Ireland: Guide to Cork, Blarney, & Kinsale

As much as we LOVED Galway, we wanted to explore other parts of Ireland to get a more well-rounded taste of what Ireland is all about! Only having a week in Ireland, we knew we couldn't see ALL of it, so we decided to focus more on the southern loop of Ireland {which we would HIGHLY recommend!} 

After Galway, our next destination was located about three hours south, and about an hour away from the Celtic Sea: Cork! As mentioned before, the handy-dandy-faithful Bus Éireann really is the most convenient means of transportation around the Island. Depending on how many days you plan on staying in Ireland, we suggest getting the 10 Day Journey Ticket--it's a ticket valid for ten journeys for a period of seven consecutive days, and makes it EASY-breezy to get on and off at random locations. 

{For all you spur-of-the-moment-down-for-adventure-don't-need-an-itinerary types out there, throw some praise hands up! This ticket is for you.}

Being the curious adventurers we naturally are, on our way to Cork we HAD to make an impromptu stop for lunch! We hopped off the bus in Charleville {the most endearing town name to say in our American fake Irish accents}, located in Northern County Cork. It’s a cute little town, and although there’s not much to see, the Holly Cross Church Spire makes it worth the stop. The church, built out of limestone, was started in 1898 and officially opened in 1902. The stain glass and mosaic features make it an incredible, and humbling site to see.


After our lunch break, we were off to Cork! We'll be honest, after being in Galway, it was a shock to arrive in Cork. Cork is a very LARGE city, and we weren’t quite expecting that after spending a few days in smaller, quainter parts of Ireland. If we had done a little bit more research on the city before arrival {oops}, we would have learned that not only was it the second largest city in Ireland, but also at one point had been named the European Capital of Culture. It’s a very beautiful, hilly city, with cathedrals, restaurants, and brightly colored doors to residences all sitting right on top of one another. The River Lee channels also divide the city into halves, with the city center located on an island caused by the dividing channels.

If you're looking for a accommodations for the night, you can't go wrong with Gabriel’s Guesthouse B&B! Centrally located and positioned on top of a hill overlooking the city, it’s a charming period guesthouse that hosts what we considered to be five star bedrooms, staff, and breakfast for people on a budget. {But seriously... they made us feel right at home! Probably one of our favorite B&B's we've stayed at so far.}

In Cork, we were captivated by the different cathedrals the city had to offer--(We know, we know, SO MANY CATHEDRALS…but you just don’t see that kind of architecture in America!) The most noticeable one is St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, built in 1870. Neo-gothic in style, the cathedral is home to magnificent stained glass windows, marble mosaics, and artwork on the ceiling that varies from scenes from the Old & New Testament, and Christ surrounded by angels. If you're a sculpture lover {to each their own}, you'll find more than 1,260 on display here to view. Probably one of the most noteworthy adornments of the church is located on the top of the eastern side of the building where a golden angel sits, which legend says will actually start to blow its horn when the Apocalypse starts. 

{Yea... so we dropped the ball and didn't get a picture of this...but say thanks to Pixie cause they did, and it rocks.}

{Other notable churches to see are the Red Abbey and St. Mary’s Cathedral. Also, other sites to explore include the General Post Office, the Church Tower of Shandon, Elizabeth Fort, the Cork Opera House, and the University College Cork.}


Our first official site to explore actually ended up not being located in the city of Cork, but about 5 miles northwest at Blarney. Blarney is home to the famous Blarney Castle and Stone, which is a MUST-SEE if you're committed to playing tourist the right way.

From 1200 to present, the castle has undergone many renovations and changes in owner, making this a site that oozes history. The castle actually sits into the side of a hill, which causes the castle to loom over acres of gardens that surround it, providing an enchanting site to all it's visitors. {We're talking swoon worthy. This is the stuff Irish fairytales are made of people!} Exploring the castle will make you feel like you've been transported back in time. You can roam through it's many rooms, peek through it's windows for a breathtaking view of the countryside in all directions, and climb the stairs to the top of the battlements where the famous Blarney Stone awaits!

Legend has it that the Blarney Stone (set into the tower of the castle in 1446) bestows whoever kisses it with the gift of gab/eloquence/flattery, which is not an easy feat. {HELLO! Lips don't fail us now--never needed a kiss more than this one!} In order to kiss the stone, you must climb to the very top of the battlements, lean over backwards on the parapet’s edge, and hope you don’t fall while trying to kiss it! {Thankfully now days they’ve installed poles for you to hold onto, and you can pay to have a worker hold you securely to the ground as you lean backwards.}  Obviously we both did this… and obviously we are still both waiting on our gift of gab. *sigh* 

Other legends have the stone named as Lia Fáil—a magical stone upon which Irish kings were crowned.

 After a quick kiss, don't be in a hurry to leave! The surrounding gardens and caves are must see while you’re there. One of Madison's favorite gardens to see was the Poison Garden, which hosts some of the most poisonous plants from around the world –from Wolfsbane to Opium--- along with information on their traditional and modern uses. And you can't forget about Blarney House! An imposing baronial-style mansion with many turrets, which was built on the grounds in 1874, and will make you feel like you should be in the Irish version of Downton Abbey.

{Other sites to see on the estate are the Witch’s Stone and Kitchen, Fairy Glade, the Wishing Steps, Druid’s Circle and Sacrificial Altar, Druid’s Cave, and Badgers Cave.} 


Another noteworthy day trip from Cork is Kinsale. Located about 15.5miles south of Cork, Kinsale is a historic port (established in 1333) and fishing town you’ll fall in love with instantly. {But for realz... INSTANTLY.} For history lovers {cough...Madison}, Kinsale is the site of a battle during the Nine Years War in which Irish chieftains fought against the English power. For food lovers {cough... Mary Beth}, this is the city known as the food capital in Ireland due to the Gourmet Festival they hold annually…. So naturally being history AND food lovers {x100}, we HAD to visit this little town.

Kinsale is small enough town that you gives you the appearance you can walk everywhere you need to go--but don’t let that fool you! You can get lost in the miles of intertwining roads nestled amongst some of the brightest storefronts and restaurants in Ireland. Kinsale was the perfect little town for us to take a moment and slow down on our trip, and just really enjoy our surroundings and Irish culture. Everywhere you look is a picture waiting to be taken—whether it it's one of the multi-colored buildings lining the streets, the harbor and the boats nestled in the cove, or the old forts, castles, and churches throughout the town.   

Like we noted before, the town is filled to the brim with history! One of our first places to check out was St. Multose Church.  The church was built in 1190, and was the place where Prince Rupert proclaimed Charles II as of King of England when they received the news of Charles I death. {It’s also the place where you can find the town’s stocks...that makes it cooler, right?}

Next to see was Desmond Castle, which was a 16th century customs house for wines, woods, and tobacco. The castle also has a rich history in war—it was an arms store for the Spanish in 1601, it held French captives in the 18th century, and later on it housed prisoners taken during the American War of Independence. Also, there is the Stone of Destiny, a more modern site that was added in order to remember the chieftains that led the Battle of Kinsale. It’s an Irish chieftain chair composed of stones brought from the four Providences of Ireland to acknowledge those who joined the battle.

Lastly, {and most noteworthy} Charles Fort is the best know attraction in Kinsale. It was built in 1678 and today most of the fort still remains.  

One of our favorite moments of our trip to Kinsale was our walk to James Fort. You have to walk across a bridge that goes across the River Brandon in order to get there, and then walk through Summercover, a little village directly across from Kinsale (if you have a boat it would literally be a stone skip away). The fort sits on a peninsula, which offers views of the town, river, harbor and Charles Fort. It was built in 1607 and was the first Star Fort (star-shaped) in the area. It was named after James II when he landed in Kinsale in his efforts to regain the throne of England. Besides the Cliffs of Moher in Galway, this might have been one of the most beautiful and memorable sites we saw during our trip to Ireland!

Yes, the fort was in ruins, but inside of the fort was a field of daisies. DAISIES PEOPLE. So, naturally we spent a good portion of our day soaking up the peaceful, sunny day...and rolling around in daisies. {#nojudgement you would too.}

 Between these three cities, southern Ireland is a powerhouse of culture, historical sites, cuisine, and Irish luck! Get lost exploring the crooks and crannies of a large city like Cork, grab your camera and walking shoes for a touristy day at Blarney, or slow down and come hungry to the island's best kept secret, Kinsale. Trust us, you can't go wrong! 

Happy Exploring! 

- Mary Beth & Madison -