Talk about a day of varied adventures and emotions! This day included everything from taking a train through the Irish countryside to the southeastern coast of Ireland to me kissing the Blarney stone to the shores of Cobh’ (pronounced Cove) where the Titantic and hundreds of other ships embarked for their trip to the new lands of the Americas. I will try to cover some of these grand adventures, but my pictures will probably tell the best story of all. A picture is worth a thousand words, after all, right?
May 20, 2015: My oldest son’s birthday and he was thousands of miles away in Chicagoland. As Alan and I passed the world-famous Guinness Brewery on the way to the train station early in the morning, I raised an imaginary glass of Guinness to my son in love and tribute for all the joy and love he has brought into my life. I can’t believe I have a son who is 31 years old with a son of his own. The years moved too quickly! The Guinness Brewery is not just a building, it is like a town within a town. Passing by it is really not an accurate description of it. Really it is more like you pass through a town of buildings of the brewery. You can take tours and get a free glass of Guinness at the end of the tour, but we didn’t have time to go.
As we arrived at the train station, wondering exactly where we were to go to meet our tour, I was delighted to find a kiosk with good, strong coffee and pastries too! I was feeling pretty hollow and the cup of coffee and perfect croissant I enjoyed did the trick! Fairly soon a man in a bright yellow slicker appeared and he was our tour guide. He was about 80 years old and has been doing tours all around Ireland ever since he retired from his “real” job many years before. He was like a little yellow-dressed leprechaun, darting from here to there and making sure everyone knew what to expect. He was also very relaxed. It was obvious he has been at this a long time and knew exactly how to help us enjoy the tour, but also to have time to breathe. I loved that.
First we made it to Cork and we transferred to a tour bus at that point. We took a ride through Cork with our guide sharing many important parts of history from that town and then we were at the Blarney Castle grounds. The emphasis is always on the Blarney Stone when you hear of Blarney Castle, but the entire compound is unbelievably beautiful and as you enter into the gardens, you feel like you’ve entered an enchanted garden. It is that magical. I felt like a little girl who had just been dropped into her favorite Disney movie as the princess heroine who was dazzled by all she saw. These are the first photos I made of the gardens. These flowers are show stoppers! I was so entranced by them, that I turned down coffee and food so I’d have time to drink in the pure beauty of these flowers.
As we continued on the path to Blarney Castle, we encountered this young man playing the old-fashioned lyric harp of Irish legend. You find the Irish lyre everywhere, even on their Euros! It has become the symbol of Ireland. This young man was very, very good playing this old instrument. It all added to the mysterious, almost magical experience of the castle.
We continued walking and would stop every once in a while just to gaze upon the beauty of the Blarney Castle grounds. You know how there are places in the world where you suddenly think that somehow you’ve entered onto holy ground, amidst a sacred place. Blarney Castle gives you that feeling in spades!
I mean, come on! Does that not look like a place where a leprechaun or fairy could pop up at any moment? As we neared the castle I suddenly heard an orchestra playing, of all thing, “Night on Bald Mountain,” which is a piece my orchestra played in high school. I confirmed with Alan that there was indeed music coming from somewhere so I knew I hadn’t made up the exciting, highly-skilled orchestra music.
As we reached the castle, the first thing we saw after crossing the algae covered moat was this, the dungeon of the castle and let me tell you; you never want to be in a true medieval dungeon! They’re tiny, dark, dank and slippery with water.
As we passed beyond the dungeon and the beautiful lone tower, we saw the orchestra that was playing. They finished playing their pieces and were putting away their instruments. We proceeded to the entrance of the actual castle, bought our tickets to see the Blarney stone and then started up, up deep to the inside of the castle. Two observations on the interior of the castle: 1) Those people were tiny in that day and age or there is no way they could have fit into some of those rooms! 2) The walls were of such thick stone that the temperature inside the castle was at least 5-10 degrees cooler than it was outside!
The way up to the Blarney Stone is a very narrow, stone spiral staircase. The steps are small and shallow, the passageway narrow and without modern lighting, would be very dark indeed. Occasionally one came upon an opening, however, and you could see this bucolic scene below.
I’ve always wanted to say I gazed upon a bucolic scene, but let’s be honest. You don’t see things like this in the United States. At least the parts that I have seen and traveled through. We made friends on the narrow journey to the top of the castle. They were from Minnesota and Canada and had obviously known each other for decades. The gentleman directly in front of me was hilarious! He kept cracking jokes and I kept laughing, my laughter echoing eerily through the castle tower staircase.
The Blarney Stone is actually a bit of a misleading. It isn’t what I imagined at all and the acrobats required to kiss it are quite the challenge! You have to lie down, tilt your head back over a narrow ridge and then kiss the stone within the wall of Blarney Castle. It looks terrifying, but is really quite safe as they have someone there to hold onto you as you kiss the stone. I, of course, had to kiss the famous stone that is supposed to confer upon the kisser magical eloquence or as stated in a poem seen along the wall, “which to the tongue imparts that softening tone.” I thought softening of my tone would definitely be a bonus so I went for it!
It lasted but a moment, but WOW!! A dizzying moment indeed!
After we descended down a backstair even more narrow and dark than the first, we were out in the bright sunshine and walked around the grounds to the market square that surrounds the castle. We found a very quiet pub to eat a quick bite and then went shopping at the famous Old Wool Factory. They’ve turned the old factory into a mall of sorts. Inside the first part are some of the finest and most beautiful woolen items I’ve ever seen, made from Irish wool taken from all the sheep we saw in the countryside along the way. Every item I saw, I wanted to buy and take home to wear forever, but the cost was a bit prohibitive for that! Finely woven and knitted capes, coats, scarves, shawls and jumpers (sweaters) come at a very high penny! Alan and I went our separate ways inside the mall and when we met outside he reverently handed me a little gift. I unwrapped it and it was nothing but a little jar with a clamp sealable top. I was mystified as to why he bought such a simple thing when there was a Waterford crystal outlet inside the mall. Well! Alan knew that one of the things I wanted to do while in Ireland was to get a wee bit of Irish soil to take home and cherish forever. (I have an eccentric habit of taking a bit of soil or stones from places we visit that are very meaningful and soulful to me.) He suggested we get some soil from right there, on the Blarney Castle grounds! I was worried we might be caught and arrested for such a heinous crime, but we made our way to the interior area of the grounds and Alan actually dug up some of the dark, loamy soil and put it in the jar for me. It is now gracing my display shelf of special soils at home. After that, Alan bought me a beautiful pink crystal heart at the Waterford Crystal outlet and I have to admit. It is hard to know which is more beautiful and appreciated; the dark loamy soil inside a simple jar or the crystal heart. Both are evidence, to me at least, that my husband not only understands me, but loves me to distraction.
My soil shelf at home. On the left is my arrangement of red sand from Zion National Park taken on my and Alan’s 15th wedding anniversary, topped by white sand from White Sands National Park collected by my father for me when I was 8 years old. On the right is the dark loamy soil from Ireland. On the far right is an example of the pink marble found all over Colorado.
Alan’s crystal heart, which to me represents his beautiful heart, given to me. (I’m such a mushy romantic, aren’t I?)
I took pictures of beautiful trees while Alan stole some soil for me. 🙂
This is a yew tree and is seen all over Ireland. I had never seen one before.
Well, I’ve covered enough ground for today I think, so I will stop here for now. In my next chapter, I will tell the story of Cobh, where millions of our Irish ancestors embarked for America!
May you have a beautiful day of your own adventures today!