Sunday, November 4, 2012

Kissing the Blarney Stone

It seems to me that no trip to Ireland would be complete without a visit to the 15th century Blarney Castle.


Kissing the Blarney stone is not just a saying but an actual tradition, and since it bestows up on the kisser the gift of eloquence, how can I resist? Of course, eloquence is the nice way to say it. Gift of gab being the other. In 1602, Queen Elizabeth I's Deputy in Cork demanded that Lord of Blarney Cormac Teige MacCarthy swear allegiance and hand over ownership of his land to the Queen. His responses were constantly flattering, florid, and long-winded and managed to hint of undying loyalty without ever actually committing to anything. A true politican, in any era. It was the queen herself who is said to have coined the term, exclaiming at the latest psychophantic yet empty letter from MacCarthey, "This is all Blarney!"

Kissing the stone may not have started as early as 1602, but it is not just a modern crass-commercial tourist trap either. The tradition dates back at least to the 1700s (famous kissers include Winston Churchill and Mick Jagger). It's just that nowadays you have to pay admission and a tip to the people whose job it is to help you get in kissing position, and there's a safety bar to prevent you from diving headfirst approximately 90 feet to the ground.

I've read reports that women utter around three times more words per day than men. Scientific American puts rest to this common myth -- of questionable origins and blown up by the media as a fun sound byte -- with studies that show that, in reality, women speak on average only slightly more per day than men: 16,215 words compared with 15,669. However, while destroying the myth, Scientific American has also provided me with a new explanation for the disparity in our household. While coming up with the averages (which are just that: averages), researchers discovered a range of verbosity from a highly taciturn 500 words per day to 47,000 words per day. I like to think the girls (particularly Pippa) and I are not at the upper extreme, but it's clear that we're people who are bringing the average up. And Anthony, who's a chatty Cathy compared to the 500 word per day guy, is still bringing, if not the national average, at least our family average down. Let's just say that it's a good thing I'm a writer and have some sort of outlet for all those words swirling around my head. It's one of the reasons I love foreign languages: words, words, and more words!

So kissing the Blarney stone seems a little redundant for us, at least for the loquacious segment of the household. Poor Anthony, he probably should spend some quality time making out with the stone if he wants to catch up to the voluble levels of his three female family members. But no, he just gives the stone a friendly little platonic peck. Meanwhile, Pippa accidentally gets the stone with her whole face, so now we're afraid that her nose will be as garrulous as her mouth.

Between the ancient, narrow stairs you need to climb and the fact that you have to contort yourself upside down about 90 feet off the ground, it strikes me that you'd have to be free from vertigo and claustrophobia to enjoy this experience. But really, in order to visit the Blarney Castle, you should also be free from:

Hibernophobia - Fear of Ireland, Irish culture, ect.
Atephobia - Fear of ruin or ruins.
Climacophobia - Fear of stairs, climbing or of falling downstairs.
Philematophobia - Fear of kissing.
Hypsiphobia - Fear of height.
Lalophobia - Fear of speaking.
Logophobia - Fear of words.
Mythophobia - Fear of myths or stories or false statements.

...and let's not forget:
Aeroacrophobia - Fear of open high places.
Agoraphobia - Fear of open spaces or of being in crowded, public places.
Altophobia - Fear of heights.
Ambulophobia - Fear of walking.
Androphobia - Fear of men.
Anemophobia - Fear of air drafts or wind.
Asymmetriphobia - Fear of asymmetrical things.
Batophobia - Fear of heights or being close to high buildings.
Cathisophobia - Fear of sitting.
Chiraptophobia - Fear of being touched.
Claustrophobia - Fear of confined spaces.
Cremnophobia - Fear of precipices.
Phengophobia - Fear of daylight or sunshine.
Pluviophobia - Fear of rain or of being rained on.
Sciophobia - Fear of shadows.
Sociophobia - Fear of society or people in general.
Stenophobia - Fear of narrow things or places.
Verminophobia - Fear of germs.
Xenophobia - Fear of strangers or foreigners.

(So exciting! In the course of my research, I learn that the word for fear of Halloween is "Samhainophobia", and now we know why!)

We are treated to a stunning rainbow over the castle, sort of like a divine benediction for all those extra words we're about to utter. Poor, poor Anthony.


The grounds of the Blarney Castle are filled with magic, myth, and legend. Not only are the gardens like a magical fairyland, they officially contain a fairy glade. With fairy slipper flowers. For the fairies, natch. The stairs in the middle photo below are the wishing steps, and we all dutifully close our eyes and walk backwards down the steps, then up again, in order to make our wishes come true within the year. The photo on the right is of a boulder called the Witch's Stone, for the obvious reason.

But when all the magic, flowers, fairies, rainbows, sweetness and light get to be too much, there's something for the boyish side...

First of all, the history of the castle also involves Robert the Bruce in Scotland. Cormac McCarthy, the King of Munster, reportedly sent 4,000 troops to support Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. And legend says that in gratitude, Robert the Bruce sent half of the Stone of Scone. This is now the very stone we kiss high up in the battlements. Or not, since other historical accounts state the English removed the Stone of Scone (or Stone of Destiny) a hundred years earlier. So really, even this story could all be blarney.

The castle's history also involves Oliver Cromwell who finally managed to break into the King of Munster's stronghold only to find all the treasure and all the people save two servants had disappeared through underground tunnels.
Naturally, Anthony loves the slits for shooting out arrows (wait, I bet there's an official term for that...Yes, just looked it up, and they are called, cleverly enough, arrowslits, arrow slits, or arrow loops). Even better than the arrowslits is....cue ominous music....The Murder Hole. Like the trebuchets in La Dordogne, it's these sweet castle-y touches that speak to the twelve year old boy that still lurks (not too far) below Anthony's surface.
The Blarney castle has the added appeal of a poison garden. You know you're not in the US because some of the plants are enclosed in cages, protecting them from animals and animals from them, with nothing to protect the people. And many aren't enclosed at all. There's no waiver to sign and not even a placard warning you against picking, eating, or ingesting the plants. Basically, it's your business if you're stupid enough to taste plants in a poison garden, each clearly marked with a skull and crossbones and list of symptoms. Will cause nausea, dizziness, paralysis of the throat muscles, hallucinations, and death; want some? 


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