Thursday, August 16, 2007

Ormond Castle

Fresh from a holiday in Southern Ireland, I must tell you all about a gem of a place we discovered – Ormond Castle. Situate in the pleasant town of Carrick on Suir, this comprises a ruined medieval castle and (we were told by our guide) the only intact 16th century manor house in Ireland.

However what none of the online sites or indeed the published leaflets I picked up tell you, is that in a room off the main entrance are a set of eight original charters granted to the family by the English monarchy, all beautifully illuminated. (What I, as a 1066 and All That devotee, immediately recognised as being prime examples of the Charters and Garters of the Realm.)

They are the most beautiful documents, most still with their original seal, and little bag to put the seal in. Wonderful pictures of red and gold dragons, unicorns and other fabulous beasts, together with life like portraits of the reigning monarch of the time. Three of Charles II, instantly recognizable with his heavy eyes, one of William III, one of William and Mary, and two of Queen Anne. I think there was also one other but I forget who.

The two portraits of Anne were interesting – the first one in 1703, when she had just become queen, showed her face looking rather thin and worried. The second one in 1710 showed her looking less worried and noticeably more plump. I have never been particularly familiar with this period of history, but reading about Anne in Wikipedia she does not seem to have had a very happy life.

The house was built by one Thomas Butler (hence the Butler pub on the approach road to the town), 3rd Earl of Ormonde, known locally as ‘Black Tom’ on account (according to our guide) of his black hair and eyes (which you can see in the portrait on the left and also here), as opposed to the more usual Irish red gold hair. The family appears to have been stinking rich, largely due to their rights in connection with wine trade, allowing the young Tom, fresh from education in England and the Court of Queen Elizabeth I, to create this lovely manor house, in which he hoped one day to entertain the Queen (her portrait and crest is repeated many times in the original plasterwork on the walls) but sadly never did.

So if you find yourself in Tipperary, I would suggest a visit to Ormond Castle – there is no charge and the guided tour is excellent. As well as the charter room, you also get to see the rest of the house, climb the tower and see the original oak beams (marked by the original carpenters) in the attic.

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