Killarney: Hiking, Fires, and Forests

A few days ago, for reasons unknown, a fire sprang up in Killarney National Park and tore through Torc Mountain where I hiked a little over a year ago. Acres and acres burnt to a crisp over the course of 13 hours. The conflagration was stopped by a series of rhododendron bushes that formed a fire break. Apparently, fires getting out of control around the park has become an almost annual occurrence.

The view from Torc Mountain

There’s a strong suspicion that the fires were started by people: a farmer trying to clear scrub land, someone starting a fire deliberately and destructively, or a camper who left a campfire smoking. Any way you slice it, this was almost certainly not a natural fire. This made me want to draw some attention to the area to try and help. Killarney was, without a doubt, my favorite place to visit after nearly a year of traveling from country to country. From fine red sand, to ocean spray, to torrential winds, the lushness of Killarney I loved the most. It breaks my heart to think that if I return, those paths that I walked not long ago will seem alien, with burnt tree trunks, charred fields, and smoldering valley.

A small hut on the side of the trail for monks to live in.

When I got to Killarney, I’d planned on a visit of just a couple of days but ended up staying for an entire week. The beautiful scenery, wildlife, and forest kept me entranced for what could have been weeks if I hadn’t had to leave. It was honestly one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever visited in the world. There isn’t nearly enough talk in the traveling community about just how beautiful Ireland is. People say offhandedly,

“Oh yeah, I’ve heard Ireland is beautiful.” It truly is one of the most beautiful places in the world where the natural wonder will knock you out. And Killarney is like a nexus of access to so much of what the country has to offer. What it has is a one stop shop for the most beautiful nature in Ireland: Torc Mountain, the Old Kerry Road, some of the best forest for the trees, Corrán Tuathail (which I learned is pronounced like Car-And-Tool after many frustrating attempts to figure out how to say it), and so much more.

What else Killarney has is space out of time. Hiking a trail, you find a medieval castle next to a ferry that will take you across the lake next to forests that have seen the world turn many times over, not a day’s walk to a small craft brewery, and all while having access to so many more amazing places within the range of a bus ride.. Walking through the mist and the moss and a little bit of muck, the space feels different. Everything is so spacious and open, and yet you could reach out and touch a point miles away if you wanted, and as you turn around you realize that you’re nestled away from the world in a veil of moss and fog, surrounded by verdant walls. It feels as if you could lie down for a thousand years and wake up as if it was only a short nap. Like you could walk into a fairy circle and walk out again a changed person. After visiting, you can see how the local tales are so rich and run so deep.

Torc Waterfall

The other thing that made my time there so amazing was the Black Sheep Hostel, which after I stayed there received the Best Hostel in Ireland award from Hostel World. I had such an amazing time in this hostel, I have to plug them. If you’re ever in Killarney, heck, in Ireland, definitely stay at the Black Sheep. The staff were the best I’d met,—chief among them the manager, Blaine Lyne—the facilities were all clean and up to date, and there was a constant atmosphere of good cheer, camaraderie as vagabonds, and singing in the evening. I met a guy named Shane in the hostel whom I began to hike with during our time there. We both wanted to hike Corrán Tuathail but didn’t have an easy way to get there. When we asked about cars, Blaine generously gave us a lift to the mountain early in the morning before his duties began at the hostel. The man woke up an hour earlier than he had to, just to haul our asses out to a mountain, and all he asked for was gas. That’s the sort of thing that makes a good experience a lifelong memory. That one happened to end with hypothermia but that’s a story for another time. This hostel made every day a wonderful experience and I can’t wait to get back there. The hostel is also eco friendly and keeps you in the flow of the places you’ll be roaming to during the day.

After the fire, it’ll probably take decades for the forests regrow to what they were, nature to reclaim the areas that were scorched. One of the greatest troubles with trying to work for environmental causes is the impotence you can feel at moments like these. At these moments, you just feel tired that one careless, or malicious, person can take apart so much work that took tens of thousands of hours, untold amounts of Euros, and the support of so many to keep. The comfort that I have, though, is that the Black Sheep Hostel will be there welcoming backpackers and travelers who want to enjoy all there is to offer in Killarney. And in the timelessness I remember there, I can’t help but feel that the green will roll back over the burnt, and that one day I’ll come back and it’ll be just as I remember it.

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