The way ahead stretched out in front of me and a strange light arose as I drove the long and winding road from Donegal to Kerry. It was one of those days where the sky was dark and laden with cloud in some parts, while in others, the sun shone brightly through patches of piercing blue.
I enjoyed the trip in my wee red Mini, with the windows down and Lyric FM softly blasting while I drove. Seeing the Lakes of Killarney and the magnificent MacGillycuddy’s Reeks towering above, I had a sense of arriving somewhere special. I was looking forward to my weekend in Kerry and to joining my fellow hoteliers and industry colleagues for the Annual Hospitality Climb in aid of various charities including Kerry Mountain Rescue Team and Hospitality Trust. Big thanks to Natasha Kinsella, CEO of the Irish Hospitality Institute for organizing the entire event and special mention to Hidden Ireland Tours, Kerry Coaches, Skal Kerry, Unilever, Regatta, the Malton Hotel and all those who attended and supported the event.
First stop was to visit my good friends, Michael and Geraldine Rosney of Killeen House, Aghadoe – the King and Queen of the Kingdom! I received the warmest of welcomes and felt truly at home in what can best be described as one of the most charming hotels in Ireland, where hospitality and hotel-keeping go hand in hand.
The next morning I found I had, for the first time in a long time, a day to myself. I did the tourist hotspots around Killarney such as Ross Castle and Muckross House and naturally did a bit of ‘hotel-spotting’ but what I enjoyed the most was a two hour looped walk up behind the Torc Waterfall. Feeling peckish, I popped into O’ Connors Pub for a bowl of chowder with home-made brown bread and a creamy pint of Guinness. Then on to check-in at The Malton Hotel, which is a grand, elegant hotel with a rich history woven around genuine Irish hospitality.
We had a welcome reception and introduction to our guide, Con Moriarty, of Hidden Ireland Tours. He gave a short presentation of the route we were to take for our climb up Carrauntoohil the next morning. It looked daunting but hauntingly beautiful. Carrauntoohil is the highest peak on the island of Ireland. It stands proudly at 1,038 metres high and is the central peak of the Macgillycuddy’s Reeks range. Dinner in the restaurant was delightful and there were lots of laughs throughout the evening.
The next day dawned bright and crisp. Perfect for climbing. Following a hearty Irish breakfast, we were transported by bus to the base of the mountain and I enjoyed listening to Con’s running commentary on the history and stories of the area. To be honest, it took me some time to get to understand the lilts and cadences of the Kerry accent! We were a group of about thirty hill-walkers and so we set off at a moderate pace and in high spirits. After about an hour, we arrived at our first rest point on our hike. It was incredibly picturesque. I looked up to see the mountain watching down over us, almost inviting us to come and visit. Carrauntoohil was in a good mood!
At this point, some of the group took a lovely loop walk back to base and the rest of us set off in the footsteps of our highly experienced guide who was only too happy to share his passion and knowledge of the mountain and the entire region. As the climb became steeper, we settled into a silence of concentration, step by step. The air became lighter. Stopping for a short break, the views were breathtaking of the lakes and the rocky sculptures of the MacGillycuddy Reeks in all their splendid grandeur. Such beauty. Such vastness. Such peace. I felt at home here.
As we climbed onwards and upwards, the pass increased in its gradient and intensity as we embraced the mountain, sometimes on our hands and knees. Somehow I never really felt tired. It wasn’t just that I was determined to get to the top. I just loved every step of the way. It’s true what they say. “We don’t conquer the mountain. We conquer ourselves”.
Magically, a few flurries of snow swirled over us once or twice but we were really blessed with good weather. We stopped for lunch at the highest lake in Ireland – Cummeenoughter. What is it about eating outdoors? No matter how squashed the sandwich is, no matter how melted the Mars bar is, you taste every morsel with the greatest pleasure, far more that the tastiest Tasting Menu from a Michelin starred restaurant.
Con shared some stories of Carrauntoohil, which has unfortunately claimed many casualties and a number of fatalities over the years. There was a tinge of sadness as we remembered the great hotelier Gerry O’ Connor, industry colleague and friend, who lost his life on this very mountain in 2005.
Finally we reached the summit. What a feeling of achievement! We had arrived as group but somehow it seemed that each of us was on our own individual journey. There was the usual posing for photos and jokes about being on the highest peak of Ireland. But for me, I just felt enfolded by the stillness of it all. Just to view the rugged beauty for miles and miles, to feel the presence and personality of Carrauntoohil was a blessing. I felt honoured and humbled to be in such a precious place. This landscape belongs to no-one but itself. It has been here for millions and millions of years and it lives in its own mode of silence, punctuated only by the sounds of nature, and often louder, interruptive sounds of mankind.
It was time to begin our descent. A pint of Guinness, a soak in a hot bath and dinner with friends was now the focus, not to mention our navigation down the ‘Devil’s Ladder’ which was tricky enough. We made our way back to the bus and it wasn’t long before everyone was gathered for the evening drinks reception and stories were exchanged of the day’s experiences.
The next day, I rose early to head home to my own beloved Hills of Donegal. My mind was racing with the memories of the weekend while my heart was racing looking forward to the next climb on this journey of Life.