I lay on my back and reached behind me for the iron rails attached to the parapet at Blarney Castle. Slowly, I squirmed backward over a gaping hole in the floor. “Now lean down into the hole,” said the guide who gripped me around the waist. With my head and shoulders hanging precariously over four stories of open space, I planted a kiss on the Blarney Stone. All that remained was to come back up. My arms began to shake and I scrabbled at the rubber mat with the heels of my sneakers, but I couldn’t gain purchase. For one long moment I was certain that my body was about to plummet to the ground. And then the guide yanked me back up by my waist.
Actually, I had it easy. For more than 200 years, visitors to Ireland‘s most famous castle have been kissing the Blarney Stone, hoping to receive the gift of eloquence. Before grab bars were installed, pilgrims were held by their ankles and dangled over the parapet to accomplish the task. Sherlock Holmes fans will recall that one of his murder mysteries involved a man who plunged to his death while being lowered in this fashion. Holmes later discovered that the victim’s boots had been greased.
The powers of the Blarney Stone are rarely challenged. After all, both Winston Churchill and Oliver Hardy did the deed. No one can deny the persuasiveness of Churchill and Hardy was one of the few silent film stars to successfully transition into “talkies.” But to say that the provenance of the Blarney Stone is disputed would be more than an understatement. One legend claims it is a piece of the Coronation Stone, on which the Kings of Scotland were traditionally crowned, presented to Cormac McCarthy by Robert the Bruce, in gratitude for his support in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314. That assertion has since been debunked by scientific analysis of the two rocks.
Others claim it is the stone that Jacob used as a pillow, later brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. Still others say it is the rock that Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites during their flight from Egypt. Perhaps more believable is the story of Cormac Laidir McCarthy, builder of the present castle. When faced a lawsuit that threatened to seize the castle, he sought assistance from the goddess Clíodhna. She told him to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to court. He did so, and subsequently won his case. Convinced that the stone was responsible, he incorporated it into the exterior wall of the castle.
These conflicting legends do not seem to dispel enthusiasm for kissing the Blarney Stone. Each year, thousands climb the 200 uneven stone steps to the parapet. Atop the battlements, they wait patiently for their turn to be suspended above a hunk of common grey rock. Even the veritable stew of germs left behind by the multitudes does not seem to cause concern. (TripAdvisor named it the most unhygienic tourist attraction in the world in 2009).
Indeed, I gave it little thought until I overheard a local man comment, “Our Irish lads like to pee on the rock every morning.” That gave me pause, but I took solace in the the castle’s website, which states, “Kiss it and you’ll never again be lost for words.” As a writer, the potential for enduring eloquence definitely made kissing the Blarney Stone worth the risk.