Monday, July 21, 2014


I kissed the Blarney Stone.  It sounds bizarre, really, to climb 131 steps up a suffocating spiral staircase in the tower of a medieval castle, lean your head over the edge of a precipice, and kiss a legendary stone.  Bizarre or not, legitimate benefits of gab to be gained or not, I aim to add my name to the list of the millions who have.

As I walk over the moat leading to the entrance of Blarney castle in Ireland, I feel calm. No anxiety at all.  The climb won't be a physical challenge, and I figure someone is bound be there to hold my legs as I stretch over the edge.  The calm frees me to appreciate the stunning grounds of the castle, whose original stone structure dates back to the thirteenth century.  The maintenance of the castle respects its integrity.  The stone floor is uneven, even broken in parts.  The stairs leading to the tower are narrow and indented from centuries of traffic.  They are also slick from the rain that has sprayed in from the unprotected castle windows and the structure's natural dampness.   The thick rope anchored to the castle wall on the right side of the staircase provides some support.  As I climb, I expect to bump in to flowing skirts rustling around the corner of these dank corridors, or servants with platters of meat destined for a feast.
The Blarney Stone
on the castle ramparts,
from the outside

Nothing has been done to the rooms, either, I notice on the way up.  Signs designate the function of the rooms, the kitchen, the priest's room, or the young lady's room, for example.  In one spot, a grate covers a hole three stories up.  The panel above informs readers that the opening was the "murder hole," used to pelt invaders or unwelcome visitors with arrows, rocks, or boiling oil.  Whether these points of interest captivate me, or are diversions from the task to come, I'm not sure.

After interminable spirals, I am there, on the ramparts.  I indulge in a few mental snapshots of the undulating greenery of Ireland.  Next, I focus on the centre of the wall ahead of me.   In that spot, two gentlemen attend, one standing to the left and one sitting on the right, in front of what I suspect is the Blarney Stone.  Kissing that stone is supposed to increase your gift of the gab.  A scary thought in my case.

If I observe the goings-on, I figure my own turn might play out more smoothly.  The attendant on the right begins his mantra for the next patron:

Please sit down.
(A molded cushion is provided,)
Grab the bars with your hands.  
(Two parallel vertical iron bars are positioned about two feet apart, just above the stone.)
Lean back.
(The attendant secures the visitor by waist.)
Lean back further.
Sit up.

As the visitor leans back, the individual on the left, a photographer, clicks a button for a photo.  He clicks again as she sits up.  What a relief.  We won't have to worry about pictures.   It's a Splash Mountain moment.

Just two people ahead of me, now.  I am calm.  I can do this.  A sign advises me to set my bag aside and to remove my glasses when my turn comes.

The young woman ahead of me rises, claims her bag, and steps aside.  My turn.

I collapse my glasses, tuck them into the side pocket of my travel bag, and set it down beside the stone wall.  

The mantra begins.
Please sit down.
(I do.)
Grab the bars with your hands.  
(As I do, I see two more iron bars, horizontal ones fastened across the opening between the ramparts and the wall holding the stone. It's impossible to fall through. That's a comfort.)
Lean back.
(What I don't see, however, is a stone.  I can't find what I imagined would be a discernible stone, a shape different in color or maybe even texture from the stratified rock of the tower wall.)
Lean back further.
(I do.  I see something darker which I assume is the stone.  No time for a lot of thought.  People are waiting. I kiss something, thinking all the while of the emperor's new clothes.)
Sit up.
(I do, proud of myself.)

The photographer hands me a ticket to claim my photo, if I want it.  I already know I will purchase this photo, no matter what I look like.

Please sit down.  The attendant is caught in a Groundhog-day-like time warp.  He resumes the mantra for the gentlemen behind me.

I stow the ticket safely in my front zippered jacket pocket.  Security is important.  I smile all the way down the tower.  The queue at the souvenir shop moves with assembly line precision.  My photos appear on the screen.  There are two.  In the first, I am lying back, gripping the bars, ostensibly kissing the stone.  If the second, I am rising,  a huge smile on my face.  I don't even hesitate.  I purchase both photos.

I don't make bucket lists (see Lists, posted on May 6, 2013) , so I can't cross this off.  I can, however, be satisfied that I navigated the tower steps in the rain, and completed the requisite steps in the Blarney-Stone-kissing process.  Not everyone did.  Even people younger than I hesitated at the last moment.

Bizarre or not, I know what's involved in kissing the Blarney Stone.  All that's left now is to judge whether the legend will deliver on the purported upshot.  How much more effective will my blarney be?  Can't wait to find out.

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