It's a rite of passage when visiting Ireland to Kiss the Blarney Stone. It took us four visits for us to finally make it to Blarney Castle located just outside of Ireland's second largest city, Cork. But we made it and we were glad! We had wanted to kiss the Blarney Stone forever, but itineraries and schedules never let us make a detour to try our luck at the gift of the gab. But during this past trip to the Emerald Isle, we made sure not to miss it.
When we arrived at the castle, we expected to walk up to the stone, kiss it and move on. But there is so much more to Blarney Castle than just kissing a sacred stone.
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Blarney Castle History
Blarney Castle is one of those magical castles that take your breath away when you first enter. We've seen a lot of castles in our travels, but something about Blarney is special. The moment you witness the view, you can feel the magic in the air. It's in excellent condition standing proud over picturesque parklands spanning 60 acres. Built six centuries ago, the Blarney Castle is family owned and operated. Built in 1446 the third of three castles standing on this site was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster and has been standing ever since and kept running by his descendants who still live on the grounds today.
The Blarney Stone came to be when Robert the Bruce of Scotland (we all remember him from Braveheart) won a famous victory over England's Edward II at Bannockburn. The MacCarthys provided 5,000 infantry to help him in this triumph and as a reward for their help, Bruce gave them a piece of the Stone of Destiny, the stone on which the Kings of Scotland were crowned. The Irish are excellent storytellers and there are many legends of how the Blarney Stone came to be, but this is my favourite story and our guide told us that the other half is on display somewhere in London protected under glass.
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But how did the Blarney Stone become a stone to kiss?
We were told that Cormac Teige McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, received requests many requests from the Queen of England for him to sign his land over to her. McCarthy had the gift of the gab and regularly sent letters flittering around the issue but adorning the Queen with flattery saying he would gladly pledge his loyalty to the queen. Eventually the Queen saw through his messages and flung his letter aside shouting “He's just giving me more of his blarney!”
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See our video! Dave and Deb Kiss the Blarney Stone
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And so the magical power of the Blarney Stone began. If you make a pilgrimage to Kiss the Blarney Stone, you will be granted the gift of eloquence and will be able to talk your way out of everything. Dave and I both kissed the stone, so something tells me, we're going to have a hard time coming to a conclusion on who wins our next argument!
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Do People Pee on the Blarney Stone?
Contrary to popular belief, locals do not pee on the Blarney Stone. When we said we were going to Kiss the Blarney Stone, everyone told us they'd never do it because locals pee on it. We wanted to get to the bottom of this controversy so we had to see for ourselves.
First of all, when you visit the Blarney Stone, you have to pay a fee, the castle is owned and operated by a private family, and you have to walk up 114 steps to get to the Blarney Stone. During opening hours, there are two men working at the Blarney Stone at all times. One holds on to the person leaning back to kiss the stone and the other takes photos of people. When the Blarney Castle is closed nobody can go inside.
When we asked our guide about the Blarney Stone peeing myth, he said that locals used to try to get a rise out of tourists at the pub when they said they kissed the stone. Locals would reply, “Oh yeah, well you know what I did on the stone last night?” And that is how it all began.
So on to more important things.
The Blarney Castle and Gardens
When you visit the Blarney Castle, be sure to spend at least an afternoon touring the castle gardens. There is a poison garden fit for a royal family looking to eliminate their rivals. Filled with plants like Mandrake, Ricin,Wolfsbane, and Opium the gardens go back to a time when plants were used to treat ailments and relieve illnesses. I tend to watch a lot of movies and TV so I imagine a darker time when kings and queens were poisoned by their loyal servants looking to succeed the throne. Or maybe I've just been watching too much Game of Thrones.
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The McCarthy's had a witch living on their land who advised them and told them of the powers of the Blarney Stone. Visitors can leave a coin and ask the witch to grant their wish. But don't worry, it is said she only comes out at night when the castle grounds are closed. But you can tour her kitchen where a famous chef once cooked a pot of porridge or you can witness the sacrificial stone set at the top of the path.
If you are brave enough to walk down the wishing steps backwards with your eyes closed thinking of nothing but your wish, that wish will come true in a year!
When walking through the Fairy Glade there are signs telling you to keep a eye out. You don't want to step on any mischievous fairies today.
Kissing the Blarney Stone is a popular adventure. Try something unique and visit Skellig Michael too.
I had just finished saying to Dave that we could spend all day on the castle grounds, when I heard a group of young american guys saying the same thing. It's an attraction for all ages to visit the Blarney Castle. Millions may flock to Kiss the Blarney Stone, but it's the Blarney Castle gardens and grounds that make it special.
Note: We visited Blarney Castles in February and barely saw another soul. If you visit in the summer, we hear the lines are agonizingly long. We walked up the narrow steps of Blarney Castle straight to the top and didn't have to wait a moment to kiss the stone. If you go during the off season, you will have the stone all to yourselves and a clear and quiet scene to walk the paths and soak in the magic and mystery of Cork's Blarney Castle.
Blarney Castle Fast Facts
It's 128 narrow steps to walk up to Kiss the Blarney Stone. But there are many stops along the way where you can view rooms and read little facts about Blarney Castle. Even Winston Churchill Kissed the Blarney Stone!
Admission to the castle grounds €13. This gets you into the gardens and inside the Blarney Castle where you can kiss the stone.
Blarney Castle is open all year round.
It is located 8 km from Cork and is a 3-4 hour drive from Dublin.
Make sure to bring a Euro or two for the guide helping you kiss the Blarney Stone. He makes sure you are safe and sound.
You have to lean back to kiss the Blarney Stone and you are very high. Be prepared if you are afraid of heights.
For more information on tickets and opening times visit the Blarney Castle Website.
Our trip to Ireland is in Partnership with the Lonely Planet and Tourism Ireland. Stay tuned for our upcoming Video on the Lonely Planet youtube page.