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The name Buttevant

 

The name Buttevant is believed to be of Medieval, Norman origin, replacing the native

Irish name Kilnamullagh. The origins of both names have given rise to some confusion

with various interpretations being put forward.

In his seminal work on Irish placenames P.W. Joyce notes that the town is referred to in

the Annals of the Four Masters sub anno 1251 as Cill-na-Mullach. Joyce accepts the

translation of this as “the church of the hillocks or summits”, and asserts categorically

“the name admits of no other interpretation” (1995, 392-3). He further asserts that a local

translation of the name as “the church of the curse (mallacht)” is wrong and is “an

invention of later times”. However, the Irish Placenames Commission records several

instances of the name Kill-na-mallach (the church of the curse) and have accepted this as

the official version. This is the version now used in modern Ordnance Survey maps.

Whatever the true version, the translation ‘church of the hillocks or summits’ is certainly

appropriate. The site of the original church, now occupied by a nineteenth century

Church of Irelan church and graveyard, is located on a limestone plateau high above the

River Awbeg and the surrounding landscape, especially to the south, does include several

hillocks.

The name Buttevant has also given rise to some debate and is widely believed to derive

from the French phrase ‘boutez-en-avant’, said to have been the war-cry of the Norman

Barry family who conquered the area in the late 12th century. However, as noted by the

antiquarian Westropp in 1901 the name ‘Boutavant’ has been applied to fortifications in

France, Britain and Ireland from at least the late 12th century up to the 16th century

(Westropp 1901, 87). The historian Powicke notes that by the end of 1198 “… an

advance work, called in consequence Boutavant…” had been erected on the River Seine,

“…above the Isle of Andelys…” (Powicke 1961, 193-4). The context was the struggle

between King Richard of England and Philip of France for control of Normandy and the

Boutavant in question was one of a number of fortifications built by Richard prior to his

construction of the massive fortress of Chateau-Gaillard, one of the most impressive of

the Medieval European castles. At Corfe castle in Dorset in England the name Butavant

is found in several 13th century references and is believed to refer to the tower “…at the

exposed angle of the west bailey…” (Colvin 1963, 619-23). One of the towers along the

walls of Dublin city is named Butavant as early as c. 1250 and Buttevantes’ Tower in the

sixteenth century (Thomas 1992, 83-4). It was located at the exposed north east corner

before the town’s defences were extended northwards towards the Liffey. Thus the name

does appear to have the meaning of ‘push forward’ and can be seen to be applied in the

sense of an advance or projecting fortification. In the context of Buttevant therefore the

building of the castle there could be seen as a ‘push forward’ into North Cork by the

Barrys from their base in East Cork (centred on Castlelyons and Barryscourt). It could

also be seen in the context of the immediate location of the castle, on a prominent

limestone ridge jutting forward over the river. The name Buttevant is therefore more

likely to derive from this source rather than from the Barry motto. It is in fact more likely

that both are derived from the same source, rather than one from the other.