From Cobh, we drive back north and through Cork again to get out into the Western countryside. Stopping off in the town of Kinsale, we explored the back streets and the restaurant district to see what the town offered. Based on looks alone, its reputation as the gourmet center of Ireland is well-deserved. There are foo-foo gourmand cafes, Indian, Chinese, and sushi restaurants, one-named vanity restaurants, and of course, a handful of pubs throughout. It’s got lots of little sidestreets with tiny shops and cafes tucked into back alleys, and it felt a little bit like Rome, which is a good thing. There is no first hand recommendation, though, because we weren’t hungry and didn’t eat anything. Sorry.
There are a bunch of historical sites to look at west of the city, starting with the Timoleague Friary on the coastline. Windy, twisty roads lead to a small inlet town with a huge ruin at the center. Jen and I explored the site for a good hour or two, after visiting what are arguably the wettest public restrooms in Ireland. (Taking a leak while watching water run freely beneath the soles of my sneakers wet. Yummy.) Timoleague is HUGE. Lots of rooms within rooms, filled with headstones. The possible creep factor was diminished by the sound of the grade school kids next door playing soccer at recess.
We had a light snack after exiting, and continued down the road to check into a hotel for the evening. YES, we wimped out on our third day. At this point, though, sleep was a rare and precious commodity, and we figured sleeping in a quiet hotel room was better than being in somebody’s spare bedroom.
After dealing with our bags, we jumped back in the car with a locally-supplied map and started hunting down things to see. First on the list was the Dromberg Stone Circle. Jen and I joked about Stonehenge, and how we were both expecting Druids to be burning fires and chanting, or bolts of lightning to shoot from the sky, or (my personal favorite) a circa 1974 Robert Plant singing The Immigrant Song while smoke blew through his leonine hair. (Then I joked that Jen would get struck by lightning in a Rock Star Pose and be surrounded by chanting Druids while singing The Immigrant Song. I would be filming all this like a music video.) In reality, it was a foggy circle of rocks in a swampy field; not much to look at. I suppose we should have known better when we saw the “Visitor’s Center”: and abandoned trailer surrounded by broken glass and weeds. “STONE CIRCLE” was painted roughly on a fencepost with an arrow pointing down the pathway. Robert Plant was nowhere in sight, and I didn’t see a single fucking Druid, just a German family who found it funny to climb on the rocks and take pictures. Still, it was cool, and meditative, at least.
Ahhh, Ahhh AAAAAAAAAAhhhh….. AAHH! Ahhh, Ahhh AAAAAAAAAAhhhh….. AAHH!
Next, we started hunting down castles in the area, beginning with Salem Castle. The maps all gave approximate directions with no instructions, so it was up to us to use the power of deduction to find them all. Along a narrrow, twisty road, we happened upon a sign, and followed the driveway up to a stable. A small Jack Russel/mutt mix came out to greet us, and we scratched his belly while we scoped the place out. It looked like somebody had built a house onto the side of the castle and then stopped before finishing everything, so it was kind of creepy. From what we could see, the owners were gone (A sign out front spoke of a B&B and guided tours) so we nosed around the driveway, said goodbye to Rover, and left quietly.
Next was Coppinger’s Court, another castle that appeared vaguely on the map. After a trip down a very bumpy farmer’s driveway and close encounter with a large black dog, we backtracked in the mud and found another one-lane road, finally getting close enough to the castle to take pictures. It sits in a farmer’s cow pasture, on marked private property, so we took pictures from the road and marveled at its size. It’s covered in bramble and vines, so it looks like it’s got a Dan Haggerty beard, and that makes it hard to photograph.
Pleased with our success, I turned the Opel around and headed back up the hill slowly. We were startled to see a herd of cows spill into the one-lane road in front of us and mill around, unconcerned by our presence. Soon, a farmer chased the last one onto the road, waved to us, and shooed them all up the road towards the barn. We followed and passed the last of them as they turned up a leafy driveway.
Next up was another landmark we couldn’t find (I can’t remember the name), and finally Castlefreke, a huge ruin east of town that showed up on all the local literature. Finding it proved easy enough, but huge signs erected around the grounds made it impossible to explore, as were the ruins of the local abbey. This was annoying, as all the pictures sort of led us to believe we could get in there and poke around. We contented ourselves with shooting some pictures of the gatehouse to the local manor home, now part of a cow pasture (and home to a very horny heifer), and headed back to the hotel for some dinner.
At the hotel bar, we met a barkeep named Stephen, who kept us entertained and answered all our initial questions about Ireland. (Housing/land is as expensive there as it is here. Budweiser and Coors are considered microbrews and are VERY popular in Ireland. Harp is sort of dying out and hard to find in the East. Beef is extremely expensive in Ireland, as are fresh vegetables.) He treated us to a new (to us) shooter, the Baby Guinness, which consists of Tia Maria topped with Bailey’s, and agreed that the fellow on keyboard serenading the lounge was “fookin’ awful”. We also met a fellow from here in Baltimore, who was attending a family reunion, and talked with him for an hour or so about the sights we hadn’t seen yet. One of the things we learned was that our plan to bypass the Ring of Kerry to see more historical sites was in error: several people told us The Ring was one of the highlights of any trip to Ireland. However, we were seeing some of the best of the non-touristy places in West Cork, which made us feel a little better.
Leaving our friend a worthy tip, we stumbled back upstairs and collapsed into bed, pleasantly squiffed.
Next: Rosscarbery to Lismore, or: Finally, some craic.