By Gerard Ledley
The first weekend in March, the Notre Dame Dublin Program had the good fortune of visiting County Kerry, in the west of Ireland. The trip took place over an extended weekend (Saturday the 7th through Monday the 9th) and it was filled with many memorable experiences, history lessons, bus rides, and one boating excursion.
The trip began with a visit to the Rock of Cashel, the historic castle-cum-cathedral in County Tipperary. There, the Dublin Program students were able to learn about both the kings of Munster and the archbishop of Cashel, whose seats of power were both located in Cashel. There, they also discovered the Irish round tower, a defining feature of the castle, which Director Kevin Whelan called, “one of three main Irish contributions to architecture”. While there, the program was also able to trace the family tree one distinguished member of the program: Jonathan Whitcomb, Dublin Programme Coordinator. Entombed in Cormac’s Chapel in the Rock of Cashel was one John Whitcombe, a former archbishop of Cashel. The discovery confirmed pre-existing general agreement about the holiness and nobility of Programme Coordinator Jonathan Whitcomb.
Later that day, the Dublin program arrived at the lovely Parknasilla Hotel just outside Sneem, County Kerry. These natives of the Glenomena and Roebuck Residences (not to mention those illustrious halls gracing the campus in Indiana) were welcomed to an Atlantic paradise, a veritable Eden compared to their usual digs. Situated on the Iveragh Peninsula in the Ring of Kerry, the hotel proved its great friendship with Notre Dame by providing not only hearty feasts every morning and evening (including even a birthday cake for our very own Director Kevin Whelan) but also luxurious villas for the students. The welcome of Parknasilla’s hearth and home was much appreciated by all, as its meals and beds fueled the next two days’ jam-packed activities.
The following morning, the Dublin program began its long march through the scenic Killarney National Park. Nestled at the feet of MacGillycuddy’s Reeks, Killarney National Park demonstrated to the collected group why Kerry is called “God’s Country”. The terrain, the sunlight, and the water in the Park combined to create sight after sight that astounded. Many comparisons to the landscapes of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings were drawn, but even these could not live up to the true natural beauty that graced our eyes. Needless to say, many a photograph was taken trying to capture the wonder of the place, and even if the photos failed in that regard, they certainly served to preserve the memories of that wonderful hike.
At the end of our long hike, we were greeted on the shores of the Three Lakes of Killarney by the Kerry Boat Men, who kindly ferried us over the mile and more route. After passing by idyllic landscapes, pristine waters, ancient bridges, and few scattered rain showers, we finally made it to the other side and said our farewells to valiant men of the lakes. On the opposite shores awaited Ross Castle, a 15th century stronghold reminiscent of the structure made famous in Monty Python and the Holy Grail. After a quick box lunch, we beat a hasty retreat from Killarney National Park and up to Derrynane, the country home of O’Connell House’s very own Daniel O’Connell. Here, more hiking followed, along with some stops on the area’s bountiful beaches. We arrived at Daniel O’Connell’s house for a group photograph just as the sun was setting, a fitting end to a fun-filled day.
Our final day in Kerry was spent on the Dingle Peninsula, touring the beautiful coastlines to be found there. The highlight of the day, by general consensus, was the group’s stop at the Dingle Whiskey Distillery. A fairly new operation, the Dingle Whiskey Distillery does not properly sell whiskey as of yet, for their product has not aged enough yet, and so they support themselves in the interim by making gin and vodka. There, the group was given a tour of the distilling process, along with a history lesson about Irish whiskey. Lesson of the day from the Dingle Whiskey Distillery: do not put your nose into one of the vats—the carbon dioxide and smell is enough to knock a grown man out. Despite this, the Dublin Program left the Distillery with fond memories and a new brand of whiskey to try in a few years’ time (responsibly, of course).
After these activity-filled three days, an exhausted but enlightened group of Notre Dame students and staff made the long trek (about 5 hours) back to Dublin. Everyone was quick to go to bed and disperse, as Spring Break was only beginning and the Continent held promises of new memories and cheap prices. But Kerry, God’s Country, left an indelible mark on all. A popular answer among the group to the oft-asked question, “What has been your favorite place so far?” has been “Kerry”. It is a land of beauty and wonder. Three days in Kerry gave us all a three-day glimpse of heaven on earth.