Few old ruins in Ireland are as dramatically situated as Graystown Castle, County Tipperary. Perched on an outcrop of limestone rock, to its immediate west the land drops steeply towards the Clashawley river, the castle offering views of the surrounding countryside for several miles. There appears to be some dispute about how it came to be called Graystown, one suggestion being that this is a corruption of the name of Raymond le Gros, one of the first Norman knights to arrive in Ireland; he would come to own large swathes of land in the south-east of the country and is said to have been buried at Molana Abbey, County Waterford (see A Diligent Divine « The Irish Aesthete). On the other hand, it seems more likely that a Norman family called de Grey gave their name to the place. The history of Graystown becomes clearer after 1305 when 120 acres of land here was acquired by Henry Laffan, a clerk closely associated with the powerful Butler family. Despite various disturbances and upheavals, he and his descendants would continue to occupy the site for more than 300 years.
As mentioned, the Laffans were based at Graystown for several centuries, although their relationship with the Butlers appears to have deteriorated: : in 1524, James Laffan of Graystown was among the freeholders of Tipperary, who complained to Henry VIII of the ‘extortions, coyne and livery’ levied on them by Sir James Butler of Kiltinan and Sir Edmond Butler of Cahir as deputies of the Earl of Ormonde. Still, they managed to stay in place. In 1613, Thomas Laffan of Graystown was a member of the Irish Parliament for Tipperary and in 1640 Henry Laffan held some 3,200 acres of land in the area. In the Civil Survey of 1654, Graystown is described as follows: ‘Upon this land standeth a good castle, a slate house wantinge repaire with a large bawne & severall cabbins.’ Henry Laffan’s son Marcus served as Commissioner of troops and taxes in the barony of Slieveardagh. However, in the following decade, the Laffans’ land was seized from them by the Commonwealth government and the family was transplanted to East Galway, being settled near Ballinasloe. Graystown was granted to one Gyles Cooke who is listed as proprietor of the place in the 1659 Census of Ireland. And thereafter there is little information about the castle: in Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837) he mentions its ‘remains’, indicating that the building had become ruinous by that date, as it remains to the present.
Text here. As mentioned, Graystown Castle is wonderfully sited on the edge of a limestone escarpment, the north-west of the building – where an arched entrance is located – seeming to teeter right on the edge of the outcrop. Some sections of a bawn wall survive but much has been lost, as with the castle itself. This looks to have been a typical tower house from the late 16th/16th centuries, rectangular in form, of four storeys and rising some 60 feet high. A large portion of the south wall has gone, leaving the interior exposed and showing the layout of the different floors and the form of the vaulted chambers on various levels. To the immediate north of the castle is a three-storey gable wall, the only section of what was presumably a later mansion, perhaps constructed by the Laffans in the first half of the 17th century before the country was overwhelmed with warfare and destruction. This must be what survives of the ‘slate house wantinge repaire’ mentioned in the 1654 Civil Survey. The same document also refers to a number of cabins, indicating there was once some kind of village in the immediate vicinity, but of this there is no trace.