News from Times Past with Brian Gabriel

I Walk to Blarney. The best way to get to Blarney Castle is to walk there – to walk there, I mean, from the town of Cork. You will go to Patrick’s Bridge. You will walk along the quays. You will pass Shandon Church whose bells a poet has made famous. You will come to a second bridge. Then you will turn up Blarney Street. You will go on until you come to a place called Clogheen. And the valley which Blarney Castle dominated is then before you. But you should stay awhile upon Patrick’s Bridge and take in the scene and the people. Across the way is Shandon Church with its turret. “White and brown is Shandon’s steeple, Parti-coloured like the people.” Two sides of the turret are of white stone, two of brown stone. The white stone is used again in the embankment of the river; the Lee flows along quays built of limestone. This, the central part of Cork, is a very little way from the countryside. Turn off the bridge along the quayside and the ass-cart filled with cabbages, the country cart loaded with peat are the vehicles you see. Gulls are flying over the river. And the people who give Ireland her journalists, school-masters, and civil-servants are passing by. They are a merchant folk primarily – ready of tongue, shrewd of mind, good at bargaining. They have soft and rippling speech and are ready to engage in long conversations with one another. Lots of young men seem to be detached from any employment – strolling about, or pushing barrows, or carrying baskets. Several monks pass, brown-garbed and with sandals on their feet. Sometimes one sees an old woman who has on the voluminous hooded cloak that was worn everywhere in Munster a century ago. The girls look as if they all had personality – a fresh, clear, but unvivid personality. The younger they are, the prettier they are; the girls seem to at their prettiest at around fourteen. But when you go along the quayside and come to the second bridge you see more of the folk-life of Cork. They are real types, these old women who are selling gooseberries, apples, blackthorn-sticks. I went to buy withered apples from one of them. Bothe she and her charming grand-daughter were so eager to serve that I bought gooseberries too; they measured them out for me in a pewter mug, and I’m sure they gave me an extra ha’penny worth for good measure. And so, eating gooseberries, I turned up Blarney Street. ‘Tis a long street that begins in an undistinguished part of the town and ends as a lane. But then I am out of the town and in the county of Cork. Clougheen – “the little stones” – is not a village; there is a church there, a few houses, a pump, and that is all. And the road to Blarney is before me. I go to Blarney by fields that are the greenest of all the green fields of Eirinn. Yonder field is a green mirror for the clouds to make shadows upon. And I pass a field that has yellow dandelions and grass so soft and smooth that I think that only the cattle of a king have any right to graze there – no other cattle would be worthy of such a sward. Passing these fields, I come to Blarney village with its factory, a dull little place. And then I go through the gate into the grounds of the old castle, grounds overgrown with shrubs. Near the gate, under the trees with a shawl over her head for shelter from the showers, is a simple-faced old woman. She returns my salutation, and I go over to talk to her. She has a simple and rambling mind. She tells me that her husband was employed on this property, and that she has permission to come here and sit under the trees. She likes the air here and she likes to watch the flowing water. She does not say it to me, but I gather from her rambling allusions that she nurses the hope that some of the visitors will make her some sort of offering – something that would give her an allowance of tea, or snuff, or tobacco. There are wild children in the house she lives in; there are bad neighbours all around her; she does not sleep. She like being here, within the gate and under the trees. The keep is built on a shelf of the rock that dominates the valley. I get to the top, about a hundred feet up. And there I come on a group who are not ordinary visitors: a personage whom I take to be an Indian prince is kissing the stone by proxy – a servitor is hanging down the wall to lip it. From the top of the keep I look on the green lawns all around – Blarney has nothing to show better than them except, perhaps, a yew-tree that grows out of a tier of the rock on which the castle is built. It bends outward and some of its branches grow towards the ground: these are bare. The branches that are lifted up have constant movement like waves – dark-green, feathery branches waving against rock and wall. There it grows, blended somehow with rock and ruin, like some unused image that has come spontaneously into a poet’s verse. This description of the less-frequented road from Cork to Blarney is from Padraic Colum’s book ‘The Cross Roads of Ireland’. It was reproduced with the permission of the author and the publishers (The MacMillan Co. New York) in the 1952, Vol. 4 issue of the ‘The Blarney Annual of Fact and Fancy.’

One of Blarney’s Trees About one hundred yards to the south-west of the keep of Blarney Castle, on the edge of a grove of elms and beeches stands a noble tree. It has a short, rather stout trunk, supporting flat sweeps of beautifully disposed branches, covered with dark-green foliage, consisting of small needles, spirally set on the tiny branches. Its hoary and time-battered appearance is evidence, even to a casual observer, of the centuries it has stood there. The scars on its huge trunk with the broken and twisted limbs tell of many thunderstorms and gales of long ago. The kerns of Clan MacCarthy, perhaps, enjoyed its shade and later, in Elizabethan times, the soldiers of Broghill may have sought its shelter. The tree is a cedar of Lebanon, a native of the Lebanon and Taurus mountains of Syria. Its age would be from five to seven hundred years. Knowing its origin, one wonders how it got to Blarney from its native habitat in Palestine. Tradition tells us that a MacCarthy went to the Holy Land with one of the Crusades. Did the noble cedars on the slopes of Lebanon inspire him to bring back some of these trees? Have we in Blarney today, a living link with the Crusades? The above article was written in 1948 by Mr. E.M. Manning, Forrester in Blarney Castle Estate, and published in The Blarney Annual of the same year.

The November lecture of the Blarney and District Historical Society takes place on Thursday 3rd November at 8pm in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál. It is titled ‘Slaughter on the Somme’ and commemorates the ending of this terrible battle, after 181 days fighting, in November 1916. The speaker is Mr. Gerry White of The Western Front Association (Cork Branch). Details of all lectures and field trips can be found on www.blarneyhistory.ie Enquiries to Brian Gabriel 087 2153216. Everybody welcome.

Historical