A Day In Cork

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Scone, market, church, and fish and chips. These are my favorite memories of Cork, Ireland.

We didn’t have much time in this city as we arrived a bit late and left early the next day.

But we did get a chance to do some late afternoon exploring and eating, of course.

Our first order of business for the 4:00 o’clock hour: scone with decadent fresh cream.

We found a small tea shop called Fellini and I ordered the best afternoon snack. Even Sean, who doesn’t really like sweets, enjoyed this one.

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In keeping with its namesake, this tea shop was a little bizarre inside. There were all kinds of interesting painting and this unusual sculpture, right next to the cakes. 

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After our break, we headed to the English Market, a famous market that’s been in existence since 1788. You could buy all sorts of interesting cuts of meat, cheeses, and more.

IMG_4910IMG_4915IMG_4914IMG_4918IMG_4907IMG_4911I love visiting markets like these. It’s always so much fun to see what kind of local specialties are available and they’re great for photos.

From there, we headed to St Finnbar’s Cathedral to admire the immensity of the structure and the architecture.

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 We got there near closing time and spent most of our remaining time outdoors taking photos.

I rather thought the priest might still let us have a little look inside too, but no. He came out with the iron church keys, locked the doors, and went on his way. 

After that, we headed to a famous Cork institution, Jackie Lennox Chip Shop.

This place came highly recommended by the daughter of a friend, and who doesn’t like fried food? Besides that, this chip shop has been frequented by Bono, himself (circa 1980s, as you can see in the photo below- he’s awarding the owner a gold record!)

You could have your chips with different toppings like curry or mushy peas, or if you go that way, curry with mushy peas together. But in case you’re wondering, we ordered the chips with cheese and garlic mayo.

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This hot greasy meal was delicious and there was a line out the door. Isn’t that the cutest little blue fork to spear your fries?

On a funny side note, Sean did the ordering and the kid at the register couldn’t understand what he said.

Sean: “We’ll have the fried haddock, cheese and garlic chips, and a Coke.”

Boy: “What was that last bit?” said looking to me

Mary: “Coke”

Boy: Okay fried haddock, cheese garlic chips, and a Coke”

I successfully translated!


Kissing the Blarney Stone

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I know what you must be thinking… No! Not another Irish castle!!!

Well, folks. Yes, I’m going to show you another castle because you can’t go all the way to Cork, Ireland and not visit the Blarney Castle.

Even though it was very touristy, our visit to Blarney Castle was still a fun day.

When we arrived, we headed straight for the very long line to kiss the Blarney Stone. This line started outside in the garden area and went round in circles inside the castle up a narrow stone staircase until finally we reached the top.

Here is Sean standing in the staircase. Only room for one person across really.

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When we got to the top, there was a man helping you bend backwards to kiss the stone. There’s no way you could fall to your death in reality. Even though there’s a gap between the castle and the Blarney Stone, only a cat could fall through (or maybe a baby). I suppose he was there for moral support mostly.

For every person, he had a funny comment. Imagine all of these with a sarcastic Irish accent.

“Go on and give it a good smooch!”

“Nice kiss, there”

“Show it some love, dear!”

“There you go!”

“How was it, man?”

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I can’t remember what he said to me…

For some reason, I took this stone kissing very seriously. Most people were barely tapping the stone with their mouths (germs and all), but if you look at me closely, you can see I have a good pucker going.

After this big event, you could go down to the kiosk and buy a picture of yourself kissing the stone (yes, that’s how touristy)

We opted out of the photo purchase, and headed for the Poison Garden instead. This garden was really interesting. It featured all these natural plants that are potentially harmful to people and animals. Some of them were so toxic (or in the case below maybe so appealing to some people) that they were surrounded by a barrier.  

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I love the little skull and crossbones on all the signs.

In any case, the garden did have a plaque that made the very important point that many of these “toxic” plants aren’t harmful at all if used in a moderate and proper way.

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The legend goes that any person kissing the Blarney Stone will be given the gift of gab.

Today, I sadly report a few months later that I have noticed no difference in my gab.

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Killarney (Ross) Castle

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Unfortunately, Sean and I had a very small window of time in Killarney. In fact, we only had a few morning hours to explore before we needed to get a move on to Cork for the afternoon. 

We decided to explore the Killarney Castle, which was just a few kilometers away from our hotel. We walked there that morning and managed to escape the rain again (see looming dark ominous clouds) 

Killarney Castle was built in the 15th century and actually had inhabitants until 1850! Doesn’t this look like it should be the setting for Hamlet or Dracula or something?

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We really wished there had been more time to do some kayaking!  (That would have been me stuck in the bushes down there!)

 

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Instead, we just walked around the grounds. Here I am sitting politely in front of the castle.

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Here I am getting crazy standing on the wall. A little behind the scenes info: Sean was worried I was going to fall over the side. ( I’m not that uncoordinated, am I?) In any case, there was some major anxiety behind the camera happening about now.

IMG_2318Then it was my turn to take some photographs.

Sean in front of a tiny door (who can get through there except maybe a hobbit?) and in front of a massive beautiful door.

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And here’s Sean casually sitting on a tree branch across the way. 

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Isn’t this a dreamy setting? 

Across from the castle, we stopped over at the old stone boathouse because I was attracted to the red doors. In fact, when we got back home to the States, I promptly painted our front door this exact gorgeous red.

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Ring of Kerry, Ireland

IMG_2276 The Ring of Kerry is a scenic drive along the south-western coast in Ireland. The 179 km loop takes you on a journey featuring ocean vistas, wildflowers, grazing sheep, rocky cliffs, seashores, and tiny  towns. It was amazing how much the terrain changed over just a few kilometers.

Thank goodness for our GPS. We ended up on some really tiny roads that led us all over the place. One path led us up a person’s driveway to some very excited but then disappointed dogs who found out we weren’t their owners. Let’s just say Sean had to back up and away slowly from that situation. IMG_2226 This is Sean looking towards the decaying Ballinskellig Abbey. There are so many interesting places and lookouts to stop along the way, but when we read that there is an old castle and abbey right on the beach, we headed that way.

We walked across the rocks and sand to get to the old abbey and then it was our personal jungle gym for a while before other visitors showed up. I love the moody sky above us as we explored the area. IMG_2281 IMG_2243 IMG_2265 IMG_2256 IMG_2249 IMG_4869IMG_2280 Having gotten our workout for the day from all the climbing and posing, we got back in the car and kept driving. But we did stop at a few other beautiful spots for some photos. IMG_2287 This view comes from inside the Killarney National Park. I wish we had more time to explore there, but sadly we didn’t. IMG_2302 About 2 hours later, we ended up back in Killarney, where we were to spend the night. We overnighted in the center of town at the Ross Hotel. The coolest thing about our room was that we had this old church graveyard right outside our window. IMG_4880 That evening we strolled through the streets of downtown Killarney and bought a few souvenirs (Irish soap, chocolate, and wool scarfs, of course!)

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For dinner, we had a delicious meal at Bricin, a cozy place right above a gift shop. They were offering a two-course meal special, so we happily ordered that. We started with pea soup, Irish brown bread, and fried camembert cheese with currants. IMG_0727_2 In case you were wondering, the batter on the cheese resembled that of fried fish. I will be trying to recreate this dish at home. For our mains, we ordered the traditional Irish boxty with lamb stew (a pancake-like thing) and thai chicken curry. IMG_4888 IMG_0731

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This meal was really tasty and I highly recommend Bricin if you find yourself in Killarney looking for a nice meal. The shop below it has some nice things to buy too!


Cliffs of Moher

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The weather held out for us on the day we visited the Cliffs of Moher. We kept thinking the sky would open up and downpour, but we were lucky.

This is one gorgeous spot that attracts over a million visitors a year.

Unfortunately, it also attracts people ready to end it all… for this reason, there are many signs encouraging people to call a help hotline and we spotted special “prayer” room.

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I love how the clouds got so gray and ominous overhead. It gave this place so much atmosphere and for some reason, I kept thinking of the awesome song “Big Country” from the band, Big Country.

Cue that song up right now in your mind, or better yet, just listen to it here. 


Dromoland Castle

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Dromoland Castle is a beautiful estate and one of the most famous castles in Ireland. The site itself dates back all the way to 1000 AD, but the buildings you see in the picture originated in the 1700s.

The helicopter mysteriously left and returned while we were there, but we never caught a glimpse of the passenger…

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This falcon was wearing a diamond! (No, I’m just kidding)

The interior is a maze of winding long hallways that twist and turn. There were so many private nooks and crannies to explore.

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We rented bikes one overcast day and rode around the estate and almost got caught in a heavy downpour. It was so fun riding through the estate paths and finding small private gardens including a rose garden behind a wall, a lily pond, and small lake with swans.

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Sean’s Bar and Other Historical Places

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From Dublin, we rented a car and headed to Athlone, birthplace of Sean’s Bar, which is Ireland’s oldest drinking establishment.

Sean was so excited to take a photo in front of Sean’s Bar.

There’s more to tell you about Sean’s Bar, including how Boy George once owned it in 1987.

But first, let me tell you about our stop on the way at Newgrange, site of a Stone Age Passage Tomb nearly 5,000 years old.

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The outside of the tomb is guarded by this carved rock, and the interior of the tomb contains a long narrow passage. The amazing thing is that each year around the Winter Solstice (between Dec 19-Dec 23), light penetrates the opening and illuminates the inside for about 17 minutes only.

This is apparently such a beautiful experience that each year thousands of people participate in a lottery to determine who will be able to watch this event.

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From Newgrange, we drove to the Hill of Tara, where 142 historic Royal Kings were crowned. It started raining a bit hard so we didn’t get many good pictures of the mounds.

In fact, we had to take refuge in our car and eat lunch including these new favorite cheese puffs we discovered…

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Because it was so wet and muddy, we hung out at the Hill of Tara at the churchyard and admired the graves dating back to 1822.

Here’s what it should’ve looked like though, if it hadn’t been raining and if we were in a plane.

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From there, we headed to Athlone.

Getting to our hotel was a bit of an adventure. When we arrived in Athlone that afternoon, there was a Triathalon going on, which blocked access to the street where our hotel was. It seemed strange to us that a Triathalon was happening in late afternoon, but who are we to question?

In any case, Sean drove around trying to find different side streets to our hotel and was about to give up when I decided to ask the local traffic motorcycle cop for help.

“I tell ya what I’m gonna do…” he said (Imagine strong Irish accent)

“Tell your man to follow me down the road. I’m gonna put the siren on and you just follow me.”

So he removed the barrier, let the siren howl, and we drove down the road with our police escort. All the bystanders were wondering who we were.

When we arrived at our hotel, he kneeled next to our car and had a long conversation with us. Those Irish traffic cops are so friendly.

He thought it was hilarious that we were named Mary and Sean. In fact, he said he knew 7 couples named Mary and Sean.

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So, Athlone’s claim to fame is Sean’s Bar, the oldest drinking establishment in all of Ireland.

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Sean’s Bar is believed to have hosted drinkers on the very spot since the 9th century. I can’t even wrap my head around that.

And Boy George! Okay granted, 1987 is a few years after Culture Club’s heigh days, but still.

Sean’s Bar had so much atmosphere and was so rowdy. The inside room was packed with drinkers and there was an open patio with live music in the back. If you’re in this area, I highly recommend checking out Sean’s Bar.

We hung out here for an hour or so, then went back to our hotel to get ready for our fabulous dinner I already told you about at Thyme.

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