Day 8: Part II: All about the Blarney
But first, a limerick. We passed through county Limerick on our way to Blarney Castle, and my husband was playing around with something but couldn’t come up with a last line. Luckily (or not, I’ll let you be the judge), a limerick sprang fully formed from my head like Athena from the head of Zeus and so…
There once was a man named Pete
Who couldn’t sit still in his seat.
His wife pinned him down
And then went to town.
By the time she was through, he was beat.
Yeah, I know, it’s a little risque, but I take inspiration where I find it.
On that note, we arrived at the famed Blarney Castle, where we did not wait in the hour and a half line to kiss the Blarney Stone. Both of us felt we were already sufficiently blessed with the gift of gab. And anyway, there was so much else to see! Not inside the castle, unfortunately. Inside there was apparently nothing but the queue for the stone. But outside, there was the poison garden, secret exits, the rock close with the druid’s circle and witch’s kitchen…
First a bit about Blarney Castle. The Castle we saw was actually the third built on the site—following a hunting lodge in the 10th century and a stone fortification built around 1210. The stone for this third castle (built in 1446 by Cormac MaCarthy, who we’ll get to in a minute) was quarried right on site, and the part of the castle’s protection is that it sits atop eight meters of sheared off cliff.
Now, good old Cormac seems to have been something of a character. According to one of the signs at the site, Queen Elizabeth I introduced the word ‘blarney’ into the English language to describe his facile tongue. It seems that when her emissary, Sir George Carew, was sent to convince Cormac to give up his rights and accept England’s authority, he was greeted each time with flowery claims of loyalty and overblown flattery of the Queen, but no agreement. “In frustration, Elizabeth exclaimed, ‘This is all Blarney. What he says he never means’.”
But it wasn’t just Cormac’s tongue that was tricksy. Blarney Castle’s architecture is unique in that not even the walls can manage a straight line; the towers narrow as they reach for the sky. Likewise, there were known to be at least three secret tunnels, like Badgers Cave, through which the family could escape, and a legend that enchanted cows would rise out of the lake to warn of danger. Blarney also employed the trip stairs and other fun defensive strategies.
Pete and I enjoyed the poison garden, where I learned quite a lot! Oh, don’t worry, nothing to be too concerned over. Maybe. Probably. But did you know that even smelling while hellebore could be permanently harmful to your health? Or that on the Aegean isle of Ceos “the elderly and infirm were expected to drink a potion of wolfsbane to free their families from the burden of caring for them”? Well, neither did I!
The rock close held all kinds of cool things like the druid’s circle, druid’s cave, a dolmen, witch’s kitchen and stone, stone circle… It was unclear to me how much was left as it was found and how much was, well, blarney, created for the enjoyment of the castle’s visitors past and present, but we certainly had a good time exploring. Regardless, we did give the Witch of Blarney her due and try to walk up and down her wishing steps with our eyes closed, thinking of nothing but our wish, which is remarkably hard, especially when people are coming the other way up/down the stairs, equally blind and there’s only one rail to hold onto! Luckily, people were very nice and we all did our best to guide those coming down so they wouldn’t end up with twisted ankles or a dip in the pool just beyond the stairs!
We’d been planning to also try for the medieval city of Kilkenny that day, but Blarney had so enchanted us that we were running a bit late and so we skipped it in favor of an early night before our trip home on the morrow. Happy to be seeing our son, who hadn’t wanted to be apart from his friends long enough to tour Ireland, and our pups, but very sad to be leaving the country that had stolen our hearts.