Cahir Castle
At a Glance
County Tipperary
OS Map 74
OS Coordinate S 054 251
Irish Castles Home

Cahir Castle, Co. Tipperary

Cathair Dhuin Iascaigh "Fortress of the Dun Abounding in Fish"

Location: About 14 km slightly northwest of Clonmel on N 24 at the bend in Cahir (also called Caher). The castle is hard to miss, as large as it is, and located on a rocky prominence on the River Suir in the middle of the town.

Description: Cahir is a fine example of a late Medieval Castle that had been enlarged and greatly remodeled in the 15th to 17th centuries. When the main line of the Butler family died out in the late 1700's, the castle fell into ruin. It was partly restored in the 1840's by the Cahir Butlers and more heavily restored after it became a National Monument in 1964. Among the restorations was the faithfully reproduced portcullis, one of a number of defenses the castle possessed. The site includes an inner ward which contains the majority of the buildings and towers (great hall, gatehouse, etc.) and is where the earliest building was carried out on the site of the original dun and cathair. It is also where the majority of the restoration was carried out. The Middle Ward and the outer ward were later additions.

Comments:The castle is wonderful enough to wander through on your own, but a tour with one of the staff adds greatly to understanding the various buildings and gives a wonderful insight into to life at the height of it's use.

History: Cahir underwent a series of stages of development over the centuries. The Rock on which Cahir castle stands was originally an earthen dun or fort, reputedly the residence of Badamair and the local Gaelic chief Finn MacRadamaid. Conor Na Cathrach O'Brien, King of Thomond(Limerick), is said to have built a stone fort (a cathair,from which the town name derives)to replace the earlier earthen one in the 12th century. By the late 12th century, much of Tipperary was conquered from the Irish and extensive tracts of land were granted to Theobald Walter, ancestor of the Butler family.

In 1375, the castle was granted to James, 3rd Earl of Ormond, head of the great Anglo- Norman family of the Butlers and direct descendant of Theobald Walter.

In 1543, King Henry (the 8th) made Thomas Butler Lord Baron of Cahir, as a reward for his loyalty to the Crown. Because his son died shortly after Thomas and there were no further male heirs, a nephew, Theobald Butler was given the title. It was Theobald's son, Thomas, who joined the forces of Hugh O' Brien against the English Crown.

There was actually little space for attackers on the island itself so it was difficult to storm the castle with large forces in the early days. The castle was built to be impregnable, with layers of defenses and this was very effective until the arrival of heavy cannons on the battlefields.

In 1599 the forces of Queen Elizabeth attacked when the castle garrison refused to surrender to the Earl of Essex. The artillery of the Earl of Essex did considerable damage to the castle walls in three days of siege. One of the cannon balls from this battle is preserved in the wall of the northeat tower. With the earlier siege still within living memory, in 1647 the occupants surrendered to Lord Inchiquin and three years later they abandoned the castle to Oliver Cromwell without firing a shot. The Butlers, however, maintained possession following the signing of articles in the castle in 1652. The Butler family undertook major restoration work in the years between 1840 and 1846 and it was during this period that Cahir Cottage was built at the far end of the outer ward - a more comfortable residence than the castle.

In 1964 Cahir Castle was acquired by the Irish State following the death of the last heir. More restoration work was undertaken by the State and it is now one of the largest and best preserved castles in the country. It is most famous for it's use in the film "Excaliber".

  © 2005 F.J. & K.D. Schorr - All rights reserved.