Tuesday, March 22, 2011
The Blarney Stone with Clorox Wipes
One of the most common things that tourists want to see while in Ireland is the Blarney Stone. Like most tourists, we had no idea that it comes complete with a castle, hotel and tourist gift shop. But we soon learned.
Personally, I had no real desire to travel over six thousand miles to look at a rock, even a famous one; and I surely did not think that my husband needed anymore blarney skills than he has already acquired. I mean he already signs all my birthday, anniversary, and Valentine's cards, "Te ego semper amavisse" - so you tell me.
However, when you sign on for one of these "tour packages" you either go where they take you, or you sit in the hotel wondering what the heck you are doing sitting there, instead of making the most of your time in this delightful country. So we went to visit the Blarney Stone/castle/hotel/woolen mill/gift shop/tea room.
The grounds of the castle are beautiful and since we were there in early spring we enjoyed the sight of the early crocuses, heather, and daffodils in bloom.
Much as a family heirloom is kept out of the daily activity area, and is accorded a place of honor in the household, protected where it will not be damaged or stolen, just so the Blarney Stone is kept well back from the general foot traffic. I mean you have got to want to see this thing, or you are definitely going to miss it.
It was both our fortune and misfortune to have arrived just behind a bus load of young college athletes from Texas, who were having the time of their lives. Each and every one of these formidable students (these kids were BIG) had determined that she/he was going to kiss that darned rock.
That presented a bit of a logistical challenge for the rest of us and here is why. There is only one way to get to the Blarney Stone. First you walk up a pathway, through a delightful garden and groomed park for, oh, about the equivalent of two or three blocks.
Then you climb the increasingly steep hill to the base of the castle itself. Then, if you are still determined to smooch the rock, you must climb several more sets of stairs to reach the base of the tower stairway. Next there is a set of wooden stairs. They are wide enough for, perhaps, two people to walk side by side.
Finally, one comes to the tower steps themselves, and it is a narrow stairway of ...wait for it ... one hundred and sixty stone steps to the landing where the magical stone rests upon its supposed laurels. It is only wide enough for one person at a time to ascend, and the kids from the Lone Star State got there ahead of us. It meant that the line was barely moving. That was the "misfortune" part for those who really wanted to kiss the stone.
But it also afforded those who had only a half-hearted desire to do so to back out, saying, "Well, look, that line hasn't moved in twenty minutes. We only have two hours and I am not going to spend it standing on this stairway." See how nicely that works out? I'm just saying.
However, for those who persevered all the way to the top, now the real gymnastics began. First you must lay down and position yourself in a semi-upside down position. The rock must be kissed while hanging somewhat suspended over a gap in the castle wall, and given that it is a looooong way down, there is an official Blarney Stone attendant who must hold your legs for you while you actually pucker up. (And tradition dictates that he must be tipped for holding your legs while you engage in the honored tradition.)
Seriously, folks, I wouldn't go to this much trouble to kiss Matt Damon or George Clooney, much less a cold, hard rock that tens of thousand of strangers have lip-locked! Yuck!
Of course, modern science has also put a bit of a damper on the magic, because the leg-holding attendant also is tasked with wiping the Blarney Stone after each smooch, so as to minimize communicable diseases. I was told he uses Clorox wipes. I took that on faith, because, trust me, nothing could induce me to climb 160 stairs - not even if Clooney and Damon were both waiting at the top!
Now here's the kicker. The legend of the Blarney Stone, whence comes the phrase "He's full of blarney", is not because someone did say something, but because a certain Lord Blarney would not say something - that something being to vow allegiance to the queen of England.
However, he could not just offer a polite refusal during those politically charged times as such an action would likely have meant the removal of his head. So each time an emissary would arrive from England requesting that Lord Blarney pledge his loyalty to the British queen, this gentleman would send back compliments upon her administrative skills, tell her kind things about her country and assure her of his genuine friendship. But he never gave the oath of allegiance to her.
Finally, exasperated with his wiles, the queen opined when handed yet another communication from Lord Blarney, that he always used a lot of words, but said nothing. From this came the expression to be full of "blarney" - a blow hard, a wind bag, or to Americanize it, to be "full of baloney."
Speaking of food, we had lunch at one of the local pubs near the castle. There was an actual coal fire place burning brightly upon the hearth. We were seated near it, and I was grateful as the day was windy and raw. The food was good and the tea (completely contradicting my earlier stance that it was impossible to get a "decent cuppa" anywhere except at home) was even better. And I didn't need a Clorox wipe to qualify for it!
Until next time... when we talk about the "little people", or ponder the medicinal effects of mead, examine tribal behavioural norms on tours, or any one of a half dozen other newly fascinating topics - Top o' the mornin' to ya. ....Marsha
P.S. Speaking of little people, I am off again tomorrow morning for the airport, to travel to Southern California to take care of my own two little people (aka grandchildren - God's consolation prize for getting older). Thus I will be off line until next Tuesday.