I almost didn't go to Blarney Castle. John had kissed the stone on a previous trip to Ireland in 2000 and the decision to visit the grounds and do the same was up to me. I thought it might be touristy and packed with people - and we had already seen so many castles...
But a few people told us that the grounds around the castle were gorgeous and not to be missed. We decided to visit on our way from Cork to Kilkenny and see them for ourselves. Over 60 acres of gardens, woodland, arboretums and water features lie at the base of Blarney Castle itself and they don't disappoint. Ten euro tickets admitted us to the entire park, a bargain considering some of the much smaller and less well-known castles and sites in Ireland cost €6.
Our first stop was the ornate Blarney House, set towards the rear of the grounds near the 21 acre Blarney Lake. We had purchased €14 combination tickets that included a guided tour of the house with a historian (every half hour between 10am and 2pm only). The Blarney House is the family home of the descendents of Sir James St. John Jefferyes, built almost three decades after his original home was accidentally destroyed by a fire in 1820 . The Colthurst family now occupies the property and tours are allowed only during the designated hours.
The house is filled with original paintings, antique furniture, priceless rugs, Waterford crystal chandeliers and interesting family heirlooms. Our guide, Joan, was passionate about everything in the house and described how events would have transpired at the house in the 1800's. My only disappointment with the tour was that the downstairs kitchens and pantries, which apparently cover the entire basement, were closed for refurbishment. I would have enjoyed the whole experience of seeing where both the masters and servants of the house spent their time.
The Jefferyes family were also responsible for the creation of the Rock Close, a collection of giant rocks and boulders arranged on the site of an ancient druid settlement. The pre-historic trees and rock formations are steeped in mystery and magical folklore and can be explored along a path with opportunities for wish-making and fun photographs along the way. We headed straight for Blarney Castle, however, and took some time to explore the Poison Garden before moving on to the main attraction.
Climbing 100 narrow circular stone steps and stopping along the way to explore parts of the castle was actually very enjoyable. The Blarney Castle currently standing on the site is actually the third one, built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy. It cannot be mistaken for anything else but a place where battles were waged: long narrow slits for concealing and protecting archers are a prominent feature, as is the "murder hole," allowing attacks on those trying to enter through the front door. Even the placement of the kitchen is explained strategically: from a high floor hot oil can easily be poured onto unwelcome guests.
At the top is the Blarney Stone. When my turn came I was assisted by a friendly older Irish gentleman to lay on a mat, grasp the iron railings and lean upside down backwards to give it a peck (yes, the thought of how many people were kissing it did occur to me and I refrained from giving it a big wet one). Hopefully this did not affect the bestowment of my new magical powers: the gift of eloquence, the ability to tell a marvellous story. As if I don't talk enough already! A sign posted on the wall of the catwalk describes Blarney as "the varnished truth." Apparently I will now also be able to flatter without laying it on too thick. Hmmm...
If visitors want to spend even more time at the Blarney Castle Gardens they will find hours of activities to keep them busy. Horticulture enthusiasts will enjoy the fern garden with over 80 varieties, arboretums with a diverse array of plant specimens and a collection of other plants and flowers around the grounds. The Lake and Woodland Walks (45 and 90 minutes respectively) sounded so relaxing and peaceful that we were sorry we didn't have more time for them.
Special thanks to Katrina from Tour Absurd for nudging us to visit Blarney Castle Gardens. She's written a great post on five things not to miss when in Cork.
Getting there: Cork is about a four hour drive from Dublin on the N8 (follow the signs south). Blarney Castle Gardens are eight kilometres from Cork City. From the centre, follow the signs for Limerick to the N20. Exit left at the signs for Blarney. Parking is free and tickets cost €10 each. If you want to also visit the Blarney House, be sure to arrive when it is open to the public and buy your combination ticket at the entrance. Tickets cost €5 if purchased separately at the house.