Monday was our real tourist day. We had spent Saturday traveling, Sunday recovering and we intended to spend most of Tuesday golfing. So we woke up with a little bit of pressure to hurry up and go have some fun, dammit! We walked around Kinsale for a little while and found a place to have coffee and pastries. An real Irish breakfast has eggs, Irish bacon, sausage and black and white pudding, so we figured that might be a bit much for a day when we were planning to go-go-go. Plus I didn’t want to throw up all over the back of Ricky’s nice rental Beemer.
When we got back from town, the Jims had already left for a day of father/son golfing and had locked the door and taken all the keys with them. Here ensues another emergency bathroom situation, a common theme when traveling in countries noted for their beers. We rushed back downtown and found a public restroom which consisted of a wall to pee on behind a see-through door. I didn’t ask RUABelle what the ladies room experience was like because she was giving off a relieved and ticked-off vibe at the same time. I figured a few minutes of riding in the back seat of Ricky Earnhardt’s car and she would be distracted again.
Our plan was to skip the more touristy Ring of Kerry which I had already seen seven years ago in favor of the less traveled West Cork region. It looked like a short trip on the map, but you have to remember that distances in Ireland are deceiving. What seemed like a trip to Huntsville and back took us all day, what with the narrow winding roads, pub breaks and subsequent pee stops. You really can’t plan to average more that 30 kilometers per hour when plotting your route. Luckily, we had no real plan and the only place we knew we wanted to hit was the Blarney Woolen Mills which were open until 10:00, we thought.
It was a beautiful partly cloudy day with temperatures in the low 70’s. Even though we were scheduled to play golf there the next day, we figured we would stop by Old Head since it was only fifteen minutes out of town. We wanted the ladies to see the course while the weather was nice and we thought it might be good to hit the Pro Shop while we still had good feelings about the course. Like before it kicked the crap out of us both.
Old Head sits on an escarpment that juts out into the North Atlantic with a perfectly stereotypical lighthouse at the end of the peninsula. It was from this lighthouse that the last sighting of the Titanic afloat took place and the Lusitania was sunk four miles offshore from Old Head. We took some pictures from the clubhouse, scheduled our shared caddy for the next day and did some quick commerce in the Pro Shop. Gotta spread the wealth I always say. Plus, I love wearing a baseball cap that says “Old Head” on it.
As we headed west, we realized that yesterday’s roads were superhighways compared to the rural wagon ruts we were sharing with the cattle and the tour buses today. Lucy’s frequent sighs and violent exhalations as we encountered each oncoming car made it sound like we were riding in a Mack truck with air brakes. But at least she woke us up periodically as we fought with the jet lag demons. Both RUABelle and I later recounted having these detailed, frightening, tremulous dreams in the five minute comas we continued to lapse into between sight seeing and pub stops.
We toured around the small towns of West Cork for the rest of that morning, alternating between tiny windy roads where our wheels frequently slid off the left side of the soft shoulder into brushy fences and really small roads where an oncoming car meant a confrontation and somebody backing up. We ate lunch in a delightful little harbor town named Glandore. We sat at a picnic table on the edge of one of these single lane roads and enjoyed a panoramic view of the water and the sweeping estate of what was purported to be the richest man in Ireland.
This view was interrupted several times by the bravest truck drivers in the world hauling dump trucks full of rock from a nearby quarry on their way to whatever castle project they were currently working on. The wheels of these huge trucks would rub the edge of our picnic table and the wall across the street as they crept through town. I wouldn’t drive a truck in Ireland for a million dollars a year!
We realized that we had skipped a tourist attraction from the Frommer’s guide on the way into town, so we backtracked to Dromberg. The sign pointing to the “Stone Circle of Dromberg” was only written on one side of a small post and was about 10 feet in the air tucked behind a highway marker, so I wasn’t too disappointed that we had missed it the first time. We wound down a (if you can actually believe it) smaller road to a gravel pull off. Then we walked a kilometer, or a kilogram or a hectare or whatever the hell it was, to a small clearing which contained what was purported to be “the finest example of Druidic stone circles in all of County Cork.”
Pretty impressive, eh? On the winter solstice, the sun rises between the two keystones and falls upon the altar stone. It was over 2000 years old and apparently the remains of a small child were excavated from the center of the circle a few years ago. However, the scale of it is not as impressive as we expected.
I thought it reminded me of the Stonehenge in Spinal Tap where the dimensions had been written in inches instead of feet on a cocktail napkin. “I think that the problem may have been… that there was a Stonehenge monument on the stage that was in danger of being crushed… by a dwarf.”
But the view from the site was bucolic.
We continued west until Lucy’s gasps and shrieks at Ricky’s driving became unbearable. Plus we needed to pee and get another pint, as it had been an hour since either one of those had happened. It’s important to maintain a proper input/output ratio, y’know. We stopped for both in the town of Skibereen. I just liked saying the name of the town, Skibereen. Say it with me out loud now. Skibereen. Actually the street signs around Ireland also have all of the town names in Gaelic which are so long that they need to be continued on the next sign. You are also liable to swallow your own tongue if you attempt to pronounce them with a North American palate.
It was in Skibereen that I first used the auto-loo for a quarter Euro. This self-cleaning automated portajohn was like an experience in the Jetson’s house. You put your coin in and enter something that looks like a Craftsman tool shed. The door rotates shut behind you and you are invited to pee into a stainless steel toilet that looks like something out of a prison cell. A voice tells you to step away from the bowl when you are done and a stream of disinfectant fogs the entire area. You then turn to an automated sink that alternately squirts soap and water on your hands and then converts to an air dryer. When you leave the loo, the door closes again and you hear the entire inside being sprayed with more disinfectant. It made me feel good about the sanitation of the bathroom but also feel bad about how dirty they assumed I was.
We also encountered the shop of the “Young Men’s Society” of Skibereen and were impressed by its color scheme and selection of fancy dresses. WTF?
Our turnaround point was the port of Baltimore. We had intended to get there in time to take a ferry across to some of the small islands off the southern coast of Ireland, but the combination of pub/pee stops and slow auto travel had gotten the better of us and time had slipped away. Not that we were worried of it getting dark or anything. We were a lot farther north than I had imagined us to be. Like central Canada north. Like you wouldn’t need to turn your headlights on until 10:00 pm north. As a matter of fact, I was struck by the fact that all the satellite dishes attached to Irish houses looked like they were pointed down at the ground. I wasn’t sure how that worked, but I figured they might actually just be watching their next door neighbor’s houses as a porn channel.
Our goal was to stop at the woolen mills outlet in Blarney before they closed. The Frommer’s said that during the summer, they stayed open until 10:00, but we were still a couple of hours away. A similar situation had happened to RYABelle and me during our first trip to Napa together. We toured our way up the valley for an entire day, stopping at whatever winery struck our fancy, with nary a plan. We had a great time sampling wine and eating cheese and baguettes until suddenly we found ourselves drunk and three hours north from where we were staying. Oops.
So we hightailed it up to Blarney. After two hours of figuring out baffling roundabouts and multiple highway name changes, we finally pulled in to the parking lot at the woolen mills around 6:30. “Wow,” Ricky exclaimed. “I’ve never been able to get this good of a parking spot here.” We found out why. Apparently either Frommer’s didn’t know what the hell they were talking about or June 28 doesn’t qualify as “summer” in Ireland, but the damn place closed at 6:00. Oh well, that’s probably a couple hundred bucks I saved…
Disappointed, tired, hungry and recently pintless, we returned to Kinsale for a dinner at another nice seafood restaurant called the Spaniard. The name came from the fact that Kinsale was the site of a famous battle in the early 16th century between some permutation and combination of the Spanish Armada, the British Navy and the Irish Army. Every time we heard the story, it was different people fighting each other, but the English seemed to win fairly consistently.
Another highlight of the meal was the seemingly endless stream of pretty, radiant young Irish lasses who brought food, water, wine etc. to our table. Single gentlemen, get your asses to Ireland post haste!
We finished the night with a wee dram of the Irish Mist at the White House pub because we heard they had a performer that night. The “performer” was an angry drunken piano player who berated the audience for not paying attention to him and watching the Ukraine/Switzerland World Cup football match instead. His running commentary was hilarious. “Well, neither sodding team could score in either half or extra time. So I imagine they’ll be the first two teams to not score in the shoot-out and keep distracting my audience all fookin’ night!”
He mocked the nationality of each patron in the bar until he found out one young lady was German. The crowd booed her heartily until he said, “Nah, nah boyz und girlz. Yuv gotta luv the Churmins. The’fve bin ahn our side sinz they jained thuh teem in farty-fife.”
Stay tuned for Part 4, where our intrepid explorers get beat up by a golf course and take it out on a BMW.