Keeper of Blarney Stone Makes Lots of Friends on Precarious Wind-Swept Perch


John Dineen hangs upside down each morning on top of a wind-swept tower and kisses a stone. He then spends the rest of the day helping others to plant their precarious kisses.

This portly and jovial figure has what must rank as one of Ireland’s most unusual jobs: keeper of the Blarney Stone.

Nearly 250,000 people per year climb up the tower at Blarney Castle in western Ireland because legend decrees that whoever kisses the stone is given the gift of eloquence.


Winston Churchill, one of this century’s great orators, kissed the stone. Comedian Stan Laurel kissed it, but his bulky partner Oliver Hardy declined.

Television actor Larry Hagman, never at a loss for words as the villainous J. R. Ewing in “Dallas,” had to take off his Stetson to pay lip-service to the stone.

Kissing the stone is not for the faint-hearted or those who suffer from vertigo or bad backs.

You have to lean over backwards at the top of a 90-foot-high tower, stretch out across an awkward gap in the parapet, grasp two iron railings and plant your kiss while upside down.

That is where Dineen comes in. He provides a rug for you to lie on, perches above the abyss himself and guides you toward the gift of immortal eloquence.

Nonetheless, Dineen insists, kissing the stone “is very safe. . . . I kiss it every morning. It definitely works.”


But who holds onto his legs for the awkward maneuver?

“That has to be self-service.”

“The oldest I have had was a woman of 104 from Los Angeles. The oldest couple were an 87-year-old and an 84-year-old from San Diego, Calif. They put them in here as early as 6 weeks old,” he said.

The best floor show in Blarney is provided by watching the people who come from all over the world clambering up the tower steps and then realizing what they have to do.

Dineen, his pockets stuffed with American dollars from grateful customers he has held tight, said, “Stick around here long enough and you will hear the screams.”

Honeymooners have traditionally tried to kiss the stone side by side. Everyone has to make a wish. Many are too scared and forget while they cling on, staring into space.

As a crowd of hesitant tourists built up around the stone, one American took the plunge--but not literally.

After hanging his head upside down and planting his kiss, he confessed, “I just asked to come back alive.”


An Australian woman wondered afterward if it was worth the trouble. “It’s only the Irish who are never lost for words,” she said.

The art of conversation certainly ranks alongside drinking Guinness stout and betting on race horses as one of Ireland’s great national pastimes.

With 60 million people of Irish descent around the world, the stone still has plenty of customers to come.

“It is definitely Ireland’s most popular tourist attraction,” Dineen said proudly.

The stone’s exact origins are lost in the mists of time, but Britain’s Queen Elizabeth I is credited with introducing into the English language the word blarney , meaning pleasant talk intended to deceive without offending.

During Britain’s colonial rule over Ireland, the Earl of Leicester was commanded to take possession of the castle from the then lord of Blarney, Cormac McCarthy.

McCarthy always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay so that when the queen asked for progress reports, a long missive was sent to her. The castle remained untaken.

“This is all blarney. What he says, he never means,” the queen complained.

Another more romantic tale suggests that the local king of Munster saved an old woman from drowning in the lake beside the castle.


She turned out to be a witch who told the king about a special stone in the tower that would offer eloquence in return for a kiss.

Dineen reassures hygienically-minded visitors that the stone is washed four to five times a day.