Cahir Castle

Caisleán An Chathair

Cahir Castle

Caisleán An Chathair

Ireland's Ancient East graphic motif based on stone carvings at New Grange

Cahir Castle is undoubtedly one of Ireland’s most picturesque castles, and it’s featured prominently in a number of movies like Barry Lyndon, Excalibur and the Last Duel – but it has its own epic story to tell.

Cahir Castle was constructed in the 13th century, believed to be on the site of an earlier Irish stone fort known as Cathair Dún Iascaigh (‘the Stone Fort of the Fortress of the Fishery’). According to the somewhat unreliable 17th-century historian Geoffrey Keating, the stone fort of Dún Iascaigh was one of the ancient royal residences of the Kings of Munster before the arrival of Christianity. It is from the word ‘Cathair‘, that the modern name of the town is derived.

It is immediately clear how strategic the site is. Cahir Castle was constructed on an island in the centre of the River Suir, which acted as a natural moat. The only access into the castle was via a causeway that ran where the bridge is located today. The massive defensive walls of the castle are built on top of the limestone outcrop that forms the island. Making it nearly impossible to undermine the walls by digging under the foundation. Once inside the strong curtain wall, any attacker would have to get through three key defensive zones – the Outer Ward, the Middle Ward and the Inner Ward. The Outer Ward was where the garrison and minor officials would have lived, and it would have been a busy and bustling place, usually with livestock and key ancillary buildings like blacksmiths and other trades present. The Middle Ward was the next defensive zone. It was separated from the Inner Ward by the formidable defence of a fortified gate with a machicolation (or murder hole) above, from where defenders could throw down rocks or boiling oil on any attackers. The gate has a portcullis, one of the only working examples in Ireland, and it led into the so-called ‘Trapping Area’. This was designed to corral attackers into a tight, confined space. The wall walks and machicolations above would have allowed defenders to pour volleys of arrows and stones down into the tightly-packed attackers. If you safely navigated that, you would find yourself in the Inner Ward. For more discussion on Irish castles and their defences, check out this episode of our Amplify Archaeology Podcast with Professor Tadhg O’Keeffe.

The History of Cahir Castle

The castle that we can see today reflects centuries of adaption and change. It is thought that the castle was first built by Philip de Worcester in the middle of the 13th century, though for much of its history it has been in the possession of the powerful Butler family. The structure, layout and appearance of the castle altered over the years as the defensive features sometimes outweighed comfort and fashion owing to political stress and upheaval. Further works were completed on the castle in the 15th and 16th centuries and the last remodelling of the castle was carried out in the 19th century, which is why it is one of the most handsome castles in Ireland today.

The story of Cahir Castle continues under the gallery.

Visiting Cahir Castle – Information

Partial Wheelchair Access
Green Icon showing the site has family friendly facilities

Coordinates: Lat. 52.374642, Long: -7.927122
Grid Reference: S 05013 24760
Opening Times:  The castle is open daily from 9:30am – 5:30pm (last admission at 5pm). For more details see