Picking up where I left off, the tour group left Shannon after 2 nights and we traveled southeast through the town of Limerick (not much to see as it’s an industrial city), we visited a working dairy farm in the town of Kifinnane. After that, we headed southwest to Killarney and checked into our accommodations at the Hotel Dunloe Castle. While we did not stay in a castle, there are the remains of a castle on the property as well as the second largest botanical gardens in the country.
After arriving, Mom and I checked out the grounds and the old castle (pretty creepy). You can’t go in, but by peeking through the openings in the boarded up door, you can see where nature has been taking back over and there are trees growing up inside the castle and coming out windows. There is just a feeling around the castle that, if you believe in ghosts, might make you feel as if there are others there with you.
Our room in the hotel overlooked the front lawn area which was filled with horses and cows. The kitchen was nice enough to give me some rolls after dinner one night and we went and fed the horses. At first, I couldn’t beg them to come to the fence, but as soon as they figured out that I had food, they were fighting each other to get it from me. Four of the horses had young foals and it was nice to see moms with their babies.
After a hot night’s sleep in our room (our only complaint in the first two hotels was that the rooms seemed to be quite hot. The heat, however, was not coming from the radiators in the rooms, but from the towel warmers in the bathrooms – can you believe it!), the group headed out for a drive around the Ring of Kerry which is the Iveragh Peninsula. There are three peninsulas (Dingle, Iveragh & Beara) with Iveragh being the largest. The Ring offers some breathtaking sites as well as stone forts from the Iron Age (12th century BC). While driving around the ring, we stopped in Kells for a sheep dog demonstration (one of the highlights of the trip for me). This was fabulous! The sheep herder (called an older Tom Selleck look-a-like), showed us how he trains his sheep dogs to herd and move the sheep up and around the mountains. There must have been 7 different types of sheep that he showed us, all used for different things. Not all sheep fur is created equal and some is more prized and expensive than others. Some sheep and lambs are only used for their meat and/or milk. Through a series of whistles and just his voice (which they can hear from 1/4 mile away), we got to see how the dogs are trained to move the sheep up and down the mountain and from side to side. Just incredible!
After that, we had lunch at The Huntsman, a Thai restaurant. We actually had Thai food which was not bad. Still hadn’t seen any fast food places yet, but a couple of Chinese take-out places. Potatoes are the main staple in just about every meal. When you consider that over 1 million people died in the 1840s potatoe famine and another 1.6 million fled the country for America, France, and Britain to escape the death, you’d think no Irish person would eat another potato. Ireland’s population went from about 8 million to a little over 4 million because of the famine.
Anyway, after our second night in Killarney, we left for Blarney Castle in County Cork. This is where you kiss the famous Blarney Stone of Eloquence which is supposed to mean that you will never be at a loss for words. For anyone who has ever heard the term blarney, as in, you are full of blarney, I grew up thinking it meant that you were full of crap. Well, in Ireland, blarney means that you have a gift for story telling or embellishment (in an entertaining way). It is not meant as a derogatory term, but said with a smile.
In order to reach the blarney stone, you had to climb 127 circular, very tight and tall stairs (the kind that would NEVER pass the building inspector) to the top of the castle, then lay down on a pad (on your back). While someone holds onto you, you shove yourself out over this hole approximately 4’X6′, bend backward with the top part of your body, grab onto two iron poles on the opposite wall, and shimmy downward in order to kiss this piece of stone. It is a very ignoble position which must be done on your back as you cannot reach the stone from your stomach and be able to bend your head down and backward in order to do it. My mother, who is deathly afraid of heights, actually did it and I was so proud of her. Of course, there is a photographer there taking not-so-glamorous photos for us tourists to purchase. He has the best position to get the money shots so we bought them. So worth it because it’s almost impossible to describe the process, you really have to see it to see how it’s done. Great experience, though. Thank goodness it wasn’t raining because this is all out in the open on a slippery surface. The first photo below is hard to tell, but as we walked up to the castle, you can see people at the top as they hang out over this hole in order to kiss the stone. You may be able to just barely make out someone. The second photo is one I took at the top of the castle. There were large holes between the walkway and the wall (built that way) so that the knights could see below. They were used as a defense against enemies trying to get into the castle and hot oil and liquid could be poured down through the holes onto the heads of anyone trying to get in univited. The third photo is of Mom after she had just kissed the stone, desperately trying to get up and away from the hole before she fell through (by the way, this could not happen because there are several iron bars across the hole). People cannot fall through, but loose items and money certainly can.
After Blarney Castle, we jumped on a train (my first ever) for a 2 1/2 hour ride to Dublin. Part III of my post mortem will be about our time in Dublin. Stay tuned….