Oddly enough, Elizabeth I of England made an unintentional contribution to the English language when she coined the word “blarney.” Tired of the Lord of Blarney’s constant filibustering with “fair words and soft speech,” the exasperated queen shouted, “Blarney, Blarney–it’s all Blarney. What he says he does not mean, and what he means he does not say.”
Blarney, a village near Cork in southern Ireland, contains the ruins of a fortress castle originally owned by Cormack MacCarthy, the Lord of Blarney. In compliance with the terms of a 1602 armistice, MacCarthy agreed to surrender his castle and property around it to the English.
However, day by day, week by week, month by month with “soft, wheedling speeches,” Lord Blarney postponed taking any action. He dallied and delayed until the English “Lord President” in charge of the property transfer became the laughing stock of both the wily Irish and the impatient invaders.
Since the Irish can seldom resist a joke, especially a joke played upon someone else, Lord Blarney’s tricky tactics became a historical footnote.
In the four centuries since Elizabeth I’s death, the word “blarney” has acquired a softer meaning than Good Queen Bess intended. Blarney lost its original overtones of deceit and insincerity and now connotes eloquence of speech with just a little skillful flattery and nonsense.
“Baloney is the unvarnished lie laid on so thick you hate it. Blarney is flattery laid on so thin you love it,” the infamous Bishop Fulton Sheen neatly explained the difference.
Kissing the Blarney Stone
If you visit Ireland and kiss the Blarney Stone, the Irish guarantee you’ll possess the gift of eloquence and the power to talk your way out of sticky situations. Kissing the stone sounds easy, but it requires a bit of courage and a lot of agility. Even climbing stone stairs leading to the top of the tower requires strong legs and powerful lungs.
On reaching the top, the potential kisser sits on a ledge. If you’re female, the tour guide modestly drapes your lower extremities with a blanket. As you lean backward above 120 feet of empty air enclosed in jagged rocks, the guide hangs on to your ankles. Male kissers first empty their pockets of keys and spare change and, of course, forgo the blanket.
(If you wear a hairpiece, false teeth or contact lenses, or suffer from a fear of heights, avoid the whole ghastly experience. Instead, spend the time shopping or drinking tea in a quaint Cork pub.)
If you’re a determined kisser, you’ll be suspended upside down and backward over the yawning depths before you can change your mind. At this point, you’re on your own, with bystanders providing little assistance. “Farther, farther,” they usually yell. “Stretch farther down.” To save face, you squirm lower and finally smear a token kiss on the proper stone.
Once you pull yourself together, you’ll be outraged to learn you did all the stretching and squirming in order to kiss a phony stone. The original is set in the wall 20 feet from the top and carries the inscription: “Cormack MacCarthy fortis me fieri recit, A. D. 1446.” Waste little time on the Latin, it’s probably one of an earlier Lord of Blarney’s little jokes.♦