The Blarney Stone is one of the most prominent and frequented tourist attractions in Ireland. Many tourists have traveled from far and wide to kiss the legendary stone for over 200 years, as it has been said that whoever kisses the Blarney Stone shall gain the “gift of gab.” Famous men, such as Oliver Hardy and Winston Churchill, have climbed the castle’s narrow passage to kiss the Blarney Stone, as have many writers, poets, painters, politicians and film stars – not to mention us mere common folk.
But do any of us really know the story behind this grand structure? What is it that draws us to the stone? What is its role in historic Blarney? Before you tread your way up towards one of the most celebrated pieces of Ireland’s history, there are a few things your should know about Blarney and the stone’s precious gift of gab.
Where can you find the Blarney Stone?
The Blarney stone is located in the highest of towers in Blarney Castle in Blarney, County Cork, Ireland. The Blarney Castle was built to replace an old wooden hunting lodge that was used by the Kings of Munster, serving as the most powerful fortress of its time. The castle was built by Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, and his clan (one of the most ancient clans in Ireland) in 1446 to provide safety in times of attack. Throughout the years, the Blarney Castle has become the most well-known and most photographed building in all of Ireland.
What’s all this “Blarney”?
It was Queen Elizabeth I who introduced the word blarney to the English language. It was her emissary, Sir George Carew, who was tasked to persuade the MacCarthy chieftain to abandon his rights and accept the authority of the English throne. Every time Carew tried, MacCarthy laid eloquent protestations of loyalty and flattery of the Queen, but did not accept her request. So, in frustration, Queen Elizabeth exclaimed, “this is all blarney. What he says, he never means.”
Do not make the mistake, however, that “blarney” is a variation of “baloney,” for blarney is used as the varnished truth, while baloney is used as the unvarnished lie. This misconception causes great confusion in relation to the stone and the power it holds.
To be clear: “blarney” is flattery laid on just lightly enough so that we enjoy it, while “baloney” is laid on so thickly we grow to hate it. According to Monsignor Fulton Sheen, “baloney is flattery laid on with a trowel. Blarney is flattery laid on with the lips; that is why you have to kiss a stone to get it.”
How did the stone get its power?
We know this power lies within a magical stone, but where did the stone come from? There are many different legends that try to answer this very question, having caused much debate throughout the centuries. Some say that the Blarney stone was the rock that Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. Others say that it had once been Jacob’s pillow, and brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. Another legend states that before MacCarthy was to stand trial, the goddess Cliodhna, Queen of the Banshees, advised him to kiss the first stone he saw on his way to the courthouse. Following her advice, MacCarthy kissed a stone and pleaded his case so articulately and persuasively that he won.
The most commonly accepted story, however, is that the Blarney Stone served as the Lia Fail or “Fatal Stone” which was used as an oracular throne of Irish Kings and was sent to Scotland during the Crusades to serve as the “Stone of Destiny;” the prophetic power of royal successions. The best comparison I’ve heard yet is that the Fatal Stone was like an ancient type of Sorting Hat (for all you Harry Potter fans).
It is said that the stone was then split in half and sent back to Blarney when MacCarthy sent his men to support Robert the Bruce in his defeat of the English in 1314. It wasn’t until many years later that a witch who was saved from drowning revealed the stone’s secret: “there is a stone there, that whoever kisses, Oh! He never misses to grow eloquent.”
How do you kiss the Blarney Stone?
To kiss the stone, you will cross a bridge to the castle, go around the grounds through a garden, and into an entrance on the right. There is a small gift shop where you can purchase a few trinkets before ascending to the top of the tower (or on your way back down). It is a tight passage that you must pass through and may make you feel slightly claustrophobic, but luckily you only pass through it once on the way up.
To kiss the stone, you lie on your back, hold onto the accompanying bars, lean as far backwards as you can, and place your lips onto the lowest stone. This task used to be quite daunting centuries passed, as participants would instead be held by the ankles over the very high drop where the stone is built into, showing just how valuable this gift really was. Luckily, in these modern times, the staff is very helpful and will aide you in your conquest to kiss the stone. Once you’ve finished, you can purchase a photo of your monumental kiss at the gift shop downstairs.
So whether you’re interested in the landscapes, the castle’s architecture, history, or to truly capture the gift of gab, the Blarney stone is an absolute must-see when you plan your trip to Ireland. Its story is known throughout the land, and is deeply embedded in Ireland’s culture and history. Whether myth, legend or just pure nonsense, an echoing from the bard Francis Mahony’s can prepare you for what’s in store once capturing this precious gift of gab:
A noble spouter he’ll sure turn out, or
An out and outer to be let alone;
Don’t try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,
For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney Stone.