I think it’s Wednesday
But really, I’m not quite sure.
We set out from Cork this morning to drive the short distance to Blarney Castle.
We were there in no time at all and as we parked the car, we spotted the first of several coaches coming through the gates. We lost no time in getting to the ticket office then, aiming to reach the entrance before the hordes. Whilst we stood in the queue however, they all sailed through a different gate and our hearts sank as we imagined the wait…
I’m sure you’ll already have guessed where we were headed?
High up on the ramparts of the castle was the Blarney Stone, accessed by means of the narrowest of spiral staircases, from where the queue started for a chance to kiss it.
We hurried through the gardens to the castle, spotting the very first “no drones” sign along the way. Interesting, that! We climbed the steep stone steps, realising as we went that most of the coach party wouldn’t have been able to make it up there, to the least accessible of places. Sure enough, when we reached the top, there were just twenty people in front of us. It wasn’t that we were in a rush, simply that we didn’t want to waste our whole morning standing in a line.
At least it gave us a chance to see what was what, how it worked and what one needed to do. More to the point, we could see how much help was offered – or not.
A set of rubber car mats were laid out by the hole in the wall and the potential kisser needed to lie down upon them and allow the chap in the red anorak to push them backwards and under the stone, to enable them to do a kind of sit up and kiss the stone above them. Having done so, Mr Red Anorak would pull them forwards again to get up quickly so the next person could take their turn. All rather physical, not desperately comfortable and heaven knows what infections are shared in the process!
I decided to keep my lurgy to myself. I didn’t fancy being pulled and shoved backwards through a hole in the wall high above the ground and my Hero had promised at least one friend that he wouldn’t do anything which might make him still more talkative. But our two friends had come half way around the world to do this, so we supported, photographed and congratulated them before returning the way we’d come and reflecting what a rip off it is. We stood and watched those in the queue behind us and discussed what they might have done differently had they but known…
On the way back down, we imagined we’d look at other parts of the castle…except there were none. Basically, it’s simply a tower with a few empty “rooms”. So, we made our way back to the car park and over to the Blarney Woollen Mill which came highly recommended by the staff at our hotel a couple of nights ago.
Now, we’ve perused one or two “Irish” shops and are beginning to feel familiar with the kinds of items we’re likely to find there.
Sure enough, here were the woollen blankets.
Errrmmmm, the leprechauns…
The aran sweaters…and so on. Exactly the same as we’ve seen everywhere else, just in greater quantity! We decided we needed nothing more than a cup of coffee and having satisfied that need, we jumped in the car and headed off to our next destination.
We were heading to Waterford, about an hour and a half away. A police roadblock aroused our curiosity but thankfully we sailed through that one and continued on our merry way.
If there’s anything we’ll remember from driving around this part of Ireland it will be the glorious views of distant hills. Layer upon layer of hills in this case.
Oh, and wide stretches of water which we can never be sure are sea or lough. And yes, those skies. The skies with clouds. Plenty of clouds at times!
Shortly after lunchtime we were there in Waterford. Having checked into our hotel, it was time to take a look around.
The Medieval city centre is quite compact and our immediate impressions were good. Here was a city with life and spirit, in better shape than we’d found Cork to be and with an instant charm and kerb appeal.
We walked a while, spotting interesting things on walls. Who knew?
Fancy, Frederick Douglass came here too! He was one of the ongoing themes of our Road Trip last year and has continued to pop up here and there in all kinds of surprising places.
We were heading across the road, hoping to get there before that big black cloud deposited a rain shower upon us.
It’s the Waterford Crystal Centre and though we’d read that production was no longer focused here in Ireland, there is still a strong presence here and we looked forward to taking a look around.
We spent half an hour or so in the showroom whilst waiting for our tour to begin, admiring some of the displays, confirming to ourselves that some of the things were simply not our style and making a small purchase!
I took a few photographs of cut glass patterns, imagining them as quilting designs.
Our tour began at the start of the manufacturing process, with the wooden moulds created for the one-off, special pieces. These would be soaked in water before what is likely to be the one single use, because most were for commemorative pieces, trophies or awards and it’s these special pieces which appear to be the main product of the Waterford base. So, we spotted the mould from the Irish Open Golf amongst others.
I always love the design process and the sight of drawings on the desk drew me over. This design is for an American football trophy.
Every cut is calculated and drawn out on these one off, complex pieces and a custom made mould constucted.
Next, we were in the factory, watching craftsmen blow the glass into the mould to create the piece.
This piece is being moulded in a standard shape, so a metal mould is used. It will then go into a temperature controlled oven and be cooled very slowly indeed to prevent it breaking.
Once cooled, it goes into the finishing process and the quality carefully checked.
This man is finishing the rim of the glass, inside and out. It’s a slow and labour intensive process.
Anything with an air bubble or slight inconsistency is rejected.
The rest goes to be marked up. Some of the more complex patterns are drawn freehand and the one off pieces have every single cut marked.
The cutters serve a long apprenticeship and are very skilled in cutting the patterns. Working on a glass appeared intricate, but not as difficult as…
cutting a larger piece!
Other pieces were cut by a computer controlled cutter, in a cabinet.
Finally, we were able to see some examples of the finished work, following engraving, sandblasting and polishing.
Just across the road we found the Church of Ireland cathedral so popped our heads around the door for a look around. It was a beautiful space with a lovely, peaceful atmosphere and sure enough, a set of exquisite Waterford Crystal chandeliers.
From there, we wandered back to the hotel, spotting another interesting wall plaque along the way.
Finally, we popped into the Catholic cathedral, the roof of which we can see from our room. Another lovely, peaceful space.
Sure enough, there too was a fine set of chandeliers to admire.
We plan to explore a little more of Waterford tomorrow, when I anticipate sight of a few more bits of crystal. For now, we’ll make the most of our last few days in Ireland and hope the sunshine will hold out.