The skyline of Cork, Ireland.

Ireland’s Best Souvenir: The Gift of Gab

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Last year I was one of approximately 400,000 people from around the globe who visited Ireland and kissed the Blarney Stone. It was one of the highlights of my Azamara cruise in Northern Europe. Why kiss the Blarney Stone? Legend has it that those who kiss it are bestowed with eloquence and expressiveness.

Located in County Cork, the Stone is part of Blarney Castle. The original Blarney Castle was a wooden structure built in the 10th Century. It was replaced with a stone castle two centuries later. Then, in 1446, the King of Munster Dermot McCarthy had the third and current Blarney Castle built.

Blarney became synonymous with “the gift of gab” during the reign of Queen of Elizabeth I when McCarthy was ordered to give up the castle to prove allegiance to the Queen. McCarthy’s excuses for delay were so eloquent that they became famous in court, and dubbed “more Blarney talk” by the Queen.

Kissing the Stone is a bit scary but in a fun way. To get to the stone you climb up 120 narrow and uneven steps to the top of the castle. Then, you lie on your back and stick your head outside the castle wall while an attendant holds on to you. You lean back, holding the iron rails, and kiss the stone. It all happens very quickly.

Did you know that Winston Churchill kissed the Stone in 1912? His masterful speeches and radio addresses are often credited with keeping morale alive in England during WWII. Coincidence? You decide.

In 2014 geologists from the University of Glasgow determined that the Stone is “made of 330-million-year-old limestone local to the south of Ireland.” Here are some legends, or “blarney” as it turns out, about the Stone’s origins:

  • Acquired during the Crusades and imported into Ireland
  • Made from the same stone source as Stonehenge
  • Related to the Stone of Scone, used in the coronation of British monarchs
  • Gifted from Robert the Bruce, king of Scots, to Cormac McCarthy

Even if you’re not looking to up your gift of gab, Blarney Castle is well worth the trip. The ruins and the 60 acres of sprawling parkland are quite enchanting. There is a poison garden and a fern garden along with Witches Stone, which looks like, you guessed it, a witch. Make sure to leave time to explore the Woodland Walk and Lake Walk. With Ireland’s rainfall, up to 225 days a year, the grounds are lush – there’s a reason Ireland is called the Emerald Isle. 

Insider tip: If you love shopping, check out Blarney Woolen Mills, the 40,000-square foot Irish heritage shop where Aran Island fishermen sweaters, linens, lace, other fine textiles, crystal, Belleek china and other made-in-Ireland treasures can be found.

Though I’ve kissed the Blarney Stone I’m not convinced of my gift of gab powers, but I’ll try to persuade you to visit Blarney Castle. It wasn’t on my must-see list, but now it ranks as one of the most fun tourist spots I’ve ever visited.

Cruise to Ireland in July 2018 with Azamara.

Ann Tran

Ann Tran is a luxury travel writer located in Washington, DC. Ann has cruised with Azamara several times throughout Europe and Asia.

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