Three Castles and a Kiss

May 2, 2009 - 12:51 pm No Comments

Up early once again. We had a big day ahead of us, and we couldn’t let the pouring rain slow us down.

We started with an early morning drive around Kilkenny, stopping first at St. Canice’s Church, which wasn’t even open yet. I snapped a few photos outside of it before we went to Kilkenny Castle. Pretty cool from the outside but pretty bland on the inside. I almost didn’t mind that they didn’t allow photography in there.

St. Canice's Cathedral

Kilkenny Castle

Kilkenny Castle

The weather cleared up nicely for our drive to Cashel. Stef wanted to give driving in Ireland a shot, so we switched places. She drove for about 45 seconds before we nearly clipped a tractor and simultaneously missed a head-on collision. I screamed like a little girl, and we switched places again.

Meadow in Kilkenny County

Irish Cows: Distrustful

The Rock of Cashel is a very old and very picturesque castle sitting on top of a rocky hill. Pretty cool place. We walked around a bit, snapped some photos, and then stopped for lunch in Cashel.

Rock of Cashel

Hall of the Vicars Choral

Inside the Cathedral

Doorway to Ireland

Doorways and Arches

Outside Cormac's Chapel

It was in the pub in Cashel where I first encountered the mysteriously named “brown sauce.” Along with ketchup and vinegar, there were little packets of it in a bowl on the table. I questioned our waitress as to its flavor and composition, but all she could tell me was that it was good. Squeezing it onto my plate, it was the color and thickness of BBQ sauce. I dabbed a French fry into it and took a bite. To my surprise, it tasted quite floral, like the perfume of a 14-year-old girl, quite the opposite of what I expected it to taste like. Subsequent research reveals “brown sauce” to be a malt vinegar base blended with fruit and spices popular in the UK. After lunch, we hit the road again.

The Road Through Cashel

It’s amazing how green everything is. Velvety green grass, some of it silky and long and some of it smooth as a putting green, covers the whole country. It seems that the gentle sunshine and mushy ground is the perfect recipe for it. I haven’t seen a single dead blade of grass in Ireland yet.

Every small town we passed through was composed of tightly packed shops and pubs along the main road through town and a church. And all of them shared a very distinctive smell: green freshness combined with the sharp, smoky smell of bacon. And there’s also a metallic, almost rusty element to it. All together, it smells like “oldness.” It’s how I imagine all of these towns smelled in medieval times. Stef and I can’t figure it out, but it’s always there when we drive into a town and disappears when we drive out.

On the radio, announcers went on and on about the upcoming Heineken Cup rugby match between Munster and Leinster. The local stations were all about Munster, reigning champions the huge favorite. (Munster lost.) Then they’d go on about the swine flu and about how some guy on the east coast suspected of having it has been locked inside his house. Then they’d go back to rugby. Music stations played a crazy variety, from classical to rap to top 40. One of the stations had hosts who were disconcertingly American.

Back roads would lead us to numbered “N” roads, small expressways that cars share with enormous tractors. Slower Irish drivers courteously stay in the slow lane, so the driving is pretty quick. Just before Blarney, we hopped on our only “M” road, which is about the closest thing you’ll find to a superhighway in Ireland. With our GPS, it was all a piece of cake.

Our goal for the day was to get to Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone before it closed, and we got there with plenty of time to spare. Lots of space in the tiny parking lot and no line to get in. How is one of the most famous tourist attractions in Ireland nearly empty?

Stef Crosses the Square

The grounds around the castle are pretty impressive, and with hardly any people around, it was easy to take photos. Then we walked over to the castle itself.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

The Blarney Stone experience wasn’t what I expected. Never having seen pictures of it, I had always imagined it as a cute, little, Excalibur-like boulder on top of a hill with the sun beaming down on it, surrounded by Irish dancers and rainbows and leprechauns. But it’s not like that. It’s at the top of a hulking castle. We took the winding staircase up to the top, finding it completely empty except for two guys near the Blarney Stone: one to hold you while you are suspended upside down, the other to snap your photo for purchase on your way out. The stone itself is built into the castle wall and would easily go unnoticed if it weren’t for the two guys.

Irish Meadow

At the Top of Blarney Castle

Stef and I took turns laying back and kissing the Blarney Stone. There are rumors that locals piss on the stone, and who knows what other fluids might be on it. If I didn’t have swine flu before, I have it now.

Stef Kisses the Blarney Stone

Jeff Kisses the Blarney Stone

Blarney Castle Grounds

Our Sexy Little Yaris

With time to spare, we hopped back into the Yaris and headed into nearby Cork for dinner. We stopped at a little outdoor patio on trendy French Church Street called Restaurant 14A and had a delicious and very relaxing dinner outside. It’s Saturday night, and after dinner, the streets began to fill with young Irish folk looking for a good time. Cork seems like a pretty lively place, and it would have been nice to stay a bit longer.

Walking Down French Church Street

It was getting late, so we hit the road again for Killarney, our stop for the night. Coming into town, the streets were clogged with kids in their low-cost, highly modified, very loud cars. We sat through a few minutes of bumper-to-bumper traffic before finding our B&B.

Although I had confirmed a reservation at one of the B&B’s with an e-mail that said, “OK, we’ll take it! See you soon!” we arrived to find that our room had been given to other guests. Granted, it was late, but what more could I have done to confirm? In any case, we were homeless. The inhospitable but otherwise friendly B&B owner made a call for us and told us to visit another B&B, but he could not give us an address (he laughed at my request) and his directions were shit. Didn’t take us long to get lost. My GPS, Stef, and I were tired and frustrated, so we stopped at the only B&B that still had its lights on and knocked on the door. A friendly woman name Rose let us in and gave us a room.

Seems to be standard routine for the owner of the B&B to have a little friendly chat with you before showing you to your room. It’s kinda nice. We told Rose about our drive into Killarney and our plan for tomorrow. She explained that there was a huge student rally on the Ring of Kerry early the next morning, and that’s why there was so much traffic in town. She went on to say that the Ring of Kerry, the sole reason we had come to Killarney, will be closed off for the once-a year rally tomorrow morning.

For the first time all trip, Stef and I are a little discouraged. We can’t do any research, because Rose had to turn the Internet off for whatever reason. We’re discussing our options and will make a decision in the morning.

Leave a Reply