This is a Norman castle in the St. Johnstown area, situated 6 km south of Killenaule and 7 km north of Fethard and about 150 km from “The Kings River”. It is of very historical background and has had many owners.
The Castle was built sometime between 1450 and 1550. This was a time of largescale construction of tower houses such as this in Ireland. There is evidence in its construction to suggest these dates. It was built by Robert St. John, as can be seen from the inscription over the door. There are records of the St. John family being in County Tipperary since the thirteenth century. A member of the family was transported from St. Johnstown as an Irish papist in 1656. It is not known where to, however.
The ancient structure is built of very fine stone which was cut in the nearby quarry by the Normans themselves with the help of the local people.
St. Johnstown old castle is built of limestone, lime and sand mortar. It stands on high ground a little distance from the church to the north and is about sixty feet high, measuring on the exterior – thirty five feet from east to west by twenty nine feet four inches from north to south. On the north-west corner at the top, is a watch tower and joined to south of it is a sentry box. There are three narrow and curvilincally pointed windows on the west wall and two round headed ones and a rectangular one at the centre, all constructed of chiselled limestone five feet two inches broad inside. There are two limestone flags as steps. The first is one foot high and one foot one inch broad, being of equal length to the breadth of the doorway. The second one is ten inches and one foot three inches broad, being of equal length with the other.
The height of the lower point of the door arch is six feet six inches. The juttings out gradually diminish to two inches and three inches. At the doorway are three holes similar to port holes. It is said they are places for bolts that were fixed as fastenings to the door. There is one at each side and one at the top.
The north wall is partially covered with ivy to more than one half westward. Near the top was a quadrangular window of chiselled limestone now closed up with deal slabs roughly put together. It was divided by a mullion. Two narrow stones on the upper part jut out from the wall. On this wall are two chimneys, a stone one and a brick one; the latter is placed between the former and the watchtowers on the north-west corner.
The east wall is partly covered with ivy at both corners. A watch tower (round) remains at the south-west corner and in the centre of the wall is a window of chiselled limestone divided into compartments. Over this is a rectangular window near the top.
The south wall is mostly covered with ivy, a small portion at the north side being bare. Within three feet four inches of the ground is a window of chissled limestone, round at the top, four inches wide and five feet high. The stones are bevelled off outside. There are three narrow and rectangular openings on it covered with ivy. The castle has three floors over ground and contained five storeys. The stone stairs runs from the north-west corner to the top where there is a slated roof. There are apertunes in the sentry box and watch tower at the top of the castle.
Parts of the castle wall still exist today but it is almost impossible to distinguish it from the walls built a centuries ago which were then a common method of enclosing fields. At the foot of the castle there is a graveyard where many of the previous owners are buried. The church in this graveyard was supposed to have been knocked by Cromwell’s men in the 17th century. This graveyard is still in use today as a burial ground and there are some of the most unusual headstones to be found here, some dating from the 18th century.
This castle is set in a valley in one sense and open countryside in another, depending on which direction the castle is viewed from. The likely situation is in a valley, because they feared invasion from natives and by sitting in their home in a valley it would not be noticed as quickly.
St. Johnstown castle is in contrast to many other castles e.g. Graystown and the very famous Rock of Cashel, which are both built on hills from where a most fantastic view can be perceived. It is said that six counties can be seen from “The Rock”. The castle is presently uninhabited and is unlikely to be inhabited in the future. The original door stills exists and a very beautiful inscription can be seen over the door which reads:
Robert De Sero Johe Ons De Cualeagh, Lismoynan, Scadanstown.
Et socius Illuis Plebis Fecit.
Robert De Saint John Lord of Cooleagh, Lismoynan, Scadanstown,
and a friend of his people had me built.
– The History & Folklore of Killenaule/Moyglass 1990