Many thanks to Kaaren for tolerating my indecision and just putting together a magnificent itinerary and for showing me so much beauty! (And, of course, big thanks to Mom and Dad for sending me on this adventure!)
On the morning of Sunday, May 13 (Mother's Day and my Uncle Matt's birthday), my parents and Gram drove me up to the Pittsburgh airport for my first solo international journey. After an overnight flight spent dozing in the window seat of the last row of the plane, I caught my first glimpse of Ireland:
While I promise not to run this post through with long, unnecessary descriptions of food (and pictures of said food), I must say from the outset that the food was delicious, especially the brown bread and butter. Kaaren and I decided that next time, I ought to put together a rating card with categories for texture, flavor, moistness, etc., so that I can objectively identify my favorite brown bread in Ireland. For the record, I think Chez Pierre, a tiny and charming French restaurant in Kilkenny, has my favorite brown bread and also a delicious vegetable tartine with goat cheese. Yum! Okay, onward!
First up, a trip to the Rock of Cashel and the purchase of my OPW (Office of Public Works) Card, which would afford me admission to most of the historical sites on our itinerary.
|At just 21 euro, this card is worth it if you're visiting any number of historical sites.|
It doesn't cover Blarney Castle, just FYI.
|Wide shot of the site, including the round tower. Renovations necessitate the presence of the scaffolding over Cormac's Chapel. Moisture has caused damage to the roof, which is being restored.|
|Hugging the replica of St. Patrick's Cross|
|St. Patrick's Cross|
|Guard dog at Abbey House Bed & Breakfast|
We toured St. Canice's Cathedral:
I climbed to the top of the tower at the right of that photograph above. It's over 100 feet tall, and there are eleven ladders to the top. My legs wobbled, but the climb was worth it for the view:
|View from the top of the round tower at St. Canice's Cathedral|
|The marks that look like scratches on the right side of the stone are Ogham.|
In the morning, we took a guided tour of Jerpoint Abbey:
|This is a pig, and I don't remember why.|
It looks like it has a flower in its ear.
I took a boatload of pictures at Jerpoint Abbey and even had to change my camera batteries. There were so many enchanting architectural details and fascinating carvings. Since I can't resist sharing them, here are some more. These are carvings on tombs. Some of them are apostles, and others are saints, but I don't remember which:
This last carving depicts St. Christopher, the patron saint of travelers:
|St. Christopher is said to be carrying child Jesus across a river.|
After lunch at the Blackberry Cafe in Thomastown, where we learned about the Bridge Pottery (whose work provides the dinnerware at the cafe), we ventured to Burnchurch to meet one of the artists . . . and to purchase some pottery. I resisted the inclination to purchase a pig (and would later have to resist this inclination again and again because pigs are very popular in pottery), but I did find a lovely utensil holder that now adorns my mother's kitchen counter.
Then, at last, we were on our way to Cork, where Kaaren lives and where we would spend the next week. After dinner at home, we drove to Douglas's South County Bar to see Torcan, a band, and to meet some of Kaaren's school friends. I had my first glass of Bulmer's cider. Yum!
We took a day to be lazy: shopping, trying on dresses at Debenham's, posting the first batch of cards, and ending the day with an episode of Castle. The next day brought a trip to Charlesfort (OPW site) and my first encounter with Kaaren's friend Liam, a cantankerous but charming musician. I enjoyed exploring the fort and reading the history (none of which I retained) and taking pictures of the harbor and the sea beyond:
|Charlesfort, a military base.|
|A view from Charlesfort.|
|A view during our driving tour with Liam.|
We spent a whole day in Blarney, visiting the castle and grounds, seeing Blarney House (but not touring it), and wandering Blarney Woolen Mill for hours. First, the castle:
|At the top of the castle, in line with the windows, there's a bit of light spilling through.|
There you kiss the Blarney Stone by hanging backward over the opening.
It's safe, though: guarded by iron bars.
To get to the top, you climb a narrow spiral staircase where the ceiling is so low that sometimes I even had to duck a little. All the way up, there are handrails or rope as a safeguard against falling. The staircases are designed to trip up invaders so the steps are different heights. Plus, because the castle is a ruin and exposed in places to the elements and because so many thousands of people are traipsing up these stairs all the time, the steps are rather worn down and even a bit slippery. At various points, you can peek through arrow slits for spectacular views of the grounds:
|A view from the spiral stairs on the way up to the top of Blarney Castle.|
At the top, you can kiss the Blarney Stone, which I was ordered to do by my Gram. I did it. Here's the proof:
Then, there was shopping. Blarney Woolen Mill is a three-story shopping complex. Many gifts were purchased there, as were many postcards, but simply wandering around the shop was the best part.
In the morning, we drove to Ardmore and saw a round tower and the sea. We took a walk along the sea, staying clear of the sand and seaweed, and had lunch at White Horses.
|The round tower at Ardmore with a glimpse of the sea.|
|The sea at Ardmore.|
I hope you'll indulge me a food picture because this little fruit appetizer from White Horses is too cute not to share:
|The inside was filled with cantaloupe, kiwi, strawberries, grapes, etc.|
The next day, we had a driving tour of Cork City, narrated by Liam. We saw Everyman Palace Theatre, St. Finbar's Cathedral, the madhouse, and the longest and shortest roads in Ireland (according to Liam), among other sights.
|The old madhouse. Some of it has been renovated and made into apartments.|
Few Irish will live there because of its sad history.
To conclude my week in Cork, we enjoyed a gig by Liam and Ger, collectively known as Trad Routes, at An Seanachai in Kinsale. Some of the lyrics are a little naughty but only for a moment.
Dave, the barman at An Seanachai, said I was the loveliest girl in all Ireland. I won the band's CD, and they let me have it even though they accused me of cheating. (Kaaren told me the answer to the question that won me the prize.) Liam treated me to a pint of Bulmer's cider, and I was highly entertaining to a group of American tourists who thought I was part of the gig.
The next day, we drove to Killarney and had a tour of the aforementioned Ross Castle of the O'Donoghue clan.
|Ross Castle, built by the O'Donoghue clan!|
We ate dinner at Kate Kearney's Cottage and enjoyed some accordion music and a bit of Irish dancing before calling it a day. In the morning, we toured Muckross House and gardens.
After Muckross House, we drove to the Dingle Peninsula, which is a gaeltacht, a community officially dedicated to preserving the Irish language, both written and spoken. We had dinner at Ashe's (twice!) in Dingle town. I saw beehive huts and the sea.
|The sea from the Dingle peninsula|
We visited the Blasket Islands museum, which depicts the many efforts made at documenting life and language on the islands. It's a fascinating history, and I'd highly recommend the museum.
|The lawn at Louis Mulcahy Pottery|
For our last hurrah, we drove to Shannon for the banquet at Bunratty Castle. En route, we stopped at Annascaul Pottery. The banquet provided a delightful conclusion to my Irish adventure, complete with a delicious meal and superb entertainment:
|Bunratty Castle staff and performers|
Along the way, there were other potteries and charming B&Bs: Coolavokig Pottery (which uses a wood-fired kiln and which also had cute little pigs), Penny's Pottery (where everything was pastel shades of blue and green), Holly Grove B&B (Killarney), and Cill Bhreac House (Dingle, County Kerry).
Early in the morning, I caught a flight home, toting a bag full of pottery and a brain full of memories. I look forward to returning to Ireland, next time with my mother and Gram. Until then, here's a sheep, representative of the fields full of them that run through my every thought of Ireland.