In one of my first All Things Irish posts, I asked what you might like to read about. One of the requests was for any and all castles. So here’s the first – the quintessential Irish (at least to Americans) Blarney Castle, in my own County Cork.
We lived only about 20 miles from the village of Blarney, though the drive took about 40 minutes. A very pretty drive, but if you go, check GoogleMaps for basic directions first. You’re on main roads all the way, so if your GPS says to take a side road (which ours did the first time), DO NOT LISTEN TO HER! We left the main road, wound for miles on a tiny back lane, and then came out onto the same main road!
The other fun thing about getting there, from Kinsale at least, is that one of the roads is painted with messages for tourists. As you drive on one particular stretch, it says Slow, then Reduce Speed, then Slow, and then SLOWER!
Anyway . . .
Blarney Castle needs several posts. Everyone thinks of the castle itself and the Blarney Stone, but the grounds are extensive and gorgeous, and I’ll save them for later.
Blarney Castle was built by the MacCarthys, specifically Dermot MacCarthy, King of Munster (the southern-most of the four Irish provinces) in the mid-1400s. Actually, it began in 1456, but you can’t build a fortress and its accompanying walled village in a year. The only thing left is the keep, but there are ruins of other towers and you can see the remnants of the castle walls from the top of the keep.
The downstairs was for the guards and the cattle. The floor above it is gone, so visitors enter into a cavernous room.
The stairs from the great hall and family room up are quite steep and narrow for defense – they allowed only one attacker at a time, with the defenders holding the high ground. There’s a huge knotted rope to help pull yourself up. And you’ll need it!
I need to admit to being a bit forgetful here – some castles have Up staircases and Down staircases, and some you have to wait for the Down traffic to ease before you can go Up. I don’t remember which it is at Blarney, so follow the directions!
Inside the castle, you’ll see the earl’s bedroom with its oriel window, the young ladies’ room, the garderobe (and its windows to empty chamber pots straight down the castle wall – yeech!), the kitchens and their massive fireplaces to cook a side of beef in. Arrow slits give you glimpses of the outside, and there’s a gorgeous view from the top. I loved seeing the corbels and recesses in the stone where the supports for the floors were, and imagining the banqueting hall on the top floor with tapestries, a roaring fire, and feasting and dancing. I liked closing my eyes and imagining what the girls would be doing, how people would pass in the narrow halls, how the cooks would prepare food three stories up, how guards could see raiders coming from so far off.
To add to the atmosphere for imaginative visitors, there are tunnels through the bedrock (closed to the public), a dungeon, and yes, a murder hole.
The Blarney Stone is at the top of the keep. Sort of. Actually, it’s on the outside wall of another tower, about a foot and a half away from the keep. Stories of dangling upside down in mid-air to kiss it don’t give the right impression. You lay on your back and scoot out, with steel bars to hold on to. And there are several more bars beneath you closing the gap of open air. Plus the castle staff who will help you into position and hold on to you if you feel insecure. So don’t be put off – it’s just a weird position to be in. (More to the point might be my daughter’s reaction: who wants to kiss a stone that a million other people have slobbered on?)
So why do you kiss the Blarney Stone, anyway? Hubby O’Mine said I didn’t need to kiss it – I’ve already got more of the gift of gab than I need! But kissing the stone isn’t actually for the “gift of gab.” It’s for the gift of eloquence and flattery, with just a touch of exaggeration. And that’s what a storyteller needs, right?
Mostly, though, visitors kiss the stone for tradition, and just to be able to say they did. Which was a good enough reason for me.
When you go:
- The grounds are lovely, and mostly handicapped-accessible, but the castle is not. The floors are uneven, doorways and halls are narrow, and remember those stairs!
- It’s cash only at the ticket counter, so come prepared. (At least that’s what I remember.) As of this writing, adult admission is €12.
- The castle is cold. Very nice if it’s a hot day in Ireland, but those are rare, so remember to have a sweater or jacket. And well-cushioned shoes if you have leg or back problems – standing on stone for long periods is not comfortable.
- If there’s a long line at the top to kiss the Blarney Stone, don’t worry – it moves quickly.
- They’ll take a souvenir picture of you kissing the Blarney Stone, which you can buy at the gift kiosk at the castle entrance. You can take your own pictures (well, you take pictures of your friend and vice versa, of course), but you have to stand where they say and you don’t get a second chance.
- It’s a self-guided walk through, and there are informative signs along the way, but the little booklet at the ticket gate is worth the 3 or so euros. At least it was for me.
- If you haven’t made your hotel reservations yet, try Hotels in Cork (sponsored link). Discounted rates, 24/7 service.