I first kissed the Blarney Stone 25 years ago. Some of my friends are not surprised by this fact.
I kissed it again yesterday just in case I was running out of eloquence. Me and about a thousand other tourists.
Yeah, I know. Gross. People have been bending over backwards (literally) to kiss the stone since the 1700s. That’s a lot of lip smacking on a piece of rock.
The four of us – Jim, Stacey, and Grainne and I – take the 45-minute drive up to Blarney from Kinsale first thing on Thursday morning. We arrive in Blarney along with several coaches full of cruise ship passengers. Many are traveling in the “Paddywagon,” a huge modern coach with a giant leprechaun painted on it. Subtlety is not its strong point.
The ticket office tells us there is a 90-minute wait to kiss the stone – but since we have come this far, we forge ahead. Fortunately, the queue moves much quicker and we wind ourselves to the stop of Blarney Castle in about 30 minutes.
As we climb higher and higher, the stairway becomes narrower and narrower to the point where I wonder if I’m going to have to remove my backpack to make it around a corner. Mind you, I’m not quite sure how I would have even managed to remove the backpack since the space is so tight.
Grainne, who is claustrophobic, bails about halfway up. Stacey, Jim and I carry on until we reach the magical spot atop of the castle where we’re told to lie on our backs, grab a couple of steel posts, lower ourselves down an opening and smooch the stone.
It’s exactly the same experience as 25 years ago, except for the fact that it’s more popular than ever. I remember going to the castle with Grainne, her mother and their former parish priest, Father Quinlan. We were among about 20 visitors that day. I almost had the castle to myself since no one else in our party wanted to make the climb.
Today, mass tourism is a real thing with coachloads of visitors arriving in leprechaun-decorated buses. There’s good and bad in that. It’s easy for me to be an elitist, snobby tourist, but there’s really very little difference between me and the guys in the leprechaun coach. We’re still kissing the same dirty stone.
Do note, however, that there’s more to Blarney Castle than the stone. The grounds and gardens are absolutely stunning. Make sure you build in time to enjoy the plants and flowers. The “poison garden” section with its collection of dangerous plants would appeal to any Severus Snape fan.
We drive back to Kinsale, where the girls have booked another afternoon of horse riding. Both Grainne and Stacey are accomplished riders and they’ve arranged a more advanced ride. Jim and I leave them and go for a walk through Kinsale which amazingly ends at the Armada pub for a pint.
After a couple of hours, we reunite and rest up before dinner.
When you ask people about restaurants in Kinsale, two names consistently pop up. Fishy Fishy and the Black Pig. You can take a wild guess about the specialty of Fishy Fishy. The Black Pig, however is a wine bar that specializes in charcuterie.
We start at the Black Pig for a glass of wine before dinner. Although we don’t eat any starters there, we watch as the chef prepares the plates right before us at the bar: beef carpaccio, chicken liver parfait, Iberico ham. The vibe is cool, the wine delicious. Definitely worth checking out if you’re in town.
We amble down the street to Fishy Fishy, where we settle in. Jim and I order the fish pie – whitefish, shellfish and salmon, combined with a creamy sauce and topped with crunchy, herby breadcrumbs. Grainne is drawn to the yellow fin tuna, which is served medium rare with an Asian-inspired soy and sesame sauce on basmati rice. Stacey opts for the salmon, seasoned with sweet chili, coriander and ginger butter.
This restaurant knows what it’s doing. During our stay in Kinsale, we’ve seen the Fishy Fishy truck down by the harbor more than once. Many of the fish on the menu make the two-minute journey from harbor to kitchen. Now, just make your way to the table to enjoy.
Maybe just avoid the leprechaun bus.