Any visit to Ireland is an endeavour that is steeped in history, legend, and with a little mystery thrown in, and when it comes to the Blarney Stone it’s hard to know what’s true.
Some say that the stone was Jacob’s Pillow and was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah, taken to the Hill of Tara where it was used as a throne of Irish Kings – its been called Lia Fail or the Stone of Destiny. Its also been rumored that it was the deathbed pillow of St Columba on the isle of Iona.
If the name Stone of Destiny sounds familiar, that is because according to legend the stone was moved to Scotland where it became the Stone of Scone and the thrown seat of early Scottish Kings. When Robert the Bruce defeated the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, he broke up the stone and gave a piece to Cormac MacCarthy, the King of Munster, in gratitude for his help at the battle. Blarney Castle as it exists today was rebuilt in 1446 from the earlier wood and stone fortification and Cormac Laidir MacCarthy incorporated the Blarney Stone into the battlements.
Another legend is that it is the Stone of Ezel, which David used to hide from King Saul, and that it was brought to Ireland during the Crusades.
Regardless of whether any of these stories contain any truth, the reason so many visitors come is that kissing the stone is supposed to give you the gift of the gab.
An old witch apparently revealed this secret to the MacCarthys after being saved from drowning by the King of Munster – the spell promised that if he were to kiss this stone, he would gain a speech that would win all to his side.
You should keep in mind though that more than 100,000 people go to kiss the stone each year so its not most hygienic of attractions. Germs don’t stay attached to stone for very long, and I’ve never heard of anyone getting sick, but besides waiting for a little rain, they don’t do very much to clean it. On the other hand, it’s a truly unique experience that you won’t get anywhere else and easily worth the minor risk.
Kissing the Blarney Stone has not always been as easy as it is now. The legend says that one pilgrim died trying to kiss the stone while hanging off the side of the castle. Nowadays, you climb to the top of the castle, sit on the ledge, lean back until your upside down (while holding a railing), and kiss the base of the stone. There is a steel cage just in case, but you’re also being guided back and held up by a friendly local man who has worked there for decades.
The word “blarney” has come to mean flattering talk that is meant to persuade or cajole people to your side, and is not genuine or sincere – it also means nonsense. This definition comes from the time of Queen Elizabeth I. She asked the Earl of Leicester to take control of the castle from the MacCarthy’s, and whenever the Earl attempted to negotiate, the then King of Munster would delay and distract with banquets and elaborate promises to avoid having to give it up despite his previous pledges to do so. The queen said she was fed up with his “blarney talk”.
However, the stories do not end there. Several archaeologists believe that the stone that people have been kissing for the past two centuries is not the real Blarney Stone at all, and that its actually somewhere else in the castle – these archaeologists believe that as tourism started to spread, the owners of the castle lied about where it was in order to pick a safer and more accessible location that would help their business.
Whatever the truth may be, the castle and gardens are beautiful, and its easily worth a short drive up from Cork.
What is your favourite bit of blarney? Tell us in the comments section below!