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Published: Sunday, 6/20/2004

Kissing the Blarney Stone will have to wait for now

You don t have to be Irish or even boast a thin connection to the Emerald Isle to have a desire to kiss the Blarney Stone. It s something most of us have heard about Ireland, along with corned beef and cabbage and green pastures dotted with white sheep.

And so it was that I had dreamed since childhood of giving the stone a big smooch if ever I got to Ireland. I would add a hug if the stone wasn t too big.

Back home, a review of my April journey to Ireland does include green pastures dotted with white sheep. My previous idea of corned beef and cabbage is not totally accurate; it must be an American thing. Irish cooks told me that bacon and cabbage is common, but corned beef, no.

But there is a Blarney Stone. It is not placed in one of those green pastures where tourists can stop jump out, pucker up, make a wish, and be on their way.

Learning that the Blarney Stone is on top of the Blarney Castle was a real surprise. As castles go, and there certainly is no scarcity of the ancient stone buildings on the landscape, the Blarney is one of the most picturesque. In seemingly good repair for its 558 years, it stands serene in command of many acres on Ireland s southwest coast.

There are magnificent grounds that were mapped out hundreds of years ago, with walks past massive boulders and ancient evergreen oak and yew trees surrounding the castle. Tall azalea trees were in full pink bloom on our April visit.

It was a peaceful trek to the castle after paying a $7.50 admission fee, and it was enlightening to talk to other Blarney Stone visitors coming and going.

So how far is it to the top to get to the stone? That seemed to be a sensible question. Most people said it was 109 steps, but there were a few who said it was 150 steps. Castle steps are not easy to count, but anything over 50 is a lot.

Castle steps are hewn from rocks of varying depths, which means you keep your eyes on your feet or chance a tumble. That the steps wind up narrow passageways is another negative. It would not be surprising if an obese person has to turn sideways to get through some narrow areas.

The challenge obviously didn t deter the visitors who could be heard screaming from the top ledge as they kissed the historic stone. You are supposed to lie on your back and kiss the stone, which is above you, while two people hold you so you don t fall out of the open space to the ground.

The castle is privately owned According to history, the current building is the third on the same site. The first was a wooden structure built in the 10th century. A stone castle replaced it in 1210, and the current structure is dated 1446. The Blarney Stone is said to have been a gift to Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, from Robert the Bruce because he supplied 4,000 Munster men to supplement the forces at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.

It has been known as the Blarney Stone since Queen Elizabeth I failed to acquire the castle from McCarthy. According to Irish history, the queen sent the Earl of Leicester to take possession of the castle. After the earl failed in several attempts, it is said, the queen was so irritated she referred to the earl s report on his unsuccessful mission as all blarney.

Like other Irish tales, it makes a great story, and so does the one about why you should kiss the stone in the first place. The Irish believe that once kissed, the stone bestows the gift of eloquence.

I didn t make it to the Blarney Stone. The leader of our group said it was the first time he had seen me use common sense, but to think I, a journalist, will never have the gift of eloquence!



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