March 8, 2016

‘I’m not a baby. I’m a girl.’

A week last Sunday was all about a babe in the woods … “I’m a girl, not a baby” I was warned by my three year old companion.  One of the incentives was that we were going to gather tory tops/the large cones of the Monterey and other pines.

We had barely started when I was asked ‘Dado. lift me.’ The request was diverted by song.

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We walked by Muckross Abbey and then along Lover’s Walk in the northern or lakeside part of the Monk’s Wood.  A little way along out on Lough Leane it is said the monks hid their special pieces in the lake here near Friar’s Island when the nearby Abbey was sacked by Cromwelian forces in 1652.  Local tradition tells that the community’s bell is also in the lake here.

Then we went off the path and criss-crossed the woods over rough fissured or crevaced limestone, as well there were briars. How would my companion manage? “I’m fine, Dado, I’m alright.” I was told.

We walked through a hidden valley, one of a number that are a feature of these woods. Did the monks plant vegetables, fruit and medicinal plants here? Or were they places for quiet meditation?

Then we were out on the main Muckross and Dinis estate road.  Sarah pointed out the clump of young bamboo at the edge of the road … “But there are no Pandas” she told me.

In order to maintain the interest of my fellow explorer we diverted to pine valley in the heart of the southern wood. Here there were great numbers of pine cones. Dermot and I twisted and gathered and Sarah put every one into the bag. With proprietorial attention for each cone we threw she called ‘Thank you’.

Sarah & pine cones P1010516

Having filled the bag – or filled to a level where I could still lift it – we hid it under some rhododendron branches and marked the spot from the number on the very distinctive clay cylindrical nesting box hanging from a branch.

Now back across limestone and bramble. Even when she fell I was told “I’m alright Dado. I’m fine.” And picked herself up. We walked under what must be the largest evergreen holm oak in Killarney.

At the garden quay we wondered about the second Muckross House that stood nearby 200 years ago on a site marked by a walnut tree saved by Johnny & Helen O’Leary who nurtured this last relic of the walnut that provided nuts for the kitchen in that second Muckross House.

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Then down by the great Cedar of Lebanon that has the stately appearance of the temples and palaces built of cedar in the middle east.  Across the way the two surviving oaks from the five Queen Victoria planted here in 1861. ‘Dado, I’m tired.’ More song distracted.

Young legs had been encouraged to walk by the promise of refreshment at Muckross House.  But first through the gardens.  The big magnolia’s blossom was recovering from the frost a week earlier.  Up and down stone steps through the rockery.

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After two hours it was time to break.  Up behind the restaurant clumps of miniature daffodils.

Then retracing our steps we watched carefully for the nesting cylinder with the right number.  Sarah picked it out.  I hoisted the bag full of tory tops on my back.

“Dado, my legs are tired, lift me.” “I will if you lift the bag.” And so we sang more songs on the last leg of the walk.

We had been on to go for nearly four hours when we got back to the car and each of us had walked every step.

– Frank Lewis

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