A Medieval Trip to Tipperary and Leap Castle in Offaly

by - Tuesday, April 19, 2022

There's something so great about a road trip where you can go anywhere and take your time. I did a recent road trip to Tipperary with my friend Sue, heading cross country from Kilcullen.  We went via Athy and Abbeyleix, on to Aghaboe Abbey and then to Leap Castle in Offaly.  On day 2 we covered the Rock of Cashel, Cahir Castle and the walled town of Fetherd.

Aghaboe Abbey
Aghaboe Abbey

Aghaboe Abbey side view
Aghaboe Abbey Side View
Aghaboe Abbey was founded in the 6th century by St. Canice. It was burned in 1234 but then rebuilt as an Augustinian priory. As you can see from the pictures, it was a pretty wet day so we didn't tarry long but the building is an impressive structure and it was well worth seeing.

 

Leap Castle was next on the list and we almost couldn't find it - there's a little sign at the gate but it's hard to see the actual castle from the road so we weren't sure we were in the right spot. However we drove through the gate, past the little lodge and then the castle could be seen.  It's a beautiful building and has a fascinating history, as well as supposedly being one of the most haunted places in Ireland!  I certainly didn't feel any bad spirits in the castle but I did make the acquaintance of a very fluffy and snuggly cat who was happy to sit in my arms as I looked around.  We were brought into the castle by the owner, Sean Ryan and he told us a little bit of the history, as well as the fact that he lives companionably with the castle spirits.  It's an amazing eclectic place and an impressive structure which has been lovingly restored by Sean (the previous owner also did extensive restoration). According to Wikipedia, workers found an oubliette behind a wall in the chapel and at the bottom were numerous skeletons.  As the tale goes, it took 3 cartloads to remove the bones - they were bloodthirsty times indeed.
Leap Castle Offaly
Leap Castle Exterior

Leap Castle Interior
Leap Castle Interior

Chairs in Leap Castle
Little Room and Chairs

Interior of Leap Castle
Interior View Leap Castle

Stuffed Bird Leap Castle
Stuffed Bird on Windowsill

Antelope skull Leap Castle
Antelope Skull

Onward we went, stopping in Roscrea for lunch.  Roscrea Castle and Damer House, which is beside it, are currently undergoing works so there wasn't internal access but they are beautiful buildings. Damer House is a gorgeous example of Palladian architecture - we read on the information board in the town that the building fell into disuse and there were plans to turn the location into a leisure centre and car park.  Thankfully the Irish Georgian Society came to the rescue.  It's astonishing to think how we have let so many of our cultural and historical buildings be neglected and undervalued.
There's a little park beside the castle which looks like a lovely spot for a break and picnic lunch but we went to a pub near the castle and had food there.

Roscrea Castle Tipperary
Roscrea Castle

Roscrea Castle Park
Roscrea Castle Park

That was it for day one of our trip - from Roscrea we headed to the Anner hotel in Thurles, which was a great base for the trip and the staff were lovely.Day 2 was full-on medieval immersion! We went more or less in a loop from Thurles and back, heading first to the Rock of Cashel, then on to Cahir Castle and back to the hotel via Fetherd.


It's been years since I was at the Rock of Cashel and I had honestly forgotten how incredible it is - as we approached the town, we could see it towering over everything. The fact that we got an amazing sunny day really helped with that initial first impression as the sky was blue and full of fluffy white clouds. There's a car park for the Rock and I think it was €4.50 for the parking. From the car park you just go up the hill and there's a little kiosk for paying. This currently takes card only.  A tour was just starting as we arrived which Sue joined but I really just wanted to take some pictures so I wandered off. This set of buildings is truly spectacular. You can read the full history here on the Heritage Ireland website but in brief, it was originally the seat of the Kings of Munster and Brian Boru was crowned High King at Cashel in 978.  Re Heritage Ireland again:

'In 1101 the site was granted to the church and Cashel swiftly rose to prominence as one of the most significant centres of ecclesiastical power in the country.  The surviving buildings are remarkable. Cormac’s Chapel, for example, contains the only surviving Romanesque frescoes in Ireland.'
Rock of Cashel
Rock of Cashel Start of Tour 

Rock of Cashel Tipperary
Rock of Cashel Side View

Rock of Cashel and Gravestones
Rock of Cashel and Gravestones
I was honestly blown away by it, such magnificence is really something to behold. It was hard for me to imagine the amount of manual labour that went into creating these incredible edifices and they were times of massive inequality but there's a part of me that is captivated by the imaginings of all the pomp and ceremony.


You might think after the Rock of Cashel, that Cahir Castle wouldn't quite match up, but actually it was every bit as enjoyable. Cahir itself is a gorgeous town and we parked in the car park right by the castle and were greeted by lots of geese which was novel :) As with the Rock of Cashel, the Castle here really dominates the town. There's also a really nice park right beside it. It has been used a few times for a film location and was actually the location for Gawain and the Green Knight which we had watched not too long ago.

Geese at Cahir Castle
Geese by Cahir Castle

It is one of the largest castles in Ireland and is really well preserved.  There's lots of info inside, in one of the higher rooms, on the overall history and also a large glass case with a replica of the castle where you can light up key points in the siege of 1599 that was implemented by the Earl of Essex - the Castle unfortunately was captured after 3 days.

Cahir Castle
Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle Tipperary
Cahir Castle

 After our visit we had a look around the town and popped into the Cahir Arts art gallery. There was an exhibition on and also a great range of Irish made craft goods. The owner was very nice and I thought the way the whole space was curated was really attractive.  There was also a great price range and some lovely pieces that were very affordable. We got a recommendation from the owner for somewhere to have lunch but foolishly, we didn't take it and went instead to the River House Café - mainly for the location as it was right beside the river with outside seating. It probably was the only bad note in a great trip. The place was incredibly disorganised, one staff member in particular was rude and we ended up waiting absolutely ages for food that wasn't nice at all. The manager did give us fries on the house and tried to make up for the poor service but I'd really suggest avoiding it to be honest.
Apart from that, I really took to Cahir. It's so attractive and of course the sun helped but it has a really nice vibe and I definitely want to go back.

From Cahir, we went on to Fetherd - it's an unassuming little place but if you are interested in history, this is a must. There are buildings there that are from 1400, still intact - it just seems astonishing that they are still around.  The town was established by the Anglo-Normans around 1200 AD according to the Fetherd Medieval Trail Brochure.  There's a long wall also as you can see from the pictures and it's very interesting. It does feel a little like the town could capitalise a bit more on the history tourism because it didn't seem to have a great selection of cafés - not that we were looking for one particularly but it's always nice to have somewhere pleasant to rest if you've been walking a lot.

Augustinian Abbey
Augustinian Abbey

Medieval House Fetherd
Medieval Building c. 1450
Medieval Town Walls Fetherd
Medieval Town Walls

We were pretty tired after all that and it was just a short trip but we did manage to squeeze in one final location before we parted ways on the last day.  We popped into Holycross Abbey which was quite near. In fact, overall, a big attraction for me on this trip was that everything was so accessible.
This is another medieval building and the abbey was founded in 1182.  Again, it's an elegant structure with a lot of interesting features inside. My favourite was probably the Ormond Relic which was given to the Abbey by Richard the Lionheart's brother. Perhaps because I studied Old English (as did Sue who was with me), I'm always captivated by connections to that time which was replete with tales of valour and crusades and bravery.

Holycross Abbey Tipperary
Holycross Abbey

Ormond Relic
Ormond Relic

And that was it! A bit of a longer post than usual but we really did fit in so much. And there was lots that we didn't get to so another Tipperary trip is on list for sure.

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