For almost 600 years, nothing has stopped anyone so inclined from kissing Ireland’s Blarney Stone to gain the gift of the gab. No longer. The new coronavirus outbreak that caused the Irish government to strictly limit social interactions, including by shutting schools, universities, and child day care centers, on Friday interrupted one of the country’s most-cherished traditions.
“This is a necessary step in the current climate, and for the first time in its history, no one will be kissing the Blarney Stone,” said Charles Colthurst, the owner of Blarney Castle, home of the famous block of limestone.
Legend has it that one of Colthurst’s 15th-century predecessors had a speech impediment, said Paul O’Sullivan, the castle’s marketing manager. According to the local lore, the castle proprietor saved a witch from drowning in the lake on castle grounds. The witch told him that he would receive the gift of eloquence if he kissed the stone.
A ritual was born, practiced, and repeated without obstacle—until the virus.
“For the first time in our history the kissing of the Blarney Stone has been postponed until further notice,” read a tweet from the castle posted Friday.
For the first time in our history the kissing of the Blarney Stone has been postponed until further notice. The castle & gardens are still open and we would like to reassure all our visitors that we are doing everything possible to provide a safe experience. — Blarney Castle & Gardens (@Blarney_Castle) March 13, 2020
Years ago, people had to be held by their ankles and lowered over the battlements to be able to kiss the Blarney Stone. Times change, though, and visitors looking to get the gift now have to lean backwards and hold onto an iron railing. It may seem unhygienic, but cleanings are carried out throughout the day at the castle north of Cork.
O’Sullivan said business at the castle has been considerably quieter in the past couple of weeks, perhaps down by 25 percent. According to the latest figures, Ireland has confirmed 70 cases of people with COVID-19 disease.
In a major escalation of its response to the virus, the Irish government announced Thursday sweeping new restrictions, including canceling all indoor gatherings of more than 100 people and outdoor events with attendance of more than 500.
While kissing the Blarney Stone is off-limits for now, the castle remains open.
“We will keep the castle and gardens open for anyone who may want to get some fresh air and experience all the beautiful walks we have available throughout the estate,” Colthurst said.