The famous Blarney Castle is much more than a tower where tourists can kiss a rock. This beautiful medieval stronghold in Blarney, near Cork Ireland is surrounded by stunning gardens and deserves a full day to wander. From Dublin, Blarney is about a 3 hour drive. Trains and busses are available to travel to Cork from where many different day tours leave. We selected a shuttle-type tour from Cork which offered round-trip transportation with a brief stop in the town of Cobh before carrying on to Blarney.
We made a brief stop in the town of Cobh (pronounced Cove), formerly known as Queenstown. Cobh is the second largest natural harbour in the world. This town has been a significant part of Irish history. It was the Titanic's last port of call before its journey across the Atlantic. It is the closest town to where the Lusitania was sunk, bringing the USA into WWI. It was the point of departure for many during the famine and the Great Emigration. Cobh was also a center during the Easter Rising. If you are planning to be in the area for longer, check out their excellent tourism website. There are several walking tours available exploring the history and culture of the town, from a haunted night walk to a visit to a citadel on Spike Island a short ferry hop away.
The town is built up a huge hill and has adapted its buildings to its geography. Notice the different angles and curves of the town.
Overlooking the town is Ireland's tallest Cathedral, St. Colman's. Construction began in 1868 and continued for 50 years. Many different artists from all over the world contributed to the construction and decoration of the Cathedral.
After the Titanic left Southampton, it went to this town, then known as Queenstown, to pick up more passengers. The English had renamed the town when Queen Victoria visited but the Irish people reclaimed the original name after Independence. There are several options for exploring the Titantic history, including walking tours and the Titanic Experience located in the former ticket office of the White Star Line.
The sinking of the Lusitania is memorialized through walking tours and this statue dedicated to those who lost their lives.
Following a brief visit around the town, we moved on to Blarney.
The castle is open to visitors year-round, opening daily at 9am with latest admission in the winter months at 4pm and 5pm in the summer months. Adult admission is 18€ with an audio guide available for an additional 6€.
Blarney Castle is a tower house, which are typically four or five storeys tall with one or two main chambers, plus several ancillary chambers on each floor. The current keep was built in the mid 1400s by the famous Irish chieftan, Cormac MacSweeney. The famous stone was placed in one of the machicolations (spaces where rocks and stones could be dropped on invaders below). Blarney is larger than most tower houses with a second tower added in the 1500s.
The walls are 18 feet thick at the base, gradually sloping inwards as they rise. This makes the building more stable but would also have helped with defence: when an object was dropped from the top it would bounce off the wall on the way down and fly outwards into the enemy.
There are many myths and legends about the Castle and the Blarney Stone, however few can be confirmed. It is said that those who kiss the stone will become eloquent and skilled in flattery and charm. To kiss the stone, you lie on your back (supported by two staff members) and lean back over the open space below to reach the rock. I'm not sure I became eloquent or more charming but it was a great bit of fun.
After exploring the castle, the gardens are an absolute must-see. I don't think it is possible to take a bad photo in such a beautiful spot. The gardens include a huge network of trails winding through a 60-acre area between the entrance gates and a lake on the far side.
There are 11 different and distinct garden areas plus many cute little groves and hidden gems. The pathways are well-groomed with many charming little bridges and waterfalls in the Water Gardens.
Other gardens include Vietnamese, Poison, Carniverous, Himilayan, and a Herbaceous Border with a stunning rose trellis. I really enjoyed the hidden groves tucked just off the pathways.
It was such fun to discover the many little fairy houses and villages in these groves.
Each summer season, a new exhibit is featured. During the 2022 season, Blarney Castle hosted a sculpture exhibit in the gardens. Other special events include walking tours of the gardens, gardening advice from the Head Gardener, and visits with the resident horses and donkeys. Check the official website for schedules.
The official website suggests that 2-3 hours is enough to see the Castle and Gardens. We found that was plenty of time for the off-season when there were only a handful of visitors but, when visiting in the high season, line-ups for kissing the stone can become very long. Garden fans will likely want more time to ensure every garden and grove is visited. Last admission is fairly early, even for the summer months, but visitors are welcome to stay on the grounds until sunset.
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