Ireland is a country of myths and legends, and nowhere is that more true than at Blarney Castle, County Cork. Literally millions of tourists visit the site to bend over backwards and kiss the stone in order to gain the gift of eloquence. If only it was that easy! Unfortunately a great majority of those tourists fail to see the true beauty of the site when heading for their saliva drizzled jewel in the crown. The castle itself is one of the finest examples of a Irish late medieval fortification which is well worth investigating in and of itself, if you can resist the overriding desire to gain the gift of the gab!
So what about the castle? Blarney Castle was constructed on an impressive limestone outcrop and was strategically sited so that it could overlook two rivers. The building of the castle has traditionally been attributed to Cormac Laidir (Cormac the strong!) MacCarthy in 1446 but it is more likely that Cormac’s brother Eoghan constructed it in the 1480s. The large tower house you see today in fact represents two phases of building; the main portion which is four storeys in height, and a smaller slightly later addition against its east wall which is five storeys high. The main building and its ‘extension’ mean that castle is L-shaped in plan. It has a vaulted first floor and the upper story is believed to have served as a chapel. The castle had outer defences that included a curtain wall, some of which still survives. A fortified tower to the east of the main castle, replete with gun loops, formed part of these defences and was probably built in the 16th century with 17th century additions; another now concealed tower is most likely late 15th century in date.
Although the majority of the visible remains we can see today are late medieval or early post medieval in date, there is evidence for an earlier fortification at the site that was most probably constructed of wood. It is thought the first stone defences were constructed in the early 13th century, and a round bastion below the tower may have its origins in this high medieval phase.
The castle was the main seat of the MacCarthys, a powerful Gaelic Irish family who were Lords of Muskerry. The use of the term ‘Blarney’ as talking a load of waffle was supposedly coined by no less a celebrity than Queen Elizabeth I of England in the 16th century. The Queen is reputed to have responded to the never ending list of excuses and plausible arguments put forward by Cormac Teige McCarthy during diplomatic discussions by stating that he was giving her ‘a lot of Blarney’. The castle was taken by force by Parliamentarian forces in 1646 after a short siege- at the time the MacCarthy’s were helping to lead the Royalist cause in Munster. The McCarthy’s reclaimed the site in 1661 following the Restoration of the Monarchy but lost it again after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The castle and its lands were sold to Sir James Jeffreys, Governor of Cork in 1703.
Many rumours are associated with the Blarney stone, the most famous of which is that the stone is part of the Stone of Scone which was gifted to the McCarthy’s by Robert the Bruce for providing support during the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314 – probably a load of auld blarney! The castle and its grounds are located just outside Cork City and well worth a visit for anyone travelling to the true capital of Ireland.