The Lombards were merchant adventurers who arrived in Ireland following the Norman Invasion of the late twelfth century. They originated mainly in Lucca in Lombardy in the North of Italy. The Lombards of Buttevant derived from the Italian Donatti family.
The entrepreneurial Lombards became very influential and prominent in the civic and political economy of Buttevant, Cork and Limerick. The Lombards often became City and County Sherriffs, and regularly rose to the rank of Mayor. Reference to the Lombards is also strong in Elizabethan legal documents or fiants in this area of north Cork. A village south west of Buttevant, established in the 1600s is called Lombardstown, showing their continued influence into the post-medieval period.
The main focus of the Lombards was the highly lucrative wool trade, and their tower house here in Buttevant was conveniently located adjacent to the market house. Wool merchants like the Lombards became vastly wealthy during the medieval period, and the English King regularly turned to wool merchants to borrow money, effectively allowing them to become bankers and financiers. Even Pope Gregory turned to them to collect the Papal Tax to fund the Crusades. Wool was collected for taxation purposes and exported through Calais to Flanders, Ghent, Bruge, Lucca and Florence. The now powerful and wealthy wool merchants formed themselves into a guild. After the first Norman Parliament was held in Kilkenny in 1310, they became known as “The Merchants of Staple”. David and James Lombard, merchants of Cork and Buttevant were part of this guild.
In the turbulent years of the fourteenth century, Buttevant had large town walls constructed to help protect the town from raiding and warfare, and a will by James Lombard refers to the walls of Buttevant.
The building known as Lombard’s Castle is a fifteenth- or early sixteenth-century urban towerhouse, but it may stand on the site of an earlier building. Lombard’s Castle is situated at the corner of a precise grid pattern plan of the medieval town. This further suggests that the Lombards were in Buttevant from the beginning of the development of the medieval settlement.
The tower house of the Lombards was described as Lombard’s Castle in 1690, when it was granted to Colonel John Gifford, after the Williamite War. It was described as “Lombards Castle with two acres behind the castle called the gardens, and Lombard’s orchard, one acre”. In 1750 Smith’s History of Cork, it was also described as Lombard’s Castle. At the time it was a free Protestant School run by Lady Frances Lanesborough, daughter of Richard, Earl of Richmond, Dorset. This explains why the street on which Lombard’s castle is situated is called Richmond Street.