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Buttevant - Cork - Main St

circa 1910

Buttevant is located on the N20 road between Limerick and Cork. The Dublin–Cork railway line passes by the town, but the station, from which at the outbreak of World War I in 191, newly raised battalions of the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had completed their training at the local military barracks, poignantly set out for the Western Front, closed, unnoticed, in the 1970s but, fitfully, now awaits industrial resurrection.


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Photo Details

  • County: Cork
  • Town: Buttevant
  • Scene: Main Street
  • Date: 1910 (estimate)


  • Digitally remastered
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  • Read about Buttevant below


Buttevant (Cill na Mullach in Irish or Ecclesia Tumulorum in the Latin) is a medieval market town, incorporated by charter of Edward III, situated in North County Cork, Ireland.

While there may be reason to suggest that the town may occupy the site of an earlier settlement of the Donegans, Carrig Donegan, the origins of the present town are clearly and distinctly Norman, and closely connected with the settlement of the Barrys in the area during the late 12th century. Here they built their principal stronghold in North Cork.

Buttevant is located on the N20 road between Limerick and Cork. The Dublin–Cork railway line passes by the town, but the station, from which at the outbreak of World War I in 191, newly raised battalions of the Royal Munster Fusiliers and the Royal Dublin Fusiliers who had completed their training at the local military barracks, poignantly set out for the Western Front, closed, unnoticed, in the 1970s but, fitfully, now awaits industrial resurrection.

Origins of the name

The name 'Buttevant' is believed to derive from the war cry of the Barry family: Boutez-en-Avant. The Rotulus Pipae Cloynensis (1364) makes ten references to Bothon in its Latin text. The Lateran Registers record the name tempore Pope Innocent VIII as Bottoniam (7 March 1489) and Buttumam (3 June 1492); and tempore Pope Alexander VI in various forms: as 'Bothaniam' (14 February 1499), 'Betomam' (12 March 1499), and 'Buttomam' (15 January 1500). Edmund Spencer, in Colin Clouts Come Home Againe (1595), gives an early example of the modern name and associates it with Mullagh, his name for the river Awbeg:

'Old father Mole, (Mole hight that mountain gray
That walls the Northside of Armulla dale)
He had a daughter fresh as floure of May,
VVhich gaue that name vnto that pleasant vale;
Mulla the daughter of oldMole, so hight
The Nimph, which of that water course has charge,
That springing out of Mole, doth run downe right
to Butteuant where spreding forth at large,
It giueth name vnto that auncient Cittie,
VVhich Kilnemullah cleped is of old:
VVhose ragged ruines breed great ruth and pittie,
To travailers, which it from far behold.'

The Bibliothèque Royale in Brussels contains the manuscript of Father Donatus Mooney's report on the Irish Province of the Franciscans compiled in 1617/1618 in which he notes that the place 'is called 'Buttyfanie' and, in Irish, 'Kilnamullagh' or 'Killnamallagh'. James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, refers to 'Buttiphante' in a letter of January 1684 (Carte Manuscripts, Bodleian, 161, f. 47v), while Sir John Percival, progenitor of the Earls of Egmont, recorderd in his diary for the 16 March 1686 that the troopers 'being att Buttevant Fair this day took Will Tirry and his wife and brought them hither and I examined them'.

The Irish denomination for Buttevant has reached such a degree of confusion as to make it almost unidentifiable. The oral tradition of the area consistently gives Cill na Mullach, or 'Church of the Hillocks', for Buttevant. When the area was still largely Irish speaking, that tradition was recorded by O'Donovan in the field books of the General Survey of Valuation, Griffith's valuation, which was taken in the Barony of Orrery and Kilmore ante 1850. An tAthair Padaí O Laoghaire confirms the tradition in his Mo Sceal Fein. That notwithstanding, several other nomenclatura have insistently been assigned to Buttevant by Irish Government officialdom: Cill na mBeallach, Cill na Mollach, and more recently Cill na Mallach by the Place Names Commission, explaining eruditely that it may signify The Church of the Curse, for which, the general public can be excused for thinking the Commission were referring to nearby Killmallock.


Henry III of England, by grant of 26 September 1234, conceded a market at Buttevant to David Og de Barry to be held on Sundays, and a fair on the vigil and day of St. Luke the Evangelist (17 October and 18 October), and on six subesquent days. This was done to further the economic prosperity of the borough and connected with a widespread network of such markets and fairs which indicidate 'an extensive network of commercial traffic and an important part of the infrastructure of the growing agrarian and mercantile economy'. The most important markets and all fairs were associated with the major boroughs and can be used as a gauge of their economic and social significance as also the 1301 quo warranto proceedings in Cork at which John de Barry 'claimed the basic baronial jurisdiction of gallows, infangethef, vetitia namia and fines for shedding blood (where 'Englishmen' were involved) in his manors of Buttevant, Castlelyons, Rathbarry and Lislee'.

The town of Buttevant accumulated a series of such grants over several centuries. Fairs and markets were held at Buttevant for cattle sheep and pigs on 23 January, 30 April, 27 May, 27 August, and 21 November. Cattle and sheep fairs were held on 27 March, 14 October, 17 December. Pig markets were held on 11 July. Fairs falling on Saturdays were held on Mondays. Fridays were devoted to egg markets. Horse fairs were held on the Fourth Monday in October. Cahirmee horse fair, the only surviving fair, is held on 12 July.

The development of the settlement followed a pattern frequently repeated in the Norman colonies of North Cork and Limerick. The original nucleus of the town consisted of a keep situated on an elevation on the south side of the town. Opposite the keep, on a pre-Norman site, was built the parish church, dedicated to St. Brigit, sister of St. Colman of Cloyne. A mill, another characteristic element of Norman settlements, was located on the river, to the north of the keep. In addition, a hospice for lepers was established about a mile to the North East outside of the town wall. This basic structure was repeated in nearby Casteltownroche, where it is still clearly to be seen, in Glanworth, Mallow, and in Kilmallock and Adare.

A further feature of Norman settlements in North Cork was their concomitant religious foundations. Early colonial sites, such as Buttevant and Casteltownroche, saw the introduction of the more traditional monastic communities which were housed in foundations outside of the town walls. The Augustinian priories of Bridgetown (ante 1216) and Ballybeg (1229) being respectively founded by the Roches and the de Barry contiguous to the settlements of Castletownroche and Buttevant. With the rise of the new mendicant orders, essentially urban in character and mission, the Norman settlements saw the foundation of mendicant houses within the town walls as with the Franciscans in Buttevant (1251), and the Dominicans in Kilmallock (1291) and Glanworth (c. 1300).

The burgage of Buttevant developed to the north of the keep and eventually increased in size to about fifty acres enclosed by walls for which murage grants had been made by the crown in 1317. The native inhabitants were excluded from residence within the walled area and confined to a quarter of their own to the north west of the walled town.

A bridge, still extant, was built over the river Awbeg around 1250.

In 1317, the 11th. of Edward II of England, John fitz David de Barry requested and obtained from the exchequer a grant of £105 for the commonality and town of Buttevant for its walling. A further grant was made on 6 August 1375, the 49th. of Edward III, to the provost and commonality of the town together with the customs of its North Gate.

Literary history

Buttevant also has many literary associations: Edmund Spencer, from his manor at Kilcolman, referred to it and the gentle Mullagh (the Awbeg River) in The Faerie Queen ; Anthony Trollope passed through in his novel Castle Richmond; James Joyce played a game of hurling there in his Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man; the revered Canon Sheehan of Doneraile mentions Buttevant in several of his novels, not least in Glenanaar in the setting of the fatal events of the Fair of Rathclare; and Elizabeth Bowen mentions it in her elegiacal family history Bowen's Court.

In the Gaelic tongue, An tAthar Peadair O Laoghaire makes unflattering mention of garrisoned Buttevant in Mo Sceal Fein; while the great Irish antiquarian of the 18th century, An tAthar Séamus O Conaire, one time member of the Royal Society of Antiquities, rests westward facing outside of the Friary portal.


The steeplechase originated in 1752 as a result of a horse race from the steeple of Buttevant Protestant church to that of Doneraile, four miles away.

On August 1, 1980, eighteen people were killed and sixty two were injured in a rail accident at Buttevant railway station on the main Cork-Dublin line. A train carrying 230 passengers was derailed when it crashed into a siding at 70 mph. This accident led to a major review of the national rail safety policy.

On the twenty fifth anniversary of this accident, a commemorative service was held and a plaque in memory of the dead erected at Buttevant station.

The nearby village of Churchtown, County Cork was home to Oliver Reed. The British actor is buried in Bruhenny Graveyard in the town (opposite O'Brien's Pub).

The film The Wind that Shakes the Barley was partly filmed in the town and many local people were used as extra's in the movie.