One of the main objectives of our wanderings was to find "old impressive building," preferably falling apart, as Holly loves them. Our drive was littered with, "What's that?" "I don't know but it looks old and impressive. Let's stop!"
One snag we had with this plan was many of the old impressive buildings were still being used as churches and schools, thus not really open to tourists. On the up side, old stone buildings can be found in every city and town so there were plenty we could go in. Among these are lots of castles. We visited Kilkenny Castle first, which turned out to be quite fortunate. Kilkenny Castle is still being restored and updated, but quite a bit done. It is also a guided tour castle. It belonged to the Butler family who were quite politically tied for many centuries. Having no former knowledge of Irish history, this tour gave us a great foundation for the many stories and events we would learn about.
We then worked our way down to Waterford (the crystal really is amazing!), past Cork and on into the quaint town of Blarney. If you find yourself here, we highly reccommend the White House Bed and Breakfast. The room was the warmest we had. They even provided a hair dryer. The shower was well regulated for temperature, the food wonderful, and the couple who own it are extremely nice. It is also well accredited.
Blarney castle is not being restored. You wander the ruins on your own making your way up over 100 "dodgy stairs" to the famous "Blarney Stone" at the top. Here a nice, but non-dramatic man holds you whilst you lay on your back, tip upside down and kiss the aforementioned stone. Then you wander back down the castle. The grounds are quite beautiful and have a "magic" walking path laid out. There is also a large cave for exploring. Unfortunately we did ot know about this ahead of time so did not pack flashlights.
We also visted our first pub in Blarney. It was quite crowded. Everyone was talking and laughing. It was obvious most of the people at least recognized each other and flowed in and out of conversations easily. There were people of all ages as well. A sign declared children were welcome if they stayed seated with their parents. Smoking was not permitted indoors, however. One thing that struck Holly and I was the plaque on the wall commemorating the September 11th attack in the US. We were touched. Holly enjoyed a Guiness, which was drawn in the traditional 2 step process. We had hoped to catch some live music, but apparently came on the "off" night.
After Blarney we moved on to the north. We visited Dingle Peninsula, making a point to stop on Inch Beach. It was amazing. The tide was way out so we walked more than 100 yards out. You couldn't take a step without stepping on seashells. IT didn't smell like the beaches I had been to on the west coast of the US. There was still a pervassive fresh smell of the land. Sheep and catle grazed in feilds just above. It was amazing. The drive continuing around was beautiful. The updated wider roads were wel enjoyed. We were disappointed in Dingle to find the famous Murphy Brothers Ice Cream Shop closed. Still, I was able to get a wool sweater on clearance for me and a pair of wool gloves with sheep on them for Holly so it wasn't to bad. The Dingle Peninsula claims some of the oldest signs of Christianity on the island.
From here we went on towards Limmerick, stopping to spend the night in Adhere. This small town caters to tourists. Even going so far as to have thatched rook houses in town. (We did see a few thatched roof houses in the country, but only a few. Most all housing has undergone updating.) There were a few interesting sites, but the most memorable thing about this day for us was the weather. It poured, not just rained, poured. It soaked through my Land's End Squall coat. Holly became soaked to the skin literally. The heating being what it is there, our clothes didn't even completely dry sitting next to the radiator that night.
Always moving we also took in Castle Cahir, where Excalibur was filmed. This is a self-guided tour with signs in various rooms. It was pretty cool. We also went to Cashel Rock. Holly and I both were disappointed with Cashel. This is the place were St. Patrick converted the king. It is a pretty major historical site. It was abondoned a couple hundred years ago and fell into ruins. There are signs of some impressive stories here, but no guide to tell you of them and the building restoration is slow. Mostly is is a giant grave yard.
Let's see. I think that was everything in the south. We decided for Holly's sanity we would continue to avoid Dublin this trip so headed north around it to the Valley of the Boyne. This area is rich with history of the famous deciding moment in Ireland's past. However, of even greater interest to me was the far more ancient history. We went to visit Newgrange, a 5000 year old burial mound. You have to start in the visitor's center. From there you bus out to Newgrange. (Knowth was closed for the season.) The mound looks like a hill. In fact it is in a manner. The tomb is covered by 9 meters of rock and dirt with grass on top. The tomb was sealed up sometime around 4000 bc and became completely covered in time. It was rediscovered in the 1860s. It is impossible to fully describe in words how amazing this place is.
Our last night was spent in an actual hotel, only 6 weeks old! It was actually pretty warm. There was a phone in the room, which after spending a week looking for street public phones was amazing! It was a nice way to top off the week.