Posts Tagged ‘druid’s circle’

Day 8: Part II: All about the Blarney

But first, a limerick. We passed through county Limerick on our way to Blarney Castle, and my husband was playing around with something but couldn’t come up with a last line. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), a limerick sprang fully formed from my head like Athena from the head of Zeus and so…

There once was a man named Pete

Who couldn’t sit still in his seat.

His wife pinned him down

And then went to town.

By the time she was through, he was beat.

Yeah, I know, it’s a little risque, but I take inspiration where I find it.

On that note, we arrived at the famed Blarney Castle, where we did not wait in the hour and a half line to kiss the Blarney Stone. Both of us felt we were already sufficiently blessed with the gift of gab. And anyway, there was so much else to see! Not inside the castle, unfortunately. Inside there was apparently nothing but the queue for the stone. But outside, there was the poison garden, secret exits, the rock close with the druid’s circle and witch’s kitchen…

First a bit about Blarney Castle. The Castle we saw was actually the third built on the site—following a hunting lodge in the 10th century and a stone fortification built around 1210. The stone for this third castle (built in 1446 by Cormac MaCarthy, who we’ll get to in a minute) was quarried right on site, and the part of the castle’s protection is that it sits atop eight meters of sheared off cliff.

Now, good old Cormac seems to have been something of a character. According to one of the signs at the site, Queen Elizabeth I introduced the word ‘blarney’ into the English language to describe his facile tongue. It seems that when her emissary, Sir George Carew, was sent to convince Cormac to give up his rights and accept England’s authority, he was greeted each time with flowery claims of loyalty and overblown flattery of the Queen, but no agreement. “In frustration, Elizabeth exclaimed, ‘This is all Blarney. What he says he never means’.”

But it wasn’t just Cormac’s tongue that was tricksy. Blarney Castle’s architecture is unique in that not even the walls can manage a straight line; the towers narrow as they reach for the sky. Likewise, there were known to be at least three secret tunnels, like Badgers Cave, through which the family could escape, and a legend that enchanted cows would rise out of the lake to warn of danger. Blarney also employed the trip stairs and other fun defensive strategies.

Pete and I enjoyed the poison garden, where I learned quite a lot! Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be too concerned over. Maybe. Probably. But did you know that even smelling while hellebore could be permanently harmful to your health? Or that on the Aegean isle of Ceos “the elderly and infirm were expected to drink a potion of wolfsbane to free their families from the burden of caring for them”? Well, neither did I!

The rock close held all kinds of cool things like the druid’s circle, druid’s cave, a dolmen, witch’s kitchen and stone, stone circle… It was unclear to me how much was left as it was found and how much was, well, blarney, created for the enjoyment of the castle’s visitors past and present, but we certainly had a good time exploring. Regardless, we did give the Witch of Blarney her due and try to walk up and down her wishing steps with our eyes closed, thinking of nothing but our wish, which is remarkably hard, especially when people are coming the other way up/down the stairs, equally blind and there’s only one rail to hold onto! Luckily, people were very nice and we all did our best to guide those coming down so they wouldn’t end up with twisted ankles or a dip in the pool just beyond the stairs!

We’d been planning to also try for the medieval city of Kilkenny that day, but Blarney had so enchanted us that we were running a bit late and so we skipped it in favor of an early night before our trip home on the morrow. Happy to be seeing our son, who hadn’t wanted to be apart from his friends long enough to tour Ireland, and our pups, but very sad to be leaving the country that had stolen our hearts.

Day 7: Cliffs of Moher in high winds, the Rock Shop, Ross Castle, Druid’s Circle in Kenmare and Baileys’ Cheesecake!

The morning was bright and blustery with gale-force winds, as predicted. Still, we’d only walked along the Cliffs of Moher in one direction the evening before, so we wanted to start off in the other direction today. The crazy winds meant we did not try to overstep the lower, safer path and take the upper right along the cliffs with no barrier whatsoever (the better for taking pictures). We didn’t dare! My hat blew straight off my head at least twice, though luckily not to anywhere I couldn’t rescue it. And we were walking into the wind, which occasionally got up enough power to actually blow us back a step. We gave it up far sooner than I would have liked because the alternative just didn’t seem safe. Still, we got some amazing views, especially on our way back where suddenly it seemed as though small white birds were flying up from the depths of the cliffs…except the movement wasn’t quite right. When we got closer to where the objects had landed, we saw that it was sea foam. The power of the wind and the water were such that it tossed the foam over 200 meters to the top of the cliffs! Incredible!

I convinced Pete then that we had time to visit The Rock Shop. Because…Rock Shop! Yes, it is a store. No, it’s not an amazing natural formation or an incredible historical site. Still it was a high point for me. It merits blogging! I could easily have bought out the store if only I could have gotten it all back to the states. Gorgeous fairies and other ornaments (for the lawn and otherwise), fossils, really amazing jewelry…just about everything your heart could desire. I, um, ended up with just a few things. Presents, a stunning opal ring. Pete bought me an adorable little fairly named Sarah with dragonfly wings and a blue-patina. I got him a claddagh ring… It was over far too soon.

Our next lodgings were in Killarney, and we were lucky to discover that the ferry from Killimer to Killarney was still running despite the weather. I guess the weight of all the vehicles made it safe and steady enough even in the high winds. So, we sort of got our cruise, if not exactly the one we wanted.

In Killarney our bed and breakfast was right down the road from Ross Castle. I can tell you all about when Ross Castle was built and by who (and probably will in a minute, though I’ll have to look it up because they were out of their English guide books and I can’t remember off the top of my head!), but the really impressive thing about Ross Castle is that it’s been restored and provides the best glimpse I’ve had into how the tower forts were arranged and how people lived within them. The tour was wonderful and enlightening. For example, we learned more about murder holes, trip stairs at different heights and with slight tilts meant to trip up marauders unfamiliar with them, spiral staircases in a clockwise direction so that right-handed swordsmen (the majority) would have trouble swinging on their way up, but defenders coming down would have an easier time, and the reason beds were shorter than in modern day. I’d always thought this was because people were generally shorter, but apparently the reason is that the rooms were poorly ventilated and smoky. The poor air quality led to difficulty breathing, especially when laying down, so the nobility would sleep sitting up, propped against the bed’s backboard. Thus, furniture-makers began making the beds shorter to save on materials. The poor children and anyone else relegated to the floors would have to sleep on rushes (rarely changed) strewn on the hard floors and deal with the terrible conditions. I don’t generally refer people to Wiki, but the page on Ross Castle has a picture with a nice cross-section of the castle and a write-up with essentially what we learned on our tour. Oh, and Wiki says, “Ross Castle was built in the late 15th century by local ruling clan the O’Donoghues Mor (Ross)” so there you go.

While there is a ton to see and do in Killarney ( see Day 8 when it’s posted), we went from there to view the stone circle in Kenmare, which according to the flier is “the biggest example of over 100 circles that exist in the south west of Ireland.” As with all the stone circles, it’s believed to have held ritual and spiritual significance and were laid out according to the position of the sun. This one was interesting because the circle was complete, but not nearly as impressive as Stonehenge or Avebury, which you can see in the blog from our trip to England back in 2006. Avebury was my favorite. You just…felt something there. Well, I did anyway. Can’t speak for everyone. We’ve also been to and loved Scotland, and you can see that journal here.

Is it wrong that the high point of our evening was the Bailey’s cheesecake we had for desert at a pub in Kenmare? If I were ranking our Ireland deserts—and I am—this would have been second in line behind the chocolate Guinness cake and right before their whipped ice cream, which is Ireland’s answer to soft serve, but which has a wonderful consistency somewhere between marshmallow and whipped cream!