Cahir Castle

Cahir castle was probably founded about the same time as Rath Fionn was raised into a motte castle at Knockgraffon by Philip Worcester (d.1215/20) in 1192.  This was probably before 1200 by which time Geoffrey Camville of Llanstephan (d.1219) in Wales was probably married to Felicia Worcester, Philip's daughter and heiress.  Before 1200 Geoffrey had founded a priory at Kaherdunesche - Cahir down Eske.  Geoffrey and Felicia's son and heir, Richard Camville, died between 1258 and 1260 and Cahir passed to Felicia's cousin once removed, Basilia Worcester (d.1275+).  She passed the castle on to her husband, Meilor Bermingham (d.1263) of Athenry.  Meilor died in 1263 near Cashel and was buried in Athenry priory.  Their son, Peter Bermingham, died in 1308 leaving 3 sons.  Meilor died in 1302, Richard (d.1332) and William.  The Berminghams were associated with
Roger Mortimer of Wigmore (d.1330) and consequently were looked upon with disfavour after Roger's execution.  William Bermingham was executed on 11 August 1332 after he attempted to escape imprisonment from Dublin castle.  Despite this, the castle soon reverted to his son, Walter, who died in 1350, rather than to Thomas (d.1373), the son of Richard (d.1332), who inherited Athenry.  He was succeeded by the last and final Walter Bermingham of Cahir who died on 24 August 1361, his Irish lands then passing through his widow, Margaret Scales (d.1416), to her next husband, Robert Howard (d.1388).

Presumably Robert Howard gave or sold the castle to the Butlers, who had possession of the castle in 1375.  After this the castle is known to have been captured 3 times.  Once by the earl of Essex in 1599, after it had been battered for three days with artillery, bringing down a portion of the east wall.  This caused its commander, James the brother of Lord Thomas, to escape from the fortress by swimming under the water mill.  Next it surrendered without a fight to Lord Inchiquin in 1647 and then again to Cromwell in 1650.  Refurbishments were made to the fortress in the 1840s and it was only in 1961 when the last Lord Cahir died that the castle reverted to the state.

The initial castle consisted of a rectangular ward some 100' square, set on the rock in the River Suir.  To north-east and north-west were internal rectangular towers, while to the south-west was a large domestic block with a thinner internal wall.  The north-east tower is still only entered at first floor level, there also being no loops in the basement.  Between the two north towers steps lead down to the boldly projecting circular well tower.  This would appear to be thirteenth century or later.  The hall, using the enceinte as the west wall butted against the north-west tower.  This is a near rectangle and has an apparently later garderobe turret squashed between it and the projecting hall.  The tower seems to have been entered from the hall and was therefore probably a solar block.  The hall was originally a single floor as can be told from the visible ghosting of its roof on the north-west tower.  The 3 original window embrasures to the west have inserted fifteenth century tracery.  The block seems to have been shortened to the south at some point in its history as a thirteenth century fireplace is now external.  Alternatively this might mark the site of the kitchen.

The south-east tower was a boldly projecting circular tower, the only flanking in the entire early enceinte.  The main walls were only 5' thick, but 13' high.  In the centre of the main approach to the south was a large internal gatetower 100' across by 75' wide.  This had long guardrooms on either side of the gate passageway.  In the fifteenth century this passageway was blocked up and a spiral stair inserted into the 
north-west corner.  The 1st floor consists of a single great chamber which once housed the portcullis mechanism.  The space for this is now occupied by a large late medieval fireplace.  Similar large rectangular gatetowers like this converted into keeps exist at nearby Glanworth in Cork and at Roscrea in Tipperary.

When the gatehouse was converted into the keep two new sequential gates were added to the 
east.  The outer gate of this reuses the earlier gate arch and portcullis grooves from the gatehouse.  Probably around the same time as this was done a large outer ward, 165' long by 110' wide was added to the south.  This had two strongly projecting round turrets to east and west at the extremes.  The hole in the wall gate was a third of the way down the new east wall and was protected by a later long barbican which also had a circular turret at the angle.  A further middle ward was also created by adding a thick crosswall in front of the gatehouse/keep.  Access to its wallwalk was gained via mural stairs in the gate itself.  A sketch from the siege of 1599 shows that the castle was complete by that date.

If you would like to visit this and other great castles of Ireland I am leading a tour there in October.  Please feel free to look over the details by clicking here.


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