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Thursday, March 17, 2016

Bussing The Blarney Stone

Today's the day we all become Irish--that is, if we want to be in on the celebration of St. Patrick's Day. There are so many wonderful traditions in our country to celebrate this day. Far bigger celebrations here than in Ireland. One of the best is putting green dye in the river in Chicago. And yes, they really do that. Parades and festivals abound and green beer is often the special drink of the day in many pubs throughout the USA. 

We spent two weeks traveling in Ireland several years ago. It's where my roots are on my mother's side of the family so the visit there was special for me. One of the pieces I wrote after that trip has been published a few times. A personal essay and a travel piece. I'm repeating a short version of it here today. 

Bussing The Blarney Stone
By Nancy Julien Kopp

     On a visit to Ireland, my husband, two good friends, and I passed several euros apiece across a counter to visit the famed Blarney Castle. We strolled up a long, tree-lined path, keeping the castle’s stone walls in view on a chilly, summer morning.
     Four young women approached and asked if we’d take their picture. They posed carefully, and Ken snapped the photo. “You next!” one of them said. And so, we four struck a pose for our picture. As we exchanged cameras, one of the girls said, “You’ll love seeing the Blarney Stone at the top of the tower.”
     Top of the tower?  I hadn’t counted on climbing to the top to see the famous stone. The legend says that anyone who kisses the stone will always have the gift of gab—like the Irish are known for. It seemed foolish to come this far, pay to see the famous spot, and then not do so. So, through the iron gate and on to the stone stairs that spiraled upward farther than I could see.
     We climbed and climbed the narrow steps, steadying hands on walls that appeared to close in more at each new level. Halfway to the top, my knees began to ache and my legs started to tremble a bit. I pictured those four young women bounding up these stone stairs with an energy I’d not had for more years than I’d like to mention. Mere determination kept one foot in front of the other until I finally reached the walkway on top of the castle, where I found myself at the end of a line of tourists. Breathing hard, I looked down into a courtyard, miles below, then inched along with the crowd.
     And then I stopped cold. There was the Blarney Stone, below the walkway, and a woman was lying on her back, hands above her head, grasping two iron bars, a man on his knees supporting her. She wiggled a bit more, tipped her head back and bussed the stone as she appeared to be suspended in air.
     I have never made a decision so quickly in my life. There was no way this grandmother of four would perform that feat. I watched as one person after another became an acrobat only to be able to say they’d kissed the Blarney Stone. A few passed on by.
     My husband laid his hand on my shoulder. “Are you going to do it?” he asked.
     I calmly explained to him that there was no need for me to kiss the stone to receive the gift of gab. I was born with the blessing of being able to talk my way into or out of most anything, thanks to my being half-Irish in heritage. And before he could push me into it, I slid right by the attendant waiting for the next victim—or participant.
     I started the return trip down the many steps thinking the reverse direction would be easier. Instead, it proved almost more difficult. My legs were mere jelly by the time I reached the final step, and I sank onto a stone bench to recover.
     As I looked up at the top of the castle tower, satisfaction settled into my bones. I’d climbed the killer stairway, I’d seen the Blarney Stone, and I stuck to my decision. Besides all that, I’d made one more memory to savor again and again.

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