Blarney Castle was built nearly six hundred years ago by one of Ireland’s greatest chieftains, Cormac MacCarthy, and has been attracting visitors to Munster ever since. People come from all over the world to kiss the Blarney Stone, only to leave with miraculous powers of eloquence.
The castle that you visit today is actually the third to have been built there on the site. The first building was erected in the tenth century and was made of wood. Then around 1210 A.D. this was replaced by a stone structure which had the entrance some twenty feet above the ground on the north face. This building was subsequently demolished, leaving only the foundations. But in 1446, the castle was rebuilt by Dermot MacCarthy, King of Munster. And it is this, the third castle to be built here, that you can visit today.
Over the next 600 hundred years all sorts of illustrious visitors made their way to the famous castle. In the late 16th century, Queen Elizabeth I of England sent the Earl of Leicester over to take possession of the castle. But whenever he tried to negotiate with the Munster King, MacCarthy always suggested they discuss it over a sumptuous banquet. What was the Earl to do? It would have been rude not to.
So that when the queen asked him for progress reports, he sent her a series of long missives in which he carefully avoided answering the key question, and at the end of which, the castle remained in Irish hands. The queen became so irritated that eventually she remarked that the earl’s reports were all ‘Blarney’.
So it is thanks to Elizabeth that Blarney became synonymous with eloquence, and that so many people flock there today to kiss its stone.
The English did eventually succeed in taking the castle, when Cromwell’s General, Lord Broghill blasted his way through the tower walls. But when he got inside, everyone within had somehow disappeared, making their way through the three secret passageways hidden in the caves below the battlements, known as the Badgers Caves. One leads to Cork, one to the lake, and the third, according to legend, goes all the way to Kerry.
At the beginning of the 18th century Sir James St. John Jefferyes built a Georgian gothic house up against the keep of the castle, which was then the custom all over Ireland. At the same time the Jefferyes family laid out a landscape garden known as the Rock Close with a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks arranged around what seems to have been druid remains from prehistoric times. Certainly, many of the yew trees and evergreen oaks there are extremely ancient.
In 1820 the house was accidentally destroyed by fire, and the wings that remained now form a picturesque adjunct to the keep. These were subsequently rearranged in the 1980s so as to give a better view of the castle’s keep.
Blarney Castle is a must for any visitor to Munster. And as you are hanging upside down, kissing its famous stone, think of Elizabeth. Like so many English before and after, she intended taking something away, but ended up enriching the local culture. Albeit unintentionally.
Opening hours 9am-5.30pm/Sundown, 9am-Sundown on Sundays.
Admission €13, €5 for children.