Sunday, August 25, 2013

Day 105 - Blarney and Kilkenny Castles

I have never been to Blarney or Kilkenny Castles. As two of the most renowned castles in the country of Ireland, I figured it would be foolish not to stop by these structures before leaving the country. Considering they were both on our way back to Dublin the day before our flight out of the country, the decision ended up being an easy one. As a result, Patrick and I made a point to schedule time for both locations during the course of our travels. The day’s events began with an early morning visit to Blarney Castle on our way out of town and a pit stop in Kilkenny on our way to Ireland’s east coast. In both locations Patrick and I would discover memories that will undoubtedly stick with us and sights that will resonate for a very long time.

Like other experiences on our trip, our experiences with Blarney and Kilkenny Castles left me struggling to find the words to describe the experiences. At Blarney Patrick and I spent our time absorbing the history and beauty of the place. At the advice of several Irish locals we encountered throughout our trip, we opted not to kiss the Blarney stone, which many of them called a “gimmick” and “a waste of time.” Instead, we spent several hours at the castle exploring the remote forests at the edges of the property, winding through the arboretum before the towering Blarney manor, trying to understand the odd, natural stone feature called the Dolmen, climbing the wishing stairs, taking in the castle’s epic poison garden, and standing atop the structure’s aged battlements. Our time at Blarney Castle was another series of events where it was hard not to feel the history embedded in our surroundings. Everywhere we turned there were hundreds of years of history and mythology that left me speechless. We were largely silent before the things we encountered simply because it was too hard to find words, something that has become commonplace during my first trip to Ireland.

The Fairy Glade

Blarney Manor

See above

The view of the poison garden from the battlements

The entrance to the wishing stairs

Looking down the wishing stairs

Eventually, Patrick and I left the Blarney Castle grounds and began heading northeast toward Dublin. After a little more than one hour on the road, we decided to make a stop in Kilkenny, a city we had both heard of well before our trip to Ireland. Upon arriving to the city, both of us were immediately taken by its welcoming feeling. People bustled around the city streets in droves and nearly every place we went we were greeted with warmth. After grabbing a quick lunch (I had Irish Lamb Stew… amazing), Patrick and I walked through the city until we encountered Kilkenny Castle. The structure was easily the largest castle we had seen in our trip, and before it laid a rolling stretch of bright green grass that carried on for hundreds of yards. The space was alive with people and families making the most of a warm Sunday afternoon. To me, the most amazing part of that initial experience was the fact that the people around us reading under trees, playing games in fields, chatting in groups, and relaxing in the summer sun were doing so against the backdrop of a towering mass of stone that once served as the home of royalty. It was strange and awe inspiring to think this was just another day at the park for many of them. The idea of having such depth of history and such an amazing structure as a part of everyday life baffled me, and one look at Patrick told me he felt the same way.

Kilkenny Castle

The view after a walk down
a small portion of the castle grounds

For some time Patrick and I walked the castle grounds before we decided to work our way to the Kilkenny Castle entrance. Upon entering the castle we were happy to find the bulk of the interior was open to the public. In turn, Patrick and I spent some time walking through the historically preserved rooms of the castle’s halls, bedrooms, dining rooms, and galleries (unfortunately, they didn’t permit photos to be taken). We were able to experience centuries of history that spanned the families occupying the castle since its construction. The picture gallery alone held the a lineage of said families in portraits that covered the walls of a room that was easily three stories tall and several hundred feet in length. The experience was incredible and served as a perfect way to break up an otherwise uneventful day of travel in the back end of our trip to Ireland.

The "backyard"

As our trip begins to wind down, I’m finding it hard to summarize everything we have done and to put experiences like today into words. I know if I tried it would likely come out as incoherent rambling that would never do justice to the stunning places that we have been on our trip. As a matter of fact, while eating dinner in downtown Dublin tonight I took time to think about how I would tell those back home about the experiences in Ireland. After a lot of thought and deliberation, I concluded the only thing I could do is tell them I wish they could have seen through my eyes during my time in this country. In my mind, that’s the only way someone could really understand the experiences I’ve had. While I miss everyone dear to me and look forward to returning home tomorrow, I know I’m leaving a piece of me in Ireland. While that might be something that causes concern for some, I’m glad the trip has affected me to that extent. To me, it simply means means I now have a little room to take a bit of Ireland back with me, and that’s an opportunity I'm happy I came upon.

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