After imbibing the freshest nectar of the barley goddesses in public houses filled with red faced and blurry eyed practitioners of daily routine, I sashayed up and down the emerald city's moonlit and star splashed streets, my spirits high with the warm breath of liquid decadence, my soles light across cobbled stone with the knowledge of Apollo's imminent rise and with him, my journey by metal and steam powered stallion to see that greatest of the Celtic magi's gifts, that monolith of wonder and germ infested whimsy. Aye! I was off to dress the Blarney stone with my lips, and she was ready to dress me with her comity, and bestow upon me the gentlest of gifts that can move mountains and men, women and garters: the gift of gab. Soon, it would be mine.
Turns out, when you kiss the Blarney stone you get a paragraph of eloquence. It's an old stone, it doesn't quite have the juice it once did. But I did kiss it.
After spending some time in Dublin, I wanted to see some of the other Irish sights. I didn't have much time though, at least not enough to do the wander and explore style of sight-seeing (my personal favorite) so I took a tour with Rail Tours Ireland
and I got to see Cork, the Blarney Castle and Cobh
, the port of call which the Titanic sailed from. It was all in one day, and it was a tour that had a perfect balance of structure and informality. I definitely recommend it.
A train ride to start of the day:
It was a full day of traveling and sight-seeing, so it started early. I had tried to go to bed early the night before, but as always happens when I try to go to bed extra early, I ended up lying awake all night. But I got up and met three friendly staff at Dublin's primary train station, Hueston, at 6:40 AM. How they were that friendly that early was a mystery to me, but they were incredibly helpful. Railtours Ireland
was incredibly accommodating, and they were fine with me leaving the tour early to make dinner reservations in Dublin that night at the Merry Ploughboy, which I have since dubbed one of the top 5 most capitvating Dublin restaurants
. Usually, you end up back in Dublin between 8:30 and 10 PM for most of their day tours.
Needless to say, it was still dark when I set off.
Here was the route we took, conveniently demonstrated on a lite-brite. (I hope someone remembers that toy besides me.)
Since it was dark, I couldn't see anything until we were almost halfway there. Thankfully, the train did have free wireless, and since I had given up on sleeping, I caught up on emails and read about the sites I was going to see. I also jammed out to some Irish tunes including the traditional flute style stuff, with a little latin and U2 mixed in, as well as some Floggin Molly to really wake me up.
As the sun came up over the endless flat green fields and Irish music floated in my head, I finally felt like I was in the Ireland I had always imagined.
When I arrived in Cork a tour bus was waiting, literally. Our tour group was very small. It was just myself, an Aussie woman traveling around Ireland solo, and an older Aussie couple visiting their daughter.
People on a mission. Leprechauns, hide your treasure when we're around.
If you do this tour, definitely ask for Liam, our tour guide. Liam is a really friendly, energetic, and funny older guy who was very passionate about showing visitors his country. I don't know how old he was, but he was in phenomenal shape; he was always the first one off the bus and the first bounding back on the bus. He had an amazing repertoire of knowledge, anecdotes, rumors, legends, and downright hilarious stories about the places we visited. He answered all of our questions.
Exploring Irish castles:
We toured Cork before heading to Blarney Castle. Cork is a very cool city, the second largest in Ireland. But I wanted to see Blarney Castle and totally make out with the Blarney stone to get the gift of gab. (If you make out with the Rosetta Stone you can speak any language, but the damn British won't let anyone get close enough. They're so prudish.)
Ireland is crazy green. Everyone says that, but I was there at the beginning of January, and it was still bright, almost neon, green everywhere.
This was taken on the grounds of Blarney Castle where there are a series of extensive gardens, as well as rock formations which have great names like Druid's Circle, Witch's Cave and the Wishing Steps.
There it is: Blarney Castle. Originally built in 1210, it was destroyed and re-built in 1446. All in all, I'd say it's taken pretty good care of itself.
Here's another view. Kind of creepy, right?
To kiss the Blarney stone, you have to climb to the top of the castle. Luckily there are these incredibly narrow stairs and this one rope, so it's not scary at all.
Did I mention climbing the castle wasn't scary? Because once your on top, in the open, and you can see how high up you are, and you have to hang upside down and kiss the Blarney stone, it's even less scary. Why? Because they have rudimentary iron holds.
Just kidding, it was actually terrifying. The members of my group were holding me and there was no way I was going to plummet to my death, but still, the prospect has a way of gripping the mind.
The guy who hung me over the stone, in his incredibly congenial style, kept things light by telling us stories about women's wigs falling off while kissing the stone. He said that they were able to direct attention away from their wigs and avoid embarrassment incredibly well, however, due to their new found gift of gab.
Here's a view at the interior of the castle as seen from the top.
There were also many crazy tunnels underneath the castle and throughout the grounds. So if you're afraid of heights, enclosed spaces, and kissing germs, make sure you visit Blarney Castle.
This tunnel opened up onto the castle gardens. Yes, this was as magical as it looks. I expected Gandalf to greet me when I came out of here.
There were also sorts of interesting things in the gardens, including a garden that contained only poisonous plants and some that were used in the Harry Potter films.
After the tour we had lunch at a nice, but reasonably priced, pub across from the castle. We compared how much leprechaun treasure we had found and bonded over a pint before hopping back on the bus and heading for Cobh. I wish we had more time but we could tell Liam was eager to show us all of Ireland in half a day.
Ireland and the Titanic:
Cobh is a great sea-side Irish city. It's famous for being the point of departure for millions of Irish emigrants to the Americas.
On an even more depressing note, Cobh is also home of the Lusitania cemetery. Remember, the Lusitania was the British passenger vessel sunk by German U-Boats in 1915 during the beginning of World War I. This started a serious debate about what constituted military targets during war time, since it was a passenger ship, but it was also carrying military supplies. This debate would be permanently put to rest in World War II, when the world decided it was fine to bomb the bejesus out of anything and everything.
The RMS Lusitania was sunk off the coast of Ireland, and the survivors and bodies were brought to Cobh. The bodies were buried here.
Cobh has incredibly colorful cardhouse buildings lining it's streets.
This picture reminds me of a box of Crayola Crayons with the top off. All the different colored crayons are peaking their sharp heads out (you know, before you're younger brother uses them and grinds the tips down when he decides to just mix colors together on a piece of paper and smudge and dull everything. Not that I'm bitter.)
There is also a great Cathedral, St. Coleman’s Cathedral
in Cobh, that Liam took us to see. I think he was trying to break up the whole "this is the closest place on land to where lots of people died at sea" theme that emerged in Cobh.
Go ahead, guess what was the last port the Titanic was in before it sank? That's right, it was Cobh.
It really is a very beautiful beach side town. It's too bad every time a major ocean liner sinks in the 1910's it somehow gets connected to Cobh.
Below is the White Star ticket office, where Titanic tickets were sold. Presumably, Billy Zane's character from Titanic bought his ticket here as well.
"Winners make their own luck." – Billy Zane, Titanic, just before his character dies from some really bad luck.
There was a Titanic museum
at the Cobh train station as well.
This is the view that the people below deck on the Titanic got. It really makes you think just how brave the people emigrating to America were. And I complain when I can't watch the movies I want to watch on my plane ride. I'm so spoiled.
Good bye all. On a more serious note this letter is fascinating. Imagine writing your last words. I can't.
From the hybrid museum and train station I ran to catch a train via Cobh and Cork to return to Dublin. During some point of the journey we were zooming over rivers surrounded by green. All green. This was during the Cobh to Cork route which is also used by man locals commuting home to their smaller towns. What a ride.
How to arrange what I did:
Address: Railtours Ireland, 16 Amiens Street, Dublin 1
Tel: +353 1 856 0045
Fax: +353 1 856 0035
Email: [email protected]
Office is open: 8 a.m. – 6.30p.m. Monday to Friday
(Sat: 8am-1pm & Sun: 12noon – 6.30pm)