When people think of Ireland, they might think of Guinness, music or even Leprechauns, but did you know that Ireland has a King?
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A 280-mile solo hike across Ireland.

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Book Excerpts
Excerpt - A Load of Blarney
Blarney village is situated about eight kilometres north-west of Cork. The main attraction is the kissing of the Blarney Stone. Blarney Castle was built on solid limestone way back in 1446. Situated at the top of this castle is the fabled Blarney Stone. Kissing this stone is reputed to give you the gift of the gab, or talk blarney as the term goes. Queen Elizabeth I invented the term because of Lord Blarney's ability to talk endlessly for hours without ever actually agreeing to her demands. Apparently his eloquent excuses for not surrendering himself and his land to her were so frequent and actually plausible that the queen declared his waffle a load of Blarney. It seems ironic that a well-known Irish expression was actually invented, not just by an Englishwoman, but by the English Queen who wreaked havoc on the country for years.

The stone is extremely popular and is actually Ireland's third most popular tourist attraction. Thus there was a long queue of people waiting for their turn to smooch it. The queue stretched from the very top of the castle, six stories up, down a narrow spiral staircase and out the entrance. It was going to be a long wait.
Once we reached the top we were able to watch the kissing process. In the old days people who kissed the Blarney Stone were hung by their heels over the edge of the parapet. One day a pilgrim broke from the grasp of his friends and went hurtling downward to certain death. Nowadays bars are fitted to the inside of the parapet for the kisser to hold on to and thus be saved from the risk of falling down through the gap.

Each person has to lie on his or her back and bend backward over a large gap on the inside edge of the parapet, which represents this sheer drop to the grounds below. However, this is obviously not considered safe enough. To further ensure the kisser's safety an assistant is provided. His job is to hold you by the waist as you bend over. Interesting job! It must make an amusing topic of conversation in the pub at night:

'So, what did you do today?'

'Well, I spent the day holding people's waists as they bent over backwards to kiss a stone.'

'Ah go on Seamus, now ye really ought ta stop these afternoon drinking sessions.'

It's not exactly the most romantic of jobs. Or is it? I suppose it depends on whose legs he's holding. I wondered if this one man was solely employed for this purpose, or whether the job was rotated among the park's staff?

Finally our turn came and each of us opted to take photos of this momentous occasion. I took one of Heather, then lay down myself, bent backwards, grabbed the two bars behind me and tried not to look down. The blood rushed to my head as I stared at the smooth surface of the one stone set among other more rugged stones. I guess this is the Blarney Stone then, I thought. So what sort of kiss am I supposed to bestow upon this magical stone in order to be blessed with its magical powers? Do I just give it a peck, use a bit of tongue, or go for the full-blown Frenchy? It was a decision I would have to make very quickly, lest my assistant got bored and loosened his grip; or found something more interesting to look at. I figured this job didn't do much towards improving his attention span.

No one actually knows exactly where this stone came from. There are various legends, but no real facts. It could have come from anywhere, and been anywhere come to think of it. But legend has it that if you kiss this stone you will be granted the gift of eloquence and inherit the ability to talk Blarney. I had read an article on the Internet stating that over the years the term Blarney has come to mean, 'The ability to influence and coax with fair words and soft speech without giving offence'

In the interests of decorum I decided to stick to a normal kiss, without tongue. After all, there was a crowd of people watching. Suddenly I realised that this was possibly not the healthiest thing I have ever done in my life: to kiss a stone to whom I hadn't even been introduced. And, come to think of it, to kiss a stone who has been kissed by thousands of other people: men, women and children alike. I would at least have preferred to get to know the stone better, taken it out for a drink first perhaps. But unfortunately for me there was no time allowed for a courtship ritual, so I had to dive straight in there and kiss this cold stone that was already dripping with the saliva of many before me. As I sat back up and allowed the blood to rush back to where it came from, I felt cheap, and extremely dizzy.

Special ebook edition now available with almost 100 full colour photographs and 18 new articles inspired from my return journeys to Ireland.
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