Until yesterday, Cahir was one of those towns that I had only ever really passed through – mainly on my way to play tennis on the magnificent clay courts in Tipperary town. Now, I have a real sense of what I was missing as my mind was focussed on the challenges of playing on clay and wonderment at the stamina, spins and slices of clay-court experts of my era, like Borg, Lendl, Wilander, Evert, Seles, Graf …..
So much history and beauty in Cahir; a town which is built on the River Suir, which is heading for Clonmel, Carrick-on-Suir, Waterford and onward to the sea as the estuary widens at Cheekpoint and Passage East …..
Cahir Castle is situated on a rocky island in the River Suir and is one of the largest and best preserved castles in Ireland. It was built in the 13th century on the site of an earlier native Irish fortfication called a ‘cathair’ (stone fort), which gave its name to the place. Cahir Castle was granted to the powerful Butler family, Earls of Ormond, in the late 14th century. The mere mention of the Butler family has me thinking of Kilkenny Castle and the stunning Tudor House in Carrick-on-Suir as well as a condensed version of a vast Butler Family Tree that left me stunned by all its branches when I first saw it.
Cahir Castle has been lovingly restored on various occasions over the centuries and is now a State National Monument, managed by the Office of Public Works. Over 60,000 people visit each year and are treated to well-informed guided tours, such as I had from Hazel yesterday. The most stunning room, for me, was the banqueting hall, but I was also enthralled by the beauty of the courtyards and the ingenuity associated with the defences.
I seem to remember having a meal years ago in the Cahir House Hotel after a tough tennis match in Tipperary. What I didn’t realise then was that this building was once a residence of Richard Butler, 12th Baron Caher and Emily Jeffreys of Blarney Castle, Co Cork, who married in 1793 at the ages of 17 and 16 respectively.
It was they who were responsible for building the Swiss Cottage which is a breathtaking ‘cottage orne’ about a mile and a half up river from the town of Cahir. It is thought that the Swiss Cottage was designed by leading English architect, John Nash, who worked extensively for King George IV and was responsible for the planning of Regent Street in London and the Royal Pavilion in Brighton, amongst many other projects.
The Swiss Cottage is a leading example of an ornanmental cottage which was highly fashionable among the aristocracy in the early years of the nineteenth century. Essentially, it was a fanciful rural retreat with the theme of ‘nature’ running throughout. Nature was perceived as being asymmetrical and irregular and the Swiss Cottage is steeped in these aspects. The most striking features, for me, were the subtle differences in the shapes of the elegant windows many of which have oak leaf decoration.
The thatched roof of the Swiss Cottage is beautifully crafted and it was Hugh O’Neill, the master thatcher whom I featured here on Social Bridge https://socialbridge.wordpress.com/2011/04/09/master-thatcher-hugh-oneill/, who was responsible for its restoration in the early 1990s. The history of Swiss Cottage is quite amazing in that it had fallen ino terrible disrepair through vandalism in the 1980s but was ‘rescued’ largely as a result of a very generous donation by American philanthropist, Mrs Sally Aall.
Given the range of links and the depth of history which emerged for me in my exploration of the this town that I had never really noticed before, it probably shouldn’t have come as any surprise to find that Cahir even has its very own Viaduct, opened in 1852.