THE BLARNEY STONE
In Ireland, anyone with the gift of the gab is often said to have "kissed the Blarney".
The saying refers to a stone set high up in the wall of the 15th-century Blarney Castle, in the village of the same name, near Cork. It is unclear how this particular stone came to have these supposed powers, although folklore offers more than one explanation. The usual one is that anold woman rescued from drowning by a king rewarded him by putting a spell on it. When he kissed it he became a fluent and captivating speaker.
Kissing the Blarney is no easy task. You have to bend back until you are virtually upside down and hang over a huge drop. In the days before iron railings and other safety features, fatalaties were not unknown.
THE STONE OF DESTINY OR THE STONE OF SCONE
This is a quarter-ton block of sandstone that has attained almost mystical significance because of its place in the history of relations between England and Scotland.
It is said to have come from Ireland in the ninth century and was used (no one knows why) as a seat for the crowning of Scottish kings. In 1296 Edward I took it (stole it, really) back to England, where it was installed in Westminster Abbey, in the base of the throne used in the coronation of English monarchs. The thought of this essentially Scottish ceremonial symbol lying at the heart of England rankled with the Scots for 700 years. In 1950 a group of Scottish students took it in the boot of a car to Scotland. But it was soon found and returned - minus one or two chippings which are said to remain as prized items in certain students' families. In 1996, the assumed 700th anniversary of the stone's removal to England, the British government returned it to Edinburgh. It is now in Edinburgh Castle.
THE ROSETTA STONE
This big and beautiful black stone was discovered in 1799 in Rosetta, Egypt, by Napoloeonic soldiers who were scouring the countryside for materials to shore up their coastal defences. Its signficance lies in the inscription it bears, carved in three languages, dating from about 200 years before Christ. One of the scripts was Egyptian hieroglyphs, another was in Greek. Eventually, linguists established similarities between the three scipts by painstaking cross-correlation. But the code was not completely cracked until well into the 19th century.