I sat down at the edge, reached my hands over my head and leaned back to grasp the cold metal bars as firmly as my sweaty palms would allow. A man I had met less than 10 seconds before held me steady as I shuffled my hips back over the hole and dangled headfirst down into a gap in the roof terrace 27 metres above the ground.
“You’re there,” a lilting Irish accent that sounded far away over my heart pounding in my ears said. I opened my squeezed shut eyes a mere slit and strained to touch my lips to the cold, grey rock in front of me. A slightly strangled sounding “ok” emerged from my throat and in a flash I was right side up again, sitting at the top of Blarney Castle, Ireland.
I’d heard of the Blarney Stone but no one told me I’d be slung over the top of a castle to give it a smooch!
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The location of the Blarney Stone
It was the last day of a mother/daughter dream-come-true Ireland road trip during my working holiday in the UK and we were in the south is Ireland, driving from Killarney to Cork, which would take us past Blarney Castle, where the stone can be found. How could we bypass one of the most popular tourist destinations in Ireland?
The stone has essentially made Blarney Castle one of Irelands most famous, as so many people still travel there to see the “kissing stone of Ireland”.
Why do you kiss the Blarney Stone?
The Blarney Stone is, well, a stone that’s essentially said to have special powers. If you haven’t heard of it before it might sound a bit strange, but kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give you “the gift of the gab”, or a persuasive speaking ability.
The legend of the Blarney Stone is shrouded in a bit of mystery, with no one account ringing true. One legend is the castle’s original owner, Cormac Laidir McCarthy, was told by a goddess to kiss the first stone he saw on his way to court to fight a case, and he won with great eloquence, causing him to install the stone in the top of the castle. The other is that Queen Elizabeth I wanted to take away the land rights of Cormac Beige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney. He managed to talk so much and so well that she referred to all this speaking as “Blarney” and let him keep his land.
The likes of Winston Churchill are said to have made the climb to kiss the Blarney Stone, and what better company to be in than one of the greatest speakers of the 20th century?
“Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit. Those who mix with Irish folk have many examples of it in their everyday experience.” John O’Connor Power, Irish Politician
How do you kiss the Blarney Stone?
While I’d heard of it before, I must have blocked out the part about HOW to kiss the Blarney Stone.
First, there’s the climb up a very small and narrow staircase, at times holding on to a rope. There are various rooms still intact on the way and we ducked into some, trying to imagine how people could live in all this stone.
The actual kissing the Blarney Stone part is pretty well explained above – you sit at the gap where the stone is, lean back and grab the metal bars, hold on for dear life and lower yourself down to kiss the stone, while someone holds you just in case. Not sure who’s holding him…
There is a stone there, that whoever kisses,
Oh! He never misses to grow eloquent:
‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,
Or become a member of Parliament.
Francis Sylvester, Irish Bard
How to visit Blarney Castle and the Blarney Stone
By a bit of luck (it’s Ireland after all) we managed to be the only people in Blarney Castle when we visited. There were a few people in the gardens but we explored the castle and were at the top to kiss the stone with no one to wait behind. A stark contrast to what I’d heard about a line curving from the stone down the narrow staircase to the ground floor!
Visit in off-season
Our road trip around Ireland was in early February. Yes it rained, and we were nearly blown off the Cliffs of Moher (they may or may not have been “closed”…) but it didn’t matter. Ireland has a reputation for rain and cloud, and what’s wrong with seeing it like that? I love winter travel because popular sites like this are usually much quieter, like when I visited Paris in January.
We left Killarney early and arrived at Blarney Castle before 9am. It would be just as easy to do so from Cork. There were no tour buses yet, although there are probably less at that time of year as well. Ireland isn’t that big, you could drive from a number of places and arrive early enough to beat the buses. I’d recommend hiring a car in Ireland if you can!
Other things to do at Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle is famous for the Blarney Stone, but that’s not all there is to see. The gardens are beautiful and 9-year old me jumped for joy at visiting spots like the Fairy Glade and Rock Close, site of an ancient stone that apparently still rocks every now and then, although it is too heavy to be moved by a person or the wind.
My other favourite part of Blarney Castle was the Wishing Steps. I’m a bit of a sucker for superstitions and especially wishing ones. The first star you see at night, 11.11, throw in a coin, I’m there. For the Wishing Steps, you have to close your eyes and climb up and down the stairs, keeping only a wish in your mind that will then come true within a year. Difficult? Um, yeah. It took me at least a couple of tries!
So did kissing the Blarney Stone give me the “gift of the gab”?
Well, I haven’t had any major tests, like trying to become a politician or anything…
Having trained as a lawyer at university probably already helped my debating and persuading skills, and although sometimes I’m a little nervous, I’ve never had a problem talking to anyone new when I’m travelling! So maybe for me, kissing the Blarney Stone is just a little extra confidence in my own abilities. If I am ever nervous about having to speak in front of people or be persuasive, I can remember this great experience and just maybe have a bit of Irish luck with me.
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