Is There a Dutch Word for “Blarney?”

27 Jan

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Day 13 was another “Up And Out Early” day. We had a flight from Schiphol Airport and had to be there at 7:30. Karel gave us the lowdown on the bus. The N97 and the 197 run every 15 minutes 24 hours a day and stop two blocks from The Collector. The bus was GPS equipped and a screen at the front gave us the current location and a running ETA to the next stop as well as to the end of the line (The airport).

The system seemed to move us along efficiently on what I judged to be a medium-traffic morning at the airport.

The system seemed to move us along efficiently on what I judged to be a medium-traffic morning at the airport.

We made it to the airport in plenty of time. We checked in for our flight and used the very Star Trek-looking luggage self check. You scan in your ticket and passport and a cage opens on a long metal cylinder about 4 feet high. You place the bag inside and the cage rolls down into place. Provided that you don’t have to pay an overweight fee, away goes your bag. From there you proceed to departures. At the time of our trip Schiphol did not have centralized departure security (I read on one or two sites that this may be changing), but security checks at the departure gates. I sailed through for once and looked back to see that Julia had been stopped and her bag was being searched. Apparently the square block of clotted cream fudge she’d purchased in Canterbury looked like something else on x-ray. The guard who searched her bag pulled the fudge from beneath a number of other items packed very tightly and neatly and carried it over to the x-ray operator. He angrily showed the fudge to the operator and hissed “It’s CANDY,” before returning it to Julia with an apology.

We flew Aer Lingus to Cork. Aer Lingus is the national carrier for the Republic of Ireland and (At least at present) the second largest airline in the country. While neither of us care for the constant sales pitch on the plane for duty-free, it was the quickest and most economical way to get from Amsterdam to Cork, costing $210 for the both of us at the time. Some months after our trip I began getting special offer emails from Aer Lingus. I presume the fact that our flight originated in Amsterdam is the reason they were all in Dutch.

We landed in Cork and zipped through passport control with about three words from the Customs officers, all of whom liked our luggage. At the Hertz counter the clerk looked me up and down and said “Erm… d’ya want a bigger car?”

“No, I’m sure the one we’ve booked is fine.”

He looked dubious to say the least. I’m 6’2” and north of 250.

“You go and have a look at it, then if you want a bigger car you come back.”

I agreed that I would. Turns out that we had a Suzuki Swift hatchback. The hatch covered a space that just barely fit our shoulder bags. Backpacks and suitcases went into the back seat and were stacked high enough to block the rear view mirror. Let me reiterate here that we each had one rolling case, one shoulder bag, and one backpack (Official carry-on size). It was a VERY tiny car, but suited our needs with nothing really extraneous so we stuck with it.

I’d read a number of negative things about renting cars in Ireland. I had the impression from a couple of forums that I was in for a tremendous hassle. We had no problem at all. I did a search on Expedia, booked the car at a decent rate, then entered the confirmation number at Autoslash. If you’ve never used Autoslash I STRONGLY recommend you start. It’s a simple (And free!) service that has saved me as much as 41% on car rentals in the past. You go to the site, enter your rental confirmation number (Or search for a rental through the site), then provide your email address. From that point until you rent the car the site searches for discounts on your rental. You’ll be alerted via email when a lower rate becomes available and you can rebook and cancel your original reservation. Check out their website next time you rent a car, autoslash.com.

It had been over 20 years since I’d driven a car in Europe. The Swift was a stick. The physical act of operating a right-side drive isn’t so bad. Shifting with your left hand is a little weird but the pedals are in the same order. It’s the whole “Left Side of the Road” thing that messes with you. It throws off your spacial orientation and makes it hard to judge distances. Of course, all the street signs looking different doesn’t help either. Our system works like this: I concentrate on driving the car… staying on the correct side of the road, obeying the speed limit, trying to obey the traffic laws and not hitting anything. Julia’s job is to navigate and point out things like traffic signals… and pedestrians… and to shout “On the LEFT! Drive on the LEFT!” when we make turns. It works pretty well. I’ve driven all over southwest Ireland, Northern Ireland, and Scotland without major incident. So far.

Day 13. (6)

That’s a bottle of vinegar, not water (Perish the thought!)

We made our way from the Cork Airport to Blarney Village in about 20 minutes. We parked on the Square and went looking for some lunch. Picture the very essence of a small village green bordered by a low stone wall and lined with shops and a pub next to an ancient estate. Don’t worry about it being too stereotypical or twee. Got it? You’ve successfully pictured the Square in Blarney. Look closer and it’s a completely modern tourist area that also functions just fine as a commerce center for the locals. Pub? Check. Woolen mill on the River Martin? Check. Souvenir shops? Check. But you’ll also note the grocery, bank, and takeaway shops, even a Chinese place, and they all blend in very well. We were to learn that a lot of Ireland looks very much they way it has for the last two hundred years or so. Yes, there are modern city centers and subdivisions, but drive just a few minutes in pretty much any direction and there are places where time seems to have stopped altogether. By no means have they sacrificed function for the tourist’s notion of what Ireland should be, rather they seem to have incorporated the notion of being a tourist destination into the fabric of Ireland right next to the tech industries and traditional farms and gone about their business. Additionally, everyone we met in our time in Ireland was very genuine. It’s not an act. If it is… it’s an exceptional one. I live in a tourist/service industry city so I should know.

We found a place to park on the Square and went inside the Muskerry Arms for lunch. We ate in the pub and I had the fried plate. I love love love love love Irish food. Black pudding, white pudding, chicken strips, venison sausages, chips, and shrimp wrapped in noodles…. and then fried. A pint of Bulmer’s Irish cider to wash it down and I really couldn’t be happier! In addition to the pub & restaurant the Muskerry Arms is also a well-rated guest house. Information here.

We returned to the Square and walked across the green to the castle grounds entrance. A bell had been tolling constantly for several minutes. It wasn’t midday, or the bottom of the hour, or even a quarter-hour. I couldn’t think why that bell kept going. Then we noticed a hearse parked on the west side of the green. Maybe twenty mourners stood in a group behind. The hearse slowly rolled out of the village and the mourners walked behind. My family’s rural roots are only a single generation in the past. I’ve seen funeral processions 70 cars long in places where drivers not only pull over but stand outside their cars as the motorcade passes, but I’d never in my life seen mourners make the journey to the cemetery on foot. The compactness of village life I suppose.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle

I’ll confess that my planning for our trip to Blarney Castle extended only so far as learning where it was and their opening hours. So it was a pleasant surprise to learn that Blarney castle was built in 1446 by Cormac the Strong, Lord of Muskerry and… Chieftain of the Clan McCarthy! McCarthy is Julia’s family name and she was thrilled to learn that Blarney Castle is her (And I’m quoting here) “Ancestral hizzle.” It’s an imposing fortress built atop a rock surrounded by really very beautiful grounds. The site is bordered on the north by the River Martin (Or Blarney River, depending on whose map you read). Both Blarney Castle and Blarney House are open to the public. As of this writing entry is €13.00 for adults (€12.50 if you book online) and €5.00 for kids (No online discount). There is a family ticket for €32.00 that includes entry for 2 adults and 2 children. Ticket and other information can be found on their website, blarneycastle.ie.

 We began our ascent through the castle. The winding stone stairs are narrow and certainly not for the claustrophobic. A number of doorways inside the castle were a challenge for a guy my height. And width. The wooden floors and ceilings of the great central rooms have long since fallen away. You can see the supports running around the outer walls that would have held the joists in place. In one place there is even a small remnant of a plaster relief decoration.

The McCarthys were known as outstanding hosts. By all accounts their parties were off the chain, in some cases making it necessary for guests to “Write poems in apology for their behaviour” according to a plaque in the banqueting hall. I’ve partied with my wife’s family. Not much has changed. In 1696 the bard Donal na Tuile wrote of the chieftains in the region:

“They were a people accustomed to bestow wines, and tender beef and holiday dresses! They were graceful and beneficent; their strongholds were filled with beautiful women, and quick-slaying cavalry viewing them; mirth, laying on harps, poems and songs were at their feasts… Loud sounded the song of the bards.”

Of course, one goes to Blarney Castle with a single goal in mind… to kiss the Blarney Stone. There are any number of legends surrounding the stone as to its origin, how it came to be placed in the battlements of Blarney Castle, and how its powers were discovered, you can take your pick. However, as to the gift that kissing the stone confers… on this agreement is universal. Kissing the Blarney Stone bestows upon one the Gift of the Gab. Eloquence with a capital E. Or, if you will… Blarney. From the moment you kiss the stone you will never be at a loss for words. Julia is of the opinion I had no need to kiss the stone as I was full of it already and she now regrets ever letting me near the place.

The castle interior from the ramparts.

The castle interior from the ramparts.

Making your way up and kissing the stone isn’t easy, even today. There’s those narrow stone spiral stairs I mentioned, more than 100 of them. You’re essentially schlepping to the top of a 7 story building via the stairs and going in tight circles while you do it. Once you reach the top you’re on a narrow rampart looking down into the interior of the castle on one side and a very impressive view of the countryside on the other. There were two young women just ahead of us and this is the part where one of them freaked out. Apparently this is not at all uncommon. She decided she wasn’t going to kiss the stone and she wanted down as soon as possible. Her friend was visibly annoyed.

“Really? Seriously? You went skydiving and you’re not gonna do this? We’re gonna leave here and you’re gonna be mad you didn’t do it and I don’t want to hear a WORD about it. Seriously?”

Once upon a time kissing the Blarney stone was quite a feat, and actually dangerous. According to the July 25th, 1932 issue of The Brooklyn Daily Eagle one James Burke age 19, of Charleville in the Irish Free State “… insisted he could kiss the Blarney Stone without anyone holding his legs as he hung downward over the parapet, as so many pilgrims have done. He tried it, slipped, and fell 100 feet to his death at the foot of the ancient castle.” The following year a judge in Cork ruled that “Tourists or anyone else for that matter must kiss the Blarney Stone at their own risk.” Mr. Burke’s family had filed a suit against Sir George Colthurst, owner of Blarney Castle (It is still owned by the Colthursts). An article printed in April of 1933 in the San Bernadino County Sun mentions that “… several others have fallen to their deaths while trying to kiss the Blarney Stone,” but I can find no precise references other than this single account. The story of the ruling was picked up by papers around the world.

We reached the stone and had our go. It’s a roughly triangular piece of limestone set into the bottom of the battlements a few feet out from the ramparts. The opening was originally designed for dropping heavy items through in the hope of killing attackers below. I’m not sure why it’s necessary to kiss the stone upside down, but that’s the way it’s done. You lay down on the rampart with your upper body over the opening. There are two assistants, one to hold on to you and one to snap a picture. Even though there are now steel bars in place to keep you from plummeting to the ground below, it’s considered good form to tip the guy holding you. So… you’re on your back over the opening with your head tilted back as far as it will go and you’re still a foot or two short of the goal. You reach up and grab the two railings on either side of the stone and pull yourself forward while the gentleman holding you supports your back. I’ve mentioned I’m 6’2”. My hips slid off the rampart and over the empty space before I was able to smooch the stone. I can only imagine what it would be like for someone shorter. It WAS a little terrifying since I wasn’t actually aware of the safety bars until after I’d kissed the stone and stood up to watch Julia.

I was back up in a moment. I got a picture of Julia kissing the stone and we stood on the ramparts taking in the view as it started to rain on us (Again). There was no sign of the girl and her acrophobic skydiving friend. We looked at the rest of the castle interior and then went for a walk in the Poison Garden.

I have no idea why Blarney Castle has a poison garden, but I found it immensely entertaining and informative (That’s how I recognized Digitalis in the landscaping at Disneyland in the line for the Matterhorn). I presume it’s there simply because it’s interesting and provides a further draw for tourism. The notion of a poison garden certainly has a very Roadside Attraction feel to it.

 We made our way through looking at the Mandrake and Deadly Nightshade and Box Hedge. The entire area was marked off by signs reading “Do Not Touch, Smell, Or Eat Any Plant! Children Must Be Accompanied At All Times.” While a number of the plants were out in the open, a few were enclosed in iron cages. One large cage caught my eye, as it contained bare dirt. Upon closer inspection it turned out to be the cage that was meant to house cannabis sativa. The attendant sign with skull and crossbones lets the visitor know that there is some controversy as to whether Mary Jane deserves a reputation as being harmful. It tells the reader that marijuana is one of the more complex plants in nature and goes on to list several other riveting facts, but my attention was fixed on the laminated white paper notice tacked on underneath that read:

  “We apologise for the absence of the plants in this cage. They have been seized by the Garda.”

It goes on to say that they hope to plant replacements once the “Licensing issue has been resolved.”

The little movie in my head of the Garda coming to seize Blarney Castle’s pot is hilarious. I wish I could share it with you. Moving on…

The Witch Stone, with offerings of coins in her mouth and eyes

The Witch Stone, with offerings of coins in her mouth and eyes

We walked along the river to the Rock Close, which is home to beautiful trees and flowers, as well as fanciful rock formations and structures that may or may not be ancient. According to the Blarney Castle website the Rock Close was landscaped in the 18th Century. There are the “Wishing Steps” that lead from an overlook down to the river, and the Witch’s Kitchen, which is a partially subterranean stone enclosure with a hearth at one end. There is also the Witch Stone. The Blarney Witch is said to have inhabited the region since the beginning of time. She is imprisoned in the stone during daylight but escapes at night.

   We followed a path beyond the close which made a loop around the east side of the estate.

The "Dungeons" carved into the rock beneath the castle.

The “Dungeons” carved into the rock beneath the castle.

The castle once sat within a much larger walled enclosure with watch towers. We passed the Sentry Post, a stone hearth which may or may not be from an earlier period when men were stationed out away from the castle. The sun came out as we made our way back through the Fairy Glade to have a look at the Dungeons and Caves beneath the castle before we set off again…

… in search of Mountain Dew, and this time… we found it! We stopped in at the supermarket next to the Muskerry Arms for road snacks and sodas and found the neon yellow caffeine delivery system so adored by my beautiful young bride. Some fruit, some Hob Nobs, a Cadbury Dairy Milk Bar, and the aforementioned Mountain Dew and we were offskie!

We were booked at the Friar’s Glen Country House outside of Killarney Town near the shores of Lough Leane and Muckross Lake just inside the Killarney National Park. It was about an hour and a half driving through more rain. We’d accepted the extra cost for a GPS system from Hertz. We chose the English-accented voice because it’s name was Tim. I’m probably going to repeat myself in the next post or two, but I want to make something perfectly clear… you will get lost in Ireland. The difference between “Lost,” and “Hopelessly lost,” is a GPS. Out away from the larger towns the Irish take what I will with some charity call a “Minimalist” view of signage, and in general you can see only as far as the next hedge, which in many instances is mere feet away. Unless you are behind a lorry. Then you can see the lorry and nothing else. Get the GPS. TRUST me on this one.

We made Friar’s Glen in late afternoon and met the innkeeper, Mary. Mary was a delight. We dumped our bags in our room, which of all the places we stayed in Europe looked most like what I would consider a traditional “American” style hotel room. I later learned that Friar’s Glen was purpose-built as a Bed and Breakfast in the late 1990’s, not converted from a residence or some other much older structure. We went to the sitting room where there was a peat fire going and a group of travelers playing a board game. Mary brought me a cup of tea and sat and talked with us about our travels and our plans while we were staying at the Glen. She was quick with very good advice about touring the Ring of Kerry and other attractions in the area we might be interested in. I’ll have more to say about Friar’s Glen later, but if you just can’t wait, there website is here, friarsglen.ie.

On Mary’s recommendation we walked to Molly Darcy’s pub & restaurant for dinner about a half mile up Mangerton Road. The building appeared to be new and vast for a pub. I had an excellent lamb stew and a pint and enjoyed every second of it. I see that it’s now under different management and called the Jarvey’s Rest (A “Jarvey” is the driver of a jaunting carriage. You still see them on the roads around Killarney Town, particularly in the National Park). I can’t personally speak to the food or service at the new place, but they seem to be well-reviewed on Tripadvisor.

We walked back at dusk and just as we approached the house saw a great shaggy red buck in a field just off the drive. We stopped to admire him for a few moments before we went inside. We’d started the day in Amsterdam and ended it up walking down a wooded lane in Killarney and kissed the Blarney Stone along the way. Not too shabby.

Tomorrow, the Ring of Kerry!

Take good care.

© 2015 Roy Guill, The Naked Investigator

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