Near to the Witch's kitchen is The Druids Cave. I couldn't see an info plaque, just a wooden sign stating 'Druids Cave'
While the prescence of witches may be taken with a pinch of salt - at least the ones that can ride on broomsticks!, there is evidence of Druids having settlements in Ireland, and on this site.
There is still little known about the ancient druids, although they have featured in stories and mythology through the centuries.
Along with the druids, Bards and Filidh shared similar duties in Irish society.
Celtic ritual life centered on a special class,who the Romans had named the druides or "druids"
Druids (or Druides) were so named by the Romans. They performed many rituals and functions that would have been considered to be "priestly" duties, including ritual and sacrifice, but they also included functions that we would place under "education" and "law."
These rituals and practices were probably kept secret—a tradition common among early Indo-European peoples—which helps to explain why the classical world knows nothing about them.
Druids performed "barbaric" or "horrid" rituals at lakes and groves; there was a fair amount of consensus among the Greeks and Romans that these rituals involved human sacrifice. This may or may not be true; there is some evidence of human sacrifice among the Celts, but it does not seem to have been a prevalent practice.
According to Julius Caesar, who gives the longest account of druids, the center of Celtic belief was the passing of souls from one body to another. From an archaeological perspective, it is clear that the Celts believed in an after-life, for material goods are buried with the dead.
links to info about druids
In The Rock Close, is a site labelled Druid Sacrifice Altar, which I somehow managed to miss.
After reaching the top of The Wishing Steps, you come to The Witchs kitchen - located by a plaque that reads
"We believe that this was home to the very first Irish cave dwellers across the mists of time. If you arrive early enough in the morning, you will still see the dying embers of a fire.
This is lit every night by the Blarney Castle witch, as she fights to stop shivering on her nocturnal escape from the Witch Stone".
I was surprised to see that a nearby rock formation wasn't labelled The Witches foot, or a Giants foot etc. Take a look at my pic 2, and you'll probably see what I mean.
Included in your admission price, is entrance to The Rock Close. Worth a visit! Even in the drizzle, it was a pleasant walk.
This area dates back to ancient times, long before the castle was built. Each point of interest is marked with an information board- yes, it can seem a bit heavy on the Oirish 'make a wish' / the little people/ Oooh this stone is shaped like a...... lets see how we can put 'a spin' on it! but there is some useful information too (Though it is quite minimal - I'm sure there is an opportunity for more factual stuff too).
Marked paths lead through this attractive trail, which can take 20 minutes plus to walk around. Passing by waterfalls (pic 3), ancient rocks, trees, shrubs and a wide variety of plants there is plenty to stimulate the senses.
So, follow me around The Rock Close to my next tip.
After passing The Dolmen, we arrived at a pretty corner, where water cascaded over green ferns from the roof of a stone tunnel, which had steps leading up to another level of the gardens.
An attraction in itself. However, this area was known as 'The Wishing Steps' The information plaque stated that'If you can walk down and back up these steps with your eyes closed - some suggest walking backwards- and without for one moment thinking of anything other than a wish, then that wish will come true, within a year
Yes, there's a rail to hold onto, and often a partner shouting encouragement and instructions to help the 'wishee' complete their task. There's also an impatient crowd, waiting for 'their turn'
Hmmmm, if anyone genuinely believes in 'the power of this magic' then I'd guess their head WAS capable of not having another thought enter it during their stumble up and down the slippery uneven steps !
Dolmen is an ancient megalithic Rock structure, formed from one rock balancing atop another. It is known as a portal dolmen. Its purpose was the cover a grave or burial area. This one is believed to date back over 5,000 years.
Apparently, this rock has been known to move. It seemed to be pretty static when I passed underneath!
Although there are info plaques near each point of interest in Rock Close, the info is quite sparse, and mainly concentrates on 'the magic or legends' (pic 3)A bit of a shame as there is so much of interest - the history, flora and fauna, geology etc that could have been displayed in an exciting way.
According to Wikipedia - "A dolmen is also known as cromlech, anta, Hünengrab, Hunebed, Goindol, quoit, and is a type of single-chamber megalithic tomb, usually consisting of three or more upright stones supporting a large flat horizontal capstone (table).
Most date from the early Neolithic period (4000 to 3000 BC). Dolmens were usually covered with earth or smaller stones to form a barrow, though in many cases that covering has weathered away, leaving only the stone "skeleton" of the burial mound intact." Link for more info on Dolmens
Back on terra firma - and clutching our tickets from the photographer, we approached the kiosk desk. Two bored looking assistants were serving the small crowd.
Handing over my ticket, I waited to view my photo. I'd expected to see a rack of photos waiting, instead they were displayed on a screen for you (and everyone else) to view. I hadn't realised that there are actually 2 screens- one is at the opposite end of the kiosk.
The photo's aren't cheap - 10 euros for 1, 18 euros for 2 pics!!! Well, normally I wouldn't have bothered even thinking about buying a photo of myself, but I did quite like them- So I decided that it was a souvenir of a one off activity. Even if I return to Blarney one day, I'd be unlikely to kiss the stone again. So I handed over my cash and in return got my photos in a card frame, with a 'certificate' of my visit printed on the inner fold.
I suppose that I could have put this in the Tourist Trap tips, in which case, an alternative to this would be - 'Be ready with your camera, and photograph your photograph when its displayed on the screen! There are no notices saying that you can't do this - YET!!
Besides purchasing your photo, there is an array of souvenirs (or tat!). There are also shops near the exit and in Blarney selling similar items. So you might prefer to wait until then to buy any items, especially if like us, you decide to walk around The Rock Close.
So we'd completed another one of those '100 Things To Do Before You Die' items, and headed for the exit staircase. This leads to the kitchens.
The staircase is very narrow, only allowing one person to walk down. This is another of the Castles defences. If enemy troops entered the castle and got this far, they could only advance to the battlements one at a time. So, a soldier standing at the door, wielding a sword or axe etc, could easily wound or kill him, leaving him to fall backwards onto his fellow attackers below him, forcing a retreat, and presumably being slaughtered or captured by the castles soldiers at the bottom of the staircase.
The kitchen was sited next to the Banqueting Hall. As it was in the upper part of the tower, there was less chance of the castle being burnt down completely. Food would have been cooked on a huge log fire, sited under a chimney shaft. Presumably huge vats of boiling water and oil would have been prepared here also, to pour over the battlements onto enemy troops.
So, edgeing nearer to the front of the queue, you are met with a list of 'rules and instructions'(pic 5) - 'Remove hats, bags, spectacles, have your camera ready and switched on, secure jacket and shirt pockets, if you're under 8 years of age, you're subject to a height restriction at the discretion of the attendant, and if you should stand too near to the stone while waiting your turn, the same attendant can ask you to leave (in the interests of safety!!!- not because you might be obstructing the photographer then!!) Pheeeew!
When you get even nearer, there's another notice, indicating where you can and can't take your own photos. I managed to read this before entering my myopic world!
Nomad 7890 (Martha) was first to have a go, she was instructed on where to place her body on the piece of tarpaulin and her hands on the metal poles, before leaning backwards, and smacking her lips on the legendary Blarney Stone. (pic 1 and 2)
I was next- Gillybob kindly held my specs, hat, bag etc, AND managed to get a photo of me! -I made it my main photo - it must be the only photo of me where I don't have at least 2 chins!! (Never mind eloquence, I want the Blarney Face lift!)
So, the elderly attendant instructed me to sit down, then hold the posts, as I leaned back. Now, not having my specs, I wasn't sure where I was supposed to be aiming for, the stone wall just looked all the same- a blur!, but my lips hit the cold stone, and I was hauled up. by the old chap, (who was a bit impatient). It is a bit of a conveyor belt! Oh yes, this is all recorded by a photographer, who hands you a numbered ticket, which you take to a kiosk on your way out. (I'll cover this in a later tip)
I just had chance to grab my things from Gillybob, before she was hustled along, onto the mat.
After climbing all of the Castle steps, you reach the roof, and the Battlements. Catch your breath and admire the panoramic view! On the day that we visited, it was raining, but this probably added to the atmosphere. The 360 degree view over the estate, with the Autumnal colours of the trees and shrubs was quite impressive.
The Estate has 1,130 acres of land, which includes 730 acres of forest plantations, Avenues and Parkland (400 acres) and Blarney Lake, which covers 22.5 acres.
So, while you're queueing for your chance to kiss the Blarney Stone, you can admire the scenery, and also note some of the architecture of the battlements.
The large stone flagstones that comprise the walkway, are in an apex shape, which allows water to drain from all 4 sides. The battlements themselves are in a machiolated style - The fringe of stonework which surrounds the top of the castle, is built out from the castle walls, supported by corbels, (stone joists).
In the walls are the narrow slits, where the archers could be protected by the thick stone wall, as they fired arrows at any attackers.
Around the inner walls are plenty of info plaques to read while you stand in line. They describe some of the history, legends, famous visitors etc.
As we entered the Ground Floor reception, we couldn't help but see a ghost! (pic 2)Yes, it was nearly Halloween or All Souls night (October 31st) so around Blarney Castle, there were many puppets of ghouls and Witches
The Ground Floor Reception area would have had the purpose as a reception for receiving supplies, and was also the sleeping quarters for the young men and warriors of the fortress. This would have been quite a harsh life- sleeping on the cold and damp stone floor, which was covered with rushes. As this was the most vulnerable area from attack, the only light would have come through the 1 narrow slit (unglazed) window. Torches made from flaming rushes would have provided some light- with a risk of fire spreading along the flooring! Sanitation would have been minimal, so vermin and infestation were probably rife. Added to this, the men probably had an assortment of mental and physical illnesses, exacerbated (or temporarily relieved) by the amounts of alcohol consumed.
The castle has 5 storeys, each having a main living area, with small chambers, alcoves and connecting passages.
THE GREAT HALL - This was the centre of everyday life, where important visitors would have been welcomed in ceremonial State. A Fireplace would have been the point of interest-an item of 'luxury', inspired by the Elizabethan fashion. Flues and chimneys to draw the smoke away were unusual. Again, rushes would have covered the floors. Later, wall tapestries would be used to cover the stone floor- forerunners of carpeting.
THE EARLS BEDROOM - another 'new luxury' space was at a premium, with communal living being the norm. This room, for the sole purpose of the Lord, and his wife was the best lit- with windows offering light-and views of the grounds, and approaching armies.
YOUNG LADIES ROOM- Here Females of the castle were taught by a governess in languages, music, singing, needlecraft and other skills needed to 'catch' a young Lord, and eventually become Lady of his Castle. The other alternative being to join a convent.
THE FAMILY ROOM This room was large and lit from 4 windows, and heated by a fireplace. It was relatively comfortable.
THE BANQUETING HALL -Elaborate Feasts were normal for inhabitants of the castle, with many courses and free flowing Ale, Mead and Whiskey, even children joined in. The Lord presided at the head of the table, surrounded by his staff. The High Ranks 'above the salt' and the Lower 'Below the salt' A Steward supervised the serving pages.
It was common practice for boys of the castle to be sent away to other castles to be reared or fostered (from age 6-7!) to toughen them up for a life as fighting men. They were also taught courtly manners, as they would be come gentlemen or Knights.
After the feasting, The lords personal bard would entertain the assembled room, with singing songs, that typically praised his Lord and Clan.
THE CHAPEL - The uppermost domestic chamber.
The household gathered here for Mass, which was in Latin. The chaplain also tutored the younger family members.
Cormac Mac Carthy provided many funds for the Church, he built 5 churches. He was buried in one - Kilcrea Abbey, which became the traditional resting place for future Lords of Blarney.
The entrance to Blarney Castle is through an archway, protected by an iron gate.
In this entrance portal is a spyhole, whereby all visitors to the castle would have been surveyed surruptitiously from the inside. If the visitors were of ill intent, a stone slab above the gateway could be removed, and either boiling water or tar poured onto them, or they could be attacked by a longsword or pike!
I'm afraid that I missed these 2 features, as I'd put my guide book into my bag, away from the rain.
There were 3 ground floor entrances to the Castle- One was The Kennel- Dogs were kept to guard the Castle, their barking alerted the nearby sentries of approaching persons. The kennel is the entrance on the right.
In the centre is The Sentry Box, where guards manned this area in shifts, day and night.
The 3rd entry,on the left, is toThe Dungeons. This is where one of the Castles most important structures was hidden and enclosed-The Well. A supply of water for drinking etc was vital, particularly during times of siege. A tower was built around the well, with steps leading to the main courtyard. This tower is no longer accessible.
The dungeons are reached through a low narrow gap. I'm a bit claustrophobic, so decided not to venture any further, but Nomad7890 was off like a rabbit down a hole!
She was down there quite a while, so I wondered how big the Dungeons were. Before she reappeared a young man appeared through the gap, complete with a spliff! So we teased her that perhaps that's why she was away so long!!
The Castle, seen today began its construction in 1446 by The King of Munster, Cormac Mac Carthy, aka Cormac Laidir and Cormac The Strong.
The first recorded Castle on this site, was a wooden structure, built in the 10th century, which was replaced by a stone structure, around 1210 A.D.
Mac Carthys used this castles stone for the foundations of his.
The Castle was to be a fortress to offer protection from attack, and also as a symbol of his power.
Built on this elevated limestone outcrop, the tower offered panoramic views, so that approaching enemies could be easily spotted. The walls at the base are 18 feet thick- enough to withstand bombardment. Narrow slit windows were designed to prevent weapons such as arrows or stones penetrating the castle walls.
For any armies that reached the castle walls, they could expect a welcome of boiling water, tar or stones to fall on them from the battlements above!
Walking up to the Castle entrance, we noticed a tower, which we presumed was a look out tower, but were puzzled as it was quite short. Apparently, it was one of the remaining outer guard towers, which would have been built at strategic intervals around the castle. This remaining tower would have been much taller when it was in use.
After passing through the turnstiles, there are gift shops, toilets and refreshments. We passed by these, but returned at the end of our visit.
Blarney Castle is set in very attractive grounds, which I appreciated, in spite of the rain. We crossed over one of the 3 rivers that flow through the estate. The River Martin follows the path for a while. The other 2 rivers are the Shournagh and the Blarney.
Looking over the bridge, we were surprised to see many coins glistening in the water. I guess this is one of those 'quaint Irish traditions', where you toss in a coin and make a wish!
On the river banks are picnic tables.
Blarney Village Square is quite small, taking no more than 10 minutes to walk around.
The square is surrounded by quaint houses, shops, restaurants and hotels. A large village green sits in the middle.