In the 8th century, the O’Fogarty’s gave their name to the town of Durlas, which is today located in County Tipperary. In Irish, Durlas Éile means ‘Strong Fort of Éile’. The decline in the political significance of the O’Fogartys, and the death of Donal Mór O’Brien in 1194, facilitated the take-over of Durlas and Eliogarty by the Norman baron, Theobald Walter, the founder of the Butlers. Theobald Walter received a grant of the region, as well as other regions, from Prince John of England. Theobald, whose brother Hubert was Archbishop of Canterbury, was made hereditary chief butler of Ireland, (hence the surname Butler). The name of the town is then anglicised to Thurles and used as the location for Butler’s first fortified base, because of its riverside setting and its central position in the most fertile land of Eliogarty. In today’s Thurles there are two architectural landmarks from the original family fortresses still standing, the Black Castle, shown below in green and to the left, and O’Fogarty Castle, to the right, by the River Suir.
The Black Castle was occupied by Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, son of Walter Butler “Walter of the Rosaries.” Thomas Butler was probably the first of the family to take up residence in Thurles Castle. Thomas was summoned to England in 1619 to answer charges of treason, but the ship conveying him was wrecked off the coast of Skerries and he was drowned on 15th December 1619. His wife was Elizabeth Poyntz, daughter of Sir John Poyntz, Bart., of Acton in Gloucestershire, and the celebrated Lady Thurles. They had been married since 1608 and were the parents of three sons and four daughters.
After Viscount Thurles’s death, his widow, Lady Thurles, married again, about 1620, one Captain George Mathew of Radyr and Llandaff in Glamorganshire, Wales, by whom Lady Thurles had a further two sons and a daughter. Captain George Mathew died at Tenby in Wales in 1636. His widow, Lady Thurles survived him by 37 years and died in Thurles in May 1673. Her body was interred inside St. Mary’s Famine Museum Church in Thurles.
Generations later, the 3rd Duke of Abercorn’s daughter married Earl Spencer, grandfather of the Lady Diana Spencer who married Prince Charles of England. Thus, Thomas Butler, Viscount Thurles, and Elizabeth Poyntz, Lady Thurles are direct ancestors of Lady Diana Spencer.
Prince Charles of England is a direct descendant of Viscount and Lady Thurles through their eldest son, the Duke of Ormond. The Duke’s daughter, Elizabeth, married Philip Stanhope, 2nd Earl Chesterfield, and their daughter Elizabeth Stanhope married John Lyon, 4th Earl Strathmore. Later in direct line was the 14th Earl Strathmore whose daughter, Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon married the future King George VI; and these are the grandparents of Prince Charles.
In both cases the two castles are considered castle keeps. A medieval keep is a type of fortified tower usually built within the larger complex, but it was not uncommon to find the nobility living in a single tower.
The O’Fogarty Castle, located at the east entrance as you cross a bridge over the River Suir, currently houses a clothing store. Commonly known as the Bridge Castle, this castle keep dates to approximately 1453. This medieval tower is similar to many others castle keep erected across Ireland, and was built to control and collect tolls, or the river crossings against attack possible attack.
• “Thurles: A Guide to the Cathedral Town,” by William J. Hayes, Lisheen Publications, 1999.
• John Butler, Proprietor of the BookWorm Bookshop & Café. Located at, 1 Parnell Street, Thurles, Ireland.
• The staff at the Thurles Library, The Source Library & Arts Centre, Cathedral Street, Thurles, Ireland <firstname.lastname@example.org>