Exploring the Emerald Isle: Cork, Castles, and Cliffs

On the next leg of our journey we traveled to the Munster Province on the southwestern end of the island. On our way we visited the old Jameson Distillery in Midleton for a tour and sampling of Ireland’s finest whiskey.

I can’t really say much about Jameson because for some reason I don’t seem to remember much from the tour. Maybe having a shot of smooth, triple-distilled Jameson, followed by a shot of Scotch whiskey, and topped off with a shot of American whiskey had something to do with it (it was for research purposes). Either that or the complimentary glass of Jameson we were treated to at the end of the tour.

Our next stop was the city of Cork. The River Lee runs right through the center of the city, which appears to be undergoing some major upgrades.

It was in Cork that we had our first real taste of Irish music and dancing. We went to The Oliver Plunkett, a popular pub offering live music 7-nights-a-week. We were entertained by musicians Jimmy Morrison and Tim O’Riordan and a group of Irish dancers.

Just north of Cork is Blarney Castle. We spent a morning wandering the castle grounds and extensive gardens, though there’s so much to see one could easily make a leisurely day out of it.

There are several walking trails leading guests through flower gardens, down into dark caves, around a calm lake with ducks, beside a babbling creek, to a field with happy sheep, and even into a poisonous plant garden.

Visitors can take a walk through the old castle built back in 1446. Those who aren’t afraid of heights, or germs, can kiss the famed Blarney Stone- legend tells that those who do so, are granted the gift of eloquence. Sounds simple enough, but the Blarney Stone is set into an old machicolation, which is basically a big hole in the floor that was used for dropping boiling oil or stones on enemies attacking below. So, to reach the stone with thy lips, thou must lie down, lean back, and lower thyself down into the opening, which feels sorta like hanging upside down from about 4 stories above the ground.

‘Tis there’s the stone that whoever kisses

He never misses to grow eloquent;

‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,

Or become a member of Parliament.

“A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or

An out and outer to be let alone;

Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him, For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone.”

-Francis Sylvester Mahony

It was a fun experience, even with the potential exposure to cooties. For over 200 years people have climbed up the old spiral stairs to lay a kiss on the stone at the top of the castle. During the early days, those who made the pilgrimage to smooch the stone had to be held upside down by their ankles and lowered down head-first. These days it’s much safer, and in addition to the installation of handrails to help visitors lower themselves down to the stone, there is a metal bar across the opening of the machicolation so no one can slip through, and an attendant assisting visitors. A second attendant also catches the kiss on camera for a souvenir photo that can be purchased. We climbed right up to the stone without much of a wait during our visit, but by the time we were through the line had grown with waiting times estimated at over an hour.

Blarney Castle was so beautiful, it ended up being one of my favorites among the places we visited in Ireland. Next up we took a day trip to the town of Kinsale. Now a popular holiday destination for Irish and foreign travelers, Kinsale is best known for the famous Battle of Kinsale in 1601.

Today, Kinsale is treasured for its historic streets lined with brightly colored-buildings. It’s also a sister city to Newport, Rhode Island.

We had coffee and lunch in a local cafe then walked along the charming old streets.

We also visited a working dairy farm, owned and operated by a local family. The Molanna Dairy Farm has been in Paddy Fenton’s family for generations. As we walked the grounds Paddy shared stories about his family’s history and how his grandparents and great grandparents lived through times of famine and war.

After seeing the farm (and giving lots of attention to Molly, the farm dog), Paddy and his wife Margaret invited us into their home for a lovely farm-fresh lunch.

Next we traveled to Limerick where we visited King John’s Castle. The castle was built in 1210 on the site of an old viking settlement dating back to 922.

Although King John ordered the castle to be built, he never visited it and died before it was completed. The castle was built along the River Shannon and the watchtowers provide beautiful views of the city.

We were treated to a Medieval banquet and dinner show at Knappogue Castle. Here we feasted on a 4-course meal washed down with a goblet of honey mead and bottomless red and white wines. The dinner show was a combination of singing, dancing, comedy, and performances by a few musicians, including a harpist.

I think my favorite experience on our trip was visiting the breathtaking Cliffs of Moher. These dramatic cliffs covered in green grass and wildflowers tower high above Atlantic providing a striking contrast to the deep blue waters.

The skies were a little cloudy but we had great visibility and no rain. The magnificent cliffs were used as a filming location for The Princess Bride and Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince.

The cliffs run for approximately 5 lovely miles along the ocean and their height ranges between 390 and 702 feet. There’s a paved trail between several viewing platforms that is accessible.

The trail continues as the Coastal Walk, via a narrow dirt path in both directions towards the town of Doolin heading north or Liscannor heading south. From end-to-end the Coastal Trail is approximately 12 miles, and hiking it is definitely on my bucket list.

With that our journey across southern and central Ireland was coming to an end. Stay tuned for my final post covering our adventures on the Emerald Isle as we headed up towards Galway, Sligo, and into the north.

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