August 20th – Grand Princess Arrives in Cobh, Ireland

Oh, how I have waited for this!  The land of my people!  The auld sod!  I wake up this morning so excited that I’m grateful I got any sleep at all.  There’s a little nervousness that for some reason, the weather will keep us from this port as well, but we arrive in Ireland bright and early, and we are up again at the crack of dawn to head to the buffet for breakfast.  Our tour this morning meets at 8:15, and since this is our first port, we want to make sure we are there early so we know the excursion drill.

Breakfast is good – pretty much standard breakfast fare with a few things thrown in to tantalize the taste buds of an international guest list.  In addition to the eggs, bacon, sausages, cereals, and other familiar breakfast items, there is also rice and soup and another Japanese dish for the Asian crowd.  You will also find plenty in the way of cheese and sliced lunch type meats for breakfast, and something Jim was especially fond of – Dr. Bircher’s Muesli.  This is a cold, creamy cereal made with oatmeal, nuts, and fruit.  It had a nice flavor – although a bit odd in texture for me.  Jim really enjoyed it enough that I might find a recipe and make it on the weekends.

Anyway, we head down to the Princess theatre to meet our group, and we ask as we go in where the best place is for Dot to wait, as she can’t climb down the steps.  We are told by the person in charge that it is best for her to wait down by the midships elevators, and they will come and get her and take her down.  This is another indication of how poorly organized they seem to be in terms of dealing with disabled people on this ship.  We go take our seats, completely expecting that on our way out, we would meet up with Dot and go out to the bus.  Well, we make it all the way off the ship and we don’t see her anywhere. so we assume they have taken her on to the bus.  When we arrive at the bus, they do have seats up front reserved for handicapped people, so we figure they are holding the people who need assistance until they load the bus.  Russell heads off to find Dot and see what they did with her, and before we know it, the bus is pulling away and neither Dot nor Russell are onboard!  As we are pulling away from the port, we hear the tour guide tell the driver to stop, that they’ve lost someone, and sure enough, Dot and Russ climb on board.  They never helped her out to the bus or anything. 

Once we are underway, we meet our driver, Padraic; and our tour guide, Richard.  Padraic reminds me of so many pictures I’ve seen of my own family over the decades that it’s uncanny.  Our guide is excellent – telling stories of Irish history, jokes, and pointing out every point of interest possible on our way to Blarney Castle and Woolen Mills.

When we arrive at Blarney, I am nearly overwhelmed.  I will be setting foot on Irish soil, and Blarney Castle is one of the true Irish American pilgrimages.  Okay, so it’s not like Mecca, but who do you know that goes on tour to Ireland and doesn’t go see Blarney Castle?

Dot decides to stay in Blarney Village, visit the Woolen Mill and the shops, and the rest of us head on to the walk towards the castle.  It’s a beautiful place.  Everything is green, and I think the estimate of 40 shades might be a few short.  Everything is green – lush and beautiful.  I have heard stories – horror stories, actually – about Blarney castle.  The walk up the castle steps is steep and scary, and once you are at the top, where you find the infamous Blarney Stone, you have to bend over backwards to kiss the Stone.  I figure the climb up the steps I can tackle, and when I get up there, if the kissing of the stone is too scary, I just won’t do it.  Of course, Jim was with me.  ‘Nuff said.

So the stories, as it turns out, were not exaggerations by any stretch.  The stairway is steep and narrow, and through most of it, there is no real railing to hold on to.  At one point, we are grabbing onto a rope to pull ourselves up.  Jim bravely took Granuaile with him, I knew Brighid could do it, but I was so proud of Eilis for making the trek up without a word of complaint.  There were a few people behind Russell who asked forward if the journey got any easier, but I’m not sure what happened to them when I answered back that it most certainly did not.

The view from the top of this castle is absolutely breath taking.  I mean that.  You can see the gorgeous Blarney House from up here, as well as everything green imaginable.  It’s just incredible. 

And here is the legendary Blarney Stone.  It is true that you have to lie down and bend over backwards to access it, but you have to really reach down, bent way over backwards, while a small, elderly Irish gentleman holds on to your jacket so you don’t fall to your death.  Not that falling to my death from Blarney Castle wouldn’t be a poetic way for an Irish-American like myself to die, I decide I do not want to risk missing the rest of the vacation (actually, I don’t want to die and have the rest of them go on and enjoy themselves without me), and choose not to kiss the Blarney Stone.  Then you know you get those little voices that sit on your shoulder?  There’s the sweet voice of an angel on one side that tells you to do the right, moral and rational things?  And then on the other side, there’s Jim?  Yeah, well, the Jim voice won out.  How could I come all this way and NOT do this?  I bless myself, look for the Chapstick, and dive on in.  I did it 🙂  I kissed the Blarney Stone.

So, my souvenir for kissing the stone is to head to Blarney Woolen Mills to buy matching sweaters for the lot of us.  This is the point at which Jim says he did not bring any credit cards on this trip, as he didn’t realize we would be going to BLARNEY Woolen Mills while we were in BLARNEY Village to visit BLARNEY Castle.  I literally almost broke into tears.  The ONE thing I said I wanted this whole trip were Irish sweaters for the family, and here we are, at the McDonald’s of Irish Sweaters, and we are limited to cash on hand. 

I don’t even want to go into the Woolen Mills at this point, but Jim says let’s go look.  We go in, and I browse the shops, looking longingly at some of the most beautiful woolen sweaters, blazers, skirts, capes – everything is just gorgeous.  We find a table upstairs where they are selling the beautiful, very traditional fisherman style sweaters for buy 2, get 1 free.  And the ones you are buying are quite reasonably priced.  Jim says he didn’t want one anyway and would never wear it.  I justify not buying one for Granuaile because she’s so young and would out grow it so quickly, it’s almost a waste, and I buy sweaters for Brighid, Eilis, and myself.  I love my sweater.

We are back on the ship in time for lunch, and Eilis heads up to the kids’ club.  They bring on a lot of local entertainment during this trip, and today we have the Cork Irish Dance Group onboard to entertain us.  The group includes the male World Champion, and he is phenomenal.  This was a good show.

Brighid and Russell venture into the town of Cobh, where they find an Irish pub and share a pint.  UGH, teenagers!

Another really nice thing is that as we were pulling out of Cobh, a crowd of locals gathers to watch the ship pull out, and they are waving and cheering.  And on the dock, a group of musicians plays as we pull away.  It was really nice.

Dinner tonight is smart casual, but you see everything in the dining room from jeans and capris to business suits and nice dresses.  I don’t go overboard decking out the kids, because they want to go on to the kids’ club after dinner, and it would be a waste to dress them and then go change them again.  We have a really nice dinner, although a struggle continues over what Eilis can eat.

The shows tonight are Motor City, with the Grand Princess singers and Dancers; and comedian Troy Thirdgill.  I really want to go see the comedian, but I am just too tired, so we call it a night, get a snack from the buffet (a salad for me, pizza for Jim and the kids), and we watch a little TV before going to sleep.

It was a beautiful day – cool, crisp, fall like weather, with scenary so gorgeous, you just know God loves the Irish a little bit more than the rest of us.