Jesse Detzler is a student at Washington State University and an official API Student Blogger. Jesse is studying abroad with API in Limerick, Ireland.
There are several things that are completely “Irish.” Those few things that every person thinks of when someone mentions the Emerald Isle. I am sure you can think of them: Leprechauns, shamrocks, Guinness, and…the Blarney Stone.
Before I left for my trip, these were the things that people kept reminding of. My future sister-in-law asked me to catch her a leprechaun. However, she failed to mention what I should do with his gold, so I guess I can do with that what I will. Everyone mentioned the fields of clover, and while I haven’t seen fields yet, I have certainly seen patches of clover. Several people mentioned that I had to try Irish Guinness, which I tried (And which incidentally tastes much better than Guinness in America. Maybe that is just because I was in an Irish pub listening to traditional Irish music, surrounded by Irishmen.) Finally, there was the Blarney Stone. Every person who mentioned anything about Ireland brought up kissing the infamous stone. Honestly, I didn’t even know what the stone was, where it was in Ireland, or why kissing it gave you the “gift of gab.” Now I have kissed it, and I am much enlightened.
The Blarney Stone lies at the top of Blarney Castle in County Cork, Ireland. Long before we got to the top of the castle, we had to travel through the grounds. Everything there felt like I was in some fairy tale, or perhaps in one of the books of C.S. Lewis. Even in late winter, everything was green and the garden had many ancient mysteries to be explored. There was the witch’s chimney where in days past, a witch resided and granted wishes to anyone who could walk up and down her wishing steps backwards with their eyes closed. I don’t know if my wish was granted, but the walk up the wishing steps was a fun experience. Also, there was Druid stones and a Druid circle. The Druid circle was not terribly circular, so I couldn’t quite tell which boulders might have magical powers and which were natural. I avoided touching them all, just in case.
Once past the world of Druids and witches, I came to an area that was truly magical: the castle gardens. Archways of vines appeared to be entranceways to the Vale of Fairies. If there was anyplace where leprechauns might reside, it was here. There were trees, bushes and daffodils sprouts everywhere. My only regret is that I visited at the end of winter. I would love to return in the true spring when all the flowers are open and the bushes are in bloom. Then I would have truly wandered into a land of elves.
After some time, I had to leave the gardens behind and approach the main attraction: the castle itself. As far as castles go, Blarney Castle was a little less impressive. (from my infinite knowledge of all two castles I have seen in my life) The castle wasn’t renovated like Bunratty Castle, so instead of seeing impressive halls with whitewashed walls, we saw bare stones. Truth be told, after the ancient mysticism of the surrounding grounds, I think that I would have been disappointed if the castle had been remade.
However unmade the castle was, it was still a structure that had been created for one purpose: defense. There were arrow slits for firing down upon enemies, though how on earth a grown man fit to fire any kind of weapon, I will never know. Also, there were several murder holes above key entranceways, where I struggled with the urge to drop a penny on someone’s head, just give to them a shock. And again, there were the delightful spiral staircases. For someone who is almost six and a half feet tall, it was not entirely the most enjoyable experience, but well worth what awaited at the top.
The Blarney Stone! The stone itself is built into part of the battlements. To kiss the stone, you have to lay on your back and bend over backwards, with your head hanging over nothing but open space. It might be a little much for those afraid of height, but there is always someone there to hold you to make sure nothing bad happens. It is part of Ireland and you can’t say that you went to the Emerald Isle without kissing the stone. Do I have the gift of gab now? I have no idea, but asking my friends would probably get you a more honest answer.
My trip to the castle ended with the caves beneath. This was probably my favorite part of the whole trip. Typical me, to complain one minute about low ceilings, then say that being in a three foot high cave was my favorite part. As a child, I was always crawling into strange places, getting dirty, and cramming myself into places where my family never expected to find me, so encountering these caves were a special treat. Crouching in the cave made me feel like the creature Gollum, sitting in his dark cave. All around, there was water dripping and sunken pits filled with water I had to avoid. Emerging felt like I was leaving the Misty Mountains and about to face the horrors of Mirkwood. Instead, what greeted me were some friends who couldn’t help but chuckle at the mud stains on my pants.
When people speak of Ireland, they always say that it is an island of magic, where it is possible that legends still walk the earth. If this is true, and if this is what you seek, then Blarney Castle is the place to visit. With ancient spells, beautiful gardens, mysterious caves, and one magic stone, a trip to Blarney Castle is truly a trip to fairyland.