It's St. Patrick's Day season, and that means it's a time to celebrate all things Irish. Just as this holiday is filled with tradition, so is Irish culture, and one of the most famous customs is kissing the Blarney Stone.
The Blarney Stone isn't a euphemism for anything one would actually like to kiss. It is a real-live, actual, centuries-old stone in the wall below the battlements of Blarney Castle in Cork, Ireland.
Kissing a stone sounds like one of the more uncomfortable activities you could do with your time, but this isn't a world-famous tradition that Blarney Castle visitors line up to do today for nothing. There's actually a good reason to smooch this stone.
Kissing the Blarney Stone is said to bestow "the gift of eloquence," otherwise known as the gift of gab or just being a really good talker, upon those who pucker up. However, such a powerful gift does not come easily. To properly kiss the Blarney Stone, the kisser must lean backwards and essentially kiss the stone upside down. At one time, visitors were held by the ankles and lowered head first over the battlements to smooch the stone, so things have actually improved considerably.
The word "blarney" means "skillful flattery," "nonsense" or "humbug," according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary. As such, the word "blarney" is said to have originated from one incident where Queen Elizabeth I of England ordered the Earl of Leicester to seize Blarney Castle, but the head of the elite McCarthy family of Ireland was so talkative that he wasn't able to complete the mission. According to legend, the queen was so frustrated with the earl's progress, or lack thereof, that she called his reports "blarney."
The reason why people kiss the Blarney Stone isn't even the most fascinating part about it. There's actually a big debate over the stone's origins. Some say the Blarney Stone arrived at Blarney Castle by way of Scotland as a gift from King Robert the Bruce to Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, as a sign of gratitude for lending some extra men to help him win the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. The stone, thought to be part of the Stone of Scone, was later placed in the battlements of Blarney Castle. Much later, a witch saved from drowning by one of the lords of Blarney is said to have revealed to him the location and power of the stone.
Another theory is that the Blarney Stone was the biblical stone Jacob used as a pillow when he had a vision of God in his sleep, and it was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. It was said to have been used as an "oracular throne" for kings akin to the Sorting Hat from the Harry Potter series, according to Blarney Castle's official website. Other theories say the stone was the deathbed pillow of St. Columba on the island of Iona, it was brought to Ireland after the Crusades and it was made from the same rocks as Stonehenge.
Clearly, all of these stories cannot be true, and luckily we have science to solve yet another mystery. Geologists at the University of Glasgow's Hunterian museum discovered in 2014 that the Blarney Stone is made of limestone and other materials native to Ireland.
"This strongly supports views that the stone is made of local carboniferous limestone, about 330m years old, and indicates that it has nothing to do with the Stonehenge bluestones, or the sandstone of the current 'Stone of Destiny', now in Edinburgh Castle," John Faithfull, the curator of the Hunterian, told The Guardian in 2014.
It's still unclear if kissing the Blarney Stone really does give you "the gift of eloquence," but there's only one way to find out.
Photo: Neil Rickards | Flickr
Want to know more about Irish history? Read about the origins of St. Patrick's Day here.