The Book of Pottlerath

The Book of Pottlerath


The name Pottlerath means rath of the potter. Its ancient name according to O’Donovan was the dun or royal residence of Aengus Mac Nadfraich who was King of Cashel, slain in 489 a.d. Its Butler connection started from the 3rd Earl of Ormond, married to a daughter of Lord Welles, bought Kilkenny Castle from Hugh Despencer in 1391. Richard II visited the Castle and his visit coincided with the baptism of the 2nd son of the 3rd Earl. He had two illegitimate sons. The King did godfather for the child who was of course named Richard after his godfather. James the 4th Earl of Ormond, known as the White Earl had a great interest in archaeology and history. He started work on a manuscript. While it does not contain as many or as ornate illustrations as The Book of Kells many of the letters are highly decorated. When he died of the plague in 1452 he left the manuscript not to his son and heir but to his nephew Edmond Butler of Pottlerath, son of the above mentioned Richard. Around the year 1450 Edmond Butler had built a castle a few fields away from the dun or fort. The church which was nearby may have been built a few years later. In an article in the Archaelogical Journal of 1852 mention is made of a dovecot of Pottlerath. In 1453 Edmond decided to enlarge the manuscript, incorporating the earlier work and commissioning his scribe Sean Bui O’Cleirigh with other scribes to complete the manuscript which was called The Book of Pottlerath. It was completed a year later in 1454. The contents are described by one of the scribes “today is the Saturday after Christmas and we are all in Pottlerath after writing all that we have found of Salter Cashel and much of The Book of Rathan and the Book of Prebend and the new writing of the book is for Edmund Butler son of Richard at the Fort of Aengus Mac Frioch which is now called Pottlerath and more of it in Kilkenny and some in Dunmore and some in Gowran and the rest in Carrick”. The full Salter of Cashel was not copied. When Richard 11 returned to England his cousin Henry IV (Lancaster) seized the throne. This resulted later in The War of The Roses. The Butlers supported the Lancaster side while the Desmonds supported the Yorkists. In 1461 James the 5th Earl of Ormond was beheaded and his head displayed on Tower Bridge. His brother summoned to arms Edmund of Pottlerath with the local Butlers of Kilkenny and Clonmel. Thomas Earl of Desmond united with the Earl of Kildare to oppose the Butlers. A battle took place at Piltown in Kilkenny some 200 yards West of the present road. The Butlers were defeated with the loss of 410 men. Edmund was among the prisoners taken in 1462. The Book of Pottlerath and Leabhair Na Cairrge were used as ransom for the release of Edmund. Edmund survived just two short years after the battle. He died on 13th of June 1464. He is buried in Kilkenny. Pottlerath Castle was knocked around 1800. The remains of the 15th century church and dovecot are still visible.
Edmund’s son wanted to marry his cousin and wrote to Rome for permission. By the time permission arrived two sons were born to the couple. At the wedding the two sons were secreted under the priest’s robes. By this time the title of Earl of Ormond had passed to the 3rd son of the White Earl who started off the manuscript. This 7th Earl was grandfather of Anne Boleyn. He had no son so the title passed to the son of Edmund. Edmund’s grandson was Pierce Rua. He married Margaret Fitzgerald daughter of the Earl of Kildare. He spent his lifetime fighting his two elder but illegitimate brothers for the title 8th Earl of Ormond. Pierce made his will at Pottlerath in May 1539. He is buried in St Canices Cathedral in the double tomb with Margaret. James the lame 9th Earl of Ormond and eldest son of Pierce married Joan Fitzgerald daughter of the10th Earl of Desmond in 1532. It is thought that the Book of Pottlerath came back to the Ormonds as part of her dowry. The manuscript came into the hands of the President of Munster Sir George Carew with the book bound in leather. He died in 1624 . He bequeted the book to Sir Thomas Wentworth Earl of Strafford. He either sold or gave it to Archbishop William Laud of Canterbury and Chancellor of the University of Oxford. He bequeted the book to the Bodlein Library on 16th June 1636 on condition it can not leave the library. So it cannot be loaned to any Irish museum. The original Book of Pottlerath is still in the Bodlein Library. A copy could be made for display in Ireland.


  • OKR 1970 G Butler
  • Salter Mac Richard OKR 1956 Mai Sparks Pottlerath and Kilmanagh catalogue of Irish Laing Manuscripts
  • Brian O Cuiv Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies 2001 isbn 185500 1977
  • Butler Family History Lord Dunboyne
  • History of Diocese of Ossory 1905 Carrigan Vol 3 ( words 880)
  • notes by Margery Brady
  • Laud Misc 610 Bodleian Library

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