cliffs of moher

Castles, Cliffs, and a Horse Named Peppy (Our European Adventure: Day 2&3)

Friday June 14th, 2019:

Upon meeting our Airbnb host Carmel the evening before, she gave us a rundown of the house she’d so graciously rented to us for the next two nights. She also gave us a guidebook of the area and pointed out some of her favorite things that we might want to add to our itinerary.

Waking the next morning, feeling only slightly disoriented by the fact that we were on vacation in Europe and not at home getting ready for work, our group made breakfast in the kitchen. Carmel provided us with a wide variety of snacks, including waffles (that weren’t frozen?), fresh fruit, and something called “breakfast pudding” that none of us were brave enough to take out of the refrigerator.

Our first stop of the morning was Belvedere House Gardens & Park—a Mullingar locale that none of us had heard of but came highly recommended by Carmel.

The morning offered slightly cloudy skies and a chill in the air none of us were quite ready for, but we bundled up and headed out, my dad and Uncle Bruce taking the wheel and bravely setting off the on “wrong” side of road once again.

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Being a Friday morning, Belvedere House was not overly crowded, and we were able to saunter and explore at our own pace, flipping the hoods of our raincoats off and on as the rain came in spurts.

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We took a tour of the house, marveling at its architecture and grandeur, walked the grounds, and strolled through the fairy garden.

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Overall it was a very charming and welcome start to our day, and the perfect pit stop en route to the day’s main attraction: the Cliffs of Moher.

You know, these old things.

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We spent a good two hours here, blessed with a sunny sky and only periodic gusts of high wind that made my dad close his eyes and ask us to please stand at least 4 miles from the edge.

Among the many (hundreds?) (thousands?) of pictures we took, my sister and I made sure to get another hair by the Cliffs shot, paying homage to those we took a few years ago.

And I got to recreate one my of my favorite shots from our trip—this time with my brother in tow.

Quick sidenote: Can we talk about how tiny my hands look compared to his?

From the Cliffs of Moher, we headed to Galway, my cousin Taryn’s favorite city from her stay in Ireland, and she took us to her favorite pizza place (Mizzoni’s) and her favorite bar (The Skeff).

As we hung out and listened to live music from Vicaria Band, my sister and I introduced the gang to our favorite Irish born drink: Jameson and ginger ale, which aided in our table’s karaoke performances of Britney Spears, Tina Turner and Darius Rucker (among others).

The drive back to Mullingar, while a little long and dark, again provided us a place to call home and the group of us sat around the living room, sipping on nightcaps and laughing our way through the memories of the day. This was our last night in Mullingar, but Carmel and Fintan promised to send us off with a bang, and at 9:00 a.m. the next morning, that bang arrived in style.

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Saturday June 15th, 2019:

BANG.

Okay, so it wasn’t really a bang. It was more of a knock. Two or three of them. And then a call into the house: “Peppy and I are ready for ya!”

As you might (never) have guessed, Peppy was a horse, and Fintan ushered us outside to meet him, and take us on ride in the Peppy-drawn carriage.

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Pro tip: if you are ever given the opportunity to go on a carriage ride through the Irish countryside, say yes. There is truly no better way to start your morning.

After each family got a ride, we loaded back into our cars, waved goodbye to Carmel and Fintan (and Peppy) and got on the road to Cork.

Just under three hours later, we pulled into the parking lot at Blarney Castle.

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Now, Blarney Castle was a favorite from our last trip, mostly because of how beautiful both the castle and the grounds are, but also because of the undeniably funand for some, understandably terrifyingprospect of kissing the Blarney Stone to receive the “gift of the gab”. For a full recap of what that means, you can check out this post, but to keep it brief: you lie on the ground, have an Irish man help you more or less hang off a ledge at the top of the castle, and then kiss a thousand year old rock.

Legend says that after you kiss the rock you will be blessed with eloquent speaking abilities, though for anyone afraid of either heights or, more commonly I assume, being held over a ledge one hundred feet in the air, the sheer anticipation of kissing the rock can bring out profanity as eloquent as anything I’ve ever heard.

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To come down from the excitement/danger/fun/terror (depending on the person) we walked around the grounds, once again surprised by how beautiful everything is, though slowly getting used to the fact that Ireland is simply, consistently, even reliably beautiful. (Hear that, Irish tourism department? Reliably Beautiful. Call me.)

Our hotel for the night was the River Lee in Cork. While it was tough finding accommodations that fit a group of nine, or even a family of more than three, the River Lee was beautiful and we settled in nicely to three rooms, each with three single beds. (I found a great deal on Orbitz.com!)

We also enjoyed—once could argue too much—the hotel restaurant, where we spent a large chunk of time eating and eating and drinking and eating before heading out in search of one (or three) Irish pubs, where we spent the rest of the night drinking and drinking and laughing and dancing and singing our hearts out.

One request, Ireland pubs: play more Whitney Houston.

Other than that, you’re perfect.

A Mouthful of Blarney (Ireland Day #3)

On the morning of Day 3 I started to finally feel like I was caught up in terms of jet lag. I had slept immensely better than the first night and so as we boarded the coach, once again at a sharp 8:15, I was feeling ready for the day ahead.

As promised, after Tim boarded the bus he put on our day song, the act of which set off a wave of bobbing heads and tired smiles. Once it was finished, he stood up and detailed the day’s activities, the first of which was Blarney Castle.

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We would be given a solid few hours to spend on the castle grounds to look around and thus were encouraged to do and see as much as possible. Arguably the most important item on the checklist was to kiss the Blarney Stone.

Now the history of the stone is a bit of a mystery, thus leaving room for a few theories, including one that states the stone was that which Moses struck his staff on to part the Red Sea. Whether or not that is true, God only knows, but after that no one can say how or why the stone ended up at the castle. Regardless, the story goes that in the 16th century Queen Elizabeth I asked that the Lord of Blarney, Cormac Teith McCarthy, be stripped of all his land. But as he made his way to see the Queen, he came across a woman who told him to kiss a specific stone, the result of doing so allowed him to convince the Queen to change her mind. So the hope is, that should you kiss the stone, you too will be given this gift of eloquence or the Gift of the Gab.

If you’ve never heard of the Blarney Stone, as I hadn’t, you might be reading this story thinking it sounds easy. You drive up, kiss a rock, and then suddenly your Morgan Freeman able to convince the world to give you anything you want if only you’ll read them a bedtime story. But it’s not so simple. Upon arriving at the castle, you are required to walk up multiple flights on a spiraling staircase until you reach the top level, which gives you awful views like this:

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You then walk along the outer edges of the top floor until you reach a seated Irish man who tells you to lie down on your back. Casual. Once on your back, he slides you towards the wall and asks you to grab onto two mounted black bars for stability. Then, when you are ready, he slides you even further in, the ground now slanted downward, and your head completely upside down and you pull yourself in, plant one on the smooth stone, and then let the Irish man pull you back up while you ponder what just happened.

Let it also be noted that there is no sexy way to do this:

 

After both me and my sister kissed the stone, we made our way back down the stairs and out into the castle’s gardens where we both agreed that we could live forever.

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We also found some time to tour the largest souvenir shop in Ireland where we picked up more than a few gifts for some friends and family, including a mini hurling stick for my brother. This purchase in particular sparked a conversation between me and the cashier, during which he explained why American football players are weak for wearing pads. On any other day I might have been defensive, as I love my football, but after remembering what I’d already learned about hurling—that it is a cross between field hockey and lacrosse, minus the padding and any sense of fear apparently—I couldn’t help but nod along, saying, “you’re right.”

From Blarney Castle, we headed to one of my most anticipated destinations: the Cliffs of Moher (pronounced More).

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Now, almost immediately after we got off the bus, the winds picked up. And when I say picked up, I mean PICKED UP. It also started to sprinkle. But you see, when the wind is blowing say 30-40 miles per hour, a drop of rain starts to closely resemble a missile, so there is no doubt in my mind we looked absolutely insane as we made our way along the scenic cliffs, laughing hysterically with our tightened hoods and seemingly drunken diagonal steps.

Thankfully, the rain never came down hard enough for me to put my camera away, allowing me to get some pretty good shots, especially when the clouds momentarily parted and we got some sun. As for the wind, it was the Drago to our selfie stick’s Apollo Creed. Every time we tried to be as tourist-tastic as possible, a gust would blow by, nearly taking my sister’s phone along with it. On the brightside, it made for some humorous pictures:

Once we’d successfully braved the elements, we headed to the information building to grab some lunch from the café (a panini, of course, with a side of chips. What kind of chips, you ask? Do I even need to say it? ddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417bddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417bddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417bddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417b)

Back on the coach, we made our way to Galway where, after checking into our hotel, we had a brief walking tour around the city from Tim. One highlight was the city’s jewelry store, home to the traditional Irish Claddagh Ring, which is comprised of three main elements: the heart, which represents love, the crown, which represents loyalty, and the hands, which represent friendship. We also learned about the traditions associated with how to wear the ring (the point of the heart pointed up your index finger or into your hand) and on which hand (the right representing single or dating, and the left, engaged or married). Natalee and I each bought one, but unfortunately did not find an Irish man to move it to the left hand while we were there. #NextTime

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For dinner we went to a place called Monroe’s, which was relatively crowded with people who came to watch the futbol (soccer) game and then for the live music afterwards. After scanning the menu, I tried to go for a more traditional dish, opting for Irish stew with…ddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417bmashed potatoes!ddecf0ced88cca47ff9a9f32330c417b which was more or less a pile of hot Irish meat or, if I held it up in the air, a mirror for the surrounding crowd.

From there, we went to a bar called Clancy’s, where a live band played a variety of popular songs ranging anywhere from AC/DC to Imagine Dragons. Our group remained relatively buttoned together in a corner of the dance floor, drinking and laughing and singing our hearts out, cheersing the end of one day and inviting the adventures of another.

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