Still, it’s a bucket-list item, and a charming one, too. “It’s such a unique experience,” says Paul O’Sullivan, 33, of Cork, Ireland, the marketing manager at Blarney Castle. “You’re lying down on your back at the very top of the castle, being held by the waist by a very nice Irish gentleman.” Yes, you heard right. You will be lowered backward over a gap in the wall, 100 feet in the air, and that’s where you kiss the stone.
But, O’Sullivan adds, “Blarney’s not just a stone; it’s a whole complex.” The castle itself, built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, the king of Munster, is glorious, half-ruined and open to the sky. The 60 acres of gardens, O’Sullivan says, could be a stand-alone feature, including a horse graveyard, a 600-year-old “witch’s yew” named “Irish Tree of the Year 2019,” and a poison garden. Ireland is surely less litigious than the United States, but O’Sullivan reassures that the most deadly plants reside in domed cages “dutifully labeled with their uses now and in history — and if used for something more untoward.”
Crowds can be an issue in June through August, with narrow stairs leading up to the smooch spot, but efforts are underway to enhance the wait time, including a pillory unveiled last month. This medieval punishment device holds your head and hands captive for kitschy photos, and hopefully no one will lob rotten eggs at you.
Location: Blarney, County Cork, in Ireland’s southwest.
Skellig Michael is a World Heritage site with birdwatching and fewer crowds
For solitude — and a lower chance of picking up the coronavirus — you might skip the whole thing and head instead to another magical stone, the Irish island of Skellig Michael.
Beginning in the 6th century, Skellig Michael was home to hermits, who used the dramatic rocky island to build a monastery and beehive huts in which to live sparsely and pray. In the past, few tourists undertook the one-hour sea crossing to get there, but interest swelled with the island’s use in several “Star Wars” movies. Luckily, only 180 people are allowed to disembark there each day; book two months ahead with one of 15 boat operators. The season runs from May through September.
Puffins, gannets and other birds wheel around the Skellig (which means “piece of rock”) and its smaller sister, Little Skellig, so it’s fantastic for birdwatching as well as oceanwatching. There is a peaceful magic to this green-grass and barren-stone island that rises 714 feet above sea level. Its history is just as fascinating and much older than Blarney Castle’s, including a Viking attack in the year 821 when the abbot was kidnapped. Pick your way around the remains of St. Fionán’s complex, including a graveyard, gardens, oratories, a church, water cisterns and terraced walls at this UNESCO World Heritage site. The only possible deterrent? You will have to channel your inner monk for the 670 steep stone steps. But if you don’t wish to land and climb, you can take an eco tour that simply boats around the two Skellig Islands.
Island off the west coast of Ireland, County Kerry.
Mailman is a writer based in Northern California. Follow her on Twitter: @ErikaMailman