Frenching the Irish: The Blarney Stone


March 8, 2013 — My strongest memory of Ireland is being held in the steady arms of a burly, unshaven man and gently lowered backwards for a kiss.

And like all the most romantic moments in history, it happened at a castle.

Of course, there are castles all over Ireland. Drive around with your eyes closed and you’ll hit one. Because that’s what happens when you drive around with your eyes are closed. Don’t do that.

This particular one is named Blarney Castle, it’s about 3,400 miles outside of Pittsburgh, and you’ve certainly already heard about it since it’s probably the most famous castle on the island.

All because of an extremely slutty rock called the Blarney Stone.


The current version of Blarney Castle dates back to the 1400s. It was built by Dermot McCarthy, the King of Munster, and supposedly got its name when Queen Elizabeth I of England tried to take possession of it. McCarthy was able to put off the takeover with letters full of empty eloquence that the queen called, “A lot of blarney.”

Today the castle is mostly ruins, although it still retains its basic rectangle-on-end shape with its adjoining cylinder of a tower. Around it are gardens tended to seem very Irish, even for Ireland, with green, mossy trees and formations with such fanciful names as Witches Stone and Druids Cave.

But it’s not its history or its architecture that has made Blarney Castle famous. It’s the myth of a single stone set into a wall high up on the parapet.


Actually, myths, since there are quite a few stories about this bit of masonry.

The historical-sounding one was that it was originally half of the Stone of Scone, the rock on which the Kings of England and Scotland are coronated, and was a gift to Dermot’s forefather Cormac McCarthy by Robert the Bruce for his support at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Cormac told his men to stick his gift in the castle, and they took it literally.

The fanciful-sounding one goes that Cormac appealed to a Celtic goddess for help in a court case in which he was tangled. She told him, according to the impenetrable rules by which deities deal with mortals, to kiss the first stone he saw on his way to court. He did so and then won the case thanks to a sudden and uncharacteristic ability to argue well. So he kept the stone, which was eventually worked into Dermot’s castle. Now, anybody that kisses it gets that same gift of eloquence.


I know there are some timeline problems in those stories, but I burnt out all my initiative for research figuring out the distance from Pittsburgh to Cork.

There are other legends, too, of course. My favorite is that a bunch of local entrepreneurs got together and made a bet that they could get tourists to do anything.

Whatever the reason, for hundreds of years, tourists have pilgrimaged to the site for a make-out session with an ancient castle.

The Blarney stone is in the main tower. You take circular stone staircases up to the top level, from which vantage you can look out over miles of Irish countryside or down into the central courtyard of the castle itself.

At the top, two gentleman were waiting, tip jar at the ready.

You can see the stone without doing anything silly, but there’s not much to it. To get within a coating of chapstick from it, you have to be lowered backward down a thin space between the floor and the outer wall, you head upside down and staring at three stories or so worth of air.


It wasn’t scary. Too many safeguards have been erected since the days you had to be lowered by your ankles for you to at all think you'll go plummeting down the outside wall of the castle like so much boiled tar. It had iron bars anchored into the wall to hold onto, and an iron track beneath that would hurt if you were dropped on it, but probably a lot less than dropping the whole way (not counting death). But it was a bit dizzying and bewildering. I mean, for just a few seconds, you’re upside down kissing a rock at the top of a 600-year-old castle.

So what kind of a kisser was the Blarney Stone? Wet and cold. Just the way I like them. I’m not sure if the moisture was from being recently washed or from morning condensation or from the collected saliva of millions of tourists.

And that sounds disgusting in hindsight, although it didn’t at the time. Only a smattering of people were at the castle, and none of them were in line for the stone, so we were able to get comfortable with the illusion that it was just us.

It’s okay if the stone has a tawdry past, I just don’t want it shoved in my face.





Want to read about more of my Ireland jaunts? Click here.

Want to read more about my obsession with visiting rocks? Select any one below, weirdo.

Hopewell Rocks (New Brunswick, Canada)
Madison Boulder (Madison, NH)
Dighton Rock (Berkley, MA)
Cliffs of Moher (County Clare, Ireland)
Vasquez Rocks (Los Angeles, CA)
The Burren (County Clare, Ireland)
Haystack Rock (Cannon Beach, Oregon)
Giant's Causeway (County Antrim, Ireland)
Dungeon Rock (Lynn, MA)
Skull Cliff (Lynn, MA)




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