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Blarney Castle is one of the most famous castles in Ireland. It’s located just outside of Cork. The Blarney Stone at the top of the tower is legendary in Irish folklore, awarding the “Gift of Gab” to anyone who kisses it. However, Blarney Castle is so much more than just the stone. In addition to the castle itself, the building is surrounded by lush gardens that one can walk around for hours.
How to get to Blarney Castle from Cork
Public transportation & car
Bus 215 to Cloghroe passes between Cork & Blarney along the way. The ride takes about 30 minutes. At the time of my visit, a return bus ticket was €7.80. The buses run approximately every half hour.
The double-decker bus even had USB chargers in the front row, which was a nice bonus in addition to the view. In late September, the leaves were just beginning to change colors.
I expected more people on the bus from Cork, figuring it might be full of tourists making the day trip to Blarney Castle. However, there were only a handful of people at first, though more got on at later city stops.
If you’re driving to Blarney Castle, it’s located just off N20 northwest of Cork, along R617.
There isn’t a ton to do in Blarney, but if you wanted to stay overnight to get an early start at the castle, the Blarney Castle Hotel is located a short walk away.
Blarney Castle day trip tours
If you don’t want to figure out how to get to-and-from Blarney Castle on your own & would rather go as part of a group tour, there are plenty of Blarney Castle day tours available from all over Ireland, including Dublin.
Visiting Blarney Castle
Despite my best efforts to get to Blarney Castle early & miss the worst of the tour groups, I arrived around 11am, which according to Google is the peak time of day. There was a short queue for tickets for non-tour groups. At the time of my visit, entry to Blarney Castle & Gardens was €15 (now €18 as of 2020). Annoyingly, there is a €20 minimum for credit cards, which solely seems to exist to punish solo travelers.
Since the grounds of Blarney Castle & Gardens are so big, the map provided with your entrance ticket is helpful, but there are also signs.
History of Blarney Castle
Blarney Castle was first built on this site in the 12th century. The original structure was replaced by another stone castle around 1210. This castle was destroyed in the 15th century and replaced again.
The Blarney Castle that stands today was built in 1446 by Cormac MacCarthy, but not the guy who wrote “The Road,” a different guy. Or it was built by Dermot McCarthy, not to be confused with Dylan McDermott or Dermot Mulroney. There are a lot of names here, and nobody seems to agree on who actually built Blarney Castle, not even the official website & signs on the castle grounds. Seriously. Their website says Dermot McCarthy built it, while a sign on the castle grounds says it was Cormac MacCarthy. For what it’s worth, most sources online seem to lean towards Cormac MacCarthy. The important thing is that someone built Blarney Castle a long time ago, and now you can take a day trip to visit it.
The castle is partially ruined, but almost all of it is in a state that visitors can explore. The famous Blarney Stone is at the very top of the castle. Even more than who built it, the story of the truth behind the Blarney Stone is also unknown. Some say that it was a gift from Scotland for helping defeat the English at the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314, but since the stone was recently found to be from rock local to the south of Ireland, this is less believable nowadays. Other stories said the Blarney Stone was brought back from the Crusades or Stonehenge, but again, the limestone is Irish.
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Kissing the Blarney Stone
Legend has it that kissing the Blarney Stone will give you the gift of gab. The “gift of gab” means that you’ll have great eloquence, persuasiveness, charm, & storytelling ability.
Again (sensing a trend here yet?), the true story behind kissing the Blarney Stone & getting the gift of gab is perhaps blarney itself. The most common story is that Queen Elizabeth I sent the Earl of Leicester to take control of Blarney Castle. The head of the McCarthy Clan talked & talked & talked, always coming up with new ways to stall the process. An upset Elizabeth I is said to have dismissed all of this malarkey as a bunch of “blarney,” and thus the description was born. True or not, it’s a good story. At the very least, the gift of gab worked for whoever came up with the idea to push kissing the Blarney Stone as a tourist activity.
Since the Blarney Stone is all the way at the top of the Blarney Castle keep, it takes a bit of effort to get there. You don’t necessarily have to make this the first part of your visit, depending on how much time you have. If you can see that there are a bunch of large tour groups that have recently arrived, then you might as well wait a bit & hope the queue gets shorter. I didn’t see any tour groups around, so I headed straight to the Blarney Stone.
The path up to the top of Blarney Castle consists of narrow, steep, winding staircases. The 100-or-so steps are a bit uneven, but it’s otherwise not too bad of a climb. None of the stairs are exposed to the elements until you reach the very top.
When I arrived, there were only about 10 people lined up to kiss the Blarney Stone.
The process of kissing the Blarney Stone is simple. While the legend says that you have to kiss the Blarney Stone upside-down to get the gift of gab, there’s a guy up there helping you do it. Yes, you can see all the way down to the ground below, but it’s a pretty narrow space. As someone with a well-documented fear of heights, I wasn’t bothered by it at all. There is also a photographer available at the top, selling photos of your Blarney Stone kiss for €10. However, this is purely an option, and there are no hard feelings if you have a photo taken on your own. If you’re traveling solo, someone else will be happy to take a photo for you. You won’t be able to take a selfie as you kiss the Blarney Stone, since you have to hold on to the metal railings.
Once you’ve kissed the Blarney Stone & tried not to think about how many thousands of people have also put their gross mouths on it over the years, take in the panoramic views across the Irish countryside from the battlements. The gardens at Blarney Castle are immense, as is your new gift of gab.
Blarney Castle tour
The layout of the Blarney Castle tour is great. The whole path is one-way, so after going up to the Blarney Stone, the rest of the visit is self-paced as you make your way back down. You can then stop in all of the rooms at your leisure without having any traffic that’s trying to make the climb. Since the castle is tall, but not huge, it doesn’t take much time to tour the rest of it.
The tour of Blarney Castle starts in the Great Hall. This 4th floor banqueting hall once had a timber roof, but now you can look down into it from above before you descend to that level.
After the Great Hall, you can see various bedrooms off of side passages.
The family room is halfway down the castle keep. This intimate room had glazed windows & a fireplace. It was much more luxurious than it looks today.
There is also a murder hole because every good family home has a murder hole. The purpose of the Blarney Castle murder hole was to drop boiling liquids or rocks onto anyone who had somehow managed to make it past the outer doors of the castle.
One final note about Blarney Castle is that there’s no ticket check to go up to the top. If you are there for a while and the weather changes, you could always go back up to the Blarney Stone.
Exploring Blarney Gardens
As you exit Blarney Castle, you can look up & see the Blarney Stone above. There are signs directing you to a variety of walks, including the Poison Gardens, rock close & waterfalls, lake garden, Blarney House, fern garden & waterfall, and more. Some of the walks are long, while others are shorter.
Since tour groups don’t have as much time to explore the Blarney Castle gardens, and they’re so spacious, all of these areas are much quieter. You could easily spend several hours walking around every bit of the gardens. If you’ve arrived as part of a Blarney Castle day trip tour, you won’t have have enough time to do all of the walks. Try to at least check a bit of the grounds out, as they really are lovely.
The closest garden walk to Blarney Castle is the poison gardens. The name is self-explanatory. Here you will find an array of poisonous plants, along with a few that stretch that definition a bit.
The Blarney Castle poison gardens include foxglove, nightshade, ricin, & mandrake, as well as marijuana & opium poppy.
Fern Garden & waterfall
The next garden is the Fern Garden, which also has a waterfall. All of the ferns reminded me of “Jurassic Park”.
The layout of Fern Garden & the waterfall is in such a way that you see the expansive greenery in front of you and below you.
Not long after exiting the Fern Garden, I came around a corner and found these beasts in a field. The “Jurassic Park” theme ran through my head.
Blarney House is the modern-day home of the owners of the estate. It was built in 1874 by the Jefferyes family. They were also responsible for much of the Blarney Gardens, including the Rock Close. The private house is only open during the spring & summer.
Nearby is the Coach House Cafe & Stableyard.
Rock Close & waterfalls
The final section of the Blarney gardens is the Rock Close & waterfalls. Along this hill you’ll find more lush plant life & rock formations.
One of the rocks forms a waterfall that you can walk behind.
The Rock Close is a pretty big area with lots of landmarks, including locally famous trees & art.
If you don’t have much time to explore the gardens after visiting Blarney Castle, the Rock Close is the closest & most densely packed section.
Just behind one of the waterfalls in Blarney Gardens are the Wishing Steps. At the base of these steps, there was a sign describing their story.
“For hundreds of years, the Blarney Witch has taken firewood from our Estate for her kitchen. In return, she must grant our visitors wishes. If you can walk down and back up these steps with your eyes closed – some suggest walking backwards – and without for one moment thinking of anything other than a wish, then that wish will come true within a year.”
Given that how wet the steps were, I passed on walking up & down them backwards with my eyes closed. It seemed like the only wish that would come true there would be for a broken leg.
On my way to the exit, I continued to wind my way through the gardens. The whole property is beautiful.
While Blarney Castle is at the top of many Irish “must do” lists, it’s there for a reason. Kissing the Blarney Stone is of course something that everyone will ask you about if you go to Ireland, but don’t sleep on the rest of the gardens as well.
Have you kissed the Blarney Stone? Would you do it?
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