Armchair Adventures: Blarney Stone & The Gift of Gab

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Blarney Castle
Image of Blarney Castle by Dahlia E. Akhaine for Unplash

By Evelyn Kelly, PhD 

Our Irish travels have led us to Cork, the largest and southernmost county in Ireland. To the Northwest is Blarney Castle, home to the Blarney Stone and our exciting adventure. My daughter Natalie and I had no idea what it meant to “kiss the Blarney Stone” or even what it was.  

Blarney Castle is an old run-down grey box with a tower beside it. Vines cover the walls and evergreen trees surround it. A gentleman named Cormac MacCarthy built the castle in the 15th century on the advice of a witch whose life he saved. 

At the entrance to the tower is the first of 127 steps in a narrow passageway. As we make our way up the claustrophobic tower stairs, behind us we hear screams and cries. A woman is having a panic attack from the close walls and the staff must guide her back down for medical attention. We continue up slowly, breathing in and out to keep calm. 

Related: Armchair Adventures: The Secrets of Count Dracula’s Castle

Then comes a narrow ledge along the wall. We hold tightly onto the rail, as there is nothing on the side to keep you from falling into the deep. There is a short wait, and we watch other courageous people emerge from kissing this block of limestone built onto the battlements in 1446. We learn that battlements are the rectangular gaps in the walls to allow soldiers to launch their arrows. 

Next is Natalie’s turn. She lies on her back on a small, wheeled cart that will push her over to the stone. Her shoulders and head are over an 85-foot drop. The attendants tell us not to worry, they will hold her feet and there are metal bars in the wall to hold onto. We’ve come this far, so she gives the stone a quick peck and then we head back down the same narrow stairway. 

Kissing the stone is supposed to endow a person with the gift of eloquence and gab. “Blarney” – it’s both a noun and a verb – is “talk that aims to charm, pleasantly flatter or persuade.” It is reported that the word came into use when a member of the McCarthy family visited Queen Elizabeth I to attempt to forestall the Queen removing the McCarthys title to their land. McCarthy chattered constantly until the Queen grew exasperated and uttered that she was “hearing Blarney.” 

Why kissing this stone should make a person eloquent is ultimately unclear, though there are several legends including one about the goddess Cliodhna, who told Cormac MacCarthy, the builder of Blarney Castle, to “kiss the first stone he saw” one morning on his way to court, and he would surely prevail. He did, and he was successful, thus creating the legend. (But there is also speculation that the Blarney Stone was once part of the deflector stone at the bottom of a toilet, so really, who’s to say?) 

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