Thomas Butler, known as Thomás Dubh“ Black Tom “ was the son of James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond. His mother was Lady Joan Fitzgerald, the daughter of James, the 10th Earl of Desmond. In 1546 he acceded to the title. He was the first in his family to embrace Protestantism.
The Butlers (le Botiller) were a Hiberno-Norman family who arrived in Ireland in 1185. In 1177 King Henry II conferred on Thomas Walter, 1st Baron Butler with the Butlership of Ireland, whereby he and his successors were to attend the Kings of England on their Coronation and on that day present them with their first cup of wine. Edmund Butler was the first Butler to arrive in Carrick and in 1309 he built a castle on the site of the present Ormond Castle, consisting of four towers and a central courtyard. He became the first Earl of Carrick in 1315. In 1322 his son James, who held the title Chief Butler of Ireland, became the First Earl of Ormond.
At that time Carrick-on-Suir was an island surrounded by water. It was not until the 18th century that small rivers were diverted to form dry land to the north and west of the town. A ferry was the only way to cross the River Suir and it landed on the Carrick side opposite Oven Lane.
The Old Bridge was built in 1447 by Sir Edmund MacRichard Butler and was for centuries the first bridge built above the estuary and was strategically important. The bridge predates the voyage of Columbus to the New World. In the battle of Piltown in 1462 Thomas, the 7th Earl of Desmond, heavily defeated an army led by Sir Edmond. The battle started in Piltown, then went southerly to Tybroughney and ended at Arclone. He lost 400 men and was captured. A ransom was later paid for his release.
Thomas was a cousin of Queen Elizabeth 1st through her mother Anne Boleyn and in the 1560s
he built an Elizabethan Tudor Manor onto the castle and hoped that the Queen would visit, but she never did.
On the first floor of the manor is a 100ft Long Gallery with two beautiful carved stone fireplaces and a ceiling and a frieze of Elizabethan plaster work. One of the fireplace mantles is inscribed with the date 1565. This room was once hung with tapestries. The manor is Ireland’s major unfortified dwelling from the 16th century.
James Butler, the 9th Earl of Ormond (1496-1546) was to have married Anne Boleyn but the plans ended in failure. Boleyn’s mother, Margaret was the daughter of the 7th Earl of Ormond and it is claimed that Anne Boleyn was born in the Castle during one of her mother’s visits. Anne Boleyn was the 2nd wife of Henry 8th and was Queen of England from 1533 to 1536. She was beheaded in the Tower of London on 19th May 1536 mainly because she bore Henry no male heir and he wanted to marry Jane Seymour. Pope Clement VII had already excommunicated Henry because of his marriage to Anne, thus leading to the break away by the Church of England from Rome.
In 1559 Thomas married Elizabeth Berkley, but they separated in 1564 without having any children. His second marriage was to Elizabeth Sheffield in 1582 and they had three children, James (1583–1589),
Elizabeth (1593–1628) and Thomas (1601–1606). His third marriage was in 1601 to Hon Helen Barry and they had no children. His illegitimate son Piers FitzThomas Butler (1531-1601) married Catherine Fleming, the eldest daughter of Lord Slane before 1587. Their son Edward became Viscount Galmoye and the Sheriff of Kilkenny. There is a memorial to Piers in the Heritage Centre in Carrick-on-Suir.
During a battle in 1579 against forces led by Gerald Fitzgerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, the Crown forces led by Thomas overwhelmed Fitzgerald’s forces and Fitzgerald was forced to go on the run. He was captured in 1583 near Tralee and his head was sent to London where it was hung on London Bridge as a warning to would be traitors. This period is known in Irish history as the Desmond Rising.
In 1588 Thomas was invested with the most noble Order of the Garter which is the highest order that can be bestowed by the British Monarch and a rare title bestowed on an Irishman.
Thomás Dubh “Black Tom” Butler died on 22nd November 1614 at the age of 82 and since he had no male heir the Earldom reverted in the male line, to his brother John Butler of Kilcash. He is buried in St Canice’s in Kilkenny.
The castle was abandoned in 1688 and was taken over by the Office of Public Works in 1947, who subsequently conserved the building.
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