"" Writer's Wanderings: Muckross and Derrynane Houses

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Muckross and Derrynane Houses

Several places were suggested for stops along the way as we traveled through Kerry and on to the Dingle peninsula. One of our stops was the elegant Muckross House in the Killarney National Park. The house was built in 1839-1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife, Mary Balfour Herbert, who was known for her watercolors some of which are displayed in the house.

A later owner's love of hunting is evident everywhere in the house but mostly in the original entryway and center upper hallway. Some of the deer heads are stuffed. Others are mounted in the old style of earlier years before taxidermy was prevalent. They are mere skulls of the deer, antlers attached of course, and dates and names of the successful hunter engraved on the bleached bone.

The big event that marks this house is the visit of Queen Victoria in 1861. The Herberts spent years and much of their fortune preparing for the visit in the hopes that it would give them favor and secure a position for them in the royal order of things. Victoria stayed for two nights and according to the press enjoyed her visit immensely. Bad luck for the Herberts followed however when a few months later, Prince Albert, Victoria's husband died of typhoid. In her grief and mourning, the queen forgot all about the Herberts and elevating them to a higher position. Eventually, their fortune depleted, they forfeited their home to the financial institution that held their mortgage.

We had no idea who Daniel O'Connell was when we stopped at the Derrynane House where he grew up visiting his uncle and then eventually buying the home. History is always so much more fun to learn when you can "walk" through it. Daniel O'Connell was a lawyer, politician, and statesman in the 1800s and was known as "the liberator" because of his work to win political rights for Irish Catholics. His approach was a peaceful one which upset another movement for freedom for Ireland who felt his methods were too slow. O'Connell was hailed as a champion of liberty and democracy throughout Europe.

By the time we were done going through the house, we were quite impressed with him as well. He was anti-slavery and welcomed Fredrick Douglass when the abolitionist visited Ireland. One of the tour guides gave me a quote that is accredited to Douglass upon his observing O'Connell's eloquence with speech. His words, said Douglass, are "like a summer thunder-shower upon a dusty road." As a writer, it gave me something to ponder.

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