contact: C. Colthurst
Open dates in 2023: all year except Christmas Eve & Christmas Day, Jan-Feb, Nov-Dec, 9am-4pm,
Fee: adult €20, OAP/student €16, child €9
We visited Blarney Castle on a trip to Cork in June 2022, choosing to visit on a date when we could also visit Blarney House – see my entry (on its way!).
We have all heard that kissing the Blarney stone gives us the “gift of the gab,” but where did the story come from? Randal MacDonnell, in his book, The Lost Houses of Ireland, tells us that Queen Elizabeth I said of Cormac mac Diarmada MacCarthy (1552-1616), Lord of Muskerry, ‘This is all Blarney; what he says he never means!’ so the term was used as far back as Elizabethan times. The Blarney Stone, set high in the castle under the battlements, was said to have been a gift to the MacCarthy family after sending 5,000 soldiers to help Robert the Bruce (who died in 1329) in battle. It was reputedly the stone that gushed water after Moses struck it, or else it is said to be part of the Stone of Scone, on which the Kings of Scotland were inaugurated. It is also said to be the pillow that Jacob slept upon when he dreamed of angels ascending a ladder to heaven, that was brought from the Holy Land after the Crusades. Frank Keohane tells us bluntly in his description of Blarney Castle in Buildings of Ireland, Cork City and County (published 2020) that it is in fact the lintel to the central machicolation on the south side!
An Irish person can be reluctant to visit Blarney castle, thinking it “stage Irish” with its tradition of kissing the Blarney stone but it is really well worth a visit, including queueing to get to the top of the castle (to kiss the stone, which you can of course skip!), because along the way you can see the interior five storeys of the castle with its many rooms and corridors. Each year around 550,000 tourists visit Blarney Castle.
It is also worth visiting just to wander the seventy acres of gardens, which are beautiful. There’s a coffee shop in the stable yard.
The castle we see today is the third structure that was erected on the site. In the tenth century there was a wooden hunting lodge. Around 1210 this was replaced by a stone structure, which was demolished for the foundations of the third, current, castle, built by Cormac Laidir (‘the strong’) MacCarthy in 1446. To put it into chronological perspective, this is around the same time that Richard III deposed King Edward V and nearly fifty years before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the “New world” in 1492 (see the terrific chronology outlined in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse). He built a slender self-contained four storey tower house, which is now called the northwest tower.
The MacCarthy clan had vast estates, and were recognised as Kings of Munster by the lesser Irish chiefs, the sign boards at Blarney tell us. They trace their ancestry back to a chieftain who was converted to Christianity by St. Patrick. Cormac MacCarthy built Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, 1127-1134, before the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169.
The second, larger, five storey tower was built in the early to mid 16th century.
In 1628 King Charles I created Cormac (Charles) MacCarthy (1564-1640/41) Viscount Muskerry. His father was the 16th Lord of Muskerry – the family gained the title from the English crown in 1353 – and his mother was Mary Butler, daughter of the 1st Baron Caher (of second creation), Theobald, of Cahir Castle in County Tipperary. Viscount Muskerry inherited Blarney in 1616 and undertook alterations, perhaps adding the tall machicolated parapets, and enlarging windows, fitting them with hooded twin and triple light mullioned windows. He married Margaret O’Brien, a daughter of the 4th Earl of Thomond, and secondly, Ellen, widow of Donall MacCarthy Reagh, and daughter of David, seventh Viscount Fermoy. 
Viscount Muskerry died in 1640/41, passing the title 2nd Viscount to his son Donnchadh (or Donough). Donough MacCarthy based himself in Macroom, County Cork, and Dublin. Donough and his father were Members of Parliament and sat in the House of Lords in Dublin. He was loyal to the crown in 1641 during the rebellion but afterwards supported the Catholics who sought to be able to keep their lands. The Duke of Ormond sought negotiation between the Confederate Catholics and the crown, and 2nd Viscount Muskerry played an active role in these negotiations.  Negotiations were complicated because the lines of disagreement were unclear and as time progressed and more negotiators became involved, goals changed. For some, it was about Catholics being able to own land, for others, to be able to practice their religion freely. Factions fought amongst themselves.
Further complications arose as Parliament in England was unhappy with the reign of Charles I. Viscount Muskerry was firmly Royalist, along with his brother-in-law the Duke of Ormond. It was at this time that Donough MacCarthy the 2nd Viscount married Eleanor Butler, twin sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond. In 1649, Lord Broghill (Roger Boyle, later created 1st Earl of Orrery) persuaded the towns of Cork, Youghal, Bandon, and Kinsale to declare for Parliament. The division was no longer between Catholics and English rule, but between Royalists and Parliament supporters.
Blarney Castle was taken by Cromwell’s army under Lord Broghill in 1646 and again in 1649 by Oliver Cromwell. The inhabitants and defenders fled via the passageways below the castle and escaped.
The 2nd Viscount became the 1st Earl of Clancarty in 1658, raised to the title by the exiled son of King Charles I, who in 1660 became King Charles II. MacCarthy’s property was restored to him by the King.
Charles 3rd Viscount died in the same year as his father (1665), having joined first the French army when in exile from Ireland, and later, the regiment of the Duke of York (who later became King James II). It was therefore his son, Charles James MacCarthy, who became 2nd Earl of Clancarty. The 2nd Earl’s mother was Margaret de Burgh, or Bourke, daughter of the 1st Marquess Clanricarde. The 2nd Earl died in the following year, so the 1st Earl’s second son, Callaghan (1635-1676) became 3rd Earl of Clancarty in 1666. Callaghan converted to Protestantism. He married Elizabeth FitzGerald, daughter of the 16th Earl of Kildare. His younger brother, Justin, was given the title of Viscount Mountcashel.
Jane Ohlmeyer writes of the MacCarthys of Muskerry in her book Making Ireland English:
p. 108: “[the MacCarthys of Muskerry] The family thus enjoyed a formidable range of kinship ties that included the Butlers, of Ormond and Cahir, and the houses of Thomond, Fermoy, Buttevant, Courcy of Kinsale and Kerry. Like Viscount Roche, Muskerry enjoyed a close friendship with the earl of Cork and stood as godfather to one of his youngest children. …Blarney Castle..was the family’s principal residence…. They also resided at Macroom castle in mid-Cork…Though Muskerry retained the traditional customs associated with Gaelic lordship, he also acted as an anglicizing speculator, loaning money and securing lands through mortgages, and as an improving landlord who encouraged English settlers to his estates and especially his main town of Macroom, in mid-Cork.” [see 1]
We saw many means of defense illustrated on our tour of Cahir Castle recently during Heritage Week 2022, and many of these were utilised at Blarney. [see my entry on Cahir Castle in https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/06/26/opw-sites-in-munster-clare-limerick-and-tipperary/ ] One can see the heavy machicolation, a series of openings in the floor of projecting parapets in castles and tower-houses through which offensive or injurious substances can be dropped on the enemy below.
The castle rises formidably from the bedrock of solid limestone. Its height gives a view all around for defense.
A bawn surrounded the tower house: a defensive area of about eight acres surrounded by a wall. Maurice Craig tells us in his book The Architecture of Ireland from the Earliest Times to 1880 that the word bawn comes from the Irish name “bádhún” meaning an enclosure for cattle. Animals and people took shelter within the bawn in times of danger. The castle was self-sufficient and the bawn would have been a hive of activity with tanners, blacksmiths, masons, woodcutters, carpenters, livestock keepers, horses, cows, pigs, poultry, butchers, cooks, gardeners and attendants. Part of the bawn wall remains.
Blarney was a typical tower house with four or five storeys, with one or two main chambers and some smaller rooms on each floor. A vaulted stone ceiling served to keep the thin tower structurally sound by tying the walls together and also acted as a firebreak. Blarney was constructed as two towers, one built later (by about 100 years) than the other. At the bottom the walls are about 18 feet thick. When it was first built it would have been covered in plaster and whitewashed to protect it from rainy weather.
The MacCarthys retained Blarney Castle until forced to leave it in the years following the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. They were Jacobites, supporters of King James II, and not supporters of King William III, who was crowned King of England, along with his wife Mary, James II’s daughter, in 1689. Mark Bence-Jones tells us that the castle was fortified by Donogh MacCarthy (c. 1668-1734), 4th Earl of Clancarty, who fought for James II in the Williamite War. 
The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Donogh MacCarthy the 4th Earl held the office of Lord of the Bedchamber to King James II in Ireland in 1689. MacCarthy fought in the Siege of Cork in 1690, where he was captured, and he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. He escaped and fled to France in May 1694. In 1698 he secretly returned to England but was betrayed by his brother-in-law, Charles Spencer, 3rd Earl of Sunderland, and was again imprisoned in the Tower. The Dictionary tells us that Lady Russell obtained a pardon for him, on condition he stayed permanently abroad. Lady Rachel Russell, nee Wriothesley, had previously petitioned unsuccessfully for the freedom of her husband, William Lord Russell, who had been arrested as part of the Rye House Plot to kill King Charles II and his brother James.
In exile in France in 1707, Donogh MacCarthy was Lord of the Bedchamber to the titular King James III (so called by the Jacobites who continued to support the Stuarts for the monarchy after William III and Mary had taken the throne).  This means he would have known John Baggot of County Cork and Baggotstown, County Limerick, whom I hope was an ancestor of mine (I haven’t been able to trace my family tree back that far). John Baggot married Eleanor Gould, daughter of Ignatius Gould, and fought at the Battle of Aughrim, where he lost an eye. The exiled monarchy recognised his sacrifice and in gratitude, made him groom of the bedchamber to the titular King James III in France also. Those that left Ireland at this time were called the Wild Geese. His son John Baggot subsequently fought in the French army and the other son, Ignatius, in the Spanish army.
There is a terrific summary in plaques in the ground in Limerick city around the Treaty of Limerick stone, on which the Treaty of Limerick was signed in 1691, that tells of the series of battles fought between the troops supporting King James II and the troops supporting King William. One plaque tells us:
“Sept 1690 King William returned to England leaving Baron de Ginkel in charge. Cork and Kinsale surrendered to William’s army. Sarsfield rejects Ginkel’s offer of peace. More French help arrives in Limerick as well as a new French leader, the Marquis St. Ruth. Avoiding Limerick, Ginkel attacked Athlone, which guarded the main route into Connaght. 30th June 1691, Athlone surrendered. St. Ruth withdrew to Aughrim. 12th July 1691 The Battle of Aughrim. The bloodiest battle ever fought on Irish soil. The Jacobites were heading for victory when St. Ruth was killed by a cannonball. Without leadership the resistance collapsed and by nightfall, the Williamites had won, with heavy losses on both sides. Most of the Jacobites withdrew to Limerick.“
After the MacCarthys were forced to leave Blarney Castle, it was occupied by the Hollow Sword Blade Company from London. The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that this company was a forerunner of the disastrously speculative South Sea Company that was attempting to break the Bank of England’s monopoly over Government loans.  The Landed Estates database tells us:
“The Hollow Sword Blades Company was set up in England in 1691 to make sword blades. In 1703 the company purchased some of the Irish estates forfeited under the Williamite settlement in counties Mayo, Sligo, Galway, and Roscommon. They also bought the forfeited estates of the Earl of Clancarty in counties Cork and Kerry and of Sir Patrick Trant in counties Kerry, Limerick, Kildare, Dublin, King and Queen’s counties (Offaly and Laois). Further lands in counties Limerick, Tipperary, Cork and other counties, formerly the estate of James II were also purchased, also part of the estate of Lord Cahir in county Tipperary. In June 1703 the company bought a large estate in county Cork, confiscated from a number of attainted persons and other lands in counties Waterford and Clare. However within about 10 years the company had sold most of its Irish estates. Francis Edwards, a London merchant, was one of the main purchasers.” 
In 1702 the castle was sold to Sir Richard Pyne, Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who sold it the following year, in 1703, to the Governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffereyes (alternatively spelled “Jefferyes”). Richard Pyne also purchased land at Ballyvolane in County Cork, another section 482 property which we have yet to visit!
In 1739 James Jeffereyes built a four storey Gothic style mansion on to the side of the castle, which he called “The Court,” demolishing a former house the MacCarthys had added to the castle. Frank Keohane tells us that the architect may have been Christopher Myers, who had previously rebuilt Glenarm Castle in County Antrim. We can see glimpses of its appearance from the round towers and ruins to one side of the castle, which are the remnants of this grand mansion. The Jefferyes family also laid out a landscape garden at Blarney known as Rock Close, with great stones arranged to look as though they had been put there in prehistoric times. There is a stone over the “wishing steps” inscribed “G. Jefferyes 1759” which commemorates the date of birth of James Jefferyes’s heir. It was a popular tourist destination as early as the 1770s.
We joined the queue to go up the tower. The ground floor is a large vaulted space. We saw the same sort of vaulting in Oranmore Castle in County Galway, which we visited later that week during Heritage Week 2022.
This room would have been the cellar chamber when first built, and would have had a wooden floor above, supported by still-present stone supports in the walls. The room on the upper wooden floor was the Great Hall. Originally, an information board tells us, the lower storey probably housed servants or junior members of the household. By the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it had become a wine cellar, as evidenced by some brick-lined shelves.
We can see the arched vaulted ceiling from the ground floor, with indentations left from wickerwork mats that were used, on which the bed of mortar for the roof was set. We saw similar indentations at Trim Castle and the nearby house of St. Mary’s Abbey in Trim, in the basement [see https://irishhistorichouses.com/2022/09/17/st-marys-abbey-high-street-trim-co-meath/ ]. The walls would have been covered in tapestries, which were put on the floor at some stage, becoming carpets. The arched ceiling tied the walls of the tower together.
Next to the Great Hall was the Earl’s bedroom.
From here we have a good view of the remnants of the Gothic house remnants:
We climbed a stone spiral staircase inside the tower to see the upper chambers. As usual in tower houses, the narrow spiral staircase was built partly for defense.
We next reached the “Young Ladies’ Bedroom.” The noticeboard tells us that three daughters of Cormac Teige MacCarthy (d. 1583), 14th Lord, grew up here.
The room above the Great Hall in the tower would have been the family room.
The floors of the banqueting hall, above the family room, and the chapel which would have been on the floor above the banqueting hall, are gone, so when you reach the top of the castle, you can look down inside.
In the Chapel, mass would have been said in Latin, and the chaplain acted as tutor to the children also. The builder of Blarney Castle, Cormac Laidir MacCarthy, was a generous patron of the church and he built five churches, including Kilcrea Abbey where he was buried, which became the traditional burial place for the lords of Blarney.
The information boards tell us that feasting was part of the way of life at the time and a meal was combined with a night’s entertainment as part of the social life of the Castle. A series of courses would be served, with fish eggs, fowl and roast meat, all highly spiced to keep them fresh. Alcohol served included mead, beer, wine and whiskey. The high ranks sat near the Lord at the top of the table “above the salt” and others sat “below the salt.” As the meal progressed the Chieftain’s Bard would play his harp and sing songs celebrating the prowess of the MacCarthy clan.
The Historic Houses of Ireland website tells us that in former times visitors were lowered over the parapet to kiss ‘The Stone’ while gripped firmly by the ankles. The process has become easier and safer today though one still has to lean very far back to kiss the stone, head dangling downward. It has been a popular tourist destination since the days of Queen Victoria. The keep and Blarney stone remains, “despite the osculatory attrition of the eponymous stone by thousands of tourists every year” as Burke’s Peerage tells us with verve! (107th Edition (2003) page 865)
One can see from the window embrasures how thick the castle walls are. There are passageways within the walls.
Some passageways lead to ancilliary rooms, sometimes to a garderobe or “bathroom.”
James St. John Jeffereyes (1734-1780) inherited Blarney estate at the age of six. St. John Jeffereyes was an “improving” landlord who sought to aid the welfare of his tenants and maximise profits from his estates. He took an interest in the linen trade developing in County Cork, which processed locally grown flax into linen. St. John Jeffereyes created a village near Blarney Castle in 1765 with a linen mill, bleach mill, weavers’ cottages and a bleach green. The River Martin powered the mills. The rise of cotton, however, proved the downfall of the production of linen. In 1824, Martin Mahon moved his woollen manufacturing business to a former cotton mill in Blarney, to develop Blarney Woollen Mills. James St. John also, with three other landed gentlemen, established the Tonson Warren bank in Cork city (1768). It was a prominent institution in Cork until its failure in 1784, after Jeffereyes’s death.
James St. John Jeffereyes first married Elizabeth Cosby (1721-1788). We came across her when we visited Stradbally in County Laois, which is still owned by the Cosby family. Her father was William Cosby (1690-1736), who was Governor of New York. She had been previously married to Augustus Fitzroy, 2nd Duke of Grafton, who died in 1741. James St. John and Elizabeth’s daughter Lucia served as Maid of Honour to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III.
James St. John Jeffereyes married secondly Arabella Fitzgibbon, sister of the 1st Earl of Clare, John Fitzgibbon (1748-1802) (who, by the way, married the daughter of Richard Chapell Whaley, who had the house on St. Stephen’s Green built which now houses the Museum of Literature Ireland (MOLI) – see my entry for MOLI on https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/06/06/covid-19-lockdown-20km-limits-and-places-to-visit-in-dublin/. He was the Lord Chancellor of Ireland who forced the Act of Union through parliament). With Arabella, James had a son and heir, George Jeffereyes (1768-1841).
James’s son George Jeffereyes (1768-1841) married Anne, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche of Marlay, the richest man in Ireland and head of the banking dynasty. George’s sisters also married well: Marianne married George Frederick Nugent, 7th Earl of Westmeath; Albinia married Colonel Stephen Francis William Fremantle; and Emilia married Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall.
The Court was destroyed by fire in 1820. Instead of rebuilding, George Jeffereyes and his family moved to Inishera House in West Cork.  George and Anne’s son St. John Jeffereyes (1798-1862) inherited Blarney. He had a son, also St. John, who lived in Paris and died in 1898. The estate passed to St. John’s sister Louisa, who married George Colthurst (1824-1878), 5th Baronet Colthurst, of Ardum, Co. Cork. He was a man of property, with another large estate at Ballyvourney near the border with County Kerry, along with Lucan House in County Dublin (currently the Italian ambassador’s residence in Ireland). Blarney remains in the hands of the Colthurst family. Blarney House was built for Louisa and George Colthurst, in 1874.
George Colthurst’s maternal grandmother was Emily La Touche, daughter of David La Touche and Elizabeth Marlay, and paternal grandmother was Emily La Touche’s sister Harriet. Their sister Anne had married George Charles Jeffereyes, Louisa’s grandmother, so Louisa and George were second cousins.
Randall MacDonald tells us in his book The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them:
p. 29 “The Colthursts had arrived in Ireland from Yorkshire towards the end of Elizabeth I’s reign and settled in Cork. Christopher Colthurst was murdered by the rebels in 1641 near Macroom in County Cork. By the 1730s, they were High Sheriffs of County Cork, and in 1744 John Colthurst, who had married the daughter of the 1st Earl of Kerry, Lady Charlotte Fitzmaurice, was created a baronet. It would be uncharitable to suggest that it was his father-in-law’s influence that procured him this advancement. He was Member of Parliament for Doneraile from 1751 (and afterwards for Youghal and Castle Martyr). His son Sir John Colthurst, the 2nd Baronet, was killed in a duel with Dominick Trant in 1787 and the title passed to his brother (MP for Johnstown, Co Longford and then for Castle Martyr until 1795), who married Harriet, daughter of the Right Hon. David la Touche. Sir Nicholas Colthurst, the 4th Baronet, was the MP for the city of Cork from 1812-1829.
“It was his son, Sir George Colthurst, the 5th Baronet, who married Louisa Jefferyes of Blarney Castle in 1846.” 
The 9th Baronet Colthurst, Richard La Touche Colthurst (1928-2003) married Janet Georgina Wilson Wright, from Coolcarrigan in County Kildare, another section 482 property [ https://irishhistorichouses.com/2020/05/31/coolcarrigan-house-and-gardens-coill-dubh-naas-county-kildare/ ]. Their son is the current owner of Blarney Castle and House.
We headed for the coffee shop after our perusal of the Castle. In the yard they have beautiful barrell vaulted wagons, and in the cafe, lovely old travel advertisements.
The seventy acres of gardens offer various landscapes. The bawn contains a Poison Garden, or medicinal garden, where various medicinal plants are grown, including poisons such as wolfsbane, ricin, mandrake, opium and cannabis.
The Rock Close is the garden that was developed by the Jefferyes in the 1750s and echoes Ireland’s ancient past with giant rock formations and hints of Druidic culture. Water running through adds to the beauty, with a lovely waterfall.
My favourite area is the Fern Garden, which feels prehistoric and is extremely picturesque, with raised wooden walkways. We headed to Blarney House, which will be my next entry!
 p. 108. Ohlmeyer, Jane. Making Ireland English: The Irish Aristocracy in the 17th Century.
 See Ó Siochrú, Micheál’s entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography: https://www.dib.ie/biography/maccarthy-donough-a5129
 Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.
 G.E. Cokayne; with Vicary Gibbs, H.A. Doubleday, Geoffrey H. White, Duncan Warrand and Lord Howard de Walden, editors, The Complete Peerage of England, Scotland, Ireland, Great Britain and the United Kingdom, Extant, Extinct or Dormant, new ed., 13 volumes in 14 (1910-1959; reprint in 6 volumes, Gloucester, U.K.: Alan Sutton Publishing, 2000), volume III, page 216. Quoted on the website The Peerage.com. See also https://www.dib.ie/biography/maccarthy-donogh-a5128
 see the timeline in James Lyttelton’s Blarney Castle, An Irish Towerhouse.
 MacDonnell, Randal. The Lost Houses of Ireland. A chronicle of great houses and the families who lived in them. Weidenfeld and Nicolson. London, 2002.