Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to give a person eloquent speech. How this Irish tradition came about is told in a variety of tales that have been passed down through the ages. The Blarney Stone has a legendary history that combines Celtic mythology with facts from the Middle Ages. It is a popular destination, attracting over 300,000 visitors a year come to receive the gift of flattering and persuasive speech.
Blarney Castle is in a small town of Blarney about five miles northwest of Cork, Ireland’s second largest city. The castle, that still stands today, was built in 1446 and is the third one on this site. The first was made of wood in the 10th century; the second was out of stone in 1210. Cormac McCarthy, the King of Munster, sent 4,000 men to help the Scottish defeat the English in 1314 at the Battle of Bannockburn. In appreciation for his help, he was given part of the “Stone of Scone,” also known as the “Stone of Destiny,” as a gift by Robert the Bruce. It was brought back to the McCarthy stronghold, Blarney Castle.
When the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster at that time, the Blarney Stone was set in the wall under the battlements high above the ground. It has remained there to this day. One story of how such a stone went from being a gift for defeating the English to bestowing eloquent speech has to do with Queen Elizabeth I who ruled from 1558 to her death in 1603.
English rulers throughout several centuries had tried to gain more power in Ireland. The efforts of Elizabeth I included sending the Earl of Leicester to convince Cormac MacDermot McCarthy, the Lord of Blarney, to turn his land over to the queen to prove his loyalty. He was on his way to see the queen with hopes of saving his land when he spotted an old woman. She asked why he looked so sad. After he told of his dilemma, the woman explained that when Blarney Castle was built, one stone was positioned so that no one would be able to reach it. She assured him that is he could kiss that stone, he would attain eloquent speech.
McCarthy, who did not possess a natural fluidity with words, found the stone and kissed it. Every time Elizabeth’s representative came to take possession of the property, his efforts were unsuccessful. The Lord of Blarney proposed banquets and other things to take the earl’s mind off the nature of his journey. Finally, the queen wanted a full report of why this was taking so long. She received a lengthy written message filled with explanations, reasons and excuses, all done with immense flattery. The end result that the castle was still not under the her possession. She became so irritated that she exclaimed the earl’s reports were filled with “Blarney.”
Another version of the Blarney Stone story incorporates Irish mythology with its legendary history and facts. The Irish Goddess of Beauty, Cliodhna, was the Fairy Queen of Munster. She had fallen in love with a mortal but a large wave carried her back to the land of the fairies. The man who built the castle was involved in a lawsuit and asked Cliodhna for help. She told him to kiss the first stone he laid eyes on that morning as he went to court. He did and his speech was so persuasive, he won his case. In gratitude, he took the stone home with him and put it in the castle wall.
Other stories say the stone was used to determine the destiny of Irish kings. It is referred to some as “Jacob’s Pillow” and linked to the prophet Jeremiah. Still others claim David hid behind it when he was running from Saul and that it was brought to Ireland during the Crusades. Regardless of which story one chooses to believe, the physical feat of kissing the stone is not an easy task.
To reach the Blarney Stone, visitors must climb approximately 120 steps to get to the top of Blarney Castle. Once on the narrow parapet walkway, the only way to reach the stone is to lean backwards over the edge while holding on to the iron bars of the surrounding wall. As the person edges closer to the wall, an assistant helps maintain support and balance. There are crossbars beneath the stone so no one will fall through. However, those who are susceptible to fear of heights, fear of falling or vertigo may still experience them due to the height as well as the space between the walkway and the stone.
Before the safeguards were installed, the only way to kiss the stone was for a participant to be held by the ankles and lowered head first. Despite fear or nerves, kissing the stone has been done by people from all over the world who are eager to receive the “gift of gab.” The 19th-century Irish poet, Francis Sylvester Mahony, wrote that whoever kisses the stone “never misses to grow eloquent.”
The last story is of an old woman who was saved from drowning by the king of Blarney Castle. She rewarded him with a spell that gave him the power of persuasive speech if he would go to the top of the castle and kiss the stone. It was the same Blarney Stone that continues to blend its magic of legendary times and historical facts.
By Cynthia Collins