Straight from the (Irish) Bull’s Mouth:
A Letter from Lord Blarney to Elizabeth I

An historical monograph. No, really!

Editors’ note: Upon learning of our theme for this month, Mr. Daley contacted us and requested that we publish the following essay in its entirety. Due to time constraints, we were unable to fully vet Mr. Daley’s historical claims, but he assures us that his sources are trustworthy and that, by the way, our site is the finest literary magazine on the Internet.

The word “blarney” originated in the late 16th century to denote empty flattery or pleasant but ultimately meaningless conversation. As the story goes, the term was coined by Queen Elizabeth herself, when one of her Irish noblemen would not swear his unequivocal allegiance. The Chief of Muskerry, Cormac Tiege McCarthy — better know to the world as Lord Blarney — was able to evade the issue by writing the queen endless letters of effusive geniality, while consistently avoiding any firm promises or concrete statements of loyalty. Thus, Blarney was able to retain his autonomy for many years. Eventually, Elizabeth grew frustrated and, on delivery of one such letter, was said to have cried out:

“Enough! This is nothing but Blarney! For, ’pon my life, methinks the more and more this Irishman doth speak, the less he doth say.”

Thus, with a royal pedigree, the word entered our lexicon and has remained there ever since.

By way of illustration, I have here transcribed one of Lord Blarney’s original letters to the Queen dating from March 6, 1587. The spelling has been altered to conform with modern standardization, but the words are his own.

— LTD, March 2009

To her Sovereign Majesty,
And Most Royal Highness,
Queen Elizabeth, First of that Name,
Regent of England, Ireland, Etc.


By way of Cormac Tiege McCarthy,
Chief of the Muskerry,
Lord Blarney, Etc.

Your most Royal, and Excellent, and Wise, Goodly, Fair, and most Virtuous Majesty,


Allow me to wish all health and good fortune unto your most Royal Majesty, and, before proceeding to the formal business of my letter — which is the very matter of my letter, as well as being the cause of my having occasion to write it — permit me also to express that I hope your Royal Highness is feeling well, and also to state, emphatically, and in no uncertain language, that I desire, sincerely, that you may find your Royal Person in a state of wellness and of health at the time of your reading this letter. For indeed, I would to make it known to you here, and at this point, that your health is of great concern to me — as who, being a loyal subject and (I hope I may be permitted to say) a friend unto your Majesty, could not say so? I remark upon this point of your Majesty’s health because it has been, as your Majesty knows, extremely damp of late, and I would be greatly troubled, indeed gravely troubled — as what Christian soul could not be — to hear that your Majesty had been afflicted with a chill, or cough, or any other form of ailment as pertaining to the recent dampness of which, as I say, your Highness has no doubt been aware.

But, to the purpose. Majesty, my purpose is this: I have lately received messengers from your Majesty, here, at my estates, at Blarney Castle, as dispatched from your Royal Palaces, in England. And, so far as I could glean from them, it was the purpose of these messengers — sent from your Majesty upon occasion of your Royal pleasure — to deliver such messages as you would have communicated from your Royal Self unto my own self. And with that same purpose in mind they have arrived here, at my estates, and I, upon hearing of their arrival, as I say, received them, and admitted them with such respect and dignities of honor and of office as befit such messengers as coming from your Royal Majesty — which is to say, greatly deserving of very estimable and great respect and dignities indeed, being as representatives from your own great and estimable person, very worthy to be respected, and myself being, as your Majesty is, I hope, aware, a very tremendously great admirer of yours, indeed.

These messengers, as I say, having been thus received, brought with them, as no doubt your Majesty must be aware — having sent them yourself to relate as much to me on their arrival — such messages to the effect that I have been invited by your Royal Majesty to attend the Royal Dog Show at Hereford this next month, and this message being delivered by them, I understood it to be the information which they were to have related to me on behalf of your own Royal Highness to the effect of my having been invited. And it is upon that theme that I have written this letter in reply to your Majesty, as any mannerly Christian ought, upon receipt of such an invitation. This invitation, I may tell your Majesty, brought me no end of delight, and I should like to professes my utmost and heartfelt gratitude to have been considered, by your Majesty, worthy to be in attendance on such an occasion and, thus, present with your Majesty and amongst your Majesty’s honored and esteemed guests, having sufficiently pleased your Majesty to such a degree as to have been invited. It is an honor which I would consider myself very greatly esteemed, indeed highly privileged, to be worthy of, knowing, as I do, what a very great honor it is. Moreover, since I will proudly admit (I may say “confide”) to your Majesty that I am, myself, personally, very much a “dog (as they say) person”, thus, the invitation is, as your Majesty may well imagine, very much more than doubly a delight to me, being, as it is, congenial to my own nature, regarding my own affinity for the canines, which is to say “dogs” — their exhibition being the main purpose of the event to which your Majesty has seen fit to invite me, and very grateful I am, indeed. Believe me, Majesty, when I say that it touches me very deeply. I would hope your Majesty will understand that I speak truthfully when I say that I am, indeed, very deeply touched.

However, since I would be loath to disappoint your Majesty by professing my firm assurance that I will be there at the appointed time and place, and them subsequently offend your Majesty if, suddenly, it should no longer appear possible for me to make the journey — journeys, as your Majesty rightly knows, being very unpredictable things — I cannot, your Majesty, at this time, and with all judiciousness, say that I fully suspect myself of being able to promise that I will, indeed, be present at the event, which (as I say) would be of the utmost delight and honor to me to attend. At the same time, I still hope that my attendance is within the realm of possibility, and it is my firm intention, to let your Majesty know, either way, as soon as I am able to so.

Hoping this information reaches you in a timely manner,

Your servant, Etc.

Lord Blarney

End Note:

Though Blarney was able to evade the queen’s anger for many years by avoiding a flat refusal in this way, he was, I regret to report, eventually stabbed to death with a quill pen by his own private secretary. That such a man should, at the height of his abilities, be thus prevented from practicing his one great gift in this world is, I’m sure we must all agree, a tragedy not easily expressed in words.

Article © 2009 by Liam Thomas Daley