Blarney Castle and Cork Day Tour
For visitors to Ireland, one question outweighs the rest. “Do I kiss the Blarney Stone?” Leaning backwards over the edge of a 26 meter (85 foot) tower at Blarney Castle is asking a lot, especially when the goal is to kiss an old rock surely covered in hundreds of years of tourist slobber. Is the gift of gab really worth it? This is our debate as two of the other Extreme Ireland interns and I head out on our Blarney Castle and Cork tour.
Luckily, our argument is temporarily put to rest by our tour guide, Mac. A school principal in his other life, Mac provides a wonderful mix of history lessons and hilarious stories. As Mac teaches us about everything from ancient Neolithic passage tombs and Brehon Law to the Guinness family and Arctic explorers, we travel across County Kildare. We fly by the 16th century Tudor plantations, a horse racing course originally set up for British Calvary training, and hundreds and hundreds of cows. Mac claims that cows always face the same direction because they don’t like the wind in their faces. I’m skeptical, but we keep our eyes peeled and Mac isn’t proven wrong once all day.
At 9:30am we arrive at the Rock of Cashel. According to legend, this rock originated in the Devil’s Bit Mountain where St. Patrick drove Satan out of Ireland. While undoubtedly an impressive act, apparently it wasn’t enough to gain Patrick sainthood. Mac reveals that one of the world’s best known saints was never technically canonized by the Catholic Church. We wander around the abbey and admire the ancient stonework and carvings. The cemetery has plots dating from the early 1700s and from here we can see miles of fog dusted hills and fields.
As we head to our next destination, Mac tells us about the famous Cork accent and teaches us some of the local lingo. We arrive at Blarney Castle at 11:30am and spend the next two hours crawling through the caves at the foot of the keep, meandering through the gorgeous Poison Garden, and finally climbing to the very top of Blarney Castle to reach the stone. On our way up, we pass through the remains of bedrooms and great halls and look out windows that have seen centuries of change.
At the top of a dizzying winding staircase, we reach the roof and take in the incredible panoramic view while awaiting our turn at the Blarney Stone. My companions put their collective foot down and refuse to kiss the stone, but I jump in line. After all, how often do you get to take part in such a ridiculous tradition?
I don’t know how I thought the whole “Kiss the Blarney Stone” thing would work, but I definitely wasn’t expecting it to entail me laying on the ground and inching myself backwards over the ledge while a staff member hung on to me. This angle certainly gives me a new perspective on Blarney Castle as I spy the people wandering around the base of the castle far below me. I kiss the wrong stone before the staff member corrects me and lowers me even further over the ledge, so maybe that explains why I come away from the experience with my gab skills seemingly unaffected.
After enjoying lunch at the cafe near the stables, we climb back on the bus and are in Cork’s city centre by 2pm. Originally an island, Cork is a neat mix of hills and harbours. Mac leads us up to an old church where we use a songbook to play tunes like “Amazing Grace” on the steeple bells. Afterwards, I take a walk through the downtown. An “echo” rings through the streets as men call out the sale of Cork’s local paper, the Evening Echo. I also duck into the English Market, which is definitely worth a visit. A traditional indoor marketplace, it’s full of fresh fruits and vegetables and mouth-watering pastries.
At 4:15, we’re all back on the bus and headed home. A highlight of the day is still to come when Mac impresses us all with his renditions of classic Irish songs like “The Foggy Dew” and “The Town I Loved So Well.” By 7:30 we’re back in Dublin and I am officially checking kissing the Blarney Stone off of my to-do list!
Until next time!