Jun 30, 2010

"What Is...?" Wednesday

The Blarney Stone

"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."

Blarney Castle  was constructed in 1446, the history of the place goes back two centuries before that time. The story begins with a magical stone, its origins shrouded in mystery. One legend says
it was the rock that Moses struck with his staff to produce water for the Israelites during their exodus from Egypt. Another legend relates that it had once been Jacob’s Pillow and that the prophet Jeremiah had brought it to Ireland. According to this telling it became the Lia Fail, or ‘Fatal Stone’ and was used as an oracular throne of the Irish kings.

The most commonly accepted story of the stone is that, in gratitude for Irish support at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 (a Scottish defeat of the English), Robert the Bruce gave a portion of the stone to Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster. Installed at Cormac McCarthy’s stronghold, Blarney Castle, it became known as the Blarney Stone. A century later, in 1446, King Dermot McCarthy then installed the stone in an enlarged castle he constructed.

Yet the McCarthy’s were not only powerful leaders and warriors, they were also patrons of Irish culture, music and art. They established a Bardic School at Blarney, which attracted scholars from throughout Ireland. By the 1600’s Blarney had become well known as a Court of Poetry where poets gathered to read their compositions, many of which have survived in the original Irish form.


Kissing the Blarney Stone is for some people a difficult physical feat. In past times, to kiss the Stone people were hung by their heels over the edge of the parapet. One day a pilgrim broke from the grasp of his friends and went hurtling downward to certain death. Since that time the stone has been kissed by another method. First, you sit with your back towards the stone and then someone sits upon your legs or firmly holds your feet. Next, leaning far back and downward into the abyss while grasping the iron rails, you lower yourself until your head is even with the stone to be kissed.


Just how long this custom has been practiced or how it originated is not known. One local legend claims that an old women, saved from drowning by a king of Munster, rewarded him with a spell, that if he would kiss a stone on the castle's top, he would gain a speech that would win all to him.

It is known, however, when and how the word Blarney entered the English language and the dictionary. During the time of Queen Elizabeth I, Dermot McCarthy, the ruler of the castle, was required to surrender his fortress to the Queen as proof of his loyalty. He said he would be delighted to do so, but something always happened at the last moment to prevent his surrender. His excuses became so frequent and indeed so plausible that the official who had been demanding the castle in the name of the Queen became a joke at the Court. Once, when the eloquent excuses of McCarthy were repeated to the Queen, she said "Odds bodikins, more Blarney talk!" The term Blarney has thus come to mean 'the ability to influence and coax with fair words and soft speech without giving offense'.

3 comments:

Nariane said...

this is on my 'to do' list

Laila and Minchie said...

Ah, yes, the Blarney Stone. I did kiss it on my 2007 trip to Ireland. Definitely was up there on my Bucket List.

Anonymous said...

I like your piece on the Blarney Stone, I'm from not to far from there. I have to say I learnt more from your piece than I ever learnt in school and I grew up in Cork!! Love your blog by the way :)