For the last few days we have been touring around the southern areas of Ireland. At my last post, we were staying in Killarney. I looked out for anything to do with Christmas, but I couldn’t find much. Nor could I find much evidence of Bing Crosby who sang the famous song, ‘Christmas in Killarney’. We did at least visit the local golf course where the Irish open is played and had coffee in the club house.
From Killarney, we traced our route back over Moll Gap to the town of Kenmare where we had lunch. We gave up trying to compete with busloads of tourists at earlier places, but we did manage to see a lovely view over Killarney Lakes from the lookout opposite the Avoca Cafe at Molls Gap.
At Kenmare, we stopped in the main square of the town. This town is famous for it’s bridge named after Oliver Cromwell which is completely built without mortar. We were quite delighted to find that the first two hours of parking around the town square were free, unlike nearly every other place which runs on a ‘pay and display’ system. You never want to run out of small change in Ireland! We continued on during the afternoon across the eastern end of the Beara Peninsula and passed some more spectacular rural scenery.
We stayed in the village of Blarney overnight, which is quite close to Cork. Dinner was in the pub, but they weren’t serving Irish Stew. Roast duck with an orange glaze, instead, for me and a steak for Jill. Some local lads were playing a game of darts in the corner and one of them confided in me that indeed “This is a grand old pub”.
On Friday morning, we explored a little more of this little town, but found that most of the shops wouldn’t open until later. The famous Blarney Castle is right in the middle of the town, so we hoofed it around the corner to visit it, and it’s very scenic park-like grounds. They are reported to be at their best in Spring when the azaleas are out and they didn’t disappoint us at all. I’m not very good with heights, so I didn’t climb to the top of the castle and kiss the Blarney Stone. (I’m probably full of blarney as it is!). To do so, you have lie backwards while someone holds your feet and kiss the stone which is a couple of feet or so below the height of your head. All this, and you are about 80 feet above the ground!
We continued around the coastal route to Waterford to visit the Waterford Crystal shop. It had some beautiful displays of glass crystal objects, but many looked as though they were a little old fashioned for us. We did buy some wine glasses which we shipped home. Cathy and Chris keep telling us that our wine glasses are not good enough in which to serve nice wine, so maybe these will make a difference. Even so, they will be a very nice, and functional momento of our trip.
Our next stage was to travel to Ireland’s most southerly lighthouse. On the way, we passed a cooking school and mused over how we could create a curriculum based on cooking potatoes. There are an enormous number of potatoes eaten here. At some pubs, we have been served three types of potatoes with the one meal. If you had a weekly lesson on cooking them, you could probably fit in a whole term of classes just around potato cuisine.
The lighthouse at Hook Head is the oldest lighthouse in Ireland, and one of the oldest in Europe still operating. In the 5th century St Dubhan set up a fire beacon on the headland as a warning to mariners. After his death his monks kept the beacon going for another 600 years. Between 1170 and 1184 the Normans built the present lighthouse. It was built from local limestone and burned lime mixed with ox’s blood. Even today traces of the blood-lime mix can be seen coming through the paintwork. The walls are 9 to 13 feet thick and the light is 80 feet above the ground.
Late in the afternoon, on a our way to our night’s B&B, we passed through the town of New Ross which is one of the oldest towns in Ireland. It has a replica of the type of old sailing ship in which the Irish emigrated to the New World during the Potato Famine – a period of mass starvation, disease and emigration that occurred between 1845 and 1852. During the famine approximately 1 million people died and a million more emigrated from Ireland, causing the country’s population to fall by between 20% and 25%. The cause of famine was a potato disease commonly known as potato blight. Although blight ravaged potato crops throughout Europe during the 1840s, the impact and human cost in Ireland — where one-third of the population was entirely dependent on the potato for food—was exacerbated by a host of political, social and economic factors which remain the subject of historical debate.
New Ross is also the ancestral home of President John F Kennedy’s family. There is a statue of him on the quay. It contains excerpts of his speech in which he described how it took 105 years for a representative of his family (him) to return to this place of his forbears.
We are not quite sure how we then reached our B&B for the night at Kilkenny as we simply followed the instructions of our GPS. Doing this is much easier than trying to read maps and lit saves. Lot of time. Occasionally like tonight, we even passed some more very attractive sites.