The land was apparently granted to Hervey Walter, the brother in
law of the English Justiciar, Ranulf Glanville (d.1190), by King Henry
II, presumably in the 1170s. Hervey's son, Theobald Walter
(d.1206), the brother of Archbishop Hubert Walter of Canterbury
(d.1205) was apparently granted the title of Butler of Ireland by
Prince John around 1192. He was also allegedly granted a large
area of the NE part of Limerick. This became the modern baronies
of Tullough in Clare, Clonlisk and Ballybritt in Offaly, Eliogarty,
Upper and Lower Ormond, Owney and Arra in Tipperary, Owneybeg,
Clanwilliam and Coonagh in Limerick. As Nenagh is virtually at
the junction of Upper and Lower Ormond and Owney and Arra, it is to be
presumed that Theobald built Nenagh castle to consolidate his control
of this district at the end of the 12th C. Excavation under the
gatehouse has shown that there was no earlier castle under the current
masonry remains, so the masonry castle currently standing is what
Theobald built, assuming that he built the first castle and not one of
his descendants. The granting of the land had probably happened
before 1185 when Theobald's men were involved in the death of Donal Mor
na Corra MacCarthy near Cork in that year. In 1194 Theobald
campaigned for King Richard I against Prince John in Lancashire.
As a consequence the king made him sheriff of the county.
In early 1200 King John deprived Theobald of all his lands and offices
apparently because of irregularities that had occurred when he was
sheriff of Lancaster, but more likely through personal animosity at
Theobald's actions in 1194. In Ireland his lands appear to have
been given to King John's favourite, William Braose Senior of Brecon and Radnor (bef.1155-1211), for in January 1202 a charter was made:
Grant by William Broase to Theobald Butler of the burgh of Kildelon,
the cantref of Elykaruel, Eligarty, Ormond, Ara and Oiney....
This probably refers to Killaloe, Ely O'Carroll (Clonlisk and
Ballybritt), Eliogarty, both Ormonds and Owney and Arra. Quite
obviously this included Nenagh castle and marked the return of these
lands to the family. Theobald's lands were inherited by his son,
who chose to call himself Theobald le Botiller who was the first of
three generations to be called Theobald Butler. They died in
1230, 1248 and 1285. The grandson of the last Theobald was James
Butler (d.1338) who became the first earl of Ormond. It was one
of the subsequent earls who lost the castle to the O'Briens in the late
14th C. In 1533, Piers Butler, who was later earl, recovered the
castle, only to have it burnt by the O'Carrolls in 1548.
The castle had a shield shaped plan with a twin towered gatehouse at
the point. Two drum towers lay on the E & W peripheries,
while a keep stood to the N. Apart from one drum tower of the
gatehouse, the keep, fragments of the other gatetower attached to a
later hall-like structure and fragments of the E tower survive.
The round keep is the joy of the castle originally rising some 72' high
to the wallwalk. Unfortunately this was heightened to being 100'
high by the addition of an ugly folly in the mid 19th C. The
tower is 52' in diameter with walls up to 15' thick at the sloping
plinthed base. The keep was originally entered at 2nd floor level
and was 4 storeys high. From the 2nd floor a spiral stair rose to
a hall above and a probable solar at the summit. Both upper rooms
have fine early fireplaces. From the hall to E&W embrasures
led to dog-legged passages leading onto the wallwalks of the destroyed
curtains via Romanesque doorways. On the floor above a similar
arrangement leads to a fine corbelled out garderobe. The loops
are long and narrow, reminiscent of those at Chepstow and Usk in Wales.
The gatehouse and other towers were all about 33' in diameter and there
as a postern S of the E tower. Old prints show that parts of the
curtain were still standing and a there was a ditch around the castle
in the 19th C. Terryglass castle, also in Tipperary, has 4 round
towers in a rectangular ward.
If you would like to visit this and
other great castles of Ireland I am leading a tour there in
feel free to look over the details by clicking
Paul Martin Remfry