Ireland Day 7 Waterton to Cobh to Blarney Castle to Killarney National Park
The letter I write tonight just might end up truncated to Yeah, we did this, we did that, now we are going to bed. My brain is completely fried and crazy. We just had dinner with the 31 people we don't know from Adam who are in our traveling bunch. For some reason, on this tour, there are only 9 men, and 3 of them seem to be really enjoying their status as big dogs in the pack because they are so incredibly loud and raucous and obnoxious that you can't hear yourself, much less anyone else. Dinner was ok enough, but in an enclosed banquet room with the most awful acoustics I think I have ever experienced. Trial by noise. GAK!
In spite of that first paragraph, today was excellent, with another day of gorgeous weather as we traveled south toward the Celtic Sea and the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove because there is no V in the Celtic alphabet). Called Queenstown for a time under English rule, it was restored to Cove aka Cobh when the English at last turned over the Republic of Ireland to its rightful people.
Site of the last port of the Titanic before it sunk, and just a few miles from the site of the sinking of the Lusitania, there was an excellent museum, and a great storyteller who regaled us with tales of the Irish emigrants. Most interesting moment of the day was when we stood in the building that was no doubt the one where my ancestors embarked for the United States from Ireland. Kinda cool.
I knew that we were going to see the Titanic Museum in Belfast, so thought that maybe this small museum would be less interesting. (Not so, as I later found out). The Cobh Heritage Center in the small port town was focused on the emigrants who left Ireland from this port, more so than those who sailed from here as their last port of call before the great Titanic went down.
During the storyteller’s presentation, he had each of us take a ticket, representing one of the passengers who emigrated from this port. Mo drew Annie Moore, who at 15 years of age was the first immigrant to be processed at the newly opened Ellis Island in New York in 1892.
After a coffee Mo and I decided that we needed to walk around a bit and decided to climb the steps to the church high above us on the bluff. We found the statue of Annie Moore, and then hiked to the top of the bluff to enjoy the view. Cobh looked like it might be an interesting place to explore.
This part of Ireland reminds me a lot of Seattle, more overgrown and treed, thick and lush with vegetation, and more green, but the kind that makes me claustrophobic. At times today as we drove along the coast toward the town of Cork, the ivy covered stone walls were not even a foot from the glass in the bus window.
Driving through the green countryside, along the coastal route between Cobh and Cork was lovely. As we passed through Killorglin, we learned about the King of all Irish Festivals, the Puck Fair. Considered one of the oldest festivals in Ireland, a wild mountain goat is crowned King and reigns over the town for three days.
Every year a goat catcher goes up into the mountains to catch a wild goat. The goat is brought back to the town and the “Queen of Puck”, traditionally a young school girl from one of the local primary schools, crowns the goat “King Puck“.On August 10th, The “King” is then paraded through the town before being elevated onto a high stand in the town square for three days. On the 3rd day of the fair, he is brought down to be led back to his mountain home. In the middle of the town square, he is crowned which signifies that the festivities may begin. It sounded like a lot of fun, something to enjoy in an Irish summer if you could handle the crowds and the craziness.
We continued through Cork, a fairly large city along the river Lee. As our bus negotiated the crowded streets, Isabella introduced us to the tradition of the Stag Do, or the Irish version of the bachelor party. It seems that often the men must dress according to the wishes of the bride, and often she has them wearing women’s dress. Of course, we passed several large groups of men dressed this way carousing on the streets (it was early in the day!) and Isabella said they were definitely doing the Stag Do thing.
There is so much to see in Ireland, and as we passed through the towns and cities, I realized how impossible it is to see a country in just two weeks. Mo and I laughed about how in the world someone would see the US in such a short time. What would you choose to focus on anyway?! I tried to imagine that I had someone coming from another country who had never seen the US. What would I want to show them? And how many amazing parts of the country would have to be skipped over to get to the chosen parts?
Of course, being tourists on a tour of Ireland, it was imperative that we stop at Blarney Castle. Before climbing the castle, we had lunch at the huge and incredibly busy cafeteria at the Blarney Woolen Mills, a treasure trove of Waterford Crystal, Aran woolens, Irish Linen, and Irish spirits. With no time to shop and no space in the suitcase, I was spared any indulgence.
We then had to make the decision whether or not to climb the 123 tiny worn stone steps to kiss the Blarney Stone. Yeah, lots of advice to absolutely never actually kiss the dirty thing, but after climbing all those steps, worthwhile just for the views and the fun of it, I wasn't about to miss taking my turn at hanging upside down and touching my lips to the very smooth rock. Clean and dry by the way, not the least bit icky.
Seems as though until a few decades ago, there were no protective rails and to kiss the stone you had to literally hang over the hole as someone held your heels and your life was very much in danger. Not so any more, but climbing those steps in that tiny space was definitely a bit challenging. Down was worse for me, because the ups had a great thick strong rope to hold and there were a ton of people holding up the line so it moved very slowly. We had a couple of sweet young boys with gorgeous legs and butts in front of us, who were also quite talkative and fun to be around to keep us entertained on the trip up.
In order to actually kiss the stone, you must climb the steps with the crowds, and que in line waiting your turn. It happens quickly, especially with everyone watching. There is a pad on the rock so you can get down there and a couple of strong guys to help you bend over backwards and then get back up. It is funny watching everyone our age trying to get back up, until it is time for you to do it! I got down, kissed the stone, and tried not to make a fool of myself as I got back up and out of the way for the next person. Mo climbed the steps, but decided to skip the kissing part.
Once back down from the castle, we explored the beautiful gardens. They were lush and beautiful, filled with all the plants so familiar to the Pacific Northwest, this time reminding me even more of the gardens in Vancouver and Victoria with huge gunnera plants that I love, potato vine that grew wild at Mo's place on the California coast, in full bloom, roses, ivy, ferns, red hot pokers in full bloom. It all seemed so familiar.
I tried to get a couple of selfies of the waterfalls and the gunnera plants, and wasn’t all that successful, but you get the idea.
Once we left Blarney, we continued west toward County Kerry and the town of Killarney and Killarney National Park. The park has 28,000 acres of gorgeous trails, "mountains" ( all of 3,000 feet high at the most), one large and several small lakes, and the finest tourist and "holiday" town you could want. Isabella had arranged an extra little activity for us, and even though it was after five when we arrived, there were a group of "Jaunty Cars" waiting to take us all around the national park where cars aren't allowed. No one had a clue what a jaunty car was until we actually arrived and saw the horses and carriages waiting.
The landscape here is quite a bit different than the parts of Ireland we have seen so far, with low mountains, more evergreens on the slopes, winding roads and canyons and lots more rock, mostly volcanic rock from what I can gather, old volcanic rock with no sign really of tectonic or volcanic stuff going on any time recently. Meaning in the last few million years or so.
The trails through the park were charming and Ross Castle looked incredibly romantic on the small peninsula jutting out into the lake.
It was all quite lovely actually, if incredibly touristy. In fact our entire day was completely designed for being a tourist, from being at the wharf in Cobh where the cruise ships land, to Blarney Castle where all the tourists in the world are sucked into the myth, to the high end ritzy park that is another magnet for tourists. Ah well, so be it. We are tourists, and today was a Tourist Day in capital letters.
This is the kind of day where photos are the only way to do it justice, so you will just have to wait for them, I guess. (No photos in these original emails I sent to the daughters, but at last photos are processed and ready to add to the story).
Dinner is over and I am going to fall into bed, but I have a supermoon to catch, and hopefully an eclipse over that supermoon to photograph, or at least attempt it. I have the alarm set for 2 am, and it is now ten. I am going straight to bed as of this moment!
The SmugMug photos for this day are linked here.
Next: the 120 mile trip around the famous Ring of Kerry, Ireland’s answer to Highway 1 and Big Sur on the California Coast.