Ireland. I love you, too.
The past few days have been such a whirlwind of fun with Muireann and Caoimh in Cork. Thank you SO much for being the most amazing hostesses ever, ladies! Irish hospitality is just too much – you two outdid yourself (especially you, Muirs). From your bomb home-cooked dinner to all the tours you gave of Midleton, Cobh, Cork, and Blarney to everything in between – I had such an amazing time with you. I miss adventuring around with you already!
Once again, being on my own again after saying goodbye to dear friends is a little tough. I usually prefer being on my own and love the independence, but because I’ve met up with so many friends over the course of this trip, it gets a little harder and more lonely every time I say goodbye to people. Sure, I’ve also met great travellers and locals along the way – but it doesn’t really fill the void.
On Monday, Muirs graciously picked me up from the airport and drove me along the east coast of Cork (complete with tea and cocktails in Ballymaloe House and Castlemartyr Resort, both the most posh and elegant vine-covered Victorian buildings). With the countless cafes we’ve had tea in (and the several drinks I was coerced into having, ha), I’ve settled in nicely to Ireland. As expected, I love it.
Muirs did a fantastic job of educating me on the history of Midleton, the beautiful little town that she grew up in, as well as Cork city centre. Her home was absolutely stunning and looked straight out of a fairy tale – covered in vines and complete with an adorable garden and two cute cats. A lot of the buildings here are covered in vines, which I absolutely love. It makes the country seem that much more whimsical.
It was so nice to have quality girl time and just chill out for a few evenings rather than get covered in mud and hike up mountains (I love it, but I feel like that’s all I get myself into when I’m on my own, ha). She also introduced me to the 2004 TV documentary series, “Long Way Round,” with Ewan McGregor and his mate, as it followed their Europe — Asia — America 22,000+ mile motorbike journey. It was incredibly inspiring to see their type of travel, especially since a ride of that length was never done to that extent before them.
We visited the Jameson distillery (Midleton’s claim to fame), her friend’s beautiful flower shop, Titanic museum in Cobh (named Queenstown at the time, it was the first and last port of the Titanic), Kelly’s Bar (the oldest and most historical bar in Cobh and ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for Cobh attractions, actually), St. Colman’s Cathedral (perhaps the hugest cathedral I’ve been in thus far), and strolled along the stunning harbour – all thanks to the glorious sunshine we had. It wavered between 9-11 degrees Celsius the past days; the warmest temperatures I’ve had since December.
Our time in Cork city centre was absolutely marvellous as well. It’s a really cute city with lots of shops, tiny alleyways of pubs and bars (I learned that “bars” are places that serve food, whereas pubs generally just do drinks), and quirk (quirky Cork!). We lunched at the English Market, which sells organic and locally-produced food in an 18th-century building. Its setup is similar to the Queen Victoria food arcade in Melbourne, but with a lot more history behind it. I absolutely love places like this – markets are always my downfall because I love food so much.
I’ve yet to have bad food on my trip. Everything is incredible – and it’s hard to pick a favourite (although it’ll probably be afternoon/high tea because I’m a sucker for beautifully-cut smoked salmon sandwiches, scones, and the best desserts in the world).
We also walked around the University College of Cork, which has a lovely atmosphere. A tiny chapel is even next to its student centre – but the bride and groom must be UCC alums if married there. Such a strange rule.
And after the most windy, dark road ever (“Where the hell do you live, Daithí?!” we kept exclaiming in the car), we reunited with our dearest Daithí, who was like a little brother to us on the ship. It was a lovely Valentine’s Day dinner (not like any of us cared about the occasion anyway) in Carrigaline – that lamb just melted in our mouths. I was beyond stuffed afterward, but oh my heavens, it was so worth it.
We pulled the tourist card today and kissed the Blarney Stone (so excited to play tourist with the girls, especially when Cao hadn’t actually kissed it before). You supposedly get the Irish gift of the gab when you kiss it, so maybe I’ll talk even more than my already-norm… with “added charm and eloquence” (I wish). The queue during the summertime reaches about 2.5 hrs, so we got extremely lucky and didn’t have to wait at all.
The Blarney Castle and Gardens were exquisite, especially the blooming daffodils (they only last a few weeks so we got lucky). The Poison Gardens and the backstory of the witches and badger caves, etc. on the castle grounds were also purely fascinating. So much history! We even fantasised about living in the Blarney House with our rich royal husbands. Someday…
What else can I say about Ireland? The people are lovely (well duh, that’s a given – and I’m actually being shown around the country by most of my friends for the week, so I’m quite lucky). The potatoes are delish. Irish coffee is lovely, albeit too strong for my lightweight self. I’m getting used to the €Euro currency rather than £GBP. It’s easier to understand people here than in Wales (I love the Irish accent). Galway is lovely and mainly filled with rows of colourful pubs. The National University of Ireland, Galway, is stunning (and the main building is also covered in vines and very Hogwartsy).
The only downside is that I’m missing out on 99% of places and sites in Ireland because of my lack of research and time. The Dingle Peninsula, Ring of Kerry, Killarney National Park, Giant’s Causeway, Belfast (and Northern Ireland) will have to be saved for another trip. So many places and so little time (okay, I did have a lot of time over the course of the few months but spent the bulk of it in England). I’d say that Ireland and Scotland are pretty similar, which is why I love both countries.