No one should decide on the second day of a nine-day tour of Ireland, Wales and England what their favorite location was, but I did it anyway. Nothing beat the Ring of Kerry near Killarney, Ireland. The ring is an all-day excursion around the perimeter of one of the jagged peninsulas on the west coast of Ireland. The first stop was at the Kerry Bog Village, a restoration of 17th/18th century homes where residents cut blocks of peat out of bogs and dried them to use to heat their houses. Our tour guide said her favorite childhood memory was visiting her grandmother who still burned peat in the fireplace to heat the house. After smelling it, I thought grandma needed to clean the house more often. (Okay, that wasn’t fair. You should have smelled my grandmother’s place out on the plains of Texas. You won’t believe what she used to heat it.)
But the best part of the village was the enclosure where they kept the Irish wolfhounds. You know, they are the size of little ponies and are best to guard all the other livestock who lived there. When I first walked up they were up on their hind feet, staring you in the eye and accepting all the pats and scratches behind the ears they could get. By the time I got my son over to take pictures on his phone, it seems the hounds decided it was break time and they went to the far side of their pen for a mid-morning nap. No amount of cooing, kissy sounds, whistles and sweet entreaties could convince them to come back. No way. Next round of cuddling at the fence began at noon—or whenever—and fans and groupies could come back then. My son got a picture of them on break any way.
We had not been on the road again for anytime at all when some of the teen-aged girls in the back started going “aww”.
“There’s a dog on the back of a donkey!”
The tour bus driver was a real pro. He knew when people starting oohing over animals on the side of the road he made an unscheduled stop. All the cynical, blasé teens tumbled out of the bus to pet the dog and donkey, who looked bored but used to getting attention from tourists. Even us old people thought they were cute. We got out of the bus and took pictures. A gentleman about my age—meaning he was old, really old—sat on the side with a contented smile and his cap on the ground filled with coins. Several people, of all ages, said the same thing coming back to their seats.
“We can go home now. Once we’ve see the dog on the donkey we’ve seen it all.”
They spoke too soon. The next scheduled stop was only a few miles down the road, a statue of the Virgin Mary on a promontory overlooking an inlet of waves crashing against giant boulders. Scores of birds covered juts of land and islands sunning themselves. This particular statue of Mary was not known for having tears in her eyes, but for actually being observed to move. None of this, however, meant a thing to the people on our bus. As soon as we pulled into the parking lot someone screamed out.
“There’s baby lambs!”
Sure enough, on the outside of the wrought iron fence guarding the statue of the Virgin Mary, was another old man with three or four tiny lambs, not more than a week or two old, scampering around, crawling up into laps and licking as many faces as they could. The only problem was that I didn’t think everyone was going to get to hold a lamb before we were called back to the bus. Being the oldest person there, I resisted knocking children out of the way so I could hold a baby lamb—even though, I must point out in journalistic accuracy, I have never gotten to hold a baby lamb ever in my life. To show I held no misgivings about the turn of events, I did throw a coin in the old man’s hat.
(Author’s note: For the record, I did take a picture of the Virgin Mary statue but decided instead to publish the picture of the lambs. Admit it: you didn’t really want to see a statue of the Virgin Mary. You wanted to see the baby lambs.)