By John Parks
In the village of Blarney, Ireland, sits the legendary Blarney Stone, a bluestone block built into the Blarney Castle’s embattlements. Because of this stone, Blarney Castle is one of Ireland’s most popular tourist destinations. Millions of visitors from around the globe travel here annually to kiss the stone.
Legend holds that the kisser of the stone will be endowed with the gift of eloquence, the gift of gab, or skill at flattery. The term ‘blarney’ has become synonymous with flattering, clever or coaxing talk, though the village’s name was derived from the word ‘An blarna,’ the Irish term for ‘the plain.’
In times past, visitors needed to be grasped by the ankles and lowered over the battlements headfirst. After one pilgrim hurtled to his death, an iron railing was erected, and today, the kisser has a friend sit on his legs or hold his feet firmly while he leans back and down into the abyss, securely grasping the iron rails, and lowers himself until his head reaches the stone.
Many stories exist as to the origin of the Blarney Stone and from where it got its power. The most widely accepted story is that Robert the Bruce, grateful for the support of the Irish in the Battle of Bannockburn of 1314, gave a portion of this stone to the King of Munster, Cormac McCarthy. The stone then was installed at Blarney Castle, Cormac McCarthy’s stronghold, and thus it came to be called the Blarney Stone. One century later, King Dermot McCarthy installed the stone in 1446 in a large castle that he constructed.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, King Dermot McCarthy was forced to surrender his castle to the Queen to prove his loyalty. He told her that he would be glad to do so, but things always came up at the last minute that prevented the surrender. His frequent excuses caused the official who had, in the Queen’s name, been demanding the surrender, to become somewhat of a joke at the Court. One time, when McCarthy’s eloquent excuses were relayed to Queen Elizabeth, she said, “Odds bodikins, more Blarney talk!” Through this, ‘blarney’ came to mean ‘the skill of influencing and coaxing with soft speech and fair words without offending.’
Though the actual origin of the kissing custom is not known, a local legend holds that the King of Munster rescued an old woman from drowning, and she rewarded him by giving him a spell, that upon kissing a stone atop the castle, he would be endowed with speech that would draw all people to him.
Another legend says that the stone was the rock Moses struck with his staff for water during the Israelites’ exodus. Another is that Jacob used the stone as a pillow, and the prophet Jeremiah brought it to Ireland. It also was rumored to be the Stone of Ezel, behind which Jonathan advised David to hide as he fled from Saul, and that it was possibly returned to Ireland in the Crusades. One more holds that it was St. Columba of Iona’s rock pillow on his deathbed.
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