Friday, February 27, 2004


I'm at least 25 per cent Irish. Possibly more, and I'm pretty damn certain that it's all the important parts. And to prove it, I've done the going-back-to-my-roots tourist thing and kissed the Blarney Stone. An event which, in retrospect, explains a lot of things about the way I am now, to be sure, to be sure.

I'll draw a discrete veil over the fact that my family's actually from Belfast, a good two hundred miles away, city of charming murals and the roar of Ian Paisley.

The Great Kissing of the Stone marked the halfway point in a pissed-up student holiday in Ireland, and the day we discovered The Worst Pub In Cork. No disrespect to the fair people of the city, but the whole place appears to be twinned with Portsmouth, only without the sailors; and public houses staffed by the East German woman's shot putt team. In fact, Cork can be more than described by at least one of our party:

"God, what a shit-hole. Worse than Catford."

Not many pubs either side of the water greet you with the words "Goddam it, you're greasy", so I suppose John had a point.

Disgusted with the fizzy keg beer and stone cold welcome in O'Bastard's Bar, we headed into the country and the fine surrounds of Blarney Castle. To the top of the crumbling Gormenghastian edifice we climbed, leaned backwards over the abyss and landed a big old smacker on the legendary stone. Moist, but no tongues.

On the way down we ran into a party of Wilburs - elderly American tourists, doing a tour of the "Old Country" in a large air-conditioned coach with "The Emerald Isle" written in green lettering on the front. This was the only time I have ever seen these words written down in all the time I've lived and holidayed in Ireland. Walking cliches the lot of them - flat-peaked baseball caps, plaid trousers and facelifted wives. Easy meat.

"Top o' the mornin'!" we greeted them in faux-Irish accents, despite the fact that it was three o'clock in the afternoon. One of us at this stage may even have said "Bejebus" and "To be sure, to be sure."

Stopping for a rest, the Head Wilbur asked "Is it a long way to the top?"

"Miles," I lied.

"And then they hang you over the edge..." said Pat.

" the ankles..." continued John.

"...and there's no safety net," finished Balders.

The Wilburs just stared at us. They'd come all the way from Pigdick, Arkansas and nobody told them there was a higher than average chance of falling hundreds of feet to their doom.

"Do they..." started a clearly rattled Wilburette.

"...drop anyone?" Pat continued.

"That's right..."

"Hardly ever. No safety gear, but those old girls certainly have a strong grip."

Obviously, the stone's legendary powers were already coursing through us. Some of the Wilburs were already having second thoughts and were torn between completing their pilgrimage and fleeing to the air-conditioned safety of their Emerald Isle Express. Anywhere, in fact, that wasn't near these long-haired lunatics. Time, then, to twist the knife.

"Oh, it's all totally safe," said Balders, "except..."

"Except what?" gasped a Mrs Wilbur.

"They never wash the stone."

There was an instant, germ-free reaction.

"You mean..."

"You name it, we got it. Herpes. Hepatitis. Cold Sores. AIDS." The last was added with a completely unnecessary air of terror, striking horror into the hearts of the collected Wilburs.

"OH. MY. GOD. THAT'S IT!" screamed a Mrs Wilbur, "Come on Wilbur, we're leaving!"

There was a mild panic on the narrow stairs as two dozen Wilburs in varying sized draw-string pants attempted a three-point turn and flee to some nice craft centre selling plastic Leprechauns.

Mission accomplished. How we laughed.

We went to the pub that night to celebrate our victory over the Great Satan, in a village with a donkey roaming up and down the main street, and a public phone box that invited you to press button A and button B to make a call. Unlike Cork, the welcome was warm, and the Guinness and fire-water flowed.

As we reached that point in the evening on the border between consciousness and the technicolour yawn, a local collasped against the bar next to us.

"So, where've you guys been?" he asked, while gamely standing us all drinks.

"All over. Waterford. Cork. Blarney."

"Och, you didn't kiss the Stone, did you? Feck but them yanks is fat daft buggers. Sweet jayzus they is, or oim the Pope's mother."

"Well..." I replied, expecting to be lectured on the pitfalls of the local tourist trap.

"You do know about the kids there?"

"No, but I've a feeling you're going to tell us anyway."

So he told us. The local kids, so the story goes, get pissed on tins of Heineken shoplifted from the local Spar market, break into the castle when the last tourist buses have gone, climb the three million steps to the top and piss all over the Blarney Stone. Regularly. Twice a night sometimes, in the knowledge that gullible American tourists would be puckering up to their fresh onion water the very next morning.

And we had kissed it.

And we had prevented gullible American tourists from doing the same.

Violated, that's how I felt, and worse, there was no wire brush available to scrub my lips and tongue. Only one thing for it - dilute the germs and flush them out of my system.

"Barman! Six pints of Guinness please!"

"Right you are."

"And my friends will have the same."


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