At first glance, Blarney Castle in Southern Ireland is less than impressive. However, it is undoubtedly the most famous of Ireland’s castles. Its fame and popularity are not due to massive proportions, breathtaking beauty or even an interesting history, but rather from a curious object that was incorporated into its construction over 560 years ago: the Blarney Stone. It is for the chance to see, or more specifically kiss, this fabled stone that attracts visitors to the castle from all over the world; for it is believed that all those who kiss the stone will be blessed the gift of eloquence. Whatever the reason, Blarney is now Ireland’s most visited castle and one of the most popular tourist attractions in the country.
The current site of Blarney claims several prior castles on the site. The original structure was a pre-Norman wooden fortification that dated at least as far back as the 10th century AD. After the arrival of the English in the 13th century, the Irish fort was seized and replaced with a small stone keep. This was one of King John’s Castles which were built during his reign. While this castle only stood for slightly more than two centuries, others survived in other parts of Southern Ireland.
The second Blarney Castle was eventually torn and its stones used for other building projects. However, by the 14th century, the area around Blarney was once again nominally under control of the Irish kings. In 1446, the Irish King of Munster, Dermot McCarthy, rebuilt the castle once again. While much of the castle was subsequently destroyed, the keep survived, and it is this structure that has survived to the present day as Blarney Castle.
In 1314, during the reign of Cormac McCarthy, the Irish openly supported the Scottish revolt against the English. To thank him for his aid, Robert the Bruce, King of Scotland, divided the famous Stone of Scone in half, delivering one piece to McCarthy (the Stone of Scone is a symbol of Scottish royal authority; the other half is currently in Edinburgh). The Irish half of the stone was subsequently incorporated into the construction of Blarney Castle, becoming the famous Blarney Stone.
During the Tudor period, the English tried on a number of occasions to seize the castle, but met with failure. It was not until 17th century that the Parliamentary forces of Oliver Cromwell succeeded in seizing Blarney for the English. It subsequently passed into a succession of English owners, finally coming into the possession of the Jefferyes family. It remains in their possession to this day, and the family remains in residence at the nearby Blarney House.
The present day castle is what remains of the central keep built in the 15th century, as well as a few of the other original features. The keep is a tall but otherwise simple affair, resembling a large, vertical grey box. The walls are pierced by a handful of narrow windows and crowned with a crenelated battlement. The highlight of a visit to the castle, of course, is the obligatory kissing of the Blarney Stone. Located at the very top of the castle, those wishing to perform the deed must contort themselves into a precarious upside-down position with a long drop to the ground below. Saftey bars and castle staff prevent any unfortunate Blarney Stone incidents.
The grounds around Blarney Castle have been magnificently landscaped and cultivated over the centuries and now constitute one of the castle’s most popular attractions. Among the garden’s more popular features are the fairy glade, the rock close and the wishing steps. There are also structures that may be the remains of an ancient druid settlement. Legend has it that the rock close is haunted. Close to Blarney Castle is Blarney House, a Scottish baronial-style mansion built in 1874. This replaced the earlier house that had been built by the Jefferyes but which had been destroyed by fire in 1820. The house is still in use as the residence of the Jefferyes, but is open to the public as part of a visit to the castle.
Blarney Castle is located approximately five miles northwest of the city of Cork. It is open to the public every day of the year except for December 24 & 25. In May and September the Castle is open from 9:00am-6:30pm; from June to August from 9:00am-7:00pm; and from October to April from 9am-sundown. Hours are slightly shorter on Sundays, when the castle opens at 9:30am and closes earlier Admission is E8.00 for adults and E2.50 for children (discounts for students and senior citizens). Official Web: www.blarneycastle.ie (official website).
Like the rest of the British Isles, Ireland is home to an extraordinarily large number of castles. Most of these date from the Norman and Plantagenet periods, although not a few were built later. Among the more prominent and better known castles in Southern Ireland are Kilkenny Castle and King John’s Castle. There were actually several of the latter, but the most famous is the one located in Limerick.