Every traveler to Ireland knows to kiss the Blarney Stone just in case the legends are true - and I wouldn't discount any old Irish legend. The Blarney Stone is said to bestow the “gift of gab” on any person who kisses it - making the kisser impossible to argue with. Indeed, every friend I talked to that has visited the Emerald Isle, whether it was with their parents in high school, or alone on a backpacking trip, or if they brought their family for a vacation later in life - they all said that they went to Blarney Castle to kiss the stone. For most of them, it was the highlight of their trip.
I admit, I had to stand in the long line on the battlements to get a smooch with the large boulder when I was 19 and backpacking. I did it again when I was visiting with my sister a few years later. I did it once more when on honeymoon with my husband. By then, the magic was fading, and I wondered what else I can do here - this was after all, a very important castle and a part of Irish history. I have become a seasoned traveler since my backpacking days. I wanted a more in depth look at the places I went.
Before you go to the Blarney Castle for the first time, or even for the fourth time, it’s well worth some reading and learning beforehand. There are many tour companies that will stop here on a general bus tour of Ireland, or if you are a lone traveler type, you can choose a self-driving tour where you can be in control of your time. However you may opt to travel, remember that every place has more than one story - and the layers of history can be complex and there is always more than one thing to see.
Without further ado - here is a list of 5 things to do and see at Blarney Castle without so much as blowing a kiss at the Blarney Stone:
1. The Poison Garden
This is a very interesting part of the castle indeed, and if you have any interest in botany, pharmacology or herbalism, this will certainly hit the spot. The Blarney Castle happens to have a very large collection of poisonous plants from all over the world. The Poison Garden sits in the shadows of the castle’s impressive fortifications.
Children are only allowed with an adult present, and even that isn’t enough - some species are locked away in metal cages to prevent them from being pilfered, handled or smelled. A lot of the species are traditional plants that would have been used by healers throughout the history of the castle. A surprising number of them are used in medicines and pharmacology today. The impressive botanical collection includes hellebore, poison hemlock, European mandrake and nightshade. The garden makes for a fascinating and educational walk.
Enter at your own risk!
2. The Blarney Witch
Take some time to explore the other stone of Blarney - this one a little less known. You will see this strangely shaped stone as you take time to walk the grounds around the castle and visit the Rock Close, where some of the oldest ruins in the country lay in hiding. The witch is said to be entrapped in the stone and made to grant wishes of those who walk up and down the steps backwards thinking only of their wish. Sounds even better than the most famous stone at the castle, doesn’t it? You don’t even have to kiss it. Legend has it that it is the witch who enchanted the Blarney stone in the first place as a reward to McCarthy for saving her from drowning. You can also see her kitchen - a rocky dwelling with a clearly visible fireplace. It actually might be as old as 5,000 years old! Definitely the oldest ruins in the area. If you want to add some spice to your visit there, remember that the Echoe Ghost Hunters also came to this area and claimed very strong EMF recordings in this very spot.
3. The North Wall
This is an opportunity to see the layers of the castle’s history with your own eyes. Sometimes when travelling through Europe, you will see an old building that was expanded at some point. In a lot of these cases, you will see the shape of the old building inside the new wall. It’s the same case with the Blarney Castle, which was built on an imposing 8 meter rock cliff. Here, you can witness the seam which was created as the castle was built in two stages. What used to be a thin tower now is a part of a much larger castle wall. The castle is built out of the same rock, and blends into the cliff perfectly. This wasn’t always the case, since these there a few hundred years ago. It’s well worth it to take a stroll around these grand ruins and admire them from the outside.
4. The Estate
Go on a long walk outside of the castle walls. After seeing the immediate Rock Close and Witch’s Kitchen, you can stray further away and explore the beautiful and peaceful walking trails along the River Martin. There are amazing views of the castle to be seen from here, and it’s well worth it to bring your camera. The Blarney Castle hosts photography contests from time to time, and I highly recommend you look at their official website for rules and regulations. You might get lucky! This area is the most beautiful in spring time when thousands of flowers bloom. The castle grounds are not only filled with bulbs, but also have “Belgian Beds” where you can see Azaleas in full flower. Autumn is also visually stunning - all the trees turn different colors and embrace the old ruins like a golden crown.
5. The Court
Not as ancient as the rest of the castle, these ruins also carry a good story. This is a late eighteenth century Gothic mansion, built in 1739. It was built by the Jeffereys, who bought Blarney Castle in 1703. They were not comfortable in the ancient walls, so they decided to improve on it. Unfortunately, it suffered greatly in a fire in 1820, and further damage was done by building materials being sold off. You can see these ruins today - and remember they are much more recent then the rest of the castle! The Blarney House, which was built to replace the destroyed mansion, was rebuilt on a different site - as a Scottish baronial-style mansion. You can visit it while on the castle grounds in the summer, as it is open to the public. It sits overlooking the picturesque Blarney Lake, and is surrounded by amazing gardens and parks. There is a beautiful fern garden that gives you the impression of being in a magical faerie jungle, and other manicured gardens, rose beds and rare tree specimens.
As you see, there are many things to explore at the Blarney Castle besides the stone of eloquence. If you have already had the pleasure of kissing the famous rock and want to do something else - or if hanging upside down from the battlements isn’t your cup of tea… then take the rest of the day to explore the fascinating grounds and ruins around you. You will remember it well.