I think it’s safe to say that most of us have at least heard of the Blarney Stone, even if we’re not exactly sure what it is or why people want to kiss it. It’s become so ingrained into popular tourist culture, that it’s just something we all feel we should do at some point in our lives. On a recent trip to Ireland I not only learned more about the famous stone, but I realized why it’s just the tip of a much more interesting travel destination.
Like many people who first visit Blarney Castle, I didn’t know a lot about the property apart from the Stone. Walking onto the grounds I was immediately stuck by the beauty of the castle and the gardens. The property is essentially a large park, with beautiful Blarney Castle rising up like an old stone. Also like most visitors, the Castle with its Stone was my first stop.
Today it is a familiar tradition for world leaders, actors and writers especially to kiss the Blarney Stone to gain the gift of eloquence. That’s a nice term for it; really it’s for the power to speak in a way that is coaxing, flattering and with purpose. The origins of the story though are up to some debate, but most agree it arrived at Blarney Castle, not far from Cork, in the 14th century as a prize for excellence on the battlefield and was later proved to the owners that the Stone did indeed imbue a skilled tongue.
The Stone is set in the wall of the old castle, now mostly in ruins, and is a great activity because it forces the visitor to explore more of this beautiful site. Climbing up the narrow staircase I waited in line with the other would-be-stone-kissers for my turn. Since the Stone is set into the wall, one has to lay down, with assistance, and lean back over a gaping hole in order to kiss the Stone itself. There are safety crossbars in place now, but it’s still not an activity for anyone with a fear of heights. Like many highly anticipated events, it was over before I knew it and I was left to discover the rest of the sprawling grounds of the Blarney Estate.
On the brochures at the Castle I noticed a theme in messaging; quotes like “Take your time,” and “Don’t be in such a hurry to see things,” did more than offer gentle admonishments to tourists, it signaled some of the challenges Blarney Castle faces. As I’ve alluded to, most visitors arrive in massive groups, kiss the Stone and then promptly leave. But after spending some time exploring the grounds, I can tell you what a huge mistake that is.
The weather was like most days in Ireland, overcast, a little misty, a little sunny but imminently comfortable. Walking along the path skirting beautiful gardens, it was as serene a place as I’ve ever been. There are several themed gardens around the property, meant to offer all ages some horticultural entertainment. It’s more interesting than it sounds, I promise.
The most famous of these is the Rock Close, an almost mystical place. Many believe it to be built on the site of an ancient druid settlement, and supposedly remains of that settlement can be seen today. An ancient Dolmen rock still stands at an impossibly precarious position, but does seem to hint at a far earlier prehistory to the site. More interesting I think though is The Witches Stone. A massive boulder that over time has taken the shape of a witch’s profile; legend has it that at night the witch takes human form and brave visitors can see smoke coming through the natural rock chimney. It’s not all eerie tales though, the Wishing Steps in the Rock Close grove are lucky and if you can manage to walk down them backwards with your eyes closed, locals say your wishes will come true.
Around the serene and lush grounds of the Castle are other gardens, like the Poison Garden and Fern Garden, ponds and even a peaceful woodland walk that leads to a circuit of the 21-acre Blarney Lake. The estate truly is massive and an entire day could be spent enjoying the pastoral solitude. Just pack a picnic, take the family and be at one with nature.
Many visitors though never see more than a glimpse of the other side of Blarney, which is a shame. If there’s one thing I learned about traveling around Ireland, it’s that the country’s natural beauty isn’t just one of its best features; the lush verdant forests, hills and pastures make Ireland one of the most beautiful places in the world.
Have you ever kissed the Blarney Stone?