The Blarney Stone is one of the most visited attractions in Ireland. In fact, over 400,000 people from all over the world tour Blarney Castle each year–many of whom choose to kiss the Blarney Stone! However, first-time visitors to Ireland may not understand why a limestone rock attracts so much attention. Therefore, in this article, we review the legend of the famous Blarney Stone and our best tips for visiting this attraction in County Cork.
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What is the Blarney Stone?
Technically, all we know for sure about the Blarney Stone is that it’s made of Carboniferous limestone. However, there are dozens of Irish legends about the stone’s history. One popular story claims that it’s Jacob’s Pillow and that the prophet Jeremiah brought it to Ireland. In this telling, the rock eventually became the Lia Fail or “Fatal Stone,” used as an oracular throne for Irish Kings.
Another Blarney Stone myth asserts that it’s actually the “Stone of Ezel,” behind which David hid from Saul, the king of Israel. It was then eventually brought to Europe during the Crusades. A more Irish-based version of the story says that it served as the deathbed pillow for St Columba, a prominent Irish abbot and patron saint of Derry.
So, how did this mythical stone end up in Ireland? Well, the official story (as told by Blarney Castle) is that Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, sent four thousand men to fight alongside Robert the Bruce in the 1314 Battle of Bannockburn. Bruce then expressed his gratitude by gifting MacCarthy half of the Blarney Stone to take home from Scotland.
Why do people kiss the Blarney Stone?
The Blarney Stone legend claims that kissing the stone gives you “the gift of the gab,” but what does that mean? The most formal definition is “the ability to speak eloquently and fluently.” However, the Irish are more colorful in their everyday interpretation of this gift. At present, the meaning ranges from an insult that someone talks too much to a compliment indicating a good storyteller.
The tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone in Ireland has existed since the late 18th century. So, millions of people have likely participated in this activity over the centuries! Celebrities who have kissed the Blarney Stone include Winston Churchill, Laurel and Hardy, and even Mick Jagger.
The official Blarney Stone legends
No matter how you decide to define the stone’s power, you may be wondering about the origins of kissing the Blarney Stone. The most famous legend involves the goddess Clíodhna and Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, the Irish lord who expanded Blarney Castle. Apparently, while MacCarthy was working on improvements to the castle, he became involved in a tricky lawsuit. He didn’t know what to do, so he pleaded to the goddess for her help.
Clíodhna advised MacCarthy to kiss the first stone he saw on his walk to court. After following her suggestion, Cormac could suddenly argue his case with great eloquence, even winning the ruling! He then chose to incorporate the specific stone into Blarney Castle’s parapet.
Another version of the story of the Blarney Stone takes place during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. Allegedly, the queen sent the Earl of Leicester to demand that Cormac Teige MacCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, surrender his fortress and ancestral lands. As you might imagine, Cormac didn’t take well to this idea. At this point, some believe that an older woman revealed the Blarney Stone’s power to him.
After he kissed the stone, instead of signing away the rights to his land, he kept coming up with excuses to delay the negotiations. In the end, the queen became so frustrated that she said, “Odds bodikins, more Blarney talk!”. Therefore, it seems we can thank Cormac MacCarthy for the term “blarney.” In Ireland, this word has taken on the meaning of “empty flattery” or “beguiling talk.”
Why do you kiss the Blarney Stone upside down?
You may have noticed something peculiar if you’ve seen photos or videos of people kissing the Blarney Stone. Indeed, to participate in this tradition, you have to lay on the ground and lean backward! People often ask: can’t you just stand, lean over, and kiss the wall? Well, actually, no, you can’t.
The particular Blarney Stone piece built into the castle walls is located on the bottom of a parapet. So, Blarney Castle has come up with the only feasible (and safe!) way for tourists to reach it. You’ll have to sit on a padded mat and lean back towards the wall while holding onto railings. There are also iron bars below the wall that block anyone from falling. Thankfully, an employee helps ensure that you’re kissing the stone safely.
In the past, taking part in the tradition was a lot more complicated. In fact, in the olden days, those wishing to kiss the stone would be held by the ankles over the castle walls. So, at least now there’s a much better option!
Blarney Castle does a great job of making the tradition as safe as possible. However, this attraction is definitely not for the faint-hearted, as you will have to climb over 125 narrow steps to reach the top of Blarney Castle. We do not recommend kissing the Blarney Stone if you suffer from vertigo or if you’re afraid of heights.
Where is the Blarney Stone?
If you decide you’d like to kiss the Blarney Stone, you’ll have to travel to Blarney Village, near Cork city, Ireland. Here, the legendary stone is built into the walls of the beautiful Blarney Castle, which is open to visitors year-round. It takes approximately 3-4 hours to drive from Dublin to Blarney. The drive is a bit shorter if you’re flying into the Shannon Airport: about 2 hours.
After purchasing your ticket and entering the grounds, you’ll need to head to the top of Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. Remember that the stone is built into the castle’s east wall–about 85 feet (26 m) above the ground. So, you’ll need to climb about 125 narrow steps to get there.
Is Blarney Castle worth visiting if you don’t want to kiss the Blarney Stone?
Whether or not to kiss the Blarney Stone is up to you! While many people have it on their Ireland bucket list, others certainly do not. So, if you decide you’d rather not partake in the tradition, you may wonder if Blarney Castle & Gardens are still worth the trip. After all, tickets are on the pricey side (€18 for adult admission at the time of writing this article).
Even if you choose not to kiss the stone, we still recommend visiting the castle and grounds! Blarney Castle dates all the way back to 1446. Plus, the gardens here cover over 60 acres, featuring The Rock Close & Water Garden, the Poison Garden, the Fern Garden, arboretums, and various walking trails.
You could easily spend two hours or more just exploring the grounds. Moreover, the view at the top of Blarney Castle is worth the climb even without a Blarney Stone kiss!
When is the best time to visit Blarney Castle?
Blarney Castle is open every day except Christmas Eve (Dec 24) and Christmas (Dec 25). However, the hours of operation are seasonal. During the low season (Jan/Feb/Mar & Nov/Dec), the property is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., with the last admission at 4 p.m.
During the shoulder seasons (Apr & Oct), it welcomes visitors from 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., with the final entry at 4:30. Finally, in the high season (May-Sept), Blarney Castle & Gardens is open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with the last admission at 5 p.m.
The best time of year to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone is outside of the high season. For example, you can expect fewer crowds combined with better weather in April (low rainfall). You can also avoid the crowds and higher prices by visiting in September or October.
The best time of day to visit Blarney Castle and kiss the Blarney Stone is in the morning or late afternoon. You’ll see the longest lines for the Blarney Stone between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. as the big tour groups begin to arrive. With this in mind, we suggest spending the night in Blarney.
Tips for visiting the Blarney Stone
Choose to visit either in the morning or in the evening!
Trust me, you won’t want to spend hours waiting in line to kiss the Blarney Stone. We suggest arriving at 9 a.m. or after 4 p.m. Just make sure you get there before the last admission time.
Plan to spend at least 2, if not 3, hours at Blarney Castle & Gardens.
Especially if you’re visiting on a clear or sunny day, you’ll want to have plenty of time to explore the gardens. You won’t want to miss seeing Blarney House or the Rock Close and Water Garden.
You can ask the employees if you’d like photos or videos kissing the Blarney Stone.
They take an official photo that you can purchase at the bottom of Blarney Castle. However, they will also take pictures on your phone or camera. Just make sure to bring some euros to leave a nice tip!
You don’t have to kiss the Blarney Stone for the visit to be worth it!
The view from the top of Blarney Castle is unparalleled. Plus, you can spend hours on the woodland paths around the property.
Stay the night in Blarney for the best experience.
Firstly, it’ll be easier to wake up early and beat the crowds. Secondly, you won’t have to be in a rush to leave the grounds and get back to your hotel.
Where to stay near the Blarney Stone
The best places to stay near the Blarney Stone are all within the village of Blarney–about 5 miles (8 km) northwest of Cork city. The main things to do in town are visiting the castle, kissing the stone, and shopping at the Blarney Woollen Mills. Since Blarney is relatively small, you’ll want to make a reservation for one of these hotels in advance. They do get booked up during the high season!
Blarney Woollen Mills Hotel
Blarney Woollen Mills Hotel is built on the grounds of a historical wool mill, a short 5.6 miles from the Cork city center. Plus, this property is 0.3 miles from Blarney Castle (about a 5-minute walk!). Blarney Woolen Mills hotel has 47 rooms and offers free wifi and free parking to guests. Apart from kissing the Blarney Stone, guests also love to partake in the hotel’s afternoon tea and shop for Irish souvenirs next door at the Blarney Woolen Mills shops.
Muskerry Arms Bar and B&B
Muskerry Arms features 11 bedrooms, each with modern décor, free wifi, a private bathroom, and tea/coffee making facilities. This family-run establishment sits above a traditional Irish pub, where you can enjoy live music on the weekends. However, the best part about staying at Muskery Arms B&B is that Blarney Castle is only a three-minute walk away!
Blarney Castle Hotel
Blarney Castle Hotel is located a short 600 feet from Blarney Castle and approximately a 5-minute walk from the world-famous Blarney Stone. The rooms at this property have been recently updated and are spacious. Moreover, guests can enjoy a full Irish breakfast at The Lemon Tree Restaurant (included in your stay).
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