Blimey all old Celtic gods and goddesses, it is cóld here in Cork. Chilled-to-the-bone cold. I have taken the bus from Cork to Blarney for a visit to Blarney Castle – famous for its ‘kissing the stone’ tradition. Not my reason for going here today, though. I am braving these low temperatures because the castle and its grounds are supposedly home to many enchanted places.
First things first. The parking lot, situated a little ways away from the castle grounds entrance – is more or less deserted, but the gift shop there is open. Gift shops sell clothes. Clothes to keep you warm. So a tacky green fleece jacket it is. (Which is just ugly enough to leave it behind when I leave West Ireland a week later.)
The rock close
The castle grounds are divided into different areas. One of those is the rock close. It is a funny place. It’s surrounded by walls for the largest part, bordered by water for a bit as well. You enter through a doorway in the wall. It’s not as if the landscape drastically changes, still it feels as if you’ve have crossed onto to a different site, with different qualities, where different things might happen. It’s a bit Alice in Wonderland-like, actually.
The weather immediately switches from quiet to wet and windy again. It will continue to do so the entire afternoon. I stroll around, silently soaking in the landscape: the flowers, boulders covered in mosses, trees rough as dragon skin, thistled bushes, loads more mosses. The greens flow together and shades of purple blend in. Despite the weather, it is easy to imagine Tinkerbells darting about here. There are paths and boardwalks, taking you up and down through the different levels of the area. Waterfalls and a large pond complete the picture: it’s like a part of a fairytale country, with hidden places for magical fairytale figures.
Is it enchanted? I wouldn’t rule it out. Not because wooden signs saying ‘elves stone’, ‘fairy glade’, ‘druids circle’, ‘witch’s kitchen’ or ‘wishing steps’. It is more as if the people who put up those signs to enhance the magical visitor experience unknowingly tapped into something actually there.
Perhaps you have heard of old stories that speak of places where ‘the veil between the worlds’ is thinner. In Celtic stories it is anything but a rare concept. But it is exactly what I sense here and there, on this patch of nature that rocks and rolls into every direction. As if the air is actually thinner. At other points, it is as if the air – usually transparent, more sensed than seen – has the same greenish and purplish qualities as all the foliage around. It seems to shimmer a little. I believe the cold has actually done me a favour today, in making it easier to see and feel the magical qualities of this somewhat strange place.
Even though it’s not my reason for visiting the castle in the first place, of course I have to check out the actual building too. In this case, that means the remains of the castle’s keep from 1446. If you stand in the middle of the old keep, the walls go up on all sides, but your view is of the sky. In some corners, there are small and steep winding stairs hacked out in the grey stone. It’s as old-school medieval as I have ever seen a castle. This is hardly a romantic princess castle, but more a soldiers and sieges castle, it seems. (How a soldier would have fitted through the small round staircases in full armour, I have no idea.)
At the top of the stairs that are used for visitors going up, you step onto a small ledge that lines the walls all around. I am up high and loving it. The weather is desperately trying to beat us visitors down again: the cold has brought his fierce friends wind and rain.
Whether you want to or not, you end up in the line of visitors waiting to kiss the stone. It’s a slow shuffle forward, but hey, there’s no hurry. I skip the stone kiss and its picture moment (one guy holds you when you lean down backwards for the kiss and one guy takes the picture). Just before I reach the entrance to the stairs down, the rain lets off a little and a rainbow peaks through. How very beautiful and Irish. (No pot of gold in view, unfortunately.)
After the rock close and the castle, it’s back to the real world, without magical shimmers in the air, but with a nice pub and hot food. No risk of fairies or angels around anymore. Well, maybe the waiter who brings me steaming coffee and hot fries counts as an actual angel today.