Irish Honeymoon – Dublin, Ballynahinch Castle, and Blarney Woolen Mills…

Day 5:  Today, we decided to revisit Dublin, as we wanted to see what the city had to offer in terms of shopping, and of course, food.  I had read about The Brazen Head being the oldest pub (dating back to 1198!) in Ireland, so it was firmly in our itinerary as a must-visit.  While nobody is certain how much of the 11th century coach house is still intact, it has all the old and ancient charm one would expect of such a place.  Some notable literary, revolutionary, and celebrity patrons have also wined and dined here! The Brazen Head PubBrazen Head Pub - Dublin CityBrazen Head PubI was so excited to see there was a sign indicating how far we were from Vancouver!
Brazen Head Pub - VancouverHere we are, all seated and waiting for our meals to come… I really loved the dim lighting, and the shuffled-about feel the tables and chairs exuded.
Brazen Head - Cathie & AlexIt was worth having just berries for breakfast!  There was room to savour all that we ordered.

Alex tried the Beef & Guinness Stew, which was comprised of chunks of Irish beef, mushrooms & vegetables in a rich Guinness and thyme sauce, served with mashed potato.Brazen Head Pub - Beef & Guinness StewI asked for their fish and chips, fresh cod deep fried in a homemade beer batter, served with tartar sauce, a wedge of lemon and chunky chips.Brazen Head Pub - Fish & Chips

It may not have been fancy foods, but they were cooked very well, and that certainly elevates the experience.  We shared half of what we ordered with each other, so we could enjoy everything together.  For the record, Alex sneaked an extra bite out of my cod!

For dessert, we settled on Baileys Cheesecake, partly because we love the liqueur, and partly in honour of our cat who has a Big Personality, whose name is also Bailey!  You guessed it, it was scrumptious.  If I lived in or around Dublin, I would definitely pop in here for office parties/lunch, etc.Brazen Head - Baileys CheesecakeAfterwards, we went walking around the city, going to almost every store it seemed like, and being a bit disappointed that there were only a handful of stores that we did not already have in Canada.  I suppose perhaps since we were downtown, the independent boutiques wouldn’t necessarily be there, and I’m not sure why I was expecting something else. Perhaps because the restaurants and pubs are mostly different, and not big name chains, and thus our expectations?  At any rate, we did not buy anything until I spotted a Pandora store.  I’d been wearing my Pandora bracelet every day, and I thought it would be perfect to get an Irish-themed Pandora charm in Dublin.  So we walked in, picked the “Green Lucky Clover” charm, and added it to my bracelet, which had up until then, been sporting a very lonely charm!  It was so dear of Alex to get it for me as a present.  I wish I had a picture of the bracelet while on our travels, but I will write about charm bracelets in a future post, so stay tuned for that if you want to see it!Pandora Charm - Dublin, Ireland

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Day 6:  After much searching on the internet as to what we would do, we decided it was castle day.  We stumbled upon Ballynahinch Castle‘s history, and folks, they had me at pirate queen.  Grace O’Malley was a wealthy and influential resident of Ballynahinch Castle (if I am remembering this correctly!) and was said to have even met Queen Elizabeth I to petition the release of her sons.  Nowadays, it’s a fabulous hotel with plenty to see and do close by; there are village shops, walking trails, and one can even go fishing or clay shooting if one is so inclined!  The hotel is also a very popular venue for weddings; however, when I asked Alex would he like to get married again here, he told me he was still not over having married me twice.  What a ‘gent’, eh?  Having made our decision, off we went to Co. Galway, to spend the day in Connemara’s castle.  Sadly, I never got a proper shot of the castle itself.Ballynahinch Castle - EntryBallynahinch Castle - CottageBallynahinch Castle - GroundsIt was a 3.5 hour drive, so we were feeling peckish when we got there.  After taking a brief look around at the castle itself and the grounds nearby–somehow, they always seem smaller when you are up close, we went in to get a bite at The Fisherman’s Pub & Ranji Room.  It was full of old-fashioned cosiness and charm what with fires crackling in the hearths, big cushy chairs inviting you to seat yourself comfortably and relax, old landscape paintings and portraits of bygone people looking down and twinkling their mystery and magic at you, and of course, the fact that we were sharing this experience and these moments together.Ballynahinch Castle - Sitting AreaWe sat down and started with some bread and sparkling water, then worked our way through a selection of Irish cheeses, crackers, and homemade chutney.
Ballynahinch Castle - Soda Bread & WaterBallynahinch Castle - Irish cheese selection, crackers & seasonal homemade chutneyMy favourite however, was the braised beef and stout pie; it was hot, hearty, and rich –very satisfying on a chilly day!Ballynahinch Castle - braised beef & stout pie, garden salad leavesA nice food coma started settling in, so we decided to look around and peek into a few rooms.

This room had the most bucolic view!  I was too timid to open the door and step outside, but I took a photo through the window (sadly, you can see a bit of my reflection) to share the dreaminess with you.
Ballynahinch Castle - Reception RoomBallynahinch Castle - Scenic ViewIsn’t this table the ideal setting for a romantic meal?  Imagine a glorious sunset happening as you clink your glasses to a toast of love.Ballynahinch Castle - Romantic Seats & ViewThere were many other memorable rooms, but I believe Alex would want this drawing room properly mentioned.  We happened upon it, and being a ‘couch connoisseur’, he immediately sank into it… and refused to get up, as it was far too comfortable.

“We should stay here for the night,” said he.

“On the couch?” I replied, still in a food-induced haze.

He meant a room of course, but I was torn.  We had a room to go back to, and economical reasons were forefront on my mind.  In the end, we agreed not to, but I’m afraid there are still pangs of regret that we didn’t to this day.  I suppose it simply means that we must make a return trip.Ballynahinch Drawing RoomBallynahinch Castle - Drawing RoomWhen we finally peeled ourselves off of the sofa, we went for the five kilometer walk in the woodlands around the Estate.  There are woodland, lakeshore and riverside walks and scenery as you go along, and one has a sense of why fairy tales sprang up most readily in the old world.  The place defies accurate description by modern sensibilities.Ballynahinch Castle - ViewBallynahinch Castle - Walk

Is that a pirate’s cannon?  It is pointing at an island where the pirate queen’s ‘lair’ is.  I forget whether it is a lair, or a mini castle of hers, but it was sadly under repair when we visited, so we were not able to see it, and I’m not sure whether one is able to visit it or not.  If interested, ask the Ballynahinch Castle staff.Ballynahinch Castle - Remnants of PiracyI was half tempted to commandeer (y’know, borrow without permission) this boat and row myself to the pirate queen’s lair, but Alex being far more sensible than I ever will be, declined to join me or agree that the idea was an excellent one.  So I didn’t, as I wasn’t sure who would save me if I ran into an Anne-of-Green-Gables-ish unfortunate lily maid situation.  I’m worse than babies when it comes to swimming.Ballynahinch Castle - IdyllicBallynahinch Castle - Bucolic

At one point, we stumbled upon horses grazing peacefully…
Ballynahinch Castle - HorsesAnd a gorgeous ‘corridor’ of twisted tree branches…
Ballynahinch Walk
Found a peaceful spot for a picnic…
Ballynahinch Castle - Civilised Wild
Captured a moment together…
Ballynahinch Kiss…and finally returned to the castle parking lot before it starting getting dark as we needed to drive back.
Ballynahinch - Return to CastleThe best part about driving back to our B&B?  We had a Leap Year moment!  Except with sheep, not cows…
Ballynahinch - After - Leap Year

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Day 7:  Where better to get souvenirs of our trip in Ireland, than from the famous Blarney Woolen Mills in Co. Cork?  They have been family-owned for quite a while now, and are proud to sell and introduce all things Irish to anyone who visits, most especially their gorgeous Irish Aran sweaters.  They don’t just have clothes and accessories, though; they’ve got decor, housewares, and fine Irish crystal, among many other things!  I could have spent all day gazing at and trying on everything.
Blarney Woolen Mills ShopAlex is not an Aran sort of fellow apparently, but he found a red sweater that he liked, and although not from their Blarney line, I had thought it would still be made in Ireland by another Irish designer.  However, it was made in Italy!  It didn’t matter to Alex, who liked the style and purchased it anyway.  I must admit it looks quite fetching on him, but it made me check all the labels of anything that caught my eye since I definitely wanted my souvenir to be from Ireland proper.  I settled for a two-tone red wool scarf with a subtle woven Celtic pattern.  It was not scratchy, but very soft, smooth, and liquid-like, yet despite its deceptive airiness, a very warm piece.  We both wore our purchases the next day, so you’ll see it in my next post!

Being mindful that we had only brought two carry-ons, shopping was done soon enough, and we headed next door to The Mill Restaurant to have afternoon tea.
The Mill RestaurantI adore afternoon tea, and this was my first time having it outside of Canada.  As an aside, even though North Americans sometimes like to confuse high tea with afternoon tea (and then some when apprised of the difference, tell you you’re being uppity, even though they choose to say high tea because that sounds more uppity to them!), the proper term is afternoon tea.  You’ll seem more knowledgeable and less of a tourist if you use the proper term. 😉

The dishes were a beautiful medley of different Royal Albert dish lines.  We liked how everything was charmingly higgledy-piggledy, and not matching.  It was still elegant but with a cheeky air of carefree fun!
Blarney Mill Restaurant - Afternoon TeaThis is called “The Famous Blarney Afternoon Tea”, and we joked that we couldn’t wait to see what fame tasted like.  Well, it was all utterly delectable, and it was here that Alex first fell in love with macarons.  In fact, he fell in love so hard, he forgot to give me half of it (we halve everything so we get to taste everything), and ate the whole!  Thus, I have no idea what the flavour was, only that it made him moan with delight.
Our hostess was charming, and the experience was flawless bliss.  It was definitely one of the highlights of our trip!
The Blarney Mill Restaurant - Afternoon TeaThe Mill Restaurant - Afternoon Tea

Slán (that’s goodbye in Gaelic) for now!

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