Friday, 8 February 2013

Blarney House, Co. Cork

The Blarney estate was originally the possession of a Gaelic Irish family; the McCarthys, lords of Muskerry. Having passed from the McCarthys to the earls of Clancarthy, it eventually came into the hands of the Colthurst family, the present owners. Today the estate is the site of two historic, but very different buildings; a twelfth century medieval castle, and a Victorian baronial house. For most visitors though, Blarney is synonymous with one thing: the Blarney Stone!

In 1820 the large Georgian style house which stood adjacent to the medieval castle was destroyed by fire. It was not until the 1870s that the family decided to erect a new house, not on the same site but some 300 yards from the castle, on an elevated height. The architect chosen was John Lanyon, son of Sir Charles Lanyon, who had designed the central building at Queen's University, Belfast. The style chosen for the new house was Scottish Baronial. An offshoot of the nineteenth century Gothic Revival, the Scottish Baronial style was heavily influenced by Romanticism; one of the leader proponents being the writer, Sir Walter Scott. Lanyon's use of corbelled corner turrets with conical roofing, and pinnacles were all common features of the style. 

The twelfth century castle, with the remains of the Georgian house visible in the foreground

A group of Victorian visitors kissing the Blarney Stone

While there are many stories recalling the origins of the Blarney Stone, none appear to give a satisfactory explanation. Some suggest that the stone was a gift from the great Scottish king, Robert the Bruce, while others allege that a lord of Muskerry, Cormac Mac Dermot MacCarthy, had resolved a local dispute with silvery words, thus lending itself to the illusion of eloquence. Whatever its origins the stone had become well-known in popular culture by the late eighteenth century. It was, however, the Victorians desire for discovery and curiosity that propelled the stone to international fame. A nineteenth century local priest summed up the stone's powers, writing: 
  "There is a stone there that whoever kisses
   Oh! he never misses to grow eloquent"

As this nineteenth century illustration shows, kissing the stone was not a straightforward task, with a number of visitors falling to their death before safety precautions were installed. With the aid of guide who held the seeker's ankles, the visitor leaned backwards over a parapet's edge, the stone having been positioned on the exterior wall of the castle. They then kissed the stone and were immediately blessed with eloquence, so the legend goes.

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