You may have heard the phrase, “gift of the gab” which refers to the ability to speak and flatter very well. Tradition has it that the phrase originated from Queen Elizabeth I, who was frustrated by Lord Blarney’s habit of “pleasant talk, intending to deceive without offending”. And over time, it has come to be associated with a stone set into the walls of Blarney Castle, near Cork, Ireland.
A castle with a lot of stories
The castle itself is only a remnant of the original structure, consisting largely of its main keep, where the famous stone can be found. The castle is located in Blarney Village, which is some 8 km northwest of Cork City.
The current castle is the third to be built in this location. The first building was a wooden hunting lodge built in the tenth century, which was replaced in 1210 by a structure of stone. That was, in turn, demolished and reconstructed by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, in 1446.
There are many legends about how the stone came to be in the castle. One says that it is biblical in the origin, and was known as “Jacob’s Pillow” in the Bible. According to this tradition, the stone was brought to Ireland either by the Prophet Jeremiah, or more likely, by Crusaders from the Holy Land.
Another legend has it that King McCarthy saved a woman from drowning. The woman, turning out to be a witch, then told him the secret of the stone in the castle, which would bestow the gift of eloquence to those who have kissed it.
How you actually kiss the stone
The stone is also believed to be one half of the Stone of Scone, which now sits under the Coronation Throne in Westminster Abbey, London. According to this tradition, Robert Bruce of Scotland presented the stone to Cormac McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney in 1314, in return for his supporting the Scots at the Battle of Bannockburn.
Whichever tradition may be true, it has long been custom for visitors to kiss the stone in order to be blessed with the ability to speak easily and continuously, while holding listeners in a spell. However, it is not a simple matter of just picking the famous stone and putting your lips to it.
In order to kiss the stone, you first have to climb the crumbling castle’s spiral staircase to reach the parapet at the top of the battlements, or walls. Then, you have to lie on your back while holding two handles with your hands, and put your head under the parapet. The stone is located inside the wall rocks. You will usually need the assistance of the castle staff standing by to slide in and out.
Apart from the stone, the castle has another attraction, known as the Rock Close. This is a place with a cluster of ancient stones and seasoned trees, which was reputed to be a gathering place for pre-Christian era druids conducting religious ceremonies. Mysterious features with names such as Druid’s Cave, Wishing Steps and Witches’ Kitchen lend an aura of its magical past to the place. A stone believed to be used for sacrifices is positioned such that the first rays of the sun will pass through gaps in surrounding rocks, and strike the stone at a given time, indicating the time to conduct the sacrifice.
Around the Castle and in the Village of Blarney
From the Castle battlements, one can view the Blarney House, located just 200m from the castle. Built in 1874, it is described as one of the most elegant and gracious of the great mansions of Ireland. It overlooks Blarney Lake and has a garden of shrubs, trees and flower beds, complemented by vast lawns. The house is open during the summer months and has a collection of furniture, tapestries and other works of art.
Nearby Blarney Village is a village of about 2,500 residents. It is known as an estate village, built in the eighteenth century as part of popular trend in Britain and Europe then. The village was built to be a self-contained town linked to the estate of the Lord and providing for local industry and housing for its residents. Textile manufacturing was the chief industry here. The village features Tudor-styled buildings with the usual complement of pubs and restaurants.