Day 4 (continued)
It was bittersweet leaving the Lawcus Farmhouse behind. We really enjoyed Mark and Ann Marie’s hospitality, and since that was the only true bed and breakfast we were staying at, I didn’t think anything else would compare. But with so much else to see in Ireland, we were excited about what else we’d discover around the corner — or rather, the roundabout. (There are too many roundabouts to count in Ireland! A big difference from the roads in the U.S.)
From Stoneyford in County Kilkenny, we drove south to our next destination, Blarney Castle in Blarney, County Cork. I was curious as to how crowded this major tourist site would be. To our surprise, it was pretty quiet. We didn’t have to wait in line to purchase our tickets, and best of all, there was no line to kiss the Blarney Stone. I guess that’s the benefit of traveling in early October when the peak tourism period has ended.
We purchased our tickets at the front entrance and made our way through the winding walkway, over the River Martin, through a lush landscape of flora and fauna and finally saw Blarney Castle come into view.
There were actually a total of three castles built on this land, including the one that still stands today. The first was a wooden structure, built in the 10th century. The second was a stone structure built in 1210 A.D. It had a front entrance that stood 20-some feet up off the ground. Not sure how people managed to get through the front door. A draw bridge, perhaps? And of course, the third castle is still in existence. It was built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster.
Have you heard the story about how Blarney Castle got its name? It dates back to the time when Queen Elizabeth I reigned. At the time, she commanded the Earl of Leicester to take possession of the castle. But whenever she would try to negotiate with the Earl of Leicester about the castle, he would come up with numerous excuses and delays. Even after the earl sent long progress reports in regard to the castle, it still remained untaken. The queen referred to his rigamarole as a bunch of “blarney”. And so the lingo caught on. “Blarney” is talk that aims to charm, pleasantly flatter or persuade.
That’s partially why Blarney Castle has become such a popular tourist site. Every year, many make the trek of 100 steps up to the top of the castle to kiss the Blarney stone. It’s said to give you the gift of gab. And you can bet now that I’ve kissed it, I’ve been all Rico Suave in trying to woo people to do stuff. Ha, kidding.
I was surprised to find out just how far you have to bend back to kiss the stone. There are guard rails below you to prevent you from falling through, but it’s nice that there’s a spotter there to coax you down.
We climbed back down to solid ground after kissing the stone and proceeded to some of the gardens on the castle grounds. We visited the Poison Garden, which showcased a number of plants that are poisonous either when consumed or touched. Many of them were accompanied by descriptions that told stories of how people used these plants as medicine during medieval times… before realizing that some of the plants could kill you!
Beyond the Poison Garden, we enjoyed a nice stroll through the Irish Garden. There aren’t very many plants native to Ireland, but the Irish Garden was still pleasant to walk through. I can only imagine how beautiful it looks in the spring when the numerous rows of foxgloves are in bloom.
From there, we headed back to the car where we routed our next destination — Kinsale, a small port town located on the southern coast of Ireland. To give you an idea of how far south this place is, our hotel’s street name was “World’s End”.
We checked in at the front desk of the Trident Hotel and were lucky to get a room with fantastic views of the harbor. We could watch seagulls flying overhead and even hear the water lapping against the wall below us.
With the help of the concierge, we chose a restaurant to dine at for dinner. We wanted to pick a special spot, since that day was our four-year wedding anniversary. (Day 4 in Ireland. October 4th was the date. And it was our four-year anniversary. Pretty sweet.) We decided to check out Max’s, a seafood restaurant appropriate for our location by the sea. I had the parmesan-crusted cod. He had the ling (a white fish lighter than cod) and scallops.
I typically wouldn’t skip dessert on an occasion like an anniversary, but unfortunately, we were seated next to a couple overly chatty Americans from upstate New York who apparently, by the volume and tone of their voices, wanted everyone in the restaurant to understand just how downright sophisticated they were. Mikey and I were enduring conversations like:
The snobby man: “I really enjoy swimming as a form of exercise.”
The snobby lady: “Oh, really? You should go to Venice. There are tons of places to swim in Venice.”
What should have been my response: “Who the heck goes to Venice just to swim? Join a Y, d-bag.”
Or the conversation that took place between the snobby lady and the server…
Server: Are your finished with your plate?
The snobby lady: “Yes, it was wooooonnnderfullll. It was just way too much.”
What should have been my response: “Have you ever artificially complimented someone’s craft and then genuinely dissed it all in the same sentence? Oh, no? You just did!”
Nothing pains me more than trying to enjoy a nice dinner when the company around you sucks. And when you’re in a foreign country, and people from your homeland are the root cause of it, it’s embarrassing. I couldn’t help but feel they were giving Americans a bad rap. Anyway, I digress.
We passed on dessert and left Max’s for a nearby pub called The White House. The concierge at the hotel recommended this pub for its trad music (traditional Irish music).
What I love about these trad sessions is that they’re so laid back. No stage is necessary. The musicians just gather around a table, play music and sip pints. Watch and listen with a couple of the videos below.
We knew it was an authentic trad session when they opened the floor up to other pub goers who wanted to share a song. One Irishman stepped up and sang a tune about traveling all over the world, eating cuisine from places like Italy and England. But no matter how many dishes he tried, nothing compared to the food in Ireland. The chorus is still stuck in my head.
You can have all your pizzas and burgers. I’d rather a juicy crubeen.*
*Crubeen is pig’s feet, an Irish delicacy.
Then one of the guys sitting next to us stood up and sang a song that sounded like he had written it himself. Come to find out, he was a writer with origins in Sligo, Ireland. We spent some time chatting with him about his Irish heritage and about his time in the UK where he spent a good part of his adolescence.
But the absolute best part of the night (maybe even the whole trip) was when Mikey snuck up to the bar and asked one of the trad musicians to play me an Irish love song for our anniversary. Shortly after he got back from the bar, a white-haired, red-faced Irishman stood up and announced our four-year anniversary to the entire pub, and the group played us a love song. An uncharacteristically romantic move on Mikey’s part. I absolutely loved it. Here’s a video of the tail end of the song.
We left The White House on a little bit of a happiness high. Not uncharacteristic of our time in Ireland.
We walked back to the Trident Hotel in a light mist through the quiet streets and turned in for the night with the drapes wide open, so we could wake up to the stunning views of Kinsale Harbour.
Unfortunately, I woke up on day five feeling under the weather. My body must’ve been reacting to the new routine, the time difference and the fact that we’d been rocking and rolling with little time to lounge since our plane landed in Ireland.
A quick cat nap after breakfast got me going again, so we made our walk into town for some exploring around the harbor and souvenir shopping at all the quaint, colorful little shops.
Before we knew it, it was 1:30. Time for lunch at Fishy Fishy Cafe. Don’t let the name fool you. This seafood cafe is actually a pretty classy joint. Pricier than I had expected, especially for lunch. But my calamari was delicious, and Mikey’s fish and chips were yummy too.
Filled up on food and ready for the next adventure, we packed our bags into the Skoga and hit the road for our next destination, Killarney in County Kerry. Keep your eyes peeled for that recap, which includes a horse named Tommy and some sun and sand!