Ireland: Day 8 & 9 – Blarney, Killarney and Kenmare

blarney castle“Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit. Those who mix with Irish folk have many examples of it in their everyday experience.”–– John O’Connor Power (Irish politician)

 Blarney Castle & Gardens

I walk up the path, over bridges and past caves, to the infamous castle.

It’s “grand” as they say in Ireland.

blarney castleA towering 1446 castle situated amonst 60 acres of the most majestic gardens I’ve ever seen.

And here I am now in the cattle call, about to embark on a peculiar tradition that people from all over the world have been coming here for over 200 years to do.

I’m going to kiss the Blarney Stone.

A steep, narrow staircase spirals up through the middle of the fortress.

Through vertical slits in the walls, just wide enough to shoot an arrow through, a wonderland of poisonous gardens, fairy glades, fern jungles and a dark staircase that grants you wishes are splayed 30 feet down below.

blarney castle
Thuja Plicata (Western Red Cedar)
blarney castle
Ex-situ conservation project with Institute of Ecology in Hanoi, Vietnam. Inside the native Vietnamese plant garden, which includes cardamom plants.
blarney castle
The Blarney House
blarney castle
The Witch Stone   

It gives you “the gift of eloquence” the signs say as I continue up 100 steep, tiny steps to the top, wind howling through the cracks of the thick stone walls.

The stone has a history of its own before it came to Blarney. Starting in Ireland as “the fatal stone,” then moving to Scotland to become “the stone of destiny,” before being brought back to Ireland where it resides now.

Legend has it that it was a witch who revealed the stone’s power of eloquence to its new royal owners just after she was saved from drowning.

blarney castle

It’s my turn in the que.

I hand over my purse and glasses and make my way down to the ground. Stretched out on my back, with knees bent and arms reaching over head, I hear a man say, “grab on to the metal poles.”

Both hands find a pole and I pull myself towards the cold limestone wall, hovering over a gap between the floor and the wall, nothing between me and the ground below.

“Now kiss the Blarney stone,” the man beside me says.

blarney castle

Killarney

It’s lunchtime when we pull into Killarney.

With a stroke of Irish luck my brother finds a parking spot and we hop out in search of a hot meal. I’m thinking corned beef and cabbage today.

KillarneyA donut shop catches my eye. It’s like the one I ogled in downtown Cork. I’ll be back later for that.

Killarney

The streets are lively. Full of souvenir shops, music stores, pubs and restaurants.

There is a man dressed in what looks like traditional Irish peasant clothing playing a bodhran with a group of life-sized wind up dolls backing him up with accordions, harps and flutes.

Interesting.

Creepy, but interesting.

I giggle and take a video of the man who puts on a show just for me, waving at the camera and dancing a little jig.

Man, this place is wonderfully odd.

KillarneyLunch is underwhelming. I find my corned beef, but my heart sinks when I bite into a tough, dry piece of flavorless brisket topped with a sauce hastily made of butter, corn flour and milk resembling Elmer’s glue.

“Your’s is way better,” my brother says to my mom.

I agree. This one is missing an important ingredient––love.

I run back to Celtic Donuts before jumping back in the car.

Time to redeem Killarney.

I order a latte and a Ferraro Rocher donut––dark chocolate and hazelnuts stuffed full of ganache.

Killarney
Celtic Donuts in Killarney

KillarneyThere it is.

The love….

I found it.

I find out later from my Scottish Step-mom that the only reason a pub might have corned beef and cabbage on the menu in Ireland is for tourists.

It’s considered American food at this point. A dish no respectable Irishman would ever serve his guests.

Kissane Sheep Farm

We’ve got a 4 p.m. appointment with a flock of sheep, a dog named Gwena and a barber named John.

There is time to kill so we take it slow on highway 17, stopping to take in the picturesque views of Killarney Lake, “Lady’s View”––named after a visit from the Queen who stopped here on her trip––and “Molls Gap”––a gap in the mountains where the highways meet.

Killarney
A walk down to Killarney Lake
Lady's View
Lady’s View

This gorgeous drive we are on is part of the infamous Ring of Kerry.

The terrain looks different here. Drier, more mountainous. Timber farms have replaced dairy farms. We’ve moved out of cow territory and into sheepville.

The mountains twinkle from far away, fresh water trickling out of seemingly nowhere.

A sheep sitting on a hill, just off the highway, stares at me while she chews grass for what seems like hours. Her eyes piercing their way into my soul, utterly motionless except for her mouth rotating in circles chomping away.

Moll's Gap
My buddy at Moll’s Gap

A working sheep farm is an exciting place I tell you.

Especially when you have massive tour busses spilling hordes of tourists outside your door.

Kissanes, like many other sheep farms in Ireland, has had to resort to tours and demos to keep them in business, now that wool exports have slowed way down.

In the 80’s Kissane’s would rake in $45,000 for two large truck full of wool. These days 3.5 tons gets them a measly 1500 bucks.

kissanes sheep farm

Gwena––the award-winning, sheepherding collie dog––and Evan––sheepdog whisperer extraordinaire––put on a good show. We learn that when Evan shouts “away” Gwena steers the sheep to the left. “Come on,” triggers Gwena to steer them right. And “sit” makes Gwena sit, which in turn makes the sheep stop.

The duo parades the sheep all over the hillside for us, bringing them close enough for us for a good sheep pic.

Kissane Sheep FarmAfterward, they heard us into the barn where we watch John shear a sheep. A process that takes all of 1-2 minutes.

John’s got to be quick. On a normal shift he shears 200-300 sheep a day.

Kissane Sheep Farm
Next up for shearing

On the way out a woman, sitting by the exit door, spins wool and tales and there is an opportunity to buy soaps and hand creams made from sheep’s milk.

Kissane Sheep Farm

Kenmare

Next along the highway is the quaint town of Kenmare, where we will be stopping for dinner and a warm bed.

Mick and Jimmy are twins from Ireland who have spent time cooking in great food cities like San Francisco, London and Chicago. They settled in Kenmare in 2015, opening a charming little restaurant that pours coffee and green juices in the morning and serves world-inspired fare the rest of the day.

Mick and Jimmy'sFashionable throw pillows adorn long wood banquettes that run down the length of the room.  The words “Good food. Good friends. Good times.” are painted on the ceiling above as you enter the dining room.

Mick and Jimmy's

Mick and Jimmy's

We order three dishes, all hearty and full of spice and character.

Mick and Jimmy's
Jimmy’s Jamaican Jerk Chicken Meatballs with mango salsa, coconut rice and drunken black beans
Mick and Jimmy's
“Ropa Vieja” National Dish of Cuba – shredded steak simmered in sofrito sauce with olives, capers, coconut rice, cuban black beans and fried plantains
Mick and Jimmy's
Big Texan Burger with cheddar, beer battered onion rings, whiskey BBQ ketchup, caramelized onions, tomato and rocket.

We opt for an early night, to catch up on sleep and prepare for our big next day.

Tomorrow we drive to the Cliffs Of Moher…

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