Edit Blog Post
Published: July 21st 2019
Blarney Castle 1446
A defensive fortification
Breakfast at the Dromhall Hotel
was excellent, particularly since kippered haddock was on the menu – large, tender and smoky. This hotel has really treated us as guests.
Driving through the Irish country side was a joy – green and gold fields saturated my mind with freshness. Our destination was Blarney Castle
, which turned out to be much more historic than the cliché of its Blarney Stone
. (View map)
The emerald green park around the Castle was profuse with plantings and flower beds. At first Susan and I were of a mind to enjoy the outdoors, rather than queue for the Blarney Stone. When others from our group returned from the Castle and spoke highly of it, we decided that “while we were here”, we should take in the touristy experience. To my surprise, the walk up the many twisting stairs in the Castle revealed a 15 century way of life I had read about in novels. Every room had good information signs describing daily life. The stone building was quite narrow, similar to the towers in Tuscany, Italy, and for the same reasons – to withstand robbers and sieges. On each successive landing were one or two rooms, culminating in the kitchen at
Blarney knot garden
Attractive view from on high
the top, the safest place. From the crenelated stone roof, the country side could be seen for miles.
And there was the Blarney Stone, a mild anti-climax after the climb through history. As your turn came, one attendant helped you down onto your back on a piece of plastic-covered rubber mat, and helped you pull yourself backwards and slightly tip your head back. The moment my lips touched stone, the attendant whisked me out, ready for the next person. Susan didn’t even have time to take my picture; the routine commercial picture taken by the other attendant mostly showed clothing.
The walk down on a different staircase revealed more of the social history of the time. To my delight, we could see the knot garden
. From the height of the Castle, the design of shrubbery revealed the pride gardeners must have felt in shaping something on the ground for viewing from the top.
As we walked towards the exit, we stopped to buy a lunch to eat on the bus, because we wanted to spend the remainder of our free time at the Blarney Woollen Mill store
. Their souvenirs included a huge selection of woollen clothing, both knitted and woven, plus
Sized for experiments, good for tourists' education
jewellery, sweets, and mugs. I bought only a bar of chocolate, because I was very conscious that anything bought now would have to be hauled on and off many buses and trains before I arrived home.
Our next destination was the Jameson Whiskey Distillery
. Their entertaining and informative tour was conducted at the traditional distillery. All the work now goes on in the shining new premises next door. The guide began with the barley; growing of barley for Jameson’s is done by farms all around the location, and indeed we had seen fields of ripening barley on the drive from Killarney. Jameson’s toasts their own barley on site, apparently the only whiskey distillery that does. Surprising to me, the production of the “mash” (sprouted and fermented grain) is virtually the same as for making beer; however, the fermentation in vast copper pot still creates the hard liquor. Jameson’s triple-distills their whiskey, refining and concentrating the flavours. Each copper pot still has to be washed by hand by a worker crawling inside, to ensure that each batch is exactly the same as all the others and that contamination doesn’t happen. The whiskey is aged in American oak barrels. All barrels lose product
through slow evaporation, which is only one of the reasons why older whiskeys (and wines) cost more than younger ones; the age is stated on the bottles. (I learned the same on my Argentina wine tour.)
Near the traditional distillery, Jameson’s has built a small modern one for making test batches of new products at a reasonable cost. For the tourists, they set it up in a way that we could see the whole process in one view.
Eight volunteers were sought for whiskey tasting, and my hand went right up. While the others watched, we were placed in front of three small glasses of whiskey and invited to try each in turn. As I was about to taste the first one, another taster said, “Ooh, it tastes like cigarette ashes!” And with that thought planted, it did! This was a peaty whiskey. The middle one was pleasant – didn’t take much to know that was the Jameson’s. The last one was Johnny Walker – never to my taste. We all had a laugh at how obvious the tasting was. In the store where we were all entitled to one drink.
Our third destination was the astonishing
Round Tower 14c, 90 metres tall Rock of Cashel
Prestigious achievement in its time
. This was completely unknown to me, but Susan was excited because it is integral to her favourite mystery series, Sister Fidelma
. The site was atop a steep hill with views of all the valleys around – prime location for a defensive castle. The ruins of the huge stone structure immediately conveyed how strategic it must have been when constructed in the seventh century. Originally the castle of the Munster kings
, it was given to the church after the Norman conquest
. Most of the remaining towering walls were part of the cathedral of the middle ages, which did not survive the violence of Oliver Cromwell
. I wandered inside the roofless building trying to imagine the life of people who would have worked and worshipped in this space. Outside, the area around the building was fairly small because of this hill’s shape. In the distance, as through the ages, sheep were grazing. Although a distant tractor harvesting grain belonged to my age, the growing of grain may have been part of the historic landscape.
Crashing back into modern times, a few at a time, we squeezed into the minuscule elevators of the Red Cow Hotel
. They gave us dinner in a conference room, and conversation
rose as we shared our exciting day with each other. The cod I had was gently cooked in a white wine sauce, which went well with a glass of white wine.
Tot: 0.658s; Tpl: 0.093s; cc: 31; qc: 124; dbt: 0.1s; 1; m:saturn w:www (18.104.22.168); sld: 2;
; mem: 1.7mb