The Jarveys – Touring Ireland the Old Fashioned Way

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.

A jarvey passes through the gardens of Muckross House, Killarney

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)

Brian pauses at the Gap of Dunloe, and poses while we take photos!

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. 

Covered jarvey with plastic “curtains” to protect from rain.

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.

Our Irish Cob, Brian waiting to go!

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. 

Pausing on the bridge as the lakes flow into rivers.

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. 

Mist adds to the atmosphere at the Gap of Dunloe

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.

Jarveys of every size and colour await tourists in Killarney

Whatever way you take your tour, the jarvey is a fun and entertaining way to experience the breathtaking scenery of Co. Kerry. 

Touring Washington, D.C. – Never a Dull Moment!

Besides being a teacher, an avid traveler, an aspiring writer and photographer, I am a tourist guide in Washington, D.C.  While we are winding down our busiest time of year, there are still a bazillion school groups coming to the Nation’s Capital.  It seems that every 8th grade in the entire country comes to Washington in the spring (and many 5th, 6th and 7th grades as well!). 

This week, I have had a group of adults from Finland and 5 different school groups; 4 from various places in Michigan and one from Texas.  While they generally all want to see the same things, there is variation based on time, weather and schedule.  But there is never a dull moment in Washington.  Something new and strange is always happening. 

Sacred Air Space

On Saturday, my Finnish adults stopped at the Capitol to take photos.  We had just gotten off the bus, when I noticed 20130928_133901that the Capitol police were shrilly blowing their whistles and seemed to be clearing people from the plaza immediately in front of the building itself.  I thought that perhaps one of the Honor Flight groups was coming and they wanted to give them space. 

But suddenly, the Capitol Police officer was running towards us, shouting at people to clear the area and urgently waving them away from the Capitol grounds. I ran back to our bus, which had not yet pulled away and asked our driver  not to leave as I thought we might have to re-board.  Then the police officer is up in front of the bus window telling the driver to “get that bus out of here!” (My guests were beginning to re-board as quickly as possible) So I asked the officer, “Can I please get my group back on the bus?”  His response?  (In a very LOUD voice)”There is a plane headed toward the Capitol.  Do you want this bus here when it arrives? Get it OUT of here!”  I just about shoved the last few people on the bus and our driver, bless his heart, moved it. 

Lunch was next on the agenda, so we proceeded there without further incident.  Many of the guests understood English, but some hardly any so I think that they really didn’t know what was happening. 

I did a little research during lunch and afterwards told them the story. 

Apparently a small private plane flown by a new pilot had violated D.C. airspace and didn’t immediately respond to calls for identification.  They went into emergency mode, scrambled F-16’s, and when the poor pilot, who was just flying to North Carolina to visit his daughter, landed, he was met by CIA and FBI.  Probably not a good day for him.

We were able to visit the Capitol (without incident) after dinner.  And they had a great story to tell when they got home! 


Wait – who was that guy?

 On Tuesday, I had a group of middle school students from Texas.  They had a scheduled tour inside the Capitol.  We unloaded the bus on the west side of the building and walked up to the Visitor Center, stopping along the way so everyone could catch up and I could explain all the sights.  We had reached the southeast corner, the House side of the Capitol, and they had a great view of the Library of Congress.  So I commented, “The green domed building you see behind me is The Library of Congress, and behind you is Senator Charles Rangle!” (D-NY)  As I was facing my group I suddenly noticed that he was walking behind them.  I didn’t actually mean to blurt it out, but he was literally a step away from my students. 

He smiled, waved and a few parents shook his hand. 

20140611_121609We proceeded into the Visitor Center for their tour.  I usually don’t accompany the groups on the tour – but the dome is under major renovation in the rotunda and I wanted to see for myself how it looked.  It was a very busy day – not just because of the tour groups, but there were hearings going on, television cameras and newscasters everywhere; the place was a buzz of activity. 

On the tour, the groups move from the Rotunda into Statuary Hall, through a narrow corridor, passing by the Office of the Speaker of the House.  As we passed through the passageway, who should approach from the House Chambers, but Speaker John Boehner himself (surrounded by the usual cadre of Secret Service).  He passed about three feet away from us!  One of the parent chaperones in the group got a photograph!  I wasn’t that quick. 

1, 2, 3 helicopters!

It is uncommon to see the President (or POTUS – President Of The United States, as he is commonly called in D.C.) out and about in Washington.  When he does ‘move’, it is generally in a large motorcade; streets are closed, traffic is snarled and everything generally comes to a halt.  But while stopped at a traffic light on Friday evening with a group of students from Michigan, we suddenly spotted the tell-tale triple helicopters flying low over the Mall.  Sure enough, Marine One was transporting the President from Andrews Air Force Base where he had just arrived back from France and the D-Day/Normandy Commemorations, to the White House.  The students were able to see the helicopter disappear below the trees as it landed on the south lawn.    imgres 

Thundering Hordes

One of the very special things to do while in Washington DC is to tour the monuments at night.  On warm evenings, it is a spectacularly beautiful city – the monuments and buildings are all illuminated; the fountains and pools are bathed in soft light.  Unfortunately, the hot, humid weather of the DC summer often gives way to an evening thunderstorm, some of which can be quite severe.  Last week, while on one of those idyllic evening tours with my group of students from Texas, I noticed the evening sky was darkening ominously in the distance.  Like a hen ushering chicks, I urged my young charges to move a little faster.  We rapidly crossed the plaza in front of the Lincoln Memorial and raced up the stairs just as the first gigantic drops of rain began to fall.  Safely beneath the sheltering marble pillars I explained the memorial and allowed the students some free time to explore while I figured out our next move in the rain and storm.  imgres Suddenly there was a flash of lightening followed immediately by a huge clap of thunder seemingly right above our heads!  But the subsequent piercing screams of pre-adolescent girls were far worse than any amount of thunder.  They echoed in the cavernous space of the memorial and made my ears ring! 

The downpour began in earnest and most of the noise created by the hundreds of people crowded into the Memorial was drowned out.  Some of the students wanted to make a “run for it” to the bus but fortunately sane adults prevailed.  The gift shop made a small fortune in the space of 20 minutes selling rain ponchos and anyone moving about was ducking and weaving to avoid being hit in the eye by an umbrella! 

After about 20 minutes, the thunder and lightning had moved away and the rain had abated slightly.  The 70 or so marble steps of the Lincoln Memorial are slick as ice when they are wet, so I guided my charges to the handrail with strict orders to “hold-on and don’t run” as they descended.  Across the plaza, through the trees and out to the waiting bus, all the while leaping and avoiding puddles and lochs of water (at least I was!), you could hear the exuberance of the kids after surviving their great adventure! 

Guests visiting Washington often ask me if I get tired of explaining or describing the same things over and over again.  Never!  Because it is never the same, there is always something new and different to see or tell about.  While the basic scenery may stay the same, the people, the activity and the ambiance are ever-changing.  There is never a dull moment!   

Spanish on a Segway

I was just finishing my last bite of dinner when my phone rang. It was my friend and colleague Elsa O’Grady owner of Washingtonian Tours.  She specializes in groups from Spanish speaking countries and is often in need of Spanish speaking guides.  “Hi, Deirdre,” she said.  “I know it is short notice, but I wondered if you might be able to lead a group tomorrow.”  Before I could answer, she added, “There is one more thing you should know before you answer.  The tour is on a Segway.”  20131130_122426

As a guide, the name of the game is flexibility.  Go with the flow.  I’ve never been on a Segway, wasn’t sure I could maneuver it, but what the heck?  It sounded like a fun adventure so, “Sure, Elsa!  I can do that!”

20131130_122452We were to meet at noon to get a short “how to” lesson and then two hours of touring the city.  When they arrived at City Segway Tours, we were directed to three bins marked “small, medium and large” to select and fit our required helmets.  We then divided ourselves into three groups for our lesson. 20131130_130810 One by one, after the first tentative grasp of the handles we learned how to mount, dismount, move forward, stop, turn – all the basics.  It is a fun, quirky mode of transportation, easily learned and quickly mastered.  Our instructor and guide, Grace, was clear and patient in her explanation to each person.  I was there to assist with translation as needed.

20131130_130836On completing the lesson, each person climbed aboard his own Segway for a short practice session around the patio before heading out into the streets of Washington.  Moving off with Grace in the lead, I brought up the rear keeping the group together, in a single file as we traversed the city.  20131130_132251Our first stop was Pennsylvania Avenue and White House.  Grace explained the various visual priorities – the Eisenhower Office Building, the Renwick Gallery, Blair House and ultimately the White House itself.  I provided additional commentary in Spanish and answered questions for the guests.  It felt odd for me as I am usually doing the commentary for my own guests, but I was happy to be able to try out the Segway so I sat back and enjoyed the moment!  20131130_133448 However, I must admit I lapsed into tourist mode as I couldn’t let the photo op pass – I wanted photographic proof of the day’s adventure!

Due to the group’s schedule, the tour had to be slightly shortened.  Normally, we would have visited the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, the Lincoln Memorial and both the Korean War and Vietnam War Memorials.  As it was there was only time in their itinerary for a stop at the Washington Monument before traversing down Constitution Avenue to finish our tour.


It was great fun and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to try out a Segway.  Rolling along the streets is a fun and different way to visit a city.  For information on tours and prices contact City Segway Tours 502 23rd St., NW, Washington, D.C. (877) 734-8687

Georgetown – French Country Style

For a while I’ve been thinking of writing about doors.  I know that there are many posts about doors, but there are plenty to go around and I love them!

I had a walking tour in Georgetown, Washington, DC yesterday.  It was a glorious late summer day, with brilliant sunshine and clear, fresh air.  While we strolled through the streets, I was sharing stories of some of the more famous residences and a gentleman walked by with his gorgeous little cinnamon coloured terrier.  As he passed our group, he chirped, “And this is a Georgetown dog…” which, as intended, drew smiles, laughs and more than one pat on the head for the little terrier.

When my tour was finished, I returned to my car and who should I find sitting on the steps of a Georgetown house, right beside my car, but the same gentleman and his dog.  I stopped to pet her and we began to chat.  He asked me about my tour and in the course of conversation about firemarks, interesting homes and famous residents, he asked if I were familiar with Julia Child’s unique yellow house at the end of Olive St.  I was familiar with the house and the fact that she had lived there, but not with the anecdote he JChild's G'town houseproceeded to share.

JChild's house rear view

Garden View

He had worked for the Associated Press and had the occasion to interview the Queen of Cookery, Julia Child.  During the interview, she asked him where he lived and when he said Washington, DC, she got more are more specific until it was determined  that he lived on Olive St., NW which is the same street on which she and her husband, Paul, had lived in the 1970’s.

JChild's Georgetown

2706 Olive St., NW dressed in country french colours

The house at 2706 Olive St., NW is a lemon yellow wooden structure with a bright blue door that has a storied history dating back to the 1800’s in post-Civil War Georgetown.   Julia asked if the door knocker was still on the front door.  It turns out that she wanted a door knocker and so Paul went to the kitchen, commandeered a trivet and proceeded to attach it to the front door to be used as the requested door knocker.  It is still there, right on the bright blue door.

Julia Childs Front Door

Craving chocolate? Take a tour!

trufflesWhen you have a craving for chocolate (now don’t lie and say you never have a craving for chocolate!) what do you go for?  Truffles?  Fudge?

Designer Chocolates

Designer Chocolates

Devil’s food cake with melt-in-your-mouth chocolate crème icing? A Kiss?

Whatever your favourite, be it white, milk or dark, DC Metro Chocolate Tours will satiate that craving!  How better to spend a weekend afternoon than strolling through fascinating Washington neighborhoods, learning a little about the history and character and sampling a wide range of chocolate along the way?  If you choose the DuPont Delights tour, between stops at 6-8 local and unique chocolate vendors, your guide will share stories of the eclectic neighborhood with its monumental, museum-like homes.  Whatever happened to the statue of Adm. Samuel DuPont for whom the circle is named?  Something to ponder amid to-die-for cupcakes, gellato and the world’s best chocolate cake.

Adm. Samuel Francis DuPont

Adm. Samuel Francis DuPont

If a few savory surprises are what you have in mind, select the U St. Chocolate Lovers tour where gourmet chocolatiers are intermingled

Enchilada with mole sauce

Enchilada with mole sauce

with a delightful mole dessert.  You’ve heard of wine and chocolate, but beer and chocolate? For the savvy Washingtonian,

U St. is equated with Ben’s Chili Bowl, but the west end, closer to Adams Morgan, has a disarmingly eclectic mix of shops and restaurants just waiting to be sampled.

Macaron Tree

Macaron Tree

The allure of Georgetown appeals to everyone.  Most are familiar with the wide array of choices located on the main thoroughfares of M St. and Wisconsin Ave., but the Sweets of Georgetown tour takes one off the beaten path and surprises the visitor with delightful treats he might have otherwise missed.  The guides spice it up with the commentary – being sure to include a scandal or two – and point out some historic buildings and homes of interest along the way. All in all, it’s a fine mix of a neighborhood and chocolate sampling!

DC Metro Chocolate tours are offered on weekends year ‘round, rain or shine.  More information is available at the website