A Jaunting Car in Ireland – YIKES!
Day 7 | Killarney – Adare
Rick and I stayed up late drinking Stag Rua ale and trying to find rutting deer in the dark of night. We still planned to wake early for our next adventure, a 7 a.m. start on a 5-mile hike in Killarney National Park. Did we stick to our carefully crafted itinerary? Of course not.
Instead, at sunrise as we loaded our suitcases into the rental car for the 7th morning in a row, my animal-loving husband spotted something at the edge of the forest. He could not be budged. The dozen or so rust-colored deer lurking in the hazy dawn light had him in a trance.
Once the deer wandered back into the woods an hour later, we popped into town for breakfast and coffee. By the time we made it to the park entrance, we had significantly whittled down the time we had to hike. If we were going to fit it all in, we’d practically have to run. And I don’t run unless something is chasing me.
At the car park, we encountered a wizened Irish fella with a jaunting car and a white horse. For 30 Euros, he’d show us all the highlights and give us plenty of time to hop out and explore Muckross Abbey, Muckross House, the gardens and the Torc Waterfall while he waited. It was too good a deal to pass up, and considering the jaunting cars, also known as pony-and-trap, are a world famous must-do in Killarney, we agreed. (Also, it really doesn’t take much to convince me NOT to hike.)
We prepared to board, but the white-haired guide, who looked a lot like Maester Aemon from Game of Thrones, lead us over to a “jarvey” sporting a Class of 2017 hoodie. Let’s call him Patrick. (I don’t remember his real name.) A different level of experience than what we’d signed up for, but Patrick and his pretty black horse would do, too. We figured.
The first stop was just a few minutes into the park, Muckross Abbey, an old monastery and graveyard. The ruins are in great condition despite being here since the 15th century. The gnarled Yew Tree in the middle of the cloisters is said to be older than the monastery itself.
While tutting around the graveyard on the way back to our horse and driver, we met the nicest red-headed gal out power-walking with her adorable puppy. Irish folks are the best! The pup frolicked around the headstones and we exchanged pleasantries, saying our farewells back at the jaunting car.
We climbed back in the jaunting car for the short ride to Muckross House.
Only things didn’t go as planned.
The horse did not want to back up from her parking space along the fence. We lurched backward and forward a few times. She was not listening to commands.
Patrick dropped the reins and stepped out of his seat onto the rail. His foot caught on something and he fell from the cart to the ground, right next to the horse. It was several feet up and he hit the ground hard on his side, knocking the wind out of him. The horse took one look at Patrick and took off running – fast – between two trees.
We grazed one huge tree, going up on two wheels as the cart dragged over exposed roots. An inch further to the left, and we might have flipped.
Rick and I held on as tight as we could. The horse barreled her way down the narrow lane toward morning traffic on the Ring of Kerry just a few hundred yards away. The redhead and her terrified puppy dove onto opposite sides of the road to avoid being mowed down.
It all happened so fast. It’s amazing how many thoughts you can think in less than a minute. I thought about injuries and death and travel insurance. I thought about how little I know about horses and how to control them. I thought about what I would do if anything happened to Rick. And I thought about how any influencer worth their real estate on the Internet would be filming this … but it was either hold on and live or film with my iPhone and… who knows?
As we were racing toward traffic, Rick, ever the hero, climbed over the barrier separating the driver’s seat from the passenger area in the back, and grabbed one of the reins. He gently tugged on the horse until she pulled to the right and slowed just enough for our injured driver to catch up on her left side. He grabbed onto her harness and saddle, and used all his body weight to get her to slow down. She veered left until she was in the grass, up against a strong iron fence.
Patrick was out of breath and limping, with the most terrified look in his eyes. Bless his heart.
“Are you ok!?”
“Fine, fine, I’m fine,” he said, sliding between the horse and the fence. “Holy f&^%*@ sh&#$^!”
The redhead and her puppy, who I imagine is now a sworn enemy of horses, ran ahead to the parking lot to get help for Patrick. He was banged up from the fall off the cart, but had somehow still managed to run fast enough to catch up to us. Adrenaline is a magical thing. We all breathed a huge sigh of relief.
But it wasn’t over. Without warning, the horse spooked again and tried to run. The cart or the saddle – I don’t know which – caught on the metal fence, smashing Patrick in between. We didn’t have time to make any decisions. The horse was trying her hardest to escape and Patrick attempted to calm her and prevent being run over by both her and the cart. She dragged him along the fence for another 15-20 feet and with one final jarring jolt, she pulled out of her harness and bolted, pieces of harness and leather flying off her back as she disappeared out of sight.
Patrick was writhing on the ground, holding his leg/side and trying not to cry. I couldn’t tell how bad it was, but I imagine after being smashed between a 2,000-lb. beast and an iron fence, you’re going to have some issues.
Rick jumped off the cart and ran to get help, and I hopped down to assess Patrick’s injuries. I might not know what to do with an out-of-control horse, but growing up as the older sister or two accident-prone siblings and their friends, I know how to handle bizarre emergencies.
“Do y’all have 911 here?” was my first question. (Has anything more American ever been uttered in the history of time?)
“No, I don’t need help,” he said. He clearly needed some help. “I’m ok.” He couldn’t stand up. I was concerned he might have internal bleeding. It’s likely he was badly bruised and in shock. And in big trouble. I mean, his horse was GONE for all we knew. That poor kid.
A few other drivers came running from the parking lot to tend to Patrick. Moments later, Rick and Maester Aemon arrived… in a jaunting car. A jaunting car attached to a horse.
I looked at them incredulously. Then I got in.
I must’ve been in shock, because now that I’ve had time to reflect, I would not go near a horse for all the tea in China.
The other jarveys assured us Patrick and the horse would be fine, and sent us on our way. We continued the tour around Muckross House and up to Torc Waterfall. It was all lovely, but I was trembling all over.
The fact that I have almost no pictures from our jaunting car incident prove just how fast it happened and how shaken I was. I take pictures of EVERYTHING. But I was a little bit beside myself, and I was worried about Patrick and the horse.
On the way back an hour or so later, there were dozens and dozens of people walking along that same lane where we’d just been out of control. Lots of toddlers, lots of strollers, a few wheelchairs. I can’t even think about how much worse it could’ve been if our horse had freaked out later in the day.
I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go into detail about this story. I never want to tell my readers NOT to do an activity, because often if I have a bad travel experience, it’s a one-time deal. There’s no reason to fuss over something that only happens once, to me, because that’s just my life. But when I read about a couple who died in a jaunting car accident earlier this month, I thought I should probably add our story to the record.
Perhaps a jaunting car isn’t the best way to see Killarney National Park; perhaps it is. I imagine there are thousands of people who’ve taken a ride in one with no problems at all. Certainly the families who provide this service for generations would say it’s 99% safe. All I can say is I recommend considering it very, very carefully.
Back in the rental car, you can imagine I was ready to get to the next stop and drink a whole bottle of wine. Fortunately, we’d planned to spend our last night at Fanningstown Castle in Adare, near Limerick, doing just that.
That afternoon, after checking in, we took photos and munched on snacks and treats left in the huge, modern kitchen by the owner, Mary Normoyle. (Recognize that last name? I’ll share more about Rick’s family connection to the castle in a future post!) We flew the drone briefly, taking extra care not to disturb the calving cattle in all the neighboring farms.
My favorite part was exploring the castle together. Who hasn’t daydreamed about stone turrets, winding staircases, warm fireplaces and quiet nooks? I immediately regretted that we only had one day to spend living the Irish countryside life.
Sleeping in a castle was so much fun, but it was so quiet… my imagination went a little wild! Even big tough guy Rick said the silence was a little unsettling. Next time, we’ll bring a party of 8 so we can fill the place with noise.
We lit a fire in the fireplace and spent our last night in Ireland thanking God for bringing us safely to the end of the journey. Between a newfound fear of heights at the Cliffs of Moher, scary moments with Rick at the wheel and our jaunting car incident, it had been more of an adventure than I’d planned on.
Where we stayed: Fanningstown Castle
Day 8 | Adare – Dublin
We were up at 3:30 a.m. to drive back to Dublin for an early flight home. It seemed like a good idea when I booked it, but waking up at that hour and getting ready in the dark of a castle was not my best life decision. It’s all a blur now, but I remember dropping the rental car off and it felt like I’d just gotten out of prison. I don’t remember the flight home.
We stormed the Emerald Isle and despite panic attacks, terror from driving on the wrong side of the road, wayward pheasants and of course, our jaunting car incident in Killarney, we LOVED Ireland and Northern Ireland.
The idea with this super speedy road trip was that we’d be able to get a taste of everything and then go back. Our whole itinerary was magical other than the sheer lightning speed of it all. If I had it to do again, I’d spend at least two weeks and possibly go on a tour — or at least hire a driver. It was not a relaxing adventure, but I’m glad we did it.
The hotels we visited were all styled so differently, with so many unique touches and cute design. I could’ve spent 3 nights in each place just to fully appreciate each hotel’s amenities and service. You miss a lot when you’re only in a place for 16 hours max., and eight of those are spent sleeping! Even with the short visits, we had stellar service at each and every hotel. Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland know how to do tourism right, so even with limited vacation days. Just don’t do what we did.
Where we stayed:
- The Fitzwilliam Dublin
- The Fitzwilliam Belfast
- Bushmills Inn
- The G Hotel (Galway)
- The Ashe Hotel (Tralee)
- The Lake Hotel (Killarney)
- Fanningstown Castle (Adare)