When talking about Ireland, you cannot forsake the fact that it is cold. But you can never really portray exactly how cold – it’s a different cold to the United Kingdom. The air is like an ice that settles in your bones and doesn’t leave until you depart the country. Never the less, we braved it and embarked on a whirlwind 4 day journey through Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Staying in Cork, it was naturally our first stop. We stayed at the Cork International Hotel which is about 20 minutes outside of Cork city, and let me be the first to sing it’s praises. The staff there are absolutely amazing, they were all so incredibly lovely, and the food was amazing. I 100% recommend the place (and no, I’m not getting paid to say that!) If you’re flying in to Cork, it is literally a 10 minute walk, at an I’m-carrying-too-much-luggage-for-this-pace.
Cork is a very cute, quintessential city, and the one thing that you instantly notice about Cork everything directing you to get out of Cork. We visited a local tour operator, and asked what there is to do in and around Cork, and were met with the honest yet direct reply, “nothing”.
We had spent the morning exploring the city on foot, being disappointed that every cafe we went to were all out of soda bread (I never did get to try it!) and were finished spending a lot of money at Penny’s (which is the original Primark, found in the rest of the UK) and were told the must-do thing whilst in Cork was go to the seaside town of Kinsale, approximately a 1 hour bus ride away.
I’ve got to admit, there wasn’t a lot to do in Kinsale either. It was pretty enough, but a couple of hours will certainly get you around the place once or twice. This is predominately due to the fact that (at least, at the time I was there – August 2014) the economic downturn had clearly taken it’s toll on the country, and it seemed most of Kinsale, and Ireland itself, had simply shut down.
Both Cork and Kinsale are the type of places where, when all the cafes and coffee shops and boutique shops are open you can spend a lot of time meandering through the lane ways, discovering quaint little places to spend your time. But sadly for tourism, these places were mostly shut down for good, or had short opening hours, particularly on the weekend.
Another thing that makes Ireland very difficult to discover for tourists is the lack of public transport. Don’t expect to be able to just get a bus to go somewhere, and make sure you check on your departure times and do not be late – we had to wait 2 hours to get back to Cork from Kinsale. Also, don’t travel via trains, it’s horrifically expensive.
When in Ireland you cannot go without going to Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone. I knew very little of the Blarney Stone other than it was meant to be good luck to kiss it, so a forewarning if you also know nothing of it – it pretty much looks like a normal part of the Castle wall, and you have to lie down backwards with a very kind volunteer holding you as you lean backwards over a giant hole at the top of the Castle. Still, we had no troubles on our travels from then on, arrived safely at all our destinations (including home), so I consider it to have been a successful good luck charm.
Also, if you are claustrophobic like I am, the hike up the winding stairs on the inside of the Castle to the top is about 1-person wide – consider yourself warned.
The Castle is set on a big property with some very lovely gardens, including a Poison Garden. Even if you have next to no interest in plants like myself, it is very interesting learning about all the plants you thought you had heard of but didn’t know were poisonous.
The town of Blarney itself is typically Irish which is great for the tourism, and like anywhere in Ireland you can buy just about anything with your last name on it (like I did!). The visit to Blarney Castle isn’t exactly a full day trip, but if you pace yourself and catch public transport (about 40 minutes out of Cork) it is a great way to fill up the majority of your day.
Travelling long distances in a day is not something the Irish are accustomed to, and the staff at our hotel were absolutely horrified to learn that we planned to get a hire care and drive to The Giants Causeway and back in a day – about a 6 hour drive each way. They would have passed out if we had have told them it took about 7 and a half hours to get back due to missing the exit on the highway and having no way to turn around. A couple of things to note about driving in Ireland: the hire cars are ridiculously expensive, and ensure you fill up when you can – again, due to the economic downturn most things are closed and this includes petrol stations, which they do not remove signs for when approaching the exits; there were a few narrow escapes as we pulled up to our third closed petrol station and started panicking.
Don’t let the drive put you off going to Northern Ireland if you are staying in Ireland – I would travel for 3 days straight to go back to The Giants Causeway, a natural formation of stones that are shaped and raised at different levels, making them look like stepping stones for giants. It’s not too many times in your life where you feel as though you are actually standing on the edge of the earth, but you will experience that at The Giants Causeway. With the ocean lapping over the stones, and surrounded by spectacular rugged scenery, I believe it is the highlight of Ireland.
On our final day we headed in to Dublin, which takes around 3 hours by bus from Cork. As it was a Sunday, the buses weren’t running all the time so we didn’t get there until after lunch. The last bus left around 5pm so we did have to be quick, especially as we were due to fly out the next day quite early, and there was a public transport strike also so last bus meant last bus. When I’m in a city and I’m strapped for time I really enjoy going on a city sightseeing tour, as they highlight the best parts and you can pick out things you would like to explore further. Dublin has a miniature train that goes around the city, and being the only two people on this train that goes at a snail’s pace repeating 4 Irish songs over and over, people look at you as though you’re mad. It’s all part of the fun though- the kitschy-er, the better! The only bad thing was I had Molly Malone stuck in my head for a good month afterwards (alive, alive oh! Alive, alive oh! Crying “cockles and mussels, alive, alive oh!” You’re welcome). Despite bullet holes in the statues and buildings in the main square it’s hard to believe that such a fun city has seen the terrible things it has.
We missed the last bus and had to fork out nearly AU$300 for one-way train tickets back to Cork on the absolute last train going for the night (arriving back at Cork around 12:30am for a 5:30am flight back to London, eek!) which soured our experience a bit, but things like that happen when you’re travelling I guess. I would like to see Ireland in it’s prime, and hopefully it will return to that state someday, as it is quite sad to see the place losing it’s culture. Nonetheless, there’s still some absolute must-do things when in Ireland and they are definitely worth it.