I wrote this excerpt this morning. It describes a New Year’s Eve party and a 7km hike taken the following day through what I think is the most beautiful countryside in Ireland’s Co. Kerry. The description of the hike took some research but thankfully the Kerry Way is a real trail and there is plenty of information about this stretch of it, including maps and pictures.
For the purposes of the story, I have conflated two events. I did do this walk, though with different people, and on a different day, and I did have a similar evening out, though I don’t recall if it was New Year’s or not.
There was a time for a few months that both Tea and Lyra had moved into Hannah’s house, which was located in a new housing estate on the edge of town.
Hannah had just bought the house and, with two spare bedrooms and a large downstairs living space, she found it cavernous and lonely. She offered a room to Tea as part of her wage and convinced her it was a good idea by pointing out she would be saving money. It was Lyra who approached Hannah requesting the other room; she was tired of living on the whims of her mother.
The three girls began as friends, like teenagers at a prolonged sleepover. They stayed up late, cuddled under a blanket on the couch watching TV or listening to music, and drinking tea. They swapped clothes and shared creams and bath salts and makeup. They drove in to work together in the mornings in Hannah’s oversized jeep. They cooked for each other.
At that time, Hannah was fighting a host of unknown and undisclosed ailments with handfuls of vitamins and supplements and homeopathic remedies. She would offer her tablets to the other two girls, but they never really understood what they were for and so would decline.
Her interest in her health, though, did ensure that there were always fresh and delectable foods in the house. She made her own yogurt for a time and Lyra and Tea enjoyed the organic carrots and greens and walnuts Hannah brought back from a particular farmer she knew. Tea’s favourites, though, were the Greek Olive Man’s olive oil, olives and marinated goat cheese.
Considering her proclivity for nights out at restaurants and discos, it is no surprise that living with Hannah was not always a domestic, quiet affair. One New Year’s Eve, she hosted a pre-party at the house before everyone trooped out to the discos. She invited Lyra’s boyfriend, Cian who was ten years older than Lyra and already an accomplished DJ, to set up his mixing deck in the sitting room to get the party started. At the time, Destiny’s Child, Nelly Furtado, Coldplay and Travis were popular on the radio but Cian was a budding DJ and mixed his own tunes, producing something closer to Fatboy Slim than the other more mainstream music.
Cian’s driving techno beats played in the sitting room while the guests danced and fairy lights sparkled against the silver streamers and glass baubles Hannah had strung around the room. At some point, Hannah offered Tea, Lyra and Cian ecstasy. Cian was no stranger to the drug and accepted it as a partial payment, thanking her. Tea, though she had had experience with other drugs, declined saying she preferred natural to chemical substances. Lyra decided that was the night to experiment and so she, too, swallowed down the little pill.
Shortly thereafter, Hannah called for several taxis and the group piled in, heading off for the discos in town. McSorleys was the favourite choice, with its traditional pub in the front and it’s two-tiered dance club in the back. Tea ordered a drink and then made her way around, greeting people she knew as she went. She stood for a while, alone, on the top tier, looking down through its round hole onto the dance floor below. Destiny’s Child was playing and she could see Hannah dancing in a small circle of people.
Eventually, when music more her style came on, she went back downstairs and out onto the dance floor herself. It wasn’t quite the same alternative vibe that she remembered and had enjoyed back in university in Toronto but she had fun. She realized as this and that person joined her on the floor, that she had a number of friends, an interesting and eclectic group of them. And she felt good about herself in that moment.
A few hours and another pill later, out in the dark, cold night in front of the disco, Lyra was declaring her love for everyone and trying to spin around and around in the street. It took some time to reel her in, and though both Tea and Hannah had had a number of drinks they were clear-headed enough to try to get her into a taxi and home. At the last minute, though, Lyra opened the door and said she was going to find Cian. She disappeared into the night, floating and spinning down the street.
Hannah and Tea went home and tumbled, exhausted, into their respective beds. And thus began 2001.
They woke up late the following morning, feeling groggy and hungover. Lyra, they discovered, had made it home at some point during the night and was sprawled across her bed, fully clothed.
Tea and Hannah tiptoed downstairs to make coffee. They sat in chairs in the back sunroom, looking out quietly at the frosted grass of the garden, warming their hands on their cups and enjoying the feeling of the fragrant steam as it wafted up into their faces. They didn’t speak. They had become accustomed to each other’s company and didn’t need to.
When, a few hours later, Lyra emerged, fragile but rested, the three girls decided they needed some fresh air to clear out the cobwebs from the previous night. After a healthy breakfast of homemade granola and yogurt, they all went to put on warm clothes for hiking and climbed gingerly into Hannah’s jeep.
The jeep wound its way up the familiar road, past Mucross House, through thick forests, with the Killarney Lakes visible only sometimes on the right hand side through the foliage. They parked in the carpark behind Torc Mountain and climbed out of the jeep. There were two other cars parked there and near one of them, a large golden retriever was bounding playfully while his owners, a young couple, tried to steer him onto the path. They laughed and commented to the girls as they were walking away that the dog would be less energetic by the end of the hike.
The air was crisp and fresh and Tea could see a slight dusting of snow covering the ground higher up. Rubbing their hands together to warm them, the girls pulled their hats further down over their foreheads and set out. The fresh air had an effect immediately and Tea felt her head clearing. She glanced at Lyra who smiled, as if to say “I’m fine!”
The trail took them up at initially but it wasn’t very steep as they were skirting the foot of Torc Mountain, rather than climbing up it. The landscape through the first kilometer was verdant and green as they followed a cobbled path through deciduous forest that wound along above the small Owengarriff River. This was part of the Kerry Way, a network of hiking trails that linked to each other, meandering all over the county. This particular leg of it followed the Old Kenmare Road, a now disused road from bygone days that was once the only route linking Killarney and Kenmare.
A breathtaking view greeted them they emerged from the forest after the first kilometre; Torc Mountain rose high above them on the right while Mangerton loomed on the left. Several kilometres on, the trail began to wind upwards away from the river. As the trail climbed higher, the dusting of snow on the ground grew thicker, and more solid.
Tea was enjoying the pace and the friendly conversation. It allowed her time to look around. She wished she had a camera to capture the vistas but acknowledged that these views, like others around Kerry, were so vast, so soaring that she had never managed to capture their true majesty on film before. She settled into the walk, continuing to look around, to breathe in the silence, the wind and the wide expanse of sky. Sighing, she thought this was an auspicious start to the year.
At the top of the hill, the ground swept away from the path, down into a wide, open marshy valley. Above and below, the land was covered in a thin white sheet of snow. In the distance, Tea could see the peak of Carrauntoohil. She thought back to the day, over three years ago now, that she had climbed it. How far she had come since then, how life had twisted and turned and changed. She was no closer now than she had been then to becoming a writer, or to connecting in some way to the ancient energy of the land.
But she was settled, and more at home, and that was something. On this day, with no one else around other than Hannah and Lyra, she felt she would never leave. In this moment, she was not homesick. She wanted to stay here forever.
The girls descended onto the marshy plain. The cobbled path at times gave way to wet mud, and in these places, someone had constructed boardwalks. The land rose up on all sides of them, and they felt like Gulliver’s tiny Lilliputians crossing a large earthen bowl.
On the other side of the flat land, the trail rose again, briefly passing through thinly growing trees and then into a deep, rich oak forest. It was beautiful and, as a cool mist drifted between the trees, Tea thought of the ancient Celtic oak forests and the druids who worked their magic there.
Several hours after setting out, the girls descended a steep incline and emerged from the forest onto a narrow tarred road that seemed to come from nowhere. They had walked seven kilometres. Feeling tired but no longer hungover and exhilarated from their walk, the girls dropped to the ground laughing at their decision to head out on a strenuous walk after a night of New Years Eve revelry. They had made it, though, and they felt all the better for it.
To the right, the end of the road was visible, where it crossed Galway’s Bridge at the N71, the main Ring of Kerry road. Under the bridge, the rushing water tumbled over great boulders left by the last ice age, and down into the Killarney Lakes.
They picked themselves up and walked toward the main road, stopping to look at the rushing water and the views, presided over by Derrycunihy Church, an abandoned stone church that sits on the crook of the N71 before it turns sharply right and heads out to Ladies’ View.
The car, they realized, was now 12 km down the N71 from where they were. Hannah pulled out her mobile and called Kevin, the chef, to come and collect them.