Monday, November 5, 2012

We're Number One!

We have visited the #1 most-visited site in Ireland! At least five of them!

The Guinness Storehouse in Dulbin claims to be the most visited tourist site in Dublin and, as my Irish friend Brendan points out, they have the turnstyles at the entrance to count the proof. On the other hand, the Cliffs of Moher have existed and been famous for, well, millenia. So they have a pretty good claim, too, especially if you think of it as cumulative. The Blarney Castle claims #1 status; it's a cliche practically, but with steady streams of visitors for the past two hundred plus year, it seems vaguely plausible.

Even the Kylemore Abbey, which is remote, built in the 19th century, and only recently opened claims, to be the #1 visited site in West Ireland, in which the Cliffs of Moher and Blarney Castle are also located; clearly it does not stand a chance of actually being the #1 most visited site anywhere (except at Kylemore Abbey itself. Slogan: "Kylemore Abbey's #1 most visited site is...Kylemore Abbey!")

This morning, leaving our B&B in the coastal town of Kinsale, we stop at Fort Charles, where we discover it's the women who are No. 1. A stone placard makes it official. Yeah, women!

And then there is the Rock of Cashel, which you've probably never heard of unless you are really familiar with Irish history, but which, nevertheless, claims to be the most visited tourist site in Ireland this past year. I must say that this seems like the most dubious claim of all, and methinks somebody here has kissed the Blarney stone one too many times. The guide boasts that the new found popularity is due to the visit of Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh in May 2011.

queen/prince photos from

The good news for us is that while there is, frankly, not a snowball's chance that the Rock of Cashel is Ireland's most visited tourist site -- and we're here at low season on top of it all, so we practically have the place to ourselves -- it is at the very least a worthwhile stop. Even if one is not wearing a fetching hat.

The mostly 12th- and 13th-century remains were once the traditional seat of the Kings of Munster. The history of the place goes back before that to the 5th century, when it was the site of the original conversion of the first King of Munster by St. Patrick, himself, thereby bringing Christianity to Ireland.

Though legend has it St. Patrick rid Ireland of snakes, it turns out Ireland never actually had a snake problem, and that this is probably more metaphorical (meaning, he rid Ireland of paganism). We also learn the origin of the shamrock as a symbol of Ireland; it was here that in order to explain the tenets of Christianity, St. Patrick was supposed to have picked up a clover and showed how out of one stem (religion) came three leaves (Father, Son, Holy Ghost).


Traditions with this very old Celtic cross (actually, because of the deterioration, as you can see, the original has been moved inside and an equally-deteriorated facsimile has been left outside). Anybody who can hop around it in 9 hops (or is it 7?) will be married within the year. Naturally, the girls try and, I am happy to report, only get about 10% of the way around in 9 hops. So we're safe till they hit the double digits. Also, the reason Pippa is hugging it is because legend has it that anybody who can hug and get their arms to touch around the backside will never suffer from hangovers. I think it's a bit premature for the girls to be worrying about marriage or hangovers, but the Rock of Cashel is a wild and rockin' place. It's practically Las Vegas, as you can clearly see.

The cemetery outside the church ruins had a burial just last week, but there will only be a handful more. About 50 years ago, they decided that only people living in the area at that time whose parents were buried here could sign their name into a book and have the right to be buried here themselves. After that, no more descendents could ever claim this right. Over the years, of course, those whose names are inscribed have been buried here, with just a few remaining.

It's a beautiful place to be buried, with a stunning view over the sheep-filled fields and, of course, in the shadow of Ireland's number one most visited tourist site.

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