July 24 2013 by Sam Lowe
BLARNEY, Ireland - My first visit to Blarney Castle centered around a kiss. There was no romance involved, mind you, because it was only a brief encounter between my lips and a rock slab. However, it was one of those things one never forgets because it required hanging upside down about eighty feet above ground level. But that was more than thirty years ago, when I was younger and had less trepidation about putting my body in peril. Besides, I figured at the time, thousands of others had already kissed the Blarney Stone and nothing bad happened to them.
So I plopped down on my back and inched my way over the edge of the castle wall while a castle employee held onto my ankles. There was little actual danger involved because there's also an iron grate underneath the stone, making it impossible to fall to the ground below. Despite that, the man holding me said less than ten percent of those who make the climb to the stone actually go lip-to-rock with it. That fact alone demanded that I spend fifty cents for a certificate proclaiming that I had done the deed.
I went back there in May, this time as a senior citizen. There have been many changes. Blarney Castle has undergone substantial upgrading since my initial visit. Fortunately, much of the charm that has surrounded the castle since it was built centuries ago are still intact, but improved. The 60-acre site now has more of a park-like feel because the grounds are better kept than they were in 1979. This is more inviting to older travelers because if they don't care to climb up the rather steep and lengthy staircase to the kiss the stone, they can wander around and enjoy the spectacular scenery.
The pathways are lined with flowers, shrubs, trees and little hidden-away places where visitors can sit and ponder how things were when Cormac McCarthy built the place more than 600 years ago. Or examine the Rock Close, a quaint little area filled with giant rocks and hundreds of trees. Or look up at the castle and wonder how they built things like that without power tools and home improvement stores.
I did all those things this time, but didn't kiss the stone. I already did that. And, according to the legend, one kiss gives you the gift of gab for a lifetime so why bother?
One note of caution: If possible, check to see when the giant cruise ships arrive at nearby Cobh because when they do, hundreds of passengers board tour buses and descend upon the castle, and you probably don't want to kiss the stone after all those people have been slobbering all over it.
But on a much better note: There are ten Best Western facilities in Ireland, all of them less than a day's drive from the castle. The closest is the Best Western Montenette Hotel in Cork.