Ireland Trip: 4–Cork and Memory, part 3

All our moments are filled with such richness; a wealth that can constantly tapped into; a means for transformation. The senses, should we choose to acknowledge them, surround us with fragments from the current place and time in which we dwell. Yes, there are those who do not take notice of the here and now and choose, instead, to make the journey, blinkered, race-horse fashion, and racing toward a destination set by others–their loss, but I digress…again. Over this rich tapestry of the moments at hand, our own consciousness layers in memories and values; a context, no, a scaffold on which to attach the present to the past. That sense of self, though, is such a fickle, fleeting thing. That which on one day seems so clear, so solid, so real may drift away, subsumed, perhaps by either new events or pushed aside by the ever-changing array of needs and wants; the ebb and flow of daily life that often just carries us along.

For several days now, as, with Josephine and Lesley, I’d explored places not seen in at least 37 years I had continually been struck by the notion that things I’d assumed to be at least somewhat familiar, were no so. This over-riding thought; this doubtful sense of reflection had been casting something of a shadow over every experience.

Or perhaps it was just the weather. Before making the trip to Ireland we had been enjoying the warmest summer in St. John’s that any of us could recall. Since landing in Dublin, though, things had decidedly cooled off. It was not bad, mind you, just a few degrees cooler–a blessing maybe; a break from the oppressive heat we’d had back home–but each day carried with it the potential for rain. Today, in Cork, our second day here, things were no different


The bus to Blarney was mostly full but the ride did not seem all that long. It was not terribly scenic—mostly narrow streets lined with nondescript homes, one after the other, and a shop here and there. The final stop was routine, just part way down a hill on a drab street. Not what you’d expect for what has to be one of the biggest tourist draws in the country!

Street performers on  St. Patrick Street. They were already there when we walked by mid-morning, on our way to catch the bus to Blarney. A brother and sister, we figured. Nice voices.

Street performers on St. Patrick Street. They were already there when we walked by mid-morning, on our way to catch the bus to Blarney. Listening to them it was not hard to hear the family resemblance. Nice voices.

But then we rounded the corner and I saw the Inn. A memory flashed back. “Hey, I remember that place! We used to go upstairs for treats whenever we’d visit Blarney. It’s still there and just like I recall it!” Perhaps my memory wasn’t quite so bad after all.

We skirted around the green and made our way to the park entrance. The fee, €34 for the three of us, wasn’t too bad. Two bus tours had pulled up just behind us when we were paying so we walked a little faster, recalling what both the taxi driver and the barman at Henchy’s had said about the lineups.

You don’t see the castle right away. The grounds around the castle are spectacular, arguably the real treat–plants of all kinds. The grounds are ancient and have been well-kept for centuries. The trees in the park are tall; mature and carefully placed. They mostly obscure the castle as you go in. Once you cross the little brook, though, things open up and all of a sudden there it is.

Blarney castle. Yes, it is spectacular.

Blarney castle. Yes, it is spectacular.

We want straight to the castle entrance. It was a good thing we had done that as the lineup behind us quickly expanded way out past the entranceway. They say there are 100 steps to the top. I have no idea but I do know that we made the ascent slowly owing to the crowds. It was a strange lineup but in some ways a fortunate one as we all got to have a good close look around. Rough rocky walls, marked here and there with graffiti but the steps were worn smooth. Worn not so much by the feet of the soldiers and families of nobles who had lived here in the past but, much more likely worn by the millions of tourists who had made the same trip: up one side, across the battlements, “Want to kiss the stone?” then herded back down the other side.

Graffiti here and there. Rough stones everywhere.

Graffiti and mould here and there. Rough stones everywhere.

A Lot of steps, worn smooth with time. By who--inhabitants or visitors?

A Lot of steps, worn smooth with time. By who–inhabitants or visitors?

Home for the rish, yes, but would you really want to live here or in a cottage?

Home for the rich, yes, but would you really want to live here in this drafty place or in a cottage?

History. Visions of the life of a noble? Best place in town! But still, cold, rough and far too high. Give me a smaller house back in the village any day. And what of the real history? If it’s about the people; about a quantifiably huge shared human experience then the real story has to be about the incredible number of tourists who have come by here for a few photos, a chance to kiss an ancient, fabled, stone and maybe purchase a few trinkets.

It's a long way down.

It’s a long way down.

Ah, finally the top. “I’m not kissing it. I already did, many years ago.” Besides, if the locals could graffiti on those stone walls, what else might they have done with the stone, just for a lark? Lesley, too, was not so sure. She, too, hung back. Kissing the stone is not exactly a pleasant or easy task. It is set low so you have to lie down on your back with two people holding you on and then lean back your neck, then creak it forward to kiss the hunk of limestone. At least now there’s a few iron bars so the worse than can happen these days is a broken neck if you slip down on them as opposed to…

…never mind.

Yes, she did.

Yes, she did.

It has to be great to be the groundskeeper. If you are then you get to live at Blarney house. Funny, after all the times I’d visited the place I simply do not recall having seeing it before. Too bad we were too late to go in. We arrived around 2:10 and found that it had closed ten minutes earlier. No bother, though, the grounds were spectacular. I was particularly fond of the poison garden. I recall none of it from previous memory.

Blarney House. If you're the groundskeeper you get to live here!

Blarney House. If you’re the groundskeeper you get to live here!

On the way back we crossed the green and made our way to the inn. I was looking forward to reacquainting myself with a familiar place.

It did not happen. The restaurant was not on the upper floor, as I thought I’d remembered it. It was really a more traditional pub located on the ground floor. Familiar in the way all pubs are but, again, nothing like I recalled. The food was good though. Was it always that way?

The kind of people who hang out in the poison garden.

The kind of people who hang out in the poison garden.

St. Patrick’s street was the end of the line for the bus back to Cork. We decided we’d not seen near enough the first time. Off we went, up the street. The young buskers from the morning were just packing up to leave. Two older folk—likely their parents—were there to pick them up. Judging by the coins and bills that came out of the guitar case it had been a good day. Josephine and Lesley ducked into a Carrols—those things are everywhere—for a bit.

I’ve often said that if it just happens that there is, in fact, an “afterlife” and I end up being judged as “bad” then there’s no doubt what awaits me. No flaming pit; instead I will be doomed to spend eternity in…retail. In all honesty there’s no more unpleasant state of being than finding myself trapped, following loved ones, as they browse through aisles, and aisles and $%@#&% aisles. Death by PowerPoint pales in comparison! But I digress…again. I elected to remain outside.

Souveniers everywhere! I can still recall the slogan, "Carroll's: Best for quality; best for value!" (spoken with a thick brogue)

Souvenirs everywhere! I can still recall the slogan, “Carroll’s: Best for quality; best for value!” (spoken with a thick brogue)

Drawbridge Street again, right across the street; I was drawn to it.  I walked over to see if the dress shop was open.

It was, this time and I went inside. Two employees were quietly working with a customer; a fitting. They seemed quite friendly and were very attentive to the customer. Too bad not every shop is like that. I wandered around for a while. Once the customer had been served I walked over and introduced myself. “I’m from Canada and as far as I can tell this was where my Mom was born and where my aunts used to live until they died. It’s nice to see such a nice place here where they were.”

They introduced themselves: Aisling and Fiona. Aisling, the shop owner, noted that they’d had the place there for several years now and things were slowly growing but the hours were long. I thought about that for a while, noting that what Aisling was trying to do ran quite across the established grain. One of a kind clothing is a tough business and either you had to be independently wealthy or just highly skilled and hard-working. I figured the latter was the case.

While we talked about the business I noted how one half of the store had to have been the house and how it had three floors with only a small bit on each floor, a kitchen and living room on one, bathroom and small bedrooms on the next. There had been small garden—really no more like a walled-in courtyard out the back. Aisling said it was not there now, just more storage space.

Still it did not seem quite right somehow. Of course a major renovation that takes in two houses and converts them to one business will certainly do that but still—the garden, gone?

Finally Aisling solved the mystery, “You must be talking about the original place, which burned down 17 years ago. We’re in the building that replaced it.”

That was it. No wonder. Still, a degree of closure.

Aisling and some of her dresses

Aisling and some of her dresses

I wished them well and left, just in time to rejoin Lesley and Josephine.

We walked around some more but were starting to tire. Finally, with the rain, which had been threatening for a while, now falling in earnest, we decided to get a cab back to the hotel. I wasn’t done with the forgetting though, and left my favourite umbrella in the cab.

Funny thing about the weather in Ireland. One minute the sun can be shining and the next, rain. Fortunately it does not always last for long.

Funny thing about the weather in Ireland. One minute the sun can be shining and the next, rain. Fortunately it does not always last for long.

It made good sense to dodge back to Henchys and anesthetize the tired feet as well as mourn the loss of my poor brolly with a few more pints.

Through that growing beer fog I thought again about how things “remembered” could be so misleading. Making sense of a building that had burned down almost twenty years ago! What if I’d never found out about the fire—would I have re-written the story from so many years ago to match the new reality. Who’s to say?


Josephine laughed about Blarney. She was the only one who’d done it. “You guys are such wimps!”

“But I already did, years and years ago,” I protested.

“Are you SURE? After all, how old were you the last time, fifteen or sixteen maybe?

And suddenly I was no longer sure. Again, who’s to know?

One thing I do know, though, is that I don’t NEED to kiss it.


About Maurice A. Barry

Coordinator: Teaching and Learning Commons, Faculty of Education, Memorial University of Newfoundland, Parent & Husband. eLearning consultant/coordinator. Program Development Specialist - eLearning (Department of Education; Retired). Writer: over 40 Math/Physics texts/webs. Developer & Manager of web content. Geek. Not into awards but loves comments.
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20 Responses to Ireland Trip: 4–Cork and Memory, part 3

  1. Things like kissing the Blarney Stone? Walk right past. Sure I’ll look, but no tourist gestures.

    But your word for the castle was correct, the first word that came to mind, spectacular.

    And as for the groundsman’s cottage, I’m typing up my CV even now.

    I do t understand the fire. Or… is that why the whole block looks so good? Original windows that aren’t, but everything in keeping?

    • It had me too. I had recalled the original home as darker, older, but was ready to accept that either my memory was flawed or that the owners had just given the place a face-lift. My guess is that for whatever reason the owners decided to follow the existing pattern. Maybe that’s what the city building codes for that area dictated. Frankly I am not sure of that as 17 years ago Ireland was in its “Celtic Tiger” period and glass cages were going up everywhere. This spot would have been a prime location for a so-called :modernization” unless, of course, heritage guidelines dictated otherwise.

  2. mary says:

    🙂 🙂 I can confirm that you did indeed kiss that stone as a little kid. We all did – I remember after climbing all those steps and not being too thrilled with the castle’s stone cold kiss:) but loving the grounds and the majesty of the place – (Love the pictures of you all there – good for Josephine – though you both are already blessed with the gift of the gab:)
    Of course I found the story about 21 Drawbridge St. the most interesting – that narrow townhouse, those winding steps up to bed at night but what I remember most is the sound of the rain in the courtyard . I also wonder about the fire. That would be long after our Aunties had passed away – at least 5 years – so curious about who lived there in the interim. It would be interesting to look at old city directories etc or research old papers to find out more about the tenants who came after them and also the fire etc. ( i will see if there is a way to do this through the library.) This year, here in nearby New Westminster a portion of historic Columbia St burned – again, row houses/businesses packed close together.
    In any case, I also am glad that on the site of our Aunties old home there is a dress shop.
    Auntie Bridie was so devoted to her work in the seamstress shop – it seems , well..very fitting:)

    • Indeed “fitting” is a good term, and I am assuming he pun was intended 🙂
      Over the next while I will look a bit closer and see what I can come up with on the fire and the subsequent rebuilding.

  3. Maurice memories can trick us and whilst reading your story I looked at the castle images trying to remember if this was the castle we visited. Funny it wasn’t, but my memories have faded too. Gorgeous post and time does not stand still for any of us.

  4. A nice addition to the continuing story. I especially liked the reflective musings of the very first paragraph … read it twice. I had to laugh out loud when you described the purgatory which is ‘Carroll’s,’ you have my empathy for having suffered so. From the way you describe it however the liquid refreshments of the evening must have softened those weary edges. I’m not so sure I’d do well in Ireland for, you see, I’m not a fan of anything that might be sold by the pint! Would I survive? D

    • LOL–I’m sure you’d survive. A holiday in Ireland would be fun, beer or no beer!
      On the purgatory thing, I’ve taken to watching people more closely whenever I visit stores. It’s especially amusing to me whenever I see couples shopping. Frequently one (and don’t think for a minute this is sexist because it could just as easily be either of the two, depending on the shop) of the two is completely engaged in the moment and the other is doing his/her best to fight off the most incredible sense of boredom one can feel.
      One other phenomenon I’ve noticed is the shopper who does the whole thing with a cell phone glued to the ear, blabbing the whole time–often in a very loud voice. Those people are not just annoying. They’re a hazard to navigation as they tend to have absolutely no sense of situational awareness and are just as likely to run you down as they are to avoid you.

  5. Tiny says:

    Wonderful post, so well articulated musings! And you made me laugh! I would take the groundskeeper’s house any minute, the castle itself was quite scary…I’m sure full of tragic history…my imagination went flying again. Happy you got the mystery of the dress shop resolved 🙂

    • Thank you. It’s amazing what a whole range of emotions a trip can bring us through when we take the time to live in the moment instead of letting the cares of the day drag us along. For someone who tends to be something of a daydreamer it’s a thing I always have to work on, though 🙂

  6. tw says:

    I loved the castle and the house but kissing the stone? Hmmm, not for me. I sense you are setting many things in order, in their rightful place. Rolling back the mists of time and creating some new memories, for you and your family, that will stay in place for many years to come. There’ll be more stories to tell from this trip I’m sure.

    • So right about the stone and in several different ways. There’ll be two more–Galway and the return home through Dublin. Already we are talking about a return trip, one in which the three sons can come along too.

  7. jennypellett says:

    I’ve thoroughly enjoyed coming along with you and your family on your trip through Ireland. To hear your thoughts and your memories along side your commentary and pictures makes it all very personal – I’ve felt a little like an eavesdropper at times. Hope that you and your girls have created new memories to cherish for years to come.

  8. elkement says:

    Another great post! My favorite paragraphs are those marked as digressions 🙂

  9. M. Hatzel says:

    I’ve loved this set of three posts together, and the digressions and meditations on memory. The first paragraph of this post is wonderful; I am thinking I might need to write something on memory so I can capture it in a block quote and link back to your blog. But then, most of my readers are yours… 🙂

  10. Pingback: Journey into Memory | Play

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