20 Feb Blarney
On a tour of Ireland the Blarney Stone is a sure topic of conversation. Ireland Luxury Tours can understand why.
Everyone has heard of Blarney and, when coach parties clog the village, it seems as if everyone has come to see it, too. Tourists arrive for two reasons – to kiss that stone in Blarney Castle and to visit the large gift and craft centres that have sprung up near by. Quite why the Blarney Stone exercises such fascination is hard to fathom, but the superstition that kissing it endows you with Irish eloquence or ‘blarney’ is certainly appealing.
The stone is an oblong block of limestone located high among the battlements of a fine 15th-century tower-house,once a stronghold of the MacCarthys, former kings of Munster and Lords of Blarney. A Cormac MacCarthysupposedly strung Queen ElizabethI along with honey-tongued promises and prevarications, until she exclaimed in exasperation, ‘Blarney, Blarney! What he says he does not mean,’ and thus the word entered the English language.
To reach the stone, visitors must clamber up the tower steps (over 120 of them), join the inevitable queue (in high season, at least), and then lie down and lean backwards over a sheer drop. It looks awkward but is actually quite safe, even without the two strong-armed retainers there to grab your ankles. The stone is swabbed down regularly enough to prevent transmission of any nasty ailments. Some tout will offer to take your photograph while you are kissing the stone, but be warned, this is not a flattering angle!
The lush water gardens by the River Lee and the 19th-century Rock Close ( a rock garden with fanciful wishing steps and druidical associations) make an attractive foil for the romantic ruin, and behind the castle is an elaborate Scottish baronial mansion called Blarney House, furnished in Victorian style.
In the village, craft and knitwear shops catch the purse strings, the most advertised being Blarney Woollen Mills, now a colossal hypermarket with a restaurant, hotel and coach-park attached. The smaller shops are rather more enjoyable, and there’s a wide range of merchandise from all over Ireland on offer.