Beara Peninsula in Southern Ireland

A Little Warmth… Finding a Wee Bit of Irish Hospitality

Nissan Micra
My cute Nissan Micra rental car.

My Nissan Micra rental car was tiny. Whatever you’re thinking, think smaller. Perhaps for this reason, the decision to sleep in said car for an evening wasn’t my brightest idea. But for all of the plan’s faults, it did show me just how far the Irish will go for the sake of some friendly hospitality.

Leaving from Cork (after having successfully kissed the Blarney Stone), another backpacker from the hostel hitched a ride with me and we decided to travel the Beara Peninsula together. This section of Ireland is best known for the Ring of Kerry, but I had time and many locals indicated that I should drive the Ring of Beara as well. The Beara landscape is rugged and rocky, with lush green valleys, tall rocky cliffs, and flowered hillsides. There are also passingly few tourists!

Suffice to say that it was stunning. As we navigated tiny, pot-holed Irish roads, Curtis and I discussed our options for hostels that night. Curtis was backpacking around Europe in a decidedly different manner than myself—he was camping and hitchhiking the whole way. With that in mind, he pointed to a spot on the map—the very tip of the Beara Peninsula—and suggested we camp there for the night, so we would wake with stunning ocean views of the ocean on three sides in the morning.

 Beara Peninsula coastline
Pretty views of Ireland’s Beara Peninsula on a two-day drive of the lesser-known cousin of the Ring of Kerry.

Viewpoints Along the Beara Peninsula

Curtis’ plan sounded incredible! So we set off to explore this little visited part of Ireland’s southern coast. En route to the tip, we hiked many slopes around Beara and drove many tiny, winding roads. The landscape is truly breathtaking and worthy of a drive. Yes, it’s a tad similar to the Ring of Kerry, which I drove in the following days, but there is far less development. It is, in a word, worth visiting.

Beara Peninsula rocks
The Beara Peninsula is windswept with rough waves and some pretty stellar views!

green cliffs
Looking out toward the Ring of Kerry in the distance.

The Ireland’s Beara Peninsula has a lot of water on the interior as well, like this pretty lake!

Discovering True Irish Hospitality

By late afternoon, we had finally made it to the tip. The only problem? There was nowhere to park and set up the camping stove for dinner.

After reworking our game plan, we turned the car around and approached one of the houses along the bay. As we slowly pulled into the driveway of one of the houses, a weathered face popped around the back corner of the house and threw a distracted but welcoming wave our way.

Or new plan made me nervous, but as I stepped out of the car a yapping puppy tore around the corner and bee-lined straight for us. The puppy jumped on me, eliciting much laughter, then he ricocheted off of my legs and pounced on Curtis. The man matching the face followed the dog’s path around the corner, wiping dirty hands on his pants.

Mighty’s adorable puppy.

In the way of the Irish, we got a heartfelt hello from Mighty and a wee bit of talk about the weather before he sent us a questioning look about why we had parked in his driveway.

Curtis took the lead and Mighty asked if we could park in his driveway for the night. He was taken aback but also curious.

He laughed deeply and nodded his ascent while openly wondering just who in their right mind would want to sleep outside in this rainy, cold weather.

But the Irish are a friendly lot. Once we had a place to park, the only thing left was to chat some more. Mighty’s neighbors wandered over to see the fuss, and all of them were amused by the young’uns planning to sleep outside in the car. As the conversation wound down Mighty indicated that he had to start dinner for his mother. As he headed over to the nearby garden he asked us if we would like a few potatoes?

Mighty's potato patch.
Yes, that is a potato patch where Mighty dug up some fresh potatoes for supper!

The correct response to this would have been yes. And I am still kicking myself that we said no. Honestly, I kinda thought that Mighty was pulling our leg with the offer of potatoes: I mean, come on, how cliché to have a potato garden, right?!

But he was serious. He waved us off with another amused chuckle and invited us up to breakfast in the morning if we made it through the night. As we made our way back to the car, Mighty picked up his garden ho and continued digging up his dinner.

Neither Curtis nor I slept particularly—it was incredibly cold and not altogether comfortable. But all of that was forgiven when, at the crack of dawn, we stepped out of the car to a cold dewy morning with sunlight creeping up over the horizon, lighting the bay and highlighting the many fisherman leaving the harbor for a day at sea.

beara peninsula at dawn
Defintiely the Ring of Kerry there in the distance, as seen from Ireland’s Beara Peninsula

stone traditional Irish house
Mighty showed us an old stone traditional Irish house on his land.

Mighty called  down from the house for us and we headed inside to a sunny kitchen with the warm scents of fresh Irish soda bread. Mighty offered to cook up some fresh mackerel for breakfast and was outright speechless when I indicated that though the offer was so kind, I don’t eat fish. He was shocked and after a lot of laughter he asked me what I eat to keep myself from starvation?

With a straight face I responded, “Grass.”

His guffaws shook the roof. As his laughter settled into a chuckle, Mighty prepared tea, bread, jam, and fish for breakfast. As I tucked into the dense brown bread, a four-year-old head creeped through the door. Little Nisha plopped down at the breakfast table followed minutes later by her dad, one of the neighbors we had met the previous day.

We all shared a lovely breakfast and everyone was warm and gracious. After they had us fed and warmed up with the tea, Nisha’s dad offered us his spare bedroom if we were planned to stay in the area for a second night.

Since Curtis had a plane to catch a few days later, we couldn’t take them up on it, but all I had ever heard about Irish hospitality had certainly proved true. And my conclusion at the end of a fun and memorable 24 hours in rural Ireland: I should have said yes to the potatoes!  ;-)

A Little Blarney… Kissing Ireland’s Most Famous Stone

Ireland is the most charming country on the planet. Okay, that’s a bold statement, I know. I’ve visited truly incredible countries during my year on the road. And while Laos and Nepal hold particularly special places in my heart, Ireland feels like home.

My parents nursed me on stories of the Emerald Isle. Pictures of the O’Donnell family crest graced our walls. I grew up captivated by tales of silkies and fairies, and captivated by photos once my dad returned home from his trip to Ireland spent tracing our family history. It’s impossible to not completely love a place you’ve dreamed of visiting. I first visited Ireland in 2005 with my dad, and we focused mostly on County Donegal—we rented a car, got lost on tiny winding roads, and hiked rugged coastline through endless sheep pastures. This time, I would seek out Ireland’s other most famous vistas, hikes, and yes, castles. Specifically, I would seek out Blarney Castle in Cork so I would be blessed with the gift of gab.

top of Blarney Castle
The lush green grounds of Blarney Castle viewed from up high on the top of the castle.

Getting to the Blarney Stone in Cork

Without my dad leading the way, my trip would focus on the southern coast of Ireland. And because the country’s small, I decided to rent a car in Dublin as soon as I landed and head south immediately. While not an entirely sane idea since I hail from a country that drives on the right side of the road, it was the most efficient and effective way to get around.

That said, landing in Dublin and immediately driving on the massive highway system is baptism by fire. My blood pressure skyrocketed when I approached the first round-about: I held my breath, tapped on my turn signal, looked left . . . no WAIT—I looked right before venturing on my way for the very straightforward three hour drive to Cork.

Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s consumable. I’m not a “big-city” person, and Cork actually runs a fine line between being too large. Thankfully, once you park there’s plenty of charm to find in the city. Since it was raining when I arrived in Cork, I opted to wait until the next morning—hoping the fickle Irish weather would clear.

Where: Blarney Castle—which is home to the Blarney Stone—is located just 20 minutes outside of Cork. Far enough that you can’t walk from the city-center, but buses do leave throughout the day if you’re carless!

Blarney Castle near Cork, Ireland.
The castle towers overhead making a looming figure that feels that ominous once you are inside winding through the narrow staircases.

What is the Blarney Stone?

The Blarney Stone is located in Blarney Castle, the stone foundation of which dates to 1210 A.D. Legend has it that the man who rebuilt the castle in the 15th century appealed to the goddess Clíodhna for help with a lawsuit. At her direction, he kissed the first stone he saw, and a great eloquence overtook him in the courtroom. He then incorporated that stone into the castle.

Others legends claim the prophet Jeremiah brought the stone to the area, or that Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, learned of the stone’s powers by a witch saved from drowning.

No matter which way you look at it, the stone has a long history in Ireland and centuries of men and women have kissed the stone in hopes of all it promises.

Why do people kiss the Blarney Stone?

No matter which origin story you believe, all agree on one thing: kissing the Blarney Stone bestows on the kisser the gift of gab. This means you’ll leave the Castle with great eloquence and skill at flattery once you’ve puckered your lips and kissed the stone.

And it’s no easy feat to kiss the stone. The stone is a mysterious block of bluestone set into the actual walls of Blarney Castle. Kissing it is not for the faint of heart—you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor. The bars are recent additions in the past century as you used to have to dangle by your ankles over the side of the wall. Even with the safety features, for some people the experience extreme fear of heights due to how precarious it all feels.

Once it’s your turn, you take a death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone.

A heartbeat later, you’re hauled upright and sent on your way.

So, the burning question: Did I kiss the stone?

Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands have done-so before me? Did I dangle my body from the side of the castle and risk my life?!

shannon o'donnell kissing the stone
Yep! That’s me kissing the stone at Blarney Castle!

Yes, although perhaps not that melodramatically! I mean, how can you not? You’re there and it’s there. It may be cheesy and touristy, but I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy, so I saw no issue.

For all of the hullabaloo about kissing the stone, the castle and the surrounding grounds are beautiful and worth an hour or two, once you’ve made your pilgrimage to the stone. Although the dank, thin, and winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, once you climb higher the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens make the the trip to the top worth it.

I spent a few hours at Blarney Castle, and although I’m not sure my voice is more mellifluous and my speech more eloquent, I’m certainly still glad I kissed the stone.

Tell me, would you have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime?  ;-)