On this page I will talk about how life at the castles in Ireland changed at the turning point between medieval times and Renaissance, using the example of the Ormond Castle at Carrick on Suir, County Tipperary, Ireland.
The Ormond Castle at Carrick on Suir, Tipperary, Ireland.
In medieval Ireland a castle would have had garderobes, at theOrmond Castle these were most likely located in the back wall bordering on the river Suir so that the river would drain away the waste.
At the time the manor house was built, garderobes had become obsolete and were replaced by chamber pots. The many servants of the house might have continued to use the garderobes in the old part of the building.
The construction of the Renaissance castle was the product of an exceptional love story.
Originally, the manor house was built as an extension of the medieval castle, and both parts of the building were inhabitable and used. But the Butler family left the castle in the mid 1600’s to move to Kilkenny Castle. After that the Ormond Castle was rented out to tenants, and maintenance was not a priority on the agenda, so gradually, the medieval part of the castle fell to ruin.
When exactly did the castle deteriorate?
We know from surviving documents that it was still intact at the time when Cromwell invaded Ireland. The next piece of documentation is a letter which Eleanor Butler wrote to her husband James Butler in 1661 stating that the castle was in a ‘ruinous situation’. How bad the situation was exactly we are left to guess.
One of the medieval towers at the Ormond Castle.
The manor house at the Ormond Castle was built in 1565 by Thomas Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond as an hommage to Queen Elizabeth. It was the very first of the unfortified castle in Ireland to be built.
Although the manor house was a place for the wealthiest, life was by far not as comfortable as we know it.
People had a lot of health problems back then and many, even in the upper classes, died as children or young adults. Respiratory problems were a big issue and were not helped by the damp climate.
Renaissance beds such as those on display at the Ormond Castle, helped to prop up the residents so that they would sleep in a sitting position which was supposed to help.
Beds at that time were raised quite high off the ground, which was in order to avoid rats and mice that were frequent visitors even in the bedrooms of the wealthy.
Defence features were now phased out in the castles in Ireland. The new style manor houses were unfortified, or semi-fortified holding on (Parke's Castle) to few or only some of the defence features of medieval castles while most of those were now outdated.
The manor house at the Ormond Castle features musket loops, but nothing else defensive. It is a house for display, for showing off the residents’ status and wealth.
Castles in Ireland- A musket loop on the stairway of the Renaissance manor house is the only defensive feature left that we could spot.
Impressing other members of the gentry now became an important element in designing a residence. Your home was designed so it would show off your importance and standing in society.
The entrance hall was important in this context. It would feature family portraits, sculptures, and expensive plaster and stucco work some of which survives at the Ormond Castle- an elaborate carved fireplace dating to 1585 along with some plaster work.
Castles in Ireland- Treasure chest and beautiful Renaissance window which echos the shape of mullioned windows often added to medieval castles during the 17th century, but goes a lot further in its spacious design in breaking the link to the past.
Dinner parties now became important events for making crucial connections, for establishing your standing in high society and for exchanging ideas.
In demonstrating your wealth and standing in society, food continues to be an important part as it was in medieval times, but dishes now become more elaborate with a lot of meat, but also include expensive imported foods such as spices and lemons.
There might be as many as 15 dishes in a dinner. Dinners were served late into the night, and accompanied by wine and other drink. One might imagine the health problems associated with all that!
Being propped up in bed and sleeping in a sitting position was supposed to help by aiding digestion.
The long gallery, running the entire length of the building was a novelty of the Renaissance period. The long gallery replaced the great hall as the centre of the life at the manor.
It was used for entertainment, as a ballroom, to show off family portraits, but also featured in more private sessions for just the family and its’ immediate members.
It was typically located on the top floor as it is here at the Ormond Castle. The long gallery runs the length of the building and has window space running its entire front, while the opposite side of the room features fire places.
In Renaissance times we see the beginning of a sense of privacy at the castles in Ireland which in medieval times did not feature in the value system.
The lord and his family now withdraw from the Long Gallery to their private chambers (often called ‘solar’) at night, where in medieval times they often slept in the same space as their servants.
Servants were now moved out of the families residential quarters. At the Ormond Castle they stayed in the attic which would have been a draughty and uncomfortable place in winter.
The castle gate beyone which the entrance hall became a prime area for displaying wealth and status using stucco work, sculptures and furniture.
Window space is much increased in Renaissance architecture as small window size no longer holds the advantage of making your manor secure. The long gallery in particular is a bright and airy space.
Renaissance architecture put an end to narrow hallways and stairs which once served as defences. Instead, there is an emphasis on good proportions and on conveying a feeling of space.
A visit to the Ormond Castle is a very special experience. It is totally unique in Ireland, one of only a handful of surviving early Renaissance built manor houses.
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