Kilcash Castle belonged to the Ormond Estate until it was sold to the Irish government in 1997. Since then, it has been under the care of the Office of Public Works (OPW). Ongoing conservation has secured a building which was in danger of collapsing. Today, the site can be viewed, but the castle is closed for safety reasons.
In the eighteenth century Kilcash Castle was situated on luxurious grounds. Thomas Butler had a twenty-five hectare deerpark as well as the surrounding woodland which included two ponds linked by ornamental walkways. A nineteenth-century map shows a ‘cascade gate’, an additional water feature. Famously, the woods of Kilcash are gone, but the landscaping has not been obliterated: the two avenues which lead to it remain and south of the castle there is a plateau which was a lawn or a turning circle. Four walled gardens south-east of the castle occupy 0.65 hectares. These are lined with brick on their north and west walls (brick retained heat and allowed the cultivation of a variety of fruits).
The tower was built in the mid-sixteenth century and was originally a stand-alone building. It is five stories high and made of sandstone with some dressed limestone (e.g. at the corners). The external walls were covered in white plaster. The small windows on the north-east corner of the tower light its spiral staircase. The larger windows are later and date from a time when comfort took precedence over security. It is clear where these have been restored by the OPW with limestone surrounds.
The tower was entered by a doorway in the west wall. This was secured by a ‘yett’ (metal grille) and was further protected by a box machicolation at roof level above it. This defensive feature would have allowed the castle dwellers to drop things on attackers and became obviously redundant when the house was added. Next to the machicolation is a ‘drip stone’ that carried water away from the walls. The doorway was also protected by a murder hole built into the wall.
The most striking internal feature of the tower at the moment is a substantial metal frame which was inserted by the OPW to stabilise the structure. This was lowered in through the top of the tower, something that was possible because all of its roof and floors had been taken away in the nineteenth century.
It is easy to see where the original floors were. The quoins that support them are still there as are the doorways opening from the stairs and from small rooms built into the west wall (intramural chambers) which is more than 2m thick. Such spaces provided the building’s garderobes (toilets). The principal rooms would have been subdivided by wooden partitions. As a result, more than one fireplace can be found on some floors. These had decorative surrounds, some of which proved too tempting for recyclers.
The stairs open out in a small caphouse at their top. From here, you could walk around the pitched roof and enjoy an impressive view. The three large chimneys on the west wall may have been ostentatious as well as practical. The gables of the attic level have recently been conserved by the OPW.
Written records show that there was a house at Kilcash in the seventeenth century. This was either demolished or substantially remodelled to become the two-storey structure (plus attic) which is today attached to the tower. The three bays which remain are only 12.5m of a wall that was 46.5m long and which had ten bays (a bay corresponds to a window). This was once an enormous building whose scale is now not immediately appreciable unless you know that the adjoining hedge conceals the foundations of the old house.
The upstairs windows date from the early seventeenth century but were narrowed to follow the dictates of eighteenth-century fashion. Their surrounds are of cut limestone. The lower windows received new oak lintels during OPW restoration. The square holes running along the top of the walls were for brackets supporting the projecting eave of the roof.
Kilcash Castle’s portraits were moved to Kilkenny Castle in the late eighteenth century. An earlier inventory lists the items in the kitchen. Otherwise, nothing is known for certain about the interior division or furnishing of the house. It probably had a formal dining room, a drawing room, informal rooms, and an office (or study) on the ground floor with bedrooms for the residents and guests on the upper floor and in the attic. Kilcash certainly hosted family and hunting parties where visitors stayed for days or even weeks.
An early nineteenth-century map shows that there were extensive outbuildings north of the castle. Some of these were joined to the house and tower so that an enclosed yard was created. All that survives of this is the east wing which is now made up of ruined cottages. The west wing of the yard is completely gone along with the farm, mill and kennels which are documented. The yard was enclosed on the north side by a three metre wall (called a ‘bawn’) which still guards the site.
About fifty metres east of the tower is the remains of a bakehouse with a brick-lined oven. The oven was heated by burning furze inside it. The ashes were swept out and then the baking could be done. West of the house (and most likely joined to it) stood a building which was likely to have been a chapel. Its wall is hidden in the hedge since it collapsed in a storm in 1998.
The original material on this site can be reproduced for non-commercial purposes once its source is duly acknowledged. © John Flood, University of Groningen, 2019.
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