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WATERFORD AND BLARNEY CASTLE

January 22, 2013

WATERFORD AND BLARNEY CASTLE

By: Judge John L. Kiener

There is never a stone that whoever kisses, Oh! He never misses to grow eloquent ’tis he may… become a member of parliament. – Francis Sylvester Mahony

You should not go to Ireland and fail to kiss the Blarney Stone. Our trip to the Emerald Isle included such a visit along with a trip to see how Waterford Crystal is manufactured. For over 200 years, world statesmen, literary giants, and legends of the silver screen have joined the millions of pilgrims climbing the steps to kiss the Blarney Stone and gain the gift of eloquence. The Irish say its powers are unquestioned but the story still creates debate.

Once upon a time, visitors had to be held by the ankles and lowered head first over the battlements in order to kiss the Blarney Stone. Today, the proprietors are rather more cautious of the safety of their visitors. The Stone itself is still set in the wall below the battlements. To kiss it, one has to lean backwards (holding on to an iron railing) from the parapet walk. The position taken to kiss the stone is so ridiculous that no photographs of our experience are included in today’s Herald & Tribune. However, we both have pictures of our “kissing the Blarney Stone” in the family photo album. The prize, according to Irish lore, is that a person who has once kissed the stone will be given the “gift of eloquence.”

I followed Belinda up the narrow stairway of Blarney Castle to reach the top where the stone is located. I decided if she could make it, I would also. The Blarney Castle we visited is the third to have been erected on this site. The first building in the tenth century was a wooden structure. Around 1210 A.D. this was replaced by a stone structure which had the entrance some twenty feet above the ground on the north face. In 1446 the third castle was built by Dermot McCarthy, King of Munster, which still remains standing.

The lower walls are fifteen feet, built with an angle tower by the McCarthys of Muskerry. It was subsequently occupied at one time by Cormac McCarthy, King of Munster, who is said to have supplied four thousand men from Munster to supplement the forces of Robert the Bruce at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314. Legend has it that the latter king gave half of the Stone of Scone to McCarthy in gratitude. This stone, now known as the Blarney Stone, was incorporated in the battlements where it can now be kissed.

The Earl of Leicester was commanded by Queen Elizabeth I to take possession of the castle. Whenever he endeavored to negotiate the matter, McCarthy always suggested a banquet or some other form of delay, so that when the queen asked for progress reports a long missive was sent, at the end of which the castle remained untaken. The queen was said to be so irritated that she remarked that the earl’s reports were all “Blarney.”

The castle was eventually occupied by Cromwell’s General, Lord Broghill. The general placed a cannon on Card Hill opposite and above the lake below the present mansion or new castle. The gun succeeded in breaking the tower walls. However, when his men entered the keep, Broghill found the main garrison had fled by the underground caves situated below the battlements known as the Badgers Caves. From the caves, everyone escaped to Kerry, Cork, or out to the nearby lake, along with all the treasures in the castle. The castle’s reputed treasure drove the next owner of the estate to try to drain the lake, where a gold plate from the treasury was supposed to have been thrown. This was obviously false and he lost his entire fortune in the search, causing his estate to be were forfeited.

The estate was forfeited by Donogh McCarthy, 4th Earl of Clancarthy, who supported James II in the Williamite Wars. The property passed to the Hollow Sword Blade Company who subsequently sold it to Sir James St. John Jefferyes, Governor of Cork in 1688.

The grounds of Blarney Castle are lush and green. The day we toured it, the weather was overcast. However, it did not begin to mist until after we had boarded the bus headed for our hotel in Killarney where we would stay the next two days.

LUNCH AT KILKENNY

Prior to our arrival at Blarney Castle, we visited KilkennyCastle and ate lunch. The castle in Kilkenny, Ireland was built in 1195 by William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke to control a fording-point of the River Nore and the junction of several important roadways. It was a symbol of Norman occupation. In its original thirteenth-century condition, the castle would have formed an important element of the defenses of the town with four large circular corner towers and a massive ditch, part of which can still be seen today. The property was transferred to the people of Kilkenny in 1967. The castle and grounds are now managed by the Office of Public Works.

We walked through the gardens and parkland adjoining the castle that are open to the public. Awards and conferring ceremonies of the graduates of “Kilkenny Campus” of the NationalUniversity of Ireland have been held at the site since 2002. We were told to eat dessert at the tourist center across from the castle. We sampled the pastries which were delicious.

Kilkenny is a medieval city. The borough has a population of 8,711. However the majority of the community’s population lives outside the borough’s boundary. The 2011 Irish Census gives the total population of the borough and environs as 24,423.

Our overnight stay on Monday night was in WaterfordCity. It was dark by the time we arrived. However, we did have time to walk around the town and view the Christmas decorations. That evening the travel company hosted all of us to dinner at Dooley’s Hotel. It was an occasion to interact with our fellow travelers while enjoying Irish dining.

TOUR OF WATERFORD

After an “Irish breakfast” of sausage, eggs, fruit and “beans,” we left Dooley’s shortly before 9 a.m. on Tuesday to visit the Waterford Crystal Showroom and Factory. WaterfordCrystal is a world leader in the manufacture of crystal. It is named for the City of Waterford, Ireland in which we stayed overnight.

Waterford Crystal is owned by WWRD Holdings Ltd, a luxury goods group which also owns and operates the Wedgwood and Royal Doulton china brands. Waterford City has been the home of Waterford Crystal since 1783. In January 2009 its Waterford base was closed down due to the bankruptcy of the Wedgwood Group.

After several difficulties and takeovers, it re-emerged later that year. In June 2010, Waterford Crystal relocated almost back to its original roots, on The Mall in Waterford City. This new location, which was the site of our tour, is now home to a manufacturing facility that melts over 750 tons of crystal a year.

This new facility offers visitors the opportunity to take guided tours of the factory and also offers a retail store showcasing the world’s largest collection of Waterford Crystal. The crystal business was originally founded in the city by George and William Penrose. The business produced extremely fine flint glass that became world-renowned.

The Penrose Company closed in 1851. In 1947, Czech immigrant Charles Bacik, grandfather of Irish senator Ivana Bacik established a glass works in the city, due to the superb reputation of the original glassware. The company started operations in a depressed Ireland that had just recently become a separate nation.

By the early 1950s the firm had been taken over as a subsidiary of the Irish Glass Bottle Company, owned by Joseph McGrath, Richard Duggan and Spencer Freeman of the Irish Sweepstakes, heavy investors in Irish business at that time.

We looked at and purchased items in the Waterford showroom. I did not want to attempt to carry crystal back to the U.S. in our suitcases. The sales personnel said they would mail our items. The packages sent from Waterford arrived within 10 days after our return to East Tennessee. The factory tour was most interesting and educational.

In 1966 Waterford‘s chandeliers were installed in Westminster Abbey for the 900th anniversary of the dedication of the abbey after Christoper Hildyard, a minor canon of the abbey for 45 years, convinced the Guinness family to pay for them.

The firm’s chandeliers hang in other notable buildings, such as Windsor Castle, and the Kennedy Center, Washington, D.C. Waterford Crystal made the 2,668 crystals for the famous New Year’s Eve Ball that is dropped each year in New York City’s Times Square. The ball is an 11,875 pound geodesic orb, 12 foot in diameter and is lit by 32,256 LEDs.

Sporting trophies are also crafted by Waterford,such as the Masters Series crystal shield trophies that are awarded to the winner of each of the nine men’s professional tennis Masters Series tournaments, the National Championship Trophy that is awarded to the United States college football team which finishes the season at the top of the Coaches Poll, and a representation of the Ashes urn that is presented to the winners of the Test cricket series between England and Australia. Also crafted by Waterford are the winning trophies for the French and German Grand Prix in Formula One auto racing, a bat and ball trophy presented at the final game at Yankee Stadium to Derek Jeter and a glass tennis racket for Boris Becker. They also design the trophies for the People’s Choice Television Awards.

TOURING BY BUS

The stop at Waterford preceding Kilkenny and BlarneyCastles gave passengers on our touring bus an insight into both “old” and “new” Ireland. It also highlighted the differences between “castles” and “palaces.” A palace is usually a large, stately residence of an important official or king. Private individuals who have acquired vast wealth also built palaces to display the magnitude of their power and wealth. A castle is an entirely different structure as we discovered in Ireland. The castle is a large fortified building or set of buildings usually the residence of a nobleman or large estate holder. They are designed for protection from an invading force.

I don’t think I had visited a castle designed to protect a ruling lord or family before our Irish visit. Europe and the Mediterranean countries are dotted with palaces. As our guide Grainne O’Malley explained: “The Irish have been fighting with the English or with each other for more than 800 years.” There was a need in Ireland for “safe” structures for noblemen and large landowners. The Irish landscape has numerous “ruins” of castles, especially from the period of English domination. Normans and Vikings also raided the Emerald Isle making settlements designed for protection of the local population a must.

The castles we visited while large had narrow passageways and were extremely dark. In a later article I will write about a restored castle and village that conveyed a sense of life in Medieval Ireland. It was my impression that no matter what “class” you were a member of in society, life was dangerous and difficult.

The trip to Waterford exposed us to “new” Ireland, a part of the world that has been a country only since 1922. Joining the European Union seems to have benefited Ireland. A series of EU loans has enabled the country to invest in a number of infrastructure improvements. I was impressed with the series of four-lane highways our bus traveled that were the equivalent of Interstate highways in the United States, complete with rest stops. Tourists need not worry about not discovering “old” Ireland, however. There are still quaint country villages containing houses with thatched roofs and narrow roads with rock fences on each side.

Riding on a bus gives tourists a sense of the countryside. The trips are delightful unless you have several fellow passengers who do not have a sense of time and are continually late. I have been on at least one tour where passengers were left, that is they literally “missed the boat” when they failed to show up portside. The Irish trip was fun. Our group was on time and jovial.

The travel agency we were with “rotated” seat assignments. This gave all passengers an opportunity to sit in front and enjoy the views out the large front bus windows. The agency also paid for several group dinners and breakfasts were always provided at the hotels in which we stayed each night.

Our next destinations would take us to Killarney. The mountains surrounding the city reminded me of the geography of East Tennessee.

TO BE CONTINUED

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