I’m not sure about visiting Blarney Castle. Kissing the Blarney Stone, which according to legend gives the gift of eloquent speech, sounds like a lot of…well…blarney (not to mention germs). But like going to London without catching a glimpse of Big Ben, I can’t visit Ireland’s County Cork without stopping to smooch the ridiculous rock. I have to do it. So I begrudgingly go, but what I find amazes me. Rather than disappoint, Blarney Castle ends up being the highlight of my trip to Ireland. Why? I discover 8 secrets that win me over…
1) The Blarney Stone is the Least Impressive Thing about Blarney Castle
Not that this comes as a huge surprise. Add to that a queue that starts at the bottom of the world’s most claustrophobia-inducing spiral staircase and doesn’t stop until way after the top, and it makes it even more of a challenge for me to get excited about it.
Oh, and add to that the fact that to kiss the Blarney Stone you have to lie down on your back and lean four feet down a castle wall, risking life and limb and looking ridiculous in the process. I think the Irish, who seem to be born with the gift of gab and have no need to kiss the stone, are laughing all the way to the pub at how easy it is to trick us silly foreigners.
2) The Gardens are Amazing
The Blarney Stone is only one tiny piece of Blarney Castle and its grounds, though. In fact, the biggest secret of Blarney Castle is that it has huge gardens, a gigantic lake, and a lot of forest land to explore.
The Herbaceous Border and Rose Pergola garden, with their end-of-summer flowers, are lovely places to walk through. Add to that the fact that most visitors seem to leave as soon as the Blarney Stone infects them with whatever disease the person ahead of them was carrying, and it’s also pretty much deserted.
3) Blarney House is Stunning
I spot Blarney House from the queue at the top of Blarney Castle. At first I think it’s some kind of stately home nearby, but I later discover that it’s on the grounds and part of the castle complex. It’s closed for autumn now, but if it’s anywhere near as lovely on the inside as it is on the outside, it deserves to outshine its crenelated counterpart across the arboretum.
4) There are Fairies!
Now for the fun part. There’s an area near the castle called the Rock Close that’s dedicated to all things magical and mystical. This being Ireland, it’s not without a beautiful wooded fairy glade. Amazing!
5) There are Witches!
Next to the fairy glade are the Witches Stone and Witches Kitchen. The former is a large rock that looks like a witch, and legend has it that when night falls smoke rises through the rock chimney in the latter, which is a cave in the roots of a huge tree.
6) There are Waterfalls that Grant Wishes!
As if fairies and witches aren’t enough to make me love Blarney Castle, there’s another secret: wish-granting waterfalls! If you walk backwards with your eyes closed down a (terrifyingly steep) set of steps carved through a rock, the waterfall at the bottom will grant your wishes. Admittedly, it sounds even more baloney than the Blarney Stone, but the waterfall is a lot prettier and doesn’t have a queue, so I’ll suspend my doubt on this one.
7) There are Walking Paths that Go on Forever…and Nobody’s on Them
My amazement at Blarney Castle continues when I discover that there are miles of walking paths through forested land and around swan-studded lakes. Moving along them, I don’t see a single other visitor. Again, it seems everyone gets waylaid by the stone and doesn’t bother to discover the rest of the grounds. Such a shame, as they’re gorgeous!
8) There are Kissing Trees and Poison Gardens
There are lovely arboretums on the grounds that have collections of rare trees, both old and new. In addition to magical trees with roots that grow back up out of the ground in circles of new trees, there’s a little kissing tree with branches that grow upside-down to provide the perfect secret shelter for a cheeky kiss (take that, Blarney Stone!).
Not far from them is the Poison Garden, which contains everything from the leaves of the deadly hemlock plant to the forbidden purple flowers of monkshood. They’ve even somewhat bizarrely included a marijuana plant (it’s under a cage…don’t get any ideas).
So there you have the 8 secrets of Blarney Castle. Now please keep them secrets. We wouldn’t want anyone straying from the Blarney Stone and crowding up the kissing tree.