Blarney Castle is best known as the home of the Blarney Stone, granted to Cormac MacCarthys. He was the original builder of the Blarney Castle we know today. There is, however, much more to this castle that has stood for nearly 800 years. It has survived several wars and changes of ownership. This is a smattering of the history that Blarney Castle has stood witness to throughout the ages:
A STONE FRAGMENT DISPLAYED AT TEXAS TECH UNIVERSITY SINCE 1936 IS CLAIMED TO BE A PIECE OF THE BLARNEY STONE, IT’S UNKNOWN IF THE CLAIM IS ACCURATE.
The land that Blarney Castle stands on was originally settled before 1200, with a suspected wooden building. Soon after 1200, a stone fortification was built that stood until 1446. Not long after, Cormac Láidir MacCarthy, Lord of Muscry built the current castle.
The castle was held by the MacCarthy family until the 1690s, except for a brief period in the 1640s during the Irish Confederate Wars. During the 1690s’ Williamite War, the castle was confiscated by the Williamites and never returned to MacCarthy ownership.
The castle transferred ownership several times until the early 18th century. The governor of nearby Cork City, Sir James St John Jefferyes purchased the property. A manor was built nearby that eventually burned. It was replaced in 1874 by Blarney House which still stands, about a three-minute walk across the gardens from Blarney Castle.
Of course, the castle itself doesn’t attract quite as much attention as a solitary stone. Set into a machicolation (an opening between protruding corbels, designed for dropping items on ground-level attackers) atop Blarney Castle is the Blarney Stone. Legend has it that a kiss on the Blarney Stone will grant the notorious Gift of the Gab. Some people call it a gift of eloquence … but if you’ve ever chanced upon a native Irish weaving one of their tales, you’ll know “gab” is something a bit more spicy than eloquence.
There are several tales about the origin of the Blarney Stone. Some say it came from Scotland, a gift from Robert the Bruce for Cormac MacCarthy’s support in the Battle of Bannockburn. Seeing as the stone turned up at Blarney nearly sixteen years before the battle took place, there must have been time-travel involved too.
Another suggestion is that the Blarney Stone is a piece of the Lia Fáil–a stone at the Inauguration Mound used by ancient Irish kings. It’s a clever stone if so. The geo-tested composition of the Blarney Stone matches limestone local to Blarney. It does not match the Hill of Tara in County Meath, where the Lia Fail still stands.
There are also various stories of how (and why) the goddess Clíodhna granted the stone to Cormac Laidir MacCarthy. Given the suggested divine intervention surrounding the stone, it is notable that there was no mention of the Blarney Stone until the late 18th century.
A local legend says that if the stone is ever removed from Ireland, the Irish will lose their way with words. It’s a potentiality that frightens the local quick-tongued tour guides. They will cajole you to not consider it (despite them having suggested it in the first place).