A Tale of Two Castles
Visit Ireland and not kiss the Blarney Stone? Not if you want to obtain that precious “gift of the gab” acknowledged by Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde when describing his own people as “a nation of great failures but the greatest talkers since the Greeks.” Hordes of people come from the most distant corners of the world, clamber up the 127 steep steps of 500-year-old Blarney Castle, lie on their backs over a sheer drop of 120 feet (strong-armed “holders” guarantee there are no mishaps, but no one seems to consider the germ factor), and contort themselves into unflattering positions to kiss a rock believed to have made its way here in 1314 from Scotland.
Others claim the oblong block of limestone dates back to the Crusades. Regardless, and for inexplicable reasons, the stone was always believed to have special powers and continues to exercise much fascination. Elizabeth I is said to have introduced the word blarney into the English language in the 16th century when the silver-tongued lord of Blarney Castle plied her with one too many unfulfilled honey-sweet promises. “Blarney! It’s all blarney!” the perturbed queen was said to have remarked.
Ireland’s other must-see castle is the country’s most authentic (and also highly trafficked). Built alongside the O’Gamey River and today surrounded by a huge theme park of a 19th-century Irish village, the current Bunratty Castle was built in the early 1400s, although earlier fortifications may have dated back to the 13th century at this strategic site. This great rectangular edifice with square towers is Ireland’s most complete and most impressive medieval stronghold. Its center-piece Great Hall is where the resident earl held court and received emissaries under the 48-foot ceilings.
Deep coffers have furnished the castle today with a magnificent collection of period furniture, paintings, sculpture, and tapestries. Torch lit medieval-style banquets offer those who leave skepticism back at the hotel a most enjoyably raucous evening of traditional Irish music and eat-with-your-hands meals, flowing claret, and mugs of mead at long communal tables.