When I was a little girl, my Dad and my Grandpa used to talk about kissing the Blarney Stone. Apparently it gave you ‘the gift of the gab’. The legends as to why that is vary as do the stories of its origins, from it being a stone brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah to it being a throne of Irish kings. Wherever it came from, it has long been believed that kissing it meant that the ‘gift of the gab’ would leave you always charming and able to have your own way.
The Blarney Stone legend came to my family via my Dad’s mum. Irish by birth, she immigrated to Canada when she was a young woman. I’m not sure if my Grandma, whose name was Mary, ever kissed the Blarney Stone. I think it’s fairly unlikely as the Blarney Stone is, not surprisingly, in Blarney, in Southern Ireland. Grandma was born in Belfast in Northern Ireland and back when she was growing up it was a very long way away indeed.
Most people said my Dad had the gift of the gab anyway, but he still joked about kissing the Blarney Stone. Dad told me that the stone was very high up indeed, and that you had to bend over backwards over a hill to kiss it. I found this hard to understand, but pictured a lovely large white stone on a very green hill, and at the age of about four, decided that one day, I was going to kiss it too.
After I immigrated to England in 1989, my parents came to to visit us many times. We toured most of England and even took them to France, but somehow we never got them to Ireland. It was always ‘on the list’, but we ran out of time.
I was bruised and broken after losing both my parents in December 2007/January 2008. In the May of that year, my husband had to go to Ireland on business and suggested that our son and I might like to come too. Five months had done nothing to dull my sorrow and I welcomed the idea of an adventure. The Irish offices of the company my husband works for were in Cork, a place I had heard of but knew little about. I didn’t have time to do any research before we left either.
On our first full day there my son and I dropped my husband off at the office, and set off to explore. I had a GPS Satellite Navigation device so I felt pretty confident. However just as we turned out of the car park I saw a sign saying “Blarney Castle 8 kilometres’. It was totally out of the blue. The Blarney Stone could not have been further from my mind. Could the stone really be so close? We followed the signs.
I found myself almost breathless with anticipation. Sure enough, not much further on, the signs referred not just to the castle, but also to the stone.
We arrived at Blarney Castle and were overwhelmed by the beauty of the place. It is set in gorgeous grounds, full of flowers and plants. But where was the stone?
Signs led us to a tower – a very, very tall tower. It seemed my Dad was right about the height part, although perhaps not the hill. I was beginning to feel a tad alarmed. My son and I climbed the stairs of the tower for what seemed like ages, narrow stone encased staircases. Luckily there were plenty of other people climbing too, or I might have felt seriously claustrophobic. Finally we arrived back into the light. An Irish gentleman stood by the far wall near a sign saying ‘Blarney Stone’. As I got closer to him I realised that the stone was actually embedded in the wall of the castle, a good couple of feet down from the level we were standing on. It was anything but white. Apparently it had been embedded in the wall since 1446, and it had been kissed a good few times – even by Winston Churchill himself.
Now nothing against Mr Churchill, but I was beginning to get very cold feet. It seemed you had to lay down on your back on the stone floor, grab on to some rails, and while being held on to by the Irish gentleman, pull yourself down and kiss the stone in the wall. There were two iron rails to prevent you from falling to certain death, and I knew I was too wide to fit between them, but seriously, this seemed like madness. The gentleman reassured me that actually, this was nothing – visitors used to be held over the ramparts of the castle by their ankles so they could kiss the stone. All the railings were much more recent safely features, and seriously, ‘You couldn’t be safer, Madam’.
I didn’t believe him. But then I thought of my Dad, and how much it would have meant to him, and remembered how long I had wanted to do this. So I duly laid down on my back, and the Irish gentleman hoisted me backwards – holding me round the waist, not the ankles thank goodness, so I could reach to kiss a very dark, dirty piece of wall – the legendary Blarney Stone.
It’s a bit hard to kiss anything upside down and backwards, but I managed it, the cold stone damp and mouldy underneath my lips. I came up, a bit tearful at the memory of my late Dad and my Grandpa, a tiny bit grossed out by all the moss and lichen, and tremendously relieved to be sitting upright once again.
As I sat there, my head spinning a little from being upside down, my son revealed that the photograph he had taken wasn’t to his liking. I started to say, “never mind’, but the Irish gentleman wasn’t having any of it. He insisted we needed a good picture, grabbed me round the waist and before I knew it I was hanging upside down again. And I have no idea why, but I figured that while I was there I might as well kiss the stone again.
I’m not sure if kissing the Blarney Stone twice means that means I have double the gift of the gab, or whether it’s third time lucky, but as for third time lucky, I really don’t intend to find out!
Happy St Patrick’s Day!