The grounds are laid out so you approach the north wall of the castle first. this is the most imposing view of the castle. The bottom portion of the castle is below grade on the other sides so that makes this side look even taller. Plus, we were told that the castle walls actually slope inwards as the castle rises giving it the impression of it being even taller than it is. You can also see that the castle was built in two different sections. The division between the two sections is visible in the photograph below. This is actually the third building to be built at this location. The first structure was built around the 10th Century and was wood. Around 1210 AD the first stone structure was built on the site. That structure was demolished and the foundations used to construct the existing castle in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster.
Perhaps one of the most interesting things about the castle is that NOTHING is off limits. The entrance in the photograph below is actually to what used to be a dog kennel according to the information placard. However, adjacent to it was another opening to the dungeons. The dungeons reportedly consists of a maze of tunnels and chambers underneath the castle and they are not off limits. If you are brave enough and can fit, you can go explore. We didn’t get very far into the tunnels before turning back. Exploring these tunnels would have involved a lot of time on your hands and knees on stone floors and since we picked the day of a monsoon and the stone allows the water to filter down through the entire castle, we would have also gotten extremely wet in the process. The adventurous side of me wanted to see how far we could get before we were forced to turn back. The girly side of was wary of getting my jeans all muddy crawling around on the ditry wet floors. And the part of me that has arthritis in her hip wouldn’t even entertain the idea of crawling on stone floors under a castle. And trust me, these tunnels are not just the kind of “bend over a little bit” tunnels. We turned around when we got to the first opening that would have required removing my back pack and getting on all fours to crawl through. If I was younger and had a flashlight….maybe.
Even once inside the castle, you’d be shocked at the size (or lack thereof) of the “doorways” and passageways. To fit through some of the doorways, I had to turn sideways or squat down a little. Apparently, people were significantly smaller back in the days of dungeons and castles.
The trip to the top of the castle was a workout. It’s supposed to be a climb up an old spiral stair. However, it’s slightly more akin to scaling a stone wall than climbing a stairway. These stairs are steep, narrow, and wound tighter than a corkscrew. Because they’re stone (and old), they’re uneven as well. And if you thought for a second that they couldn’t be that dangerous, just look at the “handrail” in the photo below. Yes, it’s vertical. I’m thankful I didn’t witness any tumbling tourists and doubly thankful that I made it to the top in tact…albeit a little sweaty and out of breath, but I did make it.
Visiting the castle has been on my Bucket List for as long as I’ve had a Bucket List. Perhaps the most famous aspect of the castle is the fabled Blarney Stone. The stone is currently installed in the battlements at the top of the castle and legend has it that if one kisses the stone, he or she will be blessed with the gift of “eloquence.” If you’re not sure exactly what that means, you’re not alone. It’s the most common question I’ve received when recounting my experiences kissing the stone. Essentially, “eloquence” is the ability to win people over with your speech. Some have called it the gift of gab or flattery. I can assure you that despite kissing the stone, I have yet to talk anyone into making my mortgage payment for me so it can’t be that strong of a gift.
What did I get from kissing the stone? Well, I got the chance to scratch it off my bucket list. I also woke up 2 days later with a sore throat and headache that morphed into a full-blown head and chest cold within a few days. Whether or not I also achieved eloquence is still up for debate. (Leave a comment with your contact information if you require details on how to make a mortgage payment for me)
As you can see in the picture below, the stone is installed in a surprisingly difficult-to-reach location in the battlements at the top of the castle. If someone ever gives you a special kissy-stone, I recommend a location that doesn’t require one to be a gymnast to reach it. But, since I wasn’t available for consultation on the Stone’s location, the castle builders placed it so that pilgrims wishing to kiss the stone had to be suspended upside-down by the feet and lowered into the gap. After losing a couple of pilgrims to gravity, the castle owners had the guards installed below the stone to prevent anyone else from falling through. And now, instead of being held upside down by your feet, you lay down and grab the handy railings to assist you in dislocating your spine as you contort your body into unnatural shapes all in a quest to kiss a rock that supposedly makes you talk pretty…but per my experience so far only imparts flu-like symptoms. And did I mention it was raining? But, despite the rain, I sat my tail right down on the wet surface and eagerly exposed my fat rolls (which I’ve cropped out of the photo for everyone’s benefit) as I arched over backwards and I kissed it. I kissed it good.
So what makes this stone so special? The stone is a single block of bluestone which is the same kind of stone one would find in the monoliths at Stonehenge. There are as many stories surrounding the stone as there are mullets at a NASCAR race. One story is that the stone was Jacob’s pillow (think biblical) and was brought to Ireland by Jeremiah the prophet. Another is that it was the stone Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites in the desert. One of the more common stories (but still questionable) is that it was the stone the first King of the Scots sat upon for his coronation in 847.
Once you’ve righted yourself and popped your dislocated joints back into place after kissing the stone and started incubating whatever plague might be the stone’s flavor of the day, you get to risk life and limb yet again by descending another narrow, steep, and spirally staircase.
After narrowly escaping the castle death stairs, we proceeded into the infamous Poison Gardens adjacent to the castle to cheat death again. After reading about the Poison Garden, I was really excited to see it. As advertised, all the plants in the gardens are poisonous and could kill you. Unfortunately, most of the plants were no more dangerous than my own front yard. For example, there was a boxwood in the poison garden with a description that took roughly an encyclopedia’s worth of verbiage to explain that if you consume boxwood in large amounts, you might get nauseated. There were some cages to contain the presumably more dangerous plants and prevent them from leaping forth and murdering you but many of these “cages” were empty for whatever reason.
More impressive than the poison gardens were the trees. There are trees on the grounds that are more than 400 years old and they are massive and beautiful and exquisite.
You may not have realized (I didn’t) that Blarney Castle is privately owned. And the current owners live on the grounds in the pretty awesome house you see in the photo below. And, like much of the castle, very little is off limits. You can walk right up to their front door or peer into their windows if you’re so inclined. On certain days, you can even pay for a tour of their residence! To get the close-up photo below with no other tourists in it, we had to sit and wait for quite some time in the rain because everyone decided to congregate on the front porch and wait out a rain squall under the small porch roof. It was very frustrating for me (DON’T YOU PEOPLE REALIZE THAT I DON’T WANT YOU IN MY PHOTOGRAPHS?!). But, I finally got the photo and moved on without being a Peeping Tom…which is more than I can say about some of the other tourists that camped out on the front porch.
In the photo below you can see me (I’m the dark blob at the top of the stairs) walking backwards down the “Wishing Steps.” The legend says that if you walk backwards down the steps and think of nothing except your wish then it shall be granted within the year. I will tell you that these steps may be slightly less treacherous than the castle steps but when you throw in torrential rain and having to descend them backwards, I presume several people spend the entire trip wishing that the seemingly inevitable fall doesn’t leave them paralyzed. What did I wish for? Well, I can’t tell you but should it come true in the next year, I will be sure to let you know.
The grounds around the castle are so vast that we easily could have spent several days exploring them. And the pictures I’ve included in this post are just a few of the pictures I took. The Castle and grounds are so impressive and beautiful, it’s practically impossible to take a bad picture. And even though I did contract a cold within days of kissing the stone, there’s no definitive proof that the stone was the culprit. So before I tell you not to kiss it in the event that you make your way to Ireland, I’ll give my gift of eloquence adequate time to convince you (my lovely, intelligent, and kind readers) that one of you should pay my mortgage. But whether you kiss the stone or not, the trip to Cork to see the castle is well worth it even if just for the beautiful views. Just bring your climbing shoes for those stairs. And a rain coat.