Kissing the Blarney
By Brian K. Brecht
It’s was a beautiful Irish day as we cruised across the N72, leaving Annascaul and the Dingle Peninsula, on the western side of Ireland in county Kerry. Two hours ago, we left Inch beach in bone chilling cold and blowing ocean mist. Now, with a harrowing navigation through the Blarney town square and being the cause of a minor traffic jam, we pull into the parking lot of Blarney Castle in warm sunshine and 60 degree temps. The sun is out and I was more excited than you’d expect to be here.
The history of the Blarney Stone is well known; I’d argue by many other than those of us of Irish decent. According to legend, the stone has a rich history and rumored to be many things. Possibly the Stone of Ezel behind which David hid from King Saul, having been brought back to Ireland from the Crusades. It’s also said to be “Jacob’s Pillow, brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah, the oracular throne of Irish Kings. Or that it was given in gratitude to Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster as a gift from Robert the Bruce after MacCarthy’s support of him at the Battle of Bannockburn. Regardless of its multiple origins, the tale goes that a witch, having been saved from downing by one of the MacCarthy’s, professed “that if he would kiss a stone on the castle’s top, he would gain a speech that would win all to him”.
Having had Grandparents who instilled a proud Irish heritage within the family, it was always a story I heard and something that always remained in the back of my mind.
When my grandfather finally retired, my Grandparents Ray and Dorothy began a wonderful “Senior Citizen” travel plan, seeing things across the globe they never thought they’d experience. Grandpa, again a VERY proud Irishman, always wanted to see Ireland and in 1985 it finally happened. There were wonderful stories from their trip, but it was a photo of my Grandmother that stuck with me over the years.
There she was, at the time being 75 years old, stretched over backward kissing the fabled stone. If anyone knew my Grandmother, you could believe she was granted the gift of eloquence.
For Rick and I, this trip was about achieving things we’d wanted all our lives, and seeing the things which had inspired us during our time together as friends and brothers. I was proud of the fact that at 50 I was seeing things that my grandparents hadn’t been able to see until their retirement years.
So while planning this trip, I coaxed Rick into the idea that on the way back to Dublin we’d stop by Blarney Castle. I don’t think he really understood my deep desire to do this, but as ever, it didn’t matter. It was all about the adventure.
Blarney Castle sits inside what is now a beautifully manicured 60-acre park. With paved paths, close cut lawns, and perfectly trimmed trees, I’m sure the grounds don’t look anything at all like what they appeared in 1446 when Cormac MacCarthy build the third structure on this site, what is now Blarney Castle. Rick and I purchased our tickets and began the lovely stroll through the grounds, stopping to toss some stones into the peaceful stream along the path, all the while seeing the stone edifice of the castle in the near distance.
One of the things Rick and I appreciated the most was the state of the castle itself. Having spent the week seeing all the restored and polished history, we loved that this castle was a ruin. Walls had not been repaired, floors remained missing, the remains of what once was is evident and powerful. There is no polish here, so what you get is a real example of the fortress this castle used to be.
We get to the top of the rock outcropping the caste is built on, and begin following the signs to the Blarney Stone itself. The path winds you through the various passages and up the four to five floors that once nested inside the walls of the stronghold. Some areas still have sections of floor in place, others, you find yourself staring into the void where perhaps a grand hall or private bedchamber once existed. I began to quickly realize, the narrow walkways and steeply worn steps could very easily be treacherous. Obviously at that moment we were in no real danger, but I couldn’t help but think, “Wholly shit! My 75 year old Grandmother did this?!” Even after all these years I was still finding things that amazed me about my Grandmother.
Climb, climb and more climbing, after 127 steeply worn steps, we found ourselves atop the battlements of Blarney Castle. I was happy we didn’t find some teeming mass of cranky tourists. By the time we reached the top it was just an older couple and us. They went through the ritual and then finally it was my turn, I was really here.
The process to kiss the legendary stone is simple. You walk up, you lay down, you lean back, you kiss, you get up. But in its early days, there was a real danger to kissing the Stone. These days there are iron rails to grab on to and an iron grate right below to ensure no one actually falls through; after all you are 130+ feet in the air. But I have to say; I secretly wished those didn’t exist. What’s the point of the adventure without some danger? Nonetheless, I reverently went through the process.
You could tell the elder gentleman sitting assisting folks in the process, must have found this monotonous. He had a set speech he gave, mindlessly as though it was second nature. It was so fast and he had such a thick accent I couldn’t really catch what he was saying but it was the same each time and obviously something he said day in and day out. “Lay back, hands on the bar, lean back……. back further……, back further…..back fur… there you go, kiss the stone, up you go”. It seemed silly but again was all part of the charm.
So there I was. I laid down, I leaned back…. leaned further back, …. and back still, kissed the stone, gave it a good one cuz, you know, I’m the only one who’s ever done this, pulled up, and I was done. And there I was, having been granted the gift of eloquence. I was sure I felt different,…didn’t I?
Honestly, I did feel different. Perhaps not from an old Irish legend, but because I knew I had been in the exact same place my Grandmother had been some 31 years prior. And I was there with one of my best friends, who like me found meaning in following the footsteps of history and my Grandmother.
We took a little more time among the battlements, grabbed some photos of the grounds but then it was down and on the road. We needed to get to Dublin by evening as Trinity College and the Book of Kells waited for us tomorrow.
But today, I closed a chapter I had been mentally reading since childhood. And I did something that for me, perhaps fulfilled a little family history of my own. Perhaps something one of my girls might repeat some day.
“There is a stone there, that whoever kisses,
Oh! He never misses to grow eloquent:
‘Tis he may clamber to a lady’s chamber,
Or become a Member of Parliament.”