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You can kiss the Blarney Stone again as Ireland eases its coronavirus lockdown

Blarney Castle in Ireland
Looking down from the top of Blarney Castle in Ireland.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

Life became ever so slightly more normal in Ireland on Monday as pints were pulled, lockdown hair was trimmed and, for the first time since March 13, the Blarney Stone was kissed — a hugely important moment for anyone looking to get the gift of the gab.

On Monday, Blarney Castle owner Charles Colthurst was the first person to kiss the famous block of limestone, marking the occasion by wearing the jersey of Liverpool Football Club, which last week won its first English league title in 30 years.

“There are some very difficult times ahead in the tourism industry, but hopefully this is the start of our journey over the coming years to try and grow our visitor numbers back to similar levels before the COVID situation,” said Colthurst.

An array of health and safety measures have been put in place at the tourist attraction in southwest Ireland, including the use of a cleanser that Colthurst says is approved by the World Health Organization and is said to kill 99.9% of the viruses, germs and bacteria that may be on the stone.

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Other measures include limiting the number of people on site, while the person helping to anchor someone kissing the stone — which can only be done in an awkward position — will wear a protective face shield and gloves. The gloves will be changed or cleaned after each kisser.

Legend has it that one of Colthurst’s 15th century predecessors had a speech impediment and that the castle proprietor saved a witch drowning in the lake on castle grounds. The witch told him that he would receive the gift of eloquence if he kissed the stone.

EU envoys are close to finalizing a list of countries whose citizens will be allowed back into Europe and the U.S. is unlikely to be on it.

A ritual was born, practiced and repeated without obstacle — until the coronavirus came along, halting the tradition for the first time in almost 600 years.

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Ireland was one of the first European countries to enact strict lockdown provisions after the pandemic took root in Italy. By mid-March, it had banned mass gatherings, strictly limited social interactions and shut schools, universities and child day care centers.

The early action is widely credited for limiting deaths in Ireland. The country’s coronavirus death toll stands at 1,735 and the total number of confirmed cases is just below 25,500.

As the country now embarks on the next stage of the government’s easing of coronavirus restrictions, bars that serve food were able to welcome back customers Monday, while pubs not selling food can reopen July 20. Hair salons, gyms, pools and cinemas have also been allowed to open, while small congregations can attend church services again.

Griffins of Kinsale Irish pub in South Pasadena, with angry residents gathering outside and online, was shut down by police and a health official. Its owner says he was unfairly targeted.

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Mass gatherings, including weddings, of 50 people indoors and 200 people outdoors, are now also allowed, while face coverings have become compulsory on public transportation.

The Licensed Vintners Assn. said the reopening of pubs marked a “milestone moment in the recovery of the country.” Customers have to book a table in advance, and standing at the bar is no longer allowed, with all service now conducted at tables.

At Mary Mac’s, a pub in south Dublin, regular Angus Fleming savored his first pint of Guinness back at his local watering hole.

“It’s great — I’ve been looking forward to it for a few months,” he said. “It makes life a little bit more real.”


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