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HOME AT FIRST'S

ADVENTURE

CENTRAL IRELAND

Great Castles of Ireland

— THIRD IN A SERIES —

Cahir Castle

Cahir, County Tipperary

MORE IRISH CASTLES:    BUNRATTY       CRAGGAUNOWEN       DUNGUAIRE      KNAPPOGUE       ROCK OF CASHEL 

  BRITISH CASTLES  

THIS ARTICLE FIRST APPEARED IN MARCH, 2009.                                          MOST RECENT UPDATE: 2014.

          The classic castle, like great art, is difficult to define. Ask anyone to describe his or her idealized castle, and you may get the same answer you commonly hear for great art: "I know what I like, and I’ll know it when I see it."
          We love castles — of all shapes and sizes and all states of repair. We have our favorites, too, just like we have our favorite music and painters. In this new series we will present castle we have enjoyed and hope our enthusiasm compels the reader to make their own pilgrimage to these great shrines of history and monuments to imagination.

          Our third nomination — Central Ireland’s Cahir Castle — is wonderfully photogenic, very accessible, dates from the 12th century, has a pedigree dating to ancient Celtic clans, was contested by Irish O'Briens, Anglo-Norman Butlers, and English troops during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and Oliver Cromwell. Today Cahir Castle belongs to the nation as an iconic representation of its turbulent history amid scenic tranquility.


 

W

E associate grand

 architecture less with
 Ireland than we do its

sublime landscape. Yet,

much of Ireland’s great architec-ture stands inseparable from its native setting. In the case of medieval Cahir Castle, the struc-ture not only belongs intrinsically to its natural surrounding, but also stands in stark opposition to it. And, if you agree that the principal paradox of Irishness is a fondness for apparent contra-dictions co-existing (more or less) in harmony, then Cahir Castle may be the quintessential medieval

Cahir Castle on the River Suir, Cahir, Co. Tipperary, Ireland. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE ON THE RIVER SUIR CAHIR, CO. TIPPERARY, IRELAND.
Photo © Home At First.

fortress of Ireland.

 

C

onjure a prime Irish fishing stream well inland among a pretty counterpane of
 hills and hollows, luring both anglers and the angled to a tug-o-war over a fly
 rod. Split the stream with a rocky island that creates a half-falls interrupting

the river’s placid progress with sudden whitewater. Dot the stream with dozens

of ducks, and with fishers up to their wader-tops casting for unseen quarry. Add one more element, an elephant in the room: a medieval hulk of a castle perched preposterously midstream on the rocky island. Now you have it: Cahir Castle, brawny shouldered behemoth balanced on tip-toes in the swift River Suir.

 

Cahir Castle: medieval island fortress. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE: MEDIEVAL
ISLAND FORTRESS
Photo © Home At First.

H

ISTORY: Cahir Castle or something similar has
 occupied the island in the Suir since prehistory.
 When the practice of recording written history

 became widespread throughout Ireland with the

arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the 12th century, it was recorded that one Conor O’Brien, the Prince of Thomond, a demi-kingdom in the Kingdom of Munster, built a castle called Cahir (from cathair: “fortress of
stone” in Celtic Gaelic) atop the remains of an earlier fortress on an island in the River Suir in the year 1142. Now it so happens that the place, Cahir, which grew up around the castle, became a market town in the southern extreme of County Tipperary. The O’Brien princes of Thomond were not from this bailiwick. Their kingdom was well to the north in the center of Ireland centered around the River Shannon as it passes through Lough Derg near where the modern counties of Limerick, Clare, and
northern Tipperary meet. The O’Brien clan became nationally prominent at the culmination of the Viking

 

wars when Irish forces under the command of

High King of Ireland and O’Brien clan chief Brian Boru destroyed the Viking forces at Clontarf (Dublin) in 1014. Brian Boru’s headquarters in his hometown of Killaloe, County Clare, were on the River Shannon at the point where it emerged from the south end of Lough Derg. Brian Boru was a castle builder. His best known fortress castle was the Rock of Cashel, in the Suir river valley eight miles north of Cahir. One hundred thirty years later Brian Boru’s descendent, Conor O’Brien,

continued his ancestor’s practice of building

 

key fortifications by erecting Cahir Castle.
          Vikings were no longer the invaders threatening Ireland. The fractious Irish clans were no longer the united force they had been under Brian Boru at the turn of the millennium. The Clan O’Brien had reason to fear the expansionist ambitions of neighboring Irish kingdoms. One new threat had less distance to travel and larger armies: the Anglo-Normans, conquerors of Britain. In less than a century the Normans had subdued almost all of Britain and now were looking to expand into Ireland, a short hop across the Irish Sea from occupied
Wales. Now Brian’s descendent Conor O’Brien had to prepare to protect his ancestral Kingdom of Thomond without knowing if his

Cahir Castle changed hands often during the insurrections and civil war of the late 16th and mid-17th centuries. Remarkably, its towers and battlements remain relatively unscathed. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE UNDERWENT SIEGES IN THE 16TH
AND 17TH CENTURIES, INCLUDING FALLING TO
 CROMWELL AND HIS ARMY DURING THE IRISH
 CONFEDERATE WARS. REMARKABLY, THE CASTLES
 TOWERS & BATTLEMENTS REMAIN LARGELY INTACT.
Photo © Home At First.

neighbors could be trusted and counted upon to

 

 

join him in fighting against any invading Anglo-Normans.

Cahir Castle is the real thing -- a medieval castle that invites exploration. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE IS THE REAL THING —
A MEDIEVAL CASTLE THAT
INVITES EXPLORATION.
Photo © Home At First.

          O’Brien’s choice of the island in the Suir was wise. What great medieval fortress didn’t come with a moat to prevent any enemies from scaling the castle walls? But
the river-as-a-moat strategy wasn’t enough. By the end
of the 12th century, Anglo-Normans and their supportive Irish clans had swept across most of Munster and much
of Ireland, including the Kingdom of Thomond. The new overlords of the region were the ancestral Butlers, one of the original, old Anglo-Norman families who carved Ireland into their personal fiefdoms. In 1375 Cahir Castle was deeded to the Butler family titular head, James, 3rd Earl of Ormond. The castle served the Butlers well. Except for a year at the end of the 16th century when Elizabethan forces held the castle — the Butler family
by this time had become very pro-Irish and anti-English —
and a five-year period when in the middle of the 17th century when it was in the hands of Oliver Cromwell’s Parliamentarians, Cahir Castle remained in possession
of the Butler family for most of the following 600 years.

 

The family continued to alter, upgrade, and use the

castle until the last of the ruling Butlers died in 1961, when ownership of Cahir Castle passed to the nation. The castle now welcomes guests daily throughout the year.

 


 

. CAHIR CASTLE

 CAHIR

 CO. TIPPERARY

 Photo © Home At First

IF YOU GO:

          Cahir Castle is a medieval castle that looks the part. Hollywood chose to use it as a remote set for the 1981 Anglo-American movie Excalibur. As one of the largest and most complete medieval castles in Ireland, the castle makes an excellent day-trip goal for Home At First guests staying in Central Ireland or in eastern County Cork.
          Sadly, periodic renovations and enlargements eradicated most of the original castle. Queen Elizabeth’s artillery also caused extensive damage to the walls — gunpowder trumps any moat. The last great restoration was done by the Butlers in the mid-19th century. Today, the castle remains principally a shell with most walls intact but few furnished rooms. As such, it is a virtual playground for young visitors who have access to battlements, ramparts, the great hall, the dungeon, and the scullery. Because much of what there is to see at Cahir Castle is outdoors,

Cahir Castle is open year-round. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE IS
OPEN YEAR ROUND.
Photo © Home At First

visitors should plan to visit on a dry day.

 

Guided group tours are available at Cahir Castle. Photo © Home At First.
GUIDED GROUP TOURS ARE
AVAILABLE AT CAHIR CASTLE.
Photo © Home At First

SPECIAL FACILITIES: The castle does have an indoor multi-media presentation that shows the development of the castle over time and how various spaces were utilized.

CASTLE OPEN: Daily, year round, from 9:30am until 4:30PM (mid-Oct thru Feb), until 5:30PM (Mar thru mid-Jun & Sep thru mid-Oct), and 9AM-6:30PM (mid-Jun thru Aug). Closed December 24-30.

CASTLE ADMISSION: €3/adults, €2/seniors, €1/children & students, €8/family.

HANDICAPPED ACCESS: narrow walkways, door sills, steps, steep ramps, and cobblestones make Cahir Castle difficult to negotiate for guests requiring wheelchairs or mobility assistance.

SAFETY: Parents be advised that steep, unprotected (no guard rails) access to ramparts, walls, and battlements can be dangerous for

 

children. Falling and slipping (especially in rainy

conditions) hazards exist throughout the castle. Children should be monitored closely at all times.

 

PARKING: A sizeable public parking lot is adjacent to the river across from the castle. You can avoid paying for parking by searching for on-street parking within two blocks of the castle. However, the busy market town of Cahir attracts lots of traffic and parking spaces are difficult to find.

RESTAURANTS/SNACKS: The castle offers no food services. However, a mobile snack bar operates in the castle parking lot for visitors in a hurry. For those with more time, there are several small restaurants along the streets of

Cahir Castle is the center of Cahir town. Several other visitor attractions are in the region and may easily combined with a visit to the castle. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE IS THE CENTER OF CAHIR (CAHER)
TOWN.  SEVERAL OTHER VISITOR ATTRACTIONS
ARE NEARBY.
Photo © Home At First

Cahir, especially north and east of the

 

castle on the town square and on Church and Castle Streets.

REST ROOMS: The castle does have rest rooms. Additional facilities are in the parking area adjacent to and across the river from the castle.

Notes:
    
Audio-visual presentation.
    
Guide pamphlet available.
    
Guided tours available.

Contact Telephone: +353 (0) 52 744 1011 

 

 

Cahir Castle is great fun for the whole family. Caution: children should be carefully supervised, especially on the open stone stairways and battlements. Photo © Home At First.
CAHIR CASTLE IS GREAT FUN FOR THE WHOLE
FAMILY. CAUTION: CHILDREN SHOULD BE
 SUPERVISED, ESPECIALLY ON THE OPEN
STONE STAIRCASES AND BATTLEMENTS.
Photo © Home At First

LOCATION: Cahir Castle is in the very center of Caher (Cahir) town, at the Castle Street river bridge just west of the town square, the intersection of Rt. R670 (Cashel Road, Church Street), Old Church Street, Wellington Street, Chapel Street, and Castle Street.

GETTING THERE: The N8 (southbound from Cashel) and the N24 (southeast bound from Limerick) intersect just north of Caher (Cahir) town. From their junction follows signs into central Caher and to Cahir Castle.

 

 

• GETTING THERE FROM CENTRAL IRELAND: The 110-mile-long Suir rises near the geographic center of the Republic of Ireland in northern County Tipperary east of Nenagh. The Suir’s meanderings provide a travelogue through much of Tipperary, leading south between the highlands of Tipperary and County Kilkenny through Thurles and just skirting Cashel town and its famous fortress/monastery (the Rock of Cashel) before reaching Cahir, where it turns east for the second half of its journey to Waterford and the sea. A day excursion from Home At First’s Central Ireland locations is most enjoyable by meandering like the Suir south from northern Tipperary. Combine with a visit to the Rock of Cashel, eight miles north of Cahir on the N8.

 

OTHER ATTRACTIONS IN THE AREA:

Swiss Cottage: the fanciful thatched hunting lodge of English Regency architect John Nash is on the SE edge of Caher along Rt. R670.

The Rock of Cashel: Ancient ecclesiastical fortress with associations to Brian Boru. Eight miles N of Caher on the north end of Cashel town on the Dublin Road (Rt. R639).

Tipperary Town: the county town of the South Riding (southern half) of County Tipperary is an authentic Irish agricultural market town, warts and all. Discover real rural Ireland here by walking its streets, shopping its stores, and eating lunch in a pub or café.

 

 

— VISIT CAHIR CASTLE —
as part of your next visit to Ireland.

 
This article comes from
Home At First's exclusive
"Ireland Activities Guide" that comes to you as part of your trip.
 
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