The Emerald Isle

BLARNEY CASTLE & KISSING THE STONE Five miles northwest of the small city of Cork is the village of Blarney, near to which, standing almost 90ft (27m) high, is the Castle of Blarney with its world-famous Blarney Stone. More than 300,000 people come to kiss the Blarney Stone each year, in the hope of acquiring eloquence and the “gift of the gab” (the word blarney has come to mean “clever, flattering or coaxing talk”). It is said that Queen Elizabeth I wanted the Irish chiefs to agree to occupy their own lands under title from her. Cormac Teige MacCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, handled every Royal request with subtle diplomacy, promising loyalty to the queen without actually “giving in.” Elizabeth remarked that McCarthy was giving her “a lot of Blarney,” thus giving rise to the popular legend. While the Blarney Castle that visitors see today was constructed in 1446, the history of the place stretches back two centuries before that time. The story begins with a magical stone, its origins shrouded in mystery. One legend tells that it was the rock that Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt, while another says it was once Jacob’s pillow and that the prophet Jeremiah brought the stone to Ireland. Some, however, believe it was the Stone of Ezel, which David hid behind on Jonathan’s advice while fleeing from King Saul, and that it was brought to Ireland during the Crusades. Others even claim that it may once have been a half-portion of the Stone of Scone, the Coronation Stone of Scottish monarchs, and was later used by St. Columba as a traveling altar during his missionary activities throughout Scotland. After Columba’s death it may have been brought to Ireland where it served as the Lia Fáil, or Stone of Destiny, and was used in the inauguration of the High Kings of Ireland. Kissing the Blarney Stone was once a more difficult feat than it is today, in that people had to hang by their heels over the edge of the parapet. One day, however, a pilgrim slipped from the grasp of his friends and went hurtling down to certain death, since then another method has been adopted. First, the person sits with his back toward the stone, then another person sits on his legs or firmly holds his feet. Next, leaning far back and downward into the abyss, while grasping the iron rails, the person lowers himself until his head is level with the stone. Just how long this custom has been practiced, or how it originated, is not known, but a local legend claims that an old woman, saved from drowning by a king of Munster, rewarded him with the promise of an eloquence that would captivate all if he kissed the stone.