Few places in Ireland are more familiar to English ears than Blarney; the notoriety is attributable, first, to the marvelous qualities of its famous “stone,” and next, to the extensive popularity of the song,
“The groves of Blarney, they are so charming.”
When or how the stone obtained its singular reputation, it is difficult to determine; the exact position among the ruins of the castle is also a matter of doubt ; the peasant-guides humor the visitor according to his capacity for climbing, and direct, either to the summit or the base, the attention of him who desires to “greet it with a holy kiss.” He who has been dipt in the Shannon is presumed to have obtained, in abundance, the gift of that “civil courage” which makes an Irishman at ease and unconstrained in all places and under all circumstances; and he who has kissed the Blarney stone is assumed to be endowed with a fluent and persuasive tongue, altho it may be associated with insincerity; the term “Blarney” being generally used to characterize words that are meant neither to be “honest nor true.”
It is conjectured that the comparatively modern application of the term “Blarney” first had existence when the possessor, Lord Clancarty, was a prisoner to Sir George Carew, by whom he was subjected to several examinations touching his loyalty, which he was required to prove by surrendering his strong castle to the soldiers of the Queen; this act he always endeavored to evade by some plausible excuse, but as invariably professing his willingness to do so. The particulars are fully detailed in the “Pacata Hibernia.”
It is certain that to no particular stone of the ancient structure is the marvelous quality exclusively attributed; but in order to make it as difficult as possible to attain the enviable gift, it had long been the custom to point out a stone, a few feet below the battlements, which the very daring only would run the hazard of touching with their lips. The attempt to do so was, indeed, so dangerous, that a few years ago Mr. Jeffreys had it removed from the wall and placed on the highest point of the building; where the visitor may now greet it with little risk. It is about two feet square, and contains the date 1703, with a portion of the arms of the Jeffreys family, but the date, at once, negatives its claim to be considered the true marvel of Blarney. A few days before our visit a madman made his way to the top of the castle, and after dancing round it for some hours, his escape from death being almost miraculous, he flung this stone from the tower; it was broken in the fall, and now, as the guide stated to us, the “three halves” must receive three distinct kisses to be in any degree effective.
The stronghold of Blarney was erected about the middle of the fifteenth century by Cormac Mac earthy, surnamed “Laider,” or the Strong; whose ancestors had been chieftains in Munster from a period long antecedent to the English invasion, and whose descendants, as Lords of Muskerry and Clancarty, retained no inconsiderable portion of their power and estates until the year 1689, when their immense possessions were confiscated, and the last earl became an exile, like the monarch whose cause he had supported. The castle, village, mills, fairs, and customs of Blarney, with the land and park thereunto belonging, containing 1400 acres, were “set up by cant” in the year 1702, purchased by Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice, for £3000, and by him disposed of, the following year, to General Sir James Jeffreys, in whose family the property continues. Altho the walls of this castle are still strong, many of the outworks have long since been leveled; the plow has passed over their foundations, and “the stones of which they were built have been used in repairing the turnpike-roads.”