Well we are really on a roll here this week eh? Three days, three posts, three castles …well two castles and a cashel. Up today is a castle that I’m willing to bet you’ve heard of, and may have even visited yourself if you’ve been to Ireland- Blarney Castle.
Blarney Castle is actually the third structure to have been built on this site. Initially, in the 10th century, there was only a wooden hunting lodge on the grounds. Then in the early 13th century there was a small stone structure built. This was later torn apart and became the foundation of the third structure built by Cormac MacCarthy in 1446. It is his tower house, that was used as a residence, that we now know as Blarney Castle.
The MacCarthy’s are one of the most ancient clans of Ireland and can trace their ancestry way back, so far back that St. Patrick himself converted one of their ancestors to Christianity. They were great warriors and were known to all (well maybe not to the English) as the Kings of Munster. Over the centuries their castle was besieged at least four times and taken once by Cromwell’s army, but it wasn’t until after the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 that they were finally forced to leave. In 1703 the castles and grounds were bought by the Jeffereyes family (ancestors of the current owners) and they started to develop the gardens around the castle- the best part of a visit to Blarney Castle, in my opinion.
The castle is built on an eight metre cliff of rock which formed the quarry for building it. This definitely gives it quite an imposing view, especially as the walls are sloped inward to give the allusion of even greater height. Really though it is a four story tower house, that as far as we could tell was empty except for the 100 or so stairs leading to the roof where visitors can kiss the Blarney Stone. I say “as far as we could tell” because we didn’t actually make it to the top. We were prepared to go up to improve our ‘gift of the gab’ but even visiting in March the queue to the top started at the ground floor! I can’t even imagine what it must be like in the high season. We started to the top but after only getting up one little flight of stairs in about 15 minutes we abandoned the mission and headed out to explore the gardens instead. I guess we’ll never know how eloquent we might have been. If you do decide to persevere and reach the top, you’ll be in good company- Oliver Hardy and Winston Churchill have both kissed the Blarney Stone.
Right around the corner from the entrance to the castle is the Poison Garden, which is an educational collection of poisonous plants from all around the world. They are all marked with information like their genus, species, toxicity, and their uses, both traditional and modern. Some of the plants you’ll likely be surprised to see as they are just common plants, others I was surprised to see because I didn’t even know they were real plants- like the Wolfsbane and Mandrake that were in the Harry Potter books. Who knew? Well I guess J.K.Rowling did actually. There is also a Cannabis plant, but it, like some other plants is kept under a metal cage.
From the castle walls, alongside the Poison Garden, you can get a really great view out over the gardens and to the town beyond.
Rock Close & Water Garden
On the other side of the castle we headed to the Rock Close as that sounded like it would be quite a pretty place for a stroll- and it was. Likely one of my favourite parts of the gardens. It is said to be on the site of an ancient druid settlement and has a trail through the rocks under great yew and oak trees. I would have loved to have had a place like this to play in when I was a kiddo, and likely would have appreciated the myths and legends in the Rock Close, and other areas, more then too.
All around the castle there are signs to tell visitors about these legends and stories but it almost seems to be too much. The Rock Close is a pretty little spot, and would be wonderfully cool on a hot summer day, but in the midst of it are legends about the Witch of Blarney. One stone in particular does resemble the profile of a face and this is the Witch Stone. The Witch of Blarney is said to have been around since the beginning of the castle days and some say it was she who first told MacCarthy of the power of the Blarney Stone. Of course she only escapes the Witch Stone at nightfall, and the castle grounds close at dusk. :-) In the daylight hours though many people leave offerings on top of her stone.
Also in the Rock Close you will find the Witch’s Kitchen which she is said to stock with firewood that she takes from the grounds. Since she takes this wood she must grant wishes to visitors – but only if you walk down the Wishing Steps backwards with your eyes closed thinking only of your wish. Be careful though as these steps are under a waterfall that flows into the Water Garden and could be quite slippery.
By now you must be thinking “My goodness, does she not have any imagination at all?” Well…sadly, not really for things like this. Especially as it just seemed to be one legend or “mystery” after another. I think I would have enjoyed this more if I were a child, or had brought one with us. Kids would eat this stuff up like stories about the “witch” and would have a great time playing in her kitchen and in the Rock Close.
From here we wandered the gardens a little more, taking photos along the way of the pretty stone bridges, and just enjoying the walk. I’ve learned since our visit that there are quite a few more things that we didn’t see – like the Fern Garden, the Arboretums, Woodland and Riverside Walks, and Blarney House. I think we may have missed some of the things we would have liked the best. Maybe if we’re ever back we’ll stop to visit them, or maybe we’ll just keep searching for new castles to explore instead.
For complete information about opening hours, admission prices, etc. please visit the Blarney Castle website.
Admission to this castle was not included on the Heritage Card but you can purchase the tickets in advance online and save a little money. We did this but you’ll still need to present that ticket at the ticket booth where you’ll receive your visitor information.
Have you ever been to Blarney Castle? What did you think? Should we give it another chance if we’re back in Ireland?
To read more about our adventures on our Ireland Road Trip, please feel free to check out these posts:
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