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With a sparkle in their Isle

“We still believe in fairies, here on the island,” says Carol, our effervescent Irish tour guide, to a busload of bemused backpackers. “The Irish may laugh if you ask them outright if they believe in fairies. But ask them to go near one of the fairies’ forts” – Rowan trees, which apparently can bring you dire misfortune – “they’ll say to you: not on my life.” I’m unsure whether I’m having my leg pulled – the Irish are as famous for their cheeky humour as they are for their friendliness.

I’m onboard a three-day bus tour of southern Ireland, and the emphasis is as much on learning about Ireland’s rich culture as enjoying some bloody good craic. Throughout our trip we’re fed a constant stream of ‘facts’ about the Emerald Isle, which are part history, part legend, and part complete nonsense spontaneously invented by Carol just to entertain her gullible tour group. And entertained we certainly are.

The fun begins just a few hours into the trip, when I fi nd myself lying on the cold, hard, bluestone roof of 600-year-old Blarney Castle in the ‘Rebel County’ Cork. Having climbed for what seemed an eternity up the claustrophobic castle staircase, I’m instructed by the castle guide to lie down with my head against the very edge of the roof. While he grabs hold of me for support, I’m told to bend backwards over a gut-churning 27m-high drop, grab hold of the adjacent wall about a half-metre from the roof’s edge, and, upside down, plant a wet one on the well-worn Blarney Stone.

Legend has it that those who lock lips with this particular slab of bluestone, one of Ireland’s most famous landmarks, will be endowed with the ‘gift of the gab’: an ability to both speak eloquently and fl atter the pants off anyone. It seems to have worked for Mick Jagger, Billy Connolly and even Winston Churchill – all of whom have kissed the Stone before me – and so I say “what the feck”, and I shut my eyes and pucker up.


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With a sparkle in their Isle
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