Visitors from all around the world have been kissing Ireland’s famous Blarney Stone for well over 200 years. Why? Legend claims the ritual will bestow the kisser with the gift of eloquence and persuasiveness, or “the gift of gab”. Easy. Seems like a simple task. Except this iconic stone in not sitting on solid ground. It’s set into the bottom of a castle parapet 90 feet above ground... at the top of Blarney Castle. And, you have to hang upside down and backwards to actually kiss it.
This popular, world-renown attraction can get extremely busy during peak hours. It's best to try to get to the castle early in the morning. We arrived late morning. There were slight showers and it was already packed. Don’t forget to purchase your parking ticket on the way in. You will need it when you leave.
Once you arrive, it's best to head straight for Blarney Castle. I know there are a lot of other things to see around the castle and gardens, but kissing the Blarney Stone should be first on your list. It is definitely a feat of endurance and should be tackled while you’re fresh and ready to go.
There is always a lineup to get into the castle. Expect a wait of at least an hour before you make it to the castle parapets. There are 127 hard and narrow stone steps to climb. I read that. I didn't count them. And once you start, you have to finish. One cannot go back down through the crowd coming up. Once you get to the top, there is a short lineup before it is your turn to kiss the Blarney Stone. Doing so requires you to lie on your back, grab hold of the two metal side bars and ease yourself back and down to the lowest stone of the parapet. I noticed most people don’t extend themselves enough to actually kiss the right stone. If you are going to do it, at least do it right.
Blarney’s Medieval Stronghold
Blarney Castle was originally a medieval fortress in Blarney, which is near Cork, Ireland. It is located where the River Martin meets Blarney River. Although no evidence exists, it is believed a wood structure or house once stood on this spot in the late 1100s. Sometime around 1210, the wooden structure was replaced by a stone fortification.
In 1446, King Dermot MacCarthy demolished most of the stone structure to build another structure, which is the famed castle we see today. MacCarthy installed the fabled Blarney stone in the bottom of one of the castle’s machicolations. If you don't know what a machicolation is, it's an opening between the corbels of a battlement, through which guards would drop stones and other stuff, such as boiling water or hot cooking oil, on attackers below.
The castle evoled and changed hands several times over the years. In the early 1700s, Sir St. John Jefferyes, the Cork City governor, purchased the property and built a mansion near the lake. The mansion is known as Blarney House. In the mid–1800s, the Jefferyes and Colthurst families were joined through marriage. Today, the Colthurst family still live on the land.
The Gift of the Gab Legend
Not surprisingly, there are many myths and legends surrounding Blarney Castle and Stone. According to the famous legend, anyone who kisses the stone is bestowed the gift of eloquence and persuasiveness. Believe it or not, but millions of people have come to Blarney just for that one quick smooch with a cold stone. Just how this tale originated is not really known. Here's a look at some of the legends.
One famous story involves the goddess Cliodhna, who was the Queen of the Fairies in South Munster. When Cormac MacCarthy was troubled by a lawsuit, he prayed to the goddess for help and she instructed him to kiss the very first stone he found on his way to court the next morning. MacCarthy did as he was told and kissed the first stone he saw. Supposedly, he was immediately able to speak with eloquence and later that morning, he pleaded and won his case in court. Afterwards, he brought the stone back to the castle and had it installed into the bottom of the castle’s parapet.
"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." - Irish politician John O’Connor Power
An often quoted story surrounds the Battle of Bannockburn. In 1314, Cormac MacCarthy gave Robert the Bruce of Scotland 5,000 soldiers from the Cork army to defeat an attack by England’s King Edward II. After winning the battle, Bruce presented the MacCarthy clan with the Stone of Destiny. Bruce claimed the stone was the first King of Scots throne during his coronation in back in 847. We know know this cannot be true as modern testing confirms the stone is originally from south part of Ireland.
Another fascinating tale involves Queen Elizabeth I. In 1586, she ordered the Earl of Leicester to seize Blarney castle from its then owner Dermot MacCarthy, who was a descendant of Cormac. Whenever the two met for negotiations, MacCarthy always managed to distract the Earl with banquets, entertainment and, of course, the gift of gab. The castle never was taken, and the Queen bitterly remarked that the Earl’s reports were nothing but “blarney”!
Witches were quite common back in the day. It is believed that a thankful witch rescued from drowning by the MacCarthys told them about the stone's magical powers in exchange for saving her life. Ireland being a land of legend and folklore, I like to believe the story of the witch saved from drowning myself.
Unlike bygone days, you don't have to worry about falling when kissing the stone today. There is a steel grate under the parapet, and someone is there to hold onto you just in case. Just be sure to empty out your pockets before you hang upside down! You don't want all your change and car keys falling on the people below.
Murder Room, Dungeon, Secret Caves and Passages
The castle is in partial ruin, but some rooms and battlements are accessible. You will have time to explore the castle more on the way down after kissing the stone.
The original tower is actually a tower house. It is one of the largest examples of its type in Ireland. Originally a tall, slender tower four storeys high, it was extended to a five-storey tower block during the sixteenth century. The original tower survives today as the block projecting from the northwest corner of the castle.
You enter the castle through the “murder room”. Here, if an unwelcome visitor showed up, the guards would drop rocks, boiling liquids or whatever else was available through a small square hole in the ceiling.
The MacCarthys built the encasing large, central rooms. The lowest level is the basement and then the Great Room. The floor of the Great Room no longer exists, but you can see where the beams would have been inlaid in the walls. The room above is the Family Room. The stone floor here is still intact. The rooms above the Family Room would have consisted of the Banquet Hall and Chapel, but the floors are long gone.
You enter the spiral staircase for your climb to the top of the castle through Earl’s Room and make your way past the Young Ladies Room, the Priest’s Room and the Kitchen. After kissing the Blarney Stone, you descend via a staircase on the other side of the castle.
Underneath the castle there is a dungeon, a cave, and some “hidden” passages. If it is raining, as it was on the day we visited, the low, narrow passage to the dungeon is wet and muddy. I went as far as I could before I would have had to crawl in the mud. Other passages are more accessible.
When Cromwell’s general, Lord Broghill, attacked the castle back in the 1600s, he fired down from Card Hill above the lake and broke the tower walls to gain access. On entering the castle, he only found two old trusty servants remaining. The main garrison escaped through Badgers Cave. Everyone was gone. Even the gold plate that Broghill hoped to find was gone with them. Legend says there are three such passages beneath the castle. One leads to Cork, one to the lake, and a third all the way to Kerry. But being in Ireland, that may just be blarney.
Before leaving, be sure to check out the grounds. There are 60 charming acres of parkland, gardens, avenues and arboretums with whimsical names such as The Seven Sisters, Druid’s Circle, Witch’s Cave and the Wishing Steps. There is a protected Poison Garden that contains poisonous plants, including opium and cannabis, from all over the world.
The Rock Close section of the gardens has a mystical feel to it, and in prehistoric times may well have been a place of Druid worship. Discover ancient artifacts like a sacrificial altar, a Witch’s Kitchen, and some Wishing Steps. It is said that if you walk down and back up the Wishing Steps backwards, and with your eyes closed, without stopping to think of anything else other than your wish, that it will certainly come true within a year. As it was wet and slippery, I didn’t try this.
Blarney House near the lake is open to the public. It is a Scottish, baronial-style mansion constructed in 1874.
At the end of your visit, you can rest and grab a bite to eat at the Café near the exit. There is also a Gift Shop if you want to buy some souvenirs.