The legendary Blarney stone reputedly gives those who kiss it the gift of the gab. A sceptical BRENDON BISHOP tests the theory.
“There’s no way the Irish kiss that damn stone. That’s only for tourists. What would an Irishman want with kissing some arbitrary rock?”
These are the frank words of our guide, Conrad, as we arrive at Blarney Castle near Cork, amid the masses intent on wrapping their lips around the legacy that is the Blarney Stone. If the Irish are not willing to kiss the rock that’s been kissed a million times before, then why the hell should I bother?
How desperate am I for the gift of the gab that, according to legend, comes from kissing the stone? Not that desperate – I can speak enough bullshit when I want to, and have been known to use my linguistic skills to weave my way out of many a tricky web. Still, it’s fun to watch those sold on this blarney idea born so many years ago.
It all started with Robert the Bruce (King of Scotland from 1306-29, and the one from Braveheart), Conrad tells us. He gave the Irish the original stone as a thank-you for their support in the victorious battles against the English.
A prominent Irish family, the McCarthys, who were wealthy landowners in the Blarney area at the time, were the lucky recipients of the symbolic stone. Unsure what to do with the hulk of rock, McCarthy senior decided to build it into his castle walls.
A generation or so later (the exact dates have become hazy with time), one of the McCarthy men became a prodigious storyteller, even capable of selling Guinness to the Irish. McCarthy’s supreme oratory skills earned him the official position of liaison to Queen Elizabeth I.
But McCarthy, being a man who promised the world and delivered nothing, never completed or even remotely pursued the Queen’s instructions over matters related to her affairs in Ireland.
Naturally, McCarthy was never intending to fulfil any of the huge promises he made to the Queen; after all, Elizabeth was English and the Irish had better things to do than obey the English. Eventually the Queen realised he had been leading her up the garden path, allegedly muttering that McCarthy speaks a lot of blarney”. Legend has it this is where the term was coined, but then the story in itself could be a load of blarney.
As charming a tale as it may seem, I was still far from convinced that kissing the stone was going to give me anything more that a dodgy virus. Still, I dragged myself up the 108 steps to see others have a go.
Yes, the stone is a walk up the castle tower’s steep steps, much to the dismay of an American tourist who allegedly asked why a modern day lift had not been placed in the 500-year-old structure.
Perhaps this is proof that the Blarney Stone does indeed have an effect of some kind at least. Now give me another Guinness and let me work on a more surefire way of developing the gift of the gab. •
• Brendon Bishop travelled to Ireland with Paddywagon (0800-783 4191). Their six-day All Ireland tours start at £189.”