When we’re riding from place to place in the coach, Ben sometimes sings songs or tells stories to pass the time. Today he told a sad story about what happened to his grandmother’s brother just over 100 years ago.
Michael O’Sullivan was 22 years old. He was in the hills with a friend during the civil war, (which was in 1920 – 1921), when they saw some Unionist troops. The friend shot at them, and ran. Michael was shot in the shoulder and managed to find shelter in a friend’s house. But the troops knew where he was. They called out to him that he could go free. All they wanted was his gun.
He bent the barrel of the shotgun in the bannisters so it would be useless to them, so he was dragged out of the house and shot in the chest. One of the family rode to tell the O’Sullivans and they loaded up a wagon with straw, because they knew they’d be bringing him back. He rode home in the wagon lying in his mother’s arms and died 12 hours later.
A few years after, the man who had shot him was recognised in America and a letter arrived, asking if the O’Sullivans wanted him dead. They wrote back that no, leave him be. By now it was over and done with.
“That was 2 generations ago. Every Irish family has stories like this one,” said Ben.
I put this photo in because I was so pleased to get a shot with the ravens in the photo. You know how it is… you see heaps of ravens flying around being all atmospheric so you raise your phone and wait… and wait…
Anyway, Blarney Castle was built in the 1500’s by the McCarthy family. I couldn’t make head or tail of how or why the Blarney Stone was brought to the castle and mortared into the very top of the damned thing, but I guess it doesn’t matter.)
The point is: if you kiss the Blarney Stone, you have the gift of the gab for life.
Now, my previous students might say that I’ve already swallowed it whole, but in all honesty, I have to say that on this tour I’ve been fairly introverted. People who’ve read my previous travel blogs would know that I’ve travelled with some interesting characters *coughSamFrankcough* but this group of people just haven’t brought out the glorious delight that is Frogdancer Jones.
Ok, maybe that’s a good thing, I hear some of you say…
Don’t get me wrong. They’re perfectly fine people.
(Except for the overtly Christian farming couple who, when I mentioned in a general conversation that I was atheist, never looked me in the eye or spoke to me unless I spoke to them first, and then with the wife, she answered only in monosyllables. Very Christian of them… Christ would probably slap them.)
(Or the elderly English woman, let’s call her Cornelia, who after telling us all how ‘leftie’ she is and how awful she feels about what the English have done in Ireland- to the point where she was apologising to the guide in Belfast – evidently realised that the feeling against the English ran far deeper than she realised. She got uncomfortable.
Less than a week later, she’s railing against our driver and the men at a bar she’d been to, saying that “the Irish should just let it go”, and “it’s about time they did.”
That’s all fine… it must happen a lot here I guess, but then I heard how she was starting to badmouth Ben, our driver, and trying to manipulate people into lowering the tip they were going to pay him at the end. Well, there’s some modern-day English landlords taking the money from their Irish workers behaviour right there. What a hypocritical way to act. I’m trying to avoid sitting anywhere near her.)
But apart from that, everyone is nice and very agreeable.
We set off hotfoot from Kilarney this morning, hoping to get to Castle Blarney before coaches full of cruise ship tourists descended upon it. Ben heard that a huge ship had docked at a port nearby.
Sadly, no such luck. When we got there, the place was seething with tourists, like as like someone stuck a stick in an anthill. But all of that was forgotten as I walked towards the castle.
I walked over a bridge with a stream flowing merrily underneath. I could hear the sound of a piper coming down from the castle. With the river, the blue sky, the green of the garden and the medieval building in front of me, it was perfect.
As I walked, the piper finished his song, there was a scattering of applause, then he began another song. I knew the tune… it was very familiar… hang on, it’s’Scotland the Brave.’
When I reached the castle, the piper was just finishing up his song. I told him how wonderful it sounded, and asked if I was correct in thinking that it was’Scotland the Brave’ he was playing.
“ I wondered if I was still in Ireland!” I said.
“Aye, we’re like two brothers, but with one common enemy,” he said with a wink.
The queue to kiss the Blarney Stone was extremely long. Like, over an hour long, winding down from the Blarney Stone, all down through the castle with its winding spiral stairs, then down the slopes.
It took over an hour to get to the stone.
There was a very irritating woman behind me from Minnesota. She had a few friends with her and honestly… she didn’t shut up. All the way up to the Stone, she kept braying her vacuous stuff.
And then, of course, at the Blarney Stone, she was the one who asked me if I wanted her to take a photo of me kissing the stone.
So now I owe her… I feel bad for all the impatient things I was muttering underneath my mask.
As my sister said when I posted this picture on Facebook, “Oh! You get a kiss AND a cuddle!”
There’s quite a gap, as you can see from the left of me, and some people get a bit scared. But as one of the lads said, “Don’t worry. We haven’t lost anyone so far this morning!”
On an aside, we had dinner with some Canadians who arrived at Blarney Castle at 4:30. No queue, they just walked straight up and were done in about 10 minutes…
As I left my intimate encounter with the Blarney Stone, I stopped at the top of the spiral stairs to show you what they’re like.
The medieval builders made them steep and narrow, so that if the castle was under attack only one soldier could come up the stairs at any one time. They also made the spiral turn to the right, as most people are right handed. A soldier can’t wave his sword wildly if the wall is in his way, but it gives a person standing facing him on the stairs the best chance of getting him first.
They were violent times back then.
I saw this good boy in the cafe garden. Isn’t he great?
I bumped into Single Carol from the tour in the upper cafe and we had lunch together. She’s booked to do a tour of some American National Parks and the Americans on the tour were really excited for her when they saw the tour. She and I are the only singles on this tour and we often have dinners together, because the couples absolutely want to sit together at all times.
The gardens around the castle are stunning. After such a long queue for the Blarney Stone, I didn’t have time to see it all, but I had a good walk around as ai gradually headed back to the bus.
I was keen to see’The Seven Sisters’ because I liked the story, but first I went through the Poison Garden, which is exactly as you’d expect, then through the fairy grotto.
Here are some shots of the grotto. There’s a witch who lives in there, but she only comes out at night but they close the park at dusk, so she can’t do any harm
Here is the legend of the Seven Sisters stones.
Many, many years ago, there was a proud king who lived in these parts. He had two fine sons and seven daughters. Everything was going fine until the day the king rode out to battle and both his sons were killed.
On the way home, the grief-stricken king passed by a circle of 9 standing stones that had been in place for far longer than anyone could remember. As he rode by, the king commanded his men to push over two of the stones in memory of his sons. To this day, two stones lie flat… well, flattish… while the Sisters stand tall.
The gardens also had an exhibition of sculptures.
I bought a hat!
As we were in the bus driving towards our next destination, one of the American guys told us all about another snippet about the Choctaw Indians that I was talking about a day or two ago. They were used in WWI as ‘code talkers’ because they’d communicate in their own language and the Germans couldn’t understand it. They thought it was a code and try as they might, they couldn’t break it.
I found that interesting.
We arrived at our second distillery, Midleton’s, where they make, among other things, Jamison’s Irish whiskeys. I wasn’t expecting to find this as interesting as the first because we’ve already heard how Irish whiskey is made. But our guide was great. We were also allowed to take photos here.
I tell you what, they were certainly pumping the tourists through here! There may be money to be made in liquor, but there’s certainly a quid or two to be made in whiskey tastings as well.
I thought I was coming good from the cold I’d been wearing a mask for for the last few days, but as we were standing outside the mill wheel waiting for the slow people to catch up, I suddenly thought, ‘ Frogdancer, you’re tired.’
Scampering up and down a castle and then walking around the gardens was enough for me for today. I sighed and resolved to have another early night.
Midletons have what they call the ‘Very Rare’ release every year. The first one was in 1882, but it was the result of massive forward planning by the management in the 1960s. Sales of Irish whiskey were plummeting in the US, so they decided to lay down a drop that would be matured for around 28 years and would be a drop to be treasured.
But of course, they had to wait twenty- plus years before they could release it…
Nowadays, it’s regarded as the most bought Irish whiskey in the world, and the least consumed. By coincidence , today is the release date of the Midleton’s Very Rare 2023.
I think the main difference between the two distilleries is that Bushmills stay close to the traditional ways of brewing, while Midleton’s is happier to try new things sometimes.
An example was their micro distillery, where they make a whiskey called ‘Method and Madness’ that our guide highly recommends.
For a whiskey to be legally labeled as Irish, it needs to be triple distilled and it needs to be matured in a wooden cask for a minimum of 3 years.
‘The Angels’ Share’’ is a real consideration. Every year 2 percent of the barrel’s contents is lost to evaporation. This doesn’t sound like much, but when you consider that some of these barrels are untouched for 20 years, that becomes a significant amount. They could cover the barrels, but then the whiskey wouldn’t mature. It needs the mix of oxygen the evaporation brings. The barrel needs to breathe.
I love that they call it the ‘angels’ share.’
Afterwards, we were given a taste test of 3 types of whiskey, then we were let loose in the gift shop. I bought a tiny bottle of Red Breast, because James said it was a good drop. I’m planning to drink both little bottles, one from Bushmills, one from Midleton’s, on my second-last night of the tour.
I wonder which one I’ll prefer?