With over thirty thousand castles and castle ruins strewn throughout Ireland, the emerald isle is one of the best places to experience medieval architecture, and marvel at the fortifications of feudal time. Out of all the castles in Ireland, ruined or otherwise, the most famous castle is Blarney Castle, just outside of Cork. Unquestionably, Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s top tourist attractions, along with the Giant’s Causeway and the Cliffs of Moher. Unlike those two locations, Blarney Castle itself is a small area with a number of other attractions.
Blarney Castle. Although the Blarney Stone receives top billing when discussing Blarney Castle, the castle itself is an imposing – and historic structure. Dating to around 1200, the structure received its famous rock in 1314 after the Battle of Bannockburn, when Robert the Bruce of Scotland, grateful for King Cormac McCarthy’s military assistance, awarded what some called the “Stone of Destiny” to McCarthy. The stone was installed in the castle, and only moved in 1446 when King Dermot McCarthy enlarged the keep. Over the centuries, the castle was sought after due to its strategic location by numerous forces, and conquered once by Oliver Cromwell’s forces in 1646. Interestingly, even though Cromwell’s forces captured the castle, all of the castle’s defenders snuck out through a cave under the castle, which can today be visited. Today, the castle, and the grounds are technically owned by the Colthurst family.
The Blarney Stone. Like many things in Ireland, there are conflicting stories as to the origin of the rock – and how the rock obtained its powers. The official version of the rock today is that a witch living nearby the castle told Cormac McCarthy that the stone would bestow the gift of eloquence to anyone who kissed it, which he did, starting the tradition. Other rumors surrounding the stone involve its powers prior to a trial, and various other legends about its source in history. While one can believe whatever they want about the rock, recently, science revealed that the rock did in fact, come from a limestone deposit in Southern Ireland.
What is Blarney, though? The term “blarney” also comes from issues surrounding the rock and the castle. During the reign of Queen Elizabeth, the English crown wished to take possession of the castle. But, according to legends and historical accounts, the smooth taking Dermot McCarthy was always able to talk her, or her forces out of such a move. Such an action eventually caused Elizabeth to purportedly exclaim that she was done with attempting to sieze the castle, and McCarthy and all of his “blarney”. Hundreds of years later, the term has stuck for how people talk, and for the name of the castle.
Things to Know About Kissing the Blarney Stone. As you may or may not know, the stone is in the castle battlements some eighty-five feet off the ground. For years, visitors were held upside down by their ankles in order to give the famous stone a smooch. While this is no longer the stone kissing protocol, people still have to lie on their backs, and lean out over the drop to swap spit with history. For those with a fear of heights it might be best to find another way to obtain the gift of the gab. It’s also worth noting that there are approximately 128 steps up to the battlements that one must ascend, the majority of which are in tight castle turrets. Again, people who are claustrophobic may want to find their gift of the gab elsewhere.
Directions and Fees. The Castle is located in the small – but picturesque village of Blarney. The nearest town is Cork, which is approximately eight kilometers to the southeast. The castle and gardens are very well signed, and there is a large car park in front of the entrance. As of 2019, a day pass for the grounds, meaning, the castle, gardens, cave, and various other items is sixteen euros, with a children’s ticket coming in at seven euros. Tickets can be purchased in advance online, which during the high season is definitely adviseable.
Tips. When I visited Ireland, even though I was excited to see many things, I was not as excited to visit Blarney Castle based on a somewhat rational fear that the area would be swarming with tourists. However, when I was there, it was a cloudy December day, and while the grounds and castle weren’t empty, there were hardy any people there. This, along with other things, made me really enjoy my visit and reconsider my position on the whole castle/stone/gardens experience.
I would now say that if you are in the region, or have access to transportation to the Cork area, you should definitely head out to attempt to kiss the Blarney stone, and see the castle. The whole area is in fact, very interesting, especially the tour of the cave under the castle. My disclaimer on this recommendation is that if you go during mid-July, I am sure that it is quite busy, based on the tourist infrastructure that is present there. Nevertheless, there are very few places or times in life that you can lean out over a eighty-five foot drop and kiss ancient rocks that may or may not be magical, so it is an experience worth having.