An Unusual Blarney Castle Adventure

A Short Story

Blarney Castle Caution

If you are not up the the challenge of climbing six stories of steep stairs – don’t start the tour…

I think that one of those requirements for first-time visitors to Ireland is visit Blarney Castle. It was way up on our list of must see.

When you tour Blarney Castle the first thing you are confronted with is a six story, narrow spiral staircase. Everything is rough stone and there isn’t enough room on the stairs for more than a single file line. Someone getting past another in line would be a serious challenge. In touring the castle and getting up to the rock of eloquence (better known as the Blarney Stone) you must ascend on one staircase and descend on another equally narrow staircase. While on the ascent there are a couple of side rooms attached to the stairwell there is no way out until you climb the full six stories. At the top you walk over to the Blarney Stone and afterwords cross over to the other corner and start down the second staircase.

Before you enter the actual castle itself there is an attendant that clearly explains the issues with the spiral staircase and that if you don’t think you are up to the climb you shouldn’t continue.

On our visit last year as we entered the grounds we became aware of a couple in the group that stood out. He was, it turned out, in his 90’s and walked with a Hurrycane. It’s that foldable walking cane with the hand grip at the top and the four footed base as seen on TV. As we entered the castle the elderly gentleman was ahead of us with about six people between us and him in line. Just ten feet inside we were at the foot of that spiral staircase. At that point we commented to ourselves that we were impressed with his courage if not his judgement.

To his credit he made it up almost three stories before he couldn’t take another step. At that point the people below on the stairs couldn’t do anything to help because we were stuck in a single file. There was a lot of discussion up and down the line and eventually the line above him managed to get into an alcove and one gentlemen came back to him. With his wife behind him and help from the man above they managed to help him crawl up a number of steps to that alcove. After that the line started moving up again – there was no other choice. There was no way we were going to get a line three stories up into the castle to back up. When we got to the top of the castle several people explained to the attendants helping people kiss the stone* about the gentleman’s problem.

Maybe Blarney Castle has experienced this problem before but the logistics of stopping the line, getting help to him and than getting him down three flights of steep, narrow, spiral stairs does seem like a daunting task. That doesn’t even take into consideration the tour buses that are on a schedule and have significant distances to travel.

I’m sure there are a number of morals in this adventure but I’ll leave them to the readers imagination.

*You lay on your back while the attendants hold you as you stick your head through an opening at the top of the castle, six stories above the ground while you kiss the stone protruding from the wall above you – try that on a wet and rainy day. Also there doesn’t seem to be any Purell in use and you start speculating about all those people ahead of you that day?

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A First Try at Seeing The Emerald Isle

Visiting Ireland On a Rainy Spring Trip

Our first visit to Ireland was this past spring. Most people rave about this lush, green island and we now understand why. I’m not sure if it’s the sense of place, the history or the Irish people but we will surely be back again. This trip we spent eight days traveling around Ireland with an agenda that included Cobh, Waterford, East Dunmore, Cork (including Blarney), Dublin and Belfast.

The Emerald Isle is divided into two parts; the Republic of Ireland in the south (actually about eighty percent of the island) with Northern Ireland in the northeast, which is a part of the United Kingdom. The Republic of Ireland is an independent nation and a member of the EU and uses the Euro. Northern Ireland because of Brexit uses the English Pound. It seems that Brexit created a new riff between the two Irelands and could create new tension going forward. Most of the towns and cities are located along the east coast with high cliffs facing out into the Atlantic on the west coast.

Cobh, The Seaport of Cork

 

Before visiting Cobh we inquired about the weather. The response was “it’s a beautiful day here with just a light rain and a high of 46°”. Welcome to the Emerald Isle.

Because of the rainy weather we spent the first day in Cobh, which is the seaport that serves Cork. It’s a picturesque town with many streets that seem to be running up hills at about forty-five degrees. The principle business seems to be celebrating the fact that the Titanic made its last port of call here. There’s the Titanic Pub, the Titanic Museum and gift shop and memorials to many of the one hundred and thirty passengers that boarded the Titanic here just before it steamed into the Atlantic and history. One pub claimed that several Titanic passengers had their last pint ashore in their pub before sailing (that would be one hundred six years ago) and who can refute that?

 

A monument to a local celebrity is on the pier in front of the visitors center. It is of Annie Moore who is confirmed as the first Irish immigrant to the United States that arrived at Ellis Island. The statue shows her and two younger brothers on the pier as if they are ready to set off on their new life in America.

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The city also has the gorgeous St. Colman’s Cathedral which was started in 1867 but not finished for almost fifty years. The cathedral tower contains the largest carillon in Europe with forty-nine bells. The bells strike on the hour and at fifteen minute intervals and plays a longer program for Sunday Mass and on special events.

Cobh is the end of a train line with easy access to Cork for only a couple of Euros with trains leaving about every twenty minutes. The trip takes less than a half hour with continuing service on to Blarney just a few minutes farther away.

All in all it was a great first Irish day and I realized that to make English a really beautiful language it needs to be spoken with an Irish accent.

East Dunmore, A Seaside Village

This Irish fishing village isn’t far from Waterford and is a quant seaside resort town with a number of bed and breakfasts and upscale hotels. We visited on a Saturday and there seemed to be a surprising number of people in town and at the beach considering there was still a chill in the air. We spent the day walking the coastal trail and visiting the galleries and craft shops.

A Day Trip Out of Belfast

The Giants Causeway

Up on the North coast of Northern Ireland is a geological World Heritage Site named The Giants Causeway. It was created when volcanic magma cooled on the surface millions of years ago and looks much like someone constructed it. It is composed of thousands of basalt hexagonal columns standing in clusters at various heights along the edge of the sea.

When we got to the site the weather was a balmy 42° and clouds were gathering quickly. From the visitors center down to the shore is a good steep walk and while there is a shuttle bus, on a busy day the wait in line for the ride is probably longer than the walk – so off we hiked. Once we got to the bottom it started a light rain with wind blowing at 40 or 50 mph. The temperature also seemed to plummet and when climbing back up I swear there was sleet stinging my face. At one point the wind got inside my hood and it seemed it lifted me off my feet.

 

Once we reached the top we sought refuge in the bar of the Causeway Inn. It was a cozy place and much less congested than the other options. We all had coffee and scones and spent a long time thawing out. Sitting next to us was an Irish family and we got to talking. Asking if they had hiked down yet they replied “No, we live here. We’re staying here keeping cozy while our guests freeze their noses off.” I couldn’t agree more. While it is an amazing place and we would recommend a visit, if we had the option of waiting for a warm and sunny day?!

One of the biggest issues to a planned itinerary with a limited amount of time is you don’t get to change much and you are stuck with the weather that fate deals you. 

DSCN4986Ruins of Dunluce Castle near The Giants Causeway

It would also seem that this area is also used in a number of Game of Thrones episodes. We are beginning to think that we are either just lucky to keep running into GOT sights or perhaps they film just about everywhere?

A Wet Day In Blarney

Blarney Castle

When you have a limited number of days to visit a country you just keep going, even when the weather turns foul. Such was the case when we traveled to Blarney Castle. Not so much cold but a persistent on and off drizzle. I’m still not sure what brought us to pick Blarney over a dozen other famous Irish castles but I think it was the name recognition more than anything. The bonus in picking Blarney was also going to kiss the Blarney Stone but I was told that the last thing I needed was to increase my “gift of gab”.

Kissing the stone

Blarney Castle is a medieval stronghold in the town of Blarney, near Cork, Ireland. The keep was built by the MacCarthy of Muskerry dynasty in 1446. The castle is now a partial ruin with some accessible rooms and battlements. At the top of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone.

The entrance to the property is well laid out and there is a nice stream flowing through the estate. The gardens surrounding the property are worth a visit provided the weather is accommodating and there are also a number of out buildings and exhibits.

The grand hall

The castle itself stands about ninety feet tall with the interior mostly gutted. Upon entering the castle you find yourself standing in the cellar and looking up through the grand hall with its floor completely missing. You can see the stone supports that used to hold the floor just below the halls fireplace with remains of the two story vaulted ceiling above that

Getting to the top of the castle where the Stone of Eloquence is located is a climb up a narrow stone spiral staircase with only enough room for one person at a time to ascend. Before you start your climb they stress that it is a one-way climb (descent is by another narrow staircase) and once you start you cannot back down, so make sure you are up to the climb.

 

 

The castle top

As we ascended there were a number of small chambers off the stairs as well as defensive slits for fighting off attackers. Once we reached the top there was a pretty steady rain falling but people were still laying on their backs to stick their faces out to kiss the stone. By that time I wasn’t keen on going through with kissing the stone and had concerns that I didn’t have enough sanitizer with me considering the number of people that preceded us.

Once back down and wet we headed off to find a pub and an Irish Coffee. In the center of the town we found the Muskerry Arms – cozy, friendly and makers of great Irish Coffees.

Besides the castle the village of Blarney was home to the Blarney Woollen Mills built in 1823. In its day it was known for spinning and weaving wool. The mill closed in 1973 after which it was re-opened as an Irish heritage shop.

 

 

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Dublin Gardens in the Spring

For several days this May we visited a number of gardens while in Dublin, Ireland. The weather was mostly good with one morning of rain when we headed out for the National Botanic Gardens. By the time we reached the gardens the rain had lifted.

The National Botanic Gardens – This is a really beautiful garden with a number of greenhouses matching several environments. There were greenhouses dedicated to orchids, another to tropical plants and another to desert flora. The outside gardens cover a number of acres and feature several different styles. Admission is free, there is a restaurant and gift shop as well as a number of special programs including lectures and concerts. If you have time while in Dublin do yourself a favor and go see this garden.

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National Botanic Gardens
Glasnevin Cemetery

Backed up to the Botanic Gardens is Glasnevin Cemetery and Glasnevin Cemetery Museum. The museum’s web site describes it as “the guardian and storyteller for over 1.5 million people. From the ordinary to the truly extraordinary, these people helped shape the Ireland of today. We want to share their stories and times with you through tours of the cemetery, a visit to the museum or through a genealogy search for your family history”. While in the neighborhood stop in at the well known Gravediggers Pub for a pint.

St. Stephen’s Green
St. Stephen’s Green
St. Stephen’s Green

St. Stephen’s Green is located in the heart of Dublin and is a focus in the area, and provides an oasis of green in the middle of this busy city. The Dublin Public Works web site describes this garden as “four centuries of history that are eventful and complex, involving such important figures as Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun, and Countess Constance Markievicz. The park itself hosts a large number of important sculptural monuments to Irish history. Many species of birds and plants also call the park their home. Public facilities at St Stephen’s Green Park include a playground and a garden for the visually impaired”.

Blessington Street Park
Blessington Street Park

Half way from the River Liffey to the National Botanic Gardens we stopped at the Blessington Street Park or “The Basin” and what a find. Located near the intersection of Royal Canal Bank and Primrose Avenue this is a beautiful and well kept pocket park surrounding a lake. After walking thru this park we thought how lucky the neighbors are to live next to this gem.

Blessington Street Park

 

The Port of Dunmore East, Ireland

Dunmore East is the port that serves the city of Waterford primarily for cruise ships. It’s a quant seaside village with a few galleries, gift shops and restaurants and some very nice walking trails along the shore. It is a bit isolated however and transportation options are few. It is also a tender port as there are no docks capable of handling cruise ships.

Transportation – Because of the distance and lack of available transportation this is a port where you should probably book tours thru the cruise ship, especially if you want to visit Waterford.. The trip into Waterford is about fifteen miles and some ships offer a shuttle service.

Money – Ireland (the Republic) uses the Euro and generally do not accept the British Pound. Northern Ireland is part of the United Kingdom and uses the Pound.

Attractions Nearby – Other than the atmosphere of a small seaside resort village most of the points of interest are to be found in Waterford. They include:

The House of Waterford Crystal with its tours, restaurant, and retail store and the Medieval Museum. The museum includes a number of artifacts from the medieval period along with remains of some period buildings and the city wall.

Pub Hopping in Dublin

The Temple Bar Pub

Temple Bar in Dublin is famous. Many people mistakenly think it actually is a bar but it’s not. In the seventeenth century a famous Dubliner, Sir William Temple  was the provost of Trinity College. Sir Temple owned property along the river. In the river in front of his land was a sand bar and around that time a breakwater was built at the mouth of the river. That resulted in the sand bar growing and as it filled it became part of the real estate of the city. Locals began to refer to this land as “Temple Bar” and the districts name survives today.

Live music at the Temple Bar Pub

The Temple Bar neighborhood today is an area famous for its nightlife and has a number of pubs and bars. In 1840 an establishment opened named Temple Bar Pub and today it is still a popular institution. It features good food, libations and live music. Every new visitor to Dublin should put a stop at the Temple Bar Pub on their list of destinations. From early in the day to late at night it is full of energy, serves good, moderately priced fair and features live Irish music.

Dining room at The Bank

Dublin has a reputation for good food and we lean strongly toward pub fare. Corned beef sandwiches, fish n’ chips, Oysters & Guinness, Irish stew to name a few. During our recent visit we took advantage of a few and were pleased with them all.

The Bank Bar and Restaurant opened in 2003 and located on College Green next door to H&M in the heart of Dublin. The name comes from the building originally being a bank and it still has its original character with lots of brass railings, tiles, and ornate ceilings. It offers primarily a pub menu and features a live piano player. We give it high marks.

Murrays Pub located on O’Connell Street just north of the Spire. This pub has a good reputation for food and features live music and Irish dancers in the evening. It had a welcoming comfortable feeling and a good Irish Coffee which was just the thing on a wet afternoon.

The Grand Central Cafe

Grand Central Café Bar is also on O’Connell Street just south of the Spire. Located in a historic building that was shelled during “The Rising”, it offers a large collection of local beers and cocktails and an extensive menu of dishes, prepared in front of you in an open plan kitchen. It features music and dancing in the evening. Good food and service at reasonable prices.

Directly across the street from the Ha’penny Bridge on the south side is The Merchant’s Arch Bar which features live music and good bar snacks. We stopped in around happy hour time and joined in on a few Irish songs and a pint of Guinness. The atmosphere was lively and the staff was friendly and efficient.

The Merchant’s Arch Bar

 

For dessert and coffee look up The Wooden Whisk at 94 Talbot Street just a few blocks east of the Spire on O’Connell Street. It has a small deli and coffee shop vibe but after a few days of trying pastries and coffee around the city this was real find and the prices were more than fair.



And than there’s Starbucks. We have traveled the world in recent years and there is an American creation that has become as ubiquitous as McDonalds – Starbucks! From Australia to Thailand to Dublin you will probably walk past several Starbucks in a day. While we prefer local we also carry our Starbucks card with us when we travel, often because we know we can access free wifi. We’ve been told we can pay with funds on our card at any Starbucks worldwide but for some reason we have been skeptical. In Dublin we broke down (I needed to reload a Google map) and were surprised at the transaction. First it was instant. Second the receipt spelled out the transaction in Euros as well as the dollars used and the exchange rate was exactly what the mornings quote showed. Lastly it also showed the balance on the card in Euros as well as dollars.. Two big thumbs up for Starbucks.


 

The Port of Cobh, Ireland

Above: The City of Cobh, Ireland viewed from the pier. Visitors Center and train station in foreground. 

Central Cohb and the dock areaPort Location & Facilities – Cruise ships will normally dock right in town only steps from shops and restaurants and immediately next to the rail station. There is no cruise ship terminal for Cobh so ships have to make use of boarding ramps. For people with walking issues and wheelchairs it can be difficult.

Cohb waterfront

City Character – Cobh is a picturesque city centered on its waterfront. It features a beautiful Cathedral, nice shops, restaurants and pubs and The Titanic Museum.

Frequent train service to Cork

Nearby Trips – Cobh is the port servicing the City of Cork which is only a half hour away by train.

Cobh is also the nearest port to the town Blarney and its famous castle.  Blarney is only a short additional distance on the same train line from Cohb to Cork.

Docking in Cobh you can easily catch a train right at the main station next to pier. Depending on time of day trains run every hour or half hour (usually every half hour if a cruise ship is docked). At this writing a one-way ticket to Cork from Cohb costs about $6. A day trip to Blarney Castle can easily be arranged at a cost of less than $35 per person (plus admission at the castle).