Blarney Castle: More Than Just a Kissing Stone

Waterfall, Blarney Castle, County Cork
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Why do more than 400,000 people a year visit Blarney Castle, in the south-west of Ireland? I’d always assumed that they all went to kiss the famous Blarney Stone, and not much more. Certainly that’s what I did, on a long ago visit to the nearby town of Cork. But I had vague memories of atmospheric grounds and I wondered, is Blarney Castle more than just a kissing stone?

Waterfall, Blarney Castle, County Cork
A waterfall in the Blarney Castle Bog Garden

Why Kiss the Blarney Stone Anyway?

My memory of kissing the Blarney Stone was that it was a precarious exercise, leaning backwards out of an upstairs window while someone held onto my feet! I had no desire to repeat the experience, but there was no shortage of people queuing up to have a go. Watching from below, it looked just hazardous as I remembered.

Blarney Stone
Visitors get ready to lean out of the window and kiss the Blarney Stone

The stone was a gift from Robert the Bruce of Scotland in 1314. A local witch told the castle’s owner, King Cormac McCarthy, that it had magical powers. Anyone who kissed the stone would acquire the art of eloquence.

Blarney Castle: more than just a kissing stone
Pinnable image of Blarney Castle and grounds

Exploring the Gardens of Blarney Castle

But, in a way, the stone is just a distraction from what the estate has to offer. You could spend a whole day exploring the 60 acres of gardens, with their natural wonders and a few legends of their own. There are areas with intriguing names like the Poison Garden, the Bog Garden or The Jungle. And there are waterfalls, woodland and riverside walks.

Sculpture, Blarney Castle
Look out for whimsical sculptures in the grounds

The gardens are full of curiosities. As you come in you pass a stream that runs over a bridge across another waterway (this is an 18th century construction). The Poison Garden (as you might expect) is full of toxic plants. And then you come to the Garden of the Seven Sisters, a sculpture park with a stone circle at its centre. The circle is in fact modern (around 2014), but it recalls an ancient story of a King of Munster with seven daughters.

Seven Sisters Garden, Blarney Castle
Seven Sisters Garden and stone circle

Myth and Legend in the Rock Close

The Seven Sisters may be modern, but there are plenty of stones that may – or may not – be much older. These are in the Rock Close, an area created in the early 19th century around several mysterious stones and stone structures that were already in the grounds. You’ll see a Fairy Glade and the Wishing Steps. Then there is the Witch Stone: the Blarney Witch is locked up in a stone by day and only assumes her true form at night, when all the visitors have gone.

Rock Close, Blarney Castle
Walking around the mysterious Rock Close

It is hard to separate myth and history here. Is the Dolmen really an ancient burial site, or just some strangely shaped rocks? And did rituals ever take place by the Druid Stones or on the Sacrificial Altar? I stopped by the Witch’s Kitchen, where the Blarney Witch lights a fire each night to warm herself when she escapes from her stone. A small sign beside it says that “historians will tell you that this was home to the very first Irish cave dwellers”. To me, this was an instance where the history might just be more interesting than the legend…

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6 thoughts on “Blarney Castle: More Than Just a Kissing Stone”

  1. I’ve yet to get to Ireland, but it looks like so much fun! Blarney Castle is definitely on my list. While I’m too much of a germaphobe to kiss the stone, I’d definitely enjoy walking around the grounds. Great photo ops!

  2. You hit the nail on the head. So much more than just kissing the stone the gardens are beautiful. I found it way too touristy to stand in a line to spend about 10 seconds kissing the stone and getting your photo taken. We did it, of course. To this day I don’t know why we bought the photos. 🙂

    1. It’s so easy to find yourself doing touristy things without really intending to – I’ve often done it myself. But usually it’s the other, lesser known, things that you remember more.

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WorldWideWriter is owned and managed by Karen Warren. I have been writing and travelling for many years (almost 60 countries at the last count). I’ve visited every continent except Antarctica (I still hope to get there one day…), and my current favourite destinations are Italy, Spain and North America. This website is my attempt to inform and inspire other travellers, and to share some of the things I’ve discovered along the way.

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