Monday, March 9, 2009

The not-so-good and not-so-great, number 9

[Here's another which Malcolm nearly overlooked. It has personal relevance to him, as he will explain.

It also goes on a bit: what seemed like a quick-and-easy posting developed unexpected dimensions.]


It's odd that the quality attributed world-wide to the Irish should derive from a word, An Bhlárna
in the native, which means "the plain".

The Blarney Stone is the other point of pilgrimage for so many visitors to Ireland, along with "Kelly's Book" (which itself provides a regular and considerable income for the Library of Trinity College, Dublin). The legends associated with that bit of masonry proliferate.

The fabulous Stone

The stone is assumed to have reached its elevated position when Cormac Laidir Mac Carthy rebuilt the Castle in the 1480s. There are at least three fables attached to the stone:
  • It was Jacob's Pillow, brought back from the Holy Land in one of the Crusades.
  • It is the other half of the Stone of Scone, a prezzie from the Bruce to the Mac Carthys for their support in sending Edward II hameward tae think agen.
  • Cormac Laidir rescued an old lady from a river. She was a witch; and rewarded him by pointing out the magic stone incorporated in his battlement.
Fifty-three years gone this Easter, Malcolm was given two books by Robert Gibbings: Lovely is the Lee (from 1945) and Sweet Cork of Thee (from 1951).

They were beautifully produced (by Dent): would that later additions to Malcolm's library had endured so well. In the former of those, Gibbings improves on the Cormac Laidir/witch story:
The power of the stone was first made known to Cormac the Strong, the builder of the castle, who, being a bit worried about a lawsuit in which, even in those early days, he had become embroiled, was wandering, moody, in the adjacent forest. There he met Cliodhna, the 'Queen of the Fairies'. "I'll tell you what it is," said she. Don't vex yourself any more. Go home to your bed," said she, "and lie down and sleep, and in the morning, at dawn, get up and go out, and right before you, facing you," she said, "you'll see a stone that has been brought from the banks of the Lee. Kiss it," said she, "kiss it, and you'll never want for words." Cormac did as he was told, though it was a cold and a wet morning when he had to rise out of his bed. And when he went before the judge the words poured out of him like the Shournagh itself in flood. Up to the top of the castle he carried that stone, and out under the battlement he put it, for fear another would reach it, and there it is to this day.
Cormac Laidir was the eighth Lord Muskerry, though
Seathrún Céitinn (in English: Geoffrey Keating), writing around 1632, traces generation-by-generation back through Heber the Fair, son of Milesius, all the way to Noah.

A Queenly neologism?

The sixteenth Lord Muskerry was Cormac Mac Dermot Mór Mac Carthy, whom Sir George Carew, Elizabeth I's president of Munster, tried to suborn. Blarney then stood at the limits of English power, making the Mac Cathys marcher lords, none too anxious to aggravate either side. Cormac Mac Dermot Mór found endless excuses not to hand over his stronghold that it be used as an English garrison. Carew reported these back to the Queen, who eventually lost patience, declaring "Blarney! Blarney! I will hear no more of this Blarney!"

Be that as it may, the OED does not recognise any use of the word "blarney" before a letter of Walter Scott, dated 26 September 1796.

The last of the Mac Carthys

Meanwhile, the Mac Carthy (raised to the Irish peerage as Viscount Muskerry in 1628) had been dispossessed by Cromwell:
A ball from the cannon of Lord Broghill, who in 1643 attacked and took the castle, struck and displaced this celebrated stone, but it has been subsequently secured in its position by means of a strong iron cramp.
As the Commonwealth collapsed, Charles Mac Carthy was, briefly, back at Blarney, now as Earl of Clancarty. For taking the wrong side in the Williamite wars, in 1691 the Clancartys were attainted, their lands and title forfeit. This gave rise to a further legend:
Blarney Lake, a pretty sheet of water, lies about a quarter of a mile from the castle... There is also a story generally current amongst the peasantry, that the last Earl of Clancarty who possessed Blarney, cast all his plate and treasures into a certain part of the lake, and that "three of the McCarthys inherit the secret of the place where they are deposited; any one of whom dying, communicates it to another of the family, and thus perpetuates the secret which is never to be revealed until a McCarthy be again Lord of Blarney."
The Blarney estate then passed through the hands of the Hollow Blade Sword Company of London, then rapidly to the Chief Justice of Ireland, Sir Richard Payne, who in turn sold it on to the Governor of Cork, Sir James Jeffereys.

Here, whatever the spelling of his surname, is a remarkable character, and family. In 1649 Colonel Jeffer(e)ys, in a midnight coup-de-main had seized Cork for Cromwell. Now his grandson appears on the local scene:
General Sir James Jeffreys won his title of knight banneret in the army of Charles XII., of Sweden, and the hand of a lady claiming alliance to the royal family. His son, the Honorable James Jeffreys, was afterwards envoy at the court of Sweden. A descendant of his married the sister of the Lord Chancellor Fitzgibbon, Earl of Clare. If we can believe the stories told of this lady, she must have inherited a large share of her brother's indomitable spirit. She obliged, or persuaded the Grand Jury of the county to build a bridge to ornament the castle, and when the water, which is subject to fixed laws, refused to run under her bridge, she applied to have the course of the river changed, but this the Grand Jury could or would not do.
Lady Jeffreys provided meat for a popular ballad, of which more in a later posting.

Arthur Young's appraisal

When Sir James's son, James St John Jeffer(e)ys, inherited the estate in 1740, he began a wholesale redevelopment. Arthur Young, in A Tour of Ireland, greatly approved of what was happening at Blarney:
Sept. 15th. [1776] To Blarney Castle, S Jefferys, Esq.; of whose great works in building a town at Blarney, I cannot give so particular an account as I wish to do; for I got there just as he and his family were on the point of setting out for France. I did not however let slip the time I had for making some enquiries, and found that in 1765, when Mr Jefferys began to build this town, it consisted only of two or three mud cabins; there are now ninety houses. He first established the linen manufactory, building a bleach mill, and houses for the weavers, etc. and letting them to manufacturers from Cork, who have been so successful in their works, as to find it necessary to have larger and more numerous edifices ... These several branches of the linen, employ 130 looms and above 300 hands.
Young goes on to note the other industries promoted by Jeffreys: stocking manufacture, a woollen mill, a leather mill, plating and a blade mill, and:
a large paper mill, which will be finished this year. He has been able to erect this multiplicity of mills, thirteen in all, by an uncommon command of water.
Blarney becomes a fashionable resort

Another of Jeffreys' improvements was observed by Young:
Mr Jeffreys, besides the above establishments, has very much improved Blarney Castle and its environs. He has formed an extensive ornamented ground, which is laid out with considerable taste.
An Italian landscaper, Garzoni, planted trees and created the Rock Garden. Other features were named: The Witches' Kitchen; the Wishing Steps. The result was very much in the current romantic taste; and fashionable visitors began to arrive at Blarney. Walter Scott was there in 1808. Maria Edgeworth came along in 1823. We need remember that, at this period, Cork was still the second city in the island: Belfast had yet to rise from the mud-banks of the Lagan.

By 1824 the antiquary Crofton Croker is writing in Researches in the South of Ireland that:
a stone in the highest part of the castle wall is pointed out to visitors which is supposed to give whoever kisses it the peculiar privilege of deviating from veracity with unblushing countenance whenever it might be convenient -- hence the well-known phrase of "Blarney".
Hello: surely, that can't be right! Not the gift of the gab, but "deviating from veracity".

Colthurst: a name deserving further research

In 1846 Blarney passed into the ownership of Sir George Colthurst, Bart. Conveniently, in 1849 the Dublin-Cork railway provided a station at Blarney (in 2010 it may happen again); and rail trippers could visit the Castle at half-price. Later still, a light railway added an alternative link to Cork City.

From there it was onwards-and-upwards. Blarney has continued to grow as a theme park. Today it attracts hundreds of thousands each year: a full third of all visitors to "heritage sites" in the area.

The Colthurst family are still the beneficial owners.

Of them and their activities, perhaps more anon.

And why has "Blarney"
personal relevance to Malcolm?

Well, one reason is the felicity of his diction, which so engages us here.

Then there was that curious interview.

Once upon a time, Malcolm was interviewed for a post in a London College. No appointment was made, and proceedings were, curiously and suddenly, aborted by the Chair of the interviewing panel. This personage (note gender not specified) was a local Councillor and a Tory MP with whom (in a far-different, non-professional, political context) Malcolm had "had words".

During the preliminaries, Malcolm enjoyed (indeed) a personal one-to-one with the College Principal. Across a narrow desk, Malcolm could observe the Principal making detailed notes. They were in Greek characters, but no Greek that Malcolm (university entrance exhibitions in Classics) could readily comprehend. Until realisation hit. The Principal was using Greek characters, transliterating plain English words. Much of the description Malcolm found quite flattering. The give-away had been that underlined word, which had at first puzzled Malcolm:
The interview concluded. The two, interviewer and interviewee rose. Malcolm offered a hand to shake. The Principal responded, warmly.

Malcolm then, knowingly, fired a Parthian shot, remarking on the benefits of a classical eduction.

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