A history of Cahir: the delightfully sleepy little town you’ve probably never heard about – but should
To most, Cahir is a small, sleepy little town in the county of Tipperary with a famously in-tact castle and not much else. But to those who know it well, it is a charming place full of life where family and friends gather and gossip, and stories of wandering ancestors abound. It is surrounded by majestic mountains, wisened forests, hills, rivers and a whole lot of history.
My father was born on Mountain Road, just like his mother before him and probably her parents before that. My grandfather, Thomas Burke, was born in Wexford but when he was stationed in Cahir during the second world war, he too felt the illustrious pull of the charming little town and stayed there till the day he died.
Integration and Multiculturalism
Over the years, I have watched the town of Chair change a lot. Not in the ways one would expect however. The shop fronts are for the most part unchanged, there is a Lidl now where the town criers (now in the shape of hunched over women called Mary) congregate and exchange their little nuggets of latest news. In the unlikely case they have none, they’ll settle for watching who goes in and out and with whom. Everything is news in Cahir, and everyone knows everything.
“Back in the day, if you were not a regular mass attender you where whispered about. Now if you are a regular mass attender – you’re whispered about” as one resident so aptly puts it.
Kids fly by in packs on their bikes, just like they always have, but the one thing that is different now is that their babble is in a multitude of tongues.
With a population of 3,950 (Sept. 2017) and a non-Irish population of 979, Cahir has the eighth highest proportion of non-Irish nationals [Central Statistics Office 2016] in Ireland. As a London city girl with Middle Eastern heritage myself, I must say that I never saw this coming. However, I think the locals may have been more shocked.
Cahir Castle is a national monument and one of the largest castles in Ireland which dates back to 1142. It is probably one of the most well-preserved castles in the country due to the fact that the guardian of Lord Cahir (then only x years old) surrendered to Cromwell in 1650 during his conquest of Ireland which ensured its structural protection. Not even one shot was fired.
Not much happens in Cahir but the castle does draw in a lot of tourism with, on top of that, a lot of film crews, which the locals are very proud of. The castle has been used as a location for the television series The Tudors (probably the sauciest thing that has ever happened to/in Cahir) and in 1998 the castle was the location for an episode off Mystic Knights Of Tir Na Nog (click on the link and you’ll see the castle in the first five seconds – just ignore the incredibly questionable acting) but more importantly, however, in 1981 it was used as the location for a battle scene in the film Excalibur, in which my grandad was an extra in (who said there aren’t perks to living in Cahir/living right next door to an ancient castle).
Right, so imagine if Snow White had run away from her wicked evil stepmother in Cahir Castle, ran along the River Suir and ended up finding the Seven Dwarfs cottage 3.6km away. That’s what Swiss Cottage is. Swiss Cottage is an ornamental cottage ( cottage orné) was built in the 1880s, designed by the famous architect John Nash. Although it is technically in Kilcommon, many Cahir residents consider it as part of their heritage and can walk to it from the castle along the river, of which it used to be a part. Lord and Lady Cahir used to use this Snow White paradise cottage for entertaining guests.
It is a popular tourist attraction as a historic house museum and is open seasonally (you can check it’s open periods here) and is managed by the Office of Public Works.
Fun fact: The wallpaper in the living room is one of the first commercially produced Parisian wallpapers (David, Skinner. Wallpaper in Ireland 1700-1900)
Quakering Quakersome Past
Once upon a time in South Tipperary, Cahir and Clonmel were the epicentre for Quaker activity. You could find these Quakers milling about in the flour mills that they owned. Most of these mills were along the banks of the River Suir. However, the mills in South Tipperary, the one in Cahir included, fell out of use as a consequence of the free trade deal with England which made the price of wheat fall too low for farmers to continue growing the crop. Now, many of the Quaker families have died out. There is a little Quaker cemetery between Cahir and Ardfinnan which is called Garreenalive locally.
The River Siúr
The River Suir (pronounced ‘sure’) is a particularly stunning part of Cahir. It passes through Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir before reaching Waterford before running into the Atlantic. It can be enjoyed whilst visiting the castle or on a walk along to the aforementioned walk along to Swiss Cottage, known as the Swiss Cottage or Coronation Walk, which is frequented daily by many regulars. If you’re lucky you may even bump into my dad. He’ll be the bald man power walking ahead and hoping you don’t talk to him.
Fun fact: an incident in 2003 saw a cement-carrying train plunge into the river just 200 yards from Cahir train station. Thirteen wagons were derailed (the driver luckily survived) where they remain, still partially submerged today.
As a girl who has lived in the city most of her life, the prospect of visiting the mountains on my stays with my father’s always excited me. This was not, however, induced by the mere sight of trees (WHAT ARE THOSEEEE) but by the beauty that makes people stay and expatriates return. Sometimes we just leave the house and drive through the hills for the sheer pleasure. I have always loved how the Vee near Clougheen turns the most beautiful pink during every year when the rhododendrons blossom.
Fun fact: Further up the Vee there’s a lake called Bay Lough that the locals say is bottomless. In the history of Cahir, folklore has rumoured that a so-called witch called Petticoat Loose, a wild woman by all accounts, who was condemned to empty the lake with a sewing thimble until it was empty. As well as bottomless, they say the lake impossible to swim across.
The nearby Galtee Mountains form the largest inland range in Ireland and is a popular walking area. The Galtee’s slopes also home to Glengarry Wood, a forest around 1,400 acres and is home to much wildlife and birds.
What interests me most about the whole history of Cahir, I think, is the pull it has on people. It isn’t exactly the hub of excitement and any changes that occur happen slowly over time with a little grumble and huff, but for people like my father, who has lived in many places over the course of his life, there was only one place he ever called home.
“Maybe it’s just a case of the savage who loves his native shore best, but I’m happier here than I have ever been anywhere else in my life.”
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