Tour Review: Kissing the Blarney Stone with Extreme Ireland
With my newly acquired gift of gab, it's time to report back on my recent visit to County Cork and County Tipperary with Extreme Ireland. Wait, who am I kidding? If you've met me, you know I already had this gift... but away we go.
Our tour departed Dublin around 7am, with pickup in the area around Trinity College. The bus was comfortable (handy on a full day tour), and our bus wasn't full (we had about 24 people). Our guide Phil was outstanding - one of the best I've had in a while. He didn't spend every minute you were on the bus talking at you, but gave us the rundown of everything we needed to know and was happy to answer any questions.
Our first stop of the day was the Rock of Cashel. This is one of my favourite sites in all of Ireland. We were the first group there when we arrived, and while all of my tour mates watched a brief history video, I explored the grounds on my own - and this meant I had the place all to myself for 15 minutes. It's really stunning, and considering it's been around since about 1100 (it was once upon a time the traditional seat of the kings of Munster), it's very well preserved. Standing and listening to wind whistling through the walls and the calls of the ravens who nest in the walls was simply amazing. I admit it, I just stood there spinning around in a circle for a while, trying to take it all in.
Next up, it was time to kiss the Blarney stone. We got extremely lucky here. There were quite a lot of people exploring the grounds, but the line to kiss the stone was only a few minutes once you get to the top of the castle. Something to keep in mind here is that the stairs up to and down from the top of the castle where the stone is are windy, uneven, stone steps and it's a bit tight to get through in some areas. When there's a long wait, I don't think this would be very fun. The process only takes a minute, you cannot possible fall through and hurt yourself, and there's a photographer on hand taking pictures you can buy. If you're quick and stay out of the way, you can grab a photo for a friend too. The grounds of Blarney Castle are quite extensive, so you could easily spend several hours touring around here. Nearby, the Woolen Mills is the largest Irish store in the world. They pretty much have every souvenir you could possibly want. There's a large food court attached as well.
Our last stop of the day was Cahir Castle. This is actually one of the largest castles in Ireland, build along the river Suir in the 1100s. Because many of the original defenses of the castle still function and since its in excellent shape, it gets used in movies and TV (like The Tudors and Excalibur). We actually weren't sure if we were going to be able to visit it because they were setting up to shoot some scenes for The Green Night (coming next year) the next day - but they agreed to let us in if we didn't take any pictures of the sets. We had a really entertaining local guide there, and it was interesting to see the sets (there was a set up of market stalls, which look super fake without the magic of Hollywood).
All in all, this was a nice tour. We had a fair amount of time to visit every site, and while we did spend some hours on the bus (getting to and from that area of Ireland from Dublin), it passed quickly. We were back in Dublin early evening. I wouldn't hesitate to tour with them again in the future.