Ireland Travel and Culture

Travel in Ireland: The Legend of the Blarney Stone

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The legend that surrounds one particular stone set into the battlements of Blarney Castle in Co. Cork brings hundreds of thousands of visitors to the small village of Blarney every year. It is believed that those who kiss the stone will receive the “gift of the gab” - or the gift of eloquence. This local poem sums up the power of the Blarney Stone:

“There is a stone that whoever kisses never misses to grow eloquent, he may clamber to a lady’s chamber or become a Member of Parliament.”

Like most legends, the origins of the Blarney Stone one is not clear but the stone itself is believed to have been half of the Stone of Scone. In 1314 Robert the Bruce presented the Lord of Blarney, Cormac McCarthy with the Stone of Scone in gratitude for giving him 40,000 troops for his victorious Battle of Bannockburn. However, there were no magical powers associated with the stone until, some years later, Comac McCarthy saved an old woman from drowning. In gratitude she cast a spell - kissing the stone would give the King the ability to speak in a persuasive and convincing way.

Which leads us to the word itself – yes, even the word “blarney” has a story behind it. In the late sixteenth century Queen Elizabeth I wanted to tighten her control over the Irish chiefs and insisted that they hand over legal ownership of their lands to her. On the surface Cormac McCarthy seemed to agree but with his sweet, smooth talking he always managed to delay any final action. Finally, the Queen lost patience and declared of Lord McCarthy: “This is all blarney, he never means what he says, he never does what he promises.” So to this day, to talk blarney continues to mean persuasive talk that may deceive but not exactly offend.

Kissing the stone is not an easy task though. You must lie on your back and lean over the edge of the battlement, while holding onto conveniently placed metal bars.

Blarney Stone is, of course, set high into the battlements of Blarney Castle. Situated beautifully on the edge of a cliff, the Castle was built in 1446 by Cormac McCarthy as a defensive fortress. Today, only the 85 feet high keep remains but the original Castle would have been a massive five-story structure and an impressive defensive unit.

While visiting, it’s good to keep in mind that there is more to Blarney than just a magical stone. The village itself is beautiful with a preserved Tudor square and over a thousand acres of woodland around the Castle grounds. You also can visit Seventeenth Century Churches, Round Towers and Medieval Ringforts. And for those who want to do some shopping, the Blarney Woolen Mills have become world famous for quality Irish crafts.

It’s safe to say though, that it is the myth and magic surrounding this place that draws visitors every year to seek eloquence and good luck at the foot of the Blarney Stone.

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