Imagine a foreign land where your brand new car doesn’t have air conditioning, summer temperatures don’t even reach the 20’s and it rains 6 out of 7 days. I had never been to Ireland before but I’d heard all the cliché jokes about how cold and miserable the weather is. I always assumed that they were exaggerations and mainly focussed around the winter months, but I stand corrected. The weather here really is cold and miserable, but I don’t understand how it’s even possible when there’s over 16 and a half hours of sunlight a day. At first I thought that it was just unseasonably cool, but then I saw this shirt for sale in Cork…
But please don’t get me wrong, we absolutely love it here. It is true that our new VW Polo rental doesn’t have air conditioning (I didn’t even know that was a possibility in 2016), and it has rained 6 days in our first week, but the people are so friendly and hilariously entertaining with their accents – “Thanks a mil”, “you’re grand love”, “awe she’s gas”. Luckily we’re well educated in the lingo thanks to our Irish friends Laura & Marie, so we know that gas means that she’s great. The countryside and small quaint towns are gorgeous with the best part being the names of all the local businesses like the butcher shop of Ned Flanagan and sons and Dougal O’Leary’s public house. We’re all familiar with the traditional Irish names because every city around the world has at least 15 Irish pubs, but it’s so much fun walking down the main street of a country town where they are one after another. Immigration must be very minute here because every business seems to sport an Irishman’s name. The pubs are “brill” and have an authentic atmosphere to them. One of the first drinks I had was a proper Irish stout and it didn’t disappoint.
We arrived at Dublin airport just before midnight on Sunday, so we collected our rental car and headed to a nearby hotel for some sleep. After a relaxed start to the day we headed to Cork which is about 2.5 hours Southwest of Dublin. As a port city of 120,000 people there’s a large reliance on manufacturing and other industrial ventures, but it seems to be shifting as a renowned food scene is taking over the town centre. There’s an abundance of trendy restaurants and bars lining the main roads and more hidden away down alley ways. It makes travelling on a budget hard because it’s so tempting to try all the different options. It does make for mouth-watering window shopping though.
One thing that has caught us by surprise is that accommodation is quite expensive in Ireland. Actually everything here is more expensive than anticipated and that’s not just because we came from Morocco. It only took a quick stroll around Tesco to find that groceries are costly and there are no EUR3 wine bottles like in Italy. For our three nights in Cork we stayed in a private room at an airbnb share-house. It did the trick and wasn’t too far from the centre of town, a comfortable 30 min stroll. We visited the free art gallery and also went for a browse around the Old English Market which sold Irish and English delicacies. One thing we did notice about Cork is the ridiculous amount of hair salons/barbershops. All down the streets, in the shopping malls, in the town centre. Either everyone from the county comes to Cork for a trim or the residents get their haircut once a week. I just couldn’t figure it out how it was sustainable. We did take advantage of the saturated market and went to a Polish hair salon for a quick trim. At only EUR20 for the two of us, I think they must’ve given Anna a Polish discount.
One of the top rated activities in Cork County is to visit Blarney Castle. If that name seems familiar but you’re not sure why, it could be that you’ve heard of the Blarney stone, perhaps even kissing the Blarney stone. Well it all sounds like codswallop to me but according to legend kissing the stone endows the kisser with the gift of the gab. Despite my skepticism, with the gift of eloquent speech on offer I decided to take a chance and kiss the stone. The stone is mounted at the top of a castle so you have to climb up several storeys and then lay down on your back in order to reach the sacred stone with your lips. We both kissed the stone with no immediate improvement noticed. I found that if I try to speak eloquently then I just sound like a pompous Englishman. Perhaps the stone doesn’t hold the power required to unwind 31 years of Australian culture… Poor Anna having to put up with my Australianisms. The castle itself wasn’t overly grand, but definitely interesting to see. The grounds were quite impressive with large gardens and a lake to stroll around.
Our main motivation for heading to the southwest corner of Ireland was to drive the Ring of Kerry which is Ireland’s most popular scenic drive. We allowed a day to drive from Cork to Killarney so we could take the coastal route and visit Mizen Head which is the most southwestern point of Ireland. The drive through this area was very enjoyable as we weaved our way down the narrow roads lined with stonewalls. Mizen Head contains a signal station and a visitors centre, but the main attraction is the bridge that spans across the gap to the furtherest point. We visited the various lookouts which allowed for a few photos and provided the opportunity to get our daily step count up. As we continued the drive, we crossed a mountain range between Kenmare and Killarney that provided good panoramic lookouts and some walking tracks near the Torc waterfall. There are 3 lakes in the Killarney National Park so we made a few stops along the way. Anna’s trigger finger has been fairly active on the drive.
It turns out that we were quite fortunate when we planned our trip to the Ring of Kerry. We didn’t realise until we arrived in Killarney that the whole circuit is closed for charity cycling event on Saturday, but by chance we had planned to do the drive today (Friday). I suppose next time we should do some googling before we plan a scenic drive. The ring was a lovely drive and we thoroughly enjoyed the changing scenery from mountains and lakes to coastal roads winding along the water’s edge. The best part was that all the sites were well signposted so you could just enjoy the drive and not worry about the map. Some of the highlights were the Ballycarbery Castle ruins and the nearby stone fortresses, and the postcard-worthy lookout at Beenarouke.
Tonight we’re in staying in Kenmare and then we’re heading to Dublin tomorrow. We’ll be returning the rental car and joining our friend Laura which we’re really excited about. It’s gonna be grand… she’s gas.
Fail of the Week
The weather constantly changed throughout the day for our drive around the Ring of Kerry where it could be bright and sunny one minute and then dark, stormy and windy the next. Foolishly I fell victim to the sudden change of weather at Rossbeigh beach. We parked at the start of the beach and decided to walk down the far end because thats where the wild Atlantic sea meets the calm waters of Dingle Bay. It was beautiful and sunny, although quite windy, but a walk along the beach sounded nice. When we reached the far end, I noticed that the sky on the horizon was starting to go grey so I suggested that we head for the car. Anna wasn’t too worried because she was smart enough to be wearing her rain jacket. Unfortunately I’m not that smart. As we hurried along, you could see the wall of rain quickly approaching the shore. There was no cover available so we had to make the dash for the car. Just as we reached the car the wind and rain came in an instant. Luckily Anna was wearing her jacket because she was able to stuff her camera inside. Fortunately my camera is small enough that I could protect it in my hands. In the 10 seconds we were in the rain, any exposed clothing was absolutely soaked. Lesson learned… always have wet weather gear with you.
Meal of the Week
In Killarney we were lucky enough to have a well rated restaurant right across the road from our hotel. I had the marinated chicken burger and Anna had the mushroom and garlic soup. Both were great, but mine did have onion rings on top. But to be fair… that was the best mushroom soup I’ve ever tasted.