I am getting ready to head back to Ireland. So, it’s that time for the top, pre-vacation question. You are going back to Ireland … again? It is then followed by … why?
There are some funs answers (50 Reasons Why I Return to Ireland), but the ones that really matter are still difficult to articulate. Thankfully, over time, one has finally percolated to the top. Simply ….
Ireland still surprises me.
It truly seems that every day that I am in Ireland I manage a ‘unexpected experience.’ Sometimes, they can be small. And, interestingly enough, I will often return to see if a place goes stale. You know … time to move on to another place. But, my return trips still hand me at least one surprise and so, I keep returning.
I will be stopping at Powerscourt for the sixth time next month. Each time I manage to discover a nook or cranny that yields an unbelievable image. For example, there is this little pine tree by Pepperpot Tower that just lit up by an early morning sun last December. Simple and it stopped me in my tracks. I am kind of hoping to see that one again. Kilkenny? It only took five return trips to discover the side alleys. And then there is the Newgrange Passage Tomb … to stand in this structure that is older than the pyramids and knowing that it has stood the a test of time; it never get’s old. Even Glendalough can lend its hand at healing one’s soul. There is a reason that St. Kevin put up a tent there, so to speak. I find that I can just ‘be’ for hours.
And don’t always listen to the tour books. For example, I actually like Blarney Castle. Most tour books will suggest you avoid it due to long lines for the Blarney stone. True. What I didn’t expect was the grounds or the Blarney House. I was there for my third time in May and after four hours of walking the grounds, we finally headed to the car.
Oh, and those long lines … many tour busses only stop for an hour or so. That means, if they want to kiss the Blarney Stone, it will be the only thing that they have time for. The rest of the grounds can actually be quiet.
And, if you can go off the beaten path, a whole new host of opportunities await you. Have you every been to Lahinch, County Clare? It is a beach/surfing town on the West coast. Who knew? Fethard … we were returning to the B&B on the back roads, drove around a curve and, wow! Here is this small town still encased in a Medieval stone wall. Glenmalure and it’s waterfall? It took me two attempts to find it. The waterfall is nice, but the cottage at its base creates a one-of-a-kind picture. Copper Coast? No buses allowed and it is a wonderful, leisurely, drive along the south cost. I can go on ….
I would be remiss if I didn’t talk a bit about the people. I have been very fortunate to meet a few people along the way that have become friends. There is something genuine in the connections. There seems to be slower pace (at least outside of the cities) and you can actually have a conversation. I still feel community spirit in most places and it is healthy to see people watching out for their neighbors. Family is still important … and if you want to question that, spend a few hours in the Dublin Airport … the Irish have made welcoming family home an art.
I know that Ireland is far from perfect. Ireland has many of the same problems we see here in the US. I listen to Irish radio and read Irish news sites every day. There have been economic hard times, high unemployment, a health care crisis, crime, etc. But as an outsider looking in, I see people banding and trying together to make a difference; they don’t shy from pushing back when they see ‘wrongs’. They still care. That can surprise even the most cynical around.
So, I am at 30 days until I board that plane. I have a very long list of possibilities and no itinerary. I will be lucky if I make it to a handful, but that’s okay. There is always another trip. All I know is that when I return, I will have a very long list of unexpected experiences that will fortify me until my next trip.
In the end, I am still betting on Ireland … and that she will continue to surprise me.
If you find yourself scouring the numerous tour books available, Blarney Castle in County Cork will be listed. I have also noticed that they provide a caveat … it can be very busy, so you might want to avoid. Hmmmm…. So, Blarney Castle was one of those sights that we had put on the back burner. Actually, I was planning on avoiding it. But as we left Cork, we still had plenty of daylight and Blarney was in the ‘neighborhood,’ so we headed northwest.
In all fairness, we did get to the castle grounds fairly late; the crows was pretty thin. After spending a couple of hours there, I look forward to a return sit when I can wander a bit longer. It is definitely a place to visit.
As you enter the grounds, you follow a meandering path towards the castle. The first primary feature is the castle. We played around a bit around the base; I even went into the Badger Caves. The castle is huge!! It delivers on what one would image for a defensive building built in the 1400’s.
What I didn’t expect, was the vast grounds and the amount of ‘other’ attractions available. We wandered through the ‘Rock Close’ which quickly became my favorite. There are some natural rock formations that someone became creative with … such as the ‘Wishing Steps’ and the ‘Witch’s Stone.’ My favorite was the ‘Fairy Glade.’ From the Rock Close, we found the carriage house and stables.
If you are a garden enthusiast, you will love Blarney. Behind the carriage house was another garden. As we made our way back to the castle, we found a rose garden. From there, the Blarney Stone.
So, the Blarney Stone is not a rock sitting out and about. Instead, it was integrated into the structure during a renovation. To get to the stone, you have to climb to the top, lie on your back, and bend backwards to plant your kiss. There are metal bars to prevent you from skipping and falling a few stories to the ground. A person is also on hand to provide a steady hand.
We did not make it to the top and I had already decided to forego the experiencing. (They say it is never cleaned and is quite nasty.) I might be enticed to give it a try if (okay, when) I return to Blarney.
Location via Google Maps:
Cork is still a mystery to me. It is in all of the tour books; it is a major city. I had read that there was a Summer Solstice festival the second week that we were in Ireland. We had tried twice to get there … once was derailed due to rain; the other, a hurling match. Third time was the charm.
As I reflect, our first week was spent in smaller town and villages. We struggled with Dublin and did the same with Cork. It took us a couple of attempts to get parked; wrong lanes were taking us the wrong direction. Once we were parked and bought a ‘parking disk’; we were good to go.
As Kay says, always head towards the church. It became a good way to start exploring the city. Cork was not any different. After Holy Trinity Church, we headed towards the area that was to house the festival. Oops … no festival. The area for outside vendors was empty. It was a miss.
The other place that I had read about was the English Market. We headed that direction and found an entrance down a small alley. We had been in Ireland for almost ten days and I was still looking for Irish linen. This sounded like the perfect place. Ummm…. another miss. The English Market is basically a meat, fish and produce market. There was not any Irish linen in sight.
From there, we walked through the city centre area. It consisted of four to five blocks of shops; ranging from a department store to speciality shops. We found our first Butler’s chocolate shop … I will be hauling a box of chocolates 3,500 miles for my mother. We also found another candy shop. I am beginning to become intrigued with the number of these that we are seeing.
Evening was beginning to arrive, but in our continued desire to maximize daylight, we pulled out that handy, dandy map. Blarney was on a few miles northwest of Cork. Surely, we could fit this in yet today.
Location via Google Maps:
Tuesday, June 19 was spent in Cobh or Queenstown. The Irish renamed the city to Cobh (pronounced cove) when they became a Republic. Cobh is located on the southern coast, just off the Celtic Sea. It is known for being the departure port for more than 2.5 million Irish immigrants leaving Ireland. It was also Titantic’s last stop.
Our first stop, partially to see the church and partially because there was a car park that allowed us to park and get our bearings, was St Coleman’s Cathedral. It is one of the tallest buildings in Ireland.
Once re-parked and wandering the streets, we headed to the new Titanic 100 exhibit. The site is the original departure building for 113 people and now houses an interactive tour. These final 113 passengers took tinders or transport boats to the ship. Cobh was Titanic’s last port of call.
After lunch and some more wandering …
… we headed to the Cobh Heritage Center. This museum was built around the history of Cobh and it’s historical significance as a major immigration. Sorry … No photos allowed.
Once we had exhausted Cobh, it was still mid-afternoon. We decided to take the same approach as Cahir, what else is close by? After a quick look at the map and tour book, we headed east to Midleton (Jameson Whiskey) and Youghal (yawl).
Red circles, from left to right – Cobh, Midleton and Youghal.
After spending most of the day in Cobh, we plotted a course back to our home base or Cashel. By going off the beaten path, we are exploring and falling into some great small towns, scenery, or just a challenging drive back. Since we have been by Bulmers in Clonmenl, we would be remiss if we didn’t stop by another, well-known beverage in Ireland … Jameson Irish Whiskey.