The Lake County Blarney Stone
by euhal allen
|part 1 of 3|
Just recently I had the pleasure of sitting down with my old friend, Sean Riley O’Halihan, and listen to him talk about his Lake County days. (Having spent some years in the County myself, it was good to hear of his adventures.)
Well the conversation turned, as it often can with Sean, to the great search for the Lake County Blarney Stone.
Over and over again Sean swore that he did not break off a piece of the County stone for himself, but that it was “me own silver tongue, it was, that convinced that stone to shed a little piece to help me on my way through life.”
After some time swapping tales I said to Sean, “You should write all this down in a book and let the good people of Lake County know how the stone was really found and returned to its place on the Fairgrounds.”
“Well,” he replied, “’Tis right you are, euhal, me lad. But, it’s not good I am with these newfangled writing things they use now, and I think that ’tis you that had better do the writing while I confine meself to the talking.”
We argued back and forth for quite a while but in the end, Sean convinced me to take dictation and do the writing of his words.
It is our hope that this work will clear up some of the misconceptions people have about Sean Riley O’Halihan, the Lake County Blarney Stone and how it came to rest at the Fairgrounds.
The Early Times
Sean was born sometime in the early 1700’s and grew up in Kilarney County, Ireland, under the watchful eye of his “sainted” mother. He was a rambunctious boy, always bent on “knowing and going” and seeing new things, just like his father, Patrick.
There were many hours Sean spent lying on the floor listening to his father and the other men of the village speak of their adventures; their dealings with the “wee folk,” although Patrick always said he had never actually seen any of the “wee folk” and wasn’t sure they existed, but, as all the others swore they were real, he wouldn’t be doubting their word.
Still, Patrick’s tales of sailing every sea, climbing every mountain worth climbing and traipsing every continent worth traipsing while putting about a million and a half miles on his tired old feet inspired Sean to do the same. And, it did not bother him when his mother, Maggie O’Halihan would say, “Sure, and if you have done all that, it shouldn’t be too much to ask for you to get me a few potatoes out of me garden for our supper, would it now?”
And then Sean would jump up and tell his mother, “I’ll get those potatoes, Ma. ’Tis tired his feet must be after all that traipsing and climbing.”
And, so he would, and Maggie O’Halihan would just sigh and say to her husband, “Sad you’ll be when Sean goes off on the traipsing you have convinced him to do, for when he is gone it won’t be me going out to the garden and fetching those potatoes.”
And, true to her word, the day came when Sean was gone off into the world and his poor old father found himself either digging potatoes or starving, and wishing he had made his tales a little less inviting.
Sean, though, knowing that he had not the vast knowledge of the world his father had gained, thought it might be good to visit the Blarney Stone and see if kissing it would, at least, give him his father’s silver tongue. (Having seen his father talk his way out of many a problem that would have doomed any other man, he knew the good of such a tongue.) And so soon he was about 8 kilometers from County Cork, Ireland visiting Blarney Castle, and putting himself into position to kiss the stone.
First though, he talked to it, using all the skill he had learned from listening to his father, telling the stone how he was about to head out into the world, a young man with few skills, and needing help to make his way. Then, flattering the stone, he told it how much he needed his kiss of it to be a lasting one, since he had no idea of how he would do without its help.
Well, after about a four-hour talk on his needs of a blessing from the stone, he finally decided to kiss it, and so he did. And, by the skirts of his sainted mother, when he pulled back there was a small piece of the stone stuck to those very lips, and he felt a new confidence in the use of his tongue.
Carefully taking the tiny piece of the stone and putting it into his leather purse, he was soon on his way out into a wider world than he really knew was there. ’Twas not a fearsome thing to him, though, because he also knew that wherever he should go and whoever he should meet, he would have his tongue to rely on. And his tongue would have that wee piece of the Blarney Stone to give it the right things to say.
Being the adventuresome lad that he was, Sean decided to start his seeing of the world in America and got a position as cook on a sailing ship headed for that distant shore. It didn’t matter that all he knew how to cook was potatoes and all they had on board was salt pork and biscuits. Anything, he thought, that could be cooked could be cooked like you cooked potatoes.
Besides, when he served up those rations he would start that silver tongue going and telling tales so that the crew would just, listening to those tales, shovel that food down paying attention only to the winsome words coming out of Sean’s eloquent mouth.
There, in the middle of the voyage, was a bit of a storm coming up and the ship was in danger of going down when Sean began to talk to it, telling it tales of great ships, most of them Irish, of course, that had weathered many a storm by just hanging together. Sure and his silvery tongued words caressed the timbers of the ship and strengthened the very fibers of its being.
’Twas a good thing, too, for the crew itself became so lost in his words that they spent the whole storm sitting at his feet and listening to his tales while the ship struggled and fought itself out of the storm into a more favorable wind; the first, Sean tells us, true tale wind.
Aw, and the rest of the voyage being pretty quiet, the crew was soon in sight of the New World harbor it sought, and fine it was that it was so. Sean was just developing a bit of laryngitis and could not talk as much as was good for him, and the crew finally noticed that it had been eating boiled salt pork and biscuits, and though the boiling was not totally bad for the salt pork, it did take some of the sparkle off the taste of those biscuits.
Anchor down in the harbor, Sean found that he was glad his sainted mother had insisted that he learn to swim as a lad, since it seemed that the crew of the ship had a message to give him that he didn’t feel he had time to listen to. So, with his bag on his back, he swam to the shore, swallowing a bit of that seawater as he did. Naturally, the seawater, being as it is, salty, his throat was soon soothed and his silvery tongue able to give him new doors to open.
It wasn’t long before our Sean was making the circuit of the pubs and inns, for storytelling, not for drinking, mind you. ’Tis also true that, having learned to sip just a little, now and then, just to clear his throat, his skill at making the truth a bit weightier grew until there was nary a man in the colonies that could tell a tale with truths as big as Sean could.
Aye, and when someone, a skeptical type, you know, would call him on some little detail, Sean would just say, “I never lie, I just, sometimes, tell the truth about things that haven’t happened yet.” And, being that there was a level of sipping going on among the others in most of those places, everyone suffering from somewhat the same habit, would say, “Aye, ’Tis so! ’Tis so!”
Then with that, Sean would start up again spreading his, and his father’s, stories out for all to see. Then he would listen to the stories of others with the same willingness to believe that they had given him. And that was the problem. All those stories just made Sean hunger for a bit of traipsing so he could see for himself the wonders that those others proclaimed.
Sitting in the guest room at the country house he was visiting, Sean, knowing that if he tried to explain to his hosts that he was leaving and why, they would make him feel guilty as to how they would no longer have such entertaining evenings and then would make him stay. That he could not do. His heart told him that he just had to meet with new people and new adventures. He knew, as does every good storyteller, that if he did not leave his stories would grow old and his welcome would become less.
No, he needed to get out and walk the trails of this vast continent and feel the wind in the mountain passes and the waters of its lakes. He wanted to know, not just believe, that there existed a great river that almost split the continent in two; that there were mountains so high and rugged that it tested all that a man had in him to climb them. Most of all, he wanted to see the fabled herds of buffalo that were said to fill the land in places a day’s ride from end to end.
Having decided to go, and knowing that he needed to thank his hosts profusely, he thought and thought on the best way to make his leaving possible and painless as possible. Pouring his Irish tongue into his very fingers, he sat down to write his thanks and his farewell into a letter to his hosts;
“Dear George and Martha...”
Standing near the top of the mountains, on the western side of a pass through the Appalachians, Sean reveled in the unbelievable sight that spread out before him. There below, the colors in the valleys shown in the morning sunlight with the glory of God’s own paintbrush. Never had Sean seen such widespread beauty and, never had he known such an overwhelming feeling of peace.
Sadly, this reverential moment was interrupted by a swishing sound, followed by a loud thunk as an arrow passed just in front of his face and struck into the tree beside him. “Perhaps,” he thought, “it is time to go!”
And go he didn’t, since he found himself surround by a war party of a dozen or more Indians. For the first time in his short life, Sean thought that it was hardly possible that the Irish tongue he possessed could save him, since it could not wrap itself around any of the words the warriors were speaking.
Then the leader of the warriors came over to Sean and, after hitting him almost as hard as his father, Patrick, did when he was naughty, said to Sean, “You people don’t really belong here. You know that, don’t you?”
Detecting a slight Virginian accent in the chief’s English, Sean immediately said, “I was a told by my friends at Mt. Vernon that if I should just climb to the top of this pass, I would see the most beautiful land in the world. Now that I have seen it I must concede...”
“Oh,” replied the warrior chief, “do you know George and Martha?” and at Sean’s nod added, “We helped him when he was fighting the French. He is a great whist player, you know.
“Oh, it is too bad we have to burn you at the stake, but things have been a bit dicey between us and the colonies lately and we just can’t have you English wandering about like you do.”
Now, Sean Riley O’Halihan, being Irish, was indeed blessed with an Irish temper; one, it must be mentioned, that he tried to control. But, to be called English was more than he could stand and though he wasn’t afraid of dying, theoretically, no two dozen Indians were ever going to make him die English. (So, for those of a more sensitive soul, we will not describe what happened next.)
After singlehandedly defeating all those warriors he complimented them on their courage and made plain to them the disaster that could be caused by intimating that any man of Irish blood would ever be, let alone die, English. Then he gave whatever first aid that he could and headed off into the beautiful land below.
A strange thing now began to happen; at least it was a bit strange to Sean; so strange that even though it was happening, and had been happening for some time, it took Sean a good deal of time to figure out just what was happening. In many ways it was like the dawn sneaking up on one while they were still drowsy. One knows something is happening but he never really realizes what has happened until the Sun is up and smiling down upon the day.
At first, because he was slowly emptying his pack of his food supplies, and refilling it when he found thing that he could dry and preserve, the weight of his pack varied enough that he never really thought about the heft of it. But as he got into harder and harder country, and found less and less to preserve, it seemed that the pack did not lose as much weight as it should have as he depleted his supplies.
Then he noticed, all at once it seems, that he was carrying a rather large rock in the bottom of his pack, and wondering how it got there was about to toss it away when something told him not to. Looking at the rock carefully he was struck by the shape and color of the stone. “Faith,” he said, “by the skirts of me own sainted mother, ’Tis the same shape and color as that wee sliver of Blarney Stone had that stuck to me very own lips back in Ireland!”
Many was the time since that young lad had left his motherland, that he had taken the stone out and carefully examined every trace of color and every curve and spot on it. And now, there in his hands was that same pattern of color and shape, but only a hundred times larger. ’Twas almost as if that stone was determined to become something to fit into this grand new land it was now abiding in.
Now Sean knew that he had only so long before he would have to stop his traveling in this new land, for when the stone got too big to carry he would have to settle down or lose the refresher of his marvelous silver tongue.
So, having grown up in Ireland and never seen real mountains until he saw the Appalachians, Sean decided that if he was ever to see those fabled buffalo and those gigantic mountains in the west he would have to hurry. The growth of the stone in his pack would not allow more than three or four years to wander and there was, by all the stories, a great deal of walking ahead on him.
And, he would have made time to see it all more thoroughly except that he met Erin. In Sean’s own words, this is what happened:
“Earlier, when I was coming across what was to become Kansas, I picked up a wee baby bunny for a pet. Erin I called him, and a fine pet that he was too. Good company he was for me on me journey all the way out to the County and in appreciation I always fed him from me own table I did. Every now and then, to keep him warm mind you, I gave him a wee sip of me mother's elixir.
Copyright © 2008 by euhal allen