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Seeking Fish & Chips and Whisky: Touring the South of County Cork

This entry is part of a series, Ireland 2009»

Dinos

John was waiting a bit early this morning, or else we were maybe a few minutes late getting our stuff together for the days touring. We had a five-minute delay while we stopped for batteries for my camera. Today’s agenda: The south of County Cork, including the seaside town of Kinsale, and a visit to the Midleton Distillery.

We made a quick cut over a back road to the N20, then headed due south through the emerald fields. The weather was fine and warm, with very few clouds. We sped (figuratively) through Charleville to Buttevant, our first stop of the morning.

Buttevant isn’t a very big place, but has a large stake in Irish history. Known as Cill na Mullach in Gaelige and Ecclesia Tumulorum in Latin, this market town was where the Norman Barry clan chose to settle, building over an older village of the Donegans (Carrig Donegan). Henry III of England granted a market to the town, to be operated by the Barrys, in 1234. The town was officially incorporated by charter from Edward III of England, an interesting figure in English history as well. Lots going on!

Friary Window

The Barry family had a war cry: Boutez-en-Avant! Meaning: Push to the Front! or To the Front! (Trivia sidenote: This is also the squadron battlecry of Troop A of the National Guard of the State of New York, formed in 1889! See what you learn by hanging around here?) This is one possibility for where the town’s English name comes from.

An old Franciscan friary, now being partially renovated, stands in the city center in the same yard as the current Catholic church (St. Mary’s, est. 1832). This old church carries the Irish name of the town, and means Church of the Curse. This can only happen, though if the word Mullach is confused with Mallach; the first means hills, the second curses. Be careful what you say around here! To make things more confused, there’s the town of Killmallock nearby.

Ballybeg Priory

The friars were dispersed after Henry VIII’s dissolution, and only returned in 1609; and then only for a bit more than a century.

As we were strolling around and getting pictures of the friary, a procession of young boys strolled by with a couple of harried handlers attempting to herd them towards St. Mary’s. The lady at the end of the line handed us a small pamphlet explaining a lot about Buttevant, and we thanked her for the factsheet. She looked flustered, so I asked what was up. She said it was the last day of school, and these boys, fourth graders, were off to school for a closing mass. She leaned close conspiratorially and stage-whispered, “And it’s likely the last time they’l see the inside of a church all summer, more’s the pity.” I could barely contain my laughter long enough for the class to disappear into the sanctuary.

There is an old priory just south out of town, in a very scenic location by the highway. This priory was established by the Barrys in 1229 and named for St. Thomas à Becket. One interesting feature of this priory is the columbarium, a burial setting and, in this case, a special house for pigeons. Even back then, people had a love-hate relationship with pigeons. On the one hand, pigeon guano was an important source of fertilizer. However, these birds were also considered vermin (rats with wings) by the farmers; so the priory had to closely control their numbers and range.

Steeplechase

The real claim to fame of Buttevant, however, is that it is the home of the steeplechase. In 1752, the first of these point-to-point horse races began at the steeple of the Protestant church in Buttevant and ran to the steeple of the church in Doneraile, some four miles or so away. The race was first a two-horse challenge between two horsemen, Mr. O’Callaghan and Mr. Blake, but quickly the idea took hold and became an annual race, attached to the Cahirmee Horse Fair on July 12 in Buttevant.

Whew! What a lot of local color! After all that we simply had to move along to our next stop, Blarney Castle. The drive from Buttevant was only thirty minutes or so, and a right pleasant one it was too, down through Mallow, Ballynamona and Kilmona.

Blarney Castle

I must say, Blarney Castle is perhaps the most impressive structure we’ve seen in all of Ireland. Very vertical, Blarney sticks out from the forest and can be seen for quite a ways. The grounds are immaculately groomed, and there was a large crowd on hand already when we arrived. There was such a press of people that the band hardly noticed we were there! Oh well; next time.

We looked in lots of nooks and crannies on this old pile of stone. We climbed around in the dank dungeon, where there’s no room to stand up straight and barely any to turn around. Dungeons are thought of as a place to store unneeded criminals and political prisoners, and I suppose some of Blarney’s underground rooms were used for that from time to time. However, the real purpose of an underground dungeon, as any avid castle visitor will tell you, was to store fresh water and provide access to the foundation walls for defensive mining. We saw lots of water and stone, and very little evidence of cells or torture chambers. Sorry.

Blarney Castle

The line up to kiss the Stone was way too long. Besides, Paula Jo already has the gift, and since we’re only allowed one per family, I declined to wait in line. Anyways, have you seen the position you have to bend into to get near that rock? I’d need extensive medical reconstruction if I ever got into that pose. I’ll pass, thanks. I’ll simply remain my quiet and unassuming self.

Once we were done in the castle area we wandered over a couple blocks to the Blarney Woolen Mills. The sight of all those things to look through, and maybe even purchase, got Paula’s shopping gland in full flow. She even managed to “get lost” from the tour group for a while, and by the time the search parties located her she had her arms full. She put a few items back, as her breath rate returned to something like normal, and we checked out. The damage wasn’t nearly as bad as it could have been; but then, her mom and other female relatives were safely thousands of miles away, so they couldn’t contribute to any purchasing endocrine overload.

The White House

After Blarney we headed further south, skirting the city of Cork on the west. In a half hour or so we found ourselves on the south coast of Ireland, in Kinsale. This port village isn’t so sleepy anymore; it’s a prime tourist destination (not that we fit that category), and natives from all over Ireland come here too. There’s an annual regatta that draws a lot of attention. There is a lot of art and craft places to shop, among other things to do. John mentioned that Kinsasle has the best overall reputation for dining in all of Ireland, especially seafood. As you can see from the picture, we decided to set up shop and stay.

Actually, that isn’t our place, more’s the pity. I suppose it’s the dream of one of my long-lost cousins, although I couldn’t find anyone who could cut me into the will. More’s the pity; they’ll just miss out on having me around to drink up their Guinness brighten up the place. We thought this was only a small pub, until we got around to the other side and found out it’s one of the largest establishments in Kinsale: Restaurants, hotel rooms and more!

Main Street

We arrived at Kinsale during low tide, and the water in the port was way out. Lots of grounded boats! John said the tide often ran 8-10 feet, quite a lot for a south-facing entrance. The marina was small and packed with boats, but otherwise not much of an attraction.

In the distance we could see Charles Fort, founded in 1677 to protect the port. It is built in a star shape, on top of earlier fortifications. About the only action this fort saw was during the Williamite campaign in 1690, after the Battle of the Boyne.

As it was mid-afternoon, we decided we were sufficiently past lunch to consider grabbing some. Paula Jo had been mentioning fish and chips more often as the trip progressed, so I asked John if he knew a good place to get some. After all, he’s the one who mentioned Kinsale and seafood. Turns out we’d just walked by one of the most-recommended places for fish and chips in all of Ireland: Dinos Traditional Fish & Chips.

Muddy Mahers

PJ and John both opted for fish platters. Paula went for a sampler, still batter-fried fish, but a variety of types. John had the cod. Everything came with chips, including my gonzo hamburger. Since we knew it would take a bit to get those meals prepared we suffered along with an order of fried mushrooms. Paula Jo fell in love with those ‘shrooms! We really should have ordered more, either to inhale on the spot or to take along to tide us over on the return ride to Adare. This was the only mistake we made on the whole trip! (Just in case you’re keeping score at home.)

After we tired of Kinsale we went looking for the Midleton Distillery. That’s on the other side and east of Cork, so away we went. It’s really not far, and the traffic in Cork didn’t slow us at all. We got to the distillery in time to take a tour, but I declined based on overall time constraints. Instead, we had drinks and looked over the historical displays in the lobby. When we finished with that we moved outside and looked the grounds over.

Midleton Distillery

The Midleton Distillery isn’t working these days. There are only two distilleries still producing in all of Ireland; three if you count Bushmills up in Northern Ireland. Jamesons and Midleton are made in the same facility, and Tullamore is produced nearby; all in the town of Midleton. Everything else has moved out of the country or been closed. Pity; I’d have loved to make a great whisky tour. I guess I’ll just have to save myself for a trip to Scotland.

After Midleton you could tell we were all dragging a bit. It had been a long, hot day (for Ireland!) and we had walked and visited lots of places. Time to head home! The return to Adare took just over an hour. Along the way, PJ snoozed a bit and John and I chatted about most anything we saw or that came to mind. John’s a great host as well as safe driver, and well-read and knowledgeable about subjects from politics to horse racing. An hour in his car isn’t really enough time to cover everything.

Midleton Still

After we got back to the room and dumped our belongings we went out for a nice stroll in the town. The early evening was cooling down nicely, and there was a light breeze. We asked about to see if maybe there would be live music in one of the pubs, but no luck. We found ourselves in the Centra grocery just before they closed, so we grabbed some bottled drinks and some snacks and headed back to the room.

After all, Paula now had another 700 pictures or so to download, sort and rate. A poor photographer’s work is never done…

Enjoy the (Sweet Whisky) Heat!

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