Cork City. We began our visit to Cork County with a night at the Imperial Hotel in Cork City where Irish leader Michael Collins spent his last night alive, ironically, 100 years to the day from that ill fated eve. We didn’t find all that much to do in Cork City itself. A Trip Advisor search and our Lonely Planet guidebook revealed mostly sights outside of town. Cork is a bit industrial and gritty but it’s a university town and we strolled along the River Lee and up to the historic district and around the pedestrian streets. It was alive and bustling on a Sunday afternoon. But, I guess the internet search returns don’t lie, most of the things to see and do here are outside of the city proper. We did quite enjoy the service and the food at the Imperial Hotel however. It was a good stop along the way.
Before leaving Cork we did visit the Cork City Gaol (jail). The Gaol was opened in 1824 and was used to house only women at one time and also men, women and children at others. You would mostly wind up in the Gaol for all sorts of petty crimes: public drunkenness, stealing books, forgery, petty theft, child neglect. There were plenty of repeat visitors because the Gaol offered better conditions than living on the streets during The Famine. The Countess Markievicz landed here for a time for giving an anti-British speech in Cork. For those unfamiliar with Irish history, she was one of the main instigators of the 1916 Easter Rising in Dublin and spent much of her life afterwards in prison being one of only two such organizers who were not executed, being a woman (the other being future President Eamon de Valera who was spared because he was American). We took the guided version of the tour and found it was worth the extra euros.
All That Blarney. Next, we headed to Blarney Castle and Gardens. We booked online in advance, the only advantage of which we could see was if the day was completely sold out. You still had to wait in the queue to retrieve a paper ticket to enter. Nonetheless, the grounds are amazing. We spent several hours wandering around the gardens, by the lake, through the Fern Garden (with the most enormous fern plants we’d never seen), ending in the Rock Close, a former Druid encampment and site of worship, where you can visit the witches kitchen, the hermit’s cell or make a wish on the wishing steps.
I did climb to the top of the castle to watch my fellow tourists lie down to kiss the Blarney Stone but elected not to do so myself. Honestly, I’d naively assumed that kissing the Stone was supposed to bring good luck, but the true story is that it brings the famous Irish gift of gab and eloquence. The myth goes that when Cormac MacCarthy rescued a witch from drowning in the Blarney Lake she told him of a stone which had magical properties, if kissed. He located the stone, and after locking lips, was granted the gift of eloquence and lost his life-long stutter. Not having a stutter and being loquacious enough as it is (and, whether it’s rumor or real, I didn’t feel like I needed to lick the recycled Guinness of the locals off it’s surface), I passed on the kiss myself. Yet another difference between me, Sir Winston Churchill, Ronald Reagan and Mick Jagger. While the narrow spiral climb up was packed and a slow go at spots (I’m amazed at how many people who wouldn’t walk around a park choose to climb up to kiss a stone), we had most of the gardens to ourselves. Definitely worth the price of admission for some time in the park.
Kinsale. The crown of our Cork County Crossing was Kinsale. We’d already had it in our itinerary when we heard a Rick Steves podcast with recommended stops if you had only one week in Ireland (the recs were Dublin, Belfast and Kinsale). Kinsale is the “culinary capital of Ireland”. It was also our favorite small village on our circuitous route around the Emerald Isle. Colorful little restaurants, cafes, pubs, galleries and shops adorn Main Street and its surrounding blocks. The harbor boasts small yachts, sailing skiffs and fishing boats alike.
We took the low road of the Scilly (pronounced silly) Walk out to star shaped Charles Fort. Having seen our share of old fort ruins in Europe, we bypassed the 5 euro admission price and proceeded up the road where we found the Charles Fort path which winds along the bluff down to a small harbor and offers great views of the Fort itself and Kinsale beyond. We elected to return via the low road of the Scilly Walk to stay off of the car-trafficked high road. A good walk to work off some of the culinary delights found in town.
Having been on the go for most of our weeks in Ireland, we found Kinsale to be an ideal spot to slow down, breathe in the sea air and gear up for our final push around the southeast corner of Ireland before returning homeward.
On our way out of town, we popped over to Old Head to visit the Lusitania Memorial there. The Lusitania cruise ship was torpedoed off the coast of Ireland by a German U-boat in 1915. Memorials dot the shoreline in the small towns along this part of the Irish coast. The ship was visible from the shores of these southern Irish port towns and the locals rallied to save 761 people. Alas, not all were saved and 1201 died that day despite best efforts as the ship sank in a mere 20 minutes. The memorial is small and honors the lives lost on this beautiful peninsula poking into the Atlantic.
Calling On Cobh. The final port of call for the Titanic is a lovely little seaside village: the village of Cobh. Rainbow colored homes rise up the hillsides atop which the dramatic Cobh Cathedral looks down on the cafes, pubs and shops below. A stop for the cruise ships, Cobh is bustling with activity when a ship is in port. We stopped for lunch on our way eastward and took some time to wander around and visit the Cathedral. There’s also a Titanic Experience Museum here, but after visiting the Old Head Lusitania memorial earlier that day and the big Titanic museum in Belfast we figured we had met our quota of sunken ship tales for one trip. Cobh was a great stop and may be a good overnight.
A Bay View in Ballycotton. We ended our tour of Cork, and for that matter much of Ireland, in the small southeastern village of Ballycotton. Remote and rugged. I doubt the wind is still much here. We overlooked the Atlantic and the lighthouse perched just off shore. And to the question, just how many pictures of a lighthouse can he take? I didn’t count but suffice it to say it was a lot. I’ve shared a few of my favorites here.
There isn’t much to do in Ballycotton. A couple of pubs, a couple of restaurants, a fish and chips spot, a hotel. There’s a cliff walk which is a small dirt trail clinging to the cliffside. But after two weeks on the go, our slow pace in Cork was just the right way to close it out. It was the perfect ending to a nearly, if not absolutely, perfect three weeks on the Emerald Isle. So much beautiful scenery, so many beautiful people. Slainte, Ireland. Until we meet again.