It's weird that this should be the spot that has stuck with me the most in my time here, given how poor my first impression was. Bear with me though - as the sleet got heavier my mood got lighter.
This tab's cover image was taken from the parapet of Blarney Castle. I doubt many tourists have been lucky enough to see these surrounds so empty.
What made me apprehensive was Blarney's heavy emphasis on tourism and mementos. Every signboard and guide suggests that the rich history of the site is clipped to simplistic nibble-sized nuggets designed to keep bored queues of children entertained for the time required to get to the castle, up to the stone, down to purchase the picture as proof of the trip, and back to the welcome warmth of the generic gift shop and cafe as hurriedly as possible.
The entrance alone came to €14 after a student discount, and I was encouraged more than once to purchase a photograph of myself kissing the Blarney Stone for a further €10. Being a sub-zero day in down season, this meant that two attendants had to stand duty in the frigid wind tearing over the parapet. Their role, it appeared, was to prevent an accident, but I suspect that they were also under strict instructions to prevent me - the only tourist - from taking a free selfie with the Stone.
The history is horrible and headachy.
The museum boards taught me a lot about the distinction between blarney and baloney, but not much about the castle's history.
Tracing the story between different web pages and Irish spelling conventions made it abundantly clear that the narrative is dense, but gory and gratifying.
In keeping with everything expected of a medieval fort of the Emerald Isle, Blarney has been the site of many a family feud and political deception. The Dermot McCarthy, King of Muscry (also 'MacCarthy' and 'Muskerry', depending on the source) was responsible for the construction of the stone castle in 1446, which was the third to stand in this location after the first two were destroyed.
In spite of the many acts of fratricide and patricide that resulted in the internal shuffling of ownership of the castle between the boys of the family, somehow the McCarthys as a whole managed to retain hold on the land for a record high of 257 years. This is probably a result of their political smoothness - they consistently backed the winners during incessant tensions with the English, again keeping with the triumphant side when King Henry VIII recaptured Ireland.
However, their fatal error was choosing the Catholic Jacobites over the Protestant Williamites.
The family lost the castle, which was passed around until it was eventually sold to Sir James St John Jefferyes (then Governor of Cork) in 1703. His descendants' relatives still have ownership today.
If there isn't a controversial myth, is it really Irish history?
The Blarney Stone is reputed to confer the power of eloquence and smooth-talk to those who kiss it. This comes at the testament of a witch who was saved from drowning on the estate. The stone itself was allegedly the same rock that Jacob slept on, delivered into Ireland by Jeremiah (dedication or myth? It's certainly no small stone). It was then used to select between candidates for the throne (think Hogwarts Sorting Hat) before supposedly being moved to Scotland, possibly split in two, allegedly delivered back to Ireland courtesy of Robert the Bruce, and built into the Castle's battlements at a bizarrely inaccessible spot, given its fame. If one wishes to gain the gift of the gab, one must kiss the stone the same way you might try read the underside of your bedside table while remaining seated in bed.
The McCarthys also owned a ludicrously valuable gold plate, which was displayed in their banqueting hall. When the castle went to the Jefferyes, it was thrown into the moat. Though the water has been drained three times since then, the plate has never been recovered.
The surrounds made the experience
The garden is what made this particular excursion one of the most memorable. I learnt what a real mandrake looks like (comically ugly) and took a sleety stroll across the stones into the hollowed-out hovels that are the basis of the site's folklore. Remember that witch? There's a witch's kitchen in one of those. Apparently her fire glows in the nighttime. She has wishing steps too. She's evidently a bit of a joker, since the visitor must descend into the waterfall below backwards, eyes closed, while focusing on nothing but their wish. I may have jinxed mine worrying about who would contact my folks if I tumbled backwards onto my neck.
The grounds are massive, which could enable visitors to sneak in via the arboretums should they wish to skip the hefty entry fee (you didn't hear it from me). Beyond the neatly bordered rosebushes, the garden runs wild and gnarled. Every sound is muffled by the saturated mosses clinging to the granite boulders, but the dripping expanse was never truly silent. Even more astounding was the colour. Green does something funny in that light. It is refracted and re-refracted back into itself from every angle and looks artificially saturated to the naked eye.
In the absence of mid-holiday footfall, the very ground drew breath. Metaphorical or no - mythology doesn't live this long without cause.