On our second day in Ireland, we headed to the town of Blarney in County Cork to pay a visit to Blarney Castle.
Most people who visit Blarney Castle do so to kiss the infamous Blarney Stone, said to bestow the gift of eloquence, but my husband and I decided to avoid the long queues in favor of exploring the expansive castle grounds. Occupying over 60 acres, there’s really a lot to see here, and we wished we’d had more time.
Our first stop was the Poison Garden, home to over a dozen fatal plant species, including Wolfsbane and Mandrake made famous by the Harry Potter series.
I was surprised by how many plants were either caged or missing. Do people snip off a bit to create their own murderous concoctions?
My favorite part of the Blarney Castle grounds was the Rock Close Garden, which lies on the site of an ancient Druid settlement.
They even have the remnants of a sacrificial altar!
The Rock Close Garden is also where the Witch of Blarney lives. Apparently, it is quite common to leave pennies as an offering atop the stone where she resides. Fortunately, she only emerges a night so we didn’t encounter her.
You can also visit the Witch’s Kitchen, where it is said one can often see remnants of a fire in the early morning hours.
For those up for a bigger challenge than kissing the Blarney Stone, one can walk down the “Wishing Steps” — a dozen steep steps, absent a handrail, overlooking a cliff — backwards with your eyes closed. If you complete this process without meeting your demise, all of your wishes will come true. As I am not a sensible person, I was up for the challenge, but my husband talked me out of it.
Only after we left the Blarney Castle grounds did I learn there is also a Megalithic tomb near the Rock Close Garden. This is something I wished we’d seen as well, but unfortunately it wasn’t highlighted in our brochure.
We then paid a brief visit to Blarney Woollen Mills — the world’s largest Irish store. I was glad I’d looked at their offerings online in advance of our trip, as it was a bit overwhelming.
For lunch, we decided to avoid the masses of tourists at the Blarney Woollen Mills restaurant, and we trekked the 500 yards to the Muskerry Arms pub. I had a bowl of their excellent homemade seafood chowder.
On to Killarney, where we stayed the next two nights, we began our preparations for St. Patrick’s Day a few days early at O’Donoghue’s Pub, adjacent to our hotel. I tried a few beverages local to the nearby city of Cork — Bulmer’s Cider and Cork’s Dry Gin. The latter I found to be especially good served over ice with a twist of lemon.
But it wasn’t too late of a night, as we were up early the next morning for a motor coach tour of the Ring of Kerry, a 179 km loop road that traverses the Kerry Peninsula in southwest Ireland. Throughout the course of the day we made at least a dozen stops to check out interesting sites and stunning scenery.
At the Kerry Bog Village, we learned about typical 18th century village life in the region. I was especially interested to learn more about the bog bodies that had been found nearby — naturally mummified remains nearly 10,000 years old that were likely victims of ritual sacrifice. I had hoped to see the bodies on display at the National Archaeology Museum in Dublin, but we just didn’t get there.
Throughout the day, there was no lack of impressive scenery.
Stopping for lunch at the Ring of Kerry Hotel, I had one of my best meals of the trip: oak-smoked salmon served with a salad, brown bread, pickled fennel and oranges.
At the highest point of our journey, some of us got to hold a newborn lamb.
The owner was nearby to prevent these cute fellows from being kidnapped.
We ended the day with a carriage ride through Killarney National Park.
This included a brief visit to Ross Castle, built in the late 15th century.