After our lightning trip through Wales to Holyhead (there's another page for Holyhead, if you want it, come and claim it), it was time for another quick dash to a new location - Ireland.  We took the ferry from Holyhead to Dublin, and a very comfortable ferry it was too!  Here are a couple of pictures (not the best) - one of the ferry in port in Dublin, and another of the wake generated as the monster engines churned us across the Irish Sea (for precise information on the 'monster engines', see the link below the pictures!)  :)

For the Australians reading this, I refer you to:
http://www.austal.com/

Yup, the ferry was manufactured by an Australian company - one based in Western Australia to be exact.  I just like the picture at the above link for the gratuitous helicopter inclusion, but to read the precise info on 'our' vehicle/passenger ferry the Jonathan Swift, please go here:
http://www.austal.com/datasheets/2533-jonathanswift.pdf

It has some very good photos of the inside of the ship, including the airline-like upper deck where we sat and sipped complimentary refreshments during each crossing!  For the more technical minded of you, it also features lots of facts and figures about the ship as a whole.

On arrival in Dublin we were somewhat stunned by the building boom that appeared to be in full swing.  Unfortunately we have no pictures of this, as we were in a taxi and trying to reach the hotel, so it wasn't best for photography.  Talk about cranes - I've never seen so many cranes.  Although I did see a documentary on the building boom in Shanghai, and this is the only comparison I can draw.  The dock and canal area in Dublin is undergoing a major gentrification programme (whoops, there's the urban geography lectures shining through after all these years) similar to what happened in London in the Docklands.  Everywhere you look in that area of Dublin there are large buildings being constructed - mostly for accommodation, but also for business locations.  Because I've raved so much about it, here's a website where you can view a picture that gives a good idea of what it was like:
http://www.aidan.co.uk/photo3399.htm

I'm not going to include any of our photos of Dublin, as we really didn't take any good ones.  Our stay in the city was brief, as we were departing very early the next morning for a trip to Cork.  So I'm afraid you'll have to rely on your own research to experience the visual impact of Dublin  :)

So, bright and early the next morning we set off to catch a train.  We had booked a one-day tour with RailTours Ireland. (See:  http://www.railtours.ie/dh02.asp
for details of our particular trip) so had to be at the train station by 7am.  The journey down was very interesting (for those of us who stayed awake the whole way - e.g. Me) and had some very pleasant scenery.  As you'd expect from Irish stereotypes, it was lovely green and rolling countryside.  I was particularly keen to see The Curragh, and we were lucky enough to see many horses out on the gallops at that time of day.  We seem to once again be very short of pictures from the train journey (probably due to the sleeping photographers, mother and son!) but here's one of a railyard with a pleasant view  ;)

On arrival in Cork we were met by our local bus driver.  This proved to be a problem for our Irish tour guide (who had traveled on the train with us) as the guide had never met the driver before.  And the bus driver apparently spoke 'no English at all!'.  (This actually didn't prove to be true, as I spoke to him a couple of times in English and he replied in English, but as the tour guide had an Irish accent thick enough to build on and the driver did not, I assume that was the problem).  As you can see from the next picture, we failed to get a good photo of the driver.  However, for what it's worth, here he is, along with his bus:

 

Anyhow, according to the guide the bus driver came from Lafawania and his name was Lalo.  Despite much internet research I have failed to turn up a map of the nation of Lafawania.  However I did find Lalo:

Lalo - pictured above - was a French composer (whereas Pavarotti is a tenor) (that's the second allusion to a quote from Hunt for Red October on this website I believe!) of Spanish descent.  Definitely not Lafawanian.  For more on Lalo:
http://www.classiccat.net/lalo_e/biography.htm

This is also Lalo:

However this Lalo has probably not passed a bus-driving test.  Therefore this is probably not our Lalo.  Anyway, that doesn't matter because by the time we'd travelled as far as Blarney Castle, the guide was calling our driver Lando.  Now here we knew more.  Everyone knows Lando:

Lando Calrissian, that is, former owner of the Millenium Falcon and thereafter Baron Administrator of the Cloud City and Tibanna gas mine on the gas giant planet of Bespin.  However as far as we recalled his vehicle of choice (after the Millenium Falcon, of course) was the Lady Luck, and not a Mercedes mini-bus.  Hmm.  But there is another well-known Lando:

Yes, the exceedingly handsome Lando, winner of the Deutsches Derby and later the Japan Cup.
http://www.lando-world.de/
But despite a stellar racing career and a 7,500 Euro stud fee (cheap at the price!), this Lando also looks unlikely to drive a bus.  Well, the Lalo-Lando mystery aside, we were now at Blarney Castle.

Blarney Castle is apparently the third defensive building to ever stand on the site, but since the current version was the first one made of stone, it remains whereas the previous ones did not.  This one - or rather, the Keep, which is about all that is intact - dates from the mid 1440s.

The Castle is impressive, but is also extremely popular with tourists so it's hard to get good photos of it that don't involve roving herds of loud teenagers from Illinois.  However here are a few general pictures of the place.

   

   

Look at those dreadful spiral stairs!  Unfortunately (for those of us who only enjoy heights when they're offered from within the confines of powered flight vehicles) these stairs are the only way up or down from the heights of the Keep.  In places the handrail is metal (as pictures here) in other places it is merely a piece of rope.  Also up there are numerous holes (seen on the left, along with a fine shot of Jason's shoes for perspective) which give a great view of the distance you could plummet if something unfortunate occurred  ;)

Once up on the top, the queue for the famous Blarney Stone is the main sight to see!

In the centre of the picture you can spot a man lying on his back..... he is in the process of kissing the Blarney Stone. The bloke kneeling to the right of the prone man is gripping on to the kisser's shirt so the kisser doesn't soar like a brick to his death several hundred feet below.  And you, Library Lady of the Windex (you know who you are!), thought the worst part of Blarney Stone kissing was the lack of sanitation  ;)

The view from up there was also worth some pictures, however.  As you can tell we were lucky enough to get a gorgeous day for our trip to Cork and Blarney Castle:

That second one features a view of the village of Blarney which is just outside the grounds of the Castle.  And speaking of the grounds, although the Castle is impressive, it is also well worth spending the time to explore the extensive gardens. There are rock gardens, tunnels, streams, ponds, sculptures, caves, and all sorts of interesting features.

Well, at this stage we were given enough time for lunch at an intensively tourist shop/restaurant, and then it was time to move on.  Next we were headed for the town/port of Cobh, which apparently was the last port of call for the Titanic on her way to rendezvous with an iceberg.  So it was time to get back in the bus.  By this time of the day our guide was now calling our driver Ronaldo.  Now Ronaldo is a pretty famous chap:

   

And we can assure you our bus driver was (a) clothed, and (b) had a full head of hair. Therefore he probably wasn't Ronaldo, either.  In addition I'm pretty sure that Ronaldo earns a decent enough wage that he doesn't need to moonlight as a bus driver in Cork.  Anyhow, back to Cobh.  The town's most impressive feature is St Colman's Cathedral, which sits on the hillside above the port:

   

   

You can read a bit more about St Colman's on the stone above.  I particularly included this photo for a cousin of mine (once again, you know who you are!) who is always appreciative of the financial bottom line in life.  As you can see, they immortalised the price of the place here in stone!  :)  For more about the cathedral, plus the answer to the question "And just who was St Colman anyway?" try here:
http://www.iol.ie/~gercasey/cathed.html

And that was about it for our trip to Cork.  We returned to the train and traveled back up to Dublin.  It was a great trip, although somewhat too quick, and we'd definitely like to return to Cork at some point to spend more time there just casually wandering around.  Perhaps we could also solve the mystery of Lalo-Lando-Ronaldo!  And Lafawania.  We came to the conclusion it was actually Lithuania, but according to Google, Lithuanians look like this:

However this man was definitely not our bus driver.  Plus my Source from the Baltic (again, you know who you are!), a near neighbour of Lithuania, assures me that Lithuanians actually look like this:

And I failed to see our bus driver even lightly smoking, let alone happily burning in the fires of hell.  So the mystery remains.

 

Interested in Lithuania?  Go here:
http://www.tourism.lt/

 

Otherwise that's all from our trip to Ireland  :)

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