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by Hans Tammemagi
(For Travel Writers’ Tales)

Ireland, the Land of the Leprechauns, brings forth enchanting images of lush greenery, castles on every corner and rainbows with pots of gold. My wife, Ally, and I were in the Emerald Isle for the first time, and we were smitten by the long history and everything so green and welcoming. But there was one place that drew us like a magnet: Blarney Castle and its fabled Blarney Stone. How could we not be captivated? One quick smooch for the enduring gift of the gab? What a deal!

Blarney, I discovered, means beguiling but misleading talk. This is a delightful characteristic of the Irish, who are famous for their charming and persuasive twists of the tongue. The Blarney Stone began when the Queen of the Fairies, the daughter of a Druid, fell in love with a gallant young chieftain who, unfortunately, was killed in a battle. She found him lying on a stone soaked in his blood. Her tears mingled with the blood as she again and again kissed his dead lips, causing her magical powers to be transferred to the stone.

Narrow winding roads led us to Blarney Castle, the third to have been erected on this site. The first building in the tenth century was a wooden structure. Around 1210, it was replaced by a stone fort. In 1446, the third castle was built and the Stone of Eloquence eventually found its way to the castle where it was embedded in the wall near the top of a turret.

Ally and I arrived, and we strolled along the river toward the towering stone castle passing an arboretum filled with plants and sculptures of herons, foxes and rabbits. Then we saw a fellow in a kilt playing a screeching melody on bagpipes. Nearing the castle we saw the base was a conglomeration of caves and dungeons.

But Ally rushed past these attractions to the castle entrance, joining a long lineup, which snaked through the battlements and up to the famous Stone. We inched slowly upward through the Great Hall with its giant stone fireplace. We passed the chapel, and we shivered at the foreboding murder hole, into which unwanted visitors plunged through a hidden trap door.

For over 200 years, millions of people have climbed the worn stone steps to kiss the Blarney Stone. Excitedly, Ally chatted with our fellow aspirants, asking from where they hailed and, more importantly, how they intended to use their newfound gift of eloquence.

We reached the top turret, and then the Blarney Stone. Long ago, visitors were held by the ankles and lowered over the outside of the battlements. Nowadays, although requiring some dexterity, it is much safer, as you lean backwards inside the wall. We did so, bestowing slobbery kisses onto the Stone.

After, I still felt the same, but knew that I was now imbued with a newly acquired talent. We descended and started exploring the extensive grounds at the Poison Garden. A sign marked by a skull and crossbones warned that we entered at our own risk. We found a collection of poisonous plants from all over the world including Wolfsbane, Mandrake, Ricin, Opium and Cannabis, which were labelled with their toxicity and traditional and modern uses. I was nervous but Ally, who loves gardening, talked continuously. I wondered, did kissing the Blarney Stone perhaps affect her?

Next we wandered to the Rock Close, a mystical places said to be on the site of an ancient druidic settlement from pre-historic times. The landscape garden is a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks with many of the yew trees and evergreen oaks extremely ancient. We walked toward the sound of gurgling water and were greeted by two waterfalls. There was a feeling of magic for it was like being part of the Lord of the Rings.

Exploring the extensive grounds, we visited the Blarney House, a Scottish Baronial mansion built in 1874, the Fern Garden, several arboretums, the Woodland and Riverside walks and Blarney Lake. We were astonished by the enormous size of the property (60 acres) and its many beautiful gardens.

Exhausted but exhilarated, we strolled into the picturesque town and entered the Blarney Castle Hotel. My newfound gift of eloquence was working well, and soon before us sat two glasses of Guiness, the deep dark chocolate fluid topped by foamy effervescence. Ah, what a grand country, and what a grand gift we had gained!



If You Seek the Gift of the Gab:

Blarney Castle & Gardens:
General tourism information:
Ireland uses the Euro, which equals $1.46 Canadian

PHOTOS by Hans Tammemagi
1- Blarney Castle
2- Upper Battlements of Blarney Castle
3- Ally smooching the Stone
4- The Poison Garden
5- Mural of Blarney Castle in town

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