the castle, we moved on to a day of sightseeing and shopping
in Killarney, and a comfortable night at the Glena House
country inn before what would be our most stimulating ride.
Iris's impact on the Irish coast -- waves crashing against
shoreline rocks, wind whipping sheets of rain across the
cliffs -- failed to dampen our spirits or those of Donie
Sullivan, owner of Killarney Riding Stables. We were to
begin our hack through the tiny village of Waterville
(where folks leave the house key in the lock in case someone
needs food or shelter) and spend the great bulk of our
ride along the great sweep of sand that creates Rossbeigh
Beach -- a real Irish experience.
was the one ride I seriously considered giving a miss,
recalling long-ago Irish beach gallops that had left the
group I was in more terrified than thrilled, stopping
only when the leader hit something solid. I asked Donie
about the possibility of being put on a horse that halted
without the aid of a cliff wall.
have the perfect mare; don't you fret a moment,"
he assured me.
nonetheless, I pulled on raingear and joined the others.
But perfect she was: a Thoroughbred/draft gray mare named
Tosca and referred to as "the Queen". "She
doesn't much like other horses,"
Boosting me up, Lorraine -- Donie's daughter and
our second guide -- added, "But you'll be safe on
her as in your mother's lap."
Waterville, we trotted along the Cliff Road to the beach,
where parts of both Far and Away and Ryan's
Daughter were filmed -- it was easy to understand
why. (Donie, who'd captured a small part in both movies,
joked, "When you watch, don't blink -- I'm in that
quick!") On the way, we wove among sheep being herded
to pasture and paused to watch a man walking through the
surf far below, his two tortoiseshell cats bounding in
and out of the shallow water behind him. (Only in Ireland!)
Then we filed down the steep hill to the beach, marveling
that Irish horses seem among the most surefooted on earth.
we reached the sand and our guides told us to lean forward
to begin the gallop, I tightened my grip, heart hammering,
expecting a calvary charge. But Tosca was a Rolls Royce,
smoothly changing gear as she accelerated from canter
to gallop, steering and brakes impeccable when asked to
change directions or stop for photos.
and seasoned, we all had the ride of our lives. We galloped
around the dunes, pausing to view a cannon from the wreck
of a Spanish Armada ship and to snap each other dashing
through the surf. With waves foaming high against the
rocks, winds squalling, and rain curtaining the beach,
it was an impossibly thrilling trek.
and windblown but too exhilarated to mind, we trotted
back to Waterville for a pub lunch. As we warmed ourselves
by the fireplace, I talked briefly with twelve-year-old
Liam O'Shea, a neighbor of Donie's who enjoyed nothing
more than showing up each day to help with the horses;
his favorite, Budweiser, had been on our ride. Then "If
you'll excuse me," he whispered politely, "I've
got to run to the grocer and get Budweiser some carrots,"
and disappeared out the door into the driving rain.
morning had been a sample of the Killarney Reeks Ride,
a five-day trek with overnight stops at hotels and inns.
"We have many people coming to us from all over the
world who have little experience and don't realize hours
a day in a saddle can be tiring," Donie said, "and
we just want everyone to have a lovely safe ride and enjoy
the beautiful country. Which is why," he added confidentially,
"offering the smallest sip of good Irish whiskey
has become part of the ride -- only to take away that
little bit of soreness or weary. And, truth be told, everyone
who starts the ride has always finished together. It's
part of our tradition.
of the Californians opted to continue the ride after lunch,
with Karen and the guides accompanying them. The rest
of us, however, looked at the torrents blowing sideways
and boarded our bus for the Lakelands Guest House outside
Waterville. There, a few hours later, curled up in easy
chairs by the hearth, we were enjoying hot tea and scones
(and I was plotting how to buy Tosca a seat on Aer Lingus)
when our soggy friends appeared. "We're wet,"
they admitted, water dripping from their eyelashes, "but
we had a wonderful time!"
venturing out to dinner in a small but famous seafood
restaurant, we trooped back to the inn and fell asleep
to the sound of lashing rain and high winds -- but woke
to sunshine. We fortified ourselves with rashers of bacon,
thick porridge, and raisin scones, then set out for the
final leg (-up) of our week.
Killarney Riding Stables,