Staff at the Cork tourist attraction – which attracted 338,000 visitors last year – were shocked when gardaí arrived at the estate last Friday and confiscated another crowd puller – the cannabis sativa and opium plants which were planted in the castle’s prized Poison Garden earlier this year.
Gardaí ordered the gardening staff to dig up both species and removed the plants to a local Garda station, warning the castle’s owner, Sir Charles Colthurst, that he could have been potentially charged under the Misuse of Drugs Act.
He said he was “more than a little taken aback” by the turn of events.
“We let the gardaí know early in the year that we wanted to apply for a licence to grow the plant and we didn’t hear much back from the gardaí until they suddenly arrived on Friday and told me that I was committing a crime.
“What annoys me is that there is poisonous plants like ragworth and yews on every public highway and nothing is done. I really felt as if we were being made scapegoats,” he said.
“Tourists, and especially children, love the Poison Garden, especially having it adjacent to a medieval castle.
“We got the idea of the poison garden from the Kirstenbosch Gardens in Cape Town, where the poison garden is mainly used as an educational facility. There is also a poison garden at Alnwick Castle where the Harry Potter movies were filmed and schools visit it regularly.”
According to the castle owner, the opium and cannabis plants – which are officially deemed poisonous due to side effects – were put in cages “at vast expense” so they couldn’t be accessed by passers-by.
Superintendent Con Cadogan said he wouldn’t comment on the raid at the castle but said they had sought legal direction on the castle’s decision to sow the plant.
It’s understood however that licences to grow cannabis can be granted in this country if a horticulturist can justify their decision. However, the licences are notoriously hard to acquire.
Staff at Blarney Castle met with senior gardaí over six months ago to discuss their intention to develop a poisonous garden on the grounds of the castle.
A couple of months after that meeting, a number of gardaí were dispatched to the castle to discuss the proposed gardening programme. However, at that stage the plants were in the ground.
A report detailing what was planted at the Blarney Castle Poison Garden was then sent to gardaí by gardening staff and a copy was also forwarded to the Department of Agriculture.