Probably the most iconic (and touristy) thing to do in Ireland is to kiss the blarney stone. In fact, I think it’s mandatory. They won’t let you out of the country until you do it.
Sometimes, the touristy attractions draw a crowd for valid reasons. The theory around the blarney stone, of course, is that kissing it rewards you with “the gift of the gab”. Although, when we told friends and family that we were going to go kiss the blarney stone, they all agreed that neither of us needed help in that department.
The blarney stone, is located in Blarney Castle, about 8km northwest of Cork. We decided that the best course of action was to show up to the castle just before opening time. We suspected that the blarney stone probably gets hosed off and scrubbed very night, or before the next group of tourists arrive in the morning. Either way, we wanted to increase our chances of pressing our lips on a relatively clean stone.
The first building on this site was built in the 10th Century, and constructed out of timber. Around 1210 a stone structure replaced it, which was later demolished. Blarney Castle, as you see it now, was built in 1446, by the McCarthys of Muskerry.
The castle was attacked during the Irish Confederate Wars, and seized in 1646. But after the Restoration, the castle once again became property of the McCarty family. Ownership changed hands numerous times over the following years.
The castle sits on an 8-meter rock cliff. This same rock was quarried for the construction of the castle.
This is the North-facing wall. There is a visible seam in the wall which indicates that the castle was built in stages. The oriel window looks into the Earl’s bedchamber. To the left of the seam, you can see three square holes in the wall. These are garderobe outlets – a very fancy term for medieval latrines. Everything just kind of….splooshed out of these holes, often into a cesspit or moat beneath.
The castle is mostly a ruin now, but you can explore the interior on your way to the Blarney Stone, which is set high up in the battlements.
Be mindful on these stairs, which are twisty, narrow (people had smaller feet back then) and uneven! It seems like every castle, fort, church and cathedral across Europe and the U.K. has at least one set of similar spiral staircases. They always make me dizzy and I almost always trip at least once on my way up.
This is the interior of the castle as it looks now. Not so impressive, maybe, but I bet it was quite beautiful in its day. The Family Room was originally decorated with ornate stucco and a plaster ceiling.
The castle ruins are nice, but of course, everyone comes here for one sole purpose – pressing their lips to a stone that millions of people before them have smooched.
The history of the blarney stone is foggy at best. While the stone has been part of Blarney Castle since 1446, its origins are still unknown. One of the more endearing legends states that it was once a piece of the Stone of Scone, the coronation seat for the monarchs of Scotland. When Robert the Bruce of Scotland battled England’s Edward II at Bannockburn in 1314, the McCarthy’s, the original inhabitants of Blarney Castle, sent 5,000 men to fight alongside him. As thanks, Robert the Bruce gifted the McCarthy’s with the stone. However, modern analysis has since debunked this theory.
Back in the day, in order to reach the stone to kiss it, visitors were held by the ankles and dangled head first over the battlements. Thank goodness those days are over! You do still have to check your dignity at the door though. Kissing the stone requires lying down, grabbing hold of two iron railings, and lowering your top half down and backwards into vast nothingness. Luckily, there are “helpers” to guide you. And to hold your shirt down to help maintain your modesty.
My initial attempt at kissing the stone missed its mark. I planted my lips on the stone – well, a stone – only to have the gentleman tell me that I’d just kissed a regular, old stone and I had to aim lower. The real Blarney Stone was even further down. It’s actually right at the base of this outer wall. My second attempt was successful, and I shimmied back to safety.
Once Mark and I kissed the stone, we were free to admire the spectacular views from the battlements.
We spent the rest of the morning and afternoon strolling through the gardens and grounds surrounding the castle. This is a lookout tower:
There are several gardens on the premises to explore, including a poison garden, fern garden, and a water garden. We chose to just wander and see where the paths led us.
Along our walk we stumbled upon Blarney House. The original mansion here was built by Sir James St John Jefferyes, then governor of Cork City, after he purchased the castle in the early 1700s. When it burned down in a fire, this mansion was built to replace it in 1874.
I mean, can you even imagine living here? Just look at all the little decorative details on the facade.
There’s so much to see here that we honestly didn’t get to it all in one visit. There’s a lake, caves, gardens, and several walking paths. So even if you’re not interested in kissing the Blarney Stone (although, once you’re here, you may as well experience it), you can easily spend a day just exploring the castle and its extensive grounds.