According to the Travel Channel "kissing the Blarney Stone" is one of the 99 things you must do before you die. Well, now we're one step closer to that fateful day. As castles go, Blarney
is pretty unimpressive. It's a small ruin and its ceilings and floors are gone. There are still narrow, winding stone stairs that tourists can climb to the top where the infamous stone resides. There were few tourists here on this cold November day, but it was easy to imagine long queues as bus load after bus load of tourists line up to fulfill this tourist edict.
The stone's original claim to fame is that it came from a holy place in Jerusalem. The creator of the word "blarney" was Queen Elizabeth I, who became impatient with the then Lord Blarney who talked at great length without ever actually agreeing to anything she wanted. Today the legend says that if you kiss the stone, you will have the gift of gab from that point on. Many famous people including Winston Churchill have made the pilgrimage to this famous spot and so today, did we. It was noteworthy that this was the first place we've been where we only encountered tourists from the US. Perhaps the Germans and Ausies are not nearly as interested in blarney as we are. The stone is high up on the top of the castle and you have to lie down and do a back bend, hanging your heard over an opening three stories high. A man, whose job it is to assist with such foolishness, hangs on to you while you kiss the
stone. Not a fun experience for an achy geezer who is afraid of heights!
On a more serious note, we visited the town of Cobh (pronounced and used to be spelled Cove) which has a wonderful museum
commemorating all the marine events this town is associated with. Until recently Ireland has been a country who has sent its young people away for a better life. Of the six million who left between 1848-1950, two million left from Cobh. Some fled during the great potato famine. Mass graves house 10,000 who died of starvation nearby. As the Irish struggled for independence from Britain they were seen as a huge threat, especially after the American and French revolutions. Consequently, many of them were sent to Australia as convicts, a sailing journey that lasted seven months under deplorable conditions. These prison ships left from Cobh as well, getting rid of about 40,000 people altogether. In 1912 Cobh was the last port visited by the Titanic on its ill fated maiden voyage. In 1915 the cruise ship Lusitania with 1,1,98 aboard was struck by a German torpedo and quickly sank about ten miles from Cobh. The 761 people who were saved were rescued by locals and given aid and comfort by the towns people.
In the glory days of cruising when the best way to get from Europe to the US was by doing a transatlantic crossing on a ship, most stopped here after having left South Hampton. Cobh briefly changed its name to Queenstown, when Queen Victoria stopped here on her first visit to Ireland. The town took pride in the fact that this was the first Irish soil her fit stepped upon. After they got over the thrill, they changed their name back, using the Gaelic spelling to emphasize the point. After people decided it was more practical to cross the Atlantic in a metal tube, the cruise traffic diminished dramatically and Cobh right along with it.
Lastly, we stopped at the Jameson Distillery
and learned why Irish whisky is the best in the world. There are undoubtedly some Scots and Kentuckians who would disagree with that. Their claim to fame is that they distill the whiskey liquid which is made from barley three times; ours is made from corn and only distilled once. They house the finished product in oak barrels that previously stored brandy or port, while we use brand new barrels. They toast the barley after is has been moistened in kilns which keep them separate from the smoke that the Scots use to flavor theirs. And then there were other differences, but if they told them to us, they would have to kill us. The tour ended with a tasting, but sipping whiskey straight is not something we really like to do. Paying $225
for an eighteen year old bottle of whiskey isn't something we really like to do either.
We wanted to stay in Midleton where the distillery was, but all the B & B's there were closed for the season. One was available in the next town, but by the time we got there is was almost dark. We followed the directions which were to turn left on the first road we came to after we went over the Black River. We drove the narrow, winding lane for quite a while and saw no evidence of mankind anywhere. We headed back to the river and tried the road on the other side. Now it was really dark and there were no street lights anywhere. Also no B & B. We tried a third road a bit farther from the river. Still no sign of human life. Finally we called the B & B again and the owner kindly came to the highway with her car and rescued us. Even with our GPS we are having a devil of a time finding things here. No one uses an address. Each building has a name. The B & B is named Carn Na Radhac - try saying that fast three times. We've been told that you can just stop anyone and ask and everyone in the area just knows, but when you're driving around in the dark and there's no one to question, things get tense. We're resolved to call it a day a bit sooner from now on.