The Journal Of Antiquities

Ancient Sites In Great Britain & Southern Ireland

The Blarney Stone, Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland

Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, Ireland, in 1791.

   Irish Grid Reference: W 60784 75334. A large lump of limestone that is set into the battlement of Blarney Castle, near Mangerton, Co. Cork, Southern Ireland, has been revered by Irish folk for hundreds of years due to its magical powers that give one ‘the gift of the gab’, or ‘the Blarney’, if you are able to kiss the said Blarney Stone (Cloch na Blarnan), which is not an easy thing to do as the famed antiquity is actually located a few feet or so below the top of the tower. As to where the stone came from know one seems to know with any great certainty, but it may have been brought here from the Holy Land, Egypt, or from Scotland. The stone was placed in its current position in the mid 15th century. Blarney Castle, a 12th century stronghold, is to be found about ½ a mile south of Mangerton to the east of the R617 road. Cork is 5 miles to the southeast. Access to the castle is usually from the Dromderrig side of Mangerton. From the ‘The Square’ follow the long, straight-road going southwards through the castle grounds. 

   Mary Penelope Hillyard (1958) in her excellent work ‘Blarney Castle and Rock Close’, goes into great detail regarding The Blarney Stone. She says: ‘The Blarney Stone itself is a block of limestone four feet one inch long, by one foot one inch wide and nine inches deep. There is a piece chipped out of the front, caused it is said by a cannon ball from one of Cromwell’s cannons. It is built into the battlement about two feet from the top…..The stone is said to give the gift of oratory in exchange for a kiss. According to one legend, it was once known as Jacob’s pillow and was brought to Ireland from the Holy Land during one of the crusades. The Blarney Stone is difficult to photograph to advantage.” 

   Hillyard goes on to say that: “A tale of a later date relates how one of the MacCarthys (the custodians of the castle) provided Robert Bruce with five thousand kerns to fight Edward II in Scotland. At the Battle of Bannockburn, in gratitude, Robert Bruce presented his Irish helper with a piece of the stone, that the owners had broken off the original, when the armies of Edward II, threatened the precious relic. The MacCarthy placed this stone of fame upon the battlement of his castle.

   “Yet another legend says that Cormac MacCarthy, walking beside the Martin river, rescued a woman from drowning. He thought that she was a peasant but she proved to be a witch. As a reward for saving her life, she told her rescuer of a magic stone in the castle which would give the gift of eloquence in return for a kiss.

   “Apart from all these legends, it is known that the MacCarthy who reigned in Munster during Queen Elizabeth’s time, was able to talk “”the noose of his head,”” and that the word “”blarney,”” meaning in conversation “”fair words in soft speech,”” dates back to that time. In his dealings with the Queen, while professing to be her loyal Baron of Blarney, MacCarthy never fulfilled any promise or condition he had made. Procrastination followed dalliance, delay and subterfuge followed device and evasion, until eventually in disgust the Queen cried out: “”Blarney, Blarney, what he says he does not mean. It is the usual blarney.””

   Hillyard also says of the Blarney Stone that: Once on the battlements the visitor must empty his pockets of valuables to prevent them cascading downwards through the branches of the yew trees, lie flat on his back, grasp two upright iron bars, have ankles held by a strong man, and inch his body through the opening, above which rests the Blarney Stone. The stone is set in the wall about two feet below the battlement. 

   “There is a fine view from the top of the Castle, over the wooded hills of Muskerry. To the south can be seen the turrets of the modern Blarney castle, and beyond that the lake. Beneath the castle to the east lies the lovely dell known as the Rock Close and under one of the walls of the keep is a cave.” 

Sketch by John Leitch (1859). Two Victorian ladies having kissed the Blarney Stone.

   Reader’s Digest (1992) says of the Blarney Stone: “It is scrubbed with disinfectant four times a day to prevent any risk of transmitting disease”….and says: “Father Prout , the 19th century humorist and poet, wrote of it….. a stone that whoever kisses…. O he never misses…. To grow eloquent.” It goes on to say that: “The public ritual of kissing the Blarney Stone seems to date from the 18th century development of the Blarney Castle estate by the Jefferyes family. Some say the stone is  part of the Stone of Scone, the ancient crowning seat of Scotland’s kings, now in Westminster Abbey.” Also, Kevin Eyres & Michael Kerrigan (2008) add more information saying that: “Blarney Castle, built in 1446 by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, is one of Ireland’s oldest and most historic fortresses . The castle was the third to be built on the site by the McCarthys, whose stronghold it remained until Cromwell finally took it in the seventeenth century. Impressive as the castle is, it is the presence of the Blarney Stone, now rather prosaically referred to as the Stone of Eloquence, that makes Blarney Castle so internationally famous.”

   There are several theories as to where the Blarney Stone came from: it might have come from Israel where it was used as a pillow by the Hebrew Prophet Jacob (Yacob), or it came from Egypt and was the stone, or a part of it, that Moses struck “twice” in order to get water for his fellow travellers, while there is a legend that associates the stone with St Columba and it was maybe part of the Stone of Scone at which the kings of Scotland were crowned. More than likely the lump of stone is millions of years old and came from the local area.

   Mary Penelope Hillyard (1958) says of the Rock Close at the eastern front of the castle: “Here are a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks. Some of the rocks are arranged in circles. Others take on quaint shapes. A long, narrow rough stone staircase connects with a lower level in which a giant balanced stone, possibly a Druid tolmen stands.

   “The orderly arrangement of the various objects would indicate human planning rather than a haphazard setting by nature. Many of the Rock Close possessions have been by tradition and in folklore associated with witchcraft and magic. Among these are a wishing stairs, the Druidic circle, two caves (one known as the witch’s kitchen) and the fairy dancing green. Where the fancy ends and fact begins is difficult to ascertain. In the second half  of the 18th century James Jefferyes, then owner of Blarney Castle, found time to interest himself in the Rock Close, and its possible that he conceived the idea of setting out an ornamental garden here, on the lines of the Garzoni design often to be seen in the landscape gardens of Italy. There is evidence to show that Jefferyes made reconstructions. A large flat stone covering the wishing steps, with an inscription on it giving his name and the date 1759. Did Jefferyes, in fact, erect the wishing steps and arrange the other objects in the close—or did he merely renovate a far older construction?”

Sources and related websites:- 

Eyres, Kevin & Kerrigan, Michael, Ireland – Landmarks, Landscapes & Hidden Treasures, Flame Tree Publishing, Fulham, London, United Kingdom, 2008.

Hillyard, Mary Penelope, Blarney Castle and Rock Close, Woodlands Press, St Ann’s Hill, Blarney, Co. Cork, 1958. (The two images above are taken from this work).

Reader’s Digest, Reader’s Digest Illustrated Guide To Ireland, The Reader’s Digest Association Limited, London, 1992.

                                                                                  © Ray Spencer, The Journal of Antiquities, 2017.