Misty belongs to Killarney riding Stables in County Kerry, Ireland's
south western most region.
The town of Killarney thrives because it is near three pure and
brilliant lakes at the edge of Macgillicuddy's Reeks, Ireland's
tallest mountain range. Yet the town's population extends
hospitality unmatched by most other cities whose sole commodity
Donal O'Sullivan, 42, owns Killarney riding Stables. After
a dozen years of renting out horses for short afternoon treks, O'Sullivan
started his seven-day, 100 mile Killarney Reeks Trail holidays in
He also offers three-day minitrails covering any part of the
weeklong route. Both packages include lodging, meal and transfer
Killarney Reeks Trail is open to all comers, not just tour groups;
O'Sullivan runs the trail even if only one person signs up.
tour often consists of people from Europe, South and North America;
many participants only get acquainted with each other when they
gather at the barn.
Riding horses of legendary Irish stock past exhilarating scenery
herds strangers into a close camaraderie. Even language barriers
do not interfere with the good time. Aside from the variety in ages
and nationalities, Killarney Reeks Trail caters to all levels of
riding experience. By the end of the second day, O' Sullivan
said, first - time riders are settled into the necessary procedures,
with the trail guide giving lessons and suggestions along the way,
Nevertheless, riders may skip any leg of the journey that might
People of "reasonable physical fitness" can take the complete
trail, O' Sullivan said. Everybody gets sore, experience and
novice alike, but muscles incapacitate, and the scenery soon subdues
the physical senses.
The only preparation needed for Killarney Reeks Trail is to buy
riding boots and jodhpurs, though blue jeans work fine. O'
Sullivan supplies the riding hat. He also supplies the horses.
Horse Matched to Rider
After casual conversation, O' Sullivan matches the appropriate
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 become our
At the end of each day's ride O' Sullivan joins groups over pints
of stout and pots of tea to discuss the trail 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.
O' Sullivan hospitality, horse sense and service still proved
to be only subtle supplements to the trail's overriding attraction;
the sights and sounds of Ireland.
The first day's trekking was to get us used to horses and vice
versa while exploring the lush, lake-endowed land around Killarney.
We rode around the shores of Killarney's Lough Leane (the lake of
learning), know more commonly as Lower Lake.
After first stopping at Innisfallen, an evergreen-covered island
containing the remains of an 11th Century monastery, we rode past
Ross Castle, a stone fortress ruin from the early 15th Century.
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.
Ross Castle once was home to Prince O' Donoghue, whose misguided
attempts at attaining eternal youth by magic resulted in his
jumping from the castle's tower into the lake.
He now has a kingdom below the waters of Lough Leane, and on some
days you can see his golden city from a boat. One look at
the rainbows rising from the lake adds credence to the tale.
O' Donoghue himself is said to rise from the lake in May, clad
in brilliant armor on his white steed.
After a lunch if sandwiches, scones. apples and soda on the lake
shore, we rode into the Knockreer Estate, a park on a hill overlooking
the lake and laced with bridle paths.
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.
The second day we started our trek to the Ring of Kerry and up
the mountains. Heading for Lake Caragh, we rode through a
landscape in constant change, with overhead cloud formations bathing
a hillside on our right in a splash of sunlight and forming a halo
over a valley to our left.
The trail first followed the main highway along Lake Caragh to
the Devil's Elbow, a dangerous curve (in a car) with a view of the
lake, Dingle Bay and 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 lane meandered
through rocky pasture where tiny, timid rams and annoyed cattle
shared the tundra among scattered boulders.
We now we were in the Ring of Kerry. The normal route for
cars and coaches is a highway that runs along the Dingle Bay shore,
then cuts across Iveragh Peninsula at the end of the mountain range.
They 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 signs.
The most heart-seizing view of the day, though, came that afternoon
after a picnic ina stand of trees by the Caragh River. Our
guide led us onto a road that disappeared upa mountain.
The mountain's name is Seefin, and it rounds off at 1,621 feet,
almost 1,600 feet higher than the picnic area we had just left.
From the valley this dome appeared rich brown, but as we ascended
we rode through a landscape of Picasso colors; dabs of white in
the sheep, grey in the boulders on a field of green brush, with
specks of yellow and purple flowers.
The road soon became a rutted farm land, and after passing
through a gate we rode a stony grass track up the mountain
to a bouldered alleyway known as Windy Gap near Seefin's summit.
No stress on Rider.
The horses did all the straining, leaving us free to sightsee
as we passed through the hgap.
Seefin's Windy Gap opened onto a view of Glenbeigh and its narrow
valley, a slice of green wedged into a ring of golden mountains.
Beyond, Dingle Bay lay like a sequined 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 Slive Mish Mountains across the
bay, the backdrop to this moment.
The ancient gods would have made this pass their home so they
could while away the ages staring at the mortals' domain below,
down where the scenic route takes motoring tourists around the Ring
The three-mile gallop on Rossbeigh Beach came on the third morning.
It seemed that we were floating down the beach at Mach 2.5 (we
were 'flying' at 25 m.p.h.) surrounded by Ireland's primitive landscape.
We rode to Coomasaharn Lake for lunch, where the sun shone from
above and below, its intensity reflected in the water.
The name for this body of water is Irish for Horseshoe Lake,
set as it is at the foot of Coomacarrea, a horseshoe-shaped mountain
that is 2,000 feet of angled cliff from lake surface to sky.
The lake has only one access point, a road-com-lane-cum-path
from Glenbeigh. Its isolation made Coomasaharn ideal for lunch
in a setting where one could bask in the recollection of the morning
This was the end of my minitrail; the rest of the group were
continuing on theseven day trail.
Despite what I had experienced, I was told I was missing the
most interesting scenery of the trail - farther down the Iveragh
Peninsula to the beaches of the Atlantic.
I found that hard to believe. I couldn't fathom how anything
could surpass the ever-changing views of Lough Leane, the scene
form devil's Elbow, the ride through Seefin's Windy Gap, the gallop
on Glenbeigh Beach or lunch at Coomascarrea.
I took my farewells from our guide, the group, O'Sullivan and
my good buddy Misty, I embraced them all, just as I had embraced
them all, just as I had embraced the land of Ireland.
is a member of the
Horse Riding Ireland