01 October 2020

Colourful buildings in
Buttevant under blue
skies and autumn sun

The 18th century Market House in Buttevant, Co Cork … there has been a market on this site since 1234 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Buttevant is a colourful town in north Cork, particularly under blue skies in the autumn sunshine. Its castles, churches, and mediaeval friaries are its principal attractions. But it would be a pity to pay attention to those and not to notice its other attractive buildings, including its colourful pubs, and the commercial legacy found in its market house and the crumbling mill.

The Market House and Market Green are part of the original grid pattern layout of medieval Buttevant. This plan resembles the bastides in mediaeval south-west France.

Buttevant had been a thriving market town since mediaeval times, and the Market House was built in 1750 on the site of the original 13th century Market House.

A Market House has stood on a site at the south end of the town since 1234. In that year, David de Barry was granted a charter that allowed him to hold a weekly market in Buttevant, and an annual fair in October that lasted for several days.

Buttevant become a thriving and prosperous market town, and the Market House had scales used to weigh produce for sale and from which to determine taxes. Imported goods brought in by de Barry contacts from continental Europe were sold here, including wines, spices, dyes and English and European cloths.

The playground in front of the Market House was once the Market Green, where for many years local traders sold meats, hides, wool, grains, livestock, Irish cloth and timber.

For centuries, Buttevant had a weekly market and a yearly fair. The yearly fair evolved in time into Cahirmee Fair, held in the town to this day on 12 July each year.

This area was also used in mediaeval times for the punishment of crimes. Petty criminals were put in the stocks and more serious offenders faced the gallows in the square.

The present Market House, which was built ca 1750, is a handsome building with a fine arcadw. Until the 1970s the upper story was used as a courthouse.

A beautiful limestone fireplace inside was first erected by Garrett Barry in Lisgriffin Castle ca 1605-1610. It was rescued from Lisgriffin Castle in 1911 by Colonel James Grove White and installed in his home at Kilbyrne House in Doneraile. Kilbyrne House was demolished in the 1950s and Canon Murphy, parish priest of Buttevant, had it removed and re-erected in the Market House in Buttevant.

Buttevant Mill … there has been a mill existed on or near this site since mediaeval times (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Buttevant Mill stands on the banks of the River Awbeg, between the town and the original castle grounds. The laneway leading to the mill from the Main Street was called ‘MyInstrete’ or Mill Street, suggesting a mill has stood on or near this site since mediaeval times.

By the turn of the 18th and 19th century, the Barry fortunes had changed and Buttevant manor and castle had been sold by the Earls of Barrymore to the Anderson family.

John Anderson extended and remodelled the existing mill around 1810. He created a substantial, six-storey buildings high, with turrets that mirror those of Buttevant Castle, which he had also remodelled to reflect the fashions and tastes of the day.

Anderson installed the most advanced milling machinery available, and the mill was could produce over 20,000 barrels of flour annually.

However, Anderson went bankrupt following the Napoleonic wars and the mill passed to the Brownings of Limerick, who worked it until 1865. Over the next 20 years, it passed through several hands, including Charles Corbett of Buttevant and William Walsh of Mallow. It was also idle for a while when the building and machinery were damaged.

William Oliver of Kilfinane bought the mill in 1885, restored the building and installed the Robinson Roller system instead of the grinding stones. The mill then ran on steam and a turbine water system and flour production soared. However, the mill accidently burned in 1930.

Furney and McKay bought the mill and began to restore the building. Half the building was restored by 1935 and full restoration was completed by 1947. They used local grains and imported grain to manufacture animal feed.

Furney and McKay were importers of coal and fuel oil when they left Buttevant in 1975. The mill passed briefly to Greens of Cork and then to Dairygold, who used it to collect and classify grain from local farmers before sending it for milling. The mill closed in 2000.

Some of the colourful pubs and buildings on the streets of Buttevant (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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