“Get there early.”
This was the advice of Dermott, our wonderful tour guide, about Blarney Castle, where visitors can kiss the Blarney Stone and receive “the gift of the gab.” Dermott was a not a fan of Blarney Castle; he viewed it I suppose the way many New Yorkers view the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building: a tourist trap that costs a lot of money, requires excessive waiting in line given large crowds, and entails a big buildup with questionable reward when it’s all said and done. Familiarity and proximity breed contempt, I suppose.
We were grateful we had Dermott to give us the inside scoop: absent his advice we likely would have landed at Blarney mid-day not knowing any better, and feeling stuck in the long lines, and subsequently guilt ridden at not being able to give the kids their promised chance to kiss the famous Blarney Stone. I had fond memories of the Stone; I enjoyed the experience when I was here in 1984 and I further enjoyed the fun of returning to the States saying I’d kissed it.
As we planned for the trip a couple of days prior, there was a fair amount of hand-wringing among some of us Leddy’s about whether or not we’d all wake up early enough; with fourteen of us in tow there was a high margin of error that we’d somehow not get our act together. But Dermott really drilled it into us that arriving at 9am SHARP was essential to avoiding DisneyWorld-like lines. As we mulled over the logistics, Bernard jokingly suggested that our contingency plan, should we arrive late, could be to tell the kids that one of the stones on the ground level perimeter was “the Blarney Stone” … we had a good laugh about that over dinner.
In the end, we heeded Dermott’s advice, coordinated ourselves, woke up on time, and arrived early. The park opened promptly at 9am, we were the FIRST tourists through the entrance gates, and by 9:10am we had stormed the castle walls; we made a wrong turn at one point on the first floor landing and dead-ended into an ancient bedroom, but soon corrected our route, turned around, and found the narrow stairwell to the top of the castle where the Blarney Stone awaited.
The experience does give one the authentic feeling of going back in time; the stairwell was tight (claustrophobic, if I’m being honest), with a modern metal railing to hold onto, but otherwise (I can only assume) as it had been in the 1400s: narrow and cramped, such that at times we had to hug our shoulders in, and underfoot were pie-shaped jagged stone steps, one after the other in a vertical corkscrew path. It quite honestly is a testament to 1400s stonework that we were even able to attempt the journey; I’m not sure how many of our staircases or stairwells will be accessible or even in existence in 600 years. As we hiked upward we passed small cavernous rooms at various landings. Within 5 minutes we had made it to the top, a perimeter walkway that lined the castle walls. The middle of the castle had been hollowed out with time, the wooden floors and support beams for the roof long gone.
Like any respectable tourist operation, the Castle staff had us quickly lined up and prepped to kiss the stone;
step 1: lie on our backs,
step 2: grip the metal bars behind us,
step 3: shimmy backwards on our bums to get into the proper position,
step 4: arch backwards and down to peck the stone, and
step 5: get up quickly to give the next person in line their chance.
It was my 2nd time kissing the Blarney Stone; Indira and Dev also kissed it (their first time) but Arjun didn’t as he was a bit too small for his own comfort. No bother though; Arjun was born chewing on a bit of Blarney so he’s all good.
We enjoyed the view and the scenery of the Castle itself; it is a beautiful sight to behold. In the U.S. we are not used to seeing many structures dating older than 200 years so there is a sense of wonderment just standing in the shadow of such an old and majestic structure.
All in all a great visit and worth the diligent planning and punctuality!