From Kemare and the Ring of Kerry, we headed southeast to Blarney Castle (for a map of Ireland see my post “Eight Day Tour of Ireland”). This castle is famous for the “Blarney Stone” which is supposed to endow the “gift of gab” on anyone who kisses it. The stone is at the top of the keep (up 127 steps), and one has to lean backwards over the edge of the wall (see picture below) to kiss it. We didn’t bother to kiss the stone, but everyone else seemed to be doing it! The castle was built in 1446. Underneath the castle there are some tunnels that were interesting to explore, perhaps old secret passages. This castle is not part of the Heritage Ireland system, and so a separate fee is required. There are lovely gardens and well-manicured grounds around the castle. The little village of Blarney is also well-kept.
From Blarney, we headed to the south coast of Ireland (via Cork) to the town of Kinsale, known as one of the prettiest towns in Ireland. Kinsale was an important shipping port and naval base, from Middle Ages and through the 1800’s. It was known for making top quality wooden (oak) casks (there used to be plentiful forests of oak in this area), and the wine trade was a major driver of the economy. Desmond Castle is a fortified Norman customs house, and was used to house prisoners in various wars and also American Revolutionary War “rebels” captured at sea—they were chained to the outside of the building as a warning to local Irish who also might want to rebel against British rule. There are some interesting exhibits in the Castle about the wine trade and the history of the area. It is part of the Heritage Ireland system.
Just two miles from Kinsale is Charles Fort, a massive star-shaped fortress built in the 1670’s which was modified over the next couple of centuries. The fort was meant to protect Kinsale from naval attack, but was vulnerable to land attack, which happened in 1690. The British occupied this fort until Irish independence was achieved in 1922. This fort was really a mini-city, and feels like a “ghost town” with many buildings still standing. The fort is also part of the Heritage Ireland system.
Close to Kinsale is the town of Cobh, which we did not have time to visit. The Titanic made a last stop at Cobh before heading across the Atlantic on its fateful voyage to America.
References: Rick Steves’ Ireland 2007 and DK Eyewitness Travel, Ireland, 2006.