Onward from the village of Kilkenny, we arrived in Cork after a short bus ride. Abby and I took a tour from Dublin about four years ago, where we were able to visit the Rock of Cashel, Blarney Castle, and end in Cork. Unfortunately, the stop in Cork was mainly for food and we were only able to spend one hour there. So, on our loop through Ireland, we made sure that we would return to Cork and Blarney.
We checked in to our AirB&B, which was perfectly located about five minutes from the train station and only about 15 minutes from the town center. We unloaded our bags and settled in for a minute before heading out for some food and drinks. We always do our research before arriving in a new town, and lucky for us one of the best pubs was located in our neighborhood. We stopped at Sin É (sheen-eh), which means “That’s it!” in Gaelic. It is known for having the longest running “trad session” in Cork, running nightly since 1978. A “trad session” is a group of people who sit down in the corner of the pub and play traditional Irish music. The music was great and the pints were even better. While drinking our ciders and Guinness, we made plans for our three days in Cork.
First, we would explore Cork City and see the sights in town. Second, we would spend the day at Blarney Castle, and our final day we would go to the coastal town of Cobh.
After listening to the live “trad session” and clapping along for some time, we found a cheap barbecue place nearby and grabbed a bit of food before calling it a night.
We had some breakfast and set out on the town the following day. We walked the River Lee and found ourselves at St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral. There had been a church standing in the same place since 606 AD. From the cathedral we walked to the Shandon neighborhood, which is one of the oldest parts of the city. The main sights of Shandon
are the St. Anne’s Church and belltower and the Butter Market. The Butter Market was the largest of its kind in all of Europe during its prime in the 1800s. Cork exported butter
throughout Europe, setting up trade lines with Britain, France and Spain. From Shandon, we went to see the Red Abbey (built in 1288). Only ruins are left, but since the White Abby is traveling with me, and we saw the Black Abbey in Kilkenny, we figured we better see the Red Abbey as well :). Hungry from all the walking, we set out to find a fish and chips place that we ate at those four years ago. In no time, we stumbled across Thomond’s. Recognizing all of the flags and sports memorabilia, we found our spot! We sat down for some fish and chips with mushy peas, some pints, and soccer. While at Thomond’s, we found out that Cork City Football Club (remember we’re in Europe, football is soccer) was playing in the Irish League Championship. We shopped around a bit and then found a pub, along with only a few others, and watched Cork City win the championship on penalty kicks. We made one more stop, at Sin É, to have a couple more drinks and catch up on some much needed blogging.
We woke up excited the following day and we were off to Blarney Castle. Blarney sits only about 20 minutes from Cork and has a bus route that runs regularly. Blarney Castle was built in 1446 by the McCarthy and Desmond families. The castle sits on very spiritual, ancient grounds that were inhabited by Druids thousands of years before the Irish arrived. The castle, of course, holds the Blarney Stone, and anyone who kisses the stone will have good luck and the “gift of gab” for the rest of their lives. We were lucky to spend about an hour or more their our first trip, kissing the stone and touring the castle, but we were excited to visit the huge gardens and spend our day there, not just an hour.
Blarney Castle’s gardens are rivaled by no other castle. They are gorgeous, natural, and make you feel like you are in a fairy-tale world. The area is so green, filled with waterfalls, streams, rare plants, caves, and even a Druid sacrificial altar and worship area. We walked the witch’s steps with our eyes closed (supposed to be good luck), explored the caves and Druid remains, and came across the 7 Sisters Stones. There are seven huge stones in a circle, placed standing almost like Stonehenge but not as large, and two stones that have been toppled over. These stones were placed as a sacred place of worship by the Druids. The stones were there before the Irish arrived, and one such duke or earl of Blarney Castle left them to be. However, he went out into battle with his two sons. Getting older, he would soon have to pass down his lands to those sons, but they were sadly killed in the battle at their father’s side. So distraught, he marched down to the circle of stones and knocked and hacked two over in his anguish from the death of his two sons….leaving only seven standing. The seven sisters of those two boys who were killed in battle.
From the Druid grounds we took a hike around the lake and through the forest. The castle grounds are massive! We circled through the fern garden and finally ended our five hours there by touring through the castle. Being more experienced, since we had kissed the stone before those four years ago, we were prepared for our second kiss. Abby took a great photo of me kissing it last time, but her face on her turn, unfortunately, was covered by her scarf since you are lying on your back and kissing the stone upside down. Also, we had our eyes closed, since you know, that is good etiquette for kissing. This time, we removed our scarves and kissed the stone eyes wide open. The stone is held at the very highest floor of the castle, in an open hole, so you can see all around at nearly five or six stories high. The time at Blarney was done, so we finished up by grabbing some supper and catching our bus back to our place in Cork.
Our last full day in Cork had come and we were done with breakfast and ready to grab the train to Cobh (pronounced like “cove”). We made the short five minute walk to the train station and found it completely shut down with a row of picketers standing out front of the gates. The railroad workers were on strike. In Ireland, especially bigger cities like Dublin and Cork, the railroaders are not paid very good wages or benefits. So, on different days unknown to the public, they schedule strikes. Unfortunately for us, our plans were a bit rattled. Fortunately for them, they are getting their point made by disrupting the two biggest cities in Ireland with strikes. We found a bus to Cobh instead, only costing us about an hour of lost time.
Cobh, previously known as Queenstown, was the last stop the Titanic made as it picked up the last passengers to board before it made its fateful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean. The original dock and peer are still standing in the bay. Then, three years later, the Lusitania, the largest passenger ship of in the world at the time, was sunk in 1915 by a German U-Boat off the coast of Cobh. Most of the few survivors of these two historic sinkings were brought to Cobh, while those who perished were buried in four mass graves in the Old Church Cemetery outside the city limits of Cobh. I find it hard to imagine living in this city during that time, having two historical events within three years of each other completely devastate a city this small. Abby and I spent about four hours checking out this historical town, checking out the St. Colman Cathedral, visiting the Titanic and Lusitania memorials, and wandering past the old Cunnard Steam-line Station. It was a short day trip, but one that we will surely never forget. The bus brought us back home and we were tired from our day. We packed our bags and got ready for bed, for the following day we would begin our trek in the village of Kinsale and continue along the “Wild Atlantic Way.”