Emerald Isle

The Blarney Stone

Irish and Celtic myths and legends, Irish folklore and Irish fairy tales tales of Ireland

The Stone of Eloquence

The gift of the gab, as it’s known, is a common thing among the Irish – being able to talk all day about anything and everything, and do it in a way that would have you listen as well. It’s as Irish as red hair and freckles. But what if you didn’t have the gift of the gab, or felt a deficiency of gabbiness?

Never fear, all is not lost, the good folk of Ireland have just the tonic!

Or should I say rather, the good folk from under the hill and the rolling wave! For there is a stone in Castle Blarney called the Blarney stone, and so famous are its powers of gab-giving that it has even become a byword for nattering and chattering.

But how did it gain its name and reputation, how did such legends wreath themselves around one stone among the many used to build an ancient fortress?

Well now, there’s a story. Or several, depending on who you listen to. The first and oldest is that the fairy queen Clíona, a sidhe fond of draining the life essence from young men that caught her eye, fell at last in love with a fellow who spurned her attentions.

Long did she chase him and long did he refuse her, until finally he was slain in a battle with a rival clan. Finding the stone upon which his life’s blood had spilled beneath his body, Clíona wept inconsolably over it until it became imbued with her magical powers of beguilement.

Other stories claim that the stone was brought from the farthest east by mystical Templars after the Crusades, that it was used by Jacob as a pillow when he dreamed of the ladder extending up to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it, brought to Ireland by Jeremiah. Another story has it that the stone was the deathbed pillow for St Columba.

Yet another tells that it was given, or perhaps returned to the MacCarthy Chieftain by Robert Bruce in thanks for support that he offered in the Battle of Bannockburn, and that it was part of the Stone of Scone, on which the Kings of Scotland were inaugurated.

That, however, is most likely blarney, since a slice taken from it in the 19th century was inspected by researchers from the University of Glasgow in 2014, and they found it was local to the castle where it lies today.

More recent tales of the stone of eloquence relate that Cormac McTaidhg Láidir MacCarthy, the original builder of Blarney Castle, was threatened with having his land rights revoked by Queen Elizabeth, and as he walked through the dark forests brooding that while he was a mighty warrior, he was no lawyer, he happened across a little old bean feasa or wise woman.

She told him to kiss the first stone he found in the morning on his way to London, and he did so, with the result that he pleaded his case with great eloquence and won! So powerful were its effects that even Queen Elizabeth said in frustration that she could not complete the negotiation and get her hands on his seat at Blarney Castle, since everything he said was “Blarney, as what he says he does not mean”!

Thus the Blarney Stone is said to impart "the ability to deceive without offending". MacCarthy then incorporated it into the parapet of the castle.

However, just because he had the stone put into his castle didn’t mean he made it easy to get to! In the old days you’d have to be hung over the edge of the castle by your ankles, almost a hundred feet up, and try to kiss it – you’d want to be well motivated and trust your friends to dare that challenge!

Nobody seems to have died while trying to kiss it although in the Sherlock Holmes radio dramatisation "The Adventure of the Blarney Stone", a man attempting to kiss the Blarney Stone falls to his death. Holmes' investigation reveals this as a murder, the man's boots having been surreptitiously greased before the attempt.

Nowadays there are guard rails and other safeguards, although it’s still a bracing experience.

    'Tis there's the stone that whoever kisses
    He never misses to grow eloquent;
    'Tis he may clamber to a lady's chamber,
    Or become a member of Parliament.
    "A noble spouter he'll sure turn out, or
    An out and outer to be let alone;
    Don't try to hinder him, or to bewilder him,
    For he is a pilgrim from the Blarney stone."

Francis Sylvester Mahony

Whatever its origins, the powers of the Blarney Stone – The Stone of Eloquence – are unquestioned.

Further Folk and Faerie Tales of Ireland

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