Blarney Castle is More Than Kissing an Old Stone
Kissing the Blarney stone, a tradition for more than two centuries, is among the most famous legends in Ireland. We decided to give the old saliva-covered stone a smooch on our first tour of Ireland.
Actually, some of us just pretented to kiss the stone with hundreds of years of dried human saliva. But pretending was almost as fun as the real thing.
According to legend, anyone who kisses the stone atop Blarney Castle gains the gift of eloquence. It has been a beacon of hope for the introverts of this world. People still line up to kiss the stone today — sometimes waiting on steep castle steps for as much as three hours.
But kissing the Blarney Stone is only one reason to visit this major historical attraction in County Cork. The castle itself offers a rich lesson in Irish history, and the gardens surrounding the castle are a surprising bonus.
Dungeons and Upside Down People
Blarney Castle has existed in some form since the 10th century. The first building was made out of wood and replaced by a stone structure in 1210, according to the official castle website.
In 1446, Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, replaced it with the structure that stands today. It is now owned by Sir Charles St John Colthurst, the 10th Baronet of Colthurst, who lives in the nearby Blarney House.
Visitors who pass through the welcome gates of the estate will walk along a path, cross a bridge and see the castle suddenly towering over the surrounding trees and land a few hundred yards ahead.
The North Wall provides that first view. It sits on an eight-meter rock cliff that provided the quarry for building Blarney. Look for the casemented oriel window that projects outward from the Earl’s Bedchamber. The three square holes provided the outlets for lavatory wastes. Visitors no longer need worry about giving the grounds underneath them a wide berth.
The entrance path goes to the left and curves up. Just at the top, right before the gates, look up to see the battlements where the Blarney Stone resides.
Look up to see people hanging down
It is possible to see someone dropping their head and shoulders backwards over the edge of a hole in the castle wall to kiss the stone. At this point, their heads and backs are upside down over a 50-foot drop. It’s a disconcerting view.
Getting there requires climbing up through the castle. The inside of the castle is a series of small rooms and passageways that are largely empty. Rooms of note have plaques with information about their purpose.
At the lowest level under the tower house is the dungeon, which served as the castle’s prison. A nearby chamber may have housed the well that provided water during sieges.
One of the most dominant rooms in the castle is the three-story family room, which no longer has a roof. It does offer a view of the battlements and Blarney Stone above.
The climb to the top of the castle is somewhat tasking because of the number of steep and narrow steps. But getting to the top gives access to the Blarney Stone and a commanding display of the vibrant green countryside from the battlements.
Smooching the Old Stone
Anyone who wants to kiss the Blarney Stone (or pretend to do it) must lie on their back, arch their head and shoulders down through an opening in the battlement and kiss the stone on the outside wall.
The wall has two handrails for gripping. As another safety precaution, a castle employee holds the visitors and guides them in the proper way to arch back.
A pile of coins next to him indicates that tips are accepted and may enhance his grip.
To kiss or not to kiss
Some people actually kiss the stone; others (like this writer) wonder who else has kissed it and just pretend to kiss it instead. The thought that castle employees probably use anti-bacterial soap to keep the stone germ-free is no source of encouragement.
Sadly, after I pretended to kiss it, my wife assured me that I was less eloquent than ever before. Only pretending to kiss the stone has a risk.
Castle Gardens; Beware the Poisons
Kissing the stone and learning Irish history are not the only reasons to visit Blarney Castle. Another is the gardens, which are surprising in their size and beauty, but with one exception.
The Poison Garden next to the castle has poisonous plants from around the world, some of which stay in cages to protect visitors from touching them.
The less dangerous Fern Garden has more than 80 varieties. The 204-inch-high Dicksonia antarctica is the tallest species of fern in Ireland.
Trees of the arboretum stand everywhere and represent various rare species. Some of the trees are more than 600 years old.
Garden paths lead to Blarney House, which is visible from the battlements and home of Sir Colthurst. It is open to the public during the summer.
A double herbaceous border runs 90 meters long beneath an 80-meter rose pergola. To the west of the castle, look for the waterfall, water garden, Rock Close, Witches Stone, Witches Kitchen and Druids Cave.
For anyone with extra energy, the gardens also have a 20-minute riverside walk, a 45-minute lake walk and a 90-minute forest trail walk.
Hours, Directions and Prices
Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most famous attractions. It is a popular stop for both cruise visitors to Cork and especially to the many visitors to Ireland who spend a week or more touring the country.
Anyone starting their Ireland tour in Dublin will need three to four hours to reach Cork and may want to stop along the way at the Rock of Cashel as a way to break up the journey. Otherwise, take the N8 highway and follow the signs south for Cork and Blarney village.
From Monday through Saturday, the castle and gardens are open for tours from 9 a.m. to 6.30 p.m. during May, 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. from June through August, 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. in September, and 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. from October through April.
One Sundays, they are open from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. in the summer and 9 a.m. to sundown in the winter. Blarney House is open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Monday to Saturday, June 1 to Aug. 31.
Castle tour tickets are $18.00 Euros for adults, $14 Euros for students and senior citizens, $7 Euros for children ages 8 to 14 and $45 Euros for families of two adults and two children. Discounts are available online. Note that ticket prices are subject to change.
Blarney Village offers a small number of pubs and restaurants. Blarney Woollen Mills is a large retailer of Irish goods dating back to 1823.
Cork City is about six miles southeast of Blarney via N20. Attractions include Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral; the Cork City Gaol, a former prison and now a museum; Blackrock Castle, a 16th century castle that is now an observatory and visitors center; and English Market, the largest food market of its kind in Ireland and a fixture since 1788.
The village of Kinsale about 20 miles south on the coast is a fishing village and popular vacation destination. The nearby Charles Fort, next to the village of Summer Cove, is a star-shaped fort with five bastions. It was built in the late 17th century.