The dominant feature of traffic-clogged Cahir, 18km south of Cashel, is its castle (daily: mid-March to mid-June & mid-Sept to mid-Oct 9.30am–5.30pm; mid-June to mid-Sept 9am–7pm; mid-Oct to mid-March 9.30am–4.30pm; last admission 45min before closing; 2.90; Heritage Card; Web: www.heritageireland.ie ), surrounded by the waters of the River Suir at the western entrance to the town. Cahir itself means "fort" in Irish and the town grew up around its thirteenth-century Anglo-Norman stronghold, though much, including the restored outer walls, dates from more recent times. The castle was a power base of the influential Butlers, the Earls of Ormonde, and managed to survive a siege and bombardment by the Earl of Essex in 1599, as well as the invasions of Cromwell and William of Orange. However, after Cromwell's victory in 1650, the Butlers moved out and the castle fell slowly into disrepair, until it was given new life by the second Earl of Glengall, who impoverished himself in the process. The castle's entrance leads to the cramped middle ward, overshadowed by the thirteenth-century keep whose chambers feature various displays, including a model of the 1599 siege. To the left of here a gateway, surmounted by defensive viewpoints on each side, leads to the more expansive outer ward. In the inner ward, parts of the larger of the two towers derive from the thirteenth and fifteenth centuries, though the banqueting hall was redesigned by William Tinsley in 1840 for use as the Butlers' private chapel.
Cahir's other major attraction is the Swiss Cottage (mid-March to mid-April daily except Mon 10am–1pm & 2–6pm; mid-April to mid-Oct daily 10am–6pm; mid-Oct to mid-Nov daily except Mon 10am–1pm & 2–4.30pm; 2.90; last admission 45min before closing; Heritage Card), a twenty-minute riverside stroll south from the town or, if you're driving, off the Ardfinnan road. Designed by John Nash, architect of the Royal Pavilion at Brighton, this lavish, thatched cottage orné on the castle demesne was constructed in the early 1800s for Richard Butler, Baron Caher and later the first Earl of Glengall, though his precise reason remains unclear. A contemporary scurrilous theory held that it was to enjoy clandestine liaisons with his mistress, but there is evidence that it was used occasionally as a residence and for entertaining guests. Now thoroughly restored using appropriate timbers and period decor, entrance is via the basement kitchen. Entertaining guided tours starting from here visit the elegant salon, whose interior is decorated with one of the first commercially manufactured Parisian wallpapers, and music room, and ascend via a spiral staircase to the grand master bedroom with its commanding views of the countryside.
Cahir's train station is off Church Street, five minutes' walk northeast of the castle, while buses stop outside the tourist office (April– Sept Mon– Sat 9.30am–6pm; July & Aug also Sun 11am–5pm; Tel:052/41453), which is right opposite the fortress. Just uphill from here is The Square, where Cahir Communications offers Internet access.
An enticing place to stay, 1km down the N8 Cork road, is Carrigeen Castle (Tel:052/41370, Web: www.tipp.ie/butlerca.htm ; mid-Jan to mid-Dec; Price: 60-90), home to the modern-day descendants of the Butler family, which provides comfortable standard and en-suite rooms. Alternatively, head to The Square and all-en-suite Tinsley House (Tel:052/41947, Web: www.tinsleyhouse.com ; Price: 60-90) or the Cahir House Hotel (Tel:052/43000, Web: www.cahirhousehotel.ie ; Price: 150-200), a thoroughly updated Georgian townhouse, featuring comfy, colourful rooms, a gym and spa. Campers should head for the Apple Camping & Caravan Park (Tel:052/41459, Web: www.theapplefarm.com ; May– Sept) at Moorstown, 6km east of Cahir on the main N24 road towards Clonmel.
River House, a bright, attractive café opposite the tourist office and the castle, dishes up soups, sandwiches, quiches and uncomplicated hot lunches, while the Castle Arms next door serves pub grub during the day. In the evening, you can tuck into pizza and pasta at Galileo, a basic Italian restaurant in the old granary on Church Street (Tel:052/45689), then head for Irwin's on The Square, easily the liveliest pub, which sometimes has traditional music or a DJ.