Cork, Blarney, and Killarney National Park
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Though it’s the second largest city in Ireland, make no mistake, Cork is a far cry from Dublin, the more populated and well known capital city. It’s not that one is better than the other, it is just that seemingly every effort is taken in Cork to make it known that Cork has its own identity, as opposed to just being a watered down Dublin on the southern coast. The people of Cork are proud of their city, and with an accent and history all of their own, the town is a charming little metropolis of festering political sentiment and isolation. It is all so rich and stoic.
Aside from its political inclinations, the town of Cork boasts a teeming city center that was seemingly built for casual strolling, and it also serves as an excellent hub for exploring the wilderness regions of the southern coastline. Downtown Cork itself is somewhat of an island that is wedged between the forks of the Lee River. Sights such as St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral and Elizabeth Fort are within walking distance of the city center, though perhaps the most popular and intriguing attraction, the Cork City Gaol, is located a half an hour stroll outside of the city. After so much walking around town, anyone paying a visit to Cork is bound to get hungry (and “thirsty”, of course). When it comes to grabbing a bite to eat in Cork, there is no place that I recommend more than the incredibly popular restaurant Scoozis, located smack dab in the downtown city center. Unbelievably, while dining at Scoozis, through talking with my waiter I determined that at one point in time, he had eaten at my family’s restaurant in Hawaii. It really is a small world.
Aside from being a destination in itself, Cork for many also serves as the launching pad for a day trip out to the nearby town of Blarney and its famed Blarney Castle. Like most places that are well-known, Blarney Castle is incredibly touristy, though the grounds that it is set on are breathtakingly gorgeous, with open green pastures and simple paddocks stretching seemingly to the horizon. Centuries old ruins lay scattered amongst the open fields, with the stoic centerpiece being Blarney Castle and the legendary Blarney Stone held inside. Purported to administer the gift of eloquence to all those who kiss the stone, thousands of people voyage annually to this ancient castle to climb a bunch of stairs, hang backwards over a railing, and smooch a cold slab of rock. The jury is still out as to the degree of my acquired eloquence.
While Cork is a happening urban center and Blarney overflows with charming history and lore, the greatest natural beauty of this corner of Ireland lies in a tucked away corner of the coast that is famously known as the the Ring of Kerry. A mountainous interior with the nation’s tallest mountain peaks, it is rung by a foggy, serpentine strip of asphalt that hugs the coast. Kerry offers one of the more dramatic landscapes in all of Ireland, if not all of Europe or the world. At the gateway to Kerry stands the town of Killarney, famously home to the Killarney Lakes region and Killarney National Park. An expansive park that is well geared towards hiking and casual driving, the best way to see Killarney National Park is with a set of two wheels under your bundled frame. Brisk air tickles your cheeks as open fields and simple lakes fly by in your periphery, the towering shadow of Ross Castle lurking closely behind. Climb all the way up to one of the many lookouts in the park such as Ladies View, and behold the beauty of this protected Irish landscape spread out before you in all its glory. Arguably one of the best bike rides I have ever taken, bikes are available for rent in the town of Killarney proper. Finish off an afternoon in the park with an ice cold Guinness and a heaping plate of traditional Irish fare, and leaving this simple hamlet suddenly becomes a much harder challenge than ever could have been imagined.