Forget the long tourist lineups and leaning over empty space on your back to kiss a piece of stone covered with the saliva of thousands of other people. Enjoy Blarney castle for what it really is: an interesting building set in 1000 acres of beautiful grounds and gardens.
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The Blarney castle that visitors see today is actually the third one built on the same site. The first, built in the 10th century, was wooden; in the 13th century a stone one was constructed; and then, in 1446, the keep seen today was added. The McCarthys occupied the castle, one of whom named Cormac was king of Munster. On view to visitors are the ruins of the great hall, banqueting hall, priest’s room, kitchen, guard room, earl’s room, dungeon, and chapel.
The stone now called the Blarney stone is, according to one legend, half the stone of Scone given by Robert the Bruce to McCarthy as a thank you for supporting him with troops. A strange sort of thank you gift, in our minds. Another legend says it came from a witch that McCarthy saved from drowning. Surely a witch could save herself.
Queen Elizabeth I wanted the castle and set the task of taking it to the Earl of Leicester. McCarthy was good at procrastinating and kept fobbing him off. The queen was not amused when the earl’s reports were full of “blarney”.
Cromwell had better luck. His guns opposite the lake on Car Hill breached the tower walls. His victory was hollow, however, as all the troops had absconded by means of underground caves (Badger caves) below the battlements. The passages from the caves supposedly lead towards Cork, the lake on the grounds, and to Kerry.
The 4th earl of Clancarty, supporter of James II in the Williamite wars, forfeited the estate. It eventually came into the hands of Sir James St John Jefferyes, the governor of Cork in 1688. Subsequently a Georgian gothic house was attached to the keep.
After draining all the land around the castle, a landscaped garden was added. The area named Rock Close has many huge boulders and rocks in it as well as a collection of ancient yew and evergreen oak trees. Some of the rocks have names based on their shape or appearance. In addition to the rocks there are two dolmens and a sacrificial stone in the grounds.
200 yards south of Blarney castle, in 1874, a Scottish baronial style castle was built by Lady Colthurst (the family had married into the ownership). This castle is the present home of the family. It contains a collection of early furniture, family portraits, tapestries, and works of art which can be viewed in the summer on a conducted tour.
Tel. 35321 4385252
Open: daily except Dec 24 and 25; Mon-Sat; May, 9am- 6.30pm; Jun-Aug, 9am-7pm; Sep, 9am-6.30pm; Oct-Apr, 9am to sundown or 6pm; Sun, in summer 9.330am-5.30pm and in winter until sundown; last admission 30 minutes before closing.
Website: Blarney Castle
Shop, refreshments, woodland walks in the grounds, old farm machinery, lake.
Insider tip: Go very early for first opening. Blarney castle and town get very, very busy in holiday time, and there are dozens of tour buses. There is parking at the castle and in the town. The town is pleasant.