Kissing the Blarney Stone

Blarney Castle, from Black’s Guide to Ireland (1912)

Snippets 166.  At the start of the 20th Century, American Thomas Rees went on a tour of Europe, concluding in Britain and Ireland.  His recollections were published in 1908 in the fascinating book Sixty Days in Europe and What We Saw There.  We have looked at a few quotes from the book before, which I will list below along with a link to the full text, but first of all let’s take a look at one final quote from Rees.  When he visited the Blarney Stone, he was somewhat unimpressed with what he found.  I won’t say that was a theme of his book, but it was not untypical.  Rees was also alarmed at the danger posed by the tradition of kissing the Blarney Stone, and a little disappointed not to get the opportunity to get his hands on some young ladies’ legs.

It is a considerable undertaking to kiss the Blarney stone, and it is said that several fatal accidents have occurred from the attempt. It used to be that people would crawl up over the top of the cornice and, while two persons would hold the aspirant for the honor of kissing the Blarney stone by the legs, he would hang head downward and kiss the stone. On one or two occasions the persons who were doing the holding were not equal to the effort and let go their “leg holt” and the victim fell to the walk one hundred feet below, where his brains, if he had any, were smashed out on the stone flagging.

To prevent the danger connected with this mode of getting at the Blarney stone, an iron cap with big iron spikes in it has been placed on the upper edge of the cornice, so that people cannot get over it, and the stone is held in place by two iron rods which keep the spikes in position. The act of kissing the stone is now accomplished by the person who undertakes it lying prone on his back on the roof of the castle, reaching out over these two rods, which are about two feet from the castle proper, as the battlement or cornice stands that far from the main wall, and, while two persons hold the feet of the aspirant, he lets himself down on the iron rods until his lips come under the lower edge of the cornice and he kisses the stone. The puzzle is, then, to find the two men who are strong enough to pull the lunatic back. It is still a difficult and dangerous performance, as there is nothing between the man who kisses the stone and the stone pavement below where those mentioned above were dashed to death. Especially would it be dangerous for a man of my shape and size so I was willing to leave it out.

It happened, however, that a couple of young Americans who had ridden with us on the stage down through Ireland, came along at the time we were there, and they were both extremely anxious to kiss the Blarney stone. I can hardly imagine how they could have been better built for the undertaking, for they were each about six feet tall, and, although of slender build, were real athletes. I volunteered to hold one leg of each of them, one at a time, while each companion held the other leg while they went through the fool performance.

While the two of us held onto the legs of the first young man, he lay down on his back, grasped the iron rods and reached for the stone, but, as we were extremely cautious, we held him about twelve inches too far back, and with all his efforts he could not reach far enough to accomplish the kissing act. He was so determined to do it that he kicked and scrambled and twisted like an eel. The more he twisted and squirmed, the more firmly we held on, as we certainly thought he had got beyond his own and our control, and we expected that in a few moments we would have to go down below and gather his remains up and get them ready to ship home in a bag, but he was game, and pulled and kicked until he almost got away from us, and finally smacked the stone, secured his share of microbes, and yelled for us to pull him up, which we did with great alacrity.

With this practice, and our experience and knowledge of the situation, we handled the next victim more gracefully, and the two young men went away supremely happy, but I think instead of complimenting me in the urbane manner which kissing the stone was supposed to impart to them, they rather expressed the idea that I did not know how to hold a man while he was kissing the Blarney stone.

There is a large, flat stone on the Tower called the Wishing stone, and there were two young ladies sitting on this and making wishes. What those wishes were I am unable to tell, as they refused to inform me. I kindly offered, however, to hold them by the feet while they kissed the Blarney stone; in a polite manner they refused my offer. I think, however, they went away somewhat disappointed.

You can find previous interesting quotes from this book here:

… and you can read the full text on here.

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About Roger Pocock

Author of Co-writer on Administrator of
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