Jarveys are prominent in many parts of Ireland. On our recent Emerald Essence Tour, we traveled up to the Gap of Dunloe, Co. Kerry in one.
What on earth, you ask, is a jarvey?
Driver or car(t)?
Originally, the jarvey was the name given to a hackney driver.
In modern terms, the title jarvey refers not only to the driver but also to a variety of vehicles drawn by a single – or less frequently, a pair – of horses.
Although the jarveys provide tours in many parts of Ireland, they are most commonly associated with Killarney, in Co. Kerry where they ply their trade up and down the streets taking happy tourists out to see the sights. Today, the “car” might be one of three main types of vehicles that carry from two to eight people.
The original jaunting car was a two to four passenger open vehicle. They call it an outside car because the passengers sit facing out over the wheels with their backs to each other. If you ever saw the movie The Quiet Man, the jaunting car was the vehicle used in the courting scenes.
“No patty-fingers if you please. The proprieties at all times. Hold on to your hats.” (The Quiet Man)
The driver sits in the front, with his back to the passengers. The name jaunting car comes from going out for a jaunt or a ride.
An inside car was considered more genteel as the riders sat facing each other. While it is still an open car, the passengers might have a rug or blanket to cover their knees. The driver may sit in the front, or stand in the back with the passengers. Since we traveled in this type of car, we were quite cozy! (That’s me in the back)
The third type is a covered vehicle to protect the occupants from the weather. The drivers outfit these with oilcloth (or, nowadays, plastic) “curtains” that can be rolled down to keep out the rain and mist.
The Irish Cob
The typical horse used to draw a jarvey is the Irish Cob. This is a strong, stocky, draught breed with a high trotting step and is well suited to hackney work. Characterized by long, flowing hair around the ankles (feathering) and a long mane, these horses possess a willing and docile disposition. The Irish Horse Society, which recognizes the breed, accepts all colours except Albino.
A variety of tours
There are numerous routes for the Jarveys in Killarney. They will collect you at your hotel and take you for a ride to Muckross House or Ross Castle, two very popular sights in the town. Or you can combine a ride to the Castle with a boat ride on the lake, offering spectacular views of the surrounding Macgillycuddy’s Reeks.
We chose to take the ride into the Gap of Dunloe. It lasts about an hour and follows the narrow, winding road that passes through the Reeks into the Gap. While we trotted along, our jarvey chatted away, sharing stories, tales, and lots of information about the region. He told us all about Brian, our Irish Cob, who was quite happy to deliver us up, but even happier when we turned and headed home. Brian clearly knew the way and the brightness of his step told us that he knew it was nearly the end of the day.
As we arrived in the heart of the Gap, the early evening clouds settled in and deposited a light mist that created a magical atmosphere amid the rocky crags and lakes. The light mist quickly became a heavy mist, then a steady, if light, rain. However, it did not dampen our enthusiasm one bit. We had a thoroughly enjoyable ride through the stunningly beautiful scenery.
Lots of choices in jarveys
Killarney has both companies that specialize in jarvey tours and many individual jarvey drivers who will collect you at various locations throughout the town. Prices are slightly negotiable with individual drivers, although most are about €10 – €12 per person for approximately 40 minutes. The Gap of Dunloe tour is €15 per person. The combined jarvey and boat tour is an all-day event and costs considerably more. If you are staying in Killarney, consult with your hotel for guidance on booking a tour.
Whatever way you take your tour, the jarvey is a fun and entertaining way to experience the breathtaking scenery of Co. Kerry.