Get set for four seasons in one day on Ring of Kerry!
Above is the beach at Derrynane House and below is Bantry House
A NEW unromantic dual carriageway is under construction from Cork going west but beyond it you are soon in the serpentine roads of Kerry.
The county flags are green and yellow and the cows are Kerry black.
Half an hour from Kenmare around the Ring of Kerry, a finger of land jutting out into the wild Atlantic, we reach Parknasilla Resort and Spa –“in a world of its own” says the entrance sign.
As one of the old Great Southern railway hotels you could certainly relax in luxury within its walls, wander its extensive grounds and follow the tempting trails along its rocky foreshore.
You would be walking in the footsteps of famous guests including George Bernard Shaw and Princess Grace of Monaco.
The Kerry coast is warmed by the Gulf Stream and dotted with palm trees.
It is a landscape of mountains and rocky outcrops, in fields and gardens.
Lush dense woods, wild rhododendrons and purple foxgloves are everywhere in summer.
Be prepared for four seasons in one day – sudden showers draining the mountains and sea of colour.
About 45 minutes west of Parknasilla is Derrynane House, the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell.
For those of us who just thought of O’Connell as the name of the main street in Dublin, a visit is a revelation.
He was a barrister, activist politician and statesman who founded a mass movement striving for equal rights for Catholics in the early 19th Century.
Seeing at first hand the excesses of the French Revolution, O’Connell was convinced that change had to be by peaceful means and in 1829 achieved the vote for Catholics in Ireland.
As well as the gardens at Derrynane, it is a short walk to the shore, a sweep of sand amongst the rocks and a near Caribbean blue sea.
Many gardens in the west of Ireland have an aristocratic heritage.
One such is Dereen Garden on the Beara peninsula opposite Parknasilla.
It was the summer home of the fifth Marquess of Lansdowne who as well as being Viceroy of India and Governor General of Canada was a keen gardener.
The garden closely follows the coast with a hinterland of luxuriant woodland with statuesque tree ferns and a rich patina of moss, lichens and ferns with marshy glades or oozys.
Edward V11 was a visitor and planted trees in what became known as the King’s Oozy.
The current owner, Lansdowne descendent Charlie Bigham, uses the proceeds of his successful prepared meals business to continue to enhance Dereen. Think of this when you are tucking into Charlie’s chicken tikka!
We followed the route that Queen Victoria took in 1861 as she progressed over the mountains to Killarney.
She sent her ladies in waiting to find a picnic spot, and the “ladies view” pull-in still offers stunning views towards the McKillicuddy Reeks, the highest range in Ireland and the lakes far below.
Queen Victoria was making for Muckross House, on the eastern shore of Muckross lake and the hospitality of the Herbert family.
The Herberts of Muckross were a branch of the Welsh lords of Powis castle who were also influential landowners in Monmouthshire.
The family’s fortunes gradually waned and the estate was passed to the Irish Free State in 1929.
Some estates remain in private hands.
Over the County Cork border Bantry House has been in the hands of the White family since 1739.
It’s unrivalled views of Bantry Bay enabled Richard White to spy a French invasion fleet forming in 1796.
The invasion was encouraged by Irish patriot Wolfe Tone, who saw this as a step towards Irish independence.
The fleet was forced out to sea by a storm but in appreciation of his support Richard White received an Earldom in 1801.
His successor, the Second Earl of Bantry came back from the Grand Tour with classical Italian sculptures and ideas for a terraced garden with one hundred steps.
Today the house is a treasure trove of historical artefacts and family history.
The young family descendants, brother and sister Sam and Julie are determined to maintain and enhance their inheritance through wedding receptions, lunches, teas and picnic baskets but there are whole areas awaiting restoration, such as the walled gardens.
The East Wing has six bedrooms for bed and breakfast and there are glowing reports – “like staying in a slice of history” says one guest.
They also get the run of the house from 5pm when day visitors depart.
Bantry House hosts performances as part of the West Cork Chamber Music Festival every June and July.
Daniel O’Connell valued the restorative nature of his house and gardens – he kept his busy life with all its stresses the other side of the Kerry mountains. Be like Daniel and do the same.
*Noble Caledonia will be organising an escorted tour “Opera and Gardens in the Kingdom of Kerry” in June 2023.
The tour will be based in the Parknasilla Resort and include performances by soloists from London Festival Opera.
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