Within sight of the Rock is the ruins of Hore Abbey. Unlike the Rock, hardly anyone was there. It’s not a tourist site in the sense that there’s no admission, no employee watching the place, not even any signage. In fact, for a while, I had the place to myself and could wander undisturbed through the rooms. Those are the places and moments I love. When you can be alone among the ruins, free to let your imagination wander, thinking about the history of the place and what it was like back its heyday and how it connects to you here today. And when it’s a religious place, I like to focus on the cloud of witnesses who went before. There were graves there, tombstones overrun with grass and weeds, some of them less than a century old, and it made me think about how quickly we are forgotten when we die.
Before I slipped too far into existential thought, some other people came to the abbey and I removed myself to go to the Folk Village. It was not what I expected. Turns out it’s a personal passion project run by a guy named Bernard, who was endearingly nerdy about Irish history. I was the only visitor when I went. His collection is an eclectic mix of things like bog butter, old tools, prints and photographs, a gypsy caravan, statues. There are slightly frightening wax figures of famous Irish people. Bernard’s brother-in-law made them. There’s an exhibit for the 1916 Uprising/War of Independence/Civil War and an exhibit for the potato famine. Bernard gave a tour of the first room then let me wander the rest of the grounds and exhibits by myself.
Speaking of the famine, the way it’s usually taught in U.S. textbooks, it makes it seem like potatoes were the only crop grown in Ireland and it was just bad luck that there was a blight that led to mass starvation and emigration. But there was actually enough food (non-potato crops) produced during the years of the famine for the Irish to eat, but Britain exported it, rather than aiding the Irish. And the Irish haven’t forgotten.
At my hostel that evening I met a couple from Sweden. They were in their 60s; he was a retired doctor and she was a principal. We talked a long time about travel, current politics in the U.S., and education and treatment of teachers. Sweden doesn’t sound very different from here. They are scared of Trump and also have their own far right groups. It was a good conversation, but it also made me feel lonely. They are a couple, building memories together, and they asked me where I want to settle, where is home. I could not explain to them my thoughts on the matter because they went on talking, which is fine. I am happy to listen.
In Cork, I had to catch a different bus to Blarney. From the bus stop, it was about a two minute walk to the castle. There was a long line to kiss the stone (which is supposed to imbue you with eloquence), but the line moved at a decent pace. I asked the boy ahead of me if he’d take my picture while I was kissing it so I wouldn’t be tempted to shell out €10 for one from the gift shop. Yes, it’s a bit of a tourist trap. And Blarney castle isn’t that great in and of itself, mostly because you don’t have time to see much of it; you have to keep moving or risk losing your place in the line that winds all the way up to the top to kiss the stone. I suppose you can take your time on the way down, but after seeing Cardiff Castle and Alnwick Castle and the Tower of London and Edinburgh Castle, et.al., it just didn’t interest me much.
But the gardens that accompany Blarney Castle are very beautiful and make the trip worthwhile. There are waterfalls, caves, druid stones, a forest, and, of course, flowers. There’s a lot of area to wander, and it’s possible to get away from other people. In fact, there was a brief moment when I thought I might get lost in the woods. I got some pretty good pics including some selfies where my green eyes pop because I’m standing in front of mossy trees. It was good to have that time with nature before venturing to Dublin.