After a day of driving the Ring of Kerry and a night spent in Killarney, we started heading east and making our way back to Dublin. Our first stop was in the town of Blarney, home to Blarney Castle and the famous Blarney Stone.
The Blarney Castle that still stands today was built in 1446 and it’s the third castle on this site, with the first one dating back to the 10th century. It was built by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster and built into the castle is the Blarney Stone. While the castle itself is a site to see, it’s the Blarney Stone that makes this castle so unique to the countless other castles in Ireland.
The origins of the Blarney Stone are not known for sure, but they all have Cormac McCarthy in common. One such legend involves McCarthy being led to the stone by a goddess when he had a serious court case. Another legend says the stone was gifted to McCarthy by Scotland when he helped them defeat the English in the Battle of Bannockburn. Regardless of the origins of the Blarney Stone, people from all over the world have visited Blarney Castle to kiss this stone for hundreds of years.
Legend states that kissing the stone will bring you the gift of gab. Kissing the stone is quite the process, first it involves walking up to the top of the castle. The stairs up are narrow at points and if you are one who isn’t a fan of heights, the closer you get to the top, the harder it may be for you. Then there is the whole, having to lay on your back and lean your head backwards to kiss the stone. While the walk up and the height didn’t bother me much, I feel very uncomfortable leaning my head backwards, sounds crazy, but it makes me dizzy. If you’ve read my post on the Cliffs of Moher you know I have the weakest stomach ever, so of course moving my head a different way would lead to dizziness. It’s a shame because as a very introverted person, I could probably use that “gift of gab”, it would have come in very handy in all the interviews I had in my recent job search, but hey I guess I did ok without it.
Whether you will be kissing the Blarney Stone or not, it’s definitely worth it to visit the castle and walk around inside. I mean it’s been there since the 1400s, who wouldn’t want to explore something that old.
One of the great things about walking to the top of the castle, were the views of the surrounding area. The views were so amazing that had I kissed the Blarney stone, I’m pretty sure the views would still have been the highlight of getting to the top.
As much as I loved visiting the castle and learning it’s history, I could have spent all day exploring and relaxing in the grounds and gardens of the Blarney Castle. My trip to Ireland was filled with beautiful dry sunny spring weather, definitely not the cool, rainy weather I had envisioned in Ireland. The day I spent in Blarney was definitely the most perfect spring weather day.
The grounds were a beautiful spot to walk, with many trails leading you past rivers, thru nature and by the beautiful gardens. From spring favorite flowers to fern gardens, tropical gardens with palm trees (yes there are palm trees in Ireland) to even a poison garden. After taking a short walk around the grounds, I grabbed a sandwich and a Baileys Coffee at the onsite snack bar and just sat at a table by the river and enjoyed the views.
After visiting Blarney Castle and Gardens, make sure to visit the nearby Blarney Woolen Mills. It’s the perfect spot to grab some Irish made gifts for those at home and for yourself. I mean, who can leave Ireland without purchasing and Irish sweater? After some shopping, we were off to the next stop…
Not only is Waterford the oldest city in Ireland, but it also happened to be the city that our tour guide was from. As enthusiastic as she was about all the other stops on the tour, she was even more enthusiastic about visiting her hometown and you could tell it held a special place in her heart.
This waterfront city dates back a thousand years and located in the city center are many historic Viking attractions to explore this town’s long history. We stayed at the Granville Hotel for the night which is located right in the city center and had beautiful views (see above) of the waterfront. At night the boats sails were lit up and I almost felt like I was watching a stationary Electrical Water Pageant like the one at Disney World. The Granville Hotel itself has a historic past, dating back to the 1700s, it was the birthplace of the man responsible for the flag of Ireland, Thomas Francis Meagher. Over the years, the hotel was host to many famous people and we left Waterford the next morning wondering if Prince Charles and Camilla might be staying there the next night as they were due in Waterford a couple of hours after we started making our way back to Dublin.
When hearing the name Waterford, the crystal of the same name may come to mind and it is in fact from Waterford, Ireland. From the New Years Eve ball in New York City’s Time Square to chandeliers in many famous buildings around the world, such as Windsor Castle, Waterford Crystal is known as some of the finest crystal in the world. The company has been around since 1783 when it was started as Waterford Glassworks by the Penrose brothers. While currently the majority of Waterford Crystal is produced outside of Ireland, they do have a visitor center in Waterford where you can take a factory tour and visit the retail store, which houses the largest collection of Waterford Crystal in the world.
If you happen to visit the retail store, feel free to pick up this beauty pictured below for me, it’s only $40,000 😉
My favorite part of being in Waterford and one of the highlights of my week’s tour of Ireland took place that evening. We headed out to an old local pub for an evening of drinks and live music from a local musician who was friends with our tour guide.
The pub night took place at Jack Meades Pub, located a few miles outside the city center. Located under an old stone bridge, they like to say it’s “Ireland’s only flyover pub”. The pub has been around since 1705 and it’s been owned by generations of the same family since 1857. A family owned, old pub? Definitely my kind of place! I loved all the little historic touches in the place, like the first liquor license above the door…
And the old bar when you walk in was the perfect spot for a photo op! My friend saw the picture and asked if I got to pour my own beer. 😂
Once we finished our photo op behind the bar, we headed upstairs for an evening of drinks and great live music. The bar upstairs used to be the living quarters back in the day for the family that owns Jack Meades. The live music was great, the performer, I believe his name was Tom, has traveled and performed at many Irish pubs in the US. He went around the room in between songs and asked were everyone was from. As some of you may know I live in South Boston neighborhood of Boston, a very big Irish community. When I said I was from South Boston, he said, “You’re from Southie!” So great to hear the nickname of my neighborhood while being across the Atlantic in Ireland. He even mentioned a few local pubs that he had performed at in South Boston.
After a fun evening in Waterford, we were off for our final stop on the tour before arriving back in Dublin. That final stop was the medieval city of Kilkenny.
One of the top sites in Kilkenny is definitely the Kilkenny Castle. Built in the 12th century after the Norman invasion of Ireland, the castle was eventually bought by the powerful Butler family and was owned by them until they sold it to the city of Kilkenny in 1967. Crazy to think that the castle stayed in the hands of the same family for hundreds of years.
Due to the timing of our quick visit to Kilkenny, we did not have enough time to take a tour of the castle, so I just walked around the gardens which are definitely worth exploring. From the gardens, there are steps down to the river where there is a long walkway for a beautiful walk along the river where I saw many people walking with their morning coffee or walking their dogs.
As we were arriving at Kilkenny, we were told the story of the Kilkenny Cats. As legend has it, there were once two cats who were involved in a ferocious battle. The cats are a symbol of the tenacity and fighting spirit of Kilkenny. While I was there, there was an art installation of cats throughout the city. As a huge cat lover, I was very excited to see these.
Seeing the cats was a great way to end the trip thru Ireland before heading back to Dublin for a visit to the Guinness Storehouse before heading back to the US the following morning.
My trip to Ireland was 22 months later than planned, but it was well worth the wait. I hope you enjoyed my Exploring Ireland posts, be sure to check out the other posts on the rest of my trip. Beer and Whiskey in Dublin, Weekend in Dublin, Galway and Cliffs of Moher and Ring of Kerry. If you have the chance to visit Ireland, take it, the country was more beautiful than I imagined.
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