When Michael Palin visited Buttevant he said that the town “proves that everything you have heard about Ireland is true”. Untainted by crass tourism, Buttevant offers visitors both an unfiltered experience of Irish life today and the ability to experience impressive medieval remains, probably alone. Once a frontier town on the edge of Anglo-Norman Ireland, Buttevant which means ‘advanced stronghold’ in French, is a bit more sedate these days. It is a picturesque place with a town plan borrowed from medieval settlements in Southern France. Throughout Buttevant are more obvious reminders of its medieval origins. At its centre is the 14th century bridge over the Awbeg River, the castle, a tower house and the remains of a Franciscan friary. Just two kilometres away are the imposing ruins of Ballybeg Priory and its intact dovecot. On a different theme, in 1752 the town was the starting point of the world’s first steeplechase.
A brief history of Buttevant
Prior to the arrival of the Normans in the 12th century, Buttevant was known as Kilnamullagh ‘the church on the hillocks’. The name Buttevant comes from the French term for castle fortress or ‘Boutevante’. In 1177 Robert FitzStephen, a Norman Welsh baron, was granted the eastern half of the kingdom of Cork by Henry II. FitzStephen along with his nephew Philip de Barry and Raymond de Gros had previously conquered the lands of the Donegan clan in North Cork known as Muscrai Donegan. de Barry was to inherit Muscrai Donegan and the Lehan lands in Castlelyons from his uncle in 1180. It was he and other members of the de Barry family that were to have the greatest impact upon the town, creating the medieval legacy that exists today.
The de Barrys planned their town as a Bastide, similar to the Norman towns of south western France, Normandy and southern England. It was laid out in a very specific grid pattern with the Market House/Green as well as Lombard’s Castle, orchard and garden occupying precise square sites. By 1229 both the de Barry castle and Augustine Abbey at Ballybeg had been completed. Later on that century the de Barrys installed the Franciscans in the town, building them a friary. It was also around this time that the limestone bridge that still spans the Awbeg River was built. In 1317 a grant of £105 was received to surround the town with walls.
Despite being a walled town Buttevant was frequently attacked and burned by the O’Briens of Thormond, as well as the McCarthys and O’Callaghans of Duhallow. The town suffered heavily during the War of the Roses, Williamite War and Desmond Rebellion. Though the de Barrys became Viscounts and Earls, they eventually became absentee landlords, the last Earl of Richmond dying without issue. At the end of the 18th century the de Barry estate was sold to John Anderson, who altered the castle, built the mill, the Military Barracks and the current road between Mallow and Charleville. By 1830 he had sold the town and castle to Lord Doneraile.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
Buttevant Heritage Group
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