Kissing in Cork? - You Must Be Blarney!
Updated: Oct 16, 2019
Why I risked it all...for a kiss!
This summer I spent a week in the Republic of Ireland. My August excursion began with a couple of days in Cork before I headed to the west coast as a guest and photographer at my mate's wedding just outside of Galway. With my mind completely occupied by my part in the wedding, I did zero planning for my two days in Ireland's second largest city. I'd heard that Cork had some great pubs, a lively music scene and a castle, so I knew there would be enough to keep me entertained for 48 hours. What I didn't know was that by visiting said castle, I was about to risk my life for a kiss, while completely sober, for a reason that was not entirely clear, and I would pay for the pleasure.
Cork: A City Up My Street
I arrived in Cork in the afternoon and I'd fallen in love by night. Everything I'd heard was true: pubs around every corner; affable locals; world class beers; a walkable city centre; and live music 7 nights a week. This city was right up my street! With classic first-night-excitement, my mate Scott and I hit the town on a hop-fueled bar hop to the soundtrack of Cork's local bands and troubadours. A large part of our night was spent at Bru Bar & Hostel a typical Irish pub with a hostel upstairs where there's an open mic night every Monday. From 9pm the first chord was strum and the drinks started to flow. Stouts, Irish reds, and delicious craft ales were ready to be imbibed; I could tell it was going to be a long night. Now, you may be thinking that it's a bit crass to dedicate a section of a travel blog to a boozy night out, but it's no secret that drinking is a part of the culture of Ireland, so it would be rude to visit and and not sample a few alcoholic beverages, would it not? That's my excuse. The more we drank, the more we conversed with the locals who will talk and drink you under the table. We learned that almost everyone in Cork is a musician, or in some way connected to one. Music is the lifeblood of the city. A chat with one local musician in the know led us to end our night at The Crane Lane Theatre, the place everyone goes after the pubs have rung last orders, and it's easy to see why. Crane Lane is a popular music venue that truly rocks into the early hours. The band playing that night wowed the crowd with blues rock classics that were flawlessly executed through a superior sound system. All night people kept pouring in and by the end, the dance floor was full, and this was just a Monday night. Bring me back for the weekend!
Blarney Castle: Home Of The Blarney Stone
The next day, our heads were just like the weather; cloudy and miserable. But, with one full day left in Cork, we needed to make the most of it by doing something cultured that preferably didn't involve booze. So, with a firm tick next to 'pubs' and 'live music scene', next on the list was a visit to Blarney Castle, the number one 'thing to do' in Cork, according to Google. Built in 1446, Blarney Castle is Home of the Blarney Stone. Scott told me that the thing to do here was to kiss the Blarney Stone. This sounded intriguing but with no further questions, we headed out. I would soon learn why kissing the Blarney Stone is not as straightforward as it sounds.
Technically, the castle isn't in Cork, it's in Blarney, a town 5 miles up the road. You can reach the medieval stronghold by taking a bus from Cork city centre. Bus 215 leaves every half hour. Fortunately for our hop-hammered heads, the bus stop was just outside our accommodation on Mulgrave Road/Upper John St. The journey takes approximately 25 minutes and costs 2.80 euro for a single journey. You can buy a single ticket on the bus and buy another single ticket on the bus back. You should get off at Blarney Woolen Mills. Just ask the driver if you're not sure, but it's fairly obvious which stop it is especially when you see all the other tourists getting off. The castle is about a 3 minutes walk from the Woolen Mills bus stop.
At the ticket window we learned that there would be at least a 1 hour wait to reach the top of the castle. The news about the waiting time forced one family to turn back and grumble off into the distance, but they needn't have been so hasty. The castle grounds are filled with a beautiful array of flowers and various gardens. Not to mention a myriad of positions and angles from which to take shots of the
castle. After twenty minutes of taking pictures and enjoying the grounds, we headed in to find no queue at all. Result!
Inside the castle there are numerous rooms that once had various different purposes from kitchens to chapels. Now in its ruinous state, the rooms of the castle are pretty much the same - bare and empty with few clues as to their former uses except for signs on the wall depicting castle life in the medieval times. A diagram showed that there are a total of 15 rooms in the castle connected by an extremely narrow winding staircase. Curiously we noticed the 'Priests Room' situated directly next to the 'Young Ladies Room'. Careful now!
Waiting For The Kiss
Just before emerging from the tight twirling staircase and reaching the top, I noticed a sign warning visitors to take off sunglasses and check pockets to ensure there were no loose objects like keys and coins. I thought this was a strange request to make for simply kissing a stone. My plans of disguising my baggy eyes, battle scars of the previous night's antics, for a photo were gone. It was at this point I realised that there was something I was missing about kissing the Blarney Stone. What was this all about? Why would things fall out of my pockets? When we came out at the top, I could see we were in a queue on a path alongside the parapet, leading to a spot where there was a steel frame on the wall, along with a CCTV camera and man sitting on the floor. 'Where's the stone?' I thought. While in the queue, Scott and I shared some travel stories with an American couple behind us. As the queue moved along, we happily chatted until we reached the front of the line. I turned around and looked down to see a gaping hole in the castle wall through which you could the tiny people walking around the castle grounds below. A sight that would send an acrophobic into a spin. "Where's the stone?" With no words, the man sitting on the ground with his legs dangling though the gap nodded towards a smooth piece of limestone rock above the hole. At that point I realised why kissing the Blarney Stone was not your average stone-kissing-experience. Kissing this stone is a challenge! "So, run this by me again... I have to part with my belongings, lie on my back, put my hands on the wall, and hang my body over a 90ft sheer drop where any serious error of judgement could lead to my death... just to kiss a piece of rock? OK, great! ...Sorry...what's the point of this again?".
A Rush of Blood to the Head
Legend has it that smooching the Blarney Stone gives those who complete the challenge the 'gift of eloquence' or the 'gift of the gab', so you'll never be lost for words. I would say that the legend is absolutely correct. I can say from first-hand experience that the strong rush of blood you get by draping yourself upside down over a hole that could bring your untimely death from falling from the top of a castle certainly does not leave you short of words, specifically foul mouthed four letter words.
Glad to be Behind Bars
OK, admittedly, I'm slightly exaggerating how dangerous it is to kiss the Blarney Stone. I don't want to put anyone off because it was really fun and it's actually quite safe. Once upon a time, in the medieval pre-tourism days, I have no doubt that this would have been an extremely dangerous feat. But, these days there are measures in place to ensure you can smack you lips to the Blarney Stone safely without smacking anything else. Unless your body is wafer thin, there is very little chance of sliding through the hole as they have a couple of iron bars in place to stop you. There is also a metal frame attached to the wall where you place your hands to steady yourself and the man sitting on the edge is there to hold your body in case you slip. They've got you covered. Really. I did ask if anyone had fell through to which I got no reply. You can make up your own mind as to what that means. The only really danger here is that you end up paying 10 euro in the gift shop for a photo of your chest. Just make sure you get your phone/camera ready to give to someone so they can take a picture or video when it's your turn to kiss the stone. The official picture just doesn't seem worth the price.
After coming down there is a chance to get high again by paying a visit to the Poison Garden which contains a curious collection of plants including opium and cannabis. A sign next to each plant describe the symptoms of ingesting it as well as other notable facts. If you're someone who finds the 'symptoms' desirable, I'm sorry to have to tell you that the plants in question are surrounded by large steel fences, so Amsterdam is still your best option for that kind of thing.
A True Story Or A Load of Blarney?
Cynics may argue that the Blarney Stone is a tourist trap because "it's just a stone". That may be true. However, as well as being a unique experience, kissing the Blarney Stone was something I would recommend doing as the story behind the stone adds value by spurring the imagination. Whether we choose to believe myths and legends or not; whether we claim a story was made up to draw in tourists or not; it is undeniable that great stories bring places to life. Every famous landmark around the world has a story that connects us to our past and gives a place significance. Believing that a simple stone can
yield extraordinary powers stimulates our minds and makes Blarney Castle a place worth visiting.
Opening hours vary throughout the year. Check the updated information here
Entrance fee 18 euro for adults or 16 euro if you buy online at the official website.