Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Ireland 2011 - Chapter 2 - Kilkenny, Cork, & Castles

Our last day in Northern Ireland started out at a magical place called The Dark Hedges. Out in the countryside of Country Antrim, this wonderful hidden gem of a place is an allée of 300 year old beech trees that originally led to a manor house, but now simply connects two small county roads. It was so COOL looking!

Dark Hedges, Ballymoney, NI

We got lost on the back roads trying to get back to Portrush to see Dunluce Castle. It was Sunday morning, all the gas stations were closed, and I was running out of gas - talk about nerve-wracking! And I didn't even have a cell phone to call for help! Luckily, everything worked out okay, and we found a fuel stop just in time. Phew!

The golf courses in Ireland are so different from those in the United States. I didn't see any trees on them at all, and there's a lot of rough area. We saw very few golf carts; most players were pulling their gear behind them.

The Royal Portrush Golf Club at Portrush, Northern Ireland

The limestone cliffs along this stretch of coastline have been eroded away over time into interesting configurations ...

White Rocks, Portrush, Northern Ireland

Dunluce Castle, near Bushmills, is perched on a high basalt cliff overlooking the ocean. This place was fought over for three hundred years, from the 13th century until the late 18th, when it fell into disrepair. Treachery, murder, betrayal - the history of Dunluce Castle reads like a Lifetime movie script. (When we were standing at this spot taking a picture, we met a man who was bicycling through Northern Ireland, and, after talking for a few minutes, found out that he lives just an hour or so away from me here in Pennsylvania, and loves the hamburgers from a certain little restaurant in my home town!)

Dunluce Castle, Portrush, NI

The castle sits on an outcropping of land, and the only way to gain access to it, back in the days of knights and ladies, would have been across a drawbridge where you see the walkway today, then through a narrow door in the gatehouse. They kept the entrance small so their enemies couldn't overwhelm them with great numbers of soldiers all at once.

Dunluce Castle

It's hard to imagine how they built this place on the steep cliffs. Pretty impressive!

Dunluce Castle

Stones from the Giant's Causeway were used in the construction of the castle walls.

Wall of Dunluce Castle

After touring the castle, we were chilled to the bone, so we warmed up with a hot cup of tea and some lunch at "The Wee Cottage", a quaint little tea room on the grounds of the castle. Then we were off to Dublin to turn in the car and get ready for the next part of our adventure.

We made it to Dublin, but not without a few detours, courtesy of our "quirky" GPS. (By the end of our two-week trip, after being misguided countless times, we were calling Ms. Garmin some very unsavory names!)

THE TOUR

The next morning we met in the hotel lobby to pick up our Driftwood tour. The 7-day Treasure Island tour was supposed to be a small group tour with 12-15 people, but we were surprised to discover that our only other traveling companions were Mary and Bernadette, a mother and daughter from Virginia Beach. It was like having a private tour! We rode around in a stretch Mercedes instead of a minibus, and felt like we were sitting in the lap of luxury. Our driver, Danny, was the sweetest guy, and so incredibly knowledgeable about Irish history. We took to calling him Mr. Google, because we could ask him anything and he'd have the answer for us!

Our first stop was the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary ...

Rock of Cashel
This section looks like Rapunzel's tower!
Monastery ruins, Cashel, Ireland
Rock of Cashel

Then we traveled southwest to Cork and stopped at Blarney Castle. No, I did not kiss the Blarney Stone, but I did climb up the steep, narrow, winding spiral staircase to the top of the castle to see it. The view from the parapets at the top is spectacular.

Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle and watchtower

One of the nicest parts of visiting Blarney Castle is having a chance to meander around the grounds. The Rock Close garden is a wonderful, mystical place, with streams and waterfalls, flowers, caves, and centuries-old trees. There were places where I almost expected a fairy or leprechaun to peek out from behind a tree!

Blarney Castle gardens


After leaving Blarney, the day turned blustery and rainy. We drove through the mountains of County Cork to an out-of-the-way place called Gougane Barra, one of the neatest places we visited on our trip. More about that in my next post!

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