"On the way to Youghall (pronounced ya-all) Katie told us about taxes and education. Also a bit about driving. They have a LOT of taxes, but the cheapest corporate tax at 12.5% I think she said. Their education used to be basically free through a university, but they just introduced fees. The citizens are NOT happy about that. They start school at 4 years old and have babies and elder babies (I think) to start. Then 6 more years of primary school. There they learn a mixture of things, history, sums (math), Irish and English, grammar, etc. After that they head to secondary school. This takes 5 or 6 years to get through. 6 years if you do a "transition" year. The first 3, I think she said, are preparing for junior exams. Then the last two for leaving exams. They started exams today and they can go for a week and a half to 3 week depending on the subjects. You have to take sums, English, Irish and another language. The others are up to you, with a minimum of 3 more required." She also told us about the roadside strawberry stands, so when we saw one on the road she got out and bought us a big thing of strawberries. They were SO GOOD!
It was such a pretty day, it almost made it sad to be in the bus. Youghall is a fun little town, and is known for it's clock tower and being where the film version of Moby Dick was filmed in 1956. They even have a white whale figure floating out on the river. This is another area where the water is very tidal and it can cause some funny sights when the tide is low.
A lot of the group wandered around the town and did either some shopping or picked up snacks. I probably should have, I would have liked to have seen more of the town, but I was having a bit of an emotional day. Like I said earlier, this was one of my most anticipated days, so I sat near the bus just looking out over the water, enjoying the sun and the day, and just lost in thought. The whole trip had been a dream come true.
Leaving Youghall we headed towards Cork, where we were going to stop for lunch. "Cork is on the Lee river and is very pretty. They have bridges to the "island" made where the river splits and apparently they light them up at night." I mentioned before that this was exam time for the students in Ireland. Exams are very stressful for the kids and suicides go up a lot during this time of year. It's quite sad, but Cork tries to counter this a bit by lighting up the bridges at night in calming colors. It's a large city, and kind of confusing to get around. It is probably good we didn't have a ton of time here, so I didn't have a chance to get lost.
I almost left a shopping purchase in Cork while trying to assist a fellow traveler by catching a friend of hers. Luckily I was able to retrieve it and make it back to the bus mostly on time. I also walked through the fish market, which is a bit of an "attraction" in Cork. Many of our grabbed lunch from here. I would have liked to have more time in Cork but it was time to head to Blarney Castle, and I was SUPER excited about that. I didn't realize quite what I was in for when we got there, or how much I would enjoy it.
"There is a LOT to see at Blarney. I, of course, climbed the tower and kissed the stone. I went ahead and bought my picture. It was quite a rush. Then I walked the grounds. I saw some of the gardens, the river walk, the horses graveyard and the house. It was BEAUTIFUL there." I never dreamed there would be so much to see at Blarney. I just always thought it was the castle and where you went to kiss the stone. Instead I found large grounds you were able to wander around, tons of gardens and so many areas I was never able to get to.
Before I had even gotten to the castle I was in LOVE with the grounds. There were so many things to see, and the land is HUGE. Climbing up into the castle gave some magnificent view of the grounds and the surrounding countryside. The day couldn't have been better, weather wise, and I actually got sunburned! If I could have had more time, I would have followed every path I could to see as much of the grounds as possible.
The manor house, also located on the grounds, was beautiful! I did manage to get closer to it at one point. Kissing the stone was pretty exhilarating. I think mostly because you are essentially doing a back bend over a wall holding on to a couple of poles. Someone is there to hold you a bit, and there is a grate so you won't fall if you slip, but still....it's pretty high up. The story of the stone is pretty interesting. I don't remember all of it, but I think the "lord" of the land had the stone, and was able to talk himself out of paying taxes, I think. Multiple people were sent to him and each time he talked his way out of giving them anything. So, legend says, if you kiss the stone you get the "gift of gab," which is basically the gift of being able to talk yourself out of anything.
I was totally in love with the flower beds in the large garden area. I wanted to get to the waterfall, but ended up leaving my map with mom when I started my wanderings, and so I wandered aimlessly, finding out later I went the wrong way to see the waterfall. I was not disappointed however, as there was so much to see. It just gives me something else to do when I go again.
The amount of flowers and plants in the gardens was stunning. The sheer variety of the colors and types was very cool to see. I wish I had hours and hours to spend on these grounds, because I could have spent at least that long wandering and taking pictures. I'm still getting the hang of taking macro photography images, but many of them came out very pretty.
Completely by accident I ended up walking up the "drive" to the manor house. It was difficult to get some good pictures of the house without a bunch of people in the picture as visitors were everywhere. However, I managed to get a few good ones. I was also lucky enough to run into some of our group who took my picture in front of the house too.
Blarney offered me some great practice in my photo taking techniques and in using the different lenses. It's also given me good practice time at photo editing as well. Most of these pictures didn't need much, but a few I worked with to get just right. It was more than I could have EVER dreamed and I will long to go back there for as long as I can imagine. The trip, for me, was completely worth it, just to see these grounds. The trip, of course, was just going to keep meeting and exceeding my expectations, as it had been doing the entire time, but this was a special place for me.
After leaving Blarney we headed off for Killarney. I was interested to see Killarney and when we reached our hotel it was amazing. SO pretty and a HUGE step up for Sara and I from the Waterford hotel. There were robes and a bunch of things that made the room feel VERY high end. Wandering around that hotel I imagined I could understand a bit how the travelers (maybe not the high class, but middle to low class) felt being on the Titanic.
After dinner Sara and I looked around the town, and did a little shopping. It's a pretty town and Katie told us even Ireland residents come to Killarney on vacation. It's got very high quality hotels and restaurants, oh and pubs. We weren't going to have much, if any, free time here, so we tried to see what we could this first night. St. Mary's church, which had very pretty architecture, also was holding a funeral that day, so we didn't try and get really close. There was also a very interesting rock circle that was labeled "Mission Memorial Sculpture." I'm not sure what it was for exactly, but it was interesting.
I made it a rather early night, choosing not to go to a pub or anything after getting back to the hotel. Instead Sara and I both read and just relaxed in our comfy robes, getting ready for a long day on the bus the next day. We were taking the drive around the Ring of Kerry....which I was very interested in seeing. It was a full day of travel, however, after an already long day of traveling to get here, but it would be exciting to see.