A Castle, Distillery and Every Shade of Green

  • Day 20, Voyage of the Vikings 2019
  • Sunday, Aug. 18, Cobh, Ireland

Our tour guide solved one mystery for me near the end of our day. The port city Cobh is pronounced like “cove,” and that’s what it means in the Irish language. The Irish “bh” combination sounds like our “v.” Thus Siobhan in Irish is “Shavon.” How have I not known this already?

Cobh and nearby Cork are the first of our three consecutive ports in Ireland – two in the Republic and one in Northern Ireland. And the weather today set a fine example for the rest of our visit. After the cold and rain of the earlier part of our journey, partly sunny days in the 50s and 60s are welcome.

The morning stop on our daylong tour was Blarney, with its famed castle and stone. The stone is at the top of the tower, up more than 100 uneven steps in a circular staircase. To kiss the stone you lie on your back and lean out and down. Or so I hear. I did not make the climb, and I’m unapologetic. The line was long and slow. I could see the stone from the ground. I didn’t feel the compulsion to check it off a list. Some would say I already have the gift of gab.

Most of all I had a higher priority – sketching. Our tour leader gave us two hours at the castle – to climb to the top, explore the extensive gardens (including the eerie poison garden) or get some “retail therapy” at the nearby shops in an old woolen mill. I chose to sit on a conveniently placed bench and sketch the castle.

My preferred medium is urban sketching, loosely defined as sketching on location. I discovered this pastime last summer in Chicago with its active Urban Sketchers Chicago group. There are chapters around the world, and I sketched with the Dallas-Fort Worth Urban Sketchers last winter.

I brought a sketchbook to fill on this trip, but many of the pages are sketches I drew from photographs when back on the ship. It was either too rainy while we were ashore or my tour was moving too quickly. And it’s true that for some reason sketches from photographs just don’t have the same authenticity. So the opportunity to sit for an hour to start and nearly finish a sketch was too much to pass up.

Our travel agent organized our tour and arranged a nice luncheon at the Blarney Castle Hotel. Of course I had the local lager. The Cruise Specialist tours are first class, with plenty of extra seats on the bus, wireless headsets to hear the guides and our voyage hosts along to handle any concerns.

Next was a bus tour of Cork, where the Singer sewing machine building is decorated with the familiar motif of the machines.

Our last stop was in the village of Midleton, best known for its Jameson Irish Whiskey distillery. During the tour of the old buildings (with the modern distillery in the background), we learned the difference between Scotch, Irish and American whiskey and sampled all three at the end. The distillery is branching out and has a gin branded Method and Madness, but even though it’s my spirit of choice, I didn’t purchase a bottle. The ship doesn’t allow you to bring your own alcohol to your cabin, but instead holds it for your departure. And I didn’t want to risk a $60 bottle in my checked luggage.

Ireland delivered on its boast of innumerable shades of green as we left the harbor.