This article is part of our Trip Report, A Summer Holiday in Ireland & Scotland.
In their never-ending quest for interesting material, sportswriters and sports radio talk show hosts sometimes set up talking points with in a particular paradigm – overrated, underrated, or properly rated. They throw out the name of a player, team or event, and then debate whether it is overrated, underrated, or properly rated by mainstream culture and the media. It makes for a fun and discussion-facilitating gimmick. For example, I for one think Nirvana is wildly overrated, the Red Hot Chili Peppers are properly rated, and the punk rock band Sum 41 is underrated. This opinion, of course, will cause every Kurt Cobain lover to lose their biscuits. See, fun game?
Which brings me to kissing the Blarney Stone at Blarney Castle. For as long as I can remember, every single thing I’ve read about kissing the Blarney Stone has said one thing – overrated. [Want a few examples? See here (IrishCentral), here (Frommers), and here (USA Today).]
Well, I’m going to take the contrarian view on this one – I’m going to say that going to Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone are actually underrated. Now, to be fair, that may be because it’s been called “overrated” so many times that expectations may have been dampened – that is, the Blarney Stones “rating” in the mainstream may have declined, thus lowering the bar. But we had a lovely time on the beautiful and well-kept Blarney Castle grounds, and kissing the Blarney Stone was a unique and iconic experience. Plus, everyone knows about kissing the Blarney Stone, so it’s fun to talk about when you’re regaling your friends with tales of your visit to the Emerald Isle.
Where is Blarney Castle?
Blarney Castle is in the small Irish village of Blarney (how about that?) in southern Ireland. Blarney is on the outskirts of Cork, Ireland’s second most-populous city. Google Maps says it’s about a 3-hour drive southwest of Dublin (263 km). We were driving to Blarney Castle from Killarney, which Google Maps estimates at about an hour and 20 minutes (75-90 km depending on what route you take; and let me say, Google Maps sent us down some very small rural roads to get us there!).
Here is a map showing the location of Blarney Castle on the Irish island:
What’s the Deal with Kissing the Blarney Stone?
One thing about the Blarney Stone is agreed by all – legend has it that kissing the Stone endows the kisser with the “gift of gab” – that is, great eloquence and persuasiveness, particularly by flattery. Beyond that, though, there are many wildly varied stories about the legend and history of the stone – probably as many different stories as there are tellers of tall tales in Ireland, and well beyond the scope of Middle Age Miles to sort out! You can find some of the legends on the Wikipedia page for the Blarney Stone, and even more on the official Blarney Castle website.
That said, it does seem to be relatively settled that the Stone was set into Blarney Castle in the mid-15th century, and some Scottish scientists believe they have definitely proven that the Stone is native to the local area.
How Do I Kiss the Blarney Stone?
First, you’re going to need a ticket to Blarney Castle & Gardens. As of 2018, ticket prices at the gate are 18 Euros for adults, 14 Euros for students, and 8 Euros for children 8-16 years (kids under 8 are free) – or, a “family” ticket for 2 adults & 2 children is 45 Euros. However, you can save a little cash by buying tickets online in advance, which are 16 Euros for adults, 13 Euros for students, 7 Euros for children 8-16 – or, a “family” ticket online in advance is 40 Euros. (Ticket prices have increased in the past 2 years. Back in 2016 we bought our tickets online in advance, for 12.50 Euros each. (I paid with my Citi Prestige, and hopefully I got 2x ThankYou Points in the “Entertainment” bonus category!))
The Castle & Gardens open at 9:00 am year-round, with closing times varying by month. In the heavy tourist season of June through August, closing time is 7:00 pm, with last admission at 6:00 pm.
PRO TIP: Go to Blarney Castle in the morning if you can, especially during the high-traffic summer months. We went late morning on a weekday. We were lucky and didn’t have to wait too long in line to kiss the Stone, maybe 20 people or so. But I understand that lines can be much worse, particularly later in the day.
Likewise, when you get into the Castle grounds, go straight to the Castle and knock out kissing the Stone. The Castle grounds and gardens are sprawling and inviting, but don’t get distracted and cause yourself a longer wait time.
Next, enter the Castle grounds, walk to the Castle, follow the signs and make your way up the 127 stone stairs to the top. At some point you’ll be waiting in line, and then you can make your way slowly to the Stone.
PRO TIP: When you get near the front of the line, watch and pay attention to the people in front of you kissing the Stone. It’s a tricky maneuver and you’ll be well-served to see it a few times before you attempt it yourself.
Now, you’re at the front of the line. What do you do next? Kissing the Stone involves laying on the floor, on our back, reaching up with your arms to grasp two vertical iron bars that are above and behind your head, sliding your head and upper torso out over nothingness (actually, the Stone is 37 feet above ground), tilting your head back as you slide it out a little further (underneath the Stone), and delivering your kiss. Makes perfect sense, right? I believe in this case, a picture of the kiss is worth at least a thousand words of description.Fortunately, there are helpers to hold you, a little pad on the floor to keep it from being too rough on your back, and three iron bars underneath your head and torso, which presumably would keep you from sliding through the opening and falling, if the helper lost his grip on you.
Our featured image at the top of this article also shows Philly nimbly executing the tricky “kiss the Blarney Stone” maneuver. [I’m not posting a picture of me kissing the Stone, because I did not execute this move nearly so well!]
PRO TIP: Before you lay down to kiss the Stone, make sure you’ve secured your pockets and don’t have anything loose that will slide out when you lean backwards.
ANOTHER PRO TIP: The helpers at the Stone are very kind with letting people take pictures of their friends kissing the Stone, and one of them might even take the picture himself if you’re lucky. But please be courteous by having your camera on and ready as you approach the Stone. I know, it’s a lot to think about and prepare for as you come up for your kiss. Be prepared, so you can enjoy the moment 🙂
I’m a Germophobe – Can I Kiss the Stone?
Well, let’s just say there is no disinfectant wipe of the Stone after each kiss. This sort of thing doesn’t bother me, but I know a few people who would tremble at the thought of kissing an outdoor exposed rock after a line of strangers have done the same.
I’m Terrified of Unprotected Heights – Can I Kiss the Stone?
Your not-so-fearless writer is pretty scared (mildly terrified?) of unprotected heights. My brain was telling me that I was going to slip right through that opening between the Stone and the iron bars and crash to my doom 37 feet below. So yeah, I did it, but I kind of kissed the front edge of the Stone as opposed to getting my head all the way underneath to kiss the bottom, and it was kind of tough.
What Else Is on the Blarney Castle Grounds?
The Blarney Castle grounds cover more than 60 acres surrounding the Castle itself. There are numerous walking paths throughout the grounds. Parts of the grounds were wooded, parts were open fields, and the Blarney River and the River Martin also run through the grounds. The sounds of the flowing waters enhance the tranquility of the grounds when you’re close enough to the rivers, which is nice. All of the parts of the grounds that we saw were beautiful and well-kept, and you could spend a full day (or maybe more) meandering about the grounds and relaxing.
The Blarney Castle official website contains some good information and guides if you’re interested in exploring further:
- Map & Virtual Tour
- Explore Blarney Castle (this page includes attractions from all over the grounds, not just the Castle itself)
- Blarney Castle – the Gardens
In terms of exploring the Castle, the trudge up to kiss the Blarney Stone and back down, in and of itself, takes you through a tour of the Castle. There are numerous signs along the way that describe the different sections of the Castle what they were used for, and their significance. Immediately outside the Castle, we also had fun exploring the dungeons and caves (as much as you can, given the restrictions on how far you can enter).
We also made our way around more of the grounds, including walking up to Blarney House (although we didn’t enter) and visiting the Stable Yard. I wish we’d had time to stroll around the Forest Trail Route and see the Witch Stone and the Wishing Steps, but we were a bit limited on time.
The thing we most enjoyed, though, was visiting the Poison Garden. This was a crazy garden area where all of the plants are poisonous! The plants in the Garden include wolfsbane, ricin and opium. Some are enclosed in large cages. The Garden is filled with small signs that tell about the various plants, including their uses and toxicity. We were scared to even brush up against anything (probably the correct approach, by the way; a sign at the entry to the Garden warns, “Do not touch, smell or eat any plant!”). Some of the plants are beautiful, and some are plain – but the whole experience is kind of spooky!
There was a snack shop inside the grounds, and we got some ice cream there, but as I recall the selection is very limited. The good news is that you can bring a picnic onto the grounds. I would definitely recommend doing so if you’re planning to spend a full day at Blarney Castle.
What Else Is Nearby?
The village of Blarney is very small, so there’s not much else to do and see besides the Castle. The main attraction would be the Blarney Woollen Mills, which is a large, multi-story shopping center about 4 blocks east of the entrance to the Castle grounds. We enjoyed browsing through the main store. If you need a place to buy Irish souvenirs and clothing, this would be a good place, as they have a huge selection to choose from.
Restaurant selection in Blarney is quite limited. We had a solid lunch at the Lantern House, a Chinese restaurant just off the northeast corner of the square in the center of town. I’m not sure what the other choices are like, but I wouldn’t hesitate to send someone to the Lantern House.
There’s a parking lot near the Blarney Castle grounds. We didn’t park there, so I’m not sure whether they charge, or if it’s free. We found free parking (in the shade!) on the street on the square.
Have you been to Blarney Castle and kissed the Blarney Stone? So what do you think – overrated, underrated, or properly rated? Let us know in the comments!