Natasha celebrated her birthday by adding another new country, Ireland, and kissing the Blarney Stone. Today we docked in Cobh on the southeastern coast of the Republic of Ireland. The weather was absolutely miserable with sheets of rain coming down and colder temperatures. We were not deterred and set out on our bus excursion to Cork and Blarney Castle.
Actually transport from the cruise dock was very easy. Walk across the dock and you will find the train station for the short ride into Cork. Also right on the dock was a Titanic museum and a short walk up the hill brought you to a lovely Cathedral overlooking the Harbor.
Cobh (pronounced “Cove”) is the historical name for this community that sits on Great Island. It is the historic port where transatlantic visitors and immigrants left Ireland. On the dock is even a statute of the first immigrant admitted to Ellis Island in New York. She left Ireland from this dock in Cobh.
Some may be more familiar with the name this town once held, Queensland, the final stop the Titanic ever made. The British Queen visited and the inhabitants requested they be allowed to change the name to honor her visit. The request was granted and the name Queensland stayed with the community until Irish Independence in 1922 when the name Cobh was restored.
One family in First Class and a large group of steerage passengers left from this dock to board the Titanic. Queensland was the ship’s last stop before crossing the Atlantic. Captain Smith actually did not pull the ship all the way into the dock but anchored outside the harbor to save time. The passengers were tendered to the ship. Many family members and friends and curious community members were there to see the ship off. Today a small, but well-done, museum sits on the dock and a memorial wall is in place next to the dock train station.
Our bus headed off to a panoramic lookout near Fort George. With the weather, you could see absolutely nothing. We headed down to the picturesque village of Kinsale. Most people got off the bus and ran straight to the first teashop they saw. Rocky and I, raincoats on and umbrella in hand, braved the weather and walked around to see the village with its bowed store front windows (once again looking straight out of Harry Potter). One of my favorite buildings looked like a converted stable and was a combination Lawyers’ offices and brewery.
Looking like drowned rats we boarded the bus headed back to Cork. The city dates its start from a 7th century monastery. Cork is built on an island and has 27 bridges. Up until the 1740s, many of streets were waterways. It is sometimes called the Venice of Ireland. It is a major shipping city where dockworkers could paralyze the economy with a strike; all that changed with the introduction of the roll off shipping containers. It remains a city of major distilleries with primary industries in butter, beef, and beer. To encourage investment, the government made a significant drop in the corporate tax.
Our lunch stop was also in Cork. We were treated to a traditional beef stew-the meat was very tender-and a drink of our choice. Included in the offerings was a Murphy, the traditional beer of this area (Guinness is associated with Dublin). Natasha, who is not a beer drinker, enjoyed a few sips before passing it on to Rocky who enjoyed two pints.
Women entertained us with Irish Dance (think Riverdance) and a local band, The Weavers, entertained with Irish folk music. They worked very hard to include the crowd who were wet and hadn’t have enough pints to really get into it. Yes, it was still raining; the entrance to the party room as flooded and we ended up walking through another dining room to get to lunch.
After lunch it was time for the tour highlight, a visit to Blarney Castle and the chance to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. We had given up on the idea of the stone until our lunchtime tablemates convinced us it was an opportunity not to be missed. We arrived at the carpark next to a shopping area in the village of Blarney, very charming. The grounds surrounding the castle are very pretty with wooden bridges covering the steams and lovely flowers that appeared just to be growing wild on the grounds.
This castle was a tower house, and a tall one at that. It is in ruins. The Blarney Stone is at the very top. To kiss the stone you have to climb a long winding staircase, parts of which are uncovered. Standing in this line (which can be up to two hours) is the only way to see the inside of the castle. Already wet and celebrating my birthday, I convinced Rocky that we should go for it. I should tell you that in addition to the wait and the climb, to reach the stone you have to lay on your back, grab two metal poles, and lean down putting your head back. Yep!
It wasn’t pretty, but I did it. No one knows exactly where the tradition of kissing the stone comes from, but you kissing it and making a wish is said to give you the Gift of Eloquence. There are plenty of people that wish I had less to say than more. Perhaps the kiss will make me more succinct.
The castle was a strategic stronghold long sought after by Queen Elizabeth I whose representatives were charmed on their visits, but never seemed to be able to come home with “the deed to the castle”. In her frustration, the Queen is said to have referred to it as “just a bunch of blarney stones”. Perhaps the origin of the tradition?
We made a brief stop in the Mill store where I bought a few Irish linens and Rocky found a newsboy hat he liked. Finally there was the bus ride back to the ship. After the tour, we returned to the room to find they had decorated it for my birthday and even left me a special pillow. It was a complete surprise. I completed the day with a bottle of champagne. Not a bad birthday!