Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, is one of the largest castles in Ireland. I visited it on the way to see the Swiss Cottage and I am so glad I did not miss it. It still has a keep, tower and defensive walls. The inner ward has a gatehouse and great hall.
Cahir Castle is right in the middle of the town of Cahir. There is a guided tour available and videos in various languages. I chose to just explore the castle. I had read about it the night before. Kids were playing at defending the castle, jumping up the battlements and running up the rock steps. They knew all of the words for things and referred to historic people and events. They were really entertaining.
Cahir Castle’s story began in 1142, when Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond fortified a rocky island in the river Suir. With the river and the rock, this was a very defensible location. There was already a stone fort, cathair (pronounced KA-heer) on the location. That is how the place got it’s name.
Enemies could not storm Cahir Castle. It stood impregnably on a rock in the middle of the river. It had a large keep, six strong towers and thick curtain walls. The river and rock left no room to mass troops close enough to do any damage. The castle had layers of defense that held off all forces until 1599 when the Earl of Essex brought heavy cannons against it.
In 1375, Cahir Castle was granted to the Butler family, a great Anglo-Norman family. James Butler was named Earl of Ormond for his loyalty to Edward III.
House Butler descends from Theobald Walter, 1st Baron Butler. Butler was a hereditary office. The hereditary Butler attended the king. Hervey Walter was Butler of England. He attended the coronation of King Henry II (married to Eleanor of Aquitaine), presenting the first cup of wine. Around 1185, when King Henry II made Prince John Lord of Ireland, Prince John made Hervey Walter’s son, Theobald Walter and his successors Chief Butler of Ireland. Theobald Walter was later made Chief Butler of England and High Sheriff of Lancashire.
The Siege of Cahir Castle
The Nine Years’ War was fought from 1594 to 1603 in an attempt to throw off English rule from Ireland. Gaelic Irish chieftains Hugh O’Neill of Tír Eoghain, Hugh Roe O’Donnell of Tír Chonaill and their allies were against more than 18,000 soldiers of the English army. It was the largest conflict fought by England in the Elizabethan era.
In 1599, Queen Elizabeth sent Robert Devereux, 2nd Earl of Essex, a politically ambitious favorite, with 16,000 troops and 1,300 horses, the largest army ever seen in Ireland, to put down the rebels.
Cahir Castle was considered the strongest fortress in Ireland. Essex accused Cahir of colluding with the rebel Edmund FitzGibbon, the White Knight, an Irish nobleman of the FitzGerald dynasty.
Cahir Castle belonged to Thomas Butler, 4th Baron Cahir. His brother, James Galdie was in residence. Cahir gave assurances that James Galdie would surrender. When Essex and his troops arrived, he called upon his brother to allow the English to enter. James Galdie refused. Parley disintegrated into threats and insults and ended with Thomas Butler, 4th Baron Cahir and his wife held under guard.
On May 25, 1599, Essex divided his large forces into 3 battle lines. He sent in engineers to erect a platform for the cannon. Musketeers covered the builders. They constructed gabions, woven work of available materials filled with earth and stones, to protect them from fire from the castle as they built.
Essex feared leaving part of his army on the west bank, keeping them closer together, so people just came and went from the castle gathering food and reinforcements.
At last, on Whitsun Sunday, the 27th, with the cannon within 50 paces of the castle aiming point-blank, Essex opened fire. After only two shots, the carriage broke. After a day and a half repair, the attack recommenced, drawing even closer to the castle walls. You can still see one of the cannon balls in the wall.
The walls were breached on the 28th. That night, the defenders tried to withdraw. Many were seen and slain along the River Suir. James Galdie with some of his men escaped through a sink shaft under a watermill. Essex troops entered the castle without resistance.
The following year, James Butler took the castle back without a shot. Through many political changes, the Butlers continued in possession of Cahir Castle.
The family later lived in Cahir Cottage, a comfortable stone home, which stands within the castle walls. In 1770, the family moved to Cahir House, now a hotel. They built nearby Swiss Cottage, perhaps the finest example of cottage orné of the Romantic Movement.
Excalibur, The Tudors and Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog, a fantasy series based on ancient Ireland were filmed at Cahir Castle.
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