The Blarney Stone, Ireland
The man takes a hold of me as I lie down on my back. I grab two metal poles behind me and start to arch myself until my head is perpendicular to the rest of my body.
The man then starts to lower me down into a hole in the floor. This is not the most natural of feelings but these are the things you do to kiss the most famous stone in Ireland.
The man’s name is Dennis – I guess it’s appropriate to at least be on a first name basis with someone holding me so intimately as I share my saliva (albeit with an inanimate object). He’s seen his fair share of strange things from his perch up here on the top of Blarney Castle.
“When someone takes a dive at the stone,” is his answer when I ask about weird things that happen.
“It never happens with a lady, it’s always with a man. He comes down here, he’s very quiet and nothing happens and when he comes here, it’s a dive he does. And he’s never small. He’s always big. I can’t tell you the words I use in my own mind – they’re not gracious words!”
The Blarney Stone has become one of the most iconic symbols of Ireland, as far as foreign tourists go, but a lot of people are never really sure how to picture it.
Is it a boulder set apart from the other buildings?
A grand piece of art in the entrance to the castle?
Or displayed on a table in one of the rooms?
Well, no, none of them. It is at the very top of the castle and, after the climb up the very narrow circular stone staircase, even then it’s hard to see.
It’s tucked away down the far end, a brick in a wall beneath the level you would walk. You would never spot it there if you weren’t told where to look – and, as Dennis explains, that’s the whole point.
“It came from Jerusalem during the crusades and was given as gift here,” he says.
“It was part of an altar stone. In the completion of this castle in 1446 it was built in there and the reason was safekeeping as the tribes of the time wanted to take it, right?”
There are many legends about the Blarney stone but they all involve the ‘gift of the gab’.
One story is that the Lord of Blarney was being asked by Queen Elizabeth I to give up his land and he wasn’t sure he’d be able to persuade her otherwise. But after kissing the stone he was able to talk her out of her demand.
Another is of a man who had a speech impediment and when he kissed the stone he was suddenly (and apparently miraculously) able to talk normally.
Of course, this could have had something to do with the old method of kissing which involved being held by the ankles and dangled off the side of the castle. That would surely shock the words into your mouth!
Blarney Castle, Ireland
These days it’s much safer and there’s absolutely no risk of falling from the top of the castle – but there were still some people in front of me who were too scared to go through with it.
Luckily for them, the trip would not have been a waste because there are plenty of other things to see.
Blarney Castle itself is an interesting old building which has been left in a state of disrepair. There are no renovations or restorations – just an old stone shell you can explore at your leisure.
There are also large beautiful gardens surrounding the castle, a small collection of poisonous plants (with appropriate warnings), a rock garden, and a large mansion which is open to the public.
As I leave, I try to decide whether I have become chattier as a result of my passionate embrace with a wall. I’m unable to work it out and it’s not until I settle down at a restaurant in the nearby city of Cork to ponder it, beer in hand, I decide I have. Although that could just be the beer talking.