Knockelly Castle as it stands today, is somewhat dismantled and unroofed, although Historians believe that for a sixteenth century castle it is in remarkable condition. Situated on the side of a hill at the entrance to the vale of St. Johnstown, Fethard Knockelly castle is one of the many pieces of the past which holds a great deal of Historical information around Fethard. It has many particularly colourful aspects to it, these ranging from it’s association with a family around whose history a romantic history hangs and also the stories of it’s earliest inhabitants.
Historians date the planning and earliest construction of Knockelly Castle back to around 1465. They know that it was built by Edmund Fitz James Butler, eight Baron Dunboyne of Kiltinan Castle, as a home for his second son Peter. The Barons of Dunboyne were the virtual rulers of the County Tipperary from 1448 to 1517. It has been recorded that Peter was slain in 1502, Peter was then succeeded by his son Pierce. In 1536 Pierce had surrendered some of the lands of Knockelly to both the Earl of Ormonde and Thomas Butler. After defeat of the Desmonds in 1592, the Butlers of Knockelly were ruined. On March 17th 1592, the Castle and lands were granted to Patrick Grant of Plebanstown Co, Kilkenny, a nominee of the tenth Earl of Ormonde.
Years passed with Knockelly land it’s lands changing hands many times as battles were fought, won and defeated until Knockelly finally landed in the hands of a family from County Fermanagh, the Bartons. Eventually the Bartons let Knockelly Castle and it’s lands to James Kickham, a first cousin of John Kickham of Mullinahone, father of Charles Kickham, the famous Fenian writer and poet. James Kickham was a Protestant who married Ellen Purcell of Fortwilliam, a Catholic. They had four children who became Mrs. Crean, Mrs. Green, Mrs Hurley and Mrs Heffernan.The last, named Catherine was born in 1808 and married Patrick Heffernan of Derrygrath. They then bought Knockelly Castle and lands into the Heffernan family, in whose care it still remains.
As can be taken from the above details, Knockelly Castle has lived a long and colourful life but perhaps it’s most interesting story lies within the story of Robert Jolly and an orphan girl named Ellinor Meagher.
Robert Jolly belonged to a Cavalry Regiment stationed at Fethard around 1680. At the same time in the Fethard area there lived Eleanor who was under the guardianship of Mrs. St John. As the story went, herself and Jolly fell in love, however this engagement came to be short lived as the regiment had to suddenly go on active Foreign Service. Months passed and Ellinor went with an English lady as a companion to London. Awhile they were there, she came to the notice of a very rich gentleman who was taken back by her simplicity and beauty. Soon after he offered her all his wealth, for her hand in Marriage. In light of all that had since happened since both she and Robert had left Fethard, she favoured his suit and was married
In the course of time Ellinor’s husband died, having sometime before his death prepared a will leaving all his property to his young wife. He was buried and Ellinor continued to live her life comfortably, driving in the finest carriages in London.
Our story has somewhat of a fairy like ending, where one day whilst driving past the Chief Military Barracks, she recognised her old acquaintance. She stopped in her carriage to talk to him and asked him was he ever stationed in Fethard and could his name possibly be Jolly. The solider replied yes, and the rest, as they say, is history. The reunited couple married and resolved to return to Ireland and soon after came to reside in Jolly’s native place, Fethard, where they chose Knockelly Castle, which was then in all it’s glory, as their future home, where they lived happily for many years.
As Knockelly Castle stands now, just outside Fethard, the very crevices within it’s wall’s hold, whispers of stories of old and no doubt stories of late, that will be remembered among the most memorable.