Cruises aren’t just reserved for sunny beach resorts and islands around the Caribbean; they can also be enjoyed in many different continents and countries all over the globe, including all around the British Isles. Cruises around the United Kingdom and Ireland are very popular, with Ireland itself having lots of lovely ports to explore like Dublin, Cobh, and Belfast in Northern Ireland. If you’re planning a cruise around Ireland, see below to learn more about a few of the top options available to you. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.
1.Princess Cruises - 12 Night Western Europe - Crown Princess
2.Cruise and Maritime Voyages - 3 Night Festive Dublin & Cobh - Marco Polo
3.Cruise and Maritime Voyages - 8 Night River Seine Experience - Magellan
3 Best Ireland Cruises
- Princess Cruises - 12 Night Western Europe - Crown Princess, Photo: jpp11/stock.adobe.com
- Cruise and Maritime Voyages - 3 Night Festive Dublin & Cobh - Marco Polo, Photo: icarmen13/stock.adobe.com
- Cruise and Maritime Voyages - 8 Night River Seine Experience - Magellan, Photo: Jiri Castka/stock.adobe.com
- Cover Photo: Patrik Vališ/stock.adobe.com
Attraction Spotlight: Kylemore Abbey
The Kylemore Abbey and Walled Garden is the most frequently visited attraction located in the western part of Ireland. The stunning combination of history, scenery, and interesting tours makes it the perfect family destination for a full day of fun and education about local history.
The Kylemore Abbey was originally founded in 1920 as a Benedictine monastery, located on the grounds of the former Kylemore Castle. The Benedictine nuns who lived at the monastery had moved there after fleeing Belgium during World War One. The castle was the home of Mitchell Henry, who was a wealthy and well-known doctor who had moved to Ireland from London. After the family eventually passed away, the castle became the property of the Duchess and Duke of Manchester and finally came to rest in the hands of the monks. The estate has been open to the public since 1970.
The abbey itself is the top attraction when visiting the premises, for obvious reasons. There is also a walled garden designed in Victorian style that surrounds the abbey itself. This portion of visiting can often take more than an hour, as the fully restored rooms of the estate (guests are allowed access to the rooms on the ground floor only as well as the mausoleum, the neo-Gothic church, lake shore walks, extensive woodlands, and the garden. Below are a few of the do not miss areas.
? Entrance Hall - The beautiful oak paneling makes the entrance hall the perfect starting place for a tour of the estate. Guests should make sure to notice the information panels located on the walls throughout the house, which start in the entrance hall and help guide visitors through the important parts of the estate.
? Inner and Saloon Hall - The grand staircase is located in the Inner Hall, which is lit through giant leaded windows. A little further into the hall (in the Saloon portion), guests should make sure to look up to see one of several different glass ceilings that were used to bring more natural light into the home. The Duchess and Duke of Manchester brought mock Jacobean paneling into the home’s decor as well.
? Drawing Room - Notice the marble fireplace (the marble was imported from Italy) as well as the only original portrait of one of the home’s residents, Margaret Henry. It was said that this was her favorite room in the house.
? Morning Room - The room where the ladies of the estate often met to entertain guests, sew, or read is known as the “Morning” room. Many of the different Benedictine artifacts are on display in this room now.
? Dining Room - The walls in the dining room have been lined with gold and black silks, while the dining room tables lies decorated and furnished as it would have when the estate was occupied. William the Second is on display via an original portrait on one of the walls, and there is a display case filled with monogrammed cups and silver pieces. The dining room also has a marble fireplace.
? School Exhibition - Located just opposite from the entrance hall area is the school exhibition, which focuses on the story and history of the Kylemore Abbey’s School for Girls, which closed its doors for the final time in 2010.
? Mausoleum - Located just along the avenue around the abbey is the mausoleum, a small mostly unadorned brick building that is the final resting place for Margaret Henry alongside her beloved partner, Mitchell. Make sure to see the museum while visiting the church, as they are located close to each other.
? Neo-gothic church - The stunning church from the 19th century overlooks a lake on the edge of the abbey’s property. It has been described as a “miniature” cathedral, built to replicate a church from the 14th century. It was here that Margaret and Mitchell said their vows. There are also musical concerts held here frequently (a calendar of those performances can be found on the website for the abbey under the “choirs and performances” tab).
One of the best ways to fully see the abbey is to take a guided tour of the grounds. In addition, tours specific to the garden are offered. These tours are available every day at noon from June through August. There is no additional costs or reservation required to take a guided garden tour and they last just about half an hour.
There are a wide and diverse range of special events held on the grounds of the abbey and garden. Due to its lengthy Benedictine history, a large majority of these events revolve around the religious holidays.
For example, Easter at the abbey is always a large event. Held on Easter Sunday and always family friendly, Easter brings an entire afternoon of fun. Children will be especially fond of the Easter trail, and those that complete it will receive their own chocolate bunny. The Easter Bunny will also be in attendance and is always happy to take pictures with the excited children and their families.
Another fun special event held at the abbey are the food village tours. Start by meeting with the abbey’s head gardeners at the Tea House for a brief discussion about the history of the area and the gardens, then take an hour-long tour that ends with freshly brewed herbal teas (with herbs from the garden). There is also an optional food foraging walk with the manager of a local food company. Kathleen McMahon leads visitors through the various plants that are grown at the garden, as well as any medicinal values they may have. The tour ends with freshly prepared food with some of the herbs foraged during the walk.
Dining and Shopping
Guests visiting the abbey can enjoy a bite to eat from the Tea House or the Mitchell cafe. The dining options at the abbey are renowned throughout the country for their traditional and home cooked style with many foods that have been made in the Benedictine traditional way. Enjoy a warm soup or stew, snack on a freshly baked scone, or just have a cup of tea. There is also a small design and crafting gift shop located on the grounds, with a selection of merchandise for guests of all ages and budgets. Many of the different gift options were actually handmade by the Benedictine monks that live on the grounds.
Kylemore Abbey, Pollacappul, Connemara, Co., Galway, Ireland, 095 52001
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Attraction Spotlight: Blarney Castle and Garden
Have you ever kissed the Blarney Stone? This is one experience, which is a bit mystical and very fanciful that should most certainly be on everyone’s to do list. And that’s not only for the peculiar and largely unexplained tradition of lying upside down over a sheer drop, while someone supports you, to plant your lips on arguably the most kissed piece of quarry in human culture. Indeed, there’s also a lot more magic to the concept and experience of visiting the Blarney complex than just a historical stone and a legend of eloquence. It’s a bit of a trip of a lifetime, in which you can explore the classic Irish countryside, as well as its characteristic sense of humor and sense of whimsy and find out if you have now been endowed with the gift of the gab (as the legend of the stone promises), on your way home. The Blarney Castle and Gardens is arguably Ireland’s most visited landmark, bringing in over 200,000 people each year. It’s a place of great greenness, incredible architecture and much romantic mystery.
The almost quaint yet considerably complex site where the Blarney Castle stands was first built on in the year 1200, according to scholars and specialists in the field. But that first building was of wood, which proved to be less permanent than the builders from the 13th century had anticipated. Ten years later, the wooden construction was replaced with a fort of stone, the ruins of which are still standing and hallowed today.
Over the centuries the Blarney Castle and surrounds grew organically: it faced destruction and reconstruction, different leadership and many change of hands of ownership, but it has always presented an idea of mystique and medieval shenanigans and respected rituals. Think of the tales of King Arthur – or Lord of the Rings or even Harry Potter – and you will get an understanding of the kinds of medieval rituals of sanctity of kingship with not a little bit of magic, the like which ring, resound and echo in these wonderfully authentic stone chambers.
And while the name Blarney has become synonymous with great and rather solemn historical entities like the Castle’s ruins and of course the stone itself, there’s a bit of a hodge-podge of history and mischief in meaning and values all woven into the fabric of this odd tradition. Believe it or not, the word ‘blarney’ in English means ‘nonsense’ or ‘humbug’, which is where the castle gets its name. The legend goes that attempts to take the castle in question were foxed by chatter: Queen Elizabeth 1 ordered the Earl of Leicester to overthrow what is today the Blarney Castle, but the head of the elite McCarthy family of Ireland, who had ownership stakes in the castle, was so relentlessly talkative, that the plans were completely thwarted. He just wouldn’t stop talking about stuff and nonsense! The queen, apocryphal tales remember, was as frustrated, cross and incredulous at the failed coup and its unbelievably maddening reports as to why the coup had failed, that she referred to the matter as “complete blarney”. And the name stuck.
While you must put on your most comfortable walking shoes as you navigate this medieval experience, even if you’re not keen to walk up and down many old corridors and staircases, there is much to do and explore at Blarney Castle. For one thing, you can retrace the steps of ancient warriors and kings as you perambulate through the castle’s ruins, going upstairs and downstairs and into rooms which give you a sense of grandeur and space, even though they’re ruinous and speak of ghosts of kings past, rather than relics and riches.
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For another, you can wander through Rock Close, which is filled with the kind of surprises that ancient legends and myths are made of. It’s a fascinating part of the Blarney complex and comprises a heady mix of natural rock formations and man-made idiosyncrasies seamlessly put together. The wicked and witty looking leprechaun next to the stream up ahead or the bench made of mossy rocks around the next corner might be real and it might be a bit of innovative fantasy, put there to intrigue and entertain you, but either way, it’s a place of sheer magic, and you need to be open to the experience. Featuring such colorfully named places as the Druid’s Circle, the Witch’s Cave and the Wishing Steps, it’s like a wonderland brought to real life.
The Blarney Gardens consists of over 60 acres of sheer horticultural possibility that have been cultivated and grown around the castle proper. Under the green fingers of the institution’s head gardener Adam Whitbourn, it contains special sections as graphically named as the Poison Garden, the Fern Garden and Ice House, as well as the Bog Garden, which is filled with waterways and where you must look out for the 600-year old yew trees and the Giant Rhubarb. The gardens are about danger in the heart of beauty and each season represents a fresh new reason for visiting: you might encounter a carpet of bulbs or a river or roses or even an avenue of arboretum, depending on how much rain and sunshine the area has enjoyed.
And of course, the Blarney Stone itself is an important must-visit part of the area, and for many visitors, the main reason the whole castle is visited. In the olden days, visitors were suspended by their ankles over the castle’s battlements, so that they could kiss the stone in the correct manner, prescribed by ancient Irish tradition. But fear not: these days, the establishment’s owners are a little more cautious and there’s an iron railing to hold onto from the parapet walk.
And the prize? Soon as you’ve kissed the stone, legend has it that you will magically be endowed with the gift of eloquence. If you’re shy to talk in public, suffer from a stutter or other form of speech impediment, this might be the answer for you.
But don’t take our word for it – thousands of celebrities have travelled from far and wide to have accomplished this odd but time hewn ritual. Does it come from Jeremiah in biblical times? Is it the stone pillow that Jacob used when he had his famous vision – or dream – of angels going up and down a ladder to heaven? Is it a relic of the Crusades? Did a witch who was saved from drowning in the 15th century really reveal its true identity and powers to Cormac McCarthy, the King of Munster? Or maybe this was the stone behind which a young King David hid, on the advice of his friend Jonathan when he was fleeing from his enemy Saul? Either way, it’s an area absolutely sparkling with all kinds of fabulous legends around this curious piece of quarry, many so mysterious and fantastical that you just have to go and see and kiss the thing for yourself.
And of course, seeing the thing for yourself – and even kissing it – won’t convince you of its origins. Or of the veracity or authenticity of the legends you will be told. But we do have it on geological authority from the University of Glasgow’s Hunterian Museum that the stone is indeed made from Irish limestone, specific to the area. While this doesn’t detract from its age – it’s estimated to be some 330-million years old, it might cast a bit of a slur on all the glamorous and whimsical legends you’ve been exposed to. And according to the curator, the efficacy of the stone’s kiss in giving you the gift of the gab cannot be measured scientifically. Indeed, there’s only one way of finding out, for sure.
Had your fair share of walking through these ancient ruins? Blarney Castle has a café called the Stable Yard, at which you can kick back and indulge in traditional Irish scones, locally made Guinness and honey produced by a nearby beekeeper. There is also a very well appointed Blarney Castle shop where you can browse and buy from a series of Blarney collectables – from funky memorabilia of your visit to items which draw from serious historical collections; you can remember your trip to Blarney with a happy little t-shirt, a leprechaun pencil or an object made of Blarney pewter. There are no overnight facilities at Blarney Castle and its surrounds, but it is one hell of a fine day trip, whenever you visit.
While Blarney Castle’s opening hours from Monday to Saturday vary according to the time of year, because of the possibility of bad weather or poor light – remember this is Ireland – the Blarney Castle and Garden is a popular wedding venue, as well as a tourist destination. Located just 8km northwest of Cork city in the South of Ireland, it is easily accessible by car and bus from the town of Shannon and the city of Limerick and by air, train and car from Dublin itself.
Monacnapa, Blarney, Co. Cork, Ireland
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