The Town of Blarney is situated five miles North-West of the City of Cork in the region of Muskerry. The origin of the name Blarney itself is believed to have come from the Irish Word Blarna. As Blarney is famous for its flowers perhaps the Irish Blath may have played a role in the naming. Blarney has a rich local history which centres on the Famous Blarney Castle and the Blarney Woollen Mills
The site of Blarney castle is the location of the earliest evidence of settlement in Blarney with a wooden structure sitting atop a carboniferous limestone outcrop and was used as a hunting post for Dermot McCarthy. The hunting post most likely consisted of a mound and palisade. This structure was the first of three on this outcrop with a second stone structure being constructed in the year 1210. The Introduction of Norman settlers to Ireland led to an exponential increase in the number of fortifications being built across Ireland and this early 1210 tower house is an early example of the changing style in the construction of Irish castles. This building was demolished for foundations.
In 1446 the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster of which the keep still remains standing. It was subsequently occupied at one time by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This, now known as the Blarney Stone, was incorporated in the battlements where it can now be kissed. Blarney Castle in the late Sixteenth and Early Seventeenth Centuries was one of Irelands Intellectual and cultural centres and included a Bardic school which attracted students from across the breadth of Ireland. The McCarthy Lordship of Blarney came to an end with the conclusion of the Nine Year War 1691. The land was sold to a number of interests before coming into the ownership of Sir James Jefferyes who was the Governor of Cork City.
In 1874 at the beginning of the eighteenth century during the reign of Queen Anne, Sir James St. John Jefferyes built a Georgian gothic house up against the keep of the castle as was then the custom all over Ireland. At the same time the Jefferyes family laid out a landscape garden known as the Rock Close with a remarkable collection of massive boulders and rocks arranged around what seemed to have been druid remains from pre-historic times. Certainly, many of the yew trees and evergreen oaks are extremely ancient. In 1820 the house was accidently destroyed by fire and the wings now form a picturesque adjunct to the keep, recently in the 1980s rearranged to give a better view of the keep. The Jefferyes intermarried on 14th January 1846 with the Colthurst family of Ardrum, Inniscarra and Ballyvourney, Co. Cork, and Lucan, Co. Dublin. The early children dying, Lady Colthurst decided to build the new castle in Scottish baronial style south of the present keep. This was completed in 1874 and has been the family home ever since.
Blarney Village & Woollen Mills
The Village of Blarney at this time was small and clustered around the Castle. In 1765 St. John Jefferyes decided to construct a planned town which forms the origins of the fine square seen in Blarney today. The original town consisted of the construction of an Inn, Church, Various mills and Houses for workers. The water sources provided the means of power for the mills and Cork City provided an enviable market for town produce. The failure of the original textile mills was caused by a depression in 1820 which led to many settlers leaving the town due to no ability to pay their rent to the Jefferyes of Blarney. The fortunes of Blarney did not stay bleak for long as Martin Mahony of the famous milling family moved operations to Blarney from nearby Glanmire in 1824. The Family had begun its milling history with one Timothy Mahony, who in 1741 was deprived of his lands under the Penal Laws. Timothy moved to Cork and set up a mill in Glanmire in 1750. This provided a renewed spirit within Blarney and led to the construction of more services and housing in the 1860’s which more than doubled the residences within the town.
The Blarney Woollen Mills unfortunately burned down in 1869; however the mill was rebuilt within three years and was five times the original size. The Blarney Woollen Mills were one of the few large mills not to fold in Ireland during the Industrial Revolution as they were provided with power by the River. Across Ireland mills closed their doors as they could not compete with the coal powered steam engine mills to be found in regions such as Lancashire in England. The Mills continued to provide employment to Blarney until 1973 when the Mahony Family closed the business. In 1975 Christy Kelleher, a former mill worker, bought the mills and opened them into an Irish Heritage and souvenir shop as we know it today.
Blarney did not escape the Irish nationalist struggle and in 1921 a large operation was carried out by the Cork No.1 Battalion of the IRA to destroy the Blarney RIC Barracks. Approximately 400 volunteers were involved in the blocking of roads and in the operation itself. A detonated mine badly damaged the barracks which was evacuated the next day by the RIC Constables. The Mill Continued to be the mainstay of employment in Blarney until its closure. Since then Blarney’s economy is dependent on the largely US tourism trade, with numerous hotels and guest houses in the area to serve demand. Blarney became a part of Cork City following the 2019 Cork Local Government Boundary Extension as of 4 June 2019.
Blarney Castle: An Irish Tower House – Lyttleton, James (2011)
The Evolution of Blarney Town: A Geographical Analysis – Meehan, Michael J.B (1979)
Two hundred years 1750-1950: the story of a family and an industry.
Irish Examiner 2-4th June 1920