This was when I really started to have the most fun in Ireland and in the days to follow. I woke up in beautiful Cork City, and it finally dawned on me how amazing it was I was in this country. I walked around the small city, going into some of the small pharmacies and a food market. It was quaint. I don’t know how else to describe it, except for quaint and peaceful. Everyone on the streets looks friendly, a few even smile and say hello. That’s rare where I’m from.
After my amazement in the friendliness of the Irish, I travelled on to Blarney Castle, built around 1210. Everything on the grounds looks like something from within a fairy tale. I even saw a harpist on the grounds in front of the castle, sitting on a park bench, strumming away. Her notes drifted along as I came closer to the castle, truly feeling as if I’d stepped back in time many centuries ago.
Now, there’s a legend that surrounds Blarney Castle. Legend has it that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone, set into the walls of Blarney Castle in 1446, will be bestowed with the “gift of gab”. This “gift of gab” gives the skill of eloquence or flattery to the kisser. You have to bend backwards and kiss the stone.
Now, I was all game to do this at the top of a tower. However, the wait time is ridiculous. I came around 10:00am in the morning, and I stood in line, chatting with a few other would-be kissers about the wait time. My curiosity must’ve conjured up a sign, because I spotted a large easel with a chalk sign stating the wait time was an hour. An hour from the bottom of the castle steps to the top of the tower, and I wasn’t at the bottom of those steps. I was further back, making my wait more than an hour.
I gave up on kissing the Blarney Stone, because I wanted to view the rest of the castle, the gardens, and Blarney House. There was just too much else to do. I viewed the dungeons and caves beneath the castle. I viewed the poison garden, which has a number of poisonous plants like wolfsbane, opium, and mandrake. There were battlements and a lookout tower. And to think that was all, there was more to see!
There was Blarney House, which I could not go inside, unfortunately, due to renovations. However, I was still able to study the outside of the Scottish-baronial style mansion, built in 1874. Gardens surrounding the home were magnificent. I could envision faeries gliding through the willow tree branches or sleeping within the white flowers scattered about the grounds. I saw much at Blarney Castle and on the grounds. Surprisingly, I didn’t even get to see everything. I was unable to. Lunch called at the little café outside of Blarney Castle, where I posed next to a cow. 😉
My next stop was at Muckross House, but I took a quick detour at Killarney National Park. With a castle in it. This castle is called Ross Castle, and it sits on the edge of a lake. Tranquility lives within those waters and surrounding forest. I spent only a few minutes here, but I could’ve spent the day watching the rowboats and people chattering on the lake’s shore, all in the shadow of this fifteenth century castle. I was sad to depart from the park, a little off the beaten path, when it was time to visit the house where Queen Victoria spent two nights.
Before I launch into the history of Muckross House, allow me to impart a lesson with you. I learned something rather interesting in the courtyard at Muckross House. Irish crows are the equivalents of seagulls. Silly, right? I learned this when a crow flew down on our group and started hopping nearby, as if he was used to humans. He kept opening his mouth, coming closer to us, as if he expected us to feed him. He even posed for me for a very lovely, very Gothic picture. In fact, this is my favorite photo I took on the trip.
But because of this little fella, I kept an eye on other crows throughout the remainder of my trip. And I noticed the same behavior. Crows approach the people as seagulls do! I found this to be wildly humorous. Perhaps more than I should, but I can’t help myself.
Back to Muckross House… This was a mansion designed in 1843 for Henry Arthur Herbert and his wife. It was constructed in the Tudor style and boasts of sixty-five rooms. Extensive renovations were done to the house in the 1850s for a planned visit by Queen Victoria. She visited in the house in 1861. The family had spent a fortune on renovating the home, hoping for some reward for their trouble in hosting the Queen. Lands, titles, money. This was the usual custom.
However, Prince Albert passed away around the time of her stay at Muckross House. Queen Victoria fell into her famous grief for her dearly departed husband, wearing all black for her mourning. She would wear black for the rest of her life. She continued to set out Prince Albert’s clothes in the mornings, which she would do for the rest of her life. She retreated from the public eye, cloistering herself away from the public eye. She rarely set foot out on London’s streets for the rest of her life, earning the nickname the “Widow of Windsor.”
This was unfortunate for the Herbert family, then owners of Muckross House. Queen Victoria forgot all about her stay at the mansion. She forgot to bestow gifts onto the family for being gracious hosts. This contributed to the Herbert family’s financial struggles, leading to the house being sold off to to Arthur Guinness, 1st Baron Ardilaun, in 1899. He bought the mansion to preserve the surrounding landscapes, which are breathtaking, but he never stayed at Muckross House. Rather, he rented it to other wealthy families as a hunting lodge.
Muckross House transferred ownership thrice more. In 1911, shortly before World War I, the mansion was sold to William Bowers Bourn. Who passed it on to his daughter and son-in-law as a wedding present. After their daughter passed away, William Bowers Bourn and his son-in-law decided to sell the house in 1932 to the Irish nation. This sale included the surrounding 11,000 acres. This became the first national park in the Republic of Ireland.
Unfortunately, pictures are not allowed to be taken within Muckross House. My pictures are limited to a few shots of the grounds and the silly crow in the courtyard. However, my favorite experience in the house was standing in the same room Queen Victoria had spent two nights. I was in the historical presence of royalty. Amazing, huh? The front rooms of the house also hold a collection of mounted trophy heads from hunted animals. The house holds a ballroom, a room with a pool table for when the men wished to escape the womenfolk, and many bedrooms. Downstairs in the servants’ quarters, I was able to view the kitchens and the narrow halls. One of these holds a bell system where servants had to keep track of the bells rung by their employers.
It was a fascinating day filled with history. Meaning, for me at least, my favorite subject. I ended the day with my new favorite drink, Jameson Irish whiskey mixed with ginger ale topped with a slice of lime. I would need it for the adventure waiting for me the next day. An adventure I was ignorant to until I was standing on the docks. Read next Saturday, June 30th at 1pm EST to discover what I mean by “adventure”! And, boy, was it a doozy.
In order to read more about my trip to Ireland, please start here:
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