A castle was built here prior to the year 1142, by Connor, King of Thomond and Monarch of Ireland; and, in the reign of John, Geoffry de Camvill founded a priory to the honour of the Blessed Virgin, for Canons Regular of the order of St. Augustin, which continued to flourish till 1540, when it was surrendered to the Crown; there are still some remains of the buildings.
The manor was one of those belonging to the Butler family; and in the reign of Elizabeth the castle was besieged by the Earl of Essex, with the whole of his army, when the garrison, encouraged by the hostilities then waged by the Earl of Desmond, held out for ten days, but was compelled to surrender. In 1647, this fortress was invested by Lord Inchiquin, and, notwithstanding its great strength, surrendered in a few hours, after some of its outworks had been gained by the assailants.
The present town owes its rise to the late Earl of Glengall, and has been enlarged and greatly improved by the present Earl, whose seat is within its limits; it is pleasantly situated on the river Suir, and is well built and of handsome appearance. About a mile distant are extensive cavalry barracks, adapted for 23 officers and 346 non-commissioned officers and privates, with stabling for 292 horses, and an hospital attached; and the staff of the Tipperary militia is also stationed in the town., At Scartana, in the vicinity, races are held annually in September or October, and are generally well attended. A linen factory was established under the Cahir Local Association, formed originally in 1809, which laid the foundation of a spinning school, and in 1823 established a market for the sale of linen and yarn. Diapers and fine linens were at first the principal articles manufactured, but coarser fabrics have latterly been produced. For want of an advantageous market the whole of this trade declined; and in 1822, the London Relief Committee, under the immediate patronage of the Earl and Countess Dowager of Glengall, established the present Leghorn, Tuscan, British, and fancy straw plat manufactory; it was projected by Mr. John Parry, of London, who first introduced the manufacture of Italian straws into England, for which he received a medal from the Society of Arts.
The produce of this manufacture, in which a large number of females is employed, is chiefly disposed of to the wholesale houses in London. By a failure of one of those houses in 1828, the business of the factory was greatly impeded; but the pecuniary assistance afforded by the Earl of Glengall has enabled the present proprietor, Mr. Richard Butler, to carry it on as extensively as before. The articles manufactured are of superior quality, and find a ready sale in the English market.
Weaving-looms for fancy plats of Italian straw with silk, of very ingenious workmanship, have been recently established, and at present afford employment to 68 females, and arrangements are in progress for considerably extending this branch of the trade. There are five very extensive flour-mills in the town and its immediate neighbourhood; the mill at Cahir Abbey, the property of Mr. Grubb, is on a very large scale and is worked by an engine of 80-horse power. The market, which is chiefly for agricultural produce, is on Friday; the market-house is a neat and commodious building. Fairs are held on Feb. 8th, April 12th, May 26th and 27th, July 20th, Sept. 18th and 19th, Oct. 20th, and Dec. 7th.
A constabulary police force is stationed in the town. A manorial court, in which debts to the amount of £10 are recoverable, is held every six weeks by the seneschal; and petty sessions are held weekly. The bridewell, a handsome castellated building, contains five cells, one day-room, and two airing-yards. The trade of this place and neighbourhood will be much improved by the construction of the contemplated railway from Tipperary to Carrick-on-Suir, for which an act has been obtained, and towards the completion of which the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland have agreed to advance a loan, on condition that there be an equal subscription, which latter at present amounts to £60,000. It is to have a branch from Tipperary to Killaloe, to communicate with the Upper Shannon, and the estimated expense does not exceed £150,000.
The parish comprises 13,923 statute acres, as applotted under the tithe act, of which about 890 are woodland, 9560 arable, 1764 pasture, and 1709 waste land,bog, and mountain: the land is in general of good quality, and the system of agriculture is in a very improved state.
The Galtee range of mountains commences here, and the scenery in the neighbourhood is of a highly picturesque character. Cahir House, the seat of the Earl of Glengall, is situated in the town, and the demesne extends for more than two miles on both sides of the river. The park, which is finely planted and well stocked with deer, comprises 560 acres; and in a secluded part of it is a picturesque retreat of modern erection, called the Cottage, which is greatly admired for the extreme beauty of its situation. The river Suir winds gently through the demesne, and contributes to the interest and diversity of the landscape. Cahir Abbey, the residence of Richard Grubb, Esq., is a handsome house recently erected by the proprietor, and pleasantly situated in grounds tastefully disposed and commanding some fine views. The other seats are Garnavella, the handsome residence of J. Archer Butler, Esq.; Altavilla, of W. Going, Esq.; Ballybrado, of J. Wm, Fennell, Esq.; and Killemley Hall, beautifully situated on the river Suir and commanding some highly picturesque views, the property of H. Hughes, Esq., but in the occupation of L. Clutterbuck, Esq. The living is a vicarage, in the diocese of Lismore, episcopally united, in 1803, to that of Grange St. John, forming the union of Cahir, in the patronage of the Crown; the rectory is appropriate to the Archbishop of Cashel. The tithes amount to £900, of which £500 is payable to the archbishop, and £400 to the vicar; and the gross tithes of the benefice, payable to the vicar, amount to £460. The church was rebuilt, in 1817, by aid of a loan of £2500 from the late Board of First Fruits: it is a spacious structure of stone, in the later English style, with an embattled tower surmounted by a finely proportioned spire, the whole after a design by Mr. Nash, of London. The glebe-house, a handsome residence, was built by aid of a gift of £100 and a loan of £750 from the same Board, in 1809: the glebe comprises 10a. 2r. 22p. In the R. C. divisions this parish is the head of a union or district, comprising the parishes of Cahir and Mortlestown; the chapel, lately rebuilt, is a spacious and handsome cruciform edifice, in the later English style, with a lofty and wellproportioned spire. There is a place of worship for the Society of Friends. The parochial schools are under the trustees of Erasmus Smith's charity; the schoolhouse was built at an expense of £1034, of which £600 was defrayed from the funds of that charity, and £434 by the late Earl of Glengall, who also gave two acres of land; and there is a national school, aided by subscription.
In these schools about 180 boys and 170 girls are instructed; there are also twelve private schools, in which are about 580 children. A dispensary and fever hospital were founded by the local London Relief Committee. The ruins of the old castle are situated on an island in the river, and present a very interesting and highly picturesque appearance. This is the burial-place of the Butler family, Earls of Glengall, to whom it gives the inferior titles of Viscount and Baron.
from Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837.
The transcription of the section for this parish from the National Gazetteer (1868), provided by Colin Hinson.
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