Office of Public Work sites in Munster: Clare, Limerick and Tipperary

Munster’s counties are Clare, Cork, Kerry, Limerick, Tipperary and Waterford.

I have noticed that an inordinate amount of OPW sites are closed ever since Covid restrictions, if not even before that (as in Emo, which seems to be perpetually closed) [these sites are marked in orange here]. I must write to our Minister for Culture and Heritage to complain.

Clare:

1. Ennis Friary, County Clare

2. Scattery Island, County Clare

Limerick:

3. Askeaton Castle, County Limerick

4. Desmond Castle, Adare, County Limerick – currently closed

5. Desmond Castle, Newcastlewest, County Limerick – castle closed at present, can see outside

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick

Tipperary:

7. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary

8. Famine Warhouse 1848, County Tipperary

9. Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary – must prebook for tour

10. The Main Guard, County Tipperary – closed at present

11. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

12. Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary

13. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary

14. Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary – closed at present

15. Swiss Cottage, County Tipperary

Clare:

1. Ennis Friary, Abbey Street, Ennis, County Clare:

Ennis Friary, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, Photograph by Eamon Ward 2020 for Failte Ireland. [1]

General Enquiries: 065 682 9100, ennisfriary@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

The O’Briens of Thomond, who once ruled much of north Munster, founded this medieval Franciscan friary. It grew quickly into a huge foundation, with 350 friars and a famed school of 600 pupils by 1375. It was the very last school of Catholic theology to survive the Reformation.

The building contains an exceptional wealth of fifteenth- and sixteenth-century sculptures carved in the local hard limestone, including one of St Francis himself displaying the stigmata. An arch between the nave and transept bears a remarkable image of Christ with his hands bound.

Don’t forget to visit the sacristy, an impressive structure with a ribbed, barrel-vaulted ceiling. Take especial note of the beautiful east window, with its five lancets, as it lights up the chancel.” [2]

Ennis Friary, photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, Photograph by Eamon Ward 2020 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

2. Scattery Island, County Clare:

Scattery Island, lies just off Kilrush, on the Shannon Estuary, in County Clare. It is the site of an early Christian settlement founded by St Senan, who built his monastery in the early sixth century. A short boat trip from Kilrush will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history including its round tower and six ruined churches. Photograph from Ireland’s Content Pool, by Airswing Media for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General Information: 087 995 8427, scatteryisland@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Off the northern bank of the Shannon Estuary lies Scattery Island, the site of an early Christian settlement founded by an extraordinary man.

St Senan, who was born in the area, built his monastery in the early sixth century. It included a mighty round tower, which at 36 metres is one of the tallest in Ireland.

There are six ruined churches on the site too. The Church of the Hill stands on a high spot, the very place where, legend has it, an angel placed Senan so that he could find – and then banish – the terrible sea-monster called the Cathach. It is believed that Senan is buried beside another of the medieval churches.

Scattery was invaded many times over the centuries. The Vikings in particular believed that the monastery held many riches and returned several times to ravage it.

A short boat trip will take you to the island, where you can explore its multi-layered, 1,500-year history.

Limerick:

3. Askeaton Castle, County Limerick:

General information: 087 113 9670, askeatoncastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

“In the very heart of this County Limerick town stand the impressive remains of a medieval fortress. Askeaton Castle dates from 1199, when William de Burgo built it on a rock in the River Deel.

Over the centuries, the castle proved itself key to the history of Munster. It was the power base of the earls of Desmond after 1348. In 1579 it held out against the English general Sir Nicholas Malby, an incident that helped spark the second Desmond Rebellion.

The banqueting hall is one of the finest medieval secular buildings in Ireland. The tower is partly ruined, but some fine windows and an exquisite medieval fireplace have remained.

The early eighteenth-century building nearby was used as a Hellfire Club. These clubs were rumoured to be dens of excess in which wealthy gentlemen indulged in drink, mock ritual and other nefarious activities.

The Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond, held the castle for over 200 years and ruled Munster from it.

4. Desmond Castle, Adare, County Limerick:

General information: 061 396666, info@adareheritagecentre.ie

From the OPW website:

Desmond Castle Adare epitomises the medieval fortified castle in Ireland. It is strategically situated on the banks of the River Maigue, from where its lords could control any traffic heading to or from the Shannon Estuary.

The castle was built for strength and security. A formidable square keep forms its core; the keep stands within a walled ward surrounded by a moat.

Desmond Castle Adare changed hands several times before becoming a key bastion of the earls of Desmond in the sixteenth century. During the Second Desmond Rebellion, however, it fell to the English after a bloody siege. Cromwellian forces laid waste to the building in 1657, although restorers have since helped to recall its former glory.

Guided tours are now available for anyone who wants to walk in the footsteps of the FitzGeralds and experience their courageous spirit.

This castle belonged to the Earls of Kildare for nearly 300 years until the rebellion in 1536, when it was forfeited and granted to the Earls of Desmond who gave the castle its present name.

5. Desmond Castle, Newcastlewest, County Limerick:

General information: 069 77408, desmondhall@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Many of Ireland’s surviving medieval halls are in west Limerick. The Desmond Banqueting Hall in Newcastle West is one of the most impressive among them.

It was begun in the thirteenth century by Thomas ‘the Ape’ FitzGerald, so named because of the story that an ape took him from his cradle to the top of Tralee Castle – and delivered him safely back again.

However, most of the spacious, imposing structure was created in the fifteenth century, at the height of the Desmond earls’ power, and used as a venue for frequent and lavish banquets.

The oak gallery, from which musicians would provide a raucous soundtrack for the revelry below, has been fully restored.

A castle was built here in the 13th century by the Fitzgeralds, Earls of Desmond. The present structure dates to the 15th century.

6. Lough Gur, County Limerick:

Lough Gur, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Ken Williams 2021 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

From the OPW website:

Lough Gur is a site of international significance due to the area’s rich archaeology and environment. It is home to Ireland’s oldest and largest stone circle and the only natural lake of significance in South East Limerick. Lough Gur also has an abundance of ancient monuments in State care with a reported 2,000 archaeological monuments in a 5km radius. Visitors to Lough Gur Lakeshore Park will find a hillside visitor centre where you can take part in a guided or self guided tour of the exhibition. There is also an option to take a full outdoor guided tour of the archaeological monuments. Tours are tailor made and can range from 30 minutes to 3 hours. The Lakeshore Park and tours are run by Lough Gur Development Group.

Lough Gur Visitor Centre, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Keith Wiseman 2013 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]
Lough Gur Visitor Centre, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Keith Wiseman 2013 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

Tipperary:

7. Cahir Castle, County Tipperary:

Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Brian Morrison 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]
Cahir Castle, June 2022. The geese are particularly picturesque! The outer walls are called the Barbican. When breached, the attacking force gains entry to this area and are vulnerable to missiles fired by defenders and it would be difficult to retreat, due to the enclosed nature of the barbican.

General information: 052 744 1011, cahircastle@opw.ie

Stephen and I visited Cahir Castle in June 2022, and I was very impressed. I had no idea that we have such an old castle in Ireland with so much intact.

From the OPW website:

Cahir Castle is one of Ireland’s largest and best-preserved castles. It stands proudly on a rocky island on the River Suir.

The castle was was built in the thirteenth century and served as the stronghold of the powerful Butler family. [The Archiseek website tells us it was built in 1142 by Conor O’Brien, Prince of Thomond] So effective was its design that it was believed to be impregnable, but it finally fell to the earl of Essex in 1599 when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time. During the Irish Confederate Wars it was besieged twice more.

At the time of building, Cahir Castle was at the cutting edge of defensive castle design and much of the original structure remains.

Our tour guide took us through the castle as if we were invaders and showed us all of the protective methods used. We were free then to roam the castle ourselves.

The name derives from the Irish ‘an Chathair Dhun Iascaigh’ meaning stone fort of the earthen fort of the fish.

The information leaflet tells us that the area was owned by the O’Briens of Thomond in 1169 at the time of the Anglo-Norman invasion. The area around Cahir was granted to Phillip of Worcester in 1192 by John, Lord of Ireland, who later became King John. His nephew William was his heir – I’m not sure of his surname! But then his great-granddaughter, Basilia, married Milo (or Meiler) de Bermingham (he died in 1263). They lived in Athenry and their son was the 1st Lord Athenry, Piers Bermingham (died 1307).

Edward III (1312-1377) granted the castle to the James Butler 3rd Earl of Ormond in 1357 and also awarded him the title of Baron of Cahir in recognition of his loyalty. The 3rd Earl of Ormond purchased Kilkenny Castle in c. 1392. Cahir Castle passed to his illegitimate son James Gallda Butler. James Gallda was loyal to his mother’s family, the Desmonds, who were rivals to his father’s family, the Butlers.

In their book The Tipperary Gentry, William Hayes and Art Kavanagh tell us that the rivalry between the Butlers of Ormond and the Fitzgeralds of Desmond turned to enmity when the War of the Roses broke out in England, with the Ormonds supporting the House of Lancaster and the Desmonds the House of York. The enmity found expression in the battle at Pilltown in 1462. The enmity continued for over a century, and the last private battle between the Ormonds and the Desmonds was the Battle of Affane, County Waterford, in 1565. [3]

Thomas Butler (d. 1558) was created the 1st Baron Caher (of the second creation), County Tipperary, in 1543. He married Eleanor Butler, daughter of Piers Butler 8th Earl of Ormond (d. 26 August 1539) and Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald FitzGerald, 8th Earl of Kildare (d. 3 September 1513). Their son Edmund became the 2nd Baron Caher (died 1560) but the title died with him and The Peerage website tells us his barony fell into abeyance between his two aunts.

The brother of Thomas 1st Baron Caher, Piers Butler (d. after February 1567/68) had a son Theobald who was then created 1st Baron Caher [Ireland, of the 3rd creation] on 6 May 1583. (see The Peerage website [4])

It was Piers Rua Butler, the 8th Earl of Ormond (c. 1467 – 1539), who brought peace between the warring factions of Fitzgeralds of Desmond and the Butlers of Ormond. He married Margaret Fitzgerald, daughter of Gerald (or Garret) Fitzgerald (1455-1513) 8th Earl of Kildare. His efforts culminated in a treaty called the Composition of Clonmel. It stated that Edmund Butler of Cahir should receive the manor of Cahir on condition that he and all his heirs “shall be in all things faithful to the Earl [of Ormond] and his heirs.” The Barons of Cahir were not allowed to keep their own private army nor to exact forced labour for the building or repair of their castle or houses. (see [3]).

This storyboard tells us that Ireland was dramatically different from Renaissance England in its language, customs, religion, costume and law. It was divided into 90 or so individual “lordships” of which about 60 were ruled by independent Gaelic chieftains. The rest were ruled by Anglo-Irish lords. Queen Elizabeth saw Ireland as a source of much-needed revenue. She did not have sufficient resources nor a strong enough army to conquer Ireland so she encouraged her authorities in Dublin to form alliances between the crown and any local chieftains who would submit to her authority. Many chieftains who submitted did so in order to assist them in their own power struggles against their neighbours. Elizabeth especially needed this support in order to ensure that if Spain invaded Ireland she would be able to quell rebellion.

Walter Devereux, 1st Earl of Essex, travelled to Ireland to subjugate Ulster and Shane O’Neill (“The O’Neill) in 1573. He failed, and had to sell of much of his land in England to pay debts accrued from raising an army. He died in Dublin of typhoid in 1576.

His son, the 2nd Earl of Essex came to Ireland to quell a rebellion which included the rise of Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone (1550-1616), cousin of Shane O’Neill.

The storyboard tells us that Hugh O’Neill fought alongside the 1st Earl of Essex in Ulster between 1573 and 1575. He also fought for Queen Elizabeth in 1580 against the rebel Gerald Fitzgerald, 14th Earl of Desmond (circa 1533, d. 11 November 1583), and as thanks he was made Earl of Tyrone. However, he turned against the crown in 1594 and formed an alliance with Red Hugh O’Donnell to fight against the Queen’s troops, in the Nine Years War.

The ties between the Earls of Essex and Queen Elizabeth I are complicated. When Walter Devereux the 1st Earl died in Ireland, his wife, Lettice Knollys, remarried. She and Queen Elizabeth’s favourite, Robert Dudley Earl of Leicester, married secretly, a fact which enraged the disappointed Queen. It was Robert Dudley who introduced his stepson Robert Devereux 2nd Earl of Essex to Elizabeth and he subsequently became her favourite, alongside Walter Raleigh. However, Elizabeth was to be angered again when this next favourite, Devereux, also secretly married, this time to Frances Walsingham, who was the widow of Sir Philip Sidney. We came across her before when we visited Portumna Castle as she later married Richard Bourke 4th Earl of Clanricarde. Philip Sidney was the son of Henry Sidney (or Sydney) who had been Lord Deputy of Ireland.

Lord Deputy Henry Sidney is shown crossing a moat leaving Dublin Castle, setting out on a campaign. Above the gate are a number of severed heads!
The submission of Turlough Luineach O’Neill to Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney in 1575.

Robert Devereux the 2nd Earl of Essex sought to re-win courtly favour by going to fight in Ireland, following the footsteps of his father, and persuaded Elizabeth to name him Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.

In May 1599, Essex and his troops besieged Cahir Castle. He arrived with around two to three thousand men, a cannon and a culverin, a smaller and more accurate piece of heavy artillery.

Thomas Butler the 10th Earl of Ormond, who owned the castle in Carrick-on-Suir and was another favourite of the Queen, as he had grown up with her in the English court. However, the storyboards tell us that he at first rebelled, alongside Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir (or Caher – they seem to be spelled interchangeably in historical records) and Edmond Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret (1540-1602), another titled branch of the Butler family.

By the time of the 1599 siege, the Earl of Ormond was fighting alongside Essex, and Cahir Castle was held by rebels, including Thomas Butler’s brother James Gallada Butler (not to be confused with the earlier James Galda Butler who died in 1434). Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir travelled with Essex toward the castle. Baron Cahir sent messengers to ask his brother to surrender the castle but the rebels refused. Thomas Butler 2nd Baron Cahir was suspected of being involved with the rebels. Thomas was convicted of treason but received a full pardon in 1601 and occupied Cahir Castle until his death in 1627. James Gallada Butler claimed that he had been forced by the rebels to fight against Essex. Essex and his men managed to capture the castle.

During the three days of the siege, the castle incurred little damage, mostly because the larger cannot broke down on the first day! Eighty of the defenders of the castle were killed, but James Gallda Butler and a few others escaped by swimming under the water mill. This siege was to be the only time that castle was taken by force. James Gallda recaptured the castle the following year and held it for some months. The Butlers regained possession of the castle in 1601.

Cahir Castle taken by the 2nd Earl of Essex in 1599.

Inside the castle in one room was a wonderful diorama of this siege of Cahir Castle, with terrifically informative information boards.

The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege. The siege map and diorama show the wall of the barbican extending further than it does now, to the bridge across to the island. The plan also shows a number of buildings in the inner ward that no longer exist. The shape of the islands and riverbanks changed following construction of a weir.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
Someone must have had great fun setting up the little toy soldiers in their fight formations in the diorama.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The Diorama of the 1599 Siege.
The first entrance gates, to the bawn (walled courtyard or outer enclosure) of Cahir Castle. Above the door on the top of the wall an eagle is perched, symbol of power. Below that is the crest of the Butlers of Cahir.

Failing to win in his battles in Ireland, however, Essex made an unauthorised truce with Hugh O’Neill. This made him a traitor. The Queen did not accept the truce and forbid Essex from returning from Ireland. He summoned the Irish Council in September 1599, put the Earl of Ormond in command of the army, and went to England. He tried to raise followers to oust his enemies at Elizabeth’s court but in doing so, he brought a small army to court and was found guilty of treason and executed.

Cahir Castle was taken again, this time by Murrough O’Brien (1614-1674, 6th Baron Inchiquin and later created 1st Earl of Inchiquin in 1647) in the Confederate War, which followed the rebellion of 1641. O’Brien fought on the side of the Crown – his ancestor Murrough O’Brien was created 1st Baron Inchiquin in 1543 by the Crown in return for converting to Protestantism and pledging allegiance to the King (Henry VIII). Since he took the castle for the crown, it implies that at this time Lord Caher fought against the crown again – and since the information boards tell us that the 1599 siege was the only time it was taken by force, force must not have beeen used at this later time. This must have been the time that Oliver Cromwell in 1650, when the occupants surrendered peacefully.

Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022.
Once over the surrounding moat and river, and through the outer gate into the inner courtyard or bawn, one has another gate to go through, which is protected by a machicolation above the gate, through which things could be dropped on the invader, such as rocks, boiling water or hot sand.
Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by George Munday 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1] Barbican wall, courtyard, and gate with overhead machicolation, and the castle keep.
Round flaking towers are positioned at the outside corners acting as guard towers, accessed by wall walks that surmount the walls surrounding the courtyard.
Inside the barbican walls, Cahir Castle. Cahir Cottage was built by the Butler family in the 19th century.
Once one gets through the second gate, the invader would have to get through the portcullis, pictured here.
The portcullis, from the other side.
The mechanism for working the portcullis.

Once invaders get through the portcullis they are trapped in a small area, where defenders can fire arrows and stones at them. The walls of this area slope outwards towards the bottom, known as a base batter, so falling rocks bounce off them to hit the invaders.

The Butlers of Ormond also had to forfeit their land in the time of Oliver Cromwell’s Protectorate. Both branches of the Butlers had their lands restored with the restoration of the monarchy with Charles II in 1662.

The castle layout was changed considerably and enlarged during work to repair some of the damage caused by the battles, but was then left abandoned until 1840 when the partial rebuilding of the Great Hall took place. [5]

The core of the castle is the keep.

The square central keep of Cahir Castle, with watch tower, and river as moat, and entrance gate topped by eagle.
The Castle Keep. The door is protected by a machicolation, and through the door you can see a cross shaped gun loop so the defenders can shoot invaders. Inside the door is the spiral staircase.

There’s an excellent history of Cahir on the Cahir Social and Historical Website:

Throughout the reigns of Elizabeth I and Charles I, Cahir Castle appears as a frequent and important scene in the melancholy drama of which Ireland was a stage. The Castle was taken and re-taken, but rarely damaged and through it all remained in the hands of the Roman Catholic Butlers of Cahir. By this time Cahir had become a great centre of learning for poets and musicians. Theobald, Lord Cahir [I assume this was 1st Baron Cahir of second creation who died in 1596] was said by the Four Masters “to be a man of great benevolence and bounty, with the greatest collection of poems of any of the Normans in Ireland”.

A study of the Butler Family in Cahir in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries reveals the rise and fall of one of the minor branches of the House of Ormond. At the end of the fifteenth century, they possessed extensive powers, good territorial possessions and a tenuous link with the main branch of the Butler family. During the sixteenth century, their possession was strengthened by the grant of the title of Baron of Cahir with subsequent further acquisition of land, but they came under closer central government control. A complete reversal in their relations with the Earls of Ormond occurred, strengthened by various marriage alliances. They also participated in political action, both in the Liberty of Tipperary and at National Level. In the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries their position was affected by their adherence to Roman Catholicism, which resulted in their revolt during the Nine Years War, and subsequent exclusion from power by the Central Administration. They formed part of the Old English Group and as such, suffered from the discriminatory politics practiced by the Government. From 1641 they became minor landowners keeping their lands by virtue of the favour of their relative, the Duke of Ormond. In 1647 the Castle was surrendered to Lord Inchiquin for Parliament but re-taken in 1650 by Cromwell himself, whose letter describing acceptable terms of surrender still survives. At the restoration of Charles II, in 1660, George Matthews, (as Warden of Cahir Castle and half-brother to the Duke of Ormond), retained the Cahir lands for the Lord Cahir, then a minor.” [6] George Matthew was married to Eleanor Butler, daughter of Edmond Butler, 3rd/13th Baron Dunboyne. She seems to have married twice: first to Edmond Butler son of 3rd Baron Cahir, then to to George Matthew. Her son was Piers Butler, 4th Baron Cahir, who was just seven when his father died.

Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022. The view of the castle from the parkland beyond. See how it seems to grow out of the rocks!
Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022. The view of the castle from the parkland beyond. See how it seems to grow out of the rocks!
Cahir Caste, County Tipperary, June 2022.
Cahir Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Liam Murphy 2016 for Failte Ireland. [see 1] The large square tower in the foreground was built later than the keep, for housing prisoners.

Piers Butler 4th Baron Cahir (1641-1676) married George Mathew’s niece, Elizabeth Mathew (1647-1704). They had no male issue, but two daughters. His daughter Margaret married Theobald Butler, 5th Baron Cahir (d. 1700), great-grandson of the 1st Baron Cahir.

Despite embracing the Jacobite Cause in the Williamite Wars, the Cahir estate remained relatively intact. However, the Butlers never again lived at Cahir Castle but rather at their country manor, Rehill House, where they lived in peace and seclusion from the mid-seventeenth century, when not living abroad in England and France.

By 1700 a sizeable town had grown around the Castle, although hardly any other buildings survive from this period. Agriculture, milling and a wide range of trades would have brought quite a bustle to the muddy precursors of our present streets. At this time, the Castle was quite dilapidated and was let to the Quaker William Fennell, who resided and kept a number of wool combers at work there.” [4]

Prisoners’ tower at Cahir Castle.

Margaret Butler daughter of the 4th Baron Cahir was the 5th Baron Cahir’s second wife. His first wife, Mary Everard, gave birth to his heir, Thomas (1680-1744), 6th Baron Cahir. Thomas had several sons, who became 7th (d. 1786) and 8th Barons Cahir (d. 1788), but they did not have children, so that title went to a cousin, James Butler (d. 1788), who became 9th Baron Cahir.

On the completion of Cahir House [in the town, now Cahir House Hotel] in the later 1770’s, Fennell rented Rehill House from Lord Cahir and lived there over half a century. [The Barons moved to Cahir House.] A strong Roman Catholic middle class emerged. James, 9th Lord Cahir [d. 1788], practiced his religion openly. He maintained strong links with Jacobite France, and paid regular visits to England. While not a permanent resident, he kept his Cahir Estates in impeccable order and was largely responsible for the general layout of the Town of Cahir. Under his patronage, some of the more prominent buildings such as Cahir House, the Market House and the Inn were built during the late 1770s and early 1780s. In addition, the Quakers built the Manor Mills on the Bridge of Cahir, the Suir Mills (Cahir Bakery), and the Cahir Abbey Mills in the period 1775-90.

The son of the 9th Baron Cahir, Richard, became 10th Baron and 1st Earl of Glengall.

… The young Lord Cahir married Miss Emily Jeffereys of Blarney Castle and together they led Cahir through the most colourful period of its development…Richard, Lord Cahir, sat in The House of Lords as one of the Irish Representative Peers, and in 1816 was created Earl of Glengall, a title he enjoyed for just 3 years. He died at Cahir House of typhus in January 1819, at the age of 43 years. Richard, Viscount Caher, (now 2nd Earl of Glengall), had already taken his place in political circles while his mother, Emily, ran the Estate with an iron fist.” [4]

Cahir Castle 1943, photograph from Dublin City Library archives. [see 5]

During the Great Famine (1846-51), Lord and Lady Glengall did much for the relief of the poor and the starving. Lord Glengall’s town improvement plan was shelved in 1847 due to a resulting lack of funds and his wife’s fortune being tied up in a Trust Fund. The Cahir Estates were sold in 1853, the largest portion being purchased by the Trustees of Lady Glengall. This sale came about due to Lord Glengall being declared bankrupt. The Grubbs had by now become the most important Quaker family in the district and bought parts of the Cahir Estate during the 1853 sale...

In the interim, Lady Margaret Butler (elder daughter and heir of Lord Glengall) had married Lieut. Col. Hon. Richard Charteris, 2nd son of the 9th Earl of Wemyss & March. Using a combination of her mother’s Trust and Charteris funds, Cahir Town and Kilcommon Demesne were repurchased.  

Lady Margaret, although an absentee landlord, resident in London, kept a close watch on her Cahir Estates through two excellent managers, Major Hutchinson and his successor William Rochfort… Her son, Richard Butler Charteris took over her role in 1915 and remained resident in Cahir from 1916 until his death in 1961. In 1962, the House, and circa 750 acre estate core (within the walls of Cahir Park and Kilcommon Demesne) were auctioned…And so ended the direct line of Butler ownership in Cahir, almost 600 years. [6]

The castle became the property of the state after the death of Lord Cahir in 1961; it was classified as a national monument and taken into the care of the Office of Public Works. [5]

The great hall, and adjoining guest accommodation in the northwest tower. This 13th century building was attached to the keep, but in 1840 it was shortened, leaving the original fireplace in the open outside.
Great Hall and northwest tower of Cahir Castle.
The end of the Great Hall, with its stepped gable. It was originally attached to the keep, pictured on the left.
This is the exposed fireplace, which was in the now foreshortened Great Hall.

Our tour guide took us through the outside of the castle, showing us its defenses. Our tour ended inside the Great Hall, or dining hall.

The Great Hall, with giant Irish elk antlers. The fireplace is not genuine – it is made of papier mache and was installed for the filming of a movie.

The dining hall has a magnificent ceiling. The building would have originally been of two storeys, and taller. The appearance today owes much to restoratation work carried out by William Tinsley in 1840, when the building was converted into a private chapel for the Butler family. The hammer-beam roof and the south and east wall belong to this period. The external wall dates from the 13th century.

Ceiling of the Great Hall, Cahir Castle.
Inside the northwest tower of Cahir Castle.
Upstairs in the northwest tower. It is fitted with fifteenth century windows and has a Tudor fireplace inserted where the original portcullis machinery was housed.
The stairs to the upper level of the northwest tower are spiral.
I love the passageways between the walls of the castle.
Top floor of the northwest tower.

Next we explore the keep building.

One can descend these steps and up again on the other side for a view over the river.

8. Famine Warhouse 1848, Ballingarry, County Tipperary:

General information: 087 908 9972, info@heritageireland.ie

From the OPW website:

How did an ordinary farmhouse near Ballingarry, County Tipperary, become the site of a bloody siege and a monument of the Young Irelander Rebellion of 1848?

It was here that rebels, under the leadership of Protestant aristocrat William Smith O’Brien, besieged 47 police officers who had barricaded themselves into the McCormack homestead, taking 5 children hostage. After two of their number were killed, the rebels finally gave in. They were later transported to penal colonies abroad.

The Warhouse, as it became known, is now a museum. Its contents illuminate the history of the Young Irelander Rebellion, the trials of its leaders, their exile in Australia and escape to the USA. The exhibition places the rebellion in the context of the Great Famine and the upheaval that rocked Europe during that turbulent year.

Traditionally it was known as Ballingarry Warhouse or The Widow McCormack’s House.

9. Holycross Abbey, County Tipperary:

Holycross Abbey, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Liam Murphy 2016 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

From the OPW website:

As destination for pilgrims, Holy Cross Abbey, near Thurles, County Tipperary, has a rich history. Pilgrims travelled here for eight centuries to venerate the relic after which the abbey and surrounding villages are named – a piece of the True Cross of Christ’s crucifixion.

Today this working parish church is a peaceful landmark and a place for quiet contemplation and historical discovery. As well as inspecting the relic of the cross, you can marvel at the building’s ornate stonework. The chancel is possibly the finest piece of fifteenth-century architecture in the country. The abbey also houses one of the only surviving medieval wall paintings in Ireland.

10. The Main Guard, Sarsfield Street, Clonmel, County Tipperary:

The Main Guard, or Clonmel Courthouse, County Tipperary. Photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage: five-bay two-storey courthouse and market house, built 1673, with arcaded ground floor to front and north gable, and pediment and cupola to roof. Until restored c.2000, building had been five-bay three-storey with triple public house front to ground floor, and timber sliding sash windows. Now in use as museum. The columns of the arcaded facades were recycled from the ruins of the Cistercian abbey of Inislounaght, to the west of the town and retain some decorative elements that testify to this fact. 

General Information: 052 612 7484, mainguard@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

In the seventeenth century County Tipperary was a palatinate, ruled by James Butler, duke of Ormond. When the duke decided he needed a new courthouse, he built one in the heart of Clonmel [built in 1673]. Later, when it was used as a barracks, it became known as the Main Guard.

A fine two-storey symmetrical building, some elements of its design were based on works by the famous Sir Christopher Wren.

In the eighteenth century it was the venue for the Clonmel Assizes. The most notable trial it witnessed was that of Father Nicholas Sheehy, the anti-Penal Laws agitator. Sheehy was hanged, drawn and quartered.

In about 1810, the ground floor was converted into shops, but the building has recently undergone an award-winning restoration. The open arcade of sandstone columns is once again an attractive feature of the streetscape, while inside you will find a fantastic exhibition and event space.

Main Guard, 1948, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archives. [see 5]

11. Nenagh Castle, County Tipperary

Nenagh Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

General information: 067 33850, castlenenagh@gmail.com

The OPW doesn’t seem to have a site for this currently, but there is information at a site about Nenagh:

Nenagh Castle was built by Theobald Walter (the first of the Butlers of Ormond) around 1200. To this day the cylindrical keep adorns the town and like most keeps it formed part of the perimeter of the fortress. The walls have now almost disappeared, but fragments remain. 

Built from limestone Nenagh Castle measures fifty-five feet in external diameter at the base and rises to a height of one hundred feet. The Castle features four storeys and thanks to a recent renovation this wonderful landmark now represents the town’s premier tourist attraction.

The building and has stone spiral stairs to the top. There are 101 steps in all to the top.  Access to the tower is through a passageway within the base of the wall.  This has low head room and visitors will need to stoop to avoid hitting the stone above. All children under the age of 18 must be accompanied by an adult. [7]

Nenagh Castle, photograph by Brian Morrison, 2017, for Tourism Ireland, Ireland’s Content Pool. [see 1]

12. Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary:

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

General Information: 051 640787, ormondcastle@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Joined on to an earlier medieval riverside castle, Ormond Castle Carrick-on-Suir is the finest example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. Thomas, 10th Earl of Ormond [“Black Tom” (1531-1614)], built it in 1565 in honour of his distant cousin Queen Elizabeth. 

The magnificent great hall, which stretches almost the whole length of the building is decorated with some of the finest stucco plasterwork in the country. The plasterwork features portraits of Queen Elizabeth and her brother Edward VI and many motifs and emblems associated with the Tudor monarchy.

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, National Library of Ireland Mason Catalogue.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [8]
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir 1949, photograph from Dublin City Library and Archive. [see 8]

Mark Bence-Jones writes:

The house, which is horseshoe shaped, forming three sides of a small inner court, and the castle the fourth. The house is of 2 storeys with a gabled attic; the towers of the castle rise behind it. The gables are steep, and have finials; there are more finials on little piers of the corners of the building. There are full-sized mullioned windows on the ground floor as well as on the floor above, the lights having the slightly curved heads which were fashionable in late C16. There is a rectangular porch-oriel in the centre of the front, and an oriel of similar form at one end of the left-hand side elevation. The finest room in the house is a long gallery on the first floor, which had two elaborately carved stone chimneypieces – one of which was removed to Kilkenny Castle 1909, but has since been returned – and a ceiling and frieze of Elizabethan plasterwork. The decoration includes busts of Elizabeth I, who was a cousin of “Black Thomas,” Ormonde through her mother, Anne Boleyn, and used to call him her “Black Husband”: she is said to have promised to honour Carrick with a visit. The old castle served as part of the house and not merely as a defensive adjunct to it: containing, among other rooms, a chapel with carved stone angels.” [9]

Detail from National Library of Ireland, Ormond Castle.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

Thomas Butler (1582-1614) the 10th Earl of Ormond is a fascinating character. He was the eldest son of James Butler, 9th Earl of Ormond, and his wife Joan Fitzgerald, daughter of the 10th Earl of Desmond. Because he was dark-haired, he was known to his contemporaries as “Black Tom”or “Tomas Dubh”. As a young boy, Thomas was fostered with Rory O’More, son of the lord of Laois (his mother was granddaughter of Piers Rua Butler, 8th Earl of Ormond) before being sent to London to be educated with the future Edward VI. He was the first member of the Butler family to be brought up in the protestant faith. In 1546, he inherited the Ormond earldom following the sudden death of his father. He fought against the Fitzgerald Earls of Desmond in the Desmond Rebellions, as he was loyal to the British monarchy. He was made Lord Treasurer of Ireland and a Knight of the Garter.

He was highly regarded by Queen Elizabeth to whom he was related through her mother Anne Boleyn.  Anne Boleyn was the granddaughter of the 7th Earl of Ormond making Elizabeth and Thomas cousins. Thomas married three times but left no heir and was succeeded by his nephew Walter Butler 11th Earl of Ormond. He died in 1614 and was buried in St Canice’s cathedral, Kilkenny.

James Butler the 12th Earl of Ormond and 1st Duke of Ormond (1610-1688) spent much of his time here and was the last of the family to reside at the castle. On his death in 1688 the family abandoned the property and it was only handed over to the government in 1947, who then became responsible for its restoration. 

Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.
Ormond Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, May 2018.

13. Rock of Cashel, County Tipperary:

Rock of Cashel, Co Tipperary photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Brian Morrison 2018 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General Information: 062 61437, rockofcashel@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

Set on a dramatic outcrop of limestone in the Golden Vale, the Rock of Cashel, iconic in its historic significance, possesses the most impressive cluster of medieval buildings in Ireland. Among the monuments to be found there is a round tower, a high cross, a Romanesque chapel, a Gothic cathedral, an abbey, the Hall of the Vicars Choral and a fifteenth-century Tower House.

Originally the seat of the kings of Munster, according to legend St. Patrick himself came here to convert King Aenghus to Christianity. Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978 and made it his capital.

In 1101 the site was granted to the church and Cashel swiftly rose to prominence as one of the most significant centres of ecclesiastical power in the country.

The surviving buildings are remarkable. Cormac’s Chapel, for example, contains the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland.

Rock of Cashel, 1955, from Dublin City Library and Archives [see 3].
Rock of Cashel ca. 1901, photograph from National Library of Ireland Flickr constant commons.

14. Roscrea Castle and Damer House, County Tipperary:

Roscrea Castle, photograph from Ireland’s Content pool, by Chris Hill 2014 for Failte Ireland. [see 1]

General information: 0505 21850, roscreaheritage@opw.ie

From the OPW website:

In the heart of Roscrea in County Tipperary, one of the oldest towns in Ireland, you will find a magnificent stone motte castle dating from the 1280s. It was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers, and later served as a school, a library and even a sanatorium. 

Sharing the castle grounds is Damer House, named for local merchant John Damer, who came into possession of the castle in the eighteenth century. The house is a handsome example of pre-Palladian architecture. It has nine beautiful bay windows. One of the rooms has been furnished in period style.

The grounds also include an impressive garden with a fountain, which makes Roscrea Castle a very pleasant destination for a day out. There is also a restored mill displaying St Crónán’s high cross and pillar stone.

This was originally the site of a motte and bailey fortification known as King John’s Castle. The original wooden castle was destroyed in the late 13th century and was replaced with a stone structure built in 1274-1295 by John de Lydyard. The castle was originally surrounded by a river to the east and a moat on the other sides. [10] It was granted to the Butlers of Ormond in 1315 who held it until the early 18th Century. The castle as we see it today was built from 1332.

Eoin Roe O’Neill, at the head of 1,200 men, stormed Roscrea in 1646 and reportedly killed every man, woman and child. The only survivor was the governor’s wife, Lady Mary Hamilton (1605-1680), who was a sister to the Earl of Ormond [married to George Hamilton, 1st Baronet of Donalong County Tyrone and of Nenagh, County Tipperary]. She was again forced to play host in the castle to O’Neill three years later which again ended by the guests looting everything in sight. [11]

Damer House, County Tipperary, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural heritage.

Damer House is of three storeys and nine bays and has a scroll pediment doorway and inside, a magnificent carved staircase. The Irish Georgian Society was involved in saving it from demolition in the 1960s.

Roscrea Castle was sold to the Royal Hospital, Kilmainham, by the James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormond in 1703. It was bought by Joseph and his nephew John Damer (1674-1768) in 1722. The Damer family who built an elegant three-storey pre-Palladian house in the courtyard in c. 1730.

In their book The Tipperary Gentry, Hayes and Kavanagh tell us that Joseph Damer was born in Dorset in England in 1630. The came to Ireland after the restoration of Charles II when land was being sold cheaply by Cromwellian soldiers who were given land instead of pay but did not want to remain in Ireland. He bought land in Tipperary and became a sheep farmer. He also became involved in banking in Dublin. His nephew John acted as his agent in Tipperary. Jonathan Swift wrote a ditty mocking Joseph Damer’s parsimony:

“He walked the streets and wore a threadbare cloak

He dined and supped at charge of other folk

And – by his look – had he held out his palms

He might be thought an object fit for alms.”

He had no children and left his vast fortune when he died in 1720 to his nephews John (1674-1768) and Joseph (1676-1736), sons of his brother George Damer. He was so wealthy that he entered folklore with tales of how he gained his wealth, and he was compared to King Midas, as if everything he touched turned to gold.

The nephew John had no children and his brother Joseph inherited. Joseph became MP for Tipperary in 1735. He died three years later.

Robert O’Byrne tells us that his son Joseph (1717-1798) inherited the house and castle was later created the Earl of Dorchester. [12] He was an absentee landlord and his brother managed his Irish properties. He built a mansion named Damerville which was very grand, but was demolished in 1775. Their sister Mary married William Henry Dawson, 1st Viscount Carlow, who lived at Emo in Laois. It was her offspring who later inherited the Damer properties.

Joseph’s son John (1744-1776) married Ann Seymour, a sculptress. He spent all of his inheritance and killed himself. Subsequently it was his younger brother George who inherited the title to become 2nd Earl of Dorchester. None of Joseph’s offspring had children, however, so the properties passed to the 2nd Earl of Portarlington, a second cousin, who assumed the name Dawson-Damer.

Mary who had married the 1st Viscount Carlow had a son John Dawson (1744-1798) who became 1st Earl of Portarlington, Queen’s County. He married Caroline Stuart, daughter of the 3rd Earl of Bute and his writer wife, Mary Wortley Montagu. He commissioned James Gandon to built Emo Court in Queen’s County (Laois). It was his son John Dawson (1781-1845), 2nd Earl of Portarlington, who inherited the Damer fortune and lands, and added Damer to his surname.

The castle was used as a barracks from 1798, housing 350 soldiers. It was used later as a school, a library, and a tuberculosis sanatorium. Roscrea Castle fell into disrepair in the 19th century, and when the roof collapsed extensive repairs were needed in the 1850s. It was named a national monument in 1892, and is now under the care of the OPW. 

15. Swiss Cottage, Ardfinnan Road, Cahir, County Tipperary:

General Information: 052 744 1144, swisscottage@opw.ie

Swiss Cottage, June 2022.

From the OPW website:

The Swiss Cottage, just outside the heritage town of Cahir, is a cottage orné – a fanciful realisation of an idealised countryside cottage used for picnics, small soirees and fishing and hunting parties and was also a peaceful retreat for those who lived in the nearby big house.

Built in the early 1800s [around 1810] by Richard Butler, 1st Earl of Glengall, who, we believe, managed to persuade world-famous Regency architect John Nash to design it [he also designed Buckingham Palace for the Crown]. Originally, simply known as “The Cottage” it appears to have acquired its present name because it was thought to resemble an Alpine cottage.

Inside, there is a graceful spiral staircase and some exquisitely decorated rooms. The wallpaper is partly original and partly the fruit of a 1980s restoration project, in which the renowned fashion designer Sybil Connolly was responsible for the interiors.

We visited the Swiss Cottage in June 2022. The guide told us that the Glengalls probably never even spent a night in their cottage! They used it for entertaining. A Swiss Cottage, or cottage ornee, was the ultimate in impressive entertainment. It was meant to look like it had grown from the ground, and it was designed deliberately off-kilter and asymmetrical with different windows, wavy rooves, oddly shaped rooms. Even the expensive floorboards were painted to look like they were made of a cheaper wood!

The setting for the cottage is idyllic, over the River Suir.
Swiss Cottage, photograph from the National Library of Ireland.

Every window has a different shape.

Even the wrought iron fencing and gate were made to look natural, like thorny vines.

Walking under the balcony one is embraced with the glorious scent of the roses and other flowers.

Unfortunately we were not allowed to take photographs inside – I’m not sure why! The furniture is on loan from the National Museum, so perhaps that is why, to deter robbery.

I had a feeling that we might not be allowed to take photographs inside and so before the tour I took a few photographs looking through the windows.

The spiral staircase in the extremely plain front hall.
Looking through the windows, to the wonderful wallpaper, a reproduction of the original which pictures Oriental scenes.
There is a walkway/cycleway/kayak way along the River Suir, which I’d love to walk.

[1] https://www.irelandscontentpool.com/en

[2] https://heritageireland.ie/visit/places-to-visit/

[3] p. 58. Hayes, William and Art Kavanagh, The Tipperary Gentry volume 1 published by Irish Family Names, c/o Eneclann, Unit 1, The Trinity Enterprise Centre, Pearse Street, Dublin 2, 2003.

[4] http://www.thepeerage.com/index.htm

[5] http://www.britainirelandcastles.com/Ireland/County-Tipperary/Cahir-Castle.html

[6] http://www.cahirhistoricalsociety.com/articles/cahirhistory.html

[7] https://www.nenagh.ie/places-of-interest/details/nenagh-castle

[8] https://repository.dri.ie/

[9] Mark Bence-Jones. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[10] See the blog of Patrick Comerford, http://www.patrickcomerford.com/search/label/castles?updated-max=2019-03-03T14:30:00Z&max-results=20&start=27&by-date=false

[11]https://curiousireland.ie/roscrea-castle-1281-damer-house-1730-rosscrea-co-tipperary/

[12]https://theirishaesthete.com/2013/09/23/bon-anniversaire/ and see my write-up about Emo Court, in OPW properties in Leinster: Laois.

Ballysallagh House, Johnswell, Co. Kilkenny

Geralyn & Kieran White

Tel: 087-2906621, 086-2322105

www.ihh.ie

Opening dates in 2022: Feb 1-20, May 1-31, Aug 13-21, 9am-1pm

Fee: adult €7.50, OAP/student €5, child free, groups by arrangement.

Ballysallagh House, County Kilkenny, February 2022.

Ballysallagh House dates from 1722, as we can see on the date stone set in the wall next to the front door. [1] It is a Classical style house built on a T shape, with the stairs in the stem of the “T,” or the single bay full-height return, at the back of the house. The house is of two storeys over basement, with a dormer attic, and is five bays across, with a full-height pedimented entrance breakfront in the centre of one bay width.

The house has a tooled-cut round-headed Gibbsean doorcase with keystone and a Gothic glazed fanlight. A Gibbsean doorcase is an eighteenth century treatment of door or window surround seen particularly in the work of the British architect, James Gibbs (1862-1754), characterised by alternating large and small blocks of stone or intermittent large blocks and a head composed of five voussoirs (the wedge-shaped blocks forming an arch) and a pediment or entablature. [2]

The pediment of the breakfront has a lunette window at attic level. The National Inventory of Architectural Heritage description tells us that the attic level may have been added later. [3]

Ballysallagh House, County Kilkenny, February 2022.

Owners Geralyn and Kieran welcomed us on our visit, and we stopped outside so that they could introduce us to the special features and details of the house and its history.

Kieran speculated that the central breakfront may be the oldest part of the house, with the corner quoins part of a later addition, which makes sense since they do not quite mirror each other. The limestone dressings include a chamfered plinth course to the basement (i.e. a chamfered edge is a surface formed by cutting off a square edge, usually at an angle of forty-five degrees and a plinth is a projecting base beneath a wall or column). The window openings to the basement are camber-headed (i.e. slightly upward curved) whereas the rest of the windows have square headed openings. The windows on the lower level are taller than the windows at the upper level.

The Historic Houses of Ireland website describes the house: “Unlike most early houses, which are gable ended, Ballysallagh has a steeply pitched hipped roof with pronounced sprocketing, a fanlight with gothick glazing and a miniature lunette window in the pediment. The combination of an unspoiled early house with intact surroundings is rare in Ireland today.”
The 1722 date stone next to the front door at Ballysallagh.

Eight limestone steps lead up to the timber panelled front door, with iron railings. Around the house is a ha-ha, created so that from the house the landscape looks continuous, but in reality the ditch around the house prevents animals such as cattle and sheep from approaching too near the house.

The ha ha, which keeps horses, cattle and sheep from coming too close to the house.

The National Inventory describes the entrance gates:

Gateway, c.1725, to south-east comprising pair of limestone ashlar piers with cut-limestone capping, iron double gates, iron flanking pedestrian gates, limestone ashlar outer piers having cut-limestone capping, and painted rendered curved flanking walls over random rubble stone construction having cut-limestone coping.” [see 2]

Entrance gates to Ballysallagh.

The land of Ballysallagh was owned by the Purcell family, who came to Ireland during the Anglo-Norman incursion in the twelfth century. Ballysallagh land was in the hands of the Purcells by December 1571 when Nicholas Purcell fitz Edmund of Ballysallagh was pardoned by the crown authorities, according to Robert O’Byrne. [4]

Richard Purcell was granted the feudal title of Baron of Loughmoe (in County Tipperary) in 1328 by the first Earl of Ormond, James Butler. [see 4]  

A “baron” is a title related to land – a baron is the head of a barony. A good explanation of the term “baron” can be found on the website of  “The Baronage Press.” It tells us that in classical Latin baro means dunce or fool. In Low Latin baro means slave or servant – but servants in the houses of the greater nobles of the eleventh century tended to be young men from noble families. The website also tells us that in the early feudal times this was extended to allow the king’s barons, his tenants-in-chief, to have their own barons through a process of “subinfeudation,” but the continuation of this practice was restricted in England when King Edward I [1239-1307] recognised the danger it represented to his centralised power and fiscal efficiency. By 1328 Edward III  was king. The 1st Earl of Ormond was palatine Lord of Tipperary (a palatine was an area ruled by a hereditary nobleman enjoying special authority and autonomy from the rest of a kingdom), and granted the feudal title to the Baron of Loughmoe. [5] There were several palatine districts in Ireland, of which the most notable were those of the Earls of Desmond and the Earls of Ormond in Tipperary. The latter continued until abolished by the County Palatine of Tipperary Act 1715. A Baron does not hold a peerage, so did not have a right to sit in the House of Lords. [6] One feudal title that continued until recently is the Knight of Glin.

The Barons  of Loughmoe built Loughmoe Castle, County Tipperary, which still stands as an impressive ruin, rather similar to Kanturk Castle in County Cork or even Portumna Castle in County Galway, both of which one can visit (Kanturk and Portumna are OPW owned properties, whereas Loughmoe is on private land). [7] The Purcells were allied with the powerful Butler family, and intermarried with them over the generations.

James Purcell (1609-1652) 12th Baron of Loughmoe married the sister of the 1st Duke of Ormond, Elizabeth Butler (1613-1675). He is buried at Holycross Abbey. His son Nicholas was the last Baron of Loughmoe. James and Nicholas lost their lands at Ballysallagh and Loughmoe  in 1653 under the Cromwellian seizures and in the 1652 Act of Settlement. (see [3])

James died in 1652 and his wife Elizabeth married for a second time, to Colonel John Fitzpatrick (1640-1694), son of the 3rd Baron of Upper Ossory, (Florence Fitzpatrick). Colonel Fitzpatrick recovered the land which had been owned by the Purcells, on behalf of his stepson Nicholas. In the Down Survey, as we saw on a large map in the house at Ballysallagh, Nicholas Purcell is listed as owner of the land at Ballysallagh.

The Down Survey was taken in 1656-58, the first ever detailed land survey that was completed on a national scale in the world. It does not have to do with County Down, as I assumed, but the survey mapped “down” the townlands of Ireland. It especially measured land forfeited by Irish Catholics in order to facilitate its redistribution. The survey was carried out by Sir William Petty.

Information about the Down Survey, on information boards in Ardgillan Castle, Dublin.
Information about the Down Survey, on information boards in Ardgillan Castle, Dublin.

Ballysallagh is unusual in that it remained in Catholic ownership. The owners did not rely on land ownership for their income, but were of the professional class, with homes also in Dublin. The house passed from Purcell to Byrne ownership by marriage, and then to the Doyle family, also by marriage.

Robert O’Byrne tells us that in the early 18th century James Purcell was living at Ballysallagh and in 1720 his daughter and heiress, Mary Purcell wed Gerald Byrne from County Carlow. Mary and her husband were assigned the property as part of the marriage settlement. It seems likely the couple built the present house soon afterwards in 1722, as noted on the date stone.

Ballysallagh House, County Kilkenny, February 2022.

Daniel Byrne-Rothwell writes in his book, The Byrnes and O’Byrnes: A Social History of the Clan, volume 2, published in 2010, (p. 92) that Gerald Byrne was the grandson of Edmond mac Hugh Geangach O’Byrne (c. 1652-1737), also known as Edmond “Concagh” of Ballinakill, and his father was Phelim Byrne of Tankardstown, County Carlow.

The house continued to remain in the same family hands until 1939. It passed from Mary Purcell and Gerald Byrne via their only surviving child, Catherine Byrne, who married William Doyle of County Kildare, to their grandson, Gerald Doyle, in 1760, upon the death of Gerald Byrne.

Daniel Byrne-Rothwell tells us that by 1767 a Robert Kelly (d. 1786) was inhabiting Ballysallagh. He was a brother-in-law of the Byrne family, being married to Elinor Byrne (1740-1800). However, Gerald Doyle who had inherited from his grandfather, and his brother Lawrence, were back living in Ballysallagh by 1770. Gerald Doyle of Ballysallagh died in 1816 and his brother Lawrence Doyle of Ballysallagh died in 1812.

Catherine Byrne died at the young age of 26 and her husband William Doyle remarried. He married another Purcell, Frances Purcell of Usher’s Island, Dublin. I am not sure if the two Purcell families are related to each other beyond by the marriage to William Doyle!

William and Frances Doyle nee Purcell went on to have more children. Neither Gerald Doyle who inherited Ballysallagh nor his brother Lawrence had children, so Gerald sold his interest in Ballysallagh to his stepmother, Frances Doyle nee Purcell, in 1785, along with 450 acres. In this way, Ballysallagh remained in the family and passed to a son from William Doyle’s second marriage, another William Doyle, Barrister.

This younger William Doyle, Geralyn told us, also owned property at 46  Rutland Square West (now Parnell Square) in Dublin. The younger William Doyle died unmarried in 1847 and Ballysallagh passed to his brother, Joseph Doyle, a doctor who served as Surgeon to the College at Maynooth, County Kildare. He also had a property at 41 Blessington Street in Dublin.

Joseph Doyle married another Purcell! I do not know his wife’s name, but they had a son, John Joseph Doyle, who inherited Ballysallagh, and lived there until his death in 1890 at the age of 75 (his wife Eliza died in 1900, daughter of Thomas Hartford). In 1876 he is recorded as holding 572 acres at Ballysallagh. John Joseph’s son Gerald Doyle was the last of the family to live at Ballysallagh: following his death in 1939 for the first time the place was put on the market. Gerald had a brother, Major Joseph Ignatius Purcell Doyle, Royal Army Medical Corps, who died in 1913 in France.

Ballysallagh House, County Kilkenny, February 2022.

In February 1940 Ballysallagh was sold, and the following month, the contents of the house were auctioned. There is a poster in the house advertising the sale. Robert O’Byrne points out that the newspaper advertisement listed many of the items for sale, including a ‘large Antique Hanging China Display Press, enclosed by two glazed panel doors of unique design, Ornamental Frieze and Fluted Columns.’ This, however, remains in the Hall of the house.

Kieran and Geralyn White purchased the house in 1987, falling in love with the architecture and the house’s possibilities. They have done much to renovate the house, both inside and out. In recognition of their care, in 2020 they received the inaugural O’Flynn Group Heritage Prize. A newspaper article from December 2020 by Gemma Tipton in the Irish Times tells us that architectural historian Robert O’Byrne created this annual prize of €5,000, which acknowledges the owners’ commitment to the preservation of buildings. [8] In 2021 the owners of Clonalis in County Roscommon won the prize.

The front hall is divided from the stair hall by folding doors which were introduced in 1810. A fanlight stretches across the division, and it matches the China display press. The display cabinet is of a wagon wheel design, and the fanlight is made up of similar spokes, and is made from the same dark wood. The cabinet is beautifully carved and decorative with fluted columns and frieze. There is a pattern of foxgloves on the spokes of the cabinet, which could refer to frescoes of foxglove found in Pompeii. The edges of the fanlight has a sunburst pattern, or what looked to me like a ruffle or the folds of an accordion. This pattern is repeated on the window shutters.

The fanlight over the front door is similarly matched by a fanlight visible from the front hall, over a door leading to the basement and kitchen, reached by descending a few stairs. The front door fanlight is also echoed in both the front and back of the house, in the attic storey. Robert O’Byrne tells us that the one in the front in the attic level was installed by the current owners.

The front hall has a lovely wide plaster frieze and cornice and is quite spacious. Here we paused while Geralyn and Kieran pointed out the special features in the cabinet and fanlight and plaster. The details show that the house was designed for someone with a good eye for detail and with knowledge of contemporary trends, influenced by Europe and even the discovery of the ruins of Pompei and Herculaneum.

The ceiling rose is unusual, with the Prince of Wales feather motif. The front door is the original to the house.

The stair hall is in the single bay full height return.

Ballysallagh house: the single bay full height return which contains the stair hall, photograph from National Inventory of Architectural Heritage.
 

The main reception rooms lie on either side of the entrance hall. In the Drawing Room, Geralyn told us about the portraits which she was fortunate enough to identify and to bring back to their home, a marriage pair of John Doyle and Frances Savage from 1770 attributed to Thomas Pole Stevens. According to the Adams Catalogue which I found online when “googling” their names, John Doyle died May 1819, and is recorded in the archives of the Royal College of Surgeons as being of 14 Usher’s Island, Dublin. Geralyn told us that Frances Savage was John Doyle’s second wife, and that she was from Finglaswood House (formerly owned by the Seagrave family [9]), which was also called King James’s Castle as King James II was said to have stayed there when fleeing the Battle of the Boyle.

The duck-egg blue drawing room has a good white marble chimneypiece, and carved panelled shutters. Some of the shutters and other repairs to the house are salvaged from Long Orchard House, County Tipperary, home of Barrister and Master of the Mint Richard Lalor Sheil (setting of The Big Wind by Beatrice Coogan).

The dining room has brass picture rails and curtain rails, which Kieran told us were covered with layers of paint. It has a black Kilkenny marble fireplace, as does the golden yellow study, or morning room, also on the ground floor. Also on the ground floor, next to the dining room, is a Butler’s pantry with its original shelves and hooks for hanging game, and lovely large windows. The shouldered architrave on the door shows us, Kieran pointed out, that this part of the house was not modernised during the 1810 renovations.

The wooden staircase leads up to a spacious upper hall, with four bedrooms off it. Stairs lead from this hall to the upper level, to which we did not ascend. The large size of the upper hall with its impressive height adds to the grandeur of the house.

Stone stairs lead to the basement, where the kitchen is still located, although it does not feel like a basement as it has newly installed French doors and plenty of sunlight. On the way down, Kieran pointed out the handy built-in “shoe cricket” at the bottom of the stairs – a contraption with a handle and grip for removing boots!

The garden outside the kitchen.

The Whites had a French drain installed around the house to dry the dampness from the basement, and they recently renovated another room in the basement, creating a wonderfully cosy library with some shelving created from doorcases  salvaged from Long Orchard and others newly carved to match.

The gardens of Ballysallagh have been created to complement the sophistication of the house. Geralyn has developed several gardens, the crowning glory being the Winter Garden, which has clipped hedges in a design which Geralyn created to reflect the gothic windows that light the staircase. I had coincidentally only come across the description of a “winter garden” that week having read a review by Fionnuala Fallon in the Irish Times (published Saturday 29th January 2022) of a newly published book by Andrew Montgomery and Clare Foster, Winter Gardens, a book of photographs displaying the sculptural beauty of winter gardens.

The back of Ballysallagh.
The Winter Garden, of beech, box and Irish yew.
 
The hedging reflects the shape of the Gothic window.
The Winter Garden, Ballysallagh.
The Winter Garden, Ballysallagh.
The Roman Garden
The iron gateposts have the maker’s mark, a crane’s eye, Kieran told us.
The library garden, which is a wonderful suntrap.

Alongside the drive is an avenue of maples. Kieran counted the rings of a fallen larch tree to estimate its age: it was planted around 1761!

[1] Daniel Byrne-Rothwell writes in his book, The Byrnes and O’Byrnes: A Social History of the Clan, volume 2, published in 2010, that in December 1808 Ballysallagh House together with 50 acres of land was advertised to let and the house is described as “lately built.” The 1722 date stone was discovered in the attic, so Byrne-Rothwell speculates that it may have been recycled from an earlier house.

[2] p. 28. Bence-Jones, Mark. A Guide to Irish Country Houses (originally published as Burke’s Guide to Country Houses volume 1 Ireland by Burke’s Peerage Ltd. 1978); Revised edition 1988 Constable and Company Ltd, London.

[3] https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/12401504/ballysallagh-house-ballysallagh-co-kilkenny

[4] https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/11/24/of-the-middle-size/

See also Robert O’Byrne’s post about the Butler’s pantry: https://theirishaesthete.com/2014/11/08/ready-to-serve/

and a post about the garden: https://theirishaesthete.com/2019/11/09/in-the-roman-manner/

See also https://www.geni.com/projects/Historic-Buildings-of-Co-Kilkenny-A-B/29994

[5] https://www.baronage.co.uk/bphtm-01/essay-3.html

[6] For a list of Irish baronies, see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Irish_feudal_barony

[7] http://www.thestandingstone.ie/2009/08/loughmoe-castle-loughmore-co-tipperary.html

[8] Article in The Irish Times Saturday 12 December 2020 by Gemma Tipton https://www.irishtimes.com/life-and-style/homes-and-property/interiors/restoring-country-home-glory-takes-blood-sweat-and-tears-1.4433032

[9] This information was gleaned by me from the Glasnevin Heritage facebook page.