Last updated on January 2, 2023
Ireland is the most charming country on the planet. Okay, that’s a bold statement, I know. I’ve visited truly incredible countries during my year on the road. And while Laos and Nepal hold particularly special places in my heart, Ireland feels like home.
My parents nursed me on stories of the Emerald Isle. Pictures of the O’Donnell family crest graced our walls. I grew up captivated by tales of silkies and fairies, and captivated by photos once my dad returned home from his trip to Ireland spent tracing our family history. It’s impossible to not completely love a place you’ve dreamed of visiting. I first visited Ireland in 2005 with my dad, and we focused mostly on County Donegal—we rented a car, got lost on tiny winding roads, and hiked rugged coastline through endless sheep pastures. This time, I would seek out Ireland’s other most famous vistas, hikes, and yes, castles. Specifically, I would seek out Blarney Castle in Cork so I would be blessed with the gift of gab.
Getting to the Blarney Stone in Cork
Without my dad leading the way, my trip focused on the southern coast of Ireland. And because the country’s small, I decided to rent a car in Dublin as soon as I landed and head south immediately. While not an entirely sane idea since I hail from a country that drives on the right side of the road, it was the most efficient and effective way to get around.
That said, landing in Dublin and immediately driving on the massive highway system is baptism by fire. My blood pressure skyrocketed when I approached the first roundabout: I held my breath, tapped on my turn signal, looked left . . . no WAIT—I looked right before venturing on my way for the very straightforward three hour drive to Cork.
Cork is a pretty big city, but it’s still friendly in all the right ways. I’m not a “big-city” person, and Cork actually runs a fine line between being too large. Thankfully, once you park there’s plenty of charm to find in the city. Since it was raining when I arrived in Cork, I opted to wait until the next morning—hoping the fickle Irish weather would clear.
Where: Blarney Castle—which is home to the Blarney Stone—is located just 20 minutes outside of Cork. Far enough that you can’t walk from the city-center, but buses leave throughout the day from the city center if you’re carless!
What is the Blarney Stone?
The Blarney Stone is located in Blarney Castle, the stone foundation of which dates to 1210 CE. Legend has it that the man who rebuilt the castle in the 15th century appealed to the goddess Clíodhna for help with a lawsuit. At her direction, he kissed the first stone he saw, and a great eloquence overtook him in the courtroom. He then incorporated that stone into the castle.
Others legends claim the prophet Jeremiah brought the stone to the area, or that Cormac MacCarthy, King of Munster, learned of the stone’s powers by a witch saved from drowning.
None of these sound right? Here’s another option. According to legend, the stone was gifted to the castle’s owner, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, by Robert the Bruce in 1314.
No matter which way you look at it, the stone has a long history in Ireland and centuries of men and women have kissed the stone in hopes of all it promises.
Why Do People Kiss the Blarney Stone?
No matter which origin story you believe, all agree on one thing: kissing the Blarney Stone bestows on the kisser the gift of gab. This means you’ll leave the Castle with great eloquence and skill at flattery once you’ve puckered your lips and kissed the stone.
And it’s no easy feat to kiss the stone. The stone is a mysterious block of bluestone set into the actual walls of Blarney Castle. Kissing it is not for the faint of heart—you have to dangle yourself over the gaping hole in the castle floor. The bars are recent additions in the past century as you used to have to dangle by your ankles over the side of the wall. Even with the safety features, for some people the experience extreme fear of heights due to how precarious it all feels.
Once it’s your turn, you take a death-grip the handrails and the man assisting unceremoniously grabs two fist-fulls of your clothes and shoves you close enough to kiss the stone.
A heartbeat later, you’re hauled upright and sent on your way. (Note: Kissing the stone is still possible post-COVID—there are additional safety measures in place now to ensure it’s sanitary for those wishing to visit and earn the gift of gab during a post-pandemic trip).
So, the burning question: Did I kiss the stone?
Did I really put my lips on that wet slab of germ-infested rock where thousands have done-so before me? Did I dangle my body from the side of the castle and risk my life?!
Yes, although perhaps not that melodramatically! I mean, how can you not? You’re there and it’s there. It may be cheesy and touristy, but I’m cheesy and occasionally touristy, so I saw no issue.
6 Tips When Kissing the Blarney Stone
1. The Blarney Stone is Cleaned Constantly
In the wake of the Covid pandemic, Blarney Castle is meticulous about using a cleaning agent approved by the World Health Organization—they clean the stone, as well as all of the high-touch surfaces.
2. Buy Tickets Online or at the Castle
Buy your ticket online for the easiest option, but know that you can also buy a ticket once you arrive. You’ll have access to the Blarney Stone, as well as the entire castle and grounds.
3. Prepare to Hang Upside Down
Why do you kiss the blarney stone upside down? Well, it’s the only way to reach the stone. To kiss the stone, visitors must climb to the top of the castle and lean backwards over a parapet while holding onto iron bars. The stone is located in the wall below, and visitors must kiss it to receive its gift. You have to lower your body down to actually get at an angle where you can reach it. If you have dreams of kissing the stone, you’ll have to hang upside down to do it.
4. Visit the Castle, Too
For all of the hullabaloo about kissing the stone, the castle and the surrounding grounds are beautiful and worth an hour or two, once you’ve made your pilgrimage to the stone. Although the dank, thin, and winding staircases are not for the claustrophobic, once you climb higher the sweeping views of lush green country and manicured gardens make the the trip to the top worth it.
5. Shoulder- and Off-Season Are the Best Times to Visit the Stone
The Blarney Stone is not an under-the-radar tourist experience—if you’re there during prime summer months, expect crowds and a queue to kiss the stone. It is estimated that around 400,000 people visit the castle each year to kiss the stone. I’ve always believed September is the hands-down best time to visit Ireland, so consider going then during shoulder season!
6. Visit the Poison Garden
Yep, the castle grounds feature a garden filled with poisonous medicinal herbs. Go find it, but just watch your kiddos if they’re wandering the garden alongside you—you seriously cannot touch, taste, or smell anything in the garden but you will learn a lot!
7. Bring an Umbrella, Rain Coat, and Appropriate Shoes
This is more like a general tip for anything you do in Ireland—plan for rain. Then you can be delighted and surprised if you get sunshine instead. But you’ll be dry either way.
I spent a few hours at Blarney Castle, and although I’m not sure my voice is more mellifluous and my speech more eloquent, I’m certainly still glad I kissed the stone.
Tell me, would you have kissed the stone? Or do you now think my lips are now tainted for a lifetime? ;-)