PHOTO: Muriel Smith kissing the Blarney Stone. muriel smith kiss blarney stone

  So we climbed up Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Castle. Those clever Irishmen!

   For 200 years they’ve been so coyly and sweetly convincing us it’s worth the walk up 100 or so thick, cold, winding concrete steps to get to the top of a run down castle so you can lie down, lean over backwards enough to see the ground 80 feet or so below you, then kiss a hunk of rock sticking out from the outer wall. That, after walking through lovely gardens, along a long path, and up a few small groups of steps. All this to ensure the Gift of Gab. As if the likes of Jane Frotton and I needed that! But thanks to our own nearness to the Twin Lights, even thick, cold winding concrete steps aren’t so hard to take.

     But there’s so much more to Blarney Castle than the stone with the magic power. There are magnificent gardens that border on both the weird and the eerie.

   The Fern Garden, for instance. It’s at the end of a grassy path that’s lined with wild flowers of many colors. All of a sudden, you’re at the edge of a limestone cliff….well, hill, after seeing the Cliffs of Moher….looking down on a waterfall that flows down one side of the hill. Continuing down the path, you eventually come to a canopy of ferns…more than 80 varieties of them, including one fern that’s said to be the tallest of its kind in all of Ireland.

blarney castlephoto: Blarney Castle

   Then there’s the arboretums, several groups of many varieties of trees, again, among them the largest in all of the island. There are pines, and foxglove, the Ailanthus altissima, more commonly known as the Tree of Heaven which grows entirely too fast, yews, chestnuts, and other trees more than 600 years old. While a lot of the trees are rare and unusual, the Castle garden people add new specimens every year to keep the collection old and new at the same time.

   There’s a Water Garden and a rock close, said to be on the site of an ancient Druid settlement. It’s a trail through yew and oak trees that form another canopy overhead, and a water garden with two waterfalls, along with the Wishing Steps. The fable here is….every Irishman has kissed that darn Blarney Stone….that if you walk down the 20 or so steps backward, with your eyes closed, concentrating on a particular wish, it will come true. At the very end, there’s a fascinating natural stone that truly looks like the silhouette of a witch’s head, complete with jutting chin and a crooked nose.

   The best of all the gardens, though, is the Poison Garden, even with all its signs not to touch, smell, sample, or brush against any of the plants. Of course it includes the Wolsfbane and Mandrake from Harry Potter fame, but there are also numerous other beautiful plants, including some that were used for medicinal and health purposes…until users found they were more poisonous than healthy. The garden is on the site of what was probably a Physic Garden, a common garden kept inside the castle walls to grow medical and culinary plans during Medievil times. A lot of the plants grow both in the wild and in gardens, and in actuality it’s really only the mis-use of most of them that causes fatalities….the opium poppy, for one, can be used for medicinal purposes but an overdose will kill; both morphine and heroin come from this. The Cherry Laurel is a pretty shrub with leaves that when handled, can release cyanide, and has the almond smell connected with cyanide. And that rhubarb you enjoy in pie and other desserts? It’s in the Poison Garden as well, since its leaves are toxic, contain oxalic acid that can cause burning in the mouth, nausea, and a few other unpleasant side effects. But the stalks are just fine.

   Of course there’s a charming little town outside the castle walls, and a huge gift shop with mountains of Irish wool sweaters, hoodies, scarves, crystal, pottery, china, books, musical instruments, and every little souvenir the enterprising Irish hope will attract the eye.