Myths, Muckross and modern Fairy Tales

There is an old adage, which I have just made up, that states, that if in doubt where to start a blogpost, then try saying thank you. This is not only good manners, but helps to focus the writer’s mind on the events and gifts that the day has thrown up for his or her digestion. This IMG_2932adage complements another one that I didn’t make up, but gladly adopted, namely, that if you get stuck writing, keep repeating the last word until you are ready to move on. Go on, try it. It works.

Where was I? Giving thanks. My head feels like a amateurishly packed suitcase before a four week holiday: overfilled, stuffed with all sorts of fragments, stories, impressions, pictures, conversations and ideas and in need of urgent repacking and sorting. Thank you seems to be a great place to start:

1. Thank you to Britta for driving all the way down to Killarney yesterday, for bringing me Stella and some fresh kit and the dog food and twelve hours of her company, to remind me, if I needed it, why I have the best partner at my side that I could wish for.

2. Thank you to Rory D’Arcy the hugely principled Principal of St. Olivers, Killarney and Chairman of the Muckross House Board of Trustees. Rory made today possible IMG_2958 by welcoming us to his extraordinary school and arranging for us to tour the premises and for Stella and I to join Tom Galvin and his class of 6th formers on their long walk along the Fossa Trail. He also took two hours out of his busy schedule to drive me up to Muckross House and to relate to me not only the history of the house, but also to expand on his plans for his educational innovation forum based in the facilities of Muckross during his two year tenure as Trustee Board Chair. Additionally for sharing his thoughts with me on the state of our culture as we drove up to the Ladies View, which afforded me with a new and spectacular view over the three lakes and which was named for the visit by Queen Victorias court attendants on her state visit to the region in the 19th C.

3. Thank you to Tommy Galvin for taking Stella and I along on his regular walk IMG_2959outing with his class (12 km in all!) along the newly opened Fossa Trail which winds along the northern shoreline of the Lower Lake through the Killarney National Park through the grounds of Killarney House and Castleross. Thank you Tommy for sharing your encyclopedic knowledge of Killarney, its history, ancient and modern; for sharing the stories of lost monks, burnt down houses, the rise and fall of the aristocratic dynasties that shaped the destiny of Killarney, of the Burns family, the Brownes, Earls of Kenmare and of the horrible Herberts who lost Muckross. Thank you also for your tips and background information on the next stage of my walk along the Duhallow Way and the generous offer to drive me to the City at Shrone tomorrow morning before school start. So much to process!

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4. Thank you, especially, to Sean, the special needs teacher, who, despite being an avowed anti-walking proponent, nonetheless spent a cheerful two hours walking beside me and regaling me with all the legends of Oisin and Fionn and the Children of Lir as I could possibly absorb in the space of a short walk. I love stories and listening to a veteran irish myth and legend storyteller spin out his tales of magical wolfhounds, spellbound princesses in the guise of deer, wicked magicians, beautiful queens and evil stepmothers with extraordinary powers, children turned to swans and forced to spend 900 years wandering around until the advent of Christianity freed them from their bondage. Sean also taught me to beware of the Baen Sighe – meaning “women (baen) of magic (sighe or sí)” and pronounced banshee and intimated to me that Irishmen for centuries have held their women in particular awe, convinced that each specimen up to the present day is possessed of that volatile, fiery and inexplicable temperament mixed with the power of magic, which makes the whole sex unfathomable to the mind of a simple man – be he warrior, bard or farmer.

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5. To Olive, who provided me with apples, sandwiches and biscuits throughout the walk and on our various picknick points and all the children who allowed me to join them on their walk and made a fuss of Stella, who, on her first day of her long walk back home with me and is now lying exhausted on the floor of our hotel room, at the foot of my bed, digesting all the impressions and excitement of the day, thank you!

6. Thank you to Aoife and her assistant at the Kerry Outdoor Sports Centre, who made shopping for a windstopper and a pair of shoelaces fun and who gave me kind words of encouragement for my walk (look them up on Facebook and browse through the reviews if you don’t believe me that the service here is exceptional). And finally

7. Thanks to Serena and Rebecca at Ashoka for organising this and all the other meetings you have planned for me along the way – you guys are incredible and this is just such fun and to Aline at the Buchanan office for taking care of the logistics and being my avatar in the background.

IMG_2936I love Kerry. The people, the panoramas, the majestic sweep of the countryside, so varied, so dramatic, so beautiful and testing, the hospitality, the generous spirit that is everywhere, the music and the sense of humour. Oh, and the biscuit cake. Where in God’s holy name did anyone come up with the idea for that?

May the road rise up to meet you!

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