Leaving Glendalough we wound our way through the Wicklow mountains to the Hollywood Inn, where we were introduced to the Hurling Finals and learned a few Irish turns of phrase not mentioned in guide books.
Ravenous from hiking about, I dug into fish and home-cut chips, fascinated by the muscular men on the field balancing a tiny ball on short clubs while running, hitting the ball and being hit by it, all with no protective gear, but plenty of blood and bandages. The excitement rivaled a Superbowl party and Hollywood Inn was more than I hoped for with an uneven stone floor, heavy dark wood , a stone courtyard, tasty fresh food and superb service. Our first day in the Irish countryside was a success, now we had a real drive.
Bolstered by a hamburger he described as “very lean”, Jim drove us on narrow back roads to Kinsale, a quaint harbor town in County Cork, where we stayed at the Actons Hotel overlooking the harbor.
Our TomTom was set to avoid toll roads, which made each trip a bit longer and more scenic than motorways. We had no trouble finding “toilets”, a convenient petrol station in many towns we passed through.
Billy, our bartender in the lounge at Actons, patiently explained how children in Ireland begin their first day of school with a lunch box, a backpack, and a hurling stick. An older gentleman at the bar put us through a course of Irish dialect in a descriptive telling of a helicopter ride over County Tipperary that his daughter gifted him with on a recent birthday. They both asked what we liked most about Ireland thus far. I said I loved the water everywhere, especially the streams flowing down mountains and bubbling over rocks. The old man said, “Ahhh, that’s the piss!”, then laughed open-mouthed as did we. I told him I also like the potatoes, they were better than at home. He said, “Ahhh, yes the new potatoes are in, but don’t eat the chickens!”. Billy told us of growing up in Kinsale and said he would like to visit the Wicklow Mountains someday. Huge sprays of Asiatic lilies and eucalyptus graced tables throughout the hotel while small bouquets of hydrangea and roses adorned each stall in the lobby bathroom. Our room was modern and bright with clean lines and a warm breeze blew through a tall unscreened, tilted window. Sailboats rocked in the moonlit harbor. We slept deeply.
After our first day of venturing we had a true appreciation for a full Irish breakfast, which consisted of an array of juices, fruit, pastry, cereal, breads, cheeses and smoked salmon. We ordered eggs and sausage and the plate unnecessarily came with white and black pudding and a grilled tomato. Each day seemed as though it may be the one to try the pudding, but I never did chance it, afraid my stomach might upset our plans. We walked around Kinsale’s colorful streets while our breakfast settled before taking off for Blarney Castle.
Blarney Castle was THE castle of our trip and we took our time exploring all the nooks and scary crannies. Stone stairs spiraled up to the stone with a rope on one side to hold on to. As we ascended the walls grew closer and the old man in front of us stopped in fear, the opposite of my typical run through it reaction. Voices filtered up from the stairs and signaled a group coming up behind us. I felt trapped already, barely able to breathe. I jumped back down two stairs and yelled to my husband that I’d see him when he came down. My discovery of the family room, murder-hole above the castle’s main entry and arrow shaft views throughout the castle rooms thrilled me more than if I kissed a stone that through my camera zoom looked wet. Ugh. But, do not let claustrophobic me deter you.
Manicured grounds, gardens and a long carriage house were lush with vintage blooms and beside the castle stood a poison garden planted with castor beans, foxglove and other nefarious, yet pretty, flowers and plants. We rested and took in the groups of people who dotted the expansive lawn before we perused the gift shop and purchased a watercolour that I would carry on the plane to insure its safe arrival home. Our breakfast worn off, we headed back to Kinsale and away from tour bus crowds in search of a late lunch and a pint.