Day 4 – Killarney

“Don’t mind me, I’m just a castle in someone’s back yard.”

Eileen cooked us a very nice breakfast, and we thanked her and headed out toward Killarney. We were completely off the highway the entire drive, and the roads weren’t very busy, so we took our time and soaked in the ubiquitous greenery of the Irish countryside. On our way, we saw a castle that appeared to be in someone’s back yard. History everywhere!

We arrived in Killarney mid-morning. We had heard that Killarney was one of the country’s worst tourist traps, but it wasn’t all that busy at all. We spent a bit of time wandering the gift shops. Alexis purchased some CDs of Irish music to set the mood in the car (why we had not done this sooner, I don’t know) and I bought a penny whistle to be annoying with. We had some very good fish and chips at Sceale Eile, and decided to walk through Killarney National Park to Ross Castle.

Ross Castle

On the boat to Innisfallen Island (Ross Castle in the background)

After a half hour walk we arrived at the castle. It is quite beautiful, nestled in the mountains of the National Park and on the edge of Lough Leane. We were a bit castled out, so we opted out of paying for the tour and just walked around it. We saw some men in motorboats giving rides to somewhere on the Lough. We asked how much, and were told ten euro each for about about a 45 minute trip, including a walk around some island. Completely on a whim, we paid the man and jumped on his boat with another Irish couple.

Ruined abbey on Innisfallen Island

Turns out he was taking us to Innisfallen Island, where there were the ruins of an ancient abbey on a deserted, tiny island. Awesome! He dropped us off on the island and told us to come back in about half an hour. Walking through the ancient, unmortared abbey with no one around, it was easy to see why the monks had set up here to live in isolation. Life would not have been easy, but there was plenty of beauty to be had. We walked the perimeter of the tiny island, and the views of the National Park were simply astounding.

View from Innisfallen

We were returned to Ross Castle, and made our way back through the Park to Killarney. We got a bit turned around and took the long way, effectively doubling the walk back.

The Gap of Dunloe

We had reservations at The Purple Heather, a B&B near the Gap of Dunloe, so we made the short drive and got checked in for the night. At the B&B, we met a nice couple from California who were doing a trip very similar to ours. They recommended the food and nightly live music at the famous Kate Kearney’s Cottage right at the entrance to the Gap of Dunloe. There was still some light left in the day, so we drove to the Gap. The roads here are clearly meant more for carriages than cars, and there is only room for one vehicle to pass at a time. The view, however is totally worth it. We only wish we had more time to do some hiking in the area.

We made our way back to Kate Kearney’s and settled in for a pint and some warm food. I had the roast leg of lamb and Alexis the lamb shank. Both were excellent. Kate Kearney’s has a warm, welcoming ambiance. There was a three-man band playing traditional music while two teenagers did some Irish tap dancing. It was a lot of fun! During intermission, we spoke to the musicians, and they were delighted to learn that Alexis was a violinist. They insisted that she play a song with them. She played “Wild Mountain Thyme” with them, and the whole audience loved it. It was a memorable experience, to say the least. You can read Alexis’ thoughts on the experience on her blog. We ended the night with some Banoffee Pie (banana coffee cake) and a hot Irish whiskey. It was the perfect Irish evening.

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.