8/10/13 Today we bid a sad farewell to The Valley of The Hare. It is time to head down to County Cork where we were staying on a small dairy farm called Copper Beech Farm just outside of the sleepy little town of Riverstick. It was a long drive down narrow winding country roads that demand your full attention. Unlike the stressless driving on the endless wide lanes of the US, there was no taking small peaks out the side to admire a view.
|Driving is dangerous here with narrow roads and barking mad drivers|
|The quaint, the homey, the charming, Copper Beech Cottages|
We finally arrived around 4pm and were invited by our host Michael to go watch the cows being milked at 5.30pm. What a great idea, the boys can get a real first hand look at modern milking techniques. Now I'd be the first to admit, when you walk into a milking shed it doesn't smell pretty, but hey, they're cows, personal hygiene is not a requirement. We all walked in the vast barn of the milking shed and the two boys walk straight back out. It is now just Christina and me. I feel it is now up to me to uphold the family spirit of participation.
I am now standing down in the mechanic pit of the milk shed being shown by farmer Mike, how to apply the nipple sucking caps to these enormous teats swaying before me. I am focused on the task at hand, totally oblivious to "Betty Sue", the next in line. In my peripheral vision I see that she starts to shuffle, she seems to be repositioning herself, she sways a little, moving her enormous butt from side to side, then suddenly, she raises her tail quick as a starters flag and proceeds to whizz. I don't know if you've ever seen the top of a fire hydrant blow off, like in the movies, but if you have you have some idea of what happened next. Mike doesn't even blink, he's in his wellies, neck to ankle waterproof apron and old jeans, I'm in my only jeans and my sockless Timberlands. What came bursting out of that poor cow was of biblical proportions. She could have put out a bush fire with what she let loose.
|Now I know what the big drain hole down back was for|
I thanked Mike for the opportunity, headed back to the shower and then did a quick load of washing.
|That's how you lay an egg Greta, now it's your turn|
|We had to send Callum out most mornings for a fresh litre of milk|
9/10/13 Today we are headed to Blarney Castle. An Ancient castle fortress from the 12th Century once owned by the powerful McCormack's. It is also the home of the famous Blarney Stone.
|The Blarney Castle|
The Blarney Stone itself is a slim piece of granite with mystical powers that lies at the bottom layer of the outer ramparts, high at the top of the castle walls. It is said that those that dare venture to scale the treacherous heights of the castle and care to bend the back to reach and kiss the sacred stone will have the gift of Irish eloquence bestowed upon them. Callum and me were game to go.
|About to go where many lips have gone before|
|Callum trying to miss the moist patches|
Well the truth be told the stairs are very narrow and very steep but a bus load of American geriatrics had just beaten us there and as slow as they were they proved it is not a difficult climb. The previous fatal drop that threatened earlier pursuers of the blessing of the Blarney has been resolved by metal bars across the once perilous drop. There is also a friendly staff member on hand to help lower you down and back up which reduces the effort to practically zero. That being said, it did appear that a fair share of those attempting the kiss seemed to miss the mark. The stone itself is barely six inches of the bottom and takes a fair bend of the back to reach. Most I fear would doing nothing more than laying there lips on a good old piece of ancient Blarney limestone.
The castle itself is small by comparison. It is the surroundings that add to the experience and make the journey here a complete one. The Poisonous Garden is alluring and genuinely dangerous. There are many species here just waiting to hospitalise the clumsy or foolish tourist prepared to take a forbidden sniff or a stolen feel.
|You cant be more clear than this, and still...|
|The dreaded Hemlock|
Wolfsbane, Mandrake, Poison Ivy, Hemlock, Nightshade and so many more infamous names that we have all come to associate with the dark arts and deeds of night dwellers and scoundrels intent on murderous mischief.
The Rock Close is said to be the home of the Blarney Witch who it is said was given permission to live in the woods and collect firewood on the agreement that whom so ever dared to enter the woods would have their wishes granted. The mystical steps that cut their way up through the solid rocks must be travelled blindly, backwards then forwards with only the thought of your wish to be in your mind. The steps are narrow and slippery and the crashing of the waterfall around you makes concentration difficult, but that's the point isn't it?
|A place of mystery, magic and beauty|
The Rock Close is also said to be the home of an ancient tribe of Druids known for their mysticism and ritual sacrifices.
The Fairie Garden is a leafy canopy of ancient Yew and Oak trees and magical waterfalls. This is a place to settle and contemplate, a place to open your soul and wait for the magic to come to you.
Blarney House was unfortunately closed for the season but a peak inside some of the barred windows showed promise of a home still in original condition. Furnished and ready for a day in the life of it's early inhabitants.
|You could peek inside and feel the presence of those from yesteryear|
It was a great days exploration and one to reflect on.
We did go for a drive into the city of Cork but found it suitably underwhelming and not worthy of a park and stroll. Another modern city with it's traffic and noise and shop fronts was a poor comparison to where we had just been. We drove in, around and straight back out, happy to now be in a comfy chair on our quiet farm looking out at the cow dotted green fields and the clear blue sky.
|The shadowy blanket of sunset putting another great day of memories to bed|
10/10/13 Only two days left on the Emerald Isle so no sleeping in this morning. The alarm was set so that at 9am we were on our way to the seaside town of Cobh, pronounced Cove. This exceptional little town is most famous for being the last port of call for the Titanic. The last 151 passengers to board did so from this port.
|The now derelict jetty where the Tenders ferried the doomed passengers to the Titanic|
The Titanic museum is actually located in the original White Star building. The front of the building still bears the distinctive White Star logo on a red background. The museum takes you up the same gangway that the passengers used when they boarded the Tenders that took them two kilometres out past the bay island to where the Titanic lay anchored.
|Just as it was all those years ago|
If you had not seen any other Titanic museums you'd think it was not a bad effort. For us, we had been thoroughly spoilt by the museum in Orlando Florida. There they had complete replicas of the opulent central staircase and luxurious State Rooms and so many artefacts from the bottom of the ocean you could half furnish a life size replica of the ship. Deck chairs, unopened bottles of champagne, personal effects, the actual flybridge wheel,a two tonne piece of the actual hull and so much more. There you could also buy a tiny chip of the coal that had been brought back up from the depths and, the tour was conducted by an actress dressed in period costume, telling the story from the perspective of one of the survivors. This unfortunately had none of that. What it did have was authenticity in that you could walk the very same path as those last poor souls did back in 1912. That was pretty cool.
We had a spot of morning tea in town then headed to the National Heritage Museum. This was the gateway to some of the two and a half million immigrants who started to leave Ireland at the commencement of the Potato Famine in 1845.
|The numbers are staggering, so sad.|
The exodus was relentless and continued for nearly eight years. This mass emigration severely depleted Irelands population reducing it from over eight million to under six million.
The museum documents and displays re-creations of life on the prison ships, nefariously known as "Coffin Ships", that made the perilous journey to countries as far a field as America, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. There are also more displays of the building of the Titanic in Belfast and her disastrous maiden voyage and a history of the many other ships that the White Star Line had build. Including the ill fated Lusitania that was hit and sunk off Cork Harbour by a single torpedo in WW1 with a loss of 1198 lives. Definitely worth a visit. And, the Cornish pasties in the cafe are excellent.
Christina had read about the Ballymaloe Cooking School, 40 minutes away in good old Ballymaloe. So off we went.
|There was a lot happening behind those dark green doors|
|That's not a pumpkin, THIS, is a pumpkin|
This turned out to be one of those things that we often do for each other where you think you are doing it to indulge the other persons interest and it turns out fabulous for everyone. The highlights were definitely the Sow with her 11 piglets attacking her swaying teats and barging her to the ground, eager for a drink.
|This poor old sow didn't stand a chance|
The Shell Room was like nothing I have ever seen before. You have to refer to the pictures for this one.
|The stunning Shell House floor|
|Over 20,000 different shells, a hell of a lot of crazy glue and endless hours of toil|
|Unfortunately the pics just don't do it justice. Hopefully you get an inkling though.|
The Celtic Hedge Maze was a real challenge but fabulous fun. A few of the gardens were a little overgrown but it is an Organic Farm and it is coming into the off season. Which in a way was great because we had the whole place to ourselves. And surprise surprise, "someone" wants to come back and do a cooking class here.
From here it was off to our local pub for a quick Beamish and Murphy's "taste off" then home for a feets up and a relax. Murphys won, by the way.
11/10/13 Our last day in Ireland and I must say, in a short period of time it has made an impact, not only on me but I feel on the whole family. Hectic full days on the road here, going from one place to another, have left us arriving home pleasantly weary and thoroughly satisfied, unlike some other locations where half as much touring has left us jaded and at each others throats. I'm not sure but there must be something in the water or the air here that is becalming and lends one a jovial and retiring disposition. Whatever it be, I like it.
Today we took a short drive to Kinsale, a lovely seaside town with a nice size marina. We walked around the towns sleepy little streets and ended up at Desmond Castle. More of a 15th century town house than a castle but still, that's what the brochure called it.
|The River Bandon separates Kinsale on the right and Fort Charles on the left|
|Desmond Castle. Castle? Really?|
After a stop at the Lemon Leaf Cafe for delicious hot Mixed Berry pie with fresh Kerry cream, a steaming double espresso for me and some hot chocolates for the boys, we headed of to Charles Fort. Charles Fort is one of the finest standing examples of a 17th century Star Fort. A new improved French design that made it easier to defend and much more difficult to attack.
It was said to be impregnable from any attack from the sea but by not taking into account the advantages the surrounding hills gave any aggressors, the one and only time they were attacked, in 1690 by the Williamites, they were easily overrun. Christina and I spent a good hour and a half exploring the place. The boys spent a good hour and a half throwing their Crocs down a big grassy slope and rolling down after them. It was a great stop for everyone.
|The history may have been lost on them but the experience of being there will be long remembered|
From here we decided to drive into Cork, grab some lunch and give the place another go. When we where here the other day it was late in the afternoon and full of drive time traffic but our timing is a bit better today. We are so glad we made the effort. We parked near the old part of town and ventured in on foot. It's just like Kinsale but with some hair on it's chest. We found a fantastic Cork Sausage specialist for lunch. Bratwurst, Black Pepper and Mexican Chorizo in fresh warm buns with all the trimmings. Delicious.
|It was as good as it looks|
Then it was off to the Butter Museum. Yes you read that right and no prizes for guessing who's suggestion that was. I thought she said a Butt Museum so I probably seemed keener than I would have been if I had heard her right. Still, if you give anything enough of a go you can always find something interesting in it for you.
|The Cork Butt Museum, who wouldn't want to go there|
Example: Did you know there was an old butter makers custom that said you should use the hand of a dead man, preferably an executed one, to turn the butter churner. And, they used to put the severed hand of a dead infant under the butter churner to keep the fairies away. There you go, it was totally worth it.
|Granny McPhee passing an Irish Skate ramp|
From here it was a wind back down through the town to a Turkish Barbers for the lads to get their hair trimmed and then back to the farm for a final cook up.
We sadly say farewell to Ireland tomorrow morning as we fly to London. But mark my words, the CVW'S will be returning.