If you head down to Killarney on the Ring Road, Torc Waterfall is definitely a worthwhile stop to make along your journey. It’s formed from the Owenriff River flowing out from the lake called the Devil’s Punchbowl. Torc Waterfall (meaning “cascade of the wild boar”) and the Devil’s Punchbowl, like all Irish landmarks, have names derived from the legend they are associated with. In this case, the story is of a man who was cursed by the Devil to spend each night as a wild boar who lived in hiding in a cave beneath Torc Waterfall.
Whether you believe this legend or not, Torc Waterfall is a beautiful attraction. It flows over a bedrock of sandstone that’s been dated to Devonian times – this is the era when we find the first land vertebrates. Some really old times indeed!
We recommend getting to Torc Waterfall as early as you can if you’d like to have it for yourself. It’s a really popular attraction and the place becomes packed with tourists in the summer. Also, on hot days, when there’s no wind, the area can get plagued by midges, so remember to bring some DEET, just in case.
Discomfort aside, the area is really lovely and worth taking some time to explore. Right at the base of Torc Waterfall are some stone steps leading stright up to the top of Torc Mountain. I didn’t go all the way up, but for the most part, the path is well trodden and easy to follow, so if you feel like a bit of a walk, it’s an easy one to do.
One of my favourite attractions around Killarney was Muckross House. The Muckross House tour is definitely worth doing, as it gives you an idea of the history of the lands and some interesting background about the estate. As you walk through the halls of the estate, you really feel like every piece of furniture has a story to tell – and actually, they all do.
From the table in the sitting room that came with a lock – precious tea from the East was stored in this table and only the mistress of the house had access to it – to the antlers in the front entryway – the family that owned the estate went into financial difficulties after they spent too much money renovating the place for Queen Victoria’s visit. It was therefore sold to Arthur Guiness, who rented it out as a hunting lodge, hence the many antlers.
The mansion is huge, with many, many rooms. If it weren’t for the tour guide, I would have certainly gotten lost! My favourite room was the one that was given to Queen Victoria when she visited. It is an amazing room, situated half a story from the park ground, overlooking a stretch of grassy open land bordered by trees.
Aside from the estate, Muckross Gardens are also well worth visiting on their own. They’re verdant and filled with a diversity of flora and fauna. There were loads of people there enjoying a picnic amongst the many deer that wandered through the park. It was quite an interesting sight for me to see these peaceful creatures grazing freely on the plants available throughout the gardens, completely unafraid of the people around them.
Personally I wished we’d brought a picnic and some gin and tonics to enjoy in nature, but we had to be content with wandering around and soaking in the sunlight – we were lucky our first week in Ireland was that one sunny week they had all year!
The attraction of the Gardens is of course Muckross Lake. I’m not sure if it’s part of the Gardens proper, but I guess it doesn’t matter. It’s all part of the Killarny National Park, which interestingly enough is Ireland’s first public park.
Muckross Lake is a beautiful lake with clear, fresh water, and is home to plenty of wildlife – mostly aquatic birds and fish. The lake is apparently full of salmon and trout – my favourite type of fish – and you can fish there if you have a permit.
We didn’t see anyone walking around with a freshly caught fish though – maybe they tended to stay on the other side of the lake, away from the punters and tourists in the gardens.
The thing I like most about the gardens, and which I found quite surprising, were the deer that wandered freely around. It was quite incredible being in such a domesticated setting – amongst the garden’s perfectly manicured lawn and rose bushes, and seeing these wild animals, some of them quite big, occasionally peek out at you from behind the bushes.
I guess our lives in the cities and suburbs often divorce us from animals any bigger than dogs. I feel whenever I see a large animal outside the zoo, it reminds me that we share this planet with other creatures that lead lives that have nothing to do with us.
Muckross House and Gardens was definitely one of the most memorable attractions we visited in Ireland. I really loved learning the history of the estate and listening to the story of the lives of those who lived there. I also enjoyed relaxing in the park and imagining myself back in time, when this place was still inaccessible by rail – what sort of lives the people that lived her must have led, to be surrounded by such unspoiled natural beauty.