Clonmel, translated as ‘the meadow of honey’, is one of the largest towns in south-east Ireland. It lies in the River Suir valley and is shadowed by the Comeragh Mountains and Slievenamon. Built up significantly in medieval times, Clonmel’s walled defences date to the 14th century. Many remnants of this past can still be viewed and an impressive medieval precinct can be easily seen at Old St. Mary’s Church in Mary Street.
Clonmel was a hugely important administrative area, or Palatinate, under the Duke of Ormondes’ medieval local reign. The town is noted in Irish history for its resistance to the infamous siege by Oliver Cromwell in 1650. The walls were eventually breached, but not without heavy losses on Cromwell’s side. As part of the subsequent recovery, the Main Guard building was funded by James Butler, Duke of Ormond, in 1675 as the main county courthouse. Clonmel’s importance as a trading town in the 18th century required that the River Suir be made navigable and quay walls constructed. More recently, Clonmel has become famous for its cider. In the town there is Bulmers, while just down the road there is a cider house at The Apple Farm.
A brief history of Clonmel. Clonmel is a typical Anglo-Norman town. William de Burgh, one of Henry II’s barons received substantial grants of land in the Suir Valley around 1185, and there is evidence that the Anglo-Norman occupation was well under way at the end of the twelfth century. The best evidence we have regarding early Clonmel is from written sources. A ten year murage charter was granted in 1298, and a number of other grants followed through the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, some stipulating stone walls. In 1493, a grant was made to the Earl of Ormond stating the kind of work required on the bridge and walls. The construction of town walls was a necessity to protect Clonmel from frequent attacks from a resurgent Irish population. When completed, the wall stood 425m long east to west and 250 to 300m wide north to south, enclosing an area of fourteen hectares. Only a few sections remain standing today. Nonetheless, their existence is not only central to understanding how the town developed but to the identity of Clonmel as the place where Oliver Cromwell suffered the highest casualties of any of his campaigns. In 1650 Cromwell’s army of 8,000 men arrived to recapture the town from rebel Catholic forces led by Hugh Dubh O’Neill. Unlike in the other towns he had taken, Cromwell faced a commander well trained in siege warfare. The result was that his assault of Clonmel resulted in between 1,500 and 2,500 Parliamentary casualties in a single day. He did eventually take the town but only after offering favourable surrender terms to the inhabitants and without capturing O’Neill’s forces. As a mark of respect to the courage of Clonmel’s residents, Cromwell donated his sword to them. Four decades later, during the revolution of 1688–90, Clonmel was held for James II. Six weeks after the Battle of the Boyne, the town surrendered to the victorious forces of William III without a fight. St. Mary’s Church is Clonmel’s most significant building. Although it has been reconstructed and renovated over the centuries its oldest sections date to the start of the 13th century. It is enclosed by two of the best preserved sections of the town wall. Clonmel’s Franciscan friary was founded in 1269. It has been modified extensively several times, the last reconstruction occurring at the end of the nineteenth century. The tower which is the oldest surviving part of the building dates from the fourteenth century. Right in the middle of the town is the Main Guard. Built by the Duke of Ormande in 1675 for use as a courthouse, it has recently been restored and is now open to the public. The River Suir has played an important part in Clonmel’s history, as a means of access, defence, commerce, recreation and power for the mills. Between 1775 and 1840, economic development, an agricultural boom, and use of the river for cheap transport helped to make Clonmel one of the most important commercial and industrial inland towns in Ireland. Initially agriculture gave the boost, with most of the grain in Tipperary and a large amount from Munster passing through the town. The barges were a cheap way of transporting heavy bulk grain efficiently and relatively quickly. The formation of the River Suir Navigation Company between 1836 and 1841, and the deepening of the river between Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir meant that vessels of up to 20 tons could dock at Clonmel. In 1920, after a long struggle with rail transport, the barges ceased to sail, and the towpaths became walkways for the public. The huge buildings by the quays show how important an industrial town Clonmel was in former times. In 1832 there were 23 mills in the local area, mostly owned by the Quakers. Other industries included tobacco, tanning, wool and brewing. For further information on the town’s history contact: South Tipperary County Museum firstname.lastname@example.org
Clonmel Heritage Trail
The Town Hall was built in the 17th century on the site of a private mansion, Hamerton Hall. Originally an inn, it was rebuild as the Town Hall in 1881. Outside is the statue of the ’98 Man, erected in memory of the men involved in the 1798 rebellion.
Commercial cider making in Clonmel started in 1935 when William Magner started to produce cider at the old Murphy’s Brewery in Dowd’s Lane that had closed in 1926. The Bulmers Vat House, situated in Dowd’s Lane in the heart of Clonmel, was commissioned in 1936 and is a cool, airy stone building housing cylindrical vats. The majority of these vats are oak, hand-crafted by coopers. In later years, the production of Bulmers and Magners Irish Cider was moved to a modern production facility at Annerville, on the Clonmel/Waterford road where there is Europe’s largest tank farm. Many of the apple types are grown in Bulmers local orchards and the remainder are grown in other parts of Ireland. Brewing at Dowd’s Lane ceased in 2008.
The building stands on the site of the original West Gate and formed part of the defences of the town. Guarding the western entrance to the town, at the end of O'Connell St., is the impressive West Gate. The current structure dates from 1831, having been built by a merchant called Joyce. The original building that stood before then was erected for defensive purposes, in order to keep the Norman town safe from the invasion of the Irish. The natives lived beyond the town's walls, and today the area of the town west of the Gate is known as "Irishtown". Despite the fact that they were not permitted to live within the town's walls, the Irish were, however, allowed into the Clonmel to trade at fairs and markets.
Recent Renovations During the course of the last century the Gate fell into disrepair, prompting concerned locals to organise its restoration. It was re-roofed, the arches were re-enforced with steel beams and the floors were stabilised, also using steel. The east face of the gate carries a limestone plaque commemorating Clonmel born author Lawrence Stern, sculpted by Frances Dietrich in 1975.
The Main Guard
This elegant 17th century building occupies a prominent position in Clonmel. It was built by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond between 1673 and 1684 as a prestigious courthouse for the Palatinate of Co. Tipperary. It was an assize court from 1716 until 1810, when it was converted to shops. It was restored to its original design by the Office of Public Works in recent years and is open to the public. Admission is free.
THE FRANCISCAN FRIARY
Founded in 1269 by Otho de Grandison, the Friary has been altered several times and the tower which dates from the 14th century is the only part of the old building which still survives. The medieval site was that of the present friary church.
Remains: the tower and part of the choir wall are incorporated into the present church; N.B. - the tomb of the Barons of Cahir and associated sculptures, including an early trades-man's tomb-stone and a stone baptismal font.
Founded in 1269, probably by Sir Otho de Grandison, the friary became Observant in 1536, four years before it was suppressed. The friars remained on in the town and were able to open an official residence in 1616. After the Restoration, we find them living in Irishtown. During the eighteenth century, they helped the parish clergy in the parish church.
Having obtained the old frary once again, they were able to re-open it for Catholic worship in 1828. The friars had a small school from 1873 to 1881. The church proved too small, so the present church was built, in what the architect believed was Early English style, and formally opened in 1886. Since then, the friary residence has been added (in 1891-92) and a small St. Anthony Chapel built (1959).
The Town Walls
Clonmel grew significantly in medieval times, and many remainders of this period can be found in the town. A small section of the town walls remain in place near Old St. Mary's Church . This building is one of the main architectural features of the town. It was originally built in the 14th century or earlier but has been reconstructed or renovated on numerous occasions. The church was fortified early in its history, the town being strategically important, initially for the Earls of Ormonde, and later the Earl of Kildare. Some fortified parts of the church were destroyed or damaged during the Cromwellian occupation.One of the former entry points into the town is now the site of the 'West Gate', a 19th-century reconstruction of an older structure. There were originally three gates in the walled town, North, East and West – with the South being protected by the river Suir and the Comeragh Mountains. The 'West Gate' is now an open arched entrance on to O'Connell street, the main street of the town.
Revealing the hidden medieval history of Clonmel’s Old Bridge