Perhaps I mentioned before that along our road trip in Ireland, we pooled ideas and pulled one main activity for each day. Well, this one was the one I was pulling for. I mean, riding horses through green thicket and along a beach sounds like a pretty awesome Irish thing to do, yeah?
I am not going to lie. It wasn’t our best activity. Or day. We ended up frustrated and -at least one of us- using good Irish whiskey as a painkiller. In the end, it was the ultimate “the journey is the destination” type of day, where things went wrong -but those lead to unexpected memories and good laughs.
The morning started pretty hilariously, as our drive took us along a roller-coaster of a route, that ended with all hands in the air, laughing over each hump. Some of the roads were so narrow and obscure that we felt sure our navigation was leading us astray, but we came to find out that these roads are more than common all throughout Ireland- and they became the highlights of our drives! We even “pulled over” (or more like just stopped the car) to pick black berries from the thick roadside bramble.
We started off early in the morning in order to catch the first ferry from Killimer to Tarbert, saving a good hour in driving time and bypassing Limerick. Arriving to be first in the ferry queue we had enough time to grab Ireland’s best instant coffee and peruse the comical selection of souvenirs from the nearby market. This scenic 20-minute ferry ride is usually accompanied by pods of dolphins that live in the bay, according to one very friendly Irishman who chatted with us along the way. Unfortunately, there was no dolphin sighting on this crossing (though we did get to participate in a routine “man overboard” drill).
(Upon telling him we originated from Idaho, he thought that was the *future* birthplace of Captain James T. Kirk. It is actually Iowa. But he quizzed us: what does “T” stand for? Anyone, anyone?? )
From Tarbert, we had a short drive to the Dingle Peninsula, where we would spend the afternoon.
One of the highlights of the Dingle Peninsula is driving the Dingle Loop, which starts from the town of Dingle along Slea Head Drive, taking you from a charming coastal town to scenic look outs by way of a very narrow, winding cliff side route.
A common theme for us- as we should have expected in Ireland- was extremely dense fog along the coast lines. While it made navigating the narrow roads a bit more interesting, if not terrifying, it also obstructed most of the notable view points along the drive. We were unable (on two straight days) to see to Skellig Michael, looming rocky islands now made famous by the most recent Star Wars installation. But the drive was impressive, nonetheless, and certainly worth the short detour.
Fortunately for you, Ireland, You are beautiful in the gloomy fog and spitting rain, as well.
The town of Dingle is an absolute charmer.
I mean, come on-look!
Rows of brightly painted buildings, quaint stores and pubs, and -like the rest of Ireland- very friendly people.
We made a pit stop for lunches of fresh seafood -where I continued my tour-de-fish’n’chips and was satisfied – before a short wander and heading out for our horseback riding expedition.
To which we were very late, as we were stuck behind a massive bicycle race for a majority of our short 3-mile drive.
After contacting a few people, we landed with Long’s Horse Riding in Ventry. A common issue I found while trying to book this experience was that most places have weight restrictions that cut both of our strapping lads out. Long’s, however, was more than welcoming to our group of five.
After arriving, signing waivers and suiting up (boots and helmets provided) we were promptly introduced to our horses- sweet, yet stocky Irish Cobs with furry feet and splashed coats. Once we were all saddled, we were given a brief explanation of how to direct the beautiful beasts and told to basically hang on and let them trot the trail.
As a first-time horse rider, I would have loved a bit more instruction; what to do if this happens or normal behaviors of the horse. My trusty steed, Molly, was docile and sweet but tossed her head a ton- I didn’t know how tightly I should hold the reins when she did that or if I was doing something wrong. I probably asked a million obvious questions to our guide once we were off, but she answered them sweetly and eventually I felt like I was getting the hang of things.
And so off we trotted, in a single file line through bramble and country roads and a long, wide beach. Our full ride was about 2 hours in length, including the advertised beach and country route. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed that it wasn’t a bit more “epic” but I think that was in part due to the fact that we were all basically beginners on horses- they do allow you to have bit more fun with the horses if you are experienced. Considering my nerves, I was happy for the slower, follow the leader pace. However, if you are looking for something more exciting, this isn’t the excursion for you.
We did however, end up with some (not very welcome) excitement. Notice in the photo above that Jimmy (second from the left) is on a horse too small for him. In fact, it looks a bit goofy, doesn’t it? His first horse was Captain, a noble and very large retired cart horse. Turns out you can’t really get back on Captain once you’re off.
Just as we were finishing our track along the beach, something spooked the horses in a major way. I was towards the back with Liz, so our horses just took off sprinting. Thank God, they had told us how to stop the horses. I was yelling to myself as much as Liz to pull the reins and we were able to calm down and catch our breath. One of our two guides had been with us and assured us we had done a great job. (High-five to me! I reined in a horse at full sprint on my first ever ride!) At that point, I figured that if I managed to stay on as the chief novice of the group, that surely everyone else was fine.
Then I looked back to see the rest of our group, and saw Jimmy on the ground. My heart stopped and all of my worst imaginings were roiling around in my head. Then he very slowly rolled over and groaned, stood up, but kept his hand on his knees for a few minutes. I couldn’t get off my horse to check on him, so just sat there and waited for the “ok.”
Jimmy is a big kid and not one to complain about anything. I knew if he was outwardly hurting, he had really been tossed. Turns out, when Captain bolted, he turned hard and inertia worked on Jimmy. He simply fell off, for lack of a better, more heroic sounding word. He landed on his hip and just had the wind completely knocked out of him. His entire side was tender to the touch for at least a week, with a deep bruise only just showing itself when we returned to Helsinki.
But! He was a champ and re-saddled one of the guides’ smaller horses and insisted that we complete the final hour of our ride. I think all of us were a bit spooked -I know the horses were a bit touchy- but continuing the ride was the best decision. Otherwise, I think I never would have mounted a horse ever again if we had finished on that note. It was, however, a good reminder that in all adventures-small or large- there is some danger present. But it is worth the experience.
I mean, my first horse ride ever was on Irish Cobs, in Ireland, along a beach and by ruined old barns, on a horse named Molly.
John Long, the owner of the stables, was very concerned and checked up on Jimmy. He insisted that a hot bath should set it all right, but we took a much more Irish approach.
Dick Mack’s was presented in a guide book and along the Whiskey trail as an excellent stop to try a variety of flavors of this liquid gold. With a quaint feel and kitschy interior, it is easy to see why it is a favored Irish classic. It was rather crowded in the early evening with locals and tourists alike, but we managed to snag a booth right off the bar.
There are rows on rows of Irish and international whiskeys, rising nearly to the ceiling or a tall room in colors ranging from light gold to deep amber, with even a few odd green liquids as well. I have no idea what I ordered, but it was the perfect warmer after a few hours in the damp. Jimmy wasted no time on his first round pick, and moved along to try a more fiery blend before I was even half way though. I can’t blame him, though- in fact, I encouraged it.
If you are a whiskey novice, you can simply ask them what they suggest and just go with it. If you know a bit of what you like, tell them and they will give you some options.
Or just settle for a Guinness.
Oh, and ice cream, duh.
We had seen these brightly colored Murphy’s Ice Cream shops during lunch in Dingle, and asked our horse guides about it. They gave it rave reviews, so we had to treat ourselves.
They have fascinating flavors, all created with local ingredients, such as sea salt and honeycomb, and hand made in Dingle. Even the brown bread ice cream was pretty tasty. The best part was that they are very generous with samples, so I think we ended up trying every flavor (at least once) before finally making an order.
Verdict: don’t leave Dingle without some of Murphy’s Ice Cream.
Warmed from the whiskey and satisfied by a very jolly ice cream experience full of giggles and spoons in each others cups, we settled in for our short drive to Killarney, where we would spend the night.
So maybe I didn’t sell this as a “bucket list” item. All in all, the day wasn’t our favorite. Maybe it was the persistent damp, maybe it was the jolt in our scenic horse ride. But any day that starts with a friendly, joke-making Irish man on a ferry, includes horses on the beach, and ends with ice cream and whiskey cannot be all that bad after all, now can it?
In fact, it could have been worse- we could have had to change a flat tire in the rain along Dingle loop, like the group we met at Dick Mack’s – but with the company we keep, it is always bound to end with happy laughs and good memories.