Let’s put the Great back into Grannagh Castle

THE neglect and disregard for Grannagh Castle located on the Southern tip of County Kilkenny by officialdom is in stark contrast to the position of authority it held in the golden period of the Butler dynasty. Although Grannagh (gravelly place) Castle started life as a Dun or fort owned by Brawn, presumably to repel the incursions of the Norsemen from the settlement in Waterford city, it was not until the arrival of the Countess of Granny that Grannagh Castle became a symbol of Butler power. She and her husband Piers Rue Butler were responsible for the Camelot years at Grannagh when it became the main Butler Castle, putting others like Kilkenny in the shade.

THE neglect and disregard for Grannagh Castle located on the Southern tip of County Kilkenny by officialdom is in stark contrast to the position of authority it held in the golden period of the Butler dynasty. Although Grannagh (gravelly place) Castle started life as a Dun or fort owned by Brawn, presumably to repel the incursions of the Norsemen from the settlement in Waterford city, it was not until the arrival of the Countess of Granny that Grannagh Castle became a symbol of Butler power. She and her husband Piers Rue Butler were responsible for the Camelot years at Grannagh when it became the main Butler Castle, putting others like Kilkenny in the shade.

Standing, precariously, on the outside wall, you can see how boats and ships going up and down the river to Carrick-on-Suir, Cahir and Clonmel came really close to the battlements because that was the deepest channel through which to navigate. And that is why they paid the tax on river journeys. And while it doesn’t feature greatly in The Ormonde Deeds, Grannagh Castle had a certain prestige that others failed to match.

It was a major military installation and held sway over a vast area and in medieval times boasted the first ferry across of the river, presumably where Grannagh Boat Club is now located.

It’s ramparts were robbed over the centuries and went into building many local cottages.

The enclosed courtyard leading to the large dining hall is surrounded by curtain walls and were adorned by battlements, the remnants of which can still be seen today. In each corner stood a projecting circular, or drum tower, which had loopholes giving clear views of the connecting walls. In the North East corner stands the main “keep” or the most heavily fortified section of the castle. It was four stories high and as always the most important people lived at the top with all their waste (including the human kind ) going straight down to the bottom.

It would have stood nobly against the tidal Suir and exerted an air of authority, and that was exactly what it was meant to convey to those who dared question the authority of the Countess and her husband Piers Rua. And before we get into the despicable manner it has been treated, we should relate a story handed down from generation around Grannagh and Kilmacow.

It is said that one day the Countess summoned her jester and compelled him to improve her spirits. He failed to make her laugh and as a last resort, the court clown suggested a rope trick. He quickly fashioned a rope with several nooses. She responded by demanding to see the invention work. The Countess ordered her soldiers to round up several peasants and warned the jester that if the invention was not successful, he would hang. Seven innocent peasants were hung from the battlements, an atrocity which restored the Countess’s good spirits. It is said that so delighted was she with “the Butler Knot” that she incorporated it into the family coat of arms.

Grannagh Castle is in bad state, a shadow of its former self. When the motorway and new bridge over the Suir were built everybody thought Grannagh would receive a boost, no so. The area around it has two huge overflow pipes connected inside a green metal railing that feeds into what was an old stream that flowed into the Suir under a lovely old stone arched bridge.

It is now a channel and is full of rubbish mainly plastic bottles that may have been brought in with the tide. There isn’t even a car park for people to set down. We are dealing with a national monument with huge visitor appeal that we cannot get access to even though it is in public ownership in an area that would be gone to ruin if it were not for the local people. It’s wrong, wrong, wrong.

The area around Grannagh Castle has been left in a state of limbo by the State. If it was situated across the River Suir in Co Waterford it would be a jewel in that county’s heritage crown and would be a huge visitor attraction, attracting huge sums of money to show it off properly. However, it is in South Kilkenny where it has a special place in the hearts of the local people from Grannagh, Kilmacow and beyond.

I went there on Friday morning and two tourists were taking a picnic. They were surprised and disappointed to see a sign stating that the castle was closed because of ongoing road works and provision of public right of way. There are no road works and how hard could it be to establish a right of way from the public road to the castle had that not been established over the centuries.

The real story is that the little piece of ground outside the castle is in private ownership and there appears to be a problem with public liability insurance. So it remains closed. Wouldn’t happen in places where tourism is an important revenue stream.

A similar castle in Listowel, Co Kerry (not as grand or imposing) has been completely reinstated and a huge metal platform erected as part of it to allow people access to the higher floors and view the river beyond the castle.

Wouldn’t such a concept be magnificent at Grannagh Castle, looking out over the Suir to Waterford city and county. There has been no major political will over the last 30 years to show case the beauty, elegance and importance historically, socially and attraction wise of Grannagh Castle.

Even getting the castle lit at night is a major issue which has not been overcome in 20 years. How hard can it be. We asked the OPW to explain the situation. They speedily and efficiently said that access to the castle is only by the permission of the landowner and the State ownership of lands around Grannagh Castle extends approximately three metres only.

“In general, floodlighting installations would be at a further remove from a structure and would require archaeological excavation. In the case of Grannagh Castle it is likely that the electrical ducting required for floodlighting the Castle would be outside the area in the ownership of the State,” the statement said.

So get permission from the landowner. I am sure he would be delighted to have what must be anuisnace off his hands. Why would he not agree to allow access if he is indemnified like people are at all other OPW managed National Monument sites. Then get someone like Coilin O’Drisceoil of Kilkenny Archaeology to do the excavation and then provide the lighting. How hard can it be?

What a beacon for Kilkenny it would be. It would light up the night sky and draw visitors to it and the wonderful Thatch Bar across the road where the Ryan family have put their money where there mouth is and invested in the place. Tours of the site could be organised and given by locals providing a little employment and what about excursions from the Slip Way next door to view the castle from the water and take in the rest of the tidal Suir. The opportunity to exploit and develop this site are endless but we haven’t got the political muscle to move it. How can it take 20 years to organise lights for such a wonderful national monument. Why aren’t people up in arms.

If it was in Waterford city, there would be a viewing stand, elaborate parking and guided tours with interactive panels but it is as always thanks to the Office of Public Works (OPW) left to its own devises, It if it was not for the local people and their pride of place, God knows how bad it would be.

Next to the site, towards Waterford city is a beautiful cut stone bridge which has sunk and is now an overflow outlet for the new roads made to accommodate the motorway and the channel it flows into is a dump.

Again. it depends where you are in the county. If this castle was on the River Nore within Kilkenny city environs it would be lavished with money and visits from ministers and dignatries.

The good news is that Labour councillor for the area and great community activist, Cllr Tomas Breathnach has been working behind the scenes to move the project on.

“The place would be in shocking state if it were not for the voluntary effort of the local people who are continuously cleaning up the area and carrying ot what improvements they can.

The councillors in the southern part of the county have made Grannagh Castle their flagship project for the next five years and have already received backing from the local authority to the tune of E35,000.

In the last year they have rotovated and reseeded the area, cleared the pathways of weeds carried out planting of the embankment and repaired and painted the picnic tables

Thanks to Cllr Breathnach Kilkenny County Council cleared away overgrowth which impeded views of the river from the picnic area. The Council also repaired the wall where a section had been broken and also repaired sections of the pathway where there was some deterioration in the surface quality. The unsightly pontoons on the slipway are being repaired. Cllr breathnach thinks the debris and rubbish evident in and around the stream next to the castle and the slip-way came in on the tide.

And Michael Maher junior has lodged aplanning aplication to repair the bunglaow next to the castle which was damaged when acar crashed into thevroff of the hosue some years ago. this can only be ap ositive thing for the ea because itin its present sate the the house looks very unapealing, esppecially situated next to a castle like Grannagh.

The opportunities to exploit Grannagh Castle in an environmentally friendly way are endless. But without the will from on high to help the project nothing much wil happen. Here you have a magificent structure whoch could create jobs and create a buzz around the area if developed properly.

Much of the history of this piece is thanks to a wonderful article by Mrs T.G.Lanigan in the Old Kilkenny review of 1960.