Ohio's blarney fascination

Samantha Kuhn, associate editor of Ohio Cooperative Living, climbs a rock.

Samantha Kuhn, associate editor of Ohio Cooperative Living, recently honeymooned in Ireland with her husband, where she kissed the Blarney Stone.

St. Patrick’s Day festivities, embroidered pillows bearing Irish blessings, leprechaun coloring books, and lucky four-leaf clover kits — without a doubt, America embraces all things “Irish,” especially during Irish-American Heritage Month in March.

The Buckeye State is doused in Irish influence, as those of Irish heritage were among the earliest white settlers in Ohio in the late 1700s to early 1800s, immigrating to escape Ireland’s potato famine, and finding work as laborers on the canals and railroads. More than 13 percent of Ohioans are Irish, according to the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey. Irish is Ohio’s second-most frequently reported ancestry, trailing German.

Perhaps most evident of the Emerald Isle’s influence in Ohio is the number of restaurants, bars, businesses, streets, and even 5K runs named after the Blarney Stone, a legendary block of limestone built into Blarney Castle, a medieval fortress near Cork, Ireland. The original castle dates from before 1200. Today, more than 200,000 tourists from around the world visit Blarney Castle each year to kiss the Blarney Stone, which, according to Irish folklore, gives the kisser the ability to speak with eloquence.

Hollywood stars, political icons, literary geniuses, and well-known figures from around the world have climbed the narrow, uneven staircases through the maze-like castle to attain the “Gift of Gab.” Scores of notables, from former British Prime Minister Winston Churchill to rock singer Mick Jagger, have smooched the stone.

The stone is situated 85 feet up, on the east wall of the battlement, and in order to land a kiss, you have to bend backward while grabbing a railing for support with a guard holding your legs to ensure you don’t slip through the opening and fall to your death — once upon a time, that did happen when visitors were dangled by their ankles over the ledge and lowered headfirst to kissing level. Now that it’s a bit safer, the Discovery Travel Channel has listed kissing the Blarney Stone among its 99 things to do before you die.

Though you may never have the opportunity to smooch the Blarney Stone, you can visit an Ohio Blarney establishment near you with minimal effort — Ohio has a not-so-secret fascination with the ancient castle and its ability to impart the gift of gab. Here are a few of the more well-known spots in Ohio that have borrowed the attention-grabbing name.

The Blarney Stone, Cleveland

Owned by an Irish family from County Mayo, the McGowans, this no-frills Irish pub is where visitors go for an authentic experience. Here, you won’t find anything flashy — just perfectly poured Guinness and friendly service.

The Blarney Irish Pub, Toledo

Owner Ed Beczynski visited over 35 pubs in Ireland in March 2006, and he was inspired to open an Irish pub in downtown Toledo. After finding the right building with an old feel, he opened The Blarney the same year, buying much of the furniture and décor from Ireland. With nostalgic Guinness advertisements, windows reminiscent of cathedral stained glass, and live music Thursday through Saturday, the pub is often packed to near-full capacity on weekends.

Blarney Stone Tavern, Worthington

With a bevy of entertainment ranging from local bands to holiday shows and free trivia on Tuesday nights, this tavern maintains a warm atmosphere year-round. Patrons can reserve a private room or section of the bar for events, and the bar’s rotating list of beers and whiskey is sure to please. Their motto, “Irish soul, American attitude” reflects their kitchen options, so don’t leave without trying their Blarney Burger.