Updated: Aug 29, 2019
Our refuge in Cork was mostly one for rest. We spent a lot of time sleeping here! Our hosts started their work week again and we were free to explore what we wanted to. Austin and I slept in until about 9:30 and then decided to head out of the city and visit the Blarney Castle. Through the narrow roads we drove again, a bit north of Cork, only about a 20 minute drive. Our GPS wanted us to take the back way, but we quickly figured out to just follow the signs. Later we found out that the road the GPS was trying to take us on was someone's private driveway, so out in the boonies that there was a thick strip of grass growing down the center of it!
We're so glad we arrived early because though it wasn't too busy at 10 am on a Monday, it would soon be! We walked up to the admission's booth and were surprised by how much one ticket was... 18 Euro!! You can't come to Ireland and NOT kiss the Blarney Stone though! We paid the price and headed straight through the eloquent gardens to the line to kiss the stone. We noticed SO many Americans here, way more than anywhere else we visited. It was kind of like touring a place in America with all the American vibes around! We were fortunate enough to climb most of the three stories of narrow spiral staircase to reach the top. A dozen people waited in front of us along the top of the castle to kiss the stone. A couple from the UK stood behind us, the wife expressing her worries and concerns about going upside-down a hole in the castle floor, hanging onto two bars while kissing a stone a foot down. It was pretty nerving, I'll give her that, but definitely worth it since we came almost 5,000 miles to be here! It was fun looking over the edge of the castle wall, little people moving around the gardens below.
So, what is the Blarney Stone and why do people kiss it? The signs around suggested many folk tales and possibilities about where this act came from, and I'll share some of the signs I saw while I was there. Why do people kiss it? Why, it gives you the gift of eloquence. The gift of the gab. Being able to speak with charisma and ease. Others say it can bring you abundance. The lady from the UK was chatting to me about this, and said, "God knows I don't need the gift of the gab, I've already got it!" We laughed. I could definitely use this gift, so hopefully it worked for me!
Before long, we made it to the front of the line. The experience was pretty short! You lay down on your back, your head towards the castle wall - put your hands above your head and grab the two bars. A man holds your feet as you slide your body down the narrow rectangular hole in the floor and stop about a foot down, kiss the stone in front of you, and then hoist yourself back up. Another man takes your picture (a common American thing... haha!) and then you're on your way. Both of us went through in under a minute and then we went back down a different set of spiral stairs and explored the rest of the castle.
I could really feel what it was like living in this castle, as there were lots of signs around explaining who the castle belonged to, what it was used for, and the history behind it. When you visit ruins like this, it's easy to forget that how they look today is NOT how they looked in the past! Believe it or not, the walls were plastered and had delicate designs carved into them, as well as drapery covering the windows. Remember my post about Kilkenny Castle? Imagine something similar to that. Austin and I sat in the dining area contemplating what it would be like to live in this castle, during that time in history. I looked out the window like a maiden might, wondering what is out there in the world besides this little piece of land. Surely, people didn't travel far and often like we do today!
After the castle, we decided to walk through the many gardens on the property. The castle was definitely awesome, but the gardens were the high light of this trip. The first garden we visited was called the poison garden. Not to be feared though. Every plant in this garden was poisonous to humans, whether ingested or touched. Poison ivy had its own cage, just so people wouldn't touch it and get a rash! Other plants in this garden were lupines, lilies, tobacco, pitcher plants, and even cannabis sativa which was in a cage as well. Both of us laughed, because it was obviously not poisonous. It was pretty comical to see a weed plant growing in the middle of a popular tourist attraction!
We followed the map to the Blarney House, a mansion on the other side of the property. We didn't tour though, because it was an additional cost, and we were having such a great time touring the gardens. Trees hundreds of years old towered above us. One of them named Spanish chestnut had a trunk that looked bulbous and mystical, like a witch put her mark on them.
"Let's go this way, it looks beautiful!" I skipped along the gravel road and Austin followed.
We ended up in a garden amongst a long line of pergolas over a stone path. So many flowers and bees exchanged energy as we walked through. Geraniums seemed to be the flower theme of the day, as there were so many of them in the wild and in all of the gardens. Spherical alliums shot out of the mess of geraniums, roses, lilies and petunias, beating to the sound of bees. At the end of the path was the brightest red bench, like the color of cayenne peppers, designs floral and intricate like calligraphy on ancient paper.
On the little map the admission person gave us, we noticed a lake on the backside of the property. Remember that road I told you about earlier? It actually came out at the back of this lake! After walking through the aromatic arbors, we made our way to the lake, seemingly deserted besides for the few locals walking around. In the forest we saw trees as far as the eye could see, and the ground was covered with moss and ferns, and let's not forget about the herb Robert, which we nibbled on during our walk. The sky quickly turned many shades of grey and we could feel the humidity picking up.
As we kept on walking, we could see glimpses of the lake through the trees. And then a freshly laid mulch path led us to a water house, the smell of crisp pine surrounding us in a blanket of nature. The view of the lake was incredible here. Swans drifted across the glassy water and yellow lilies perched upon their pads. Austin and I shared a kiss or two in this room of tranquility, adding to the romance of this honeymoon we were on. Hand in hand, we continued our walk around the lake, met some donkeys, and then found ourselves in an enchanted forest filled with delicate ferns and a trickling waterfall.
The Blarney Gardens had a section of the property especially for a conservation effort of Vietnamese plants. Supposedly, the exotic plants from Vietnam are in danger of extinction, hence all of these native Asian plants growing here. All of the plants were grown from seed, a true effort as it takes years for plants this size to grow! We marveled at all the exotic plants around us, so interesting to travel to different countries in just one area of land!
By this time, we were pooped. All this walking had us racing to the car... and just in time too because the rain decided to visit today and poured buckets on us! I went into the gift shop quickly to see if I could find any books, and I did - The Book of Fairy and Folk Tales of Ireland by W.B. Yeats. My one goal while in Ireland was to learn more about this topic... and W.B. Yeats seemed to be the guy to teach me! He was a poet living in the Victoria era who was quite fond of Ireland's folklore and fairy tales. He especially loved the Sligo area - and the folklore there. More on him in a future post!
For some reason, my heart opened up in this place, like I've been here before. As I watched the man playing the bagpipes in traditional wear at the entrance to the park, tears went down my face as I had to say goodbye. Maybe I lived here in a past life, and the man winking at me over and over suggested this thought to be true. Or maybe I found something that I wanted to create and share with many others like this place did. Whatever it was, I took it home with me that day, the heart of home like a warm cup of apple cider around a blazing fire.
We spent the afternoon sleeping. Yes, sleeping. It took so much out of us, walking around those gardens and being out and about every day. It felt great though, to lay around with no expectations whatsoever. Our hosts came back later in the day and we all lazed around together. At around 6 p.m., we arose from our slumber and asked where to go for the evening. Again, we were on our own to explore the City Center, and Fabien shared some recommendations on where to go.
There was an Irish pub in particular he told us to visit. Sin É. A place to be immersed in the local culture. The place was very small, he informed, but had music almost every night of the week. Apparently, going to the pub was normal to do every day. If you wanted to meet with friends, you went to the pub. Even on holidays like Christmas, you'd quickly finish the morning festivities and spend the evening in the pub. Austin and I don't drink much anymore, but we knew bar culture because we grew up in Wisconsin. We're always down to become a local where ever we are, so we decided to give it a shot!
Sin É didn't serve food, however, so we needed to find somewhere to go beforehand. Just down the street was a fish n' chips place. Perfect! We walked in and the shop was as small as a dorm room, not a place to sit down and eat. We ordered anyway, two boxes of Atlantic cod and chips, and went on our way. On Facebook, Sin É had a word about how they don't serve food but you're welcome to bring your own. So, we walked in with our fish n' chips and immediately the bar tender asked what we had.
"Is it fish...?" she asked skeptically with a smile.
"Yeah! Your website said it was alright to bring in food," I returned the smile.
"Aye, ye can't bring fish in here, it'll smell up the whole place! I'm sorry, if ye had just a sandwich it wud be fine!" she replied, and we made our way out and back to the car to eat our stinky fish!
Ten minutes later we were back and ordered our beers made from a local brewery. Two seats opened up in the corner and we sat down and listened to the folk band huddled around a booth table in the other corner of the bar. The band consisted of three violins each making up their own part in the folk songs they played. It really set the mood for this place. The ceiling was covered in memorabilia of the history of this place, from pictures of celebrities visiting to band posters of groups of famous people who have played here. The bar area was filled with people chatting and having a good ol' time. An American girl, she called herself a Valley Girl, sat at the end and talked to a bunch of locals about life in America. When we talked with her, she seemed uninterested in us and kept on her conversations, immersed with the locals and now one of them. Though our interactions with others was pretty quiet, we got the pub vibe and once our beers were gone, we left.
Tomorrow we would be leaving Cork and traveling far away. We ended up canceling our couch surfing stay that was scheduled to be next because we underestimated how big western Ireland was and needed to stay in three separate towns. I booked three one night stay Air Bnb's to crash at for the next three nights - one in Limerick, one near Galway, and one in Sligo. The next three days were going to be adventurous, as we were about to drive the Wild Atlantic Way.
We said goodnight and goodbye to our hosts, for they were going to work early on in the morning and we were going to sleep in, get a full night's rest for the next few days.
Thank you guys so much for reading and joining me on this day in Ireland! If you liked what you read, please sign up for my email list below to stay updated with everything. I like to put out writing and photography prompts every now and again, which I'll share with you in these emails :)
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Much love to you!!
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