Medieval Graffiti at Cahir Castle

Cahir Castle in  Co Tipperary is one of my favourite  historic sites.   The castle which dates to the 13th century is built  on a rock outcrop in the River Suir and was once the stronghold of the Butlers of Ormond.  The castle was rebuilt in the  15th and 16th century and there was also  a lot of restoration work carried out in the 19th and 20th century.



View of Cahir castle from the outer ward (courtyard).

The castle has a very rich and interesting history and  I highly recommend a visit  and guided tour of the  Castle.   Abarta Heritage also  have an excellent audio guide for   Cahir Castle.

There are many interesting features within the castle but my  favourite  is a piece of medieval graffiti  located on the east gable of  the 13th century gatehouse, which later became the castle keep.  The carving is located just inside the gateway with the portcullis (a latticed/grilled gate).  If you have any difficulty finding the graffiti just ask any of the guides who work here they are so helpful.



Portcullis gateway close to the reception area in the middle ward of the castle.

As you pass through the gateway  keep your eye out for a triangular-shaped stone with some cement surrounding it  at the top of the batter of the east gable of the gate house wall. If you are coming from the middle ward (courtyard) it will be on your left hand side.


Stone with medieval graffiti on the east gable of the gatehouse at Cahir Castle.

The graffiti consists of a design of three figures which have been designed to fit the natural shape of a stone.  The central figure consists of a triangular-shaped head with a rounded crown sitting on top of  a thin neck and torso. Traces of ribs are visible in the torso.

‘The   lower part of the body is damaged  making it impossible to say where or how it terminated. The figure has a thin left arm and possibly a right arm, bent at the elbow, which many be indicated by a loop on the side (Holland 1988, 15).



Stone with graffiti showing the three faces.

On either side of the central figure  are two inverted  faces with  eyes, eyebrows and nose.  Both  are of a similar shape to the central figure, with ears placed high on their heads.  All three are contemporary and there appears to have been some thought about the design to make use of the shape of the stone.


The photo above inverted to show the two side faces more clearly.

Given that  the stone is in situ its likely the  graffiti was carved some time after the gatehouse was built-in the 13th century.  But who carved it and why ?  Was someone bored ? Or  was it  placed here for a specific purpose ?  Most of these question may never be answered but its fun to  try and come up with some answers.  I havent come across anything like this graffiti at any other  Irish medieval site I have visited which makes it all the more special.   For a more  in-depth discussion of the Cahir castle graffiti there is a very interesting article  ‘A Carving in Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary’ by Patrick Holland (full references below).



Holland, P. 1988.  ‘A Carving in Cahir Castle, Co Tipperary’, North Munster Antiquarian Journal , Vol. 30, 14-18.



2 comments on “Medieval Graffiti at Cahir Castle

  1. Mixed Messages says:

    At the start of the month I was at a talk hosted by the Clare Archaeological and Historical Society and the Shannon Archaeological and Historical Society. It was given by Eamonn Fitzgerald on the topic of the IHS ceramic tiles on buildings – generally over front doors. The talk was primarily concerned with those in the older parts of Galway but tiles are also in other parts of Galway, Co. Clare, Co. Galway, Ballinrobe, Athlone and Cork.

    As an aside, and I think as part of some planned future research topic, Eamonn mentioned that there are many example of IHS carved into the stonework in buildings (generally between 1812 and 1817 by J Healy) and he also referred to it as Stone Graffiti. He showed photos of a few of these.

    For these to have been carved without the knowledge of the owner and so be graffiti would require an extremely fast carver which did lead to some questions after the talk.

  2. Kay says:

    I have been to Cahir Castle many times and had no idea !
    By the way, I use pictures of the Castle when teaching my medieval unit; my fifth graders love it!

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