My dad and my stepmother came over to visit me a couple weeks ago, and in that time I did more travelling of Ireland than I managed for the entire seven months before that. We did three day trips: One to the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, and Cork; one to the Wicklow Mountains and Glendalough; and one to Belfast and the Giants’ Causway. All of the trips were great, but I especially enjoyed first and the last. I’ll do a post for Northern Ireland later, but for now, I want to talk about Cashel, Blarney and Cork.
We got to the Rock of Cashel, also known as Carraig Phádraig (or St. Patrick’s Rock) pretty early in the morning, and our tour group had it pretty much all to ourselves. The Rock, which is a plateau in Tipperary and the historic seat of the Kings of Munster, is supposedly also the site at which St. Patrick converted the King of Munster to Christianity in the 5th century. The Rock and the fortress atop it was donated to the Catholic Church in the 12th century by the then-king, Muirchertach Ua Briain. The buildings currently on the site were built at different times throughout history: the round tower (c. 1100), Cormac’s Chapel (1134), and the Cathedral (1270). The Cathedral’s main was purposely removed in 1749 due to concerns about it collapsing from disrepair. When we visited, additional renovation work was being done of some parts of the Cathedral and we didn’t have access to all of it.
Cashel is incredible. It was very windy and a little chilly when we got there, and it gave the site a very haunted, ethereal aura which was almost tangible. There were crows and ravens and pigeons flying all around us, tucking themselves neatly into holes in the side of the buildings that look almost purpose-made for nests. Standing in the graveyard and looking out over the fields on Tipperary, it’s not at all hard to imagine why the High Kings of Munster chose Cashel.
After staying at Cashel for a little over forty minutes, we then went on to Blarney Castle. And if I have to say one thing about Blarney it would be this: Blarney is magical. Absolutely magical, people. It’s like Pan’s Labyrinth and any fairy tale that ever took place in the woods or in a castle. I’m hardly even kidding when I say I was somewhat expecting faeries to pop out from behind bushes or out of trees. The castle itself — owned and cared for by a private family, who also own the grounds — is somewhat decrepit in the sense that most ancient castles are, but it’s in pretty good repair for the fact that millions of people have worn the stairs smooth on their way to that most Irish of pilgrimage sites: the Blarney Stone.
For those of you who don’t know, the Blarney Stone is not a bit of rock sitting in the grass. Nor is it freestanding or on the ground in any sense. No. The Blarney Stone is a wedge of limestone which is embedded in the topmost battlements of Blarney Castle, and the only way to actually kiss the thing is to lie down, bend over the edge (backwards, mind you) and then kiss it upside down. There is a metal frame that you hold onto to steady yourself, and further grating below so that you can’t actually fall off the castle, plus a very helpful older gentleman who gets you into position and helps you to get it over with (all modern facilities — in days of yore, it would just be two guys holding the third person’s legs and dangling them over the outside of the castle. Personally, I don’t see how the gift of eloquence is worth the risk of being dropped on your head, but whatever.) Due to my crippling fear of heights (I had had enough going up that high already) and general confidence in my long-windedness, I didn’t actually kiss it, but I was bullied into sitting down and having my photo taken with the assistant, as you can see below. My dad and stepmother both kissed it, however. Reports on the effectiveness of supposed “gift of gab” are still to be issued.
Personally, I was the most impressed with the grounds. This is where the Pan’s Labyrinth stuff comes in. I mean, seriously. It’s like being dropped into a magical forest from a Grimm Brothers story, minus the talking cutlery and animals. The gardens are impeccably cultured and the trees are massive. In some places there are giant, moss covered boulders shaded by enormous, low hanging tree branches… it’s incredibly hard to describe. I wish the pictures I have of it were better, but due to my making an idiot of myself and forgetting my camera, I only have the pictures which my father sent to me from his camera. They barely begin to do it justice. I will say, though, Blarney Castle’s virtual tour does a pretty good job.
Long story short: go to Blarney if it’s the only thing in Ireland you do.
We also went to Cork. I don’t have any pictures of Cork, since my father didn’t send me any, but I liked it well enough. It’s the second biggest city in Ireland after Dublin, with a population of something like 300,000 people. We only had about an hour there, so we stuck to the high street and the area around the river (fun fact: most of the city of Cork is on an island). The best part about Cork was the English market, which was a bustling food market which reminded all of us of Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia. There was rather too much raw and strange meet on display for my vegetarian tastes, but the atmosphere was worth the trip inside, alone. While I don’t think I’d recommend Cork as a trip of its own, if you’re going out to Blarney or any of the other County Cork or southern County Wexford attractions, Cork might be a nice place to spend a few hours, or to stay in overnight.
*I will say: we had superb weather all week. Absolutely amazing. It was in the 50s to 60s F and sunny the whole time. My dad got a sunburn. I mean, come on. I would not expect that everyone will hit Cashel and Blarney in the best of weather conditions, but I’m sure they’re amazing otherwise as well.
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<p><span style="color: rgb(29, 29, 29); font-family: Arial, Verdana, sans-serif; font-size: 12px; line-height: normal; background-color: rgb(237, 237, 237);">Hannah Vose is a University of Rochester junior, majoring in English with an interest in literary translation studies. When not burying her nose in whichever book has most recently been plucked from atop the dangerously tall pile on her desk, she can be found obsessively learning new languages, squinting through her (very stylish, thank you!) bifocals at someone else's writing in her job as a Writing Fellow, drinking stupid amounts of tea, squinting through her bifocals at her own writing in her job as a scathing self-critic, or dreaming of living somewhere which gets even less sun than Rochester. Born in England but having lived most of her life in Endicott, New York, she has traveled back to the Land of Her People twice and visited Dublin once on the way over. She considered applying to Trinity College as an international student, but was deterred by tuition costs (yikes!) so she's absolutely 100% thrilled to be living in Dublin and taking classes at Trinity for an entire year (and only about 34% of that is because she might get to take a class on Patrick McCabe -- will it happen? Stay tuned!)</span></p>