Europe in the Middle Ages
Life in Medieval Castles
Medieval Castles > Castles Ireland > Blarney Castle
Location: Blarney, Ireland
Built in: Around 1210
Few places in Ireland are more familiar to English ears than Blarney; the notoriety is attributable, first, to the marvellous qualities of its famous "stone," and next, to the extensive popularity of the song, "The groves of Blarney, they are so charming."
When or how the stone obtained its singular reputation, it is difficult to determine; the exact position among the ruins of the castle is also a matter of doubt; the peasantguides humour the visitor according to his capacity for climbing, and direct, either to the summit or the base, the attention of him who desires to "greet it with a holy kiss."
He who has been dipped in the Shannon is presumed to have obtained, in abundance, the gift of that "civil courage" which makes an Irishman at ease and unconstrained in all places and under all circumstances; and he who has kissed the Blarney stone is assumed to be endowed with a fluent and persuasive tongue, although it may be associated with insincerity; the term "Blarney" being generally used to characterize words that are meant neither to be "honest nor true."
It is conjectured that the comparatively modern application of the term "Blarney" first had existence when the possessor, Lord Clancarty, was a prisoner to Sir George Carew, by whom he was subjected to several examinations touching his loyalty, which he was required to prove by surrendering his strong castle to the soldiers of the Queen; this bet he always endeavoured to evade by some plausible excuse, but as invariably professing his willingness to do so. The particulars are fully detailed in the "Pacata Hibernia."
It is certain that to no particular stone of the ancient structure is the marvellous quality exclusively attributed; but in order to make it as difficult as possible to attain the enviable gift, it had long been the custom to point out a stone, a few feet below the battlements, which the very daring only would run the hazard of touching with their lips. The attempt to do so was, indeed, so dangerous, that a few years ago Mr. Jeffreys had it removed from the wall and placed on the highest point of the building, where the visitor may now greet it with little risk.
It is about two feet square, and contains the date 1703, with a portion of the arms of the Jeffreys family, but the date, at once, negatives its claim to be considered the true marvel of Blarney. A few days before our visit a madman made his way to the top of the castle, and after dancing around it for some hours, his escape from death being almost miraculous, he flung this stone from the tower; it was broken in the fall, and now as the guide stated to us, the "three halves" must receive three distinct kisses to be in any degree effective.
The Rev. Matthew Horgan, the parish priest of Blarney, informs us that the curious traveller will seek in vain for the real stone, unless he allows himself to be lowered from the northern angle of the lofty castle, when he will discover it about twenty feet from the top with this inscription:
Cormac MacCarthy Fortis,
Me Fieri Fecit. A. D., 1446."
The age of the song has been satisfactorily ascertained; it was written in the year 1798 or 1799, by Richard Alfred Millikin, an attorney of Cork. The author little anticipated the celebrity his lines were destined to acquire; they were composed to ridicule the nonsense verses of the village poets, who, with a limited knowledge of the English language, and a smattering of classical names, were in the habit of indulging their still more ignorant auditors, by stringing together sounds that had no sense, but conveyed a notion of the prodigious learning of the singer.
Millikin's song has been injurious to Ireland; it has raised many a laugh at Ireland's expense, and contributed largely to aid the artist and the actor, of gone-by times, in exhibiting the Irishman as little better than a buffoon very amusing, no doubt, but exciting any feeling rather than that of respect.
It is impossible to contemplate the romantic ruins of Blarney Castle without a feeling more akin to melancholy than to pleasure; they bear, so perfectly, the aspect of strength utterly subdued, and remind one so forcibly that the "glory" of Ireland belongs to days departed. The castle stands "as stands a lofty mind, Worn, but unstooping to the baser crowd, All tenantless, save to the crannying wind."
The stronghold of Blarney was erected about the middle of the Fifteenth Century by Cormac MacCarthy, surnamed "Laider," or the Strong; whose ancestors had been chieftains in Munster from a period long antecedent to the English invasion, and whose descendants, as Lords of Muskerry and Clancarty, retained no inconsiderable portion of their power and estates until the year 1689, when their immense possessions were confiscated, and the last earl became an exile, like the monarch whose cause he had supported. The castle, village, mills, fairs, and customs of Blarney, with the land and park thereunto belonging, containing 1400 acres, were "set up by cant" in the year 1702, purchased by Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice, for 3,000 pounds, and by him disposed of, the following year, to General Sir James Jeffreys, in whose family the property continues. A1though the walls of this castle are still strong, many of the outworks have long since been levelled with the earth; the plough has passed over their foundations, and "the stones of which they were built have been used in repairing the turnpike-roads."
The small village of Blarney is about four miles northwest of Cork; a few years ago it was remarkably clean, neat, and thriving; its prosperity having resulted from the establishment of several linen and cotton factories, the whole of which have been swept away, and the hamlet is now, like the castle, an assemblage of ruins. In the vicinity, however, there is yet a woollen-manufactory and a paper-mill, both in full work. The scenery in the neighbourhood is agreeable, but the grounds that immediately surround the castle are of exceeding beauty. Nature has done much more for them than art; although there is evidence that the hand of taste had busied itself in the duty of improvement. "The sweet Rock-close" is a small dell, in which evergreens grow luxuriantly, completely shaded with magnificent trees. At its termination, are the "Witches' Stairs" ; a series of rugged stone steps which lead down through a passage in the rock to a delicious spot of greensward forming the bank of a clear rivulet and where some singular masses appear to have been "the work of Druid hands of oid."