...on Thanksgiving Day, we drove the 25 minutes from our cottage in Milltown to Killarney, the town on the doorstep of Killarney National Park. Mr. O'Sullivan rented bicycles to our family, "at a discounted rate... you came at a good time, you know, it's the off-season." He smiled a lot, reassured me of the futility -- how really "ridiculous" it is to try to see the park on foot, all while rummaging under piles of papers and behind racks of raincoats on clearance. "My wife," he peered deeply into a shelf, "she cleaned the shop. Now I can't find anything. 500 maps... and I can't find one." Finally, he walked out the front door, telling me over his shoulder, "I'll be back... you watch the shop for me, won't you?" And he disappeared.
When we were finally set up with bicycles, gloves (remedied by a quick visit down the street to his other outdoor shop, a tiny mom-and-pop version of REI), helmets, and directions (we settled on a map from the tourist shop across the street and classic Irish, "...you just go down this way a bit until you see a gate on your left... turn right, follow the path... after about two miles you'll come to Ross Castle... then you..."), we set out.
We must not have followed the path very well because we got lost a couple of times... which led to some great "extreme" mountain biking with narrow paths, large obstructions to navigate, jumps, and even a mud pit! I love how these adventures bring out our family's competitive sides, ("I'll bet you I can ride through that mud pit without getting stuck!"), as well as our I've-got-your-back sides... such as coming upon a felled tree: "Don't worry, Princess! I'll lift your bike over!" says a brother as he runs back to help Israel. "Hold on, Mom! I'll help you, too!" he says over his shoulder as he hands her bike to her on the other side.
Whether we were on the right path or not, we were surrounded by beautiful scenery at all times. Something I love about Europe is that most every ordinary adventure includes a plethora of extraordinary moments...
...like riding on a simple path... with a medieval castle in the background.
O'Donoghue Mór built this castle -- the last stronghold to hold out against Cromwell -- in the 15th century. Ross Castle sits on the lower banks of Killarney Lake...
...and is perfect for boys-becoming-men to scale its walls.
We rode beneath an ever-changing sky, the light and shadows playing hide-and-seek on the tapestry of MacGillycuddy's Reeks, the highest mountain range in Ireland.
At last the path led to Muckross House, a home built in 1843. We stopped at the entrance... the entrance to two paths... to decide if we should satisfy some serious hunger pangs at the cafe or follow the signs pointing to a scenic waterfall. The decision was unanimous. We decided to peddle through the hunger pangs in favor of more adventure.
And while Torc Waterfall wasn't quite as magnificent as we imagined, we were impressed with the gorgeous -- and mysterious -- scenery along the way. And although we didn't regret adding another hour to the ride -- we rarely ever do, regret, that is -- we were grateful for the warm chicken, potatoes, and bread back at the cafe.
As the afternoon faded, we rode back into town.
How is it... that the return trip always seems to take a fraction of the time it took to arrive at a particular destination?
After returning our bicycles, we explored the town of Killarney on foot, looking for a warm, cozy place to have our Thanksgiving Dinner later. Several guidebooks suggested The Laurels. The guidebooks were "spot on."
We located The Laurels Pub and then strolled the streets, taking in the storefronts, ducking into the old cathedral, and stopping in a tiny bakery for hot chocolate, cappuccinos, and eclairs to pass the time. (The dinner menu isn't available until 6:00 PM...) A stray dog ended up following us... for so long that we named him Killarney... which is a very, very bad idea when your 9-year old's greatest longing is to own a dog. When we lingered in the cathedral long enough that Killarney gave up on us and had vanished by the time we emerged from the enormous wooden doors, Israel burst into sobs which took the consolation and sympathy of all five of us to comfort her enough that the tears finally subsided. For the rest of the evening Rae asked questions like, "What if Killarney gets hungry? Who will feed him?" And, "Where will he sleep?" And, "What if God brought him to our family because we're supposed to take him home and care for him?" To which we surmised all manner of comforting scenarios to help ease her concerns.
Moral of the story: Don't name a stray animal. (And maybe rather than allow said animal to follow you for blocks upon city blocks, duck into the nearest shop and stay there until it gives up and follows someone else.)
It's hard to imagine a more romantic, more dreamy Thanksgiving Dinner than the one we enjoyed at The Laurels. Not only was the cuisine delicious, the Guinness pleasant, the ambiance with the fireplace, just-right lighting, and old-world charm perfect, but then the man sitting at the bar -- the one with an Irish accent so lilting that we had to lean in and listen with concentrated effort -- turned the large flat-screen television to the game playing live, the Detroit Lions against the New England Patriots.
When my boys smiled wide with exponential gratitude I shrugged and said, "God really does care about all the details, doesn't He?"
Our long repose was rewarded with the proprietor, Connor O'Leary, sitting at the table with us, engaging in unhurried, inquisitive, and charming dialogue about family, parenting, history, us listening to his endearing stories. He reminded me of my Grandpa Whitworth. It felt like we were in the dining room of family than in a pub surrounded by strangers. We tarried long, finally leaving with heavy reluctance.
And don't you think that's how Thanksgiving Dinner should be spent? With long, unhurried relationships? Engaged in animated conversation? Ah, we think so.