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Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Does Kissing the Blarney Stone Work?

     Just six months ago I was in Ireland...on my back at the top of Blarney Castle...bending backwards like a gymnast...hanging onto bars to kiss the Blarney Stone. Two strong men held me steady after I warned them "don't let go; I'm part Irish." (As if that made a difference.) I waited in line for maybe 15 or 20 minutes and noticed that there was a bottle of spray disinfectant and a rag to use--supposedly to clean the stone after so many lips touched it. Yet I didn't see anyone wiping it down in my presence.
     Kissing the stone was a blink in time, but the thought behind it all was a lesson in clever Irish marketing and maybe some elf-ish chicanery. I had to find out how this tradition started! Our 1000 mile tour of Ireland had been on my bucket list for decades, along with the tour of the United Kingdom that preceded it. I was in my wheelhouse researching new settings and stories I could add to my personal "bucket of writer's muse." (Hubby had to buy a new duffel bag to carry all the books and souvenirs collected on the Grand Tour.)
     Not until we returned home, however, and I recovered from what felt like strep, did I satisfy my curiosity. The existing castle was built in 1446 by an Irish chieftan named MacCarthy. It was probably known then as MacCarthy castle, as the MacCarthy clan claimed it for a couple of centuries under their English overlords. During her reign, Queen Elizabeth I wished to tighten the screws on Irish chiefs by insisting they agree to possess their lands under her legal tenure. Cormac MacCarthy had no intention of submitting, but he was shrewd and diplomatic enough to flatter the Queen and declare his undying loyalty in letters. After receiving one of his letters, the Queen reportedly lost her royal composure and shouted in rage, "This is all Blarney, he never means what he says or does what he promises." Thus "Blarney" slipped into the English language as something that meant "persuasive talk designed to deceive without causing offense."
     The stone itself is thought to have been either brought back from the crusades or is part of the royal Scottish Stone of Scone--aka the Stone of Destiny--given to a MacCarthy in gratitude for sending Robert the Bruce 4,000 men to help him in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
     When Sir Walter Scott visited Blarney castle in 1825, and kissed the stone, he gave the tradition more impetus. By then "Blarney" had become an endearing description as "a fine flow of eloquence with a touch of good-humored exaggeration." What visitor could resist such motivation?
      Just weeks after our return home, I was offered a contract for my novel, "The Accidental Wife." It will be released tomorrow, March 18. The legend of the Blarney stone certainly worked for this part-Irish lass! Happy St. Patrick's Day!