The starting point of settlement at Kilcash begins in an obscure past: eight hundred metres east of Kilcash Castle is an embanked barrow, a burial site dating from before 400AD. The placename is no help as it came from a later time and the traditional translation of Cill Chaise as ‘the church of Caise’ has been rejected. No St Caise associated with the area can confidently be identified.

The Manor of Kilcash

The first recorded Lord of Kilcash was the Anglo-Norman Baldwin Niger (‘Baldwin the Black’) in the late twelfth century. He gave the church at Kilcash and six hundred acres of land to the hospital of the Fratres Cruciferi (Crutched Friars) of the Priory of St John the Baptist in Dublin who were extensive landowners in Tipperary.

Kilcash Castle and its walled gardens
Kilcash Castle and its walled gardens

The Walls & Alice Kyteler

In the early 1300s the manor of Kilcash belonged to a branch of the de Valle (or Wall) family. Sir Richard de Valle of Kilcash served both as Sheriff of Waterford (1301-2) and Sheriff of Tipperary (1307-8). His heirs occupied similar administrative positions. However, the most famous member of the family was Sir Richard’s second wife, Alice Kyteler (c.1262-post 1324).

Kyteler family tomb, St Canice's Cathedral, Kilkenny
Kyteler family tomb, St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny

Lady Alice was from a Kilkenny merchant family and she maintained independent business interests – including lending money to the crown – throughout her wife. Widowed several times, some of her stepchildren resented her growing wealth and her favouring of a son by her first husband. At that time, a widow was entitled to the use of a third of her husband’s estate as long as she lived, so when Richard de Valle died, a third of Kilcash passed into her control. She sued her stepson to secure this right (throughout her career she showed that she was adept at employing the legal system and her family connections).

Under other circumstances it is likely that Lady Alice would merely have been inconvenienced by the complaints about her. Unfortunately for her, the newly appointed bishop of Ossory, Richard Ledrede (d.1361), had arrived from the papal court at Avignon where the Knights Templar had been supressed for heresy and sorcery. The bishop detected the same diabolic taint in Lady Alice’s affairs and she was tried for witchcraft. This gave rise to stories of her drinking from skulls and having sex with demons. Despite the vigorous intervention of important supporters, Lady Alice was evidently losing an immediate legal battle and facing the possibility of execution. She fled (most likely aborad) and her ultimate fate is unknown. One of the women associated with her, Petronilla de Midia, became the first person to be burnt for heresy in Ireland. W. B. Yeats wrote of the Kyteler case in his ‘Nineteen Hundred and Nineteen’:

There lurches past, his great eyes without thought
Under the shadow of stupid straw-pale locks,
That insolent fiend Robert Artisson
To whom the love-lorn Lady Kyteler brought
Bronzed peacock feathers, red combs of her cocks.

The Butlers

James Butler, 9th earl of Ormond
James Butler, 9th earl of Ormond (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Walter de Valle transferred ownership of Kilcash to the Butlers in the 1540s (although members of Walter’s family continued to live in the area). The manor passed to Sir John Butler (d.1570), a younger son of James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond. The castle’s estate remained in the possession of the Butlers until it was divided up in late nineteenth-century land settlements. The castle itself was sold to the Irish State in 1997. In the meantime, the vicissitudes of inheritance moved Kilcash at various times from being the residence of cadet branches of the Butlers to being the homes of the earls of Ormond (later also spelt ‘Ormonde’).

Walter of the Rosaries

Pyx of Lady Ellen Butler (courtesy of St Kieran's College, Kilkenny)
Pyx of Lady Ellen Butler (courtesy of St Kieran’s College, Kilkenny)

James, the 9th Earl, was succeeded by his son, ‘Black Tom’ (1531-1614), the builder of the Tudor house at Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir. When the tenth earl died he had no living legitimate sons and only one daughter, Elizabeth, so the earldom passed to his nephew, Sir Walter Butler of Kilcash (c.1559-1633). Walter was a staunch Roman Catholic which was politically inconvenient for a Protestant government. Furthermore, King James I supported the claim of Black Tom’s daughter and her second husband, Richard Preston, to a large part of the Ormond estate. The end result was that Walter, who refused to surrender any part of his inheritance, was imprisoned in London between 1619 and 1625.

James, 1st duke of Ormond
James, 1st duke of Ormond (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Walter married Lady Ellen Butler (d.1632) the eldest daughter of Edmond Butler, 2nd Viscount Mountgarret. Earl Walter’s daughters were married to members of important local families: Sir Edmund Blanchville; Richard, Earl of Clanricard; George Bagenal MP; Theobald Purcell, Baron of Loughmo[r]e; Viscount Ikerrin; Piers Power (son of the 4th Baron of Coroghmore); Barnaby Fitzpatrick, Baron of Upper Ossory; Sir George Hamilton of Roscrea; James Butler of Grallagh (a son of Lord Dunboyne); and Sir Turlough O’Brien-Arra. Walter’s only son to survive into adulthood was Thomas, Viscount Thurles, who was killed in a shipwreck in 1619 while travelling to England to answer charges of garrisoning Kilkenny Castle against the government. Viscount Thurles’s eldest son, James (1610-88), became the first Duke of Ormond and a younger son, Richard (c.1616-1701), was given Kilcash.

Colonel Richard Butler & Lady Frances Touchet

Monstrance donated to the parish of Ballycallen by Richard Butler and Frances Touchet (courtesy of St Kieran's College)
Richard Butler and Frances Touchet Monstrance (courtesy of St Kieran’s College)

Richard Butler lived through the complicated and bloody sequence of events that dominated Ireland after the 1641 rebellion which began in Ulster. Richard joined the Catholic Confederation (the Confederation of Kilkenny) and thereby split from his brother, the duke of Ormond, who was the commander of the king’s forces in Ireland. The political situation was further complicated by the outbreak of the English Civil Wars which were followed by the arrival of a parliamentary army under Oliver Cromwell. The Butlers allied against Cromwell, but the victory of the latter drove them into exile on the Continent. Richard returned to Ireland with the restoration of the monarchy in 1660. Charles II made special provisions for him as a reward for his service to the crown and as a mark of favour to Ormond.

Richard Butler married Lady Frances Touchet (1617-88), a daughter of the infamous Mervyn, the 2nd Earl of Castlehaven, who had been executed for rape and sodomy in 1631 after one of the most sensational English trials of the century. Lady Frances’ brother, James, became the 3rd Earl of Castlehaven and fought alongside Butler during the Confederate Wars. Castlehaven wrote part of his memoirs in Kilcash where he died in 1684. Richard and Frances Butler’s eldest son, Colonel Walter Butler (d.1700) was established at nearby Garryrickin in Co. Kilkenny. He married Lady Mary Plunket, a daughter of the 2nd Earl of Fingall. Walter Butler of Garryrickin’s eldest son, Thomas, inherited Kilcash.

Colonel Thomas Butler

In his youth Thomas Butler (d.1738) served a soldier on the Continent fighting against the Ottomans at the Siege of Buda (1686). Butler was an infantry colonel in the army of King James II and fought in the War of the Two Kings (also called the Williamite War) against King William III (William of Orange) during which he led a regiment of more than four hundred soldiers. He was made prisoner after the defeat of the Stuart forces at the Battle of Aughrim (1691). He did comparatively well as many of his fellow officers (several of whom were related to him) died.

In 1698 Butler married Margaret Bourke, Lady Iveagh (see below) and had three sons and five daughters. His daughters married into families with which Kilcash maintained strong ties: the Kavanaghs of Borris, Co. Carlow; the Brownes (viscounts of Kenmare); the Mathews of Thurles; the Mandevilles of nearby Ballydine; the Esmondes of Clonegal, Co. Carlow; and the Butlers of Westcourt. Two sons died young: the eldest, Richard, was killed after a fall from his horse and Walter died of smallpox while studying in Paris.

Butler’s second son, John (d.1766), converted to the Established Church, and became the heir of his childless cousin, Charles Butler, Earl of Arran (1671-1758). In 1715, Arran’s brother, the 2nd Duke of Ormond, had been attainted for treason and fled from England. Arran had been allowed purchase the Ormond estate but he never used the Ormond title. John was able to inherit Arran’s property, but not the Arran title as he was not one of his descendants. John could have claimed the Ormond earldom if it had not been extinguished because of the 2nd Duke’s treason. He is therefore referred to as the de jure 15th Earl but in fact he remained plain Mr Butler (although a fairly wealthy and well-connected Mr Butler).

Once he came into his inheritance, Butler spent a good deal of time in London. In 1763 he married Bridget Stacey, but they were unhappy and separated a few years later. In part, this was probably due to Butler’s recurring mental health problems. He left no legitimate children so the Ormond estate passed to his first cousin, Walter Butler of Garryrickin.

The Battle of Aughrim (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)
The Battle of Aughrim (Rijksmuseum, Amsterdam)

Lady Iveagh & Her Family

Margaret Bourke (1673-1744) was a daughter of William, 7th Earl of Clanricard by his second wife, Lady Helen MacCarthy, the daughter of Donough, 1st Earl of Clancarty and Lady Ellen Butler (a sister of Richard of Kilcash). Aged sixteen, she married Bryan Magennis, 5th Viscount Iveagh (from Co. Down) who was a colonel in the Jacobite army. At the end of the War of the Two Kings, Iveagh opted to go into the military service with the Austrian empire (which was both Catholic and allied to William III) and he died in Hungary in about 1693. The Iveaghs had a daughter, but she died young. The circumstances in which Lady Margaret met Thomas Butler are unknown. As the latter had no title, the convention was that she kept the courtesy title of viscountess from her first marriage and thus she remained ‘Lady Iveagh’ amidst the Butlers. Commemorated in the song Cill Chaise, she was celebrated as a model of piety and charity. She was also a woman of practical accomplishments: she spent most of her married life enmeshed in court battles over her mother’s inheritance and she smuggled money out of the country to support Irish clerical projects in Paris.

Patrick Sarsfield
Patrick Sarsfield (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

Lady Iveagh’s sister, Honora, married Patrick Sarsfield in 1689 (when she was only fifteen). Sarsfield went on to be one of the most famous Jacobite commanders during the War of the Two Kings and was made Earl of Lucan by James II. After the Treaty of Limerick which ended the Williamite wars, the Sarsfields moved to France. In 1693, the Earl died of wounds incurred at the Battle of Landen, leaving behind his widow and an infant son. Honora remarried in 1695, to James Fitzjames, the Duke of Berwick and an illegitimate son of King James II. She died in 1698. Honora’s family maintained links with Kilcash.

Archbishop Christopher Butler

Christopher (1637-1757) was a younger brother of Colonel Thomas Butler. He studied at Gray’s Inn in London after which he decided to become a priest and was ordained for the diocese of Ossory. He went to Paris where he received his MA and then commenced his study of theology. He was awarded his doctorate in 1710 and the following year he was appointed Archbishop of Cashel (a diocese which was united with the diocese of Emly at his request). During his episcopate, Christopher spent a good deal of time at Kilcash. The penal laws were in force and the power of the Butlers there gave him some protection. His presence at the castle was noted by a priest hunter and orders – which turned out to be unsuccessful – were issued for his arrest. The archbishop was one of Ireland’s most influential prelates and he was involved with ecclesiastical affairs outside his diocese, including corresponding with James III, the Stuart king in exile. He was buried in the mausoleum in Kilcash churchyard.

The Ruin of Kilcash

Anne Wandesforde, countess of Ormond
Anne Wandesforde, countess of Ormond (© National Portrait Gallery, London)

When Walter Butler of Garryrickin (1703-83) inherited the Ormond Estate from his cousin, John Butler of Kilcash, he moved into Kilkenny Castle with his wife, Eleanor Morres (1711-93). Their son, John (1740-95; also called ‘Jack o’ the Castle’), married Anne Wandesford (1754-1830), the daughter and heir of the 1st Earl of Wandesford (Castlecomer, Co. Kilkenny). John converted to Protestantism and was politically astute. As a result, the Dublin House of Lords recognised the continuing existence of the Ormond title and he became the 17th Earl. He and his father were buried in the mausoleum at Kilcash.

The 17th Earl’s eldest son, Walter (1770-1820), spent much of his time in London where he was close to the Prince Regent. He was rewarded with the title of marquess of Ormond (a step up from being an earl). Despite marrying a Derbyshire heiress, Maria Catherine Price-Clarke (1789–1817), Walter had severe financial problems because he was unable to finance his extravagant lifestyle. In an effort to sustain his spending, the marquess sold timber from Kilcash in 1797 and 1801 as well as stripping the castle. This was the genesis of a ruin that would be complete by the mid-nineteenth century.

Kilcash Castle from the south east (courtesy of John Kerr)

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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