Monday, 4 February 2013

Ormonde Castle, Carrick-on-Suir, Co. Tipperary

Ormonde Castle sits picturesquely along the banks of the River Suir, in the small town of Carrick-on-Suir, some ten miles upstream from Waterford City. The castle there integrates two fifteenth century towers with a sixteenth century manor house. Erected c. 1565 by Thomas Butler, tenth earl of Ormonde, the manor house is said to be the finest surviving example of an Elizabethan house built in Ireland. The house remained in the hands of the Butler family into the twentieth century, but by this stage had fallen into serious disrepair. Presented to the Irish state in 1947 the house was subsequently restored and is now open to the public. The castle was used frequently as part of the popular historical drama series 'The Tudors'.

Here one can see the two earlier medieval towers to the rear, fronted by the newer Elizabethan mansion. The house was largely bereft of any substantial defensive features, reflecting the new found confidence of the Butler family in their position as rulers of much of Ireland's southeast. This confidence in a lasting peace can be seen by the large number of windows in his new home; windows by the stage were an uncommon sight in Irish houses. The tenth earl, better-known as 'Black Tom'', had himself been a frequent visitor to court in London, and was on good terms with Elizabeth I; he was undoubtedly familiar with contemporary architectural styles in England. 'Black Tom' was a cousin to Elizabeth, the seventh earl of Ormonde having been a grandfather to Elizabeth's mother, Anne Boleyn. 

A view of a ground floor room in a ruinous state 

The Butlers were an old Norman family who could trace their roots in Ireland to the Norman invasions of the twelfth century. The Butler lordship corresponded roughly to the modern-day counties of Tipperary and Kilkenny, and was second in size only to earldom of Desmond. Although in time the family became more associated with Kilkenny, where they built an impressive castle, initially their seat of power was at Carrick-on-Suir. The town's location on the Suir lent itself as a trading centre, with many wealthy merchant families establishing mantelshelves there. Recently a horde of seventeenth century gold coins has been discovered during an excavation of one of the town's many pubs. 

The fireplace in the long gallery is believed to date from 1565. Built of limestone, it was adorned with an elaborate overmantel, containing an ornate armorial. We are led to believe that Tom had such high hopes that Elizabeth would one day visit his castle that the stucco frieze contained a bust of the queen. His dream, however, went unrealized, Elizabeth never having visited Ireland. 

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