Friday, June 25, 2010

The Blarney Stone

Steeped in history and magical charm, Blarney offers the visitor a host of wonderful things to do and places to discover. Blarney, one of Ireland’s most picturesque villages, is set in beautiful wooded countryside, just 5 miles from Cork City. It is an ideal base to visit the many sights of County Cork and County Kerry. High on most people’s list of things to in Ireland is a visit to the famed Blarney Castle and kissing the Blarney Stone.

Blarney Castle presents a fairytale picture, its tall towers are set within extensive gardens containing such romantically named landmarks as: the Druids Altar, the Witches Kitchen and the Wishing Stairs. All of which add to the whole magic of Blarney Castle. The castle is now a partial ruin with some accessible rooms and battlements. The castle’s history originally dates from before AD 1200, when a wooden structure was built on the site. The prevailing castle was built in 1446 for Cormac MacCarthy - then King of Munster. The MacCarthys held sway over Blarney and Munster throughout the many tumultuous centuries of Anglo-Irish conflict until the defeat of the old Irish nobles at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690, after which the Lord of Blarney was exiled.

At the very top turret of the castle lies the Stone of Eloquence, better known as the Blarney Stone. Over 200,000 people visit Blarney Castle each year with the purpose of kissing the Blarney Stone to be bestowed with the “gift of gab”, the talent for eloquence that the Irish famously possess. The kiss, however, is not achieved casually. To touch the stone with one's lips, the participant must ascend to the castle's peak, then lean backwards on the parapet's edge, over a sheer drop, as the wind whistles around your ears. This is traditionally achieved with the help of an assistant. But it’s all perfectly safe and you’ll go away with something new to talk about, and a touch o’ Blarney.

Though kissing the stone is a relatively new ritual, the association with smooth talking and Blarney goes back many centuries. When Queen Elizabeth I of England sought to impose her rule on Ireland's Gaelic Chiefs, The Lord of Blarney, Cormac MacCarthy, proving most elusive, would reply to her demands with flamboyant flattery rather than submission. The Queen was said to reply, "this is all Blarney, he never means what he says and never does what he promises." And so the word Blarney came into the English language, eloquent words that flatter or deceive. There are many legends as to the origin of the stone, but some say that it was the Lia Fáil—a magical stone upon which Irish kings were crowned. Others say that it was created by a witch during the Middle Ages.

After kissing the Blarney Stone, visitors may want to try their hand at golf or shop in the Blarney Woollen Mills. Learn more about Celtic Tours premier escorted motorcoach tours.

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Giant's Causeway

The Giant's Causeway, the source of legends of gigantic proportions, is a 50 to 60 million year old landmark of Ireland's natural and mystical beauty. Located in County Antrim, the causeway was named the fourth greatest natural wonder of the United Kingdom and is the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland.

Geological evidence suggests that the Giant's Causeway was formed by the aftermath of an ancient volcano. Sixty five million years ago, County Antrim experienced intense volcanic activity, when molten basalt broke apart chalk beds to form what is now known as the Antrim plateau. When the molten lava hit the seawater, it cooled quickly and formed the famous basalt columns. The size of the columns is primarily determined by the speed at which the lava cools. The tops of the hexagonal columns form stepping stones reaching as high as 36 ft.

It is easy to see how these almost perfectly symmetrical formations would be viewed as otherwordly by our earlier irish ancestors and hot the Giant's Causeway would give rise to colorful legend. Legend claims that the mythical giant and Irish warrior Finn McCool built the Causeway from the North coast of Antrim as a pathway to the Scottish island of Staffa to confront his enemy Benandonner. The existence of similar basalt columns at Fingal's Cave on the island reinforced belief in the legend. The legend tells that Finn fell asleep before he got to Scotland. When he did not arrive, the much larger Benandonner crossed the bridge looking for him. To protect Finn, his wife Oonagh laid a blanket over him so he could pretend that he was actually their baby son. When Benandonner saw the size of the 'infant', he assumed the father, Finn, must be gigantic! Therefore, Benandonner fled home in terror, ripping up the Causeway so that Finn could not follow him.

As the most popular tourist attraction in Northern Ireland, the National Trust are expecting to open a new 'world class' visitor center in Summer 2012. The Giant's Causeway is always open and admission is free. Visitor's can expect to spend approximately 2 hours at the Giant's Causeway to gain the full experience. On your visit to the Causeway see if you can spot some of the rock features that resemble objects such as the Giant's Eyes, Giant's Boot, Camel's Hump, Organ and Chimney Stacks. With a short half mile walk over the basalt columns at the edge of the sea, from the entrance to the site, this unique landscape needs to be seen to be believed!

Learn more about Celtic Tours' premier escorted motorcoach tours of Northern Ireland

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