Ireland’s TOP 10 castles: Cahir Castle

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By Peter Dlhopolec / March 10, 2020
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The Tudors and Excalibur were filmed at the castle.

Cahir Castle is one of the best-preserved Irish fortresses. It oversees a small town with its park, which seems to be larger than this municipality in fact.

The castle lies on a river island, and it is the River Suir that runs across the town of Cahir. The medieval fortress may not be so popular as its neighbour, the Rock of Cashel in County Tipperary, but it is still worth visiting for its audio-visual show and impressive structure.

Also, Cahir Castle is a place where TV series The Tudors and the 1981 film Excalibur were filmed. The 1975 Oscar-winning drama Barry Lyndon, directed by Stanley Kubrick, was shot at the castle as well.

The Butlers

Prior to this defensive castle, another stone fort or cathair stood on the site of Cahir Castle. It was known as Cathair Dún Iascaigh, which means a fortress of the fishery built on a rock. This fort had been erected here before the arrival of Christianity.

READ ALSO: A history of Cahir

Most sources claim Cahir Castle was built by Philip of Worcester, and later his nephew William, as early as in the 13th century. The fortress was granted to James Butler a century later, in 1375, and it remained in the hands of the family for 600 years.

The Butler Family came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman invasion in the 12th century. Their original name was Fitzwalter. But when Theobald Fitzwalter became the Chief Butler of Ireland, meaning his role was to prepare as much food and drink as possible upon an English king’s visit, the family became wealthy and politically powerful in Ireland. Their growing power earned them also the title of Earls of Ormond.

In the 14th century, when the castle in the Barony of Cahir was eventually granted to James Butler, the castle was expanded under his ownership. Nonetheless, most of its current appearance comes from the 15th and 16th centuries when further works were carried out and the castle was remodelled. Above the castle gate, visitors can see The Butlers’ coat of arms comprising of goblets, Jerusalem crosses, and a crucifix, which relates to Irish Catholicism.

A voluntary surrender

Just like other castles, Cahir Castle faced sieges as well. The first one occurred in 1599; a cannon ball embedded in the castle walls can be still seen on the site as a reminder of this historical period. The siege took place during a rebellion against Queen Elisabeth I’s reign. She sent Robert Devereaux, Earl of Essex, to take over not only Cahir Castle but also fight Hugh O’Neill, Earl of Tyrone.

Image: Contemporary view of the 1599 Siege (Pacata Hibernia)

His campaign turned out unsuccessful. He failed to defeat O’Neill but managed to help the Earl of Ormond, a brother to James Butler, storm Cahir Castle after a three-day siege. While Butler supported Irish Catholics, his brother stood by the side of the Queen. Th victory was of little value, though. Devereaux was later beheaded after being found guilty of treason.

The castle was besieged again in 1650 by Oliver Cromwell, who was known for his reputation of a ruthless man. Cahir Castle, however, surrendered without any shot being fired after Cromwell tabled an offer of not attacking the stronghold on the condition of a voluntary yielding.

The Swiss Cottage

Cahir Castle underwent reconstructions also in the 19th century. The castle’s last owner, Lord Cahir, died in 1961 and the castle ended up in the hands of the state.

Visitors to the castle may decide to set out on a short walk alongside the river that will lead them up to the Swiss Cottage from 1810. It was built by Richard Butler. An Augustinian priory and St. Paul’s Church are located in the town too.

Image: The Swiss Cottage (Facebook)

The castle is easily accessible by Bus Éireann, which operates routes from Dublin to Cork (X8) and from Galway to Clifden (419). Opening hours can be found here.

Cahir Castle is closed to the public from 18 March to 3 April 2020.

About the author

Peter Dlhopolec


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