Do you remember your first kiss? The first kiss I got yesterday gave me more than just butterflies in my stomach; it bestowed on me the gift of eloquence, or as some call it, the gift of talking your way out of anything (why do you think the Irish are known as such charmers)! Yes folks, I kissed the Blarney Stone! But, it isn’t as simple as leaning over and kissing a rock; you have to be lowered down the side of the very top of Blarney Castle and held on to by someone as you cling for dear life onto the iron rails sticking out of the wall above your head. Terrifying, right? But I did it! I conquered one of the world’s 99 things to do before you die and joined the millions of visitors over the past hundred years who have kissed the stone. Even Winston Churchill’s lips have been graced by the stone! The term blarney actually means “clever or flattering” as in a way with one’s words. As Irish politician John O’Connor Power once said, “‘Blarney is something more than mere flattery. It is flattery sweetened by humour and flavoured by wit. Those who mix with Irish folk have many examples of it in their everyday experience.” There are many stories explaining the origin and meaning of the stone, but the one story that everyone holds true is the stone’s powers of bestowing the gift of the gab.
Blarney Castle is the first castle I’ve gotten to actually go into while on this trip, and let me tell you these pictures do not do it justice. First off, the thing is MASSIVE! It towers over the tops of the trees and if you are brave enough to climb the incredibly steep winding staircase all the way to the parapet where the stone sits, then you can see a spectacular view of the rolling green hills of County Cork. Although the castle has seen many renovations through the centuries, much of the original stone castle still stands in place. The original stone structure was built in 1446 by Cormac Laidir McCarthy, but even before that there stood a wooden structure built in the 13th century as a hunting lodge. Through nearly 600 years this castle has seen wars, besieges, and many families and visitors, and yet still it stands tall with all of its history seen in the names and dates carved into the castle’s stone walls.
What I wasn’t expecting to find at Blarney was all the other attractions to see! The grounds of the castle boasts two beautiful waterfalls, flower gardens, a poison garden, a pond, walking trails, and even an area called the Rock Close where magic and mystery dwells. The entire grounds looked like a whimsical enchanted forest; at times I felt like I had come straight out of the pages of Alice in Wonderland or Snow White.
In the Rock Close, the legends say there lives a witch who has lived on the castle grounds for centuries and could have been the one to tell McCarthy of the powers of the Blarney Stone. Tourists can see the ruins of her kitchen built into a giant rock, there is a stone that forms the shape of a witch’s face, and there is even a rock that sits balanced on the points of two smaller rocks which could have only gotten there by somehow being lifted (not very likely) or… magic.
The legend I found best of all in those enchanted woods were those of the Wishing Steps. The legend says that the witch must grant each of the visitor’s one wish in return for the wood she uses from the castle grounds to heat her fires. However, in order to fulfill this wish, the visitor has to walk up and down the wishing steps with their eyes closed, thinking of nothing else but their one wish. If they can do this, then their wish will come true for the rest of the year. It is a difficult task to do, let me tell you! The stairs are uneven and you walk into a dark cave, but I did it. The best part of it all was right after, when I was walking on the trail, I saw a fox sitting in the middle of the path just staring at me. I swear it was the witch.
After the castle, I set off and explored a bit of Cork City. It is the second largest city in Ireland, next to Dublin, and yet “city” is still a very loose definition of it. But, there is a lot of history in Cork, and I would definitely recommend taking a hop on hop off tour to see the city’s attractions. I did not, and my friends and I ended up walking about 12 miles in total to see all of the historic sites. We got our exercise in for sure, but we were exhausted by the end of the day. Just to highlight a few of the unique structures in the city, here is the original Red Abbey tower, below is one of the many beautiful churches you can see throughout Cork, and the old Cork City Gaol (jail) filled with history and writings on the walls done by the rebels who helped Ireland gain it’s independence. It is an incredible feeling to be walking through all this history!