Blarney Castle, or Caisleán na Blarnan, has a long and illustrious history. Construction is believed to have begun in 1446 during the medieval era, at the hands of Cormac MacCarthy, known as ‘The Strong’ and one of Ireland’s most renowned chieftains.
Located near Cork, it was once a medieval stronghold. Now, the castle is a world landmark and Irish treasure that has enchanted millions over its extensive lifespan.
Brian Murphy is a retired teacher and local to the town of Carrigaline in County Cork with a passion for the history of the area. He recommends Blarney Castle as one of the top tourist attractions in the region. Its stunning location, fascinating past, and legend of the Blarney stone make it an ideal destination for tourists and residents looking to explore.
The history of Blarney Castle with Brian Murphy
Although nothing remains, a timber house was built on the site around 1200, prior to the development of the castle. Later, the timber house was replaced by a stone fortification.
Eventually, the Lord of Muscry, Cormac MacCarthy, destroyed the fortification and rebuilt it as the castle in 1446. MacCarthy was also responsible for erecting the castles of Kilcrea and Carrignamuck.
Gaelic lords and the Anglo-Irish constructed Blarney Castle as a tower house fortification. Typically tower houses stood four or five stories tall and had at least one or two main chambers as well as additional auxiliary chambers on each story.
There are at least two towers in Blarney Castle, the second of which is thought to have been added sometime in the 1500s. It is considered relatively large compared to most tower houses built around the same time, with 18-foot thick walls. These walls effectively enhanced the castle’s defence, making it more stable and allowing the inhabitants to hit attackers with objects that would bounce off the sloped walls when dropped.
From its construction in the 1400s until the 1600s, Blarney Castle was relatively peaceful. In the late 1500s, the Earl of Leicester attempted to take possession of the castle upon receiving a command from Queen Elizabeth I. However, his endeavour was unsuccessful as MacCarthy repeatedly delayed negotiations (including by making suggestions of holding banquets).
During the Irish Confederate Wars, the castle was besieged and eventually taken in 1646 by Parliamentarian forces led by Lord Broghill. However, this new possession did not last long as King Charles returned from exile in 1660, beginning the Restoration (a period when new political settlements were established). During the Restoration, the castle was given back to the newly decorated first Lord of Clancarty, Donough MacCarty.
Only 30 years later, in the 1690s, Blarney Castle changed hands again. The Williamite War in Ireland saw the 4th Lord of Clancarty, also known as Donough MacCarty, captured. His property and lands, including Blarney Castle, were also seized.
The castle continued to frequently change hands over the next several centuries, with owners including the Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, Sir Richard Pyne and later, the governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffreys.
Visiting Blarney Castle
Today, Blarney Castle is a partial ruin set in the picturesque Irish countryside.
Those hoping to visit soon are in luck since both castle and gardens are open year-round. However, it’s worth noting that opening times may vary slightly between seasons and on holidays like Boxing Day. Tickets can be bought online or at the Blarney Castle ticket office upon arrival.
Despite the 600 years that have passed since its initial construction, there is still much to see amongst the castle’s ruins. For instance, you can still tour the castle’s dungeon, where convicts were once held for medieval criminal proceedings and ongoing criminal prosecution. Unfortunately, beyond the dungeons, the rest of the underground corridors are inaccessible.
Visitors ascending the stone steps will see battlements at the topmost top of the castle. From the battlements, the beautiful Irish countryside dominates the surrounding area. Still standing tall next to the battlements is the watch tower, a large building that has been weathered over many years.
Roofless structures can also be seen from the vantage of the battlements as well as the so-called murder hole, a trench in the floor used to hurl boulders or boiling water at intruders.
Beyond the castle walls, you’ll find the Blarney Gardens, which span over 60 acres. Some of the most popular locations to visit include the Fern Garden, which features over 80 types of ferns and limestone cliffs. You can also take in the breathtaking rugged scenery and cascading waterfall of the Wishing Steps or visit the Himalayan Walk to see some more exotic plant life.
Perhaps the most intriguing section of the Blarney Gardens is the Poison garden, which was first planted hundreds of years ago during the 1400s. This area is located behind the castle and is home to poisonous plants from across the globe. The Poison Garden offers a fascinating lesson with labels informing visitors of the name, toxicity, and common uses fixed to each plant.
The Blarney Stone
Of course, no trip to Blarney Castle would be complete without kissing (or at least seeing) the Blarney Stone.
There are many stories surrounding the rock. Some believe it was originally the fabled Lia Fáil, the stone on which Irish Kings were crowned in centuries past.
Whether you’re a Carrigaline local like Brian Murphy or are visiting from afar, the Blarney Stone is not to be missed. Legend has it that those who kiss the stone will be granted the gift of eloquence.
Typically, ‘blarney’ means to speak skilful flattery and nonsense. Apparently, this term came into use following Queen Elizabeth’s commanded and failed seizure of the castle in the late 1500s. As we mentioned previously, MacCarthy repeatedly delayed the Earl of Leicester’s negotiation attempts with his gift of the gab.
To gain the stone’s magical ability of persuasiveness, visitors must kiss it, so don’t be surprised if you see tourists hanging upside down to give the rock a smooch. You can try it yourself if you dare; just make sure you’ve got a firm hold of the handrails, and someone has a firm hold of you.
About The Author – Brian Murphy Carrigaline
Brian Murphy is a retired primary school teacher from Carrigaline, now turned aspiring local historian, trying to shine a light on County Cork. Since retiring, Brian Murphy has turned his focus into writing about the town of Carrigaline, a town just outside of Cork City, where he has lived his entire life. Brian’s pastimes include writing, reading and visiting South Ireland with his dog Tillie. Brian Murphy is dedicated to writing more about his beloved Carrigaline, explaining why the town is a brilliant visit for people when exploring Cork in Ireland, including the town’s famous Irish-friendly pubs
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