11 September 2018

Finding castle ruins
by the banks of the
River Suir in Golden

On the banks of the River Suir below the ruins of Golden Castle in Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

Patrick Comerford

On the journey from west Limerick to Dublin yesterday, I stopped in Golden, a village on the banks of the River Suir and between the towns of Tipperary and Cashel in Co Tipperary.

The valley of the River Suir is fertile agricultural land and is part of an area known as ‘the Golden Vale.’ But the name of Golden comes from the Irish An GabhailĂ­n, referring to a fork in the River Suir. The bridge at Golden straddles an island in the River Suir, and in the past, this village was also known as Goldenbridge.

The road from Cashel in Co Tipperary to the coast at Ardmore, Co Waterford, passes through Golden and was a route taken in the past by many key figures, from Saint Patrick to King Henry II.

The River Suir, said to be the second longest river in Ireland, brought early settlers, the Vikings and the Normans, deep into the rich farmland of the Golden Vale.

The Annals of the Four Masters refers to the Battle of Maol Ceannaigh on the hill overlooking Golden to the north-east in 1043. In that battle, Carthach, ancestor of the MacCarthys, defeated the forces of Ossory and Ormond.

The ruins of Golden Castle by the banks of the River Suir in Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018; click on image for full-screen view)

The mediaeval castle at Golden is now in a ruinous state, and all that remains of it is a mediaeval tower that stands on an island beside the bridge crossing the River Suir.

Golden Castle was built in the late 15th century by the Butlers of Ormond to defend the river crossing and to protect river traffic. The castle is said to have sheltered 120 men, women and children for 11 weeks during the 1641 rebellion. A well close to the castle is known as Cromwell’s Well.

The army of William III (William of Orange) camped to the north-east of Golden on their way to lay siege to Limerick in 1690. While he was at Golden, King William renewed by letter, in his own hand, the Royal Charter of Cashel in gratitude to the people of Cashel for the hospitality his followers received.

Golden’s most famous person was Father Theobald Mathew (1790-1856), who was born nearby at Thomastown Castle, the home of the Mathew family, Earls of Llandaff. Father Mathew was known as the ‘Apostle of Temperance.’

There are many castle ruins and castellated sites around Golden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

There are other castle ruins and sites around Golden. Castlepark House, near the entrance to Golden, was the seat of the Alleyn family in 1786. By the early 19th century it was the home of the Creagh family. Richard Creagh was living there in 1814 and 1837, and Lawrence Creagh held the property from Kingsmill Pennefather at the time of Griffith's Valuation.

It was later bought by the Scully family, when it became known as Mantle Hill. The house is no longer standing.

Goldenville near Golden was the residence of Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald, High Sheriff of Co Tipperary in 1798 and known as ‘Flogging Fitzgerald.’

When he died in 1810, an obituary described his excessive use of the cat o’ nine tails 1798, and said, ‘The history of his life and loyalty is written in legible characters on the backs of his fellow countrymen.’

The White family lived at Goldenville for a time, and in 1837, Lewis describes Golden Hills as the ‘castellated residence of H[enry] White.’

By 1858, Sir Thomas Judkin Fitzgerald (1820-1864), 3rd Baronet, was living at Golden Hills or Golden Lodge, near Golden. He was facing financial problems when he drowned himself in the River Suir on the night of 26 and 27 April 1878. It was reported later that he died from ‘temporary insanity.’

Golden Hills was advertised for sale in 1878, when it was described as a ‘large castellated building’ with a drawing room opening into a conservatory, dining room and morning room, eight bedrooms and a servants’ hall.

Most of the house had disappeared by the early 1940s, or was incorporated into a modern farmyard.

The tower of Golden Castle is now as part of a park that surrounds the bridge area and offers picturesque views of the River Suir.

A memorial in the castle ruins commemorates Thomas MacDonagh (1878-1916), a Tipperary-born poet and one of the leaders of the Easter Rising in 1916. But while one of his collections of poetry was published as The Golden Joy (1910), he seems to have had no connections with Golden.

I must return to Golden to see the ruins of the Augustinian Priory at Athassel, 2 km south of the village. The abbey was founded by William FitzAdelm de Burgo in the last decades of the 12th century. It was once the largest abbey in Ireland and was surrounded by Athassel, a small town that was burned twice, in 1319 by Lord Maurice Fitzthomas and in 1419 by Bryan O’Brien.

The castle ruins and bridge on the River Suir in Golden (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

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