Having come from a long line of Irish folk, I never seem to have trouble making good use of my inherent "gift of gab." Nor has anyone else in my family, for that matter. However, there are those who seek divine inspiration in order to find themselves magically bestowed with the natural gift of eloquence. There is only one place on earth where this articulacy is attainable. Its enchantment can be had by proffering a kiss upon the stone simply known as Blarney.

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.Blarney Castle is one of the most famous buildings in Ireland, yet is perhaps better known throughout the world as the home of the Blarney Stone. The current castle is the third rendition of the structure. The first was built from timber in the tenth century and used as a hunting lodge, but was later replaced by an edifice made of stones. In 1446, the third version of the castle was built by the King of Munster, Dermot McCarthy, the ruins of which can be seen today. The name of the castle is taken from the Irish An blarna, which translates to "the plain."

Other historians note that Queen Elizabeth I introduced the term "blarney" into the English language. She claimed the Irish had an eloquent gift for talk, "a pleasant manner of speaking which was intended to deceive without offending." Legend has it she dubbed Cormac McCarthy "Lord Blarney" because of his apparently effortless ability to talk with her, but at the same time never agreeing to her demands. The Tudor Queen would repeatedly order McCarthy to give his allegiance to her and while he agreed, he would never quite follow through with his promise.

Blarney Castle remained the stronghold of the McCarthy family until Oliver Cromwell arrived in 1646, a few years before the proclamation of the republican Commonwealth in England. Backed by cannon and soldiers, Cromwell sanctioned the massacre of the royalist garrison in Drogheda and then dispossessed many of the Irish  by transferring their lands to Protestant administrators (the McCarthy's among them). When Charles II was crowned King of England fifteen years later, the McCarthy's were able to return to the their castle.

The McCarthy's were well known as generous patrons of Irish culture. They created the Bardic School at Blarney, which drew scholars from all over Ireland and other parts of the world. During the fifteenth century Blarney Castle was also renowned as the "Court of Poetry" where bards gathered to read their sonnets and other compositions, some of which have survived in original Irish form and various English translations. When the McCarthy's were in residence at the castle, there was always a bard on hand, serving the family as a poet, historian and musician.

However, some three decades after their triumphant return to Blarney Castle in 1679, the McCarthy's were stripped of their prominence following the Battle of the Boyne and were forced to vacate the castle again. It is said that a member of the McCarthy clan tossed the family silver into the nearby lake before leaving. Sir James Jefferyes, the Governor of Cork, purchased Blarney Castle in 1703. In the present day, the castle is managed by the Trustees of the Blarney Castle Estate.

The design of Blarney Castle encompassed a height of eighty-five feet, with walls as thick as eighteen feet at the base. The original intent of the castle was to provide defense from enemies in the day of Irish Kings and their battles, and for this reason the dwelling is sometimes referred to as a "keep." The structure was also built atop a small cliff, making it even more difficult for aggressors to penetrate. Spiral staircases lined the inside of the castle, their steep narrowness allowing only one person at a time across the width. Windows were also narrow, meant for ease of battlement but not for entrance. There was also a parapet connecting the towers of the castle, which permitted defenders to shoot oncoming invaders.

During the castle's illustrious history, it was also used as a comfortable place of residence and in fact was almost like a small town surrounded by walls of stone. Contained inside the walls was a chapel with a separate room that housed the various priests, as well as a "family" room, a banqueting hall, a sprawling kitchen, a room for the guards and a great hall from which other parts of the castle were accessible (such as the family quarters). Additional parts of the fortress included a kennel and a sentry, along with a dungeon that held prisoners, the guards on watch and several hidden passageways. When the McCarthy's occupied the castle, it was also home to a large retinue of knights and retainers.

The grounds of the castle were renowned for their stunning beauty, with the Blarney River running its course through the property. This lush magnificence is still evident today, with the woodlands set amongst one thousand acres and attracting more than 200,000 visitors each year from all over the world.

The Blarney Stone

The Blarney Stone. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.One of the main attractions at Blarney Castle is the existence of it's same-named stone, also known as the "Stone of Eloquence." In the modern day, much of the castle's fame is attributed to the alleged magic of the resident stone, bringing the majority of visitors to have a look and then bestow the prerequisite kiss. Such an act is said to proffer the "gift of eloquence" upon the individual offering their lips, giving them finesse of speech and everlasting verbal articulation.

The stone is located between an overhang and the parapet of the castle, which also stretches between two towers and used to act as the defense point for fending off oncoming invaders. In order to kiss the magical stone, one has to hang over two feet to reach the slab. The stone measures 4-feet X 1-foot. It is actually an oblong block of limestone, a rock type also known to be prevalent in Ireland.

But who - or what - granted this piece of rock the power to bestow eloquence on all those who kiss it? Some accounts claim the stone is from the bible ("Jacob's Pillow"), and was brought to Ireland by the prophet Jeremiah during the crusades. Another myth has Cormac McCarthy rescuing a drowning witch, and as a token of her gratitude she gave him a magical stone with powers of eloquence for all who kissed it. Other historians believe the stone was given to McCarthy by Robert Bruce following the Battle of Bannockburn in the thirteenth century. McCarthy apparently supplied Bruce with 4,000 men from Munster for the battle, and in order to re-pay the debt Bruce gave McCarthy half the "stone of scone."  This particular half was part of the crowning ceremony for Kings of Scotland (and was also known as the "Stone of Destiny"); the other half is said to be located in England's Westminster Abbey.

To reach the stone, visitors must travel up 120 tower steps at the castle, and then face another physical challenge in order to kiss the stone. Visitors are grasped by the feet and suspended backward under the sheer drop of the parapet, holding onto rails on either side. Once in position, visitors can kiss the stone and of course be forever endowed with the gift of gab. Having finally accomplished the task, thoughts of hygiene must cross the minds of those kissing the stone, however fleeting. Rest assured the stone is swabbed down regularly to prevent the spread of bacteria and other nastiness.

Whether the "gift of gab" is actually bestowed upon those kissing the stone remains in the mouth of the speaker - or rather, the ears of the listener.

Where Is Blarney?

Blarney Castle, and the accompanying village populated with about two thousand souls, are located in County Cork, Ireland, some five miles from Cork City. The area is set in a lovely, wooded countryside and boasts a village square, the Blarney Woollen Mills, golf courses, sports and leisure centers, the Arboretum (woodland walks), Blarney House and Gardens (just south of Blarney Castle and open to the public), as well as the enchanting Blarney Village Collection gift shop.

Blarney Village. Click on image to view larger size in a new window.

On the grounds of Blarney Castle is the Rock Close, a pre-historic Druid site with ancient trees, remnants of large boulders, rocks, a "dolmen" (tomb), a sacrificial altar and a witches kitchen. Surrounding the close are Japanese bamboo trees, Siberian dogwood and weeping willows with a stream that can be crossed over a small bridge.

The "Wishing Steps" are also part of the Rock Close. Legend has it if you close your eyes and travel the steps backwards, up and down, your wish will be granted.

There is a stone there,
That whoever kisses,
Oh he never misses
To grow eloquent.
'Tis he may clamber
To a lady's chamber,
Or become a member of Parliament
Francis Sylvester Mahony, Irish Bard