27th March – 24th October. (opening date currently tbc)
10:00 – 18:00
Last Admission – 17:15
25th October -1st November
Last admission- 16.15
Site closes for 2020 season on the 1st of November.
Access to the site is by Guided Tour only.
Access by guided tour only
Maximum No: 20 – 25
Duration: 45 minutes
Photography / Video allowed:
Please note access for visitors with disabilities is restricted
off Castle Street,
Tel No: +353 51 640 787
Fax No: +353 51 640 787
AV Presentation available : English with subtitles in Irish , Italian ,French, German, Spanish , Polish and Chinese.
Duration 15 Minutes . Last Av 17:00
There is also a scaled model of how Ormond castle would have looked in its heyday & digital books charting the history of the Butler Family & the Tudor Mansion.
Public car /coach parking close to the site. The nearest car park to the site is located at New Street , Carrick-On- Suir , Co Tipperary
Ormond Castle is the best example of an Elizabethan manor house in Ireland. It was built by Thomas Butler, the 10th Earl of Ormond in the 1560s.
A recent addition to the castle tour is a €270,000 interpretation scheme in the Castle’s exhibition and audio-visual rooms telling the story of the Tudor manor’s origins and the Earl who built it for Queen Elizabeth 1 through animated films, inter-active digital books and an exhibition of reproduction Tudor era paintings and tapestries .Two 7 minute animations tell the story from both “Black Tom’s “perspective & from his then wife Elizabeth Berkley . The animations were shortlisted for the Heritage in Motion category in the European Museum Academy awards , where they were awarded the runner-up prize.
The original medieval Ormond Castle was a stronghold securing a strategic spot on the river Suir dating to the 1300’s. It belonged to a branch of the influential Butler family whose first member, Theobald Walter, arrived in Ireland with the first wave of the Norman invasion as butler to Prince John , Lord of Ireland & future King of England.. He was given the title Chief Butler of Ireland (hence the Butler name) , for his services & personally served the King on state occasions, and with this came the right to levy his own tax on all wine imports into Ireland – as the Normans were known to like a tipple this ensured that Theobald Walter and his successors became very wealthy indeed. He was also rewarded for his service by being granted vast lands in the southeast of Ireland, particularly centred around Counties Tipperary, Kilkenny and parts of Waterford.
In 1315 his great- great-grandson, Edmund Butler acquired the town Carrickmacgriffin (now known as Carrick-on-Suir) in south Tipperary. As the family’s prominence grew, Edmund’s son, James Butler (d. 1338) was created 1st Earl of Ormond in 1328.
The Castle was originally built in the 1300s, the remains visible today largely date to later than the fourteenth century. In the grounds you can see the ruins of a medieval bawn (a fortified walled enclosure), with two tall fourteenth or fifteenth century towers, while the main manor house building dates to the Tudor Period.
Closely integrated into the manor house were two 15th century towers, both five-storeys high, constructed within the curtain wall. One can almost hear the lute from the Minstrels’ Gallery in the Great Hall or imagine the smell of boiling vegetables and bacon from the cauldrons in the busy and noisy fire-lit kitchens. Throughout this period, and probably well into the 17th century, the castle formed an integral part of the south-eastern corner of the town wall defences of Carrick-on-Suir.
It is the country’s only major unfortified dwelling from that turbulent period. The Original castle was built over two centuries by the Butler family, one of the great Anglo-Norman clans, but it is dominated by the work of Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond (1531-1616), “Black Tom”, a product of an Ireland torn by social and political conflict. It was an era of conquest with the Tudor dynasty continuing the business of making Ireland a colony. Once-powerful Anglo-Norman lordships were collapsing. It was the age of the Reformation. By 1541, Henry VIII, previously the Lord of Ireland, had declared himself King of Ireland. The Protestant religion was being imposed on Ireland. The Tudor Period was a turbulent time in Irish history. An uprising by the Butler’s long-time rivals, The Fitzgeralds, had just been defeated, and King Henry VIII had become the first English Monarch to declare himself ‘King of Ireland’. He began a process of plantations and conquest that was continued after his death, during the reigns of Mary and then Elizabeth.
Thomas Butler, who succeeded to his titles and lands in 1546 as a very young teenager, became a child of Henry’s court. Henry saw how important the Butlers could be to him in Ireland. Thomas was the model of English hopes for Ireland, as the English Crown had little control beyond the Pale and now wanted to pacify and reform the rest of Ireland He was raised in the English court and shared a tutor with the future king of England, Edward VI. Thomas Butler attended Edward’s coronation in 1546, at which he became a Knight of the Order of Bath. When the young king died. Thomas remained at court, and became a player in the circle surrounding the boy’s elder sister, Queen Mary.
His life as a leading courtier began to flourish when Elizabeth I took the throne in 1558. Within a year, she had appointed Thomas Butler Lord Treasurer of Ireland. Regarding him as her “Black Husband”, because of his dark rugged looks. She also made him Privy Councillor, presented him with the Order of the Garter and excused him of all debts.
When he returned from England at 22 , he brought with him a high regard for Elizabethan-style architecture,& added the Tudor manor house to the castle , the first of its kind in Ireland. It is said that Queen Elizabeth I had promised her cousin that she would one day visit. The new Castle was designed to be admired. The very fact that Thomas could build such a structure was testament to the security he felt in both financial and military terms.
Whilst Irish nobility lived in fortified tower houses at the time, Thomas brought with him new trends and emerging ideas from Europe. His unfortified Renaissance mansion was a daring initiative and a dazzling showcase. Did the 10th Earl build this house to accommodate a royal visit or in order to live in surroundings similar to those he had become accustomed to at court? It is also thought that Thomas had spent time in Edward Seymour’s household. He had built Somerset House between 1547-1552 and many of the architectural elements of this dwelling such as the arched entrance, symmetrical windows and courtyard behind the front block, are replicated here in Carrick-on-Suir.
One of the more interesting features of the decoration of the building are the less-than-subtle references made to the Queen in the plasterwork and paintings. There can be seen in one decoration the letters “T.O.” (Thomas Ormond) and “E.R.” (Elizabeth Regina), and it was no secret amongst the gentry that the Earl wished to make Elizabeth his wife. This idea, it seemed, appealed to her. Rebellion, however, was to break out in Munster and Elizabeth never visited the Castle that Ormond had, apparently, so lovingly created for her.
Their bond was close and it was a relationship Thomas never allowed anyone to forget.. Even today, a visitor admiring the plasterwork of the famous Long Gallery will note the presence of Elizabeth I. One of the two majestic chimneypieces bears a large stone over-mantel. Above it is the Ormond coat of arms with a Latin inscription announcing that in the year 1565, the seventh year of the reign of Queen Elizabeth, Thomas Butler more or less hit the jackpot in terms of securing royal favour.
Images of the lady prevail. No-one could possibly visit his home and remain unaware of his connection with the queen of England. A plaster frieze runs much of the length of the 100-foot gallery depicting allegorical figures with heads of Elizabeth and her brother, Edward, Butler’s boyhood friend, and their family coat of arms. The ceiling plasterwork includes the Tudor Rose and other Tudor heraldic devices as well as the queen’s personal arms.
Thomas Butler was an interesting character, a man who was considered by the English to be “wholly English”, whereas the FitzGerald’s of Desmond were considered dangerously “Irish”. Ormond was well regarded as a friend of the Crown in Ireland.
Interestingly, this former Catholic now Protestant gentleman also appears to have been well liked by the Gaelic Irish. In an age of short life spans, he lived to the age of 83, surviving three wives (the first of whom he had divorced) and all his legitimate male heirs.
Judging by the beauty of the manor house, which is the north front of Ormond Castle, Thomas was a sophisticated man of style who was shaped by his time at court. Near the end however, this servant of the English Crown fell out of favour. Old and blind, he returned to his house on the Suir, always his favourite home. He is buried in St Canice’s Cathedral in Kilkenny city.
The state rooms contain some of the finest decorative plasterwork in the country, including plasterwork portraits. Sometime after 1565, Thomas Butler, 3rd Earl of Ormond, (referred to sometimes as the 10th Earl of Ormond) spent many years at the court of his cousin, through Anne Boleyn, Queen Elizabeth I. The decorative frieze incorporates much original material and comprises alternating panels of the Butler coat of arms, and various cartouche panels, some of which carry the motto in old French ‘Plus Pense que é Dére’ (to think more than is said); a quotation from the French poet, Charles, Duke of Orléans. Original plasterwork can also be found in the ground-floor parlour, a room most probably used by the family for informal dining. Here are the remains of a plasterwork frieze that feature heraldic beasts, the falcon and the griffin, alternating with a device known as the Ormond or ‘Wake’ knot, sometimes called a Carrick knot.
The manor house is enhanced by the mullioned windows on both floors to the front and the oriel windows of the porch in the centre of the facade. The gallery on the first floor features two carved stone chimney pieces and a ceiling and frieze of Elizabethan plaster-work.
The U-shape of the manor house surrounds a small courtyard that abuts the north of the castle. The manor has two floors and a gabled attic.
Once the house would have stood in extensive parkland. Records show there was a deer park, orchards, gardens, a peach house, and after the Restoration, the then Duke of Ormond kept a large stable of horses.
artists impression of Ormond Castle at its height
A scaled model of how Ormond Castle & its grounds would have looked at the time is on display in the Castle. Except for the remains of a walled garden to the east of the castle, no traces of these remain, The centuries and social change have caught up with Ormond Castle and now the site it occupies is relatively small.
Yet that site, peaceful and scenic if not quite romantic, has a long association with the Butlers who probably first came here in 1309, when Edmund Butler was granted the land by Edward II. Edmund built the earliest Butler fortification, which culminated in Edmund Mac Richard Butler’s medieval towers. It would have been a key position for the area, with access to Clonmel, with the port of Waterford on the south-east and, of course, the city of Kilkenny little more than 20 miles away, with its extensive lands even closer. Carrick on Suir was sufficiently important in the 16th century to feature under its old name of Carrickmacgriffin, on Boazio’s famous 1599 map of Ireland.
The inner courtyard at the house is typical of many surviving courtyards of the period in England. At Ormond Castle, Thomas Butler’s legacy dominates. The house, which is only one room deep, appears to tell much of its story through the existence of that long gallery. What conversations must have once been held here? It is likely events at the often volatile court of Elizabeth I were discussed as freely as the local political gossip.
The Butlers finally left in the 18th century and so began a period during which various tenants came and went. Initially these tenants were prosperous. A Waterford wine merchant named Galwey rented the castle in the 1780s. Later, Wogan, a solicitor, moved in. His occupancy proved significant for what must be now regarded as the wrong reasons; Wogan had many of the old buildings demolished from 1816 onwards. As each tenant was poorer than the last, the rooms were subdivided. What had been a seat of wealth & power become a mere shelter for the hungry. Ormond Castle’s decline was dramatic.
In 1947, the castle, then derelict although still roofed, was placed under the guardianship of the Office of Public Works, and so passed into State ownership. Restoration work began. Central to this has been the revival of the Renaissance plasterwork, which is some places was so badly damaged it required remoulding made from casts taken of the original, which is Flemish in style.
More than 400 years after its construction, as an addition to the much earlier Butler castle, this manor house remains dignified and elegant, the restoration has been geared towards conservation rather than pastiche reconstruction. Housing a fascinating collection of charters, Carrick on Suir’s architectural treasure offers an insight into the life of the new aristocrats in an Ireland suspended between the English court and the emerging Irish chiefs, yet its story somehow seems far more about Europe than it does about Ireland. To visit Ormond Castle is to experience European style as adopted by a courtier who brought his ideas to Co Tipperary. The main reason visitors frequent the site today is to see the remarkable Renaissance manor house, the earliest of the unfortified castles in Ireland, and now the only one remaining of this early group.
Friendship with Elizabeth I
During this chaotic period, Thomas Butler, Earl of Ossory and 10th Earl of Ormond succeeded to his lands and titles in 1546 when he was just 15 years old. Thomas had grown up at the English Court, and was seen as a faithful friend to the Crown. He was a personal friend to the young Elizabeth (and some suggest perhaps their friendship was more romantic than platonic) and he shared a tutor with the future King Edward VI.
Following King Henry VIII’s death, Thomas Butler was present at the coronation of the young King Edward and he was proclaimed as a Knight of the Order of Bath, a very high honour. Following Edward’s death at a young age, he remained at court during Mary’s reign and rose to high favour and prominence when Elizabeth became queen. She named him Lord Treasurer of Ireland, a position that brought great wealth and prestige.
It is said that he had the handsome Manor House of Ormond Castle constructed in preparation for a planned visit by Queen Elizabeth I. However she never journeyed to Ireland to see this splendid building. Originally, its handsome stone walls would have been covered with a plaster render and whitewashed in the fashion of the time , which you can now see once again , with the recent refurbishment carried out by the OPW. The building faces outwards onto what would have been a large park with a grand carriageway.
Perhaps most impressive of all is the rare plaster stucco friezes that depict the coat of arms of the Butler family as well as griffins, falcons and portrait busts of Elizabeth I. You can also see impressive grand fireplaces in this stately room that once would have been filled with portraits and tapestries, leaving visitors to Ormond Castle in no doubt about the wealth and taste of the Earl of Ormond.
At the far end of the courtyard is a blocked up archway. It’s really interesting to think that in ‘times of yore’, the River Suir flowed right up to the gate, and goods and people were transported in and out of the castle that way. Over the years the river has changed course and moved further away from the gate.
model of river at goods entrance
We would like to thank the OPW , Tipperary Tourism & Munster Vales for their help with this article.