Times past with Brian Gabriel

TRAGIC DEATH WHILE KISSING BLARNEY STONE IN 1932 On Sunday morning, 24th July, 1932, at 11.15 a m, a party of four young men left Charleville by lorry for a day’s outing. They were James and Daniel Burke of Railway Road with David Moloney and Patrick O’Donoghue. They firstly visited a brother of the Burkes in Fermoy and then proceeded to Blarney, where the two Burkes and O’Donoghue climbed to the top of Blarney Castle to kiss the Blarney Stone. There they watched a man kissing the stone, whose name was M’Tighue or McCoy, depending on which of Monday’s newspaper accounts you read. This man caught hold of the bars in the aperture in the battlements and, facing the stone, lowered his legs through the aperture and rested his feet on a ledge, which was some distance down. He kissed the stone and then raised himself up. Daniel Burke then asked the caretaker the proper way of kissing the stone. He was told the right way was to lie on the ground on your back, catch hold of the bars at either side of the aperture, get someone to hold your legs and bend back and kiss the stone. Patrick O’Donoghue followed this procedure and succeeded in kissing the stone without any trouble. James Burke was next and turning his back to the stone attempted to kiss the stone while holding the bars at the sides of the aperture. His legs were just on the place where people usually lay when bending back to kiss the stone. He instructed both his brother and O’Donoghue not to hold his legs. When bending back, his legs slipped and swung into the aperture, his hands lost their grip on the bars and he fell through the aperture to the ground, hitting a tree as he fell. He was, as would be expected from a fall from such a height, very seriously injured and, despite prompt assistance, both medical and spiritual, he died within 15 minutes without regaining consciousness. Dr. D. Long and Rev. Fr. Thornhill, C.C., Blarney had both responded very rapidly to news of the tragedy. His body was removed to Blarney Courthouse, where an inquest was held on the following day. Newspaper Coverage The accident was widely reported in Irish newspapers. It merited a couple of lines in both the Nenagh Guardian and the Connacht Tribune on the following Saturday, while some paragraphs were devoted to the story in the Donegal News, the Kerryman, the Irish Independent, the Irish Times and the Fermanagh Herald. The Cork Examiner reported on the story on Monday with detailed coverage of the inquest on Tuesday, while the Limerick Leader had extensive coverage of the accident, inquest and the Charleville scene and funeral on the following Saturday. Inquest Evidence The Cork Examiner of Tuesday, 26th of July, 1932 reported in detail on the inquest held before Coroner J. J. Horgan on Monday morning, where evidence was heard from a number of witnesses. Daniel Burke stated that the body, which he had seen, was that of his 19 year old brother, James, who was a miller’s apprentice in Charleville. He outlined the events of the previous day as summarised above. The man, who had kissed the stone in an unorthodox fashion before Patrick O’Donoghue, was identified as McCoy. He had gripped the bars, facing the stone, put his legs down into the aperture and rested his feet on a ledge, which was some distance down. Having kissed the stone, he “highered” himself up out of the opening. O’Donoghue then kissed the stone in the proper manner but the deceased decided to hold the bars, without anyone holding his feet, which were on the floor level. He had his back to the stone, unlike McCoy, who had faced it. As indicated above, his feet slipped, his grip on the bars was broken and he fell through the opening. In reply to the Coroner, he said both himself and O’Donoghue warned deceased not to kiss the stone in this manner. Patrick O’Donoghue, Ballysally, Charleville, said he was with deceased and the last witness when they went to the Castle. Deceased was a temperate man and did not take any intoxicants. Witness then went on to describe how he (witness) kissed the stone in the manner in which the Caretaker told him. His friends held his legs and he performed the operation without mishap. He (witness) also saw the man McCoy kiss the stone in the manner described by the previous witness, but when deceased advanced to the aperture, he turned his back to the bars and stone and held the bars backwards. Nobody was holding deceased’s legs when he bent back to kiss the stone. Continuing, witness said he did not actually see the accident happening, but heard the noise, and later saw deceased lying unconscious on the Castle Grounds. James Harrington said that he was one of the officials on the Castle grounds, being gamekeeper and general supervisor. He was sometimes asked to show parties the correct method of kissing the Blarney Stone. To the Coroner – If the correct procedure was carried out there was no danger to anyone, and to the best of his knowledge no fatal accident had ever occurred to a person kissing the stone. Witness was on the top of the castle on the evening of Sunday, 24th inst., and saw O’Donoghue kiss the stone in the usual fashion. Previous to that be had not seen McCoy kiss the stone, as other witnesses had described. If he had seen him, he would have prevented him (McCoy) from doing so. Witness turned his back after O’Donoghue had finished the kissing operation and he still had his back turned when he heard a voice, which he took to be McCoy’s, shout, “Do it like me.” This was shouted twice, and witness turned around and saw deceased hanging on to the bars, his legs being on the flags at the edge of the aperture. Witness ran towards deceased and shouted to him to stop, but before witness could reach deceased, the boy’s feet left the flags and his hands let go their grasp on the bars, with the result that deceased fell through the aperture. Recalled at a later stage of the proceedings, Harrington said he was certain it was McCoy’s voice which shouted “Do it like me.” Even if deceased had not fallen through the aperture, he could not possibly have kissed the Stone from the position in which he was. It was not a specific part of witness’s duty to help people to kiss the Stone. Guard Doherty, of Union Quay Barracks, stated that he was in Blarney on Sunday evening for recreation purposes. He was sitting at the foot of the Castle on a raised part of the foundations, which surrounds the Castle. There was a tree near at hand and he suddenly heard a crashing in the branches and looked up. He saw an object falling through the branches, but so fast was it coming down that he could not discern what it was until the object was almost on the ground. The body crashed to the ground on its back and bounced about six inches into the air, then fell back and rolled on its left side. He rushed to the body and feared that life was already extinct, but on feeling the pulse, he found that it was beating faintly. A crowd then collected, and the priest and doctor arrived on the scene. To Supt. Rochford – There was no coat on the body. Deceased was in his shirt sleeves. Sergt. Harney, Blarney Garda Station, supplied the measurements of the Castle. There was a distance of 76½ feet between the ground and the point where people lay down to kiss the Stone. The aperture was lft. l0in. in breadth and 3ft. 4in. in length. The bars, which people held when kissing the stone, were 2ft. 4in. apart. The ledge, on which McCoy had rested his feet, was 6ft. 3in. from where people lay down when kissing the stone. To the Coroner – It was not common for people to do as McCoy had done. The witness, Harrington, recalled, said that he had stopped several people from attempting to kiss the Stone in this manner. Questioned by the Coroner, Harrington said that at one time there was a grille at the end of the aperture to protect people from falling to the ground, but people had availed of this to stand upon whilst chipping pieces off the stone, and, consequently, the grille was removed. It would seem that the Health and Safety mantra had not yet made its appearance, or its intent been appreciated, in 1932.

The above excerpt was taken from a much larger article titled ‘Tragic Death While Kissing the Blarney Stone in 1932’ by Chris Synnott and published in Issue No 10 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal.

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