Sam kissing the Blarney Stone.

Sam kissing the Blarney Stone.

 

Way back in my family ancestry, there is a definite connection to Ireland. My father’s grandfather emigrated from that country’s County Clare to Canada, and his son married a French woman and moved to North Dakota, where both my father and I were born. Even though there’s not much Irish in me, there’s enough to get me excited about a visit to what I now consider my native land, along with Austria, Denmark and France, the other grandparental countries of my heritage. 

The first time I went, four of us rented a car and drove both hither and yon without direction or purpose, except to see castles. Most of those we encountered were ancient and rundown. Still, a night at Bunratty Castle near Shannon was memorable because we participated in an Irish Night, during which we drank mead, ate without silverware and sang “Danny Boy.”

My first visit to Blarney Castle centered around a kiss. Mind you, there was no romance involved because it was only a brief encounter between my lips and a rock slab. However, it was one of those things one never forgets because it required hanging upside down about eighty feet above ground level. This was decades ago when I was younger and had less trepidation about putting my body in peril. Besides, I figured at the time, thousands of others had already kissed the Blarney Stone, and nothing bad happened to them.

So, I plopped down on my back and inched my way over the edge of the castle wall while a security guard held onto my ankles. There was little actual danger involved because there was also an iron grate underneath the stone, making it impossible to fall to the ground below. Despite that, the man holding me said less than ten percent of those who make the climb to the stone actually go lip-to-rock with it. That fact alone demanded that I spend fifty cents in the gift shop for a certificate proclaiming that I had done the deed.

I went back there a short time ago, this time as a senior citizen. There have been many changes. Blarney Castle has undergone substantial upgrading since my initial visit. Fortunately, much of the charm surrounding the castle since it was built centuries ago is still intact – but improved. The 60-acre site now has more of a park-like feel because the grounds are better kept than in 1979. This is more inviting to older travelers because if they don’t care to climb up the rather steep and lengthy staircase to kiss the stone, they can wander around and enjoy the spectacular scenery.

The pathways are lined with flowers, shrubs, trees and little hidden-away places where visitors can sit and ponder how things were when Cormac McCarthy built the place more than 600 years ago. Or examine Rock Close, a quaint little area filled with giant rocks and hundreds of trees. Or look up at the castle and wonder how they built things like that without power tools and home improvement stores. I did all those things this time but didn’t kiss the stone. I already did that. And according to the legend, one kiss gives you the gift of gab for a lifetime, so why bother?

If you choose to go, here’s a note of caution: If possible, check to see when the giant cruise ships arrive at nearby Cobh because when they do, hundreds of passengers board tour buses and descend upon the castle, and you probably don’t want to kiss the stone after those people have been slobbering all over it, right?

Sam Lowe is a former Valley newspaperman who now writes about his travels across Arizona, the U.S. and the globe.