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The Irish Castle At Cahir- Medieval Lifestyle

You might be one of the many who imagine that life in a medieval Irish castle was quite romantic.

If so, brace yourself- you might be shocked to hear what I am about to tell you!

On this page, find out what  castle life was really like in medieval Ireland.

Inside the curtain wall at Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, one of the best preserved medieval castles in Ireland.

The example discussed here, famous Cahir Castle seen above, is located in County Tipperary, Ireland.

This is is one of the best preserved castles in Ireland and has featured in films such as Excalibur, and TV series such as the Tudors. Look familiar?

This Is What Real Life Looked Like At Cahir Castle In Medieval Times

Here comes the truth about medieval Irish castles.

Medieval times did not make for what we would call luxurious living. Not for most, not even for most of the rich and powerful. For all of society in medieval Ireland, standards of hygiene were poor and there was virtually no privacy.

The great hall at Cahir Castle, County Tipperary- one of the best preserved medieval castles in Ireland.

The great hall at the medieval Irish castle in Cahir.

Use Of The Castle

The outer courtyard of an Irish castle was a very busy place with lots of trades people doing jobs- for example fletchers making arrows, leatherworkers making saddles and bridles, a blacksmith shoeing horses, perhaps a cooper making barrels, and there were kitchens where meals for the workers were prepared. There were also storage areas for grain and firewood and there were, of course, stables.

Cahir Castle then has an inner courtyard, the super-protected area beyond the portcullis, was the main residential area for the family and their servants.

There are two residential halls in the main keep which were inhabited by the family and their servants, all living in a big hall together, imagine.

A total lack of privacy- but that was pretty much the standard at the time.

Former residential hall housing the lord and his family as well as the servants at Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, Ireland.

Residential hall at Cahir Castle.

Medieval Smells

Not only did they have to share the space with lots of other humans. The ground floor of the keep housed animals! Why? Animals gave off heat, and people liked to sleep in the rooms directly above where animals were kept to benefit from the heat produced. But animals of course, produced waste and smells.  People simply had to live with that.

In fact, the entire castle and castle grounds were very smelly in medieval times.

People back then simply got used to living with this level of ‘smell-pollution’. They might have tried to improve it, maybe by using herbs, but basically, heavy smells were everyday to them.

Having grown up in this environment, you probably didn't even notice them. Realizing that just shows you how relative standards really are. Humans will always adapt.

Medieval Toilets

What did they do with the human waste? They had a fascinating medieval waste system. You will have picked up by now that in researching the subject of medieval life, I have developed a small personal obsession with these toilets called garderobes.

The seats of the garderobes at Cahir Castle provided space for two people to use them at the same time. Not a bother to medieval castle residents to have another witness one of your most private moments. Not a concept we can easily understand today though, is it?!

Garderobe draining into the town of Cahir at Cahir Castle, County Tipperary, Ireland.

One of the six garderobes at Cahir Castle. This one drained into the town.

Cahir Castle had six different types of garderobes, all emptying in different ways, let your fantasy play! Some of these emptied into the river Suir, or just onto the outside of the castle wall into the town. But a couple of the garderobes at Cahir Castle emptied into hollow spaces- pits, inside a tower of the castle building itself. The human waste was stored there. The smell that came from these would have been quite overbearing.

These pits of human waste were emptied out by hand only a couple of times a year. For the rest of the time, they let it build up. Why, you ask? Good question. They used the smell to sort of ‘disinfect’ their clothes by hanging them above the garderobe (hence the name), hoping that bugs and lice would dislike the smell enough to leave!

Human Waste As A Status Symbol

Imagine the beautifully whitewashed outside of your castle.

Now, if you dare,  visualize the garderobe draining waste over the freshly painted surface. I know what you are thinking- not a good image. But not so for the medieval mind.

In medieval times, not only were people not bothered by having the brown stuff run down the castle walls, but in fact it was a bit of a status symbol.

You put your dirt on show in order to demonstrate to the competition just how much feasting was going on at your abode.

Medieval Hygiene

People didn’t bathe or even wash very often top to toe, maybe only once or twice a year. Believe it or not, this included the rich and powerful.

The height of hygiene was to wash one’s hands before a meal. Some believed that washing would damage the skin or that contact with water would lead to disease. They mightn’t have been too far off actually because the water supply was used for waste disposal quite freely. This was one of the reasons why so much ale was consumed in medieval times. Ale was safer to drink than water!

Medieval woodcarving of an outdoor feast of a MacSweeney Irish chieftain.

This medieval woodcut by John Derrick shows servants cooking for an Irish chieftain, a MacSweeney, and enetertaining him during the outdoor feast. He is being entertained by a harper, a bard, and a bragatoir (far right), a 'professional farter'.

Find Out More About Cahir Castle Here:

Learn More About Irish Castles:

Medieval Castle Features

Cooking

Cooking for big meals to be held in the banqueting hall of this Irish castle was done in a detached kitchen building over big fires. It involved an army of servants to do all the tasks required from starting the fire to serving the food and everything else in between.

They didn’t have large pots as such, but instead they used large pouches made from animal skin to cook dishes like pottage- a stew eaten by the commoner containing grain as well as some meat and vegetables. One of the lifestyle advantages of the upper classes was a varied diet. The upper classes ate a lot of meat, often spit-roasted, but they also had access to fruit and plenty of vegetables supplied to the castle by local farmers.

More About This Irish Castle

Find out why Cahir Castle was thought to be the strongest castle in the country.

Find out the history of Cahir Castle.

Read about our castle visit here, including our opinion and special tips.

Hi there, hope you enjoyed reading about medieval Irish culture at Cahir Castle! It was fun, wasn't it?!

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