Day 3 – Cashel, Blarney, and Kinsale

After getting a much better night’s rest, we left the wonderful little town of Kilkenny and headed out in the general direction of Cork.  This was easier said than done.  Our GPS decided quite literally to take us in circles, and it wound up taking about half an hour to find our way out of Kilkenny.  We headed Northwest toward Durrow to get back onto the M8 toward Cork, as Fintan had suggested the road was much better, despite the slightly added distance.

Also on the advisement of Fintan Murray, we stopped in the small town of Cashel to visit the Rock of Cashel, a ruined castle towering over the town from a natural rock outcropping.  We had a quick bite of breakfast at Ladyswell Restuarant, and made our way up to the castle.  The castle is very impressive, made even more so by its location several hundred meters above the town.  While it is nice to visit castles that have been restored, such as Kilkenny castle, there is a certain reverence owed to castles in their ruined states, standing for centuries without care.

The Rock of Cashel

Alexis’ New Scarf

On our way back down to the town, we stopped in at the Cashel Woolen Store.  Alexis purchased an Aran wool scarf.  We were very impressed with the woman running the shop.  She was the perfect example of Irish geniality, and we heard her speaking at least three languages in the few minutes we were in her shop.  It’s one of the better shops we visited during our vacation.

Giant Thistles!

After an enjoyable morning in Cashel, we got back on the road.  Next stop: Blarney Castle. After a quick (and sort of stressful) drive through the bustling city of Cork we arrived at the castle, an impressive monolithic structure standing tall above some truly gorgeous grounds.  You could spend all day walking the grounds, as there are extensive walking trails on the property. In addition to the castle, admission gives you access to these trails, as well as some gardens, including a garden full of poisonous plants!  We also saw the largest thistles we’d ever seen.  These things were the size of my outstretched hand.  You can see in the picture the stem is the size of my index finger.

Blarney Castle

As there were plenty of tourists, it can take awhile to navigate through the winding staircases and tiny rooms of the castle, but we still really enjoyed it.  Various placards give you insight into what life in the castle would have been like.  This was also the first castle we’d seen that had murder holes, which soldiers would have poured boiling oil through onto unwanted visitors.  We had previously told ourselves we were not going to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, as one of our Irish friends told us other bodily fluids might be on it other than saliva, but once we were in line with the rest of the tourists, we decided we would probably be fine.  A man hangs you upside down over the edge of a murder hole and has you kiss the stone.  I didn’t so much kiss it at as I did smash my nose into it.

Having our fill of castles for the day, we moved on to Kinsale, a quaint seaside city.  We had heard very good things about Fishy Fishy Cafe, and one of the things we wanted to do on our trip was have some good, fresh seafood.  We were still full from Irish breakfast, so we both ordered a bowl of seafood stew and we shared a sampler seafood platter.  Bread and butter came before the meal, and it is worth mentioning that the butter was the absolute best both of us had ever had.  It was rich and flavorful, almost like eating brie.  The seafood stew was quite good, though we wished it had had more chunks of seafood.  It was tomato based, unlike the white chowders we had had before.  The seafood sampler had crab claws, mussels, clams, smoked salmon, and seared tuna.  It was all good, but served cold, which we weren’t expecting.  The seared tuna was the highlight of the meal, and while all of it was certainly fresh, we felt that Fishy Fishy may have been hyped a bit too much.  It was good, but not spectacular.

Though we wanted to spend more time in Kinsale, we were both tired and the farmhouse we were staying at that night was a ways out of town.  Not wanting to try and navigate there after dark, we drove the short distance to the Seafield Farmhouse.

When we arrived, the owners’ daughter was the only one home.  She made us a nice cup of tea, and we settled in to our room.  The room was very comfortable, and the bed was very inviting.  So much so that we had to have a quick nap.  We awoke around sunset, which presented one of the most spectacular views we would see on our trip, right from our B&B window.We spoke to our gracious host, Eileen, for a bit and then took a brief walk down to the fields, which are aptly named.  As the sun set, the mosquitoes came out, and we called it an early night.  Having a nice, comfy bed was a welcome departure from the rock hard hostel beds we’d become accustom to.

Day 2 – Kilkenny

Despite the noise of the party-goers, we manage to get some sleep (due largely to complete exhaustion).  We rose bright and early, with plenty of time to grab breakfast before our pilot service taxi arrived.  The free breakfast at Isaacs Hostel consisted almost entirely of toast and juice, so we walked the short distance to O’Shea’s for their very reasonably priced, and very filling, Irish breakfast.

To our surprise, our taxi was waiting for us when we got back, a full half-hour before our designated pick up time.  We gathered our belongings, checked out, and jumped in the taxi.  Fintan Murray with Corporate Transfers was quite the gentleman, and made some recommendations as to some of the sights we should see on our drive.  He was also very encouraging when it came to my driving in Ireland.  However, seeing him drive through Dublin, with its very aggressive drivers, did little to ease my nerves.  He drove us to Hertz in the city center.  Getting our car was painless, and after Fintan gave me a rundown of our bright blue Ford Ka, we were off.

Mr. Murray drove carefully in front of us, allowing me to follow as a comfortable clip. Having someone to follow out of Dublin’s confusing layout did wonders for easing my anxiety, and for anyone who is driving on the left side for the first time, I highly recommend Fintan Murray’s pilot service.  35 Euro well spent!

When we reached the roundabout to get on the highway, Fintan waved us on, and we had successfully escaped Dublin!  Almost immediately there is a change of scenery, and we found ourselves surrounded by beautiful green rolling hills, framed by the majestic Wicklow mountains in the hazy distance.  Driving on the highway was quite easy, and before too long I was feeling comfortable driving the Ka.  Just stay out of the fast lane (the right one) unless you’re passing.  People seem to take that offense quite seriously.

Once we arrived in Kilkenny, the driving changed.  It is a bustling little city, with very narrow medieval streets.  People here don’t drive particularly slow, and Sygic’s iPhone GPS wasn’t tracking us too well.  After getting completely turned around, we managed to find some pay parking not far from our hostel.  Speaking of, we discovered that keeping a pocket full of Euro coins is important, as most of the parking in almost every city cost 2-5 Euros a day, and the meters took only coins.

Despite being early for check-in, our room at Kilkenny Tourist Hostel was ready for us. The very nice receptionist gave us our room key, and some suggestions for lunch.  The hostel is obviously older, and a bit rough around the edges, but very charming and in a GREAT location.  Our room was very clean, and the hostel didn’t seem to have very many occupants.  We were glad to have some peace and quiet after the raucous that was Isaacs Hostel.

On the advice of the hostel receptionist, we stopped off at John Cleere’s for a sandwich and soup.  Alexis enjoyed her cheese sandwich and lamb stew, and my mushroom soup was good, but my ham sandwich (which was just that: ham and bread) was a bit bland.  I got the feeling the place was more of a bar than an eatery, but it served its purpose.

This does not belong here!

As it was the main reason for our stopping in Kilkenny, we walked the short distance to Kilkenny castle. Kilkenny is a wonderful medieval city, and its many multicolored shop fronts give it a decidedly European feeling.  The cobblestone streets and many cathedral spires are icing on the cake.  By the time we reached Kilkenny Castle (perhaps a mile from our hostel), I learned one of the most important rules of Ireland: never leave your rain jacket behind.  It was sunshiny and t-shirt comfortable when we walked out of our hostel.  In less than fifteen minutes, it was grey, rainy and had seemingly dropped twenty degrees (Fahrenheit, of course).

Kilkenny Castle

The sight of the castle quickly made me forget my damp clothing.  The castle is absolutely stunning from the outside, with a beautiful and fragrant rose garden out front.  We paid the 6 Euro apiece entrance fee, and took the self-guided tour of the castle.  Though the castle has a very rich history dating back to medieval times, its interior was completely redone during the Renaissance, and has been restored to that era.  Its interior is very lavish, and was a great look into what it would have been like to live in aristocratic Renaissance society.  Due to the fragile nature of some of the original tapestries and paintings that remain on display, no photography is allowed within the castle.

View of Kilkenny Castle and the River Nore from John’s Bridge

When we had our fill of Renaissance luxury, we took a brief walk through the woods on the castle grounds, and along the bank of the River Nore.  There is a fantastic view of the castle and river to be had from John’s Bridge. Alexis and I both remarked about how lucky the residents of Kilkenny were to have such beautiful views in their town.

St. Canice’s Cathedral

We spent the rest of the afternoon visiting the various cathedrals and abbeys through the city.  There is no shortage of them!  Everywhere we went, we were surrounded by an almost overwhelming amount of history. From the 800 year old stonework to the richly detailed stained-glass windows, there is a palpable sense of awe in these places.

Alexis in front of the Black Abbey

Worn out from all of the walking, we grabbed a cup of coffee at Nostalgia Cafe.  At this point, I’m realizing that the Irish don’t really use drip coffee machines like we do in America.  If you order coffee, you get a cup full of espresso.  It’s wonderful.

We then settled in to Kyteler’s Inn, a storied medieval pub whose original owner was believed to have been a witch.  After a pint of Smithwick’s (which is brewed right in Kilkenny, next door to our hostel) and some more Irish stew, we participated in a beginner bodhran session in the pub’s top bar.  Damien Walsh taught a group of us the basics of playing the traditional Irish frame drum.  He had a great sense of humor and encouraged a lot of audience participation.  The whole thing was silly and fun, and a great way to spend our evening.  When the session was over, we moseyed on down to the pub’s main bar to hear some traditional music.  As we were getting weary at this point, we didn’t last very long, and made our way back through the eerily empty streets to our hostel.