THE FIRST question everyone asks about my visit to Ireland is whether I kissed the Blarney Stone. The next is whether I went to the Guinness Storehouse for a real pint of Guinness. I can answer yes to both questions and, no, I did not catch a social disease after my visit to the Blarney Stone. And yes, a pint of Guinness is awfully lovely when enjoyed from the top of the Gravity Bar.
Of course, it would just be my luck that I visited Ireland when Hurricane Katia made landfall, but I am happy to report the storm had blown itself out by the time it reached the Emerald Isle, and all we experienced were a few gusts of strong wind – nothing a Capetonian hadn’t seen before.
Our intrepid media group was bundled into a bus driven by our knowledgeable driver, George, and off we went: destination County Cork and a number of the other notto-be missed icons of our visit.
The best way to see the Irish countryside is, of course, by road. And, while there are now freeways connecting all the major cities, it’s the smaller byways that allow you to immerse yourself in a sense of the true countryside. You never quite know what you’ll see as you round a corner. It could be a tumbledown cottage swamped with ivy, a ruinous tower house or an enigmatic ring fort.
Although we had intended to stop by the Rock of Cashel – a beautiful example of Celtic and medieval architecture – the hurricane’s winds were strong enough for officials to close the site. Restoration work was taking place at the time of our visit and it would have been most inconvenient to get clobbered over the head by fallen scaffolding. We did stop at the side of the road to snap some lovely pho- tographs of the view.
Our first stop was Midleton, for the Jameson Whiskey Experience. Set in manicured, green grounds, the distillery’s buildings have been beautifully restored – old stone with bright shutters. In places, brilliant creepers sheathed the stonework and there was often one more nook begging for a closer look. After a short audio- visual presentation, our tour group wandered along the whiskey’s historical footsteps. Many of the old implements and equipment have been preserved, telling the tale of a labour-intensive process that started with barley and resulted in the amber liquid I’ve enjoyed on numerous occasions.
An old brick smokestack still stands at a dizzying height and it didn’t require much imagination on my part to visualise the smoke billowing from its top. The giant copper still is a sight to behold and is apparently the largest of its kind in the world. Mountains of coal
LIVING SCULPTURE: One of the ‘living’ sculptures in Cork City. Capetonians are no strangers to such performance artists.
RELIC: An old delivery truck at the Jameson Experience.