Ireland’s TOP 10 castles: Blarney Castle

By Peter Dlhopolec / March 3, 2020

Blarney Castle hides a “magical” stone that the bravest visitors only dare kiss.

They pilgrim to Blarney Castle and climb stairs of its tower to gain a “superpower” by kissing a stone, the origin of which can only be guessed.

Long before Ireland’s one of the most visited castles, Blarney Castle, was built to the north of Cork City, set in a well-watered valley, a wooden structure is believed to have stood on the site. Nevertheless, no evidence exists. The structure was later replaced by a stone fortification, which was destroyed in 1446.  Soon after Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, Lord of Muskerry, built there today’s tourist attraction, Blarney Castle.

The fortification lies in the village of Blarney, a few kilometres off Cork, with the River Martin and Blarney River running nearby. In fact, it is rather a partial ruin, surrounded by extensive gardens, including the Bog Garden with two waterfalls and the Poison Garden with poisonous plants, offering some of the most spectacular views in Ireland.

The gift of the gab

The castle is a huge complex of buildings, paths, and attractions. One of the biggest sights within the castle is a so-called Blarney Stone, also known as the Stone of Eloquence, which visitors try to kiss for one reason: becoming fluent orators.

To kiss it, they must first climb the tower, lie on their back, reach under the battlements, where the stone is hidden, and kiss the stone above their head. This used to be somewhat a perilous venture in the past as the bravest ones had to be held by their ankles. The whole process is now safer, but people still need to hold on to the iron railing.

The stone also talks of one of the stereotypes about the Irish people: their blarney or an ability to speak in a persuasive or charming way. The English language also knows the phrase “the gift of the gab”, which describes people as being able to speak fluently and eloquently.

How did the stone get to Blarney?  

The origin of the stone is unclear, and many legends have been created over the years. Some of them are related to biblical stories.

One of them says the stone served as Jacob’s pillow. It was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah. Some also say it could be a stone behind which David hid on Jonathan’s advice when he fled from his enemy, King Saul. The stone got to Ireland, they believe, from the Crusades. Others claim it could be a stone that gushed water when struck by Moses.

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Image: Blarney Castle

Another legend has it the Blarney Stone is a piece of the Stone of Scone, known also as the Stone of Destiny. This stone was used when the Kings of Scotland were crowned. MacCarthy received a stone piece as a sign of gratitude after he provided Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland in the 13th century, with several thousands of soldiers. Thanks to his help, the Scots defeated English King Edward II in 1314. The piece of the stone was then put into the walls of Blarney Castle.

It is also likely that Queen Elisabeth I has something to do with the Blarney Stone. She ordered the Earl of Leicester to take over Blarney Castle from MacCarthy. However, MacCarthy refused to give up his fort and sent letters full of excuses to the Earl, instead. When the Queen read the letters, she said this was a typical Blarney who said things he never meant and did not do things he had promised to do. This is where the meaning of the term “blarney” comes from.

In another legend, MacCarthy is said to have saved a witch from drowning. To show her gratitude, she unveiled to him the Blarney Stone, which had already been part of the castle, was magical.

Witch nobody has seen

Moreover, the witch, whom MacCarthy saved, is said to live in the castle even today. Visitors will find her near the Witch Stone, where she is imprisoned. At the castle, there is also Witch’s Kitchen, where she sits by the fire as soon as the night falls to warm herself up.

One of the castle’s attractions are also Wishing Steps. It is believed that if one walks them down and up with eyes closed, and according to some even walking backwards is required, thinking of a wish they have, it will come true in 12 months. Again, the fulfillment of these wishes is a way of how the witch pays for her firewood used in the kitchen.

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Image: Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle, which sits on a cliff of rock, hides numerous legends. For instance, it is alleged the MacCarthys’ treasure had been thrown into a nearby lake before Oliver Cromwell’s general besieged and invaded the castle.

And there is more to discover at the castle, whether it is a story about the Seven Sisters, the Druids, or the giant Dolmen.

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Peter Dlhopolec

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