Thursday, May 30, 2024

Kissing the Blarney Stone

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The Blarney Stone is a block of ancient limestone built into the battlements of Blarney Castle in Blarney, Ireland, about five miles from the city of Cork.

Blarney Castle was built by Cormac Laidir MacCarthy back in the 15th century. Several stories have been passed down that attempt to explain the power of the Blarney Stone and how it came into existence. One legend tells of Cormac Laidir MacCarthy being involved in a lawsuit and appealing to the Irish goddess of love and beauty, Cliodhna, to help him because he was not good at speaking and was afraid he would lose his case in court. She told him to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, and spoke eloquently in court, thus winning his case. He then had the stone set into the inner wall of a parapet surrounding the outer wall of the tower of the castle in 1446. Another version of the stone’s power involves Cormac Teige MacCarthy, who had a falling out with Queen Elizabeth I over rights to his land. He felt inadequate to speak before the Queen and was much concerned that we would not be able to convince her to change her mind. On the way to see the Queen, he met an old woman, and she told him that kissing a particular stone in Blarney Castle would give him the gift of eloquent speech. He followed her advice and persuaded the Queen not to take his land. Thus, kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give the kisser the “gift of gab” (or eloquence, flattery, and persuasiveness, and even the ability to deceive another person without offending him).

One has to kiss the Blarney Stone upside down, because that is the only way to reach the stone. It is not an easy or risk-free task. Rather inconveniently, the Blarney Stone was built into the east wall of the battlement 85 feet off the ground. To reach it, one has to climb 128 narrow stone steps. The participant then must lean backward on the parapet’s edge to kiss it and receive its gift. In the past, the person was held by the ankles and lowered over to kiss the stone. Now visitors can lie on a mat, lean down backwards, and hold on to two iron railings as they kiss the stone. Assistants are there to help visitors pull themselves back up. They may also sit on the visitor’s legs or lap to help keep them from sliding off the parapet. No one has ever died kissing the Blarney Stone, but a tragedy in 2017 made people think a little. A 25-year-old man died when visiting the castle in May of that year, but the incident occurred when he fell from another part of the castle. This incident led to some safeguards like iron guide rails and protective crossbars. Still, the Blarney Stone is located about 85 feet up, and the whole experience can trigger a fear of heights.

With 400,000 pairs of lips touching the Blarney Stone each year, it is certainly not sterile. The Blarney Stone is cleaned regularly by castle staff throughout the day (along with the mat, the iron bars, the railings, ropes, etc.), but it is just not cleaned between every kiss. This may help some who are aware of the little-known fact that the Blarney Stone was once part of a toilet, in fact, the deflector stone at the bottom of a toilet. Sorry …

Here are the names of a few famous people who have kissed the Blarney Stone: Sir Winston Churchill, Sir Mick Jagger, Stan Laurel (Oliver Hardy waited for him below), Sir Walter Scott, and Ronald Reagan. Even if you decide not to kiss the Blarney Stone, there are many other things and places to explore in the castle and its gardens (including a poison garden). The city of Cork is a short distance away and has an old gaol (jail) that features waxed figures and old graffiti. There is also an English Market nearby along with 11 of the best old pubs, 13 brunch places in Cork, and 15 of the best restaurants. There are historical sites :the Butter Museum, Elizabeth Fort, St. Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and Blackrock Castle.

One final note: According to tradition, at Texas Tech University, a stone fragment displayed on its campus since 1939 is a missing piece of the Blarney Stone, but no one seems to know how this was determined. (Ritz, Jennifer. “This is Texas Tech,” Texas Techsan Magazine. Lubbock, Texas: Texas Tech Alumni Association: 7 (7-25-2014)