Blarney Castle: 1,000 Years of Dramatic History and THAT Magical Stone That Brings Tourists Flocking
Blarney Castle is a medieval fortress situated in County Cork, in the southern part of Ireland. The current structure dates to the 15 th century, though the history of the castle stretches back another 500 years. Blarney Castle is perhaps best-known for the Stone of Eloquence (more commonly known as the Blarney Stone), which, according to popular belief, grants anyone who kisses it the gift of speaking eloquently. A visit to Blarney Castle today would certainly be incomplete without a tour of its surrounding gardens, two of the most unique being the Poison Garden, and the Seven Sisters.
Inside the main hall of Blarney Castle. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
One Thousand Years of History
The history of Blarney Castle begins in the 10 th century. It is believed that, at that point of time, the site was occupied by a defensive structure built of wood. Around the beginning of the 13 th century, this wooden building was replaced with a stone structure. This second castle, however, was eventually destroyed, and later rebuilt by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster (or Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, Lord of Muscry), in 1446. In the following centuries, Blarney Castle experienced its fair share of history, being associated with such figures as Queen Elizabeth, and Lord Broghill (a general of Oliver Cromwell. Today, the castle is partially in ruins, though the 15 th century keep still remains.
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An illustration showing the remains of Blarney Castle as it stands today. Photo Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Kissing the Blarney Stone
Arguably the most famous feature of Blarney Castle is the Blarney Stone. According to one legend, this stone was a piece of the Stone of Scone (known also as the Stone of Destiny), on which the Kings of Scotland were crowned. The MacCarthys are said to have provided Robert the Bruce with 5000 infantrymen during his battle against Edward II of England at Bannockburn in 1314. This was a significant victory for the Scots, and in recognition of the MacCarthy’s contribution, Robert gave them a part of the Stone of Scone. This stone was subsequently placed in the castle’s battlement during the rebuilding of 1446.
Kissing the Blarney Stone, 1897. National Library of Ireland. (Public domain)
The Gift of Eloquence
Other legends about the Blarney Stone revolve around its magical power. In one tale, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy was involved in a lawsuit, and prayed to Cliodhna, a Celtic goddess, for aid. The goddess, appearing in a dream, told the Irish nobleman to kiss the first stone he came across in the field on the way to the court. Cormac did as he was told, argued his case with great eloquence, and won in. Therefore, he had the stone taken from the field, and incorporated into the battlement of Blarney Castle. In another legend, Cormac had saved the Blarney Witch from drowning, and as a token of gratitude, the witch told him about the magical power of the Blarney Stone, which was already part of the castle.
A natural rock feature in the grounds of Blarney Castle. Legends say it is the Witch of Blarney turned to stone. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Perhaps a more plausible tale about the Blarney Stone is the one involving Queen Elizabeth I. The English queen had ordered the Earl of Leicester to take possession of Blarney Castle from the MacCarthys. Cormac, however, was able to avoid giving up his castle by sending him letters filled with excuses and diversions. When the letters were forwarded to the queen, they became known as the ‘Blarney Letters’. The word ‘blarney’ has since become synonymous with flattery and eloquent speech.
Blarney Castle. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Cromwell Strikes Again
The flattery of the MacCarthys, however, was less successful with Oliver Cromwell. As they had fought against him by supporting the Catholic Confederates, Cromwell sent one of his generals, Lord Broghill, to take the castle by force, which he succeeded in doing by bombarding it with artillery. There were also rumours going around that a great treasure was stored within the castle, which spurred the besiegers on. When Broghill entered the castle, however, it was deserted, with only several old retainers left. Broghill was told that the rest of the people had escaped using tunnels under the castle that were connected to the local cave system. Moreover, the rumoured treasure is said to have been thrown by the defenders into a nearby lake as they were fleeing. Incidentally, one subsequent owner of the castle even attempted (vainly, it may be added) to drain the lake in which the treasure is said to have been thrown into.
Inside Blarney Castle. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Ancient Grounds of Legend and Mystery
The ownership of Blarney Castle changed hands a number of times over the next centuries, and is today opened to the public. Apart from the castle itself, the castle is also notable for its surrounding gardens. One of these is the Poison Garden, where various poisonous plants, which are kept in large cage-like structures, are grown.
Additionally, there is also the Seven Sisters, a prehistoric stone circle consisting of seven standing stones, and two fallen ones. According to legend, there was a king of Munster who had two sons and seven daughters. One day, the king, along with his two sons, led their army against a powerful clan chief. The king emerged victorious, but both his sons were slain. On the way back to his castle, he came across the stone circle, and ordered his men to knock two of the megaliths down as a memorial to his fallen sons.
The Seven Sisters in the grounds of Blarney Castle. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
Top image: Blarney Castle. Credit: Ioannis Syrigos
By Wu Mingren
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