A Travel Guide:
Built in the 13th century, this is no castle ruin, it is a remarkably well-preserved castle with some period furniture to give you a sense of what it was like in it's glory days. This castle actually remained under the control of a Lord Cahir until the early 1960's, which is probably why it remained so well cared for.
For movie buffs, they may enjoy learning this site was used not only for a battle scene in the 1981 film Excalibur but also in the historical drama The Tudors. For just 5€ (4€ for seniors, 3€ for children, and 13€ for families) you can enjoy a video presentation about the history of this and other castles in Ireland, a castle museum, and take a guided tour of the castle. But make sure you bring cash, as they don't accept credit or debit card payments (as of this writing).
Getting to Cahir Castle
The town of Cahir is centrally located between Cork, Kilkenny, Limerick, and Waterford. The castle is extremely easy to find as it sits on what looks like an island right in the center of town. A parking area right across the river makes for easy access. You will have to pay for parking, just 5€ per hour. You may want to pay for 2 hours at least, to get the most out of your visit. There are plenty of places to grab a bite to eat. The Stonebridge Cafe came highly recommended for lunch.
The Cahir Castle Experience
Just standing in the parking area next to the castle, you'll get a sense you should be wearing armor and yielding a sword. With the River Suir flowing before you, you'll feel like a drawbridge should be part of this equation. The walk across the bridge is picturesque and you should make time to cross on both sides and the view the man made water drop opposite the castle.
Admittedly, I did not get to take full advantage of my time in Cahir. As I drove into town, I seemed to spot another castle up on the hill, and rather than spending my time in one castle, I decided to walk across town to also photograph the other. Sadly, the other castle was actually a bed and breakfast called Carrigeen Castle. As I looked over the wall I saw a mix of modern and medieval. I'm not sure of it's historic significance, but it gets good reviews, so it might be a fun place to stay while castle hunting in this region.
While taking some selfies outside the castle, I saw plenty of geese playing king of the mountain on the rocks. There is also a park behind the castle if you want to stretch your legs. It was a great midday stop for me after seeing 3 castle locations (Rock of Dunamase, Rock of Cashel, Kells Priory) earlier in the day.
History of Cahir Castle
Built by Conor O'Brien in 1142, the land and original castle passed into the ownership of Butler family in 1375. The Butler's were friends of the English Crown and had taken part in the Norman Invasion of Ireland in the 12th century.
The location and design of the castle made it very hard to attack. It was fortified even further and started to take it's current shape in the 15th century. Finally in 1599, the castle fell under seige when Queen Elizabeth I sent the Earl of Essex to Cahir Castle to defeat Hugh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone and the "rabble of rogues," who were resisting English rule during the Nine Years' War. The three day seige however was unsuccessful and in 1600 the castle returned to the control of the Butler family without a shot being fired.
Again the Butler's were challenged in 1650 when Oliver Cromwell's armies invaded Ireland. By surrendering the castle, it survived any damage. By 1662, with Cromwell defeated, the Butlers regained control and someone in the family owned it until it's final inhabitant died in 1961.
The Thorn In Queen Elizabeth's Side
Hugh O'Neill, the Earl of Tyrone, spent years finding ways to annoy Queen Elizabeth I. A master at politics, he used bribes and treaties to further his causes. After being pardoned by the Queen, within 2 months he took up arms and defeated the English army at the Battle of Yellow Ford, a major setback for English control over Ireland. The Queen was fed up and sent the Earl of Essex to put down the uprising. Instead, he managed to lose three-quarters of his army, negotiated favorable terms to O'Neill, and then went back to England all against the Queen's wishes. This lead to his execution for treason. But in a way, the Queen got the last laugh, when O'Neill was finally brought to submission, he was not aware that the Queen had just died. Still though, he recieved favorable consessions. It wasn't until years later, under threat of capture by King James, that he fled to Rome.
Cahir Castle in the Movie Excalibur
Replace the geese and ducks with knights of the roundtable and you will see how the castle was used in the 1981 John Boorman film Excalibur.
Planning Your Visit
If you like to avoid crowds, this is the castle for you. Unlike it's more popular neighbor the Rock of Cashel or the also well kept Ross Castle near Killarney, this remains a hidden gem. Just a 30 minute drive from the Rock of Cashel and on the way to Blarney Castle, it will make for a perfect extention to your castle hunting day. Feed the parking meter for at least 60 to 120 minutes to get the most out of your visit.