Looking back in time with Brian Gabriel

The Snakes of Blarney On Saturday 12th September 1903 ‘The Times’ in London published the following letter which it claimed to have received from a C.R. Warwick. The Times said that: – “We have received the following extraordinary communication. If there is any truth in “C.R. Warwick’s” claim to have committed this dastardly act, the local authorities in Ireland will, no doubt, give their attention to the matter.” Printed on official Midland Hotel, Manchester notepaper. It read as follows: Midland Hotel, Manchester, 10/9/1903. “Editor Times, London, England. “Sir, As a matter of record only I beg to state that I arrived from America on the Celtic about 10 days, and landed at Queenstown, Ireland, and went to Cork. At Blarney Castle I liberated 14 fairly good-sized rattlesnakes (one with six and two with four rattles), balance quite young. Time will tell if St. Patrick’s edict is a myth or not. Yours, for science, C.R. Warwick.” On September 14th The Cork Examiner printed: – In reference to the above, we are authorised by Sir George Colthurst, Blarney Castle, to state that he knows nothing of the above incident, and has no hesitation in describing it as a foolish hoax. The Midland Hotel is a grand hotel in Manchester, England. A Grade II* listed building it opened in September 1903. It was built by the Midland Railway Company at a cost of more than £1 million between 1898 and 1903 to serve Manchester Central railway station, for its rail services to London St. Pancras. The hotel had over 70,000 guests in its first year. A correspondent for The Kerry Sentinel of September 23, 1903 wrote the following: “Like many another visitor to Blarney last Sunday, I was snake-hunting. Wherever I turned on the historic grounds of Blarney Castle or in the castle itself. Snakes were the absorbing topic; wherever we turned – for I had several far-seeing friends with me – eyes were cast in all directions for some appearance of the reptiles, which were said to have been deposited, for all we knew, at any side of us. Some ladies on the grounds told us they had made an exhaustive search, and we then realised for the first time that people took The Times story seriously, for some people unquestionably were in the belief that there was some truth in the story. Our visit in reality was, to find out what was thought in the village of the joke, and turning to the venerable old caretaker employed on the grounds, we asked him all about the snakes. “Yerra don’t mind ‘em. Sure ‘tis gladiatoring they were when they said they left snakes here,” was the old man’s reply. And then he went on repeating to himself: “Snakes in Blarney, snakes in Blarney -what next? Begor, anything after that.” And we turned back to the city feeling that whoever else was sold over the snake story, the old caretaker wasn’t.” The Times has now realised that it was badly hoaxed on Saturday. The following paragraph appears: – “In respect of the letter which we published on Saturday, signed C.R. Warwick and dated from the Midland Hotel, Manchester, in which the writer said he had liberated fourteen rattle-snakes at Blarney Castle, Cork, we are informed by out Manchester correspondent that no visitor of that name has stayed at the hotel since its opening, and that it would be very easy for any individual to obtain a piece of hotel notepaper, although he were not staying there.” Mr. Warwick was not known at the Midland Hotel, nor could any tidings be heard of him. Ordinary people would have taken the precaution to write to Mr. Warwick’s hotel before inserting this facetious letter. It is not the first time that The Times has erred in this direction. The Times was absolutely outraged and blustered that the local authorities in Ireland would have to deal with this ‘dastardly act’: The papers that picked up the story were rather more relaxed than The Times had been. One noted that the very fact that the rattlesnakes were released at Blarney Castle suggests that C.R. Warwick was a joker. The Southern Star of Saturday September 26, 1903 had the following:- An English contemporary is growing anxious about the snakes which an American tripper, whom the papers have not able to locate says he let loose in Blarney a few days ago. Then he quoted: – “Is there something in the Blarney rattlesnake story after all, or are some Irish newspaper correspondents engaged in the popular pastime of ‘making yer flesh creep?’ At all events, a correspondent, writing to the ‘Irish Daily Independent’ from Coachford, in the Blarney district, seems to take the story quite seriously, and declares that something like a panic is being created by the statements in circulation in the neighbourhood: some of the statements, he says, being ’amply authenticated.’ “This spreader of evil tidings, to whose story considerable prominence is given, goes into thus: “Two respectable farmer’s wives, returning home from Dripsey on Saturday, were horrified to observe what they describe a ‘a long, black, twisting thing’ hissing at them inside a ditch off the road; and some of the children from the Kilmurry School were followed by a similar object, and reached home half-dead from fright. A party of cattle dealers returning from the fair of Cloyne are still more distinct in their description of the long, black snakes which came writhing after them; and from Donoughmore to Carrigrohane rumours of the same painful character are heard on all sides.” “The statement as to cattle-dealers returning from an Irish fair seeing snakes may arouse suspicion; but even if the account quoted be an invention, there can be no doubt as to the effect which these circumstantial stories must have on the minds of a simple peasantry, who are very ready to believe anything they see in print. Mr. ‘Warwick’ may have been giving rein to his own peculiar kind of humour when he sent his story to ‘The Times’; but it seems quite clear enough from what we have quoted that mischief has been done, joke or no joke.” The correspondent also stated that panic may cause some exaggeration is. Of course, obvious; but at the same time, the dispersion of “fourteen fairly good-sized” rattlers at Blarney would account for the appearance of one or more of these terrors in a good many of the places where they stated to have been seen.” However that may be, feeling here runs very high, and there are many who go so far as to agree with the “Freeman” which pointedly says that whoever the perpetrator is “he deserves to be tied up in a sack with his own rattlesnakes.” We would advise our able contemporary not to get into a state of nervous prostration in the seclusion of its London home over the “simplicity” of the Irish peasants or the Blarney snakes, and we can solemnly assure them that the simple Irish peasants are not so simple as to believe everything they see in print. The Cork Examiner Newspaper of Monday October 5th, 1903 reported: The tale of the Blarney snakes seems to be arousing considerable excitement in the States. Letters are published in the principal papers on the subject. The following, signed “American” has been addressed to the “Philadelphia Ledger”: – “The statement of ‘C.R. Warwick,’ in the ‘Public Ledger’ of the 12th inst., that he liberated fourteen rattlesnakes in Ireland, may be a hoax; yet it may be true. If the former, the man should be punished for uttering a false and alarming statement; if the latter, then his punishment should be very severe indeed, for surely it is a crime to infest a land heretofore free with such a deadly kind of reptile as is the rattlesnake. Our Government, as well as that of Great Britain, should see that due punishment is meted out; and moreover, should earnestly endeavour to prevent repetition of such criminal practice.” Australian newspaper, The North Queensland Register of Monday 9th November 1903 noted on page 24 that: “The Residents of the Blarney District are much perturbed. Farmer’s wives, school children and even cattle drovers have been terrified by noises in shrubberies and have rushed home in a pitiable state of fright.”

The December Illustrated Lecture is on Thursday 7th December 2017 at 8.00 p.m. in Scoil Mhuire Gan Smál (Blarney Secondary School) when Mr. John Mulcahy of the Blarney and District Historical Society tells us about the ‘Siege of Cork 1690’. Everybody Welcome.