Our second day of touring consisted of a long bus ride from Dromoland Castle down to Cork. It was punctuated with a series of wonderful stops.
Farther along the road, we stopped in the charming town of Kenmare. We had lunch at a traditional pub, Foley's, which was fine but unremarkable. Then we walked around the town. Here is a sampling of some of the shop signs on just one block:
The sun was shining as the group happily munched away on the patio. Paulie really enjoyed it, and ate her fair share, but, truth be told, neither of us had any as we are well into vacation-food-coma status. Yes, you read that correctly…even Wendy passed up some free food! By the way, “Bally” (and the derivative “ballin”) means town, so Ballylickey is like “Libertyville”. We are also in the area of Ballincolig, Ballinclasher, Ballinascarty, Ballineen, and the ever popular Ballinspittle.
Wayne and Wendy shared West Cork scallops nestled in foam -- outstanding. On to the mains: Wendy and Wayne ordered the grilled lemon sole-- lovingly accompanied by purple sprouting broccoli, rhubarb jelly, watercress pomme purée, and fennel salad with lemon verbena cream. Paulie enjoyed pan seared trout with dill and butter Rossi, curly kale, samphire (a water plant), Irish seafood broth, and trout caviar. Now, this is dining! All of our pre-conceived notions of Irish dining disappeared in a puff of leprechaun magic with this meal. Our desserts continued this extraordinary upward trend. Wayne enjoyed a deconstructed pineapple cheesecake-- again presented in bite-sized pieces.
No visit to Ireland would be complete without kissing the Blarney Stone (or, in Irish: Cloch na Blarnan). Paulie and Wayne had had enough narrow-circular-stair climbing at Bunratty, so Wendy went as their proxy (she promised to kiss each of us afterward to share the stone’s magic powers!). Once again we were blessed with fantastic weather….going through this ritual on a cold and/or windy day would be uncomfortable to say the least. Wendy was a true champ and fulfilled her mission beautifully so she can cross off “kiss Blarney Stone” (as well as “Visit Galapagos” and “climb to Machu Picchu”) from the “100 things to do before you die" list. A word about the actual kissing process: Once you reach the site of the stone (after the long spiraled staircase), the "kiss master" directs you to lie down on a blanket with your head toward the wall. Next, you are directed to grab two poles and arch your head backwards (think an inverted downward facing dog), look way backwards and down and smack away (the kiss master thankfully holds you in place). While you are getting in position and then kissing the stone (which bestows upon you the gift of gab), the built-in camera is snapping away.
They offer you the photos (for a price of course) after your descent. The tour guides do not mention that if you have some height issues, you truly need to be prepared here. One other thing. Wendy was so fixated on the height she couldn't give much thought to (what should have been) the real "issue" behind kissing the stone. Let's just say there was no Purel in sight! Yuk!!! All in all, an adventure and worth every second (and the two pictures plus T-shirt). The castle grounds, with river and gardens were simply beautiful by the way-- and especially beautiful from waaaay up there. There was even a “Poison Garden”, which featured all kinds of poison plants and an explanation of each (like foxglove, juniper, etc.). The sign at the entrance warned “Do not touch or smell any of these plants”! After descending, you must of course stop in at the self-billed "Largest Ireland Store” in the country. Yes indeed…they had everything Irish.
Today we were lucky that the farmer’s market was open. There were not many vegetables, but lots of stalls selling all kinds of other local and homemade goodies. We had a wonderful lunch at a restaurant called “Fishy Fishy"-- superb fish chowder and Wendy and Paulie shared a delectably lightly pan- fried sea bream with beets, crispy potatoes and zucchini tempura. Yum.
Then it was a short ride to Charles Fort (ok we would call it “Fort Charles”). This state-of-the-art star-shaped fort was built in the late 1600s to protect the entrance to the harbor from the Spanish and French fleets. A smaller fort, James Fort, was built on the other side of the harbor entrance. In some places the walls are 16 feet thick! And it was surrounded by a deep, wide moat (factual note: moats were not filled with water, despite what Hollywood has taught us). Here is a mozaic representation of the fort.....
Ironically, it was the British themselves who actually attacked and took the fort from its vulnerable land side. After that it was used as an army barracks until the 1920s.
The last stop of the day was back in Cork, at the English Market. This covered market has been on its present site since the mid-1800s. It was the model for the Boqueria Market in Barcelona (which, in our opinion, is much better). The market did not have a lot of colorful vegetables, but it did have the usual assortment of bizarre (to us) fish and cuts of meat.
From the market we walked about a mile back to the Hayfield. Here is a picture of a typical street sign, with the name of the street in both English and Irish.
A little later, the group bussed over to a nearby cathedral for a private concert given by Nancy Long
They alternately played as a group and in smaller combinations, and Nancy also sang a number of songs in a beautiful voice. The setting of the huge cathedral made it even more ethereal. And the topper was when they asked for requests and Wayne asked for (and was rewarded with) the most beautiful song ever written, "Clare de Lune", played on the most beautiful instrument.
Dinner was back at Hayfield Manor, but this time in the casual dining room. The menu had many of the same dishes as the previous night, but this time they were more fully constructed. For example, the Caesar salad was more recognizable and substantial.
Wendy had the seared halibut with coconut-infused risotto. Wayne had pan-fried duck with bok choy and potatoes Dauphinoise.
During this time, we have passed by green field after green field, all separated by greener hedgerows. So many hues of green! And we have even seen a few gloriously golden fields of flax.
Next we head toward our final stop in Ireland, the capital of Dublin.