With strict orders for an 8:10 am meeting-up with our Driftwood Tour group at the Grand Canal Hotel, we set our Tuesday morning alarm for 6 a.m. The Academy Plaza staff was kind enough to accommodate my request to leave a suitcase intended for Croatia in their manager’s office for the duration of our tour. Another remarkably friendly and chatty taxi driver sped us through Dublin commuter traffic. He pointed out the building across from the Grand Canal Hotel that had once been a bustling slaughterhouse employing over 1,000 Dubliners, but was closed down some 20 years ago.
We easily found Ciara, our lovely, patient, and efficient guide, in the lobby of the hotel; she checked us in and quickly loaded up the luggage in our 16-seater tour bus. There are 15 travelers on our tour, remarkably with 3 nurses (2 from Australia and me), and 5 Los Angeles County retirees (Mike and two other couples). There is also a dentist, teacher, engineer, and others I’m forgetting. Most of the folks are retired.
8:10 a.m. on the dot we headed away from the meet-up hotel and joined the Dublin morning traffic. Vagabond’s 11-day Driftwood tours go either clockwise or counter-clockwise around Ireland. We learned as we pulled away that we would be going clockwise, and our first destination would be the Rock of Cashel in County Cork.
The story goes that the Rock of Cashel originated in a mountain 20 miles north of the town of Cashel when St. Patrick banished Satan from a cave. Some explosion in the cave caused a giant rock to blow out and land on a hilltop in Cashel. A cathedral was built, now in ruins, but, interesting to us, the cathedral’s cemetery continues to be used. Some of the headstones listed people who died as recently as 2016.
After Cashel, we continued southerly to Blarney, familiar to most for the Blarney Stone. Our group was able to speed past the line-up at the entrance to the Blarney Castle and grounds. The grounds are lovely, with beautiful formal gardens, a gorgeous home, and the castle remains. The queue to climb the stairs and kiss the Blarney stone was an hour long. Ciara asked who wanted to kiss the stone – I raised my hand, of course. Couldn’t believe that only I and one other group member, Chris from Australia, wanted to do it. I mean, geez, when would I ever be in Blarney again?!?! So, Chris and I stood in line, chatted the time away as we climbed the spiral stairs, and took each other’s photos as a burly Irishman prevented us from falling down to our deaths as we kissed the stone upside down. I had to buy the 10euro commemorative photo.
Back in the bus, we drove another hour into County Cork, passed through the city of Cork and onto the outside of town where we came to our first night’s accommodation. The Gouganne Barra Hotel is situated on a stunning site in a valley surrounded by mountains and with the Gouganne lake in front. In the 6th century St. Finbarr founded a monastery on an island in the lake. We had a great dinner in the hotel and a good night’s sleep, still a bit off schedule, but getting there.