When I think of Ireland, I think of green, and castles. Outside of Dublin, on the way to Blarney, the green is everywhere. But the castles? It’s like heading to Maine and expecting to see lobsters by the side of the road. It doesn’t quite happen that way. You have to go off the beaten path just a bit to find towers and turrets made of stone.
On our way to Kenmare, we stopped off in Cork just to say we did. Fortunately, they don’t know about Black Friday (probably ‘cause Thursday was just another day), so the city centre, while getting ready for Christmas, was civilized and festive. We parked our minivan (yes, an Irish swagger wagon) and had lunch at Oliver Plunkett’s before heading to Blarney Castle and that famous stone. I don’t go in much for tourist-y attractions but there’s a difference between the Hollywood footprints at Grauman’s Chinese Theater and a medieval keep from a thousand years ago.
Before heading up the cold, wet steps to the spot where everyone does the kissing, I
read about the history of the place and how the masters of the castle liked to entertain. I imagined getting an invite to a dinner at Blarney and groaning because the place I saw yesterday was frosty and inhospitable. To say that my forbearers were a heartier bunch than the five Neils is an understatement. While I love my dreary weather, I love my roaring fires even more, and the fireplace at Blarney hadn’t been used in some time. Regardless, we made our way over to the nice man who dipped us each down to the Blarney Stone where we kissed the smooth rock and laughed at the silliness of it all – ‘the gift of gab’ and such. For the most part, we’re already a chatty bunch. And oddly enough, we all got mighty quiet back in the minivan and promptly fell asleep while the husband continued to maneuver the tight, windy roads, driving with the steering wheel on the right side (or the wrong side depending on how you look at these things.)
We arrived in Kenmare after dark, which is about an hour after lunchtime in Ireland this time of year. I’d told the girls to pack warm clothes because I knew, even indoors, the Irish were used to the cold in ways we Californians certainly were not. After entering our rental cottage with Mary, the proprietor, I thought, “I told you so.” You could nearly see your breath and the heat was on. We started a fire right away, which helped, but at bedtime, Erin slept with her sweatshirt hood pulled up over her head. Brrrrrr.
This morning, after sleeping late, I went into town for a quick run down our quiet country road. It feels familiar – the cold, the damp, the smell of peat bricks in living room stoves. I can imagine my grandparents coming of age here, though I barely knew them or not at all. They looked like everyone I see, and sounded just like the woman sweeping in front of her store before customers. “Morning, there ya go,” she said to me as I jogged by.
We started the Ring of Kerry, a scenic 120-mile drive around the county, and sped through the first major stop, Killarney, a little too quickly. I was feeling slightly nauseous in the passenger seat on the winding roads and was reminded why I always take the wheel on Highway 1 heading up to Big Sur. (Or Jesus takes the wheel.) The husband’s been doing a stellar job navigating so far but I’ve made the sometimes stomach-upsetting mistake of looking down at a map while the car’s in motion. I picked up a Coke to settle things and it worked, so by the time we drove through Killorglin, I was thrilled to be in the heart of what you dream Ireland will look like – quaint towns with pubs named O’Reilly’s, Harrigan’s, Murphy’s – and green vistas, rocky beaches, and stone churches. Everyone speaks with a lilt so, naturally, the girls are annoyed to hear their mom and dad now speaking with one, too.
We had dinner in town at Tom Crean’s – Fish and Wine, the sign says – and I ate delicious scallops, proving that some of the Irish do indeed know how to cook. Across the street, the husband had a pint while we listened to some music. Now we’re back at the cottage and I’m nestled in front of the fire again, feeling like I’m home. Tomorrow, it’s back to Killarney to make up for snubbing it today – not so much for the town but for a hike on one of its many verdant trails. It’s a designated national park for a reason. It’s almost December so we’ll be singing “Christmas in Killarney” whether the girls like it or not. Chances are, they won’t.