Did you know that Nenagh Castle had five large towers at one stage, which, back then, were thought to be the largest towers in Ireland and Britain? Or then there is the story of a local stern puritan, Solomon Newsome, who decided he wanted to blow up the castle remains because he reckoned the sparrows and other birds that were living on the ivy which was growing on the walls of the ruins were conspiring daily to steal his growing barley crop? Well, this week I’m going to take a look at Nenagh town’s most prominent building – Nenagh’s Legendary Castle, or the Nenagh Keep – so please join me on this historical trail; Another wonderful reason to visit Nenagh town and North Tipperary.
First up, Nenagh Castle was built between 1200 and 1220 and this fortress was the main seat of the Butler family until the 14th century. Theobald FitzWalter le Boteler, 1st Baron Butler, was granted the land of the Barony of Ormond Lower by King John of England. The Butler’s were eventually driven out in 1391 to Gowran in Kilkenny, in no small part to pressure from the native O’Kennedy clan and their allies. The Butler’s, however, would later acquire Kilkenny Castle, which would remain their seat of power for the following 500 years.
Above: Butler Coat of Arms
In 1336, when the Butler’s were still in resident in Nenagh Castle, a peace treaty was signed between the O’Kennedy’s and James Butler, 1st Earl of Ormond; Included in the treaty were terms of peace and grants of lands for the O’Kennedy clan. Six hundred and twenty seven years later, this original treaty was presented as a gift to President John Fitzgerald Kennedy, while he was on a state visit to Ireland. It can now be seen in the J. F. K. Library in Massachusetts. The terms of the treaty were eventually broke in 1347/8, when the O’Kennedy’s, O’Carroll’s and the O’Brien’s attacked the Castle. In the process the town of Nenagh was burned, but the attack on the Castle was unsuccessful.
During the sixteenth century, the first of a number of events occurred which would have historical consequences in relation to Nenagh Castle and Nenagh town. In 1533, the Castle was returned to the Butler’s from the hands of the Mac Ibrien family (the O’Brien clan) under Piers Butler, Earl of Ossory. Then in 1550 the town of Nenagh and the local Friary was burned again; this time by the O’Carroll clan, who must have been peed off about something or another. Onwards to 1641, and the town of Nenagh and it’s Castle was captured by Owen Roe O’Neill and his Irish forces, but this was short-lived, as Murrough O’Brien, 1st Earl of Inchiquin, retook the town. Then, in 1651 Cromwell’s troops paid Nenagh a visit and battered Nenagh Castle from high grounds to the East; the garrison eventually surrendered to Henry Ireton, who was Cromwell’s Parliamentary Deputy. In the aftermath, Ireton is said to have had the Castle’s Governor hung from the topmost window of the keep that is now known as Nenagh Castle. At the end of the Cromwellian Wars, the Castle was granted to Daniel Abbot, along with extensive lands, in lieu of payment form Cromwell, although the Castle was then returned again to the Butlers after the Restoration in 1660. (Image shows the tomb of Richard Butler, son of Piers Butler, resting in St Canice’s, Kilkenny.)
But that’s not the end of the troubled times for Nenagh Castle! Following this, there are a couple of reports from different sources. One of them claims that during the Jacobite War, which is said to have initially began in 1688, Anthony O’Carroll took the Castle from James Butler, the 2nd Duke of Ormond, who was supporting William of Orange, but the fortress was retaken yet again in 1690 by General Ginkel, who was later to become the 1st Earl of Athlone. Another report states that during the Williamite Wars, Patrick Sarsfield came this way too and also burned Nenagh castle. What I can gather is that O’Carroll was fighting with Sarsfield and it’s a simple case that what one report is stating is the Jacobite Wars, the other is stating the Williamite Wars. But if that wasn’t enough for poor old Nenagh Castle, following the Williamite Wars, Nenagh Castle was dismantled so that it would not be used again in further conflicts, with William of Orange ordering its destruction so that it would be “rendered indefensible in ill hands“. (Image shows the ruined Nenagh Castle as it once was.)
And that brings us to 1750, when a certain Solomon Newsome (he from the O’Newsomes over yonder) decided it would be a good idea to blow up the rest of the Castle because flocks of birds that were nesting in it’s remnants were destroying his barley crop nearby. (had they no scarecrows back then?) Seemingly this genius decided to undermine the Castle by digging a great hole underneath it in the hope that it would fall, but this didn’t work, so instead Newsome came up with an idea of using a barrel of gunpowder. It exploded alright, but all it did was make a great hole in the tower’s side, and so the tower, or the great Keep of the Nenagh Castle remained standing. (Image shows the layoutplans for Nenagh Castle)
And onto 1860, when Bishop Flannery initiated plans to build a Cathedral in Nenagh town. To do this, a lot of funds were needed and so a number of priests were sent to North America on a fund-raising mission. In the meantime, Bishop Flannery bought the Castle ruins and the surrounding lands, and he then set about restoring the Castle Keep so it could be incorporated in the new Cathedral he was building. Everything was going well until War again intervened; This time the American Civil War and so with funding drying up from the United States, Bishop Flannery’s plans came to an abrupt end. Even still, his endeavours had been a blessing to Nenagh Castle and it’s appearance. Bishop Flannery’s plans saw the uneven top of the tower was raised and dressed with a new parapet wall. There was also an area of land nearby that was known as ‘The Stony Field’ which was cleared up around this time with the building of the Town Hall and the local Court House, but I’ll come to that another day. (Old Photo of Nenagh Castle probably taken during the late 1800’s – the new crown is clearly visible as been newly laid.)
But all of this history brings us right up to today. In recent times Nenagh Castle has been renovated and after being reopened by President Michal D. Higgins in 2012, it is now a museum that is open to the public, whereby you can walk right to the top for a completely unique panoramic view of the town and countryside. When you visit Nenagh town, this is most definitely a major tourist attraction that you do not want to miss. It is filled with history with a mountain of connections to Kings and Kingdoms, Rebels and Rebellions, Tyrants and Arsonists, Irish Clans and Celtic Leaders, and also an American President, and that’s just the start. It’s bloodied history is well behind it now, so come along and share in the experience of Nenagh Castle – another reason to visit Nenagh town! (Image shows Nenagh Castle under a stormy Tipperary Sky, but this Fine Keep has endured a lot more stormier times than just a drop of rain in its time.)
And finally to finish off this week’s post, here are a number of other images taken from Nenagh Castle. If anyone wants to add anything to this post, please leave a comment or contact us at nenaghsilentfilmfestival.wordpress.com, or even if there’s someone out there who might have spotted any inaccuracies in this post – I’m happy to be corrected. As things stand the information here has been gathered from a number of sources including: Hidden Tipperary, eBook Ireland, Tudor Place, JFK Library, Wikipedia and Irish Fireside. See y’all next week so.
A Few Interior Views of the Newly Renovated Nenagh Castle
Below is a High Definition Scanned Image of Nenagh Castle. Click on Image for more details
Posted by Michael ‘Charlie’ McGee