Vacation 2019: Cork

Friday August 9 we left Waterford and entered County Cork, visiting the towns of Cobh (pronounced “cove”) and An Bhlarna (Blarney). Road signage in Ireland has both the Irish and English place names. We learned several town name prefixes: An (the), Baile (village of), Cill (church), Dun (fort), and Glen (valley).

On the way we passed more road art. There was a sequence of four or five pillars, a memorial to the Choktaw nation’s sending relief during the Famine.

Cobh is a small town on an island in Cork harbour; it was the last stop the Titanic made on its only voyage. It was the embarkation point for a lot of crossings, particularly emigrations. Cork Harbour is one of the largest natural harbours in the world, and was used by the British Navy before independence.

Cobh waterfront buildings, with a view of the cathedral.

Memorial to the sinking of the Lusitania, with an angel representing the desire for peace and exhausted figures representing the local fisherman who rescued several hundred people from a ship that sank in minutes.

Our guide, Dr. Michael Martin , told us that the Lusitania is now known to have been carrying munitions and thus was a legitimate military target which the shippers surrounded with human shields (something that is now considered a war crime). It also was never mentioned in the American debates over whether to join the Great War, so the legend that it brought the USA into the war is false.

Dr. Martin also told us about the Titanic. At the time number of lifeboats was set by ship tonnage, not number of passengers on board. The ship indeed had too few lifeboats, by a factor of about two, but that was the law of the time. As with the Lusitania, there are false legends, in this case “women and children first.” There were plenty of spaces for all the women on board, but classism kept people from steerage off the lifeboats entirely until the 8th or 10th (my memory fails me). This building was where people would have embarked – the upper classes being allowed to wait inside, while the lower classes had to stay outside.

After Cobh we went to the village of An Bhlarna just outside the city of Cork and visited Blarney Castle. On the way to the castle there are beautiful grounds, and there are gardens on site, but it was quite rainy that day so I didn’t see much of them.

The castle itself is a single large blocky tower.

The Blarney Stone is at the top, up a claustrophobia- and acrophobia-inducing circular stone staircase, slippery wherever exposed to the elements — and it was raining moderately heavily. To kiss the stone (to get the “gift of gab”) you need to lie on your back with your upper body hanging across a half-metre or so gap, and bend over backwards to reach the specific stone in the wall. In that position you can’t wear glasses or having anything loose in your pockets. I couldn’t face the challenge, but my writer friend Bill Tracy did.

The stone is behind his head, low down near the bottom of the wall. Note the drop over his right shoulder.

Afterwards, we drove to County Kerry and the city of Cill Airne (Killarney), where we had dinner and spent the night.

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