Irish Eclectic

Irish Journey, Day 4: Cork Blarney, Cobh, Gateway to the New World

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Irish EclecticBy Brian McGowan

We wake up on our fourth day “in country” to a beautiful sunrise, viewed from the balcony of the Garryvoe Hotel in Ballycotton, County Cork, where we arrived the evening before.

The hotel is situated on a beautiful beach, here called a “strand,” lapped by the gentle waves of the Celtic Sea, the body of water off the southern coast of Ireland.  Rashers, sausage, eggs, all washed down with plenty of coffee, equip us for a long day ahead. Our first destination today: Cork, second largest city in the Republic of Ireland.

It’s a Saturday, and as we pass through picturesque towns and beautiful countryside, every athletic field we see is packed with youngsters playing games – hurling, rugby, soccer, football (Gaelic, not American!) – and we are reminded that Ireland is more a country of the young than ever before.

As we approach Cork, the River Lee enters the scene on our left, and in a few moments our bus is parked alongside the river bank on Saint Patrick’s Quay. We hoof it across a bridge spanning the Lee and find ourselves in the midst of a city that has lost none of its charm over the ages, despite having been the scene of bitter fighting during both the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War.

Pedestrian friendly and free of many hills (after all, the name in Irish, corcaigh, means “marshy place”), we make our way along bustling Saint Patrick’s Street to the ironically-named English Market, a title that does little justice to one of the most bustling and charming markets one could find anywhere in the world. All manner of goods is sold there, and bartering is a game played by most.

Time, though, is not on our side, and with a few more sights seen in the city center, we are back on the bus and headed to a much-renowned, and, often-maligned tourist draw, Blarney Castle. The famous Blarney Stone has sat in the wall of Blarney Castle since 1446, at a height of some 120 feet. To kiss it you must first ascend a twisting circular staircase of 127 well-worn stones.  Once begun on the journey, there is no going back. But the promise of eloquence awaits those who try.

The term “blarney” itself is attributed to Queen Elizabeth I, referring to the evasive statements of Cormac MacCarthy, (1411-1494), Lord of Blarney, who spoke with a gilded tongue, saying much, but committing to little, aside from infuriating the English Queen. While definitely not for those fearing heights, the wait to kiss the stone, once at the top of the castle’s ramparts, isn’t long. The deed is done by most in our party, myself included.

Once the ascent, and equally tortuous descent, are mastered, the spectacular grounds of the castle can be enjoyed, and we are rewarded with some time to listen to some airs played by a well-fingered piper on an equally well-tuned set of bagpipes. As I’ve said before, Irish, Scottish, at the heart, it’s all one.

The afternoon is getting on well, and our next stop is the port of Cobh (pronounced “cove”), which historically was the port of embarkation for a large number of Irish during the 1800s, when it was known as Queenstown. Blessed by the Gulf Stream, as is much of southwestern Ireland, the mild climate gives an almost tropical feel to the place.

We visit an excellent museum documenting the history of the Irish diaspora. One exhibit in particular catches my attention, regarding the transportation in 1825 of several thousand Irish peasants, mainly from County Cork, but Tipperary, Kerry and Clare as well, to the wilderness of Canada. It’s a story I know well, as several of the families involved are direct ancestors of mine.

As night falls, we adjourn to the inviting venue of the Commodore Hotel, where we have shepherd’s pie all around, and Murphy’s Stout instead of the otherwise ubiquitous Guinness. Murphy’s, you see, is brewed in the Lady’s Well Brewery in Cork. And as they say, when in Cork…

Longtime Pleasantville resident Brian McGowan was born and raised in the Bronx and is a second-, third- and fifth-generation Irish-American/Canadian, as his immigrant ancestors followed several paths to the New World. Reach him at He is the author of two books, “Thunder at Noon,” about the Battle of Waterloo, and “Love, Son John,” about World War II.  Both are available at

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