Rising in the Devilsbit Mountains in the north of Tipperary, the River Suir runs down the length of the county before abruptly turning east in the face of the Knockmealdown Mountains. Along the way it nourishes countless dairy cattle and three significant towns along the southern border with Waterford. While Clonmel, the capital of South Tipp, holds little of interest for visitors, nearby Cahir is a compelling destination, with its mighty castle and the whimsical Swiss Cottage, and Carrick-on-Suir is the site of a rare and well-preserved Elizabethan manor house. Feeding into the Suir to the northwest of Cahir, the luscious Glen of Aherlow is one of the county’s prettiest spots and a fine base for exploring the scenic Galty Mountains. Tucked away on the south side of the range are the fantastic stalactites and stalagmites of Mitchelstown Cave, while the attractive villages of Clogheen and Ardfinnan lie to the east of here in the lee of the Knockmealdowns.
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In the far southeastern corner of County Tipperary lies the busy market town of CARRICK-ON-SUIR. Its main point of interest is multi-gabled Ormond Castle, Ireland’s only surviving Elizabethan manor house, which is situated at the far eastern end of Castle Street, a continuation of Main Street. Erected in the 1560s by Thomas (“Black Tom”) Butler, tenth Earl of Ormonde, for an (unrealized) visit by his cousin, Elizabeth I, the house contains numerous tributes to her, most notably in the elaborate series of panels in the long gallery. Also displayed is a fine collection of royal charters, including one of 1661 granting the title Duke of Ormonde to Tom’s descendant James.
The dominant feature of CAHIR is its castle, one of Ireland’s largest and best preserved, surrounded by the waters of the River Suir at the western entrance to the town. Cahir itself means “fort” in Irish and the town grew up around its thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman stronghold, though much, including the restored outer walls, dates from more recent times. The castle was a power base of the influential Butlers, the Earls of Ormonde, and managed to survive a siege and bombardment by the Earl of Essex in 1599, as well as the invasions of Cromwell and William of Orange. However, after Cromwell’s victory in 1650, the Butlers moved out and the castle fell slowly into disrepair, until it was given new life in the mid-nineteenth century by Richard Butler, the second Earl of Glengall, who impoverished himself in the process. The castle’s entrance leads to the cramped middle ward, overshadowed by the thirteenth-century keep whose chambers feature various displays, including a model of the 1599 siege. To the left of here a gateway, surmounted by defensive viewpoints on each side, leads to the more expansive outer ward. In the inner ward, parts of the larger of the two towers derive from the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, though the banqueting hall was redesigned by William Tinsley in 1840 for use as the Butlers’ private chapel.
Cahir’s other major attraction is the Swiss Cottage, a twenty-minute riverside stroll south from the town or, if you’re driving, off the Ardfinnan road. Designed by John Nash, architect of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, this lavish, thatched cottage orné on the castle demesne was constructed in the early 1800s for Richard Butler, the first Earl of Glengall, though his precise reason remains unclear. A contemporary scurrilous theory held that it was to enjoy clandestine liaisons with his mistress, but there is evidence that it was used occasionally as a residence and for entertaining guests thoroughly restored using appropriate timbers and period decor. Entertaining guided tours (with a maximum of twelve people, so you may have a wait during the busy summer months) start from the bovement kitchen and visit the elegant salon, whose interior is decorated with one of the first commercially manufactured Parisian wallpapers, and music room, and ascend via a spiral staircase to the grand master bedroom with its commanding views of the countryside.
The Glen of Aherlow
The Glen of Aherlow
To Cahir’s northwest lies the lush and resplendent Glen of Aherlow, spreading some 18km from Bansha in the east to Galbally in the west, just across the border in County Limerick. Lying beneath the northern facade of the Galty Mountains, the glen is a marvellous place to drive or cycle around and the scenic circular route is well worth taking. The best vantage point for spectacular views is by the entrance to the Glen of Aherlow Nature Park, 1.5km north of the junction of the R663 and R664. From here on the wooded ridge of Slievenamuck, the glen lies spread out below, light reflecting from the river, and the mountains looming beyond. A one-hour, circular walking trail is laid out through the nature park’s woodlands, while the signposted Ballyhoura Way runs through the Glen to Galbally, on its eighty-kilometre journey from the train station at Limerick Junction via the Ballyhoura Mountains to St John’s Bridge in north Cork.