Twinned with PlourivoFrance

 The town walls – documentary evidence  

 

In her work The walled towns of Ireland Avril Thomas states that “The evidence for a 

medieval walled town at Buttevant …. is quite well established for the 14th century…” 

(Thomas, vol 2, 231). The evidence derives primarily from two medieval references to 

murage. In 1317 the sum of £105 owing to the exchequer was released “to enclose it with 

walls”, while a further grant in 1375 refers to the “north gate” (ibid. 28). Borlase, in his 

history of the rebellion of the 1640’s refers briefly to Buttevant but does not mention 

town walls (Borlase, 82). By contrast he refers to Kilmallock as a town “…environed 

with a strong wall..”. The lack of reference to walls at Buttevant suggests that it was not a 

place of strength at that time and that the walls were perhaps somewhat decayed by then. 

Charles Smith in 1750 records that parts of the walls were still standing at that time. He 

writes “There are still to be seen the remains of a wall that surrounded the town; and 

they also shew the traces of an outward wall, which enclosed the other, and took up a 

considerable circuit of ground” (Smith, 313). The reference to ‘traces’ of an outward 

wall suggests that a full outer circuit did not survive in Smith’s time, and it is unclear if 

this outer circuit completely enclosed the town. 

The town of Buttevant today consists principally of one long street running north-south, 

parallel to the river which flows on its east side, and several cross-streets. Property 

boundaries run east and west from the main street. Behind the street-front properties 

several back lanes run from the cross-streets parallel to the main street, separating the 

houses from their garden plots. The town’s bridge, the medieval element of which still 

survives, is located at the northern extremity of the town, and the castle at the southern 

extremity. The site of the medieval church is located some 150m south of the town and is 

today the site of a Church of Ireland church and graveyard. 

The town is therefore laid out on a distinctly regular grid pattern common to many Irish 

and European medieval towns, and its layout has been compared by one writer to the 

fortified towns of south west France (O’Keeffe 2004, 162) The same writer described 

Buttevant as “one of the most interesting but perhaps perplexing of all mediaeval Irish 

towns” (ibid.). 

Thomas proposes three possible circuits for the town walls, and divides the town into 

three sections: 1 - a central section with the Franciscan Friary at its centre and extending 

from Kerry Lane in the south to the unnamed cross-street to the north of the Friary (the 

latter street also forms the townland boundary between Buttevant and Creggane 

townlands); 2 – a north section extending from the townland boundary to the bridge; 3 – a 

south section extending to the “castle/parish church areas” (Thomas 1992, 29). This 

scenario leaves the bridge, the castle and the parish church outside the walls, and indeed 

two of Thomas’s proposed circuits also leave the present market-house (presumably the 

site of the medieval market) outside, a situation which would have been most unusual 

given that these elements are almost invariably enclosed within the walls (though the 

castle is occasionally outside). Thomas notes the exclusion of the bridge to the north and 

the parish church to the south as particularly curious and suggests that the graveyard to 

the south of the town was not the site of the original parish church (Thomas, 29). 

However, it is clear that Thomas was unaware of some sources of information and did not 

have the benefit of MacCotter and Nicholls translation of the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, 

published four years after her work. Thomas assumed that the southern extent of the town 

ended at the point where the main street abandons its straight north-south course and 

veers sharply to the west, and she describes the market-house in this area as being 

“…almost beyond the town..”. In fact it is clear from documentary and cartographic 

evidence that this street originally continued in a straight line south to Ballybeg, through 

what is now the entrance to the Church of Ireland graveyard. Indeed it course can still be 

traced in the field to the south of the graveyard. The road south from the town only 

assumed its present course at the whim of an early nineteenth-century occupant of the 

castle, Sir James Anderson, so that it no longer ran through his demesne (Grove-White 

vol 1, 364). This account is borne out by the evidence of Charles Vallancey’s map of 

1796 (TCD MS2891) and the Grand Jury map of Cork of 1811 (Fig. 5), both of which 

agree in showing the road continuing in a straight line south to Ballybeg, with the town 

extending on each side as far as what is now the access lane to the Church of Ireland 

graveyard, but was then a continuation of the Knockbarry road. That the town in 

medieval times also extended as far south as the graveyard is clearly suggested by an 

entry in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, which describes the lands held of the lord Bishop (of 

Cloyne) by David Barry. These include the castle of Buttevant, its orchard, and the 

tenements lying between Mill Street “…as far as the roadway and church of St Bridget 

on the south side…” (MacCotter and Nicholls 1996, 29). Further references in the Pipe 

Roll to “the parish church of Buttevant” and “the church of St Brigid of Buttevant” 

clearly show that this graveyard was indeed the site of the medieval parish church, 

contrary to Thomas’s suggestion. 

There can therefore be little doubt that the medieval town extended as far south as what is 

now the Church of Ireland graveyard, and it is likely that this area was the core of the 

town, incorporating the castle, the mill, the parish church and the market. This realisation 

has numerous implications for our current understanding of medieval Buttevant. One is 

the distinct possibility that archaeological remains of the medieval town may lie 

relatively undisturbed under the open fields to the south west of the castle and west and 

south of the Church of Ireland graveyard. Another is the possible location of a south gate 

to the town. The only evidence we have for town gates is a 1375 reference to the North 

Gate (Thomas, 28). From this specific reference it is reasonable to assume the presence 

also of a south gate. It is suggested by Thomas (p 29), and is generally assumed, that the 

south gate was located at Lombard’s castle, partly because of its location near the 

presumed southern end of the town and partly because of a flanking tower projecting onto 

the street from the main tower and giving the impression of a narrowing of the street at 

this point. However, Lombard’s castle is likely to have been an urban tower house, the 

residence of a wealthy burgher of the town and is therefore more likely to have been well 

within the town rather than at one of the gates. Also, since it is clear that the town 

extended further to the south, as detailed above, the south gate, if such existed, may have 

been located outside the modern town (see below for discussion of the southern perimeter 

wall). The third implication of this theory is of course for the location of the town walls. 

Since the evidence clearly indicates that the town extended as far as the parish church, it 

is likely that the church was enclosed within the town walls. We must now turn to 

possible evidence for those walls. 

 

 The town walls – physical evidence 

The outer wall 

The main evidence for an outer wall circuit comes from Charles Smith (quoted above). 

His assertion that the outer wall “..took up a considerable circuit of ground” suggest that 

it was located quite a distance out from the inner wall. A possible candidate for this outer 

wall is a field boundary which extends to the northwest from the main road 

approximately 100m south of the market house and which forms the boundary between 

the townlands of Buttevant and Knockbarry (Fig. 3). This boundary is more substantial 

than other field boundaries in the area, comprising an earthen bank c.1m high and almost 

2m thick, with well constructed stone facing on its southwest side. The bank appears 

much lower from the east side where ground level is c.0.6m higher than it is on the west 

side. 

 

 

Plate 4 Outer wall Buttevant/Knockbarry townland boundry

  Plate 4:The Buttevant/Knockbarry townland boundary from the south

 

It is likely that this boundary formerly continued towards the southeast before the present 

main road was built in the early nineteenth century. If one extends its trajectory in this 

direction on the map one finds that it strikes the southern boundary of the Church of 

Ireland graveyard. The present walls surrounding the graveyard are relatively modern and 

presumably date to the construction of the C. of I. church (1826). However, to the 

immediate east of the south east corner of the graveyard there are traces of an earlier 

boundary, now much degraded, comprising of two parallel earthen banks with a fosse 

between. The southern bank stands c.0.5m high and is 0.8m wide with traces of stone 

facing on its northern side; the northern bank is c.0.4m high and 1.2m wide. These 

embankments run along the cliff edge south of the graveyard, then turn westwards just 

east of the graveyard, where they appear to have been cut by the graveyard wall. On this 

trajectory they are approximately aligned with the boundary just described and may well 

have been a continuation of it (Fig. 3). 

This theory therefore suggests that the southern town wall was a stone-faced earthen bank 

(or perhaps a double bank) commencing on the cliff-edge near the south-east corner of 

the graveyard, curving gently towards the north-west, intersecting with the main street at 

the western end of the graveyard, and continuing to curve to the north-west, to Kerry 

Lane. At this point the townland boundary turns east and runs along Kerry Lane for 

c.50m before turning north and running directly north. The earthen bank is not found to 

the north of Kerry Lane however and the boundary there is a row of trees of recent origin. 

It may be that this wall or embankment is the ‘outer wall’ referred to by Smith as 

enclosing the other, inner, wall, which itself surrounded the town. We must now look for 

evidence of this inner wall. 

 

The inner wall – eastern perimeter 

Unfortunately, among the myriad walls edging the back lanes and marking the property 

boundaries behind Buttevant’s houses none can be positively identified as medieval, 

particularly on the western side of the main street. Along the eastern perimeter of the 

town long stretches of walling survive extending along the cliff-edge from the castle to 

the corn mill and from north of the mill to the northeast corner of the Roman Catholic 

graveyard, though with some significant gaps. An attempt was made to use mortar 

analysis to provide clues as to the relative ages of these walls, but this was unsuccessful. 

Mortar samples were taken from thirteen different points including some from castle 

walls known to date to the thirteenth century and others known to date to the nineteenth. 

The samples were manually broken down and examined visually, and rated according to 

hardness, colour, weight/density and aggregate size. However, no clear pattern emerged 

and the analysis was inconclusive. Following that a series of close-up photographs was 

taken at different points along the walls to see if any pattern emerged from a study of the 

different construction styles. This proved to be somewhat more rewarding. 

Broad similarities were noted in three sections of walling in particular (Fig. 3). These 

were: 1) a section beginning at the northeast corner of the castle and running northwards; 

2) a section forming the boundary between Mill Lane and the grounds of the Convent of 

Mercy; and 3) a section extending northwards from the northeast corner of the Franciscan 

Friary. These three sections are built of uncoursed limestone rubble, with a high 

proportion of large blocks of c.0.2m high and 0.4m to 0.6m long. The faces of the stones 

are smooth but unworked, displaying the natural cleavage of the rock. By contrast, other, 

later walls in the vicinity tend to have a higher proportion of smaller stones, are built in 

regular courses, and the stones are roughly hammer-dressed giving a rougher, more 

angular face. 

Section 1 is built on a rock shelf half-way down the near-vertical cliff-face below the 

castle, which stands on top of the cliff. As such it enhances the natural defensive 

capabilities of the cliff and could be seen as forming part of the castles defenses. By 

contrast the later property boundary wall to the north is built along the top of the cliff. 

The wall continues north for c.15m, apparently all of a single phase of construction. It 

then turns northeast following the base of the cliff for c. 25m, before turning north again. 

There is evidence of repair and rebuild in this second section, and it is unclear how much, 

if any, is original. As it continues north its base rises gradually until it runs practically on 

the top edge of the cliff where it forms the eastern boundary to a private house and 

garden. This section is of more modern appearance. To the east of the garden boundary, 

further down the cliff, there is now an isolated section of walling c. 10m long and 3m 

high. It is mostly obscured by moss and ivy, but the construction method does appear to 

be similar to that of section 1. It seems likely that this section was part of an earlier, 

originally continuous wall which extended from the castle along the lower cliff face to 

the corn mill. 

Section 2 is located near the southeast corner of the grounds of the Convent of Mercy, 

forming the boundary wall between Mill Lane and the convent grounds, immediately 

west of the mill. The first edition 6 inch OS map shows an “Old RC Chapel” here, and 

what is now Mill Lane was then Chapel Lane. 

Some 30m to the west of the corner the junction of the older walling with the more 

modern is clearly visible (Plate 5), illustrating the contrast between the two styles. 

 Plate 5: Wall North side of Mill Lane

 Plate 5: Wall on north side of Mill Lane. Note break in construction styles to right of ranging rod. Older wall to right, modern wall to left. 

 

The more recent wall (probably 19th century) continues to the west along Mill Lane, 

while the older wall continues to the east towards the southeast corner of the convent 

grounds. Dense ivy obscures much of the wall towards the corner. The corner itself, and 

the wall extending north from it, forming the eastern boundary of the Convent grounds, 

are clearly also of recent origin, though built on the foundations of an earlier wall which 

can be seen near ground level. From the northeast corner of the Convent grounds as far as 

School Lane (immediately north of the ‘School’ on the 25” map in Fig 3) the wall was 

densely overgrown and inaccessible at the time of this survey. To the north of School 

Lane there was a great deal of ivy cover, but it was possible to see that some sections 

were similar in construction style to the 13th century section described above, though 

there was also evidence of modern repair. Immediately south of the Franciscan Friary 

there is a gap of c. 30m in the wall. There is no doubt that the wall was originally 

continuous in this area as is clearly shown in an early 20th century photograph (Plate 6 

below). 

Section 3 of the three similar wall sections runs from the northeast corner of the Friary 

northwards for c. 10m after which it is mostly collapsed to ground level (see Plate 1 

above). Again it is clear from the Grove-White photograph that it originally continued to 

the northeast corner of the Roman Catholic graveyard (Plate 6). As noted the construction 

style is similar to that of Sections 1 and 2. 

 

 Plate 6: Friary from the East 1909

Plate 6: Reproduction of a photograph of 1909 showing the Friary from the east (Grove- White vol 1 part 2, facing p 350). Note continuous wall running north and south from east end of Friary. 

 

It is possible to suggest a date for one of these sections, that between Mill Lane and the 

Convent grounds, near its eastern end. As noted above this was formerly the site of a 

Catholic church, and is also thought to have been the site of a medieval nunnery 

mentioned by Charles Smith in 1750 (Power 2000, 550, 617). It is likely that the 

medieval nunnery was used as a parish church after the medieval parish church to the 

south of the town was closed in the post-Reformation period. 

The outline of a blocked window can be seen on the south face of this wall. The window 

still survived in the mid nineteenth century when it was described as a “…small trefoilheaded 

two light window…” (Brash 1852, 96). The same author also describes some 

moulded stone on this wall, noting that “… moulded caps are worked on the stone...”. 

These must surely be the capitals now incorporated into the grotto erected in the window 

embrasure on the inner (north) face of the wall. The form of the capitals, coupled with 

Brash’s description, indicates this was a thirteenth century window, therefore it can be 

assumed that this section of walling was of that date. 

Given the similarity of construction style of this wall section and the sections to the castle 

and north of the Friary, it can be proposed with some confidence therefore that these 

three wall sections are medieval in date. 

The inner wall – southern perimeter 

Along the southern perimeter of the town, in addition to the possible outer wall already 

described there is likely also to have been an inner wall, though there is no obvious 

survival of this. There is however one possible candidate for this element of the circuit, 

namely the southern boundary of the modern school grounds across the road from the 

market house. A cursory glance at this wall shows the regular linear coursing typical of 

more recent walls in the area. However, a closer look reveals that the lowest courses, 

close to ground level, are of a different construction style, and are likely to belong to an 

earlier wall (Plate 7 below). This earlier work can only be seen on the southern boundary 

wall of the school grounds, though not at the extreme western end, where the wall turns 

north-westwards. It is tempting to see this as part of the original southern town wall, 

possibly extending from the curtain wall of the castle in the east, across the main street 

and linking with the western perimeter wall just south of the market house. 

Plate 7: Southern Boundry Inner Wall

Plate 7: Southern boundary wall to modern school grounds, from north. Note different construction style near base 

 

 The town walls – topographic evidence 

Within the town itself, while elements of the surviving walling may well be medieval, 

none could be positively identified as such, with the exception of course of Lombard’s 

Castle. All that can be attempted here is a suggested wall circuit based on the topography 

of the town.

 

The western perimeter 

Along the western and northern perimeter of the town Thomas identified an outer and 

inner wall line (Fig. 4). Her proposed outer line can be dismissed on two grounds: firstly 

the section to the south of Kerry Lane is not depicted on the first edition of the 6 inch 

map, but is shown on the 25 inch map and is therefore clearly the boundary to a property 

constructed towards the end of the 19th century; secondly, to the north of Kerry Lane 

there are significant gaps in the line, and one extensive area of open ground with no 

property boundaries. Her inner line here is much more plausible. On the 1st edition OS 

map this line is more or less continuous (though staggered in several areas and with one 

noticeable break) from the northern end of the market house to a wall running west from 

the main street just opposite the present Catholic Church (Wall A in Fig. 2). Four factors 

make this wall significant. Firstly, it forms a noticeable break in the topography of the 

properties. To the south of it, as noted above, the western boundary to the properties 

forms an almost continuous line to the market house. To the north however there is a 

large open space with a lime kiln and no properties (see Fig. 2; the 25 inch map on Fig 3 

shows a new property immediately to the north occupying the site of the lime kiln). 

Secondly, the properties to the north are longer and less regular, whereas those to the 

south are of uniform length. Thirdly, ground level to the south of the wall is higher than 

that to the north, suggesting a greater build up of soil on the south (inner) side of the wall, 

as one would expect if this was a town wall. Fourthly if one projects the line of Wall A 

eastwards across the street it runs more or less directly towards the old tower 

incorporated into the Catholic Church (see Plate 1 above). This tower was almost 

certainly part of the boundary of the Franciscan Friary, and may well have been 

incorporated into the town defences.

 

The eastern perimeter 

Turning now to the eastern town boundary it is noticeable from the nineteenth century 

maps (Figs 1 and 2) that in the area stretching from the north east corner of the Catholic 

graveyard south to the Fever Hospital (now the Convent) the property boundaries stop 

short of the riverbank – in fact they are bounded by a high stone wall, leaving an open 

area between the wall and the riverbank accessible from School Lane and from Mill 

Lane. This boundary provides uniformity to the extents of the properties here so that they 

are of equal length to those on the west side of the street. However, in the area north of 

the Catholic graveyard the properties extend fully to the riverbank and are of irregular 

size, like their opposite counterparts on the west side of the street. This indicates a clear 

difference on either side of what is now the north wall of the Catholic graveyard and 

suggests that wall follows the line of the original town wall. Its position in relation to the 

Franciscan Friary suggests that it also formed the northern boundary of the Friary 

precincts. 

On the basis of the factors outlined above it is therefore possible to propose the following 

circuit for the medieval town walls (see Fig 2): beginning at a point immediately 

southwest of the Market House the circuit runs northwards in an almost continuous line 

as far as Wall A (described above); at this point it turns eastwards and runs to the old 

tower, now part of the R.C. church; from here it runs northwards for c.10m then runs 

eastwards again, stopping c.15m short of the riverbank, then running south, linking with 

the corners of the Friary and continuing southwards to the northeast corner of the convent 

grounds. From this point there are two possibilities: it may have continued to the 

southeast towards the mill, then along the cliff to the castle, or alternatively it may have 

run southwards through the present convent grounds, along the line of the lane which 

runs southwards from Mill Lane towards the castle, possibly linking up with an outer 

curtain wall of the castle. The latter scenario is probably the more accurate for two 

reasons. Firstly it would mean that properties on the east side of the main street were of 

the same length as those on the west side, thereby continuing the high degree of 

uniformity which can be seen further north in the town, and secondly it would leave the 

castle and its orchard, which, according to the Pipe Roll of Cloyne was on the south side 

of Mill Street (MacCotter and Nicholls 1996, 29), walled off from the town. Similarly the 

medieval mill, assuming it was in the same position as the present mill, would have been 

separated from the town but easily accessible by the lords of the castle, who presumably 

controlled it. 

 

The southern perimeter 

As noted above (Section 1.3) the wall which forms the southern boundary of the school 

grounds is built on older foundations. These older foundations may well be the remains 

of the southern perimeter of the town walls, which could have run westwards from the 

curtain wall of the castle along the line of the present south wall school grounds, crossing 

the main street at the point where the latter now veers to the west (a possible location for 

a south gate), then continuing westwards to meet the western perimeter wall to the south 

of the market house. 

If this was the line of the southern town wall it leaves a relatively flat, open area 

extending another c. 50 south of the town wall immediately west of the castle. At the 

southern edge of this area there is a slight east-west ridge which may mark the location of 

another boundary. Beyond this ground level dips significantly between the castle and the 

Church of Ireland graveyard, so that it is unlikely there were any buildings or properties 

in this area. O’Keeffe (2004, 163) has suggested that the medieval market and fair would 

have been held “immediately outside the entrance to the castle”. If that was so then this 

flat area immediately outside the town walls and immediately outside the castle, with the 

town gates and market house only a short distance away, would have been an ideal 

location for those fairs and markets. 

 

 Discussion 

The possible circuit of the town walls of Buttevant outlined above includes two main 

elements, an inner stone wall completely enclosing the town, and an outer element 

around the southern side comprising a stone-faced earthen bank. The latter might well be 

the outer wall referred to by Smith in 1750, though whether or not it completely enclosed 

the town is uncertain. Smith’s reference to “traces” of an outer wall suggest that very 

little of it survived, and his suggestion that it “enclosed” the inner wall may simply been 

speculation on his part. 

The wall circuits proposed here enclose all the principal elements of a medieval town: the 

castle, parish church and fair green area enclosed by the outer wall, while the inner wall 

encloses the market house and the tenements. The large open space to the rear of the 

market house, outside the inner wall but enclosed by the outer wall, could have 

functioned as a fair green, though it has been suggested that a fair green might also have 

been located in the area close to the castle. Furthermore it would mean the mill, market 

house, parish church and possible south gate were clustered within view of the castle and 

within easy reach of each other. It also encloses the Franciscan Friary, a building which is 

frequently said by modern commentators to be more usually located outside the town 

walls. However, as Avril Thomas’s study shows, Friaries are located within the walls in a 

number of towns, e.g. Drogheda, Clonmel, Kilkenny and Waterford. Where they are 

located within the town they are usually at a corner, as is the case in three of these four 

examples. In the circuit proposed here for Buttevant the Friary is located within the 

northeast corner of the town, a position which is by no means unusual. 

The one important element of the medieval town not enclosed by this proposed circuit is 

the bridge, located a considerable distance to the north. However the depiction of 

Buttevant in an eighteenth century map of the south of Ireland (Vallencey 1796) shows a 

break in the river at the end of a lane just north of the castle. This depiction is identical to 

that of the present bridge to the north of the town and suggests there may have been 

another bridge at the end of Mill Lane. This would have been a suitable position for a 

bridge, close to the castle and at a narrow point in the river just below the mill pond. 

Construction of the present mill and its associated races and sluices has of course wiped 

out any trace of such a bridge, if indeed it ever existed.