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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.