The Captures of Cash
By John Cash
The Castle you see in the town of Cahir today is a wonderful example of late 15th or early 16th century architecture in this Munster county.
However, you must go back further for its origins. There was a castle built here in 1142 by Conor O’Brien. The Castle is positioned on a rocky outcrop, now an Island in the River Suir, surrounded by water; this played a major part in its defence.
In the early 13th century, the castle was granted to Philip of Worchester, before being granted to the Butlers in the 14thcentury. The castle in Cahir was, for a long period, considered to be the only Castle in Ireland virtually impregnable.
However, it was surrendered to Oliver Cromwell in 1649, during his campaign here in Tipperary. The Castle now has many refurbished rooms; if you wanted a flavour of living in 15th or 16th century Ireland, you will get it here.
Holy Cross Cistercian Abbey
The Cistercian Abbey of Holy Cross was founded circa 1180. It is situated on the west bank of the River Suir, in Co. Tipperary. It was founded by Donal Mor O Brien, the King of the Thomond region of Munster, famed for his establishment of monasteries and church’s.
It carries the name Holy Cross because it is said to house a relic of the one true cross. Donal Mor’s mother was an O’Fogarty, and Holy Cross is built on traditional O Fogarty lands. The Abbey was extensively restored in the 1970s and early 1980s; it is well worth a visit.
The Priory of Athassel
Situated again on the west bank of The River Suir is Athassel Priory. This Augustinian priory was founded circa 1201 by the Norman Lord, William De Burga. The priory was dedicated to St. Edmond by its founder, who was married to the daughter of Donal mor O’Brien.
At its most powerful, Athassel was very important; the prior of this monastery even had a seat in Parliament in England. It was an attempt by the Norman conquerors of Ireland to show that they could also establish lavish and large religious sites, and it was not just Irish royalty that could do so.
Like many medieval sites in Ireland, the site has a varied history of good times and bad. By the time it came to the dissolution of the monasteries in the 16th century, Athassel had already seen better days, with only a few religious left there.
You will notice the name O’Brien is associated with all of this month’s sites. This one family played an immeasurable part in the history of the province of Munster. The family takes their name from Brian Boru, perhaps the most famous, and last, High King of Ireland.
Brian Boru was the only King of Munster to become High King of Ireland. It is because of his patronage of the Harp that we still use the harp on Irish passports and coins today. Boru died after the Battle of Clontarf in 1014.
At the time, the tradition was to take your father’s first name as your surname. This is where Mac or Mc comes from; it means son of; a girl was Ni or Nic. When it came to the grandchildren of Brian Boru, they did not want to lose the Brian from their name, so they chose to take Uibh Brien as their surname, meaning of or from Brian. This was eventually anglicized to O’Brien.
The O’Brien’s were a true Irish family who left us an incredibly built heritage here in Co. Tipperary; I have only shown you a selection. By 1332, Brian O’Brien had recaptured much of Tipperary from the Normans. While the O’ Brien’s were eventually defeated, for many centuries, they showed the true spirit of Ireland.