Kilkenny & Cork, Ireland

We had to get up bright and early (actually it wasn’t bright – it was still pitch black at 7 a.m.) to catch the train to Bristol. There was a failed attempt by us to sneak into the first class carriage where there were seats available, but that plan was soon thwarted and we were promptly kicked out. Apparently everyone else in Cornwall was also catching the train today, resulting in us having to stand in the cramped aisles for the whole 3½ hour journey.

The one hour flight to Ireland flew by, and before I knew it we were picking up our hire car and heading to Kilkenny. It was a such a relief to drive on the left hand side with speed signs in km/h – I think this is the only country in Europe where this combination exists. I wasn't too happy to find that I was still driving a manual car though.

After checking in to a hostel in the tiny medieval town, we walked along the main street to find something for dinner. There wasn’t much to choose from, so we settled on one of the more inviting pubs. The meals were simple, but the highlight for Danny was trying the local Kilkenny beer, Smithwicks (‘w’ is silent, of course, because nothing is ever pronounced how it is spelled). We sat around with the locals for the rest of the night, trying not to fall asleep while we watched the soccer on TV (me more than Danny).​

In the morning, I grabbed a free breakfast at the hostel but there was no coffee for Danny, so before we could do ANYTHING we had to find coffee. Fortunately this task didn’t take long, and once Danny was able to function somewhat normally we set off to explore Kilkenny. We first walked up to a cathedral and tried to enter, but we were told that it was closed and asked to leave. The ‘open’ sign on the door was a little misleading. So instead we set off for the other, larger cathedral, which was accepting visitors but it wasn't as impressive as the first. 

Walking down the main road, we inconceivably passed six pubs in a row. A minute later we found another dozen or so further along the street. How do they all stay in business in such a small town? I guess the jokes about the Irish and their drinking isn’t too far from the truth. We bypassed then all (for now) and made our way up to the Castle, an imposing structure that was photogenic from every angle. The only way to see the inside was on a guided tour, so we joined a large group to make our way around the decorated rooms. We aren’t big fans of guided tours, but we were lucky to score an entertaining host that made the visit worthwhile.

Once we had finished wandering around Kilkenny we drove on to Cork, a couple of hours away. The journey through lush green countryside, with rolling hills and hedge-lined properties, wasn’t too dissimilar to England. We located a hostel with free car parking, and soon discovered we were sleeping in a bunk bed, for the second night in a row. When you’re on a budget, you have to make annoying sacrifices like this, I guess. ​

Cork was brightly lit at night, and the streets were still lined with Christmas decorations. We chose a busy restaurant for dinner, where Danny disappointingly ate a very unCaesar-like Caesar salad, while I scoffed down my fantastic lasagne. Afterwards, Danny learned that there was a soccer game on TV that he absolutely had to watch for some reason, so off he traipsed to a pub to watch it. As I’m not the world’s biggest soccer fan (to put it mildly), I returned to the room early. Unfortunately, we only had one key between us, which meant I had to stay awake way past midnight to let Danny in when he eventually stumbled back. Thanks Danny.

The following day was a busy one exploring Cork. First up, we strolled around an old fishing village known as the Shandon area. Now it is full of colourful houses, irregularly shaped buildings and modern bars. A large church on top of the hill was supposed to provide sweeping views of the city, but frustratingly it was shut. Also closed were two exhibition centres and a cathedral we attempted to visit. Evidently it was not the best time of year to be a tourist here. 

Next, we stopped by the Crawford Art Gallery, which miraculously was open. It contained a mishmash of many different styles of art, with no logical sequence for how to view them, but there were a few decent works here and there. The one section we did appreciate was where Gallery employees had chosen a piece to display, and provided a brief written explanation as to why they admired it. The variety of responses was surprising and insightful, teaching a novice art admirer like me a great deal about how to view different artworks.

For lunch we ate at an indoor market, where we bought soda bread and a few cheeses to create a mini picnic inside the market. Danny has been a little obsessed with soda bread since we arrived in Ireland, and is always on the lookout for it. The dough contains baking soda instead of yeast as a leavening agent, making it taste slightly different to regular bread. I wasn't as excited about it as Danny was. We also found a macaroon stall, where we gorged on several different flavours. Caramel and cinnamon was by far the best. 

​From Cork we drove to nearby Blarney Castle, set inside expansive, picturesque grounds. For such a popular attraction is was surprisingly run-down and devoid of tourists. At least it was open, and we were permitted to climb up several sets of stairs to the famous Blarney Stone. To say it was underwhelming would be an understatement. It looked like any other stone in the Castle wall - I couldn't see why this one was so special. I had heard of the tradition of kissing the Stone, but had no idea of how it occurred. I was hastily directed to lie down on my back on a piece of plastic, with my upper body hanging upside down over the edge of the building. In this position, I was directly in front of a shiny stone that thousands of others had kissed before me. I reluctantly joined in that saliva-fest by giving it my own peck. Supposedly, it gives the kisser the gift of the gab, which for my shy personality would be quite handy. I’m not holding my breath that I will suddenly become chatty after 29 years of being the quiet type though. Once Danny had taken his turn in the ritual, we wandered through several of the gardens on site. Danny’s favourite was the ‘Poison Garden’ (I don’t want to know why), while I was happy in a mossy garden complete with waterfalls and wishing steps. Clearly, our horticultural interests aren’t in alignment.

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