Irish history

Kilkenny castle timeline

The republican attack on Kilkenny castle, spring 1922

Kilkenny Ireland, 2 May 1922 —

Ireland fought a war of independence that started in the 1916 Rising, and in December of 1922 had established the Irish Free State — free of British rule.

At 5:30 a.m. a member of the household staff informed the Earl Butler* and his Lady that republicans had breached the castle.

In the courtyard, wrote the earl some years later, was:

"a heterogenous body of men, about 22 in number, dressed in plain clothes, standing by a pile of machine guns, Lewis guns, rifles, boxes of ammunition, and a couple of bombs."

The Earl and Lady opted to stay in the castle. The republicans held their position within the courtyard throughout the day and into the next, when Free State troops laid siege.

The Free State troops were the official army of the Republic of Ireland,* the newly-established independent state. The uprising that had begun in 1916 had resulted in a compromise partition of the island into the northeastern six counties under British rule and the lower 26 counties of the Republic. Many who had struggled in the republican cause (a united Ireland free of British rule) were displeased with partition.

The Lord and his Lady were, really, a vestige of an earlier form of rule, the royal hierarchy that had its roots in the Anglo-Norman incursion in 1169.

The Butlers — earls and dukes of Ormonde — had really become more like landlords, great landholders, than royalty. They had, much earlier, become quite Irish, though of a different "class" — the upper class, economically.

At about 7 p.m. on the second day of the republicans' occupation of the castle, Free State troops crashed a car through the gate and controlled the occupiers.

The republican insurgents left peacably — insisting that they first be allowed to shake the hands of "the boss and his lady."

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An Irish friend of mine questioned whether or not the following statement is true:

"The Free State troops were the official army of the Republic of Ireland."

It is not true.

I do not know how to revise it. The Irish Free State was a political entity from December of that year — so an episode that occured in May could not have involved it.

But I don't know what the official soldiery of earlier in that same year would have been called.

Return to "Irish Free State" ...


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* The Butler family name, never Gaelicized, comes from the French for "bottle," and from the honor bestowed upon the family by the English Crown.

King Henry II declared Theobald Fitzwalter, an Anglo-Norman, the title and duty of official butler of Ireland in 1177.

This honor demanded the service of officiary wine at coronations, and it allowed the honored family to collect a tax on all wine imported.

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