After a couple of slow mornings and enjoying our foggy ocean views we headed north to Kilkenny as there was a well-known hike in the area with an actual vertical climb. Arriving in the nearby town of Graiguenamanagh (Grag-n-meh-naw) to find the Brandon Hill hike, we could see a fairly grand hill with a cross at the top, but since there weren’t any signs for hiking we weren’t sure where to begin. First we listened to the owner of our lunch spot try to explain to us how to find the trailhead by shaving a few km off the hike. Then we drove in circles trying to find the trailhead. After five attempts and numerous u-turns, we finally found the correct road, parked at a small farmstead and began walking up the rocky road towards the cross. I would attempt to explain how we found our parking spot, but instead I’ll just direct you to this wonderful website with details for the Brandon Hill Hike.
Five minutes after parking a mini SUV came up the road and a funny Irish couple started chatting us up. Just ahead of us the gate was locked, even though our new Irish friends assured us that it’s usually open. A minute later an Englishman drove up in his SUV with a key to the gate and proceeded to tell us he’d let us all through the gate, but only if we hurried. He was in a terrible rush for some unknown reason.
Our new English friend offered to let us follow him to the top as the trails were unmarked and it was easy to get lost. So we followed him through the gate, up the hill and at began our hike at the higher trailhead that only took about 20 steep minutes to climb to the top. It was about a 2,000 meter hill, so roughly 5,000 feet and outstanding views all around us. As we hiked, we found that the Englishman was an architect, 70-years old and in an incredible hurry as the final Irish hurling game was starting soon and he didn’t want to miss it (think the Superbowl of Ireland). He hiked so fast even my 7,000-foot acclimated lungs could barely keep up with him. Towards the end, he invited us down to his house to view his architecture style (he’s never used Autocad and always worked old school style with pencils and a drafting table) and to watch the game. As our hike left us famished, we ended up driving into Kilkenny to find a pub to watch the game and enjoy the action.
Now hurling is a type of Irish sport that is similar to football, soccer, lacrosse and rugby all goulashed together. The players have a wood paddle and there is a small baseball-type of ball involved, and they balance the ball on the paddles while they run across a football sized field and throw the ball into a netted goal. Two types of scoring can be done; either the high easy way for 1 point or into a soccer sized goal below for 3 points. It’s intense, non-stop action and the Irish are very spirited about the game. This was the last game of the season and a tie breaker, so a very big deal. It was an incredible experience to watch it in a pub surrounded by passionate locals sipping Irish cider.
The next day after the game’s insanity had settled down a bit, we drove out east towards the Killarney National Park, which is just south of Killarney. About three hours from our abode in Annestown on very narrow, curvy roads with no shoulder. Add to the mix our left-side driving car on left-side roads and it’s by far one of the sketchiest experiences I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. The park was well worth it however, as it boasts trails around the lake (no cars allowed), horse jaunts (private horse carriage rides), waterfalls, an extensive Abbey, and the Muckross House. The Muckross is one of the most winsome dwellings I’ve seen between the building itself and the setting with green grass leading to the lake and a backdrop of mountain views. Absolutely breathtaking and it left us wishing we’d allowed more time to spend in the park. Thankfully, we can return for an overnight stay and enjoy a bit more of this paradise found in Ireland.