31 October 2019
Kearney’s Castle, the oldest
surviving tower house and
domestic building in Cashel
Kearney’s Castle Hotel in Cashel, Co Tipperary, closed almost three years ago [December 2016], but the castle or former tower house, with it battlements and gargoyles, remains a landmark mediaeval building on the Main Street of the heritage town.
The Kearney family lived in the castle for many generations and it has had a chequered past.
The O Cearnaigh or Kearney family were the hereditary keepers of Saint Patrick’s Crozier, and there are Kearney family tombs in the ruins of the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.
Saint Patrick’s Crozier, or the ‘Staff of Jesus’ (Bacall Íosa), is said to have been used by Saint Patrick to banish the snakes from Ireland. For centuries, it was venerated in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. But at the Reformation it was burned in 1538 along with other relics on the orders of Archbishop George Browne.
Kearney’s Castle, on the east side of the Main Street, is a late 15th century tower house, built ca 1480 and was modified ca 1600. It is a six-storey building with two cap-houses, running from west to east.
A member of this family, David Kearney (1568-1625), was Archbishop of Cashel fro 1603 to 1624. In 1611, he was one of only two Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland; the other was Conor O’Devaney a Franciscan and Bishop of Down and Conor, who was arrested that year and executed in 1612.
Archbishop David Kearney died in Rome on 14 August 1624.
Another family member, Thomas Kearney, was an Alderman of Cashel in 1640.
During the Confederate wars in the mid-17th century, the Irish Parliamentarian commander, Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, is believed to have used the castle as a garrison in 1647 when he sacked the town and slaughtered 3,000 inhabitants on the Rock of Cashel.
Father John Kearney, a member of the family, is said by some sources to have been hanged inside the castle in 1652, although it is more likely that he was hanged in Clonmel in 1653.
Father John Kearney (1619-1653), son of John Kearney and Elizabeth Creagh was born in Cashel, County Tipperary and joined the Franciscans in Kilkenny. He studied in Leuven and was ordained in Brussels in 1642.
On his way back to Ireland in 1644, he was arrested in London, tortured and condemned to death. But He escaped and made his way to France, finally travelling from Calais to Wexford. He returned to Ireland, taught philosophy in Cashel and preached in Cashel and Waterford. He was appointed the Franciscan novice master in Waterford and the porter or guardian at Carrick-on-Suir.
Kearney lived as a wanted man for nine years until he was arrested in Tipperary by the Parliamentarians in 1653 and was hanged in Clonmel. He was buried in the chapter hall of the suppressed Franciscan friary in Cashel. He was among the Irish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.
A later member of the family was John Kearney (1742-1813), Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory (1806-1813), was a nephew of Joseph Kearney of Moneygall, Co Offaly, was a direct ancestor of President Barack Obama.
Kearney’s Castle may be the oldest standing domestic building in Cashel, and it is the only known survivor of a group of fortified urban houses in the town. It displays variety in form, style, texture and materials and has fine stone crafting, especially in the parapet coping.
The castle has rubble limestone walls and crenellated parapet walls, with cut-stone coping and quoins and dressed gutter stones.
There are carved stone gargoyles on the upper front wall. The castle has arrow slit openings with cut limestone surrounds. The round-headed window on the top floor has a limestone sill, a moulded limestone surround, and replacement windows.
A square-headed, two-light window dating from ca 1600 has carved limestone label-moulding and a fixed timber lattice window with coloured glass.
High on the west and south walls is a number of drainage spouts, and the three on the west wall, above the arched window, are gargoyles.
There is a pronounced batter at the base of the castle, seen in the alleyway on the south side of the tower house. The ‘Jostle Stones’ were placed on the corners of building in the 19th century to protect them from the jostling wheels of carts and traps.
The round-headed entrance on the ground dates from ca 1990, when the hotel and bar were being modified or modernised. It has a dressed limestone surround and voussoirs, replacement timber doors and windows and a cast-iron portcullis feature.
Until it closed three years ago, Kearney’s Castle, also known locally as Quirke’s Castle and Grants, has been a favourite venue for locals and disco goers.