Kilrush to Cobh.
After a reasonably successful experience booking our own lodging, we decided to try having the Irish Tourism Office do the work for us. In Kilrush, we found the local representative in a tiny one-room storefront with a nervous representative at his desk. Explaning our situation, he swung into action and got on the phone to book us a room. Unfortunately, the first set of numbers he dialled were all busy, which threw him off. He began a humorous cycle of dialling, getting the busy signal, hanging up, getting up out of his chair, apologizing, sitting down nervously, and dialling again. We quietly browsed the shelves of thcochkes watching the proceedings, trying to be as unmenacing as possible. Eventually, he made it through and we got a room booked in Cobh for the evening.
After a stop at the gorcery store for bread, Nutella, apples, water, and cheese, and a stopoff at the B&B to return the key I had left in my pocket, we got on the road and headed south on the N20.
On our way through the countryside, Jen spied a ruin in the middle of town that we stopped to take a look at. It turned out to be the Buttevant Friary, unmarked on our maps and invisible unless spied from the road. Outside, it was surrounded by a cemetery and backed by a dairy pasture. Inside, it was a quiet, peaceful shrine to the damp gravestones it contained. We stood and marveled at the scenery and shot pictures for a long while, then kept going. Late in the afternoon, we reached Blarney.
The first view of the castle from the grounds is magnificent; a long pathway over a wide stream leads up to the base of the castle, and continues up around the hill to the entrance. 7€ gets you on the long twisty line through the castle, up windy spiral staircases and to the roof, where a spectacular view of the surroundng fields and trees surrounds the building. On the way up to the front of the line, the queue is essentially standing over the machicolations (essentially, holes in the floor that extend out and overlook the outside wall, so you can throw rocks on the heads of the guys trying to bust into your house) and realizing that it’s a long way down. The Blarney Stone is inside one of these machicolations, so one has to sit down and lean out backwards over the abyss to reach it.
At first, as Jen and I climbed all four zillion steps, we were a little concerned that we’d be hanging our asses over the edge to kiss a damp rock by ourselves. (Based on our experience at the Cliffs of Moher, it was evident the Irish have a completely different viewpoint on public lands and liability issues: if this were America, there would be fifteen-foot high chainlink fencing around the entire site. That kind of hands-off laissez-faire is refreshing.) Thankfully, there’s a nice old Irish man there to make sure one doesn’t fall all ten stories onto the rocks below.
After fuflfilling the obligation of our heritage, we explored the rest of the tiny rooms of the castle and climbed back down.
Cork is one of the larger cities in Ireland, and as such, is more congested than the average town. Given that a major highway in Ireland proved to be a two-lane country road, driving through Cork was more like navigating a suburb of Baltimore. Crowded and confusing, but nowhere near the congestion of, say, D.C., or the insane speed of, say, the Taconic Parkway, or the utter confusion of Columbia, Maryland. For the most part, the Irish believe in helpful signage and reasonable traffic planning.
Cobh is a smaller seaside town, famous as the resting place for many of the casualties of the Lusitania disaster, and as the final port of call for the Titanic. It’s also got some of the smallest streets I’ve ever driven on: because it dates back to the beginning of time, there’s one lane for two cars. The houses are carved into the side of the cliffs, so finding a particular address is a challenge.
We stayed in an older B&B, a rowhouse under the giant cathedral in the center of town. Our room turned out to be a tidy, tiny third-floor attic room with a TV, shower, and two of the creakiest beds I’ve ever tried out. At least the view was spectacular. We got some dinner at a tiny cafe and fell asleep to an Irish crime drama starring a man with the best porn moustache I’ve seen since the Edge.
Tomorrow: Back through Cork…again!