Touring Southwest Ireland – Cork

As his roadtrip of southwest Ireland draws to an end, US-based traveller Saul Schwartz reaches the cute county of Cork. Here, amongst fortresses and fishing villages in the southwest corner of Ireland, he discovers a castle, a kissing stone and one poisonous park. And many reasons to come back to Ireland.

By Saul Schwartz

My wife Fern and I, joined by four relatives, planned our South of Ireland Escape months prior to our March 2020 trip. Unfortunately, the last two days of the trip were disrupted by the travel ban, but nevertheless we really enjoyed our time in the South of Ireland. After touring Limerick, Clare & Galway and then Kerry, we ventured into county Cork.

Blarney Castle

On our final day in South Ireland we toured the Kerry Mountains and County Cork. The highlight was our stop at the Blarney Castle renowned for its magical kissing Blarney Stone. This majestic tower house is well worth a visit. The historic mid-15th century castle, just north of Cork, is most famous for its stone, which is said to have the traditional power of conferring eloquence on all who kiss it.

To reach the stone, we walked up approximately 100 steps within a narrow passageway. The stone is set in the wall below the battlements and to kiss it, one has to lean backwards grasping an iron railing from the castle walk. Fern was carefully held by one of the two assistants, as she leaned back towards the stone.

The current castle dates from 1446. The complex is privately owned. The admission fee is 16€ per adult for the entire complex.

Outside the castle, the gardens are one of the most visited in Ireland. The deadly poison garden, Ireland’s only poison garden, features a wide variety of poisonous plants and it was very educational.

The garden features poisonous plants from around the world with signage about toxicity and uses.

Between the castle and the parking area, we walked by an area where two rivers meet, the River Martin and the River Blarney. The castle is surrounded by 60 acres of sprawling parklands.

We ended this stop with lunch in Blarney at the cafeteria adjoining the Blarney Wollen Mills. We enjoyed a salad plate at the Mill Restaurant. The cafeteria has a nice mix of salads for us to choose from for our meal. We also had drinks of tea and coffee at the shop within the Blarney Castle itself.


Kinsale marks the starting point of the Wild Atlantic Way, a 2500 kilometer touring route of magnificent Atlantic coastline.

The journey from Killarney to Kinsale covered 158 miles. On our final night in Ireland, we stayed at the Trident Hotel in Kinsale on World’s End. We had a fine three course dinner with wine and a choice of menu items at the hotel restaurant. Both Fern and I had the seafood entrée with a salad and a dessert trio. Once again, the hotel had access to a fitness center nearby which did not open until 7 a.m., so we could not use it.

We strolled through the picturesque seaside town of Kinsale. The town’s narrow streets all lead to the sea, dropping steeply from the hills to the harbour. Kinsale is a charming fishing village surrounded by green hills. It probably is the most prosperous and sophisticated fishing village in Ireland. The pretty harbour is the focal point. The stores that were open had many traditional Irish handicrafts.

The waterfront has a yacht-filled harbour, with narrow winding streets, brightly painted galleries, shops and houses. We had desserts at the Poet’s Corner reading café at 44 Main Street, a combined used bookstore and café. In March, many of the stores are still closed for the season.

The most famous event in Kinsale’s history is the 1601 Battle of Kinsale in 1601. Approximately 3.000 Spanish troops fought with the Irish to challenge the power of the English. The battle went badly for the Spanish-Irish alliance. There are several statues in the harbour area, including a concrete statue of an old sailor sitting on a pole (done by Graham Brett), a twin sculpture of Timothy and Mortimer McCarthy, a pair of seamen explorers from Kinsale who went on expeditions including a trans-arctic exploration in the early 20th century and a sculpture of a ship and mast from the time of the Battle of Kinsale.

Due to the travel ban, we had to quickly fly out of Cork instead of Dublin into Heathrow Airport in London, and then back into Washington, D.C. As a result, we missed out on the final two days of our trip which were focused on Dublin. Check out the story of our rushed Escape from Ireland HERE.

Touring tips

The Emerald Isle is very green due to the frequent rain.  During our March trip, it rained every day, with occasional breaks in the clouds, but no sun.  The temperatures ranged from around 35 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  The weather was windy, rainy and quite cool during most of our trip.  Layered clothing with warm socks, hats, scarfs and gloves kept us comfortable.

The customary tipping policy in Ireland is around 15 percent.  However, hotels and restaurants often include the tip in the bill as a service charge.  It is not customary to tip in bars or pubs unless you have table service.  Tipping of taxi drivers and porters is at your discretion.

Cash and credit cards
Ireland’s currency is the Euro.  Cash was needed for tips, some excursions and some meals.  Most restaurants and tourist sites accepted credit cards, but not all.  For example, the tours of several cathedrals were cash only.  Some sites only accepted credit cards above a minimal fee.

March travel
Our trip took place shortly before the start of the tourist season, around April 1.  As a result, tourist attractions were not crowded and the lines were short.  On the other hand, many stores and restaurants were closed or had limited open hours.

Filming is not always allowed inside sites.

An adapter is needed as Ireland is not on the same voltage as the United States.  The Ireland adapter is also good in the United Kingdom.

Emergency numbers
Instead of 911, the phone emergency number is either 999 or 112.

Time difference
When the United States is on Daylight Savings Time, Ireland is four hours ahead of the Eastern Time Zone (i.e., Washington, D.C.).

Cars are on the left sides, with the driver side being on the car’s right.  Speed limit are metric.  It is very important to look both ways when crossing the street if you are not used to this difference.

Everyone speaks English and the signage includes English throughout the area.  Irish speaking and signage is more limited than we thought in advance of our trip.

Off season
By going to Ireland prior to April 1, the sites and attractions are far less crowded.

Hotel breakfasts
Each of our hotels included a full Irish breakfast buffet.  The buffet included cereals, fruits, and a variety of hot and cold offerings.

Our South of Ireland escape was memorable for the sights and scenery.  Fern and I hope to return to Ireland to see Dublin, Belfast and other locations that were not part of this trip.

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About Saul Schwartz

Saul lives in Alexandria, Virginia and has lived in the Washington, D.C. area since 1984. He loves to travel throughout Europe with his wife and family and particularly enjoys interacting with local residents and learning about life in their city and country. 

This is his 3rd article about ireland. Check out his first about Touring Southwest Ireland – Limerick, Clare & Galway and 2nd about Kerry, where he discovers “One Ring to Rule them All”: The Ring of Kerry.

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