GEMMA GRANT continues her series on the castles of Ireland
Housed within the battlements of Blarney Castle, Co. Cork, is possibly one of the most famous stones in history. The Stone of Scone or Destiny, would become more popularly known in Ireland as the ‘Blarney Stone’.
Half of the original Stone of Scone, used for the crowning of Scottish kings, was bequeathed to the McCarthy clan of Munster by Robert the Bruce, for their help in defeating the English at the Battle of Bannockburn, Scotland in 1314.
The McCarthys put some five thousand men into the field of battle to fight alongside the Bruce. The Stone, like the castle, is steeped in history and has lived to see many a skirmish.
The popular, uninhabited Blarney Castle, complete with Stone, that attracts thousands of visitors per year, is in fact the third structure to occupy the site. The original wooden building was constructed in the tenth century followed by a more solid stone edifice in the early thirteenth century. The stone structure eventually gave way to the more solid Blarney Castle constructed in 1446, by Cormac McCarthy, The Strong, King of Munster. The McCarthy’s fought long and hard to live up to the adage, ‘What we have, we hold’.
Warring with their neighbours and trying to resist the onslaught of the English, the McCarthy’s were at the forefront of battle while a the same time trying desperately hard to avoid it. By the 1600s, the McCarthy’s were believed to be plotting against Elizabeth l of England.
Worried that some of her latest subjects may be planning rebellion, Queen Bess ordered McCarthy to prove allegiance to the Crown by handing over legal tenure of his lands. Walking a tight rope between compliance and resistance, the chieftain played for time.
He would invite Elizabeth’s loyal deputies to a banquet, where they were wined, dined and bedazzled. He assured them of his undying loyalty to the Crown, spoke eloquently of the queen and, for the time being, managed to keep possession of his castle.
Elizabeth became so frustrated at the lack of results and the run-around the McCarthy’s were giving her advisers, that she concluded, it was all Blarney. The McCarthy’s she knew, said one thing, yet did the opposite.
The McCarthy clan, like Ireland, fared less well under the Cromwellian onslaught of Ireland. By the mid-1600s, Cromwell’s army and the plague decimated the Irish population and part of Blarney Castle. Irish lands were confiscated and given to the victors.