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Blarney Castle, Ireland

From the fall of 2007.
 
It turns out my pictures got a bit out of order. There was the day that included Limerick and King John’s castle (getting there in the nick of time) and then driving to Blarney and finding we just had enough time to get to the castle. So Blarney was the end of our day and  then  we did Cashel the next day. I think.

The weather was so warm this day and we got there just before the sun was setting. They said, you have about a half hour for the castle but the grounds are open longer. (The castle is privately owned.) The grounds were very peaceful and evocative. The castle itself was impressive for its height (destroyed in 1446 and reconstructed by Cormac MacCarthy but must have been abandoned for a long time by the looks of it.) It was originally constructed before 1200 AD and I would suspect that the towers are the oldest parts as they were throughout Ireland. It was here that the Blarney Stone kissed me when I was snooping in dark and narrow passageways.

There was a long, dark, narrowing tunnel at the base of the castle. There were three doorways and one was purported to have been a dungeon. Some of the dungeons in these places were small crawlspaces (or in Bunratty, a space twenty feet below the door which would have required a ladder). I walked up the five steps and tried to peer in. I didn’t have a flashlight so I kept setting off my flash, hoping to get a split second view into mystery. I took a few pictures, then turned around to leave and noticed a bit of light illuminating another set of steps to my right. I put my hand on the wall and moved slowly to see where they lead. And ran into a bridging of stone, right at my nose level. I whacked my nose, hard enough that I saw stars and my eyes water. Had I even been walking at a normal pace I would have broken it. I stood there for a few moments waiting for the pain to subside.

After the stars stopped spinning about me I left the narrow passage and went down and around into the castle. There were only a couple of other people and at one point this guy yelled down, Are you going up or down? I said up and he said, hurry because I’m closing. So up and up and up and up I went. My sister had wandered off, having both a bum knee and a fear of heights, she couldn’t have done Blarney. It was definitely the highest of the castles we saw.

The castle itself wasn’t as interesting because it was just a shell, the walls rough and mold, the floors so uneven that they must once have had floorboards or rushes on them. All castle ruins tend to be open to the elements as most roofs were of wood and would have been the first things to decompose or burn in a razing. Such was also a case for Blarney and I wouldn’t doubt if it had burned in 1446. The groove in the main floor with the hearth was interesting and I believe it would have been for the juices from the spitted animals to drain off and through a sluice in the side walls.

I have to say the view was spectacular and the grounds exquisiste. I love some of the pictures from the top, and they are some of  my faves of Ireland (one decorates the top of my blog page). I didn’t kiss the stone at the top, where you lay over this open grate to the grounds hundreds of feet below. I said to the guy, I hear the local lads do other things on the stone (like pissing). He said not since he’d been there and since the grounds (and later the castle) were locked I could see that it’s probably not done anymore. Though a friend, whose dad was Irish, did say that his dad had done this: pissed and kissed or maybe it was the other way around.

The history of the Blarney Stone is a bit murky and no one knows truly where it comes from. It’s supposed to give one the gift of eloquence (a fancy way of saying BS) and the ritual may not be older than the 1700s. It looked like every other stone in that castle wall to me and since the castle had already kissed me I felt no reason to repeat the experience. A couple of women completed the ritual as I wandered and took pictures and started down. I didn’t realize it but everyone had left except for the Blarney guy and me. He accidentally found me on the way down and said, you better hurry, I almost locked you in. So I trundled down and spent another 20 minutes on the grounds.

It was starting to get cold and dark and it was time to go. My sister might have thought I’d been locked in but I eventually found her outside the property gates. As we walked back to the car the Blarney guy drove by and beeped his horn, then turned around and went back the other way, beeping his horn at me again. Friendly fellow. We then drove on to Cashel and found a place to stay.

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Things Irish

First posted in Oct. 9, 2007
Blarney–we heard many a tall tale in Ireland and the gift of the gab runs through many, it seems. Now that we’re nearly on the home-front we’ve checked the internet and if Liam’s fish whacking is a record it’s only in Killybegs or Donegal as there is no listing. But somehow we’re not surprised by this in the least.

Almost all the toilet bowls in Ireland are quite roundish, kinda cute…as toilet bowls go. The handles are on the right instead of the left in Canadian/US toilets. Why one side or the other, who knows?

Latches on almost every bathroom door are slide latches. It seems to be the latch style of choice. Door knobs on exterior doors are often in the middle of the door.

You’ll be hard pressed to find a face cloth at any B&B or guesthouse. I hate water in my face so I always use one. Luckily I brought my own.

About 80% of the places we stayed didn’t have hairdryers.

Everything from toothbrushes (equiv. of $8-13) to hair mousse (equiv. of $10) is really expensive.

I’ve been called love or lass but no other form, besides “girls.” So my friends who think chicken (never heard this one even the first time around Eng. and Scotland many years ago) must be remembering a local idiom from somewhere.

I was told that no matter where you are there pretty much would be the friendly Irish and you wouldn’t be sitting alone for long or they would start buying you drinks. This friendliness was apparent in the towns but by no means universal. The resort areas and modern cities were as friendly…or as unfriendly as every big, trendy place. Kilkenny would have been the same except for the lads from the North.

Food was generally of high quality and in large quantities. I had a traditional cod (I think) and cabbage dish in a creamy sauce. The cabbage is more the savoy cabbage and it wasn’t bad. In the pubs the drinks all have their name brand glasses so you’ll get Bulmer’s cider in a Bulmer glass, Carlsberg, or Guinness in their glasses with the name on them. Some of the pubs in the west and the south still have the small coal fireplaces, and they are indeed stoked with coal. Oh and at least in Donegal, pub night is a Monday, perhaps to celebrate getting through the first day of work.

Every town or village goes back centuries so the streets are narrow and winding, the buildings tall and joined together as row houses. As you get farther out from the town center you encounter newer row houses, or individual dwellings. These seem to be quite large and have at least four bedrooms. That’s why there are so many B&B’s in Ireland.

Traffic circles and few lights. They’re insane and you’ll get honked at for doing it wrong but then find in the next town that it’s different. Speed limits are for decoration. If you see a sign for 60 km, people will easily be going 120. The small roads are usually 60-80 km and the highways 100-120 km. Often you’re getting up to 80 then having to drop down to 30 two blocks later for a traffic circle (roundabout) and this goes on.

We only saw one farmer with a horse and buggy but saw some country fellows in the typical cap, jacket, baggy pants with shiny bottom, and wellies.

Ireland is green and after a few millennia of deforestation, there are border trees and groves, a few protected forests. It was a stunning thing to see flying over the country. However, we did see areas of reforestation. When flying I couldn’t figure out why the trees looked as if they were combed. It was because they had been planted at some point.

Irish roads are almost all bordered by hedgerows or stone fences. There may also be trees that have been growing there for a long while that form tunnels as the branches reach above and leave space enough for car and lorries to go through. It definitely gave a different feel to the countryside. The hedgerows and stone walls are everywhere. We were told by one B&B owner that they recycle everything, so if an old wall is pulled down, those stones are used again to build something new. Makes sense when you consider that a country with 5,000 years of habitation needs to re-use what is there.

It was also interesting seeing the Irish looking face. I never realized how Irish my friend Sam looked. His dad was Irish, and Sam would blend right in in Ireland. Many men have triangular faces with wide brows that may be lined or more wizened then their years. There is the white skin and rosy cheeks of an Irish complexion too. It made me realize where some of my friends’ ancestry began.

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