Our drive from Dublin to Cork took longer than we expected. What looked like a 2 hour drive on a map often took twice that long. More on the perils of renting a car & driving in Ireland later. Let’s just say, when we finally arrived at Hayfield Manor and they offered me a shot of Whiskey at check-in, I took it.
Hayfield Manor was a beautiful hotel with immaculate grounds and amazing service. We had two adjoining rooms: one with a king bed and the other with three twin beds! The kids loved that they each got their own bed (which never happens in a hotel!) and each night the hotel staff would leave cookies & milk in the room for them.
While we initially tried to stay on a similar sleep/wake schedule to the one we keep at home, we found it was impossible. The sun didn’t set until nearly 10PM so most nights they didn’t go to bed until 11PM.
The next morning, we drove to nearby Kinsale about 20 miles from Cork. We had read Kinsale was one of the most picturesque and historic towns in Ireland and certainly not to be missed. To get the most out of our visit, we booked a walking tour with Don & Barry who received rave reviews on Tripadvisor. Our tour guide was Barry and he did a great job engaging our kids (who were the only kids on the tour) and keeping what could have been a very dull history lesson interesting for them.
Kinsale has many things going for it including a sheltered harbor, fertile land and abundant fisheries and this was not lost on the invading Vikings who, in the 13th Century, displaced the local Irish to establish control and create a medieval walled town on the shoreline.
We also learned about the Kinsale Giant (Patrick Cotter O’Brien) and saw where he lived. He is one of only seventeen people in medical history to stand at a verified height of eight feet or taller. He was born in 1760 and later verified to be the tallest person at that time. Since that doorway is not much taller than Jack, I’m not sure how the giant fit through there. By the way, this street is a 2-lane road – try to imagine two cars driving by each other!
We learned a lot about the history of Ireland on this tour. The famous “Battle of Kinsale” was fought here in 1601. It was a turning point in Irish history as the Irish forces and their Spanish allies were defeated. Effectively this led to the decline of the old Gaelic way of life in Ireland.
In 1915, the Lusitania was torpedoed and sunk by a German U-boat off the coast of Kinsale. The official inquest was held at the Kinsale Courthouse which is now a museum.
The fun fact that resonated with the kids the most was that many Irish cannot make the sound “th”. For example, instead of saying “three” it sounds like “tree”. To this day, they still like to speak in their Irish accents and say “I see tree trees”. Another interesting fact we learned about “th” was related to the origin of the word “Ye”, as in “Ye Old Shoppe”, and why we saw it all over Ireland. It turns out the letter “Y” was often used to represent an old letter called “thorn” as they looked similar. Thorn is the modern predecessor to the digraph “th”. Medieval printing presses did not contain the letter thorn so “Y” was often used instead because of their similarity in appearance – and so we often see “Ye” in place of “The”.
After our tour finished up we walked some more up a hill to The Spaniard for lunch. It was built around 1650 on the foundations of an old castle. It was first called Castle Bar and in 1960 it was finally renamed to The Spaniard which is a nod to the courageous Spaniard Don Juan d’Aquila who took a significant part in the Battle of Kinsale. It was here that Jack was first introduced to his Irish meal of choice: Chicken Goujon, which is just a fancy name for chicken fingers.
After lunch and a walk back down the hill to our car, we drove over to Charles Fort. There was a 3km hike we could have taken from Kinsale to the fort, but decided that might be pushing the kids too far.
Charles Fort is a star-shaped artillery fort build in the 1670’s to guard Kinsale Harbour. There were some displays about the history of the fort and the soldiers who lived there, but what we found most interesting was just wandering the grounds & ruins. The kids played hide & seek in the barrack ruins, rolled down the huge grass hills, and Mike & I marveled at the views.
The following morning, we went to the Fota Island Wildlife Park. We chose to go here because we’d read that you could “walk among the animals” and we were curious to see what it would be like to have animals come right up to you. While this was partially true, most of the animals were behind fences and barriers. In that respect it was kind of disappointing, especially for Kate. We had just been to the Dublin Zoo and this didn’t feel much different from that. But we did take our time to walk around and appreciate some of the differences.
Sitting at this pond and watching the ducks & ducklings was a nice break from all the walking we had been doing.
Kate ran into a lemur over near the playground.
We indulged the them in a tram ride back to the entrance and an ice cream.
When we got back to the park entrance, there was a cheetah feeding going on. The trainer, who was up on a protected platform, would hook some meat onto the end of that rope and then pull the rope down a long line. The cheetah would chase after it, leaping and jumping, until it finally caught the meat! Quite entertaining and it made me thankful for the fences!
Our next stop was Blarney Castle. We almost skipped it and I’m so glad we didn’t because honestly it was one of the highlights of our trip! On one hand, I head read that Blarney Castle was very touristy, full of crowds, and not really worth a stop. On the other hand, I thought: how can we come all the way to Ireland and not kiss the Blarney Stone?
Why do so many people make the pilgrimage to visit the stone? Once kissed, the stone bestows the gift of eloquence.
I’m not sure if it was because we got there later in the day or all tourists just happened to go somewhere else that particular day, but we had the grounds pretty much to ourselves. Blarney Castle sits on about 60 acres of beautiful gardens and open space, even woodlands, rivers and a lake. We stopped to play on some swings while Mike fielded a call from the Irish police about the fact that while we had swiped our credit card when getting fuel earlier in the day, one actually has to pay inside at the cashier (although this wasn’t marked anywhere) so we had essentially driven off with a tank full of gas we hadn’t paid for. Oops. Luckily we got it all worked out and that was our last encounter with the police! Then we were off to the castle!
Any guesses where the Blarney Stone is located? At the very top of the castle. This picture hopefully gives some perspective about how high we needed to climb to reach it. We walked up level by level and finally reached a very long & narrow winding staircase that lead us to the very top. There was a parapet walk around the perimeter of the tower and the middle was open to below. For anyone with a fear of heights, this will test that fear. Jack was clinging on to the railing for safety and I was telling him he was safe and everything was fine even though I wanted to cling to the railing as well!
Kissing the Blarney Stone is not for the weak of heart. Not only do you have to climb to the top of the castle, but then you lie on your back, reach backward to grab onto the bars, and lower yourself over a gaping hole open to the ground below. Look at how tiny those people look way down there! It was here that I really thought about backing out. But then I kept reminding myself that I would likely never get this chance again.
Mike went first and then Kate. The darker patch of stone right by Kate’s chin is the Blarney Stone. So while I tried to just kiss the lighter rock at the top and be done, the docent holding me said to keep lowering myself farther & farther. I thought it was scary, but Mike & Kate seemed to have no problem. Jack & Ben opted not to do it. I would suggest giving the docent a nice big tip BEFORE he helps you. It might entice him to hold on a little tighter!
This is the only picture I took of the way up or down. You can see how steep & narrow the stairs are. This was the only staircase and it was interesting trying to pass people as everyone wanted to stay close to the wall!
When we reached the bottom of the castle, we were face-to-face with the touristy gift shop. Naturally my kids all wanted something and I tried to resist. Eventually I was worn down, but in hindsight this is one gift shop stop I’m glad we made. Ben picked out a Blarney Castle snow globe and he carried it around like a treasure for the rest of our trip. He was so enamored with this snow globe that it actually became the start of his snow globe collection. He now has 8 from places he has been or ones that family has brought back for him – and he still loves them!
Before we left, we toured around the gardens a bit more.
Our final stop was the prison. Up this staircase was an underground passage that led to what is thought to be the castle prison. It was dark, narrow, and very creepy. The “prison” itself was just a small area carved out of the stone & rock.
After two full days in County Cork, we got back in the car to head to County Kerry where we easily could have spent our entire vacation!
Next up: Travelogue: Ireland – County Kerry
Previously: Travelogue: Ireland – Dublin