Approaching the cluster of ruins known as Blarney Castle, the first thing a visitor sees is a cave—presumably a prison cell—located in the base of rock on which the main keep stands. Thirteen stories above hangs the famous Blarney Stone suspended in the battlement wall, accessed by climbing ancient stairs hugging the periphery. At the very top, visitors are assisted by staff to lie on their back, extend their head in an upside down position, and kiss the Blarney Stone that is slightly lower than floor level. The gap between the floor and the battlement wall allows a glimpse of the ground 90 feet down—so those with height issues be warned! I’ve climbed to the top on three occasions and each time declined the rock-kissing (height issues) but have enjoyed watching this peculiar ritual performed by people from all over the world—those hoping for the gift of eloquence, as the legend goes.
To me, what is more interesting is why the stone was thought special in the first place. Research reveals two schools of thought: one, that it is actually half of the Stone of Scone, the coronation stone of early British kings; and two, that it is the Lia Fáil, the coronation stone of early Irish kings. These aren’t the only possibilities of course, but I’ll stick with popular beliefs, keeping in mind that legend is often intertwined with threads of truth.
The first option involves Robert the Bruce, Scottish freedom fighter, winning the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, and in appreciation for the Lord of Blarney’s military support of 5,000 men, he cut the Stone of Scone in half, presenting one piece to Ireland as a gift.
The second option has the Stone of Scone (also called the Stone of Destiny) arriving in Ireland about 700 BC, finding its home in the Hill of Tara, the ancient seat of kings. According to Celtic legend, it originated in the Holy Land, where it was said to be the stone pillow upon which Jacob rested his head in Bethel, dreaming of angels climbing ladders in and out of Heaven. In 840 AD, the sacred stone was seized in battle, taken from Tara to the village of Scone, Scotland.
Theories combined, we have a chicken and egg question of who possessed the stone first. Today, the British half (?) of the stone sits in Edinburgh Castle, awaiting use in England’s next coronation at Westminster Abbey. An interesting side note: the Blarney Stone is bluestone, the same material used in the making of Stonehenge, circa 2600 BC, so the mystery expands.
Mythological aspects of Blarney are not relegated to the stone, however; they extend to the castle grounds as well, to a wonderfully wild garden called The Rock Close, which includes such areas as The Fairy Glade, The Wishing Steps, The Witches Cave, and Druids Circle. Other Blarney gardens boast 600 year old Yew trees, 80 varieties of ferns, waterfalls, and a “Willow Tunnel” at the end of the boardwalk in The Bog Garden. Once visitors start exploring, it’s as if they stepped into an enchanted forest, encountering beauty in bewildering ways—in shady, ivy-covered nooks, natural and strange rock formations, dense, jungle-like flora, and in a breezy tranquility that pervades the air.
The newer gardens, like The Irish Garden and The Poison Garden, are no less intriguing: the former showcases the folklore and traditional uses assigned to Ireland’s indigenous plant life, and the latter displays deadly vegetation from all over the world, many of which, paradoxically, are used in life-saving drugs.
Visitors have been coming to see the legendary Blarney Stone for hundreds of years—but in my opinion, the real magic lies in the gardens 90 feet below it.