Yesterday marks the first successful trip outside of Cork I've yet been on! For any of us, actually (Kristina, Susan, or me). And, of course, we chose to visit one of Ireland's single biggest tourist attractions: the Blarney Stone.
For some reason, I had it in my head that the Blarney Stone and Blarney Castle were two distinct entities. I imagined a big rock sitting in an enclosure, blackened on all sides by hundreds of years' worth of kisses from myth-loving Irish and dubious tourists, all hoping to be endowed with the gift of eloquence by a simple piece of granite. I'm not sure why I didn't know where the Blarney Stone was, or what you have to do to kiss the dern thing. If you're in this boat, read on and be entertained.
So, my day began with meeting Kristina and Susan in front of the Student Center on campus. We walked the twenty-five minutes into the City Center, to the bus station, to learn, to our pleasure, that buses left for Blarney at least once an hour, and returned just as frequently. Nevertheless, we still had a good half-hour to wait for the next bus, and we entertained ourselves with Kristina's iPod (Susan got one earbud, I got the other, and we sang along to Matchbox 20's "How Far We've Come" in harmony, earning a few odd glances from the other Blarney-goers nearby. It was good times.) We packed ourselves onto the bus, which was crammed with people. I've never seen so many Americans in one place in Ireland. After the short ride into town, the three of us got lunch at a cute cafe, then set off for the castle.
Entering the grounds cost 8 euro, but fortunately that covered kissing the Stone, climbing the castle, and... entering dank little caves, apparently. Part of the grounds are narrow, wet, muddy caves, which of course we had to explore to our satisfaction. Kristina's satisfaction is to do a lot more exploring than either me or Susan, so we often allowed her to forge ahead and tell us whether the hole in question was worth seeing. Once, we discovered a cave full of people's names who'd visited there over the years. We left our names for posterity and took some pictures (not with my camera. I forgot it in my apartment. Argh.)
Finally, we ran out of caves and entered the castle itself. After a certain point, this was rather nerve-wracking, as we entered a tightly-wound spiral staircase where the steps only seemed to get narrower and narrower. Every so often, a room appeared off the side of the staircase - no landing, just a room cut into the stone walls. Each room had a plaque explaining what it used to be used for (Young Lady's Bedroom. Kitchen. Earl's Bedroom.) Finally we emerged at the top of the winding staircase, onto the roof of the castle.
Up until that point, I had been rather losing faith in the reputation Ireland has for being beautiful. I mean, Cork is not a pretty city. It's not even a particularly clean city. And, aside from the singular failed jaunt into Dunmanway, I hadn't seen much of Ireland at all except for the ins and outs of Cork. But, coming out to the view that Blarney Castle afforded, my faith in a beautiful Ireland was completely restored. The greenness stretched on forever. Vast tracts of farmland and woods, interrupted only by one little town in the distance, were laid out for miles around the castle. Like I said, I didn't have my camera, but Kristina and Susan were each as entranced as I was, and snapped photos every few feet along the wall.
On the opposite side of the battlements from where we emerged, two older men sat around... nothing, as far as I could see. Where on earth was the Blarney Stone? So we walked over there, and on the floor were several mats. Behind the man on the right, there were vertical metal bars protruding from the unremarkable looking wall. But that section of the wall was further out, and there was a hole in the floor behind the mats. If I haven't made this clear up until now, we were high up. We were VERY high up - about 10 stories, I'd say. And the wall, down below the floor level, was darker, smudged with years and years of kisses. But you couldn't lay on your stomach and get your mouth to the wall that way - you'd fall. And so now I understood why kissing the Blarney Stone was such a big deal. You had to lie on the mats, belly-up, your head towards the Stone. You had to grab the metal bars, scoot yourself out and out and out until you could finally kiss the low-down Stone, fighting the fear of falling through that hole, and then make it back. And... I was the first to go. The man on the right's responsibility was holding onto your legs so you didn't fall, and the man on the left's job was to take a picture.
I'd be lying if I didn't say that seeing the countryside, stretched out below my hardly-supported upper body didn't make me want to panic. But, somehow, we all three managed to kiss that piece of wall... Kristina almost didn't. I told her it wasn't scary, it was fine (liar, liar) and we all walked away from that wall victorious.
So now you know why it's a big deal to kiss the Blarney Stone. Not because you now have the gift of eloquence, but because it requires NERVES!
Anyway, the rest of the day was also enjoyable. We walked around the grounds for several hours, seeing horses, flowers, lakes, and fields. All of it was lovely, but we were glad when we returned to our rooms for a rest. The two of them actually went out again that evening, but I was really tired and opted to stay in instead. It's just as well - I heard that the people they were supposed to meet at the pub never even showed up.
And today my job is schoolwork. Talk to ye later!