Featured image for Cahir Castle

An Ancient Spectacle – Cahir Castle

Situated on a rocky island above the river Suir is one of the largest ancient castles in Ireland. While also being named as the best-preserved, Cahir Castle is truly a sight to behold. It has a rather skilful design and in only a glance, you can see just how much pride, time, and effort went into creating this marvel.

The castle almost appears to grow from the actual rock underneath it which gives it a unique look to differentiate it from other castles.

The history of Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle has played home to many bombardments and sieges throughout the many centuries it has been standing. It was built as a state-of-the-art defensive castle and even today, it stands just as mighty. For such a unique 13th to 15th-century structure, it is amazing just how much of it still remains to this day.

This castle has plenty of stories to tell from many years as a defensive castle. So, let’s dive into the history of Cahir Castle and learn more.

Castle Chair with the river Suir in the foreground
The castle sits on a rocky island above the river Suir. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The early history

For this castle, it all began back in the 13th century when the castle was sited on and near an earlier native fortification known as a cathair (stone fort). It is also said that this is where the castle got its name from. The very original structure of the castle was built by the O’Brien family in the 13th century. The castle was built in two different parts meaning the side nearest to the street was built 200 years before the other side.

The Butler family

In the late 14th century, the castle was then granted to the very powerful Butler family. More specifically, it was granted to James Butler, newly created Earl of Ormond, for the loyalty he gave to Edward III. His son, also named James, then passed the lands around the barony of Iffa and Offa West to his children, even though they were not themselves noble.

When the first of the Barons Cahir was created, in 1542, this all changed completely. It is said that this branch of the Butler dynasty sided with the Roman Catholic Irish in the Elizabethan wars, unlike their Anglican kinsmen.

Within the walls of Cahir Castle
The castle was granted to the Butler family in the late 14th century. Source: Pixabay.

Turmoil begins

In the year 1599, the castle was captured by the army of the Earl of Essex after a three-day siege. For a whole year afterwards, it was put under the charge of Sir Charles Blount. In 1601, Lord Cahir joined with the Earl of Tyrone and was then attained for treason. However, later on, he obtained a full pardon.

It was in 1627 that the castle was home to a rather gruesome celebrated killing. It came around when Cahir’s son-in-law, Lord Dunboyne, murdered his distant cousin, James Prendergast in a dispute over an inheritance. He was later tried for the killing but was quickly acquitted.

The Irish Confederate Wars

During the Irish Confederate Wars, the castle was besieged twice. George Mathew, the guardian of the young Lord Cahir, surrendered to Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin following his victory at the Battle of Knocknanauss in the year 1647. Then, in 1650, he once again surrendered.

This time, he surrendered to Oliver Cromwell during his conquest of Ireland without as much as a shot fired.

Cahir Castle was besieged twice during the Irish Confederate Wars. Source: Flickr.

The current day

Unfortunately, the gorgeous castle fell into disrepair in the 18th century. However, in the 1840’s it was partially restored, and the Great Hall was partly rebuilt. Then, in 1961, the last Lord Cahir passed away and the castle became the property of the Irish state. When the 20th century came around, the castle was named a National Monument. Nowadays, managed by the Office of Public Works, who maintain the castle and operate tours.

You may enjoy reading about other Irish castles such as Donegal Castle.

Cahir Castle Timeline

  • 13th century- The castle is built
  • 14th century- The castle is granted to the very powerful Butler family
  • 1599- The castle is captured by the army of the Earl of Essex after a three-day siege
  • 1601- Lord Cahir joined with the Earl of Tyrone and was then attained for treason
  • 1627- The castle is home to a rather gruesome celebrated killing
  • 1647- George Mathew surrenders to Murrough O’Brien, 6th Baron Inchiquin following his victory at the Battle of Knocknanauss
  • 1650- George Mathew surrenders once again
  • 18th century- The castle falls into disrepair
  • The 1840s- The castle is partially restored, and the Great Hall is partly rebuilt
  • 1961- The last Lord Cahir passes away and the castle becomes the property of the Irish state
  • 20th century- The castle is named a National Monument

Cahir Castle facts

  • Cahir Castle is home to a fascinating 800-year history
  • When it was first built, Cahir Castle was the largest and the most impressive during its time
  • In 1975, the castle served as a setting for the Stanley Kubrik classic ‘Barry Lyndon’
  • The castle has managed to retain most of its features
  • It is one of the most visited castles in Ireland
  • It is one of the largest and best-preserved castles in Ireland
  • When first built, it was said to be the most impregnable castle in Ireland
  • Two cannonballs are still embedded in the castle walls as a reminder of the siege in 1599
  • The castle only fell when heavy artillery was used against it for the first time

Featured in TV and Film

  • The Conflict (1973)
  • Barry Lyndon (1975)
  • Excalibur (1981)
  • Saban’s Mystic Knights of Tir Na Nog (1998)
  • The Last Duel (2021)
  • The Green Knight (2021)

Books on Cahir Castle

  • Cahir Castle, Co. Tipperary by Aighleann (1999)
  • Cahir Castle by Conleth Manning (publish date unknown)

Who owns Cahir Castle?

These days, the castle is owned by the Office of Public Works who do a great job managing the caste and grounds. The Office of Public Works maintains the castle while also operating all of the tours.

Tourism

Cahir Castle has been beautifully restored and is a magnificent place to visit. To visit, all groups must be prebooked to ensure that there is space available. The tours go for roughly 30-40 minutes and include all of the hearty information you need to know about the castle. The audiovisual show allows visitors to engage in what like would have been like long ago.

The castle is easy to find and is located right in the heart of Cahir Town. Currently, an adult ticket is 3 euros while children only cost 1 euro. Special days such as Heritage Day will allow free entry to the castle. Cahir Castle is open all year round except for Christmas week.

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