Can you believe Ireland? So far, we’d have to give this place at least eleven out of ten for the scenery and twelve out of ten for the welcome…..
We’ve spent the last few days mainly in County Cork in the far South-West of the country.
Overview: 4.5 days, 260 miles
We ended our last post with our arrival at Cobh. We found the motorhome aire there without any problems; it’s basically a section of the narrow railway car park sandwiched between the railway line and the promenade. They’ve done a really nice job of marking out proper motorhome spaces, and there are fresh water and waste facilities (though no electricity). We thought that the charge of €10 a night was very reasonable (contrary to some early reviews online, there is now a machine that will accept notes and cards as well as coins).
We’d hardly been parked up five minutes before Brittany Ferries’ Pont Aven steamed past. Hello old friend! The Pont Aven will have been heading to Roscoff; there’s now also a service from Cork to Santander. One to bear in mind for the future, we thought (you can tell that we’re loving Ireland by the way that we’re instinctively planning out a second trip 😀)…. Perhaps we could combine Ireland in the late summer one year with an onward crossing to Santander for the winter?
Cobh is a port on Cork Harbour (which claims to be the second largest natural harbour in the World, after Sydney, Australia). Between 1849 and 1920 it was called Queenstown in honour of Queen Victoria, before being renamed Cobh. It’s a very nice little town, situated on a steep hillside overlooking the harbour.
The huge cathedral in the background of the photo above is St Colman’s Cathedral, built between 1868 and 1919. The tower is 87m tall, and the cathedral apparently has the biggest carillon of bells (a set of bells played using a keyboard) anywhere in Britain or Ireland, comprising 49 bells in total (as a comparison, the carillon at York Minster “only” has 35 bells). An automated system is supposed to ring the hour and quarter hours, but it must’ve been turned off for some reason on the Sunday morning we spent in town.
Queenstown plays an important in story of Irish emigration as the single most important port for Irish emigration to the USA. There’s a statue on the quayside of a young irish lass called Annie Moore with her two brothers.
Annie Moore was born in Cork, later emigrating from Queenstown to New York. On 01 January 1892, her fifteenth birthday, she was the very first immigrant to the USA processed through the newly opened Ellis Island.
Queenstown is, of course, famous as the last port of call of the ill-fated Titanic. Titanic stopped here on 11 April 1912 after departing Southampton the previous day.
It anchored out at the entrance to the harbour and 123 passengers were taken out to the ship in two tenders, whilst 7 lucky passengers disembarked. The Titanic only stopped at Queenstown for a total of an hour and a half; time was of the essence and it was in a hurry to get to New York. We saw the old White Star Line office building and, to the rear, the remains of the jetty where passengers boarded the tenders:
There is a tourist attraction in the old White Star offices called “The Titanic Experience”. What an odd name – you wouldn’t have thought that they’d get many takers? We gave that a miss as we’ll be visiting the Titanic museum in Belfast later in the trip.We also skipped an attraction at Cobh Heritage Centre that covers the emigration story; we felt that we’d already covered that in quite some depth at the EPIC Museum in Dublin. There was plenty to see for free in Cobh to keep us fully occupied for a morning.
Queenstown is also intimately associated with the story of the Cunard liner Lusitania. It was only a few weeks ago that we happened across the story of the Wanderer, the Manx fishing boat that was the first vessel to come to the aid of survivors (blog post here).
When the Lusitania was torpedoed and sank off the Old Head of Kinsale on 07 May 1915, the rescue effort was coordinated from Queenstown. Of the 1962 on board, 1198 were lost. Some victims were repatriated for burial; many bodies were simply not recovered. 169 victims of the tragedy are buried at Old Church Cemetery just outside Queenstown in three mass graves and 20 private graves. On the day that the mass burials took place, the funeral cortège stretched for two miles and took an hour to pass the mourners along the route. We went to have a look at the cemetery on our way out of Cobh; as part of their stunning service to motorhomers, LIDL have built a car park and store right next door 😀
Here’s one of the mass graves:
We didn’t go into Cork itself; another city to be left for another time… We also skipped Blarney Castle. It’s essentially a ruined fortified house with a genius marketing department. Pay €18 each (OK, €16 each if you book online in advance and print your own ticket) to kiss a stone slobbered on by busloads of tourists every day? You’d be better off heading to Ballyhack Castle (blog post here) for a free guided tour of a fortified house, and Ferns Castle (blog post here), also free, for a crash course in the “gift of the gab” from tour guide Larry.
We spent Sunday night outside the fabulous star-shaped Charles Fort near Kinsale. The construction of Charles Fort (1678-1683) was the largest engineering project undertaken in Ireland during the 17th century. Kinsale, the most southerly port in Ireland, and with a natural deep-water harbour, played an important role in international trade, so Charles Fort was needed to protect the entrance to the harbour.
We’ve seen forts like this before, mainly in France. The absolute master of fortress design during that period was a Frenchman called Sebastian LePrestre de Vauban (1633-1707), who designed over 160 fortresses during his career. There are also quite a few Vauban-style fortresses like Charles Fort around. We always stop to have a look when we come across one – we’re quite partial to a bit of Vaubannerie, as we call it.
Charles Fort was officially designed by a chap called Sir William Robinson (1643-1712) who was known for classical buildings – the Royal Hospital at Kilmainham (near the jail we visited in Dublin; we didn’t visit the hospital as it now houses modern art, which isn’t our thing), Lismore Cathedral etc. So forts weren’t really his thing….. Let’s face it, he copied…..
They didn’t openly admit as much at Charles Fort, but there was an information board telling us all about Vauban’s fame and expertise. A smoking gun if ever we saw one….
We spent the night in the free car park outside the fort. Driving through Kinsale the next morning we noticed quite a few campers parked up along the quayside. The town looks very attractive, and the parking right along the quayside is only restricted to two hours between 10.30am and 8pm. One for next time….
Continuing the scenic route West along the coast on Monday, we stopped off to look at Drombeg Stone Circle:
This is a Bronze Age recumbent stone circle, so called as it has one low wide “recumbent” stone opposite the two tallest stones in the circle, which form the entrance. The entrance and the centre of the recumbent stone are on a NE / SW axis, which aligns with the sunset on the winter solstice.
On the same site are the remains (circular stone bases) of two Bronze Age huts and a “fulacht fiadh”.
The fulacht fiadh is an ancient cooking place with a well, hearth, and trough. Stones would have been heated in the hearth then placed in the water-filled trough, which could then be used to cook meat. Experiments undertaken in the 1950s showed that using this approach, 318 litres of water could be brought to boiling point in 18 minutes and that the water would then stay hot for 3 hours.
The final approach to Drombeg Stone Circle involved driving half a mile down a pretty narrow lane. At one point, we came to a halt as a car slowly and tentatively squeezed past. With both drivers’ windows open to pull the mirrors in, we got a “heads-up” from the friendly-sounding other driver that “some people around here” could find the poppy on the front of SOK offensive.
Yikes, doesn’t history get messy? It seems that some in Ireland see a poppy as a kind of political symbol of support for everything the British Armed Forces have ever done (including all the unfortunate stuff that’s happened in Ireland over the years). British imperialism on a Ford front grille….
SOK’s poppy hadn’t crossed our minds for a moment. We’ve swiftly removed the poppy for the remainder of our Ireland trip; the last thing we want is for some Irishman to take offence (especially if it’s an Irishman with half a brick in one hand).
We can console ourselves with the thought that surely the potential for offence from SOK’s poppy can’t be as great as that of the German “Krieg-Reisen.de” (“War Tours”) bus we saw touring Scandinavia last year! (blog post here).
We spent Monday night down at Mizen Head, the most South-Westerly point in Ireland. It’s well worth visiting in the beautiful weather we’re having at the moment; We’d say give it a miss though if the weather isn’t fabulous. It costs €7.50 each to get through the visitor centre and onto the paths that take you out and over a concrete footbridge to Mizen Head itself.
The bridge has a span of 172 feet and there’s a 150 foot drop below… It’s a modern concrete replica of the original bridge, built in 1909 in the early days of concrete bridge construction (the original bridge had to be replaced a few years ago after a survey revealed that parts of the reinforcement inside the structure had completely corroded away).
The various exhibition spaces in the visitor centre and the buildings out on the end of the point are very dated and really not worth spending a huge amount of time over; luckily the views outside more than made up for it.
You might just about be able to make out the Fastnet lighthouse (9 miles away) on the horizon in the photo above.
After spending the night on the car park at Mizen Head, we started making our way back up the Northern side of the peninsula.
This is the Altar wedge tomb, a late Stone Age (3000 – 2000 BC) tomb. Mark spotted that it has had a bit of modern help in the form of concrete around the base of some of the stones…..
We’d decided to spend Tuesday night at a town called Bantry. We had two choices here: parking outside a hotel a mile and a half outside of town for €10 or parking at the marina in town for €20 (we’ve been using paid sites every third night so as to be able to empty the loo, fill up with fresh water etc).
As soon as we saw the marina, our decision was made! Here’s the view from SOK:
Bantry iself was a nice little town:
St Brendan the Navigator (could have done with a bigger boat?):
The best thing about Bantry was that when we came to leave on Wednesday morning, the machine (it’s an automated system like in a car park – take a ticket on entering then pay at the pay station to leave) only charged €10. We’d had a great spot right on the side of the harbour, electricity (SOK’s first electric hookup in several weeks) and even wifi.
Continuing North, the next peninsula is the Beara Peninsula. It’s a much more wild and rugged landscape. We drove right to the end to the cable car which crosses to Dursey Island. This is not only Ireland’s only cable car but also the only cable car in Europe that traverses open seawater.
Dursey Island has a lot of history but the part that really caught our imaginations was that the Vikings used it as a slave depot, collecting Irish slaves together on the island until such time as they were shipped off to their new lives…..
A return ticket on the cable car cost €10 each. There isn’t a huge amount to see on the other side; what we hadn’t realised was that after we’d had a wander about we’d have to wait an hour to get the cable car back: it’s only licensed to take six passengers at a time and the round trip takes 15 minutes. Time it wrong and you can be waiting a while!
The road along the Northern side of the Beara Peninsula was narrow and very winding: not one for larger motorhomes (note: the photos are from the wider sections where it was possible to stop safely).
We found a really nice car park to spend the night in at Kilmakilloge Harbour about halfway back along the North Coast of the Beara Peninsula; there was even a handy pub!
That left us a nice easy drive on Thursday morning up to Killarney. The views of the National Park and lakes as we approached the town were simply amazing. Our first impression of Killarney itself is that it’s very touristy; there are lots of big hotels, shops catering to visitors’ every possible need in terms of souvenirs, and “jaunting cars” (ponies & traps) touting for business taking people to the local scenic spots. We’re definitely back on the main tourist trail here!
We need to come back through Killarney in a couple of days’ time after completing the Ring of Kerry (which is the road around the next peninsula), so we’re going to spend a bit more time looking around then. For the moment, it’s time to hit the Ring of Kerry. We really don’t know what to expect. We’re sure that the scenery will be beautiful, but will it be just too touristy for our liking?