Lady Thurles & Oliver Cromwell – “To Hell Or Connaught”

On Monday morning last (February 5th), we first broke the exciting news that the former ‘Black Castle’, west of Liberty Square, overlooking the Parnell car-park, here in Thurles, Co. Tipperary; once home of Lord Viscount Thomas Butler & his wife, Lady Viscountess Elizabeth Butler (alias Poyntz), has been sold.

The vendor of this hugely historical building; namely the Kenny family; latter relatives of the late Mr Billy Maher; was sold through the professional offices of Mr Sean Spain Auctioneers & Valuers, No. 21 Fianna Rd, Thurles, Co. Tipperary.

The purchasers; Sir Timothy Maher (Knight of Innisfallen & Chairman & Chief Financial Officer (CFO), of Timothy Maher Finance) & his lady wife American born Dr. Phyllis Maher (Chief Executive Officer (CEO), of Timothy Maher Finance), have since employed the successful firm of DHRyan Architects, No.1 Liberty Square, Thurles, to undertake a feasibility study of the site and its associated buildings, and to prepare a development brief for the new purchasers.  Solicitor Mr James J. Meagher (Thomas F. Griffin Parnell St, Thurles), has been retained to deal with all aspects of the site transfer.

However, this welcome news has now raised a massive inquisitiveness from those living both at home and overseas who have emailed us here at Thurles. Info, seeking further information on Lady Elizabeth and her interaction with Oliver Cromwell, who even in our modern Ireland, still evokes extremely strong emotions, some 360 years after his death in 1658.

In Ireland, though he only spent nine months of his reign here (August 1649 to May 1650), Cromwell stands accused of war crimes, religious persecution and the ethnic cleansing of Irish people on an unparalleled scale. The phrase ‘the curse of Cromwell on you and your house’, just 50 years ago, to elderly people, still evoke fear.

The Cromwellian administration was to find that Lady Viscountess Elizabeth Butler (Lady Thurles), was an extremely tough and feisty lady to deal with, and unlike many, she was never known to kowtow to Cromwell or his “Adventurers”, latter those who had financed his cause here in Ireland and Co. Tipperary, for their personal financial gain.

On 15th August 1649 Oliver Cromwell had landed at Ringsend, Dublin, and with him had come his Parliamentarian cavalry; an army of some 3,000 battle-hardened “Ironsides”, (Title “Old Ironsides”, was one of Cromwell’s nicknames). The civil war in England had ended, and King Charles I had been executed some seven months earlier.

Lady Viscountess Elizabeth Butler (Lady Thurles) and later Lady Elizabeth Mathew, (following her second marriage).

Here in Ireland, however, Roman Catholics had been in revolt since 1641 and were in possession and control of much of the country. Many had seen in England’s recent turmoil, an opportunity to restore Irish independence.

Cromwell a fanatical Protestant, would offer no quarter to papist rebels who had massacred English and Scottish settlers. Now in Ireland, he could also use confiscated rebel land to pay off the debts his loyal troops and the “Adventurers” who had financed his cause.

According to a Cromwellian edict, no Catholic who lived in the “Irish Quarters” before 1649, could be exempted from confiscation of property and transplantation; hence
“To hell or Connaught”  was the quote and the choice, that Cromwell now offered the Irish. They would either be killed or go to Connaught, which meant their eventual death, because they all could not possibly have survived in a small ruggedly inhospitable province, not fully conducive to agriculture.

An Inquisition found that Lady Thurles held a life interest, in the right of her jointure, (an estate settled on a wife for the period during which she survives her husband), in lien (the right to keep possession of property) of a dower in the Castle, town and lands of :- Thurles, Leugh, Killinan, Athlummon, Clobanna, Lahardan, Derryfadda, Longfordpass, and Garranroe, in the Barony of Eliogarty; and Kilshane, Cleghile, and Lagganstown in the Barony of Clanwilliam.

Lady Thurles also owned 80 head of cattle, and 800 sheep and lambs; all of which ought to have been forfeited to Oliver Cromwell the then declared ‘Lord Protector of the Commonwealth of England’.

The Cromwellian financiers of his cause known as the “Adventurers” (as distinct from his soldiers) had, among the lands allotted to them, the Baronies of Eliogarty and Clanwilliam, and therefore now clamoured for the eviction of Lady Elizabeth, out of Thurles Castle and lands.  Two thousand acres, calculated to return her an income of £200 a year, were set out for her in Connaught, but by various stratagems the astute Lady Thurles managed to delay her immediate removal.

She succeeded in winning over to her side to plead her cause, among others, such deep-dyed Puritans as the regicides or “King killers”, Sir Hardress Waller (latter condemned to death for his part in the regicide of Charles I. However his life was spared owing to the efforts of his friends and instead he was condemned to life imprisonment) and Colonel Robert Phaire (Governor of Cork, who avoided a similar fate through having married the daughter of Sir Thomas Herbert); also Colonel Hierome Sankey, (latter who sat in the House of Commons at various times between 1654 and 1659. He also served in the Parliamentary army during the English Civil War and later served in Ireland as Governor of the Tipperary  Precinct of Clonmel), a man whose reputation for savagery in dealing with the Irish was scarcely less than that of Cromwell himself.

Petitions By Lady Thurles Sympathisers
In July 1656 the Cromwellian Council transmitted the petitions of these men on behalf of Lady Thurles to the Commissioners adjudicating on the Irish, in Co. Cork, for their report on it. Their report, on 13th August, shows that they were also under the spell of Lady Thurles.

  • It stated that the good lady had several times in 1641 harboured, entertained, and preserved from murder and famine, divers English families whom the Irish had plundered, robbed, and attempted to murder. In total, 60 persons, and in particular Mr. Bullock and family, Joane Harris and family and Mr. Price, a protestant minister and his family.
  • The report also stated, that after the fall of Archerstown Castle, Lady Thurles received the wounded Major Peisley, and others of his company, into her home, entertained them for several weeks until they were recovered, and then gave them money and other necessaries, before they betook themselves to the English garrison at Doneraile, Co. Cork.
  • When Sir Charles Vavasour, who had raised a regiment of 500 men for service in Ireland from Cheshire, England, lay wounded and a prisoner of the Irish rebels at Clonmel, she had on several occassions sent him money, and later when he was very ill and weak, she had procured with great difficulty his liberty to come to her house where he was nursed to health, and was furnished with money on his departure.
  • That in the years 1643-46, she gave considerable sums of money for the relief of the English, £500, £300, and divers other sums.
  • That Lord Inchiquin, when he marched into Co. Tipperary, regarded Lady Thurles as English and of English interest and affection, and ordered that she and her tenants were not to be molested.
  • That the Irish looked on her as an enemy, and several times pillaged and plundered her — in all, of 1500 sheep, 60 cows, and a great number of horses and colts; they broke down her weirs, and threatened to burn down her house if she did not hand over the poor English to their fury, but she refused to do so.
  • That Owen Roe O’Neill, marching by her house, looked on her as an enemy and commanded her to furnish him with 200 beeves. She refused to pass them over, and notified Lord Inchiquin, who came to her relief and repulsed O’Neill.
  • She was also instrumental in the rendition of Cahir Castle to Cromwell by her son, George Mathew.
  • She also refused admission to Thurles Lieut. Colonel Brian O’Neill, and sent a messenger to Cromwell at Fethard, Co Tipperary to request him to send a garrison to Thurles, which he immediately did, under the command of Major Bolton, and for which, Cromwell promised her gratification, and this was seconded by the certificates of Colonel Sankey, Major Greene [later who settled at Killoghy, Mullinahone] and Colonel William Moore.

The Commission found her to be a very deserving person, but owing to legal and other difficulties, they now decided to submit her case for the decision of the Lord Deputy.

The Adventurers Inquisition
The agents acting for the ‘Adventurers’, on the other hand, were far from pleased at this turn of events and were determined to prevent any special favour being shown to Lady Thurles. In an Inquisition held at Cashel on the 25th May 1658, they made sure to paint a very different picture of Lady Thurles and her activities, and show her as ‘a fosterer of rebels‘.

  • Here it was alleged that at the beginning of the rebellion, a priest named Fr. Barnard, who was living in the castle of Lady Thurles, attempted to proselytize the Protestants who were harbouring there, promising, that if they became Papists, they should have protection from the Irish. When they refused to change their religious beliefs, they were turned out of her castle to the mercy of the rebels, and her tenants in the town refused to grant them shelter.
  • A widow named Joane Palmer was murdered by the rebels in her own dwelling, which lay adjacent to Thurles Castle. Neither Lady Thurles nor the inhabitants of the town made any effort to apprehend her murderers. Donogh O’Carran, then a servant of Lady Thurles, and a rebel, came to the town on the day of the murder and was alleged to have had a hand in her death.
  • Two English troopers were taken into the house of Lady Thurles, and afterwards placed into her stable, before they were taken away upon horse back with their legs tied under the horse’s bellies, and later found murdered by persons unknown.
  • An Englishman was murdered just outside the gate of the Lady Thurles Castle, but neither she nor the inhabitants of the town attempted to made any enquiry about the matter.
  • Lady Thurles sent Teig O’Rourke and Donogh O’Ryan Glass, as soldiers with arms, to assist the rebels at the siege of Bunratty: after 15 or 16 weeks O’Rourke returned to Thurles and quartered in the said Lady’s House, he being a rebel.
  • Jeffrey Purcell, one of the servants of Lady Thurles, went into rebellion, and was retained in her service in her house.
  • The Earl of Castlehaven, the Baron of Loughmore, and Lord Viscount Muskerry, leaders in the rebellion, usually resorted to the Lady’s house, and were made welcome by her who often feasted them in her castle, and sent her coach for them.
  • James Butler of Thurles came into the town with a herd of cattle: he was then, and for several years afterwards a servant of Lady Thurles.
  • She had sent four horsemen, Jeffrey Purcell, Pierce Purcell, William Shea, and Daniel Duff, and several foot soldiers, with sufficient arms, to assist the rebels in the fight at Knockakilla, and continued to supply them with arms and ammunition.
  • At the beginning of the rebellion, the Lady Thurles remained a papist, and still remained so.
  • Her steward, James Butler, constantly paid contribution to the Irish rebels.

This appears to have settled the matter in favour of the “Adventurers”, and the Council was powerless to refuse their claims. But although Lady Thurles lost her lands, it would seem that she was never ejected from her castle here in Thurles.

That was in 1658, but the Adventurers did not for long enjoy their newly acquired lands. Charles II was recalled to the throne of England in 1660, and the eldest son of Lady Thurles, James Butler, returned to Ireland as Lord Lieutenant, before being created a Duke. He immediately ran the planters off his own lands, and those of his mother and friends here in Tipperary.


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