A WALK AROUND FETHARD by Michael O’Donnell.
Owning, March/October, 1979.
Fethard has, besides its square, a Main St., Burke St., Watergate St., Kerry St., and Barrack St.. In all the streets efforts have been made to hide former impoverishments, that is in all places except Watergate St. where, as you enter from Kilsheelan, much of the old dilapidation is still evident.
Here there has survived much of old medieval Fethard which has escaped the ravages of time and man. Both to the left and right stand the walls of the town, walls that are still in good condition.
It may have been about this area of Lower Watergate St. that the settlement that was the origin of Fethard sprang up. The original main road to the south may have run out of Fethard by the creamery and Knockbrack rather than over Market Hill as at present. This road, which is a level one, and runs parallel to the present road to Clonmel, could have been the way by which traffic and people came from Clonmel and Carrick on Suir, both towns on the river Suir. The local river, Clashawley, was probably fordable at this point throughout the year so that settlement, and a defence post, here would have much to recommend it.
When the members of the Royal Society of Antiques came to Fethard on 16 July 1909 they visited Mr. Michael Murphy, the town clerk, who took them to the bridge over the Clashawley at this point and showed them “a particularly fine specimen of the Sheela_na-gig which is on the bridge”. It is still to be seen on a south-facing wall on the north side of the bridge. There are two other such sheelas in the area: one on the old church in Kiltinan and another in the Augustinian abbey.
It was probably here in Watergate St. that Thomas Bray, archbishop of Cashel and Emly at the end of the 18th century, was born. One authority holds that his birthplace was in what is now Whyte’s garage on the Main St., but this may have been no more than an educated guess because a castle-house did exist at the back of this building at one time and there is reference to the Bray home being close to an old castle. There is in the Barton Register of Leases a lease issued to Thomas Bray on 17 October 1786 for the ‘House and Castle and ye Bridge Garden”. Also, John Bray, the archbishop’s father, he paid a yearly rent of £1. 0s. 6d. to the corporation of Fethard for “a piece of ground leading from Edmond’s Castle to the Bridge”. Both of these most likely refer to the castle and house in Watergate St. with the bridge immediately to the south. Here Thomas Bray was born on 15 March 1749. His father was John Bray and his mother was Margaret Power of Glashy, Newcastle, Clonmel. Her family would seem to have been one of some wealth and social position, for instance her brother was a doctor in Clonmel, and another brother, James, was a canon at Cassels in Flanders with property near Avignon in France. In 1765, Canon James served as chaplain to the French Ambassador in Rome. He did have a private income, perhaps not large, and he did in part help to pay for the education of the Bray children. And Margaret Power had a nephew, Father Francis Power, who was the first vice-president of the newly-founded Maynooth College. Of the Bray side of the family we know little enough, and we are given to understand by members of the Power family that she married beneath her.
Thomas Early’s father, John, was a wine merchant in Fethard. A trade, in those days and in such place as Fethard, that cannot have been such a money-making one. Surviving letters written between his brothers-in-law record for us that he was none to successful in this business, which leads me to presume that he and his family may often have lived on the verge of poverty. And quite possibly on his wits as some of his sons were to do later on. At one time the archbishop’s father wrote to his brother-in-law, Canon James Power, of his intention to sell the business in Fethard and move to Avignon; but, not having done so, he seems to have continued to struggle in Fethard. We don’t Know when John Bray died or where he is buried. Perhaps his stone lies in one of Fethard’s old graveyards waiting to be discovered.
When we come to examine John Bray’s family we again enter into the realms of speculation. One authority says he had five sons and three daughters, while another writes of nineteen children adding that most of them died in child-birth. All agree that he had at least three daughters: Margaret who died in a drowning accident (lost from a boat while travelling home?) soon after finishing school in France and as she was planning to enter a convent. The other two were Mary and Ellen of whom we know very little. They appear to have spent their later life with their brother, Thomas the archbishop, perhaps in charge of his household. Mary died in 1803 and Ellen in 1805. But it references to the Bray family in the Power Papers are to be believed then there was another sister named Kitty. A letter of 1761 enquires after “cousins Kitty and Pierce Bray of Fethard” and a letter written by Dr. Thomas Power of Clonmel on 28 November 1765 tells us that “Kitty Bray died last Sunday”.
Of the sons of John Bray and Margaret Power we have some information on the following: James, Philip, John, Michael, Francis, Patrick, Pierce and, of course, the archbishop Thomas. James was born on 11 May 1745. He married a Margaret Fullerton on Saturday 12 August 1775;and, in later life, was a doctor in Falmouth in England. This James died on 11 July 1783, aged 38. It is known that he had four children: James, Elizabeth, Margaret Power and John Fullerton. In his will archbishop Thomas Bray refers to his beloved niece Margaret Power Bray as living with him, leaves her £600, a quantity of furniture and his French and English books. As far as is known this Margaret later became a nun in the Presentation Convent, Cork. To his niece Eliza and her husband James Lalor of Riverstown, Co. Kildare the archbishop left £5 each. This Elizabeth had married James Lalor in 1812 and had two sons and two daughters. Charles, Margaret and Joseph died in infancy. The last, Alicia Bray Lalor, married, in 1861, O’Brien Mahony a Clonmel physician and surgeon and had one daughter Elizabeth Clara Mary. Elizabeth Lalor nee Bray died in 1861. The eldest son of James Bray and Margaret Fullerton, also named James, became a captain in the Royal Navy and was lost with his ship in 1813. The younger son, John Fullerton Bray, was a first mate in the East India Service and was lost with his ship in the Bay of Campeachy.
Another son of John Bray, the elder, was Philip of whom we know next-to-nothing beyond that he settled in northern Ireland having entered into the linen trade. He died unmarried.
Yet another son was John. All we know of him is that he went to Portugal.
Michael, another son, went to Spain, was in the wine trade and had connections with his father’s business in Fethard. That he was married here we know from Thomas Bray’s will. In that will he (Thomas) bequeaths “one shilling to each of my brother Michael Bray’s children”. Either he did not know them too intimately or he was not too pleased with them. Certainly, the sum offered was a derisory one.
Francis was another of John Bray’s sons of whom we have some knowledge. He was born about the year 1744 and enrolled in the Collegio Urbano Rome on 8 March 1760. On 5 Feb. 1762 he was recommended to Propaganda College by Archbishop James Butler, but he left Rome about Jan. 1763 because of an attack of scruples and poor health which was described by a contemporary as a disease of the head. Francis was in Avignon in France on 11 February 1763. As his uncle, the canon, had left for Cassels in Flanders , he lodged in a local college. Later his uncle wrote that he, Francis, arrived in Avignon “very naked with only a bad coat and two old shirts”. While in Avignon, Francis received a letter from the Propaganda College authorities on 2 July 1763 requesting him not to return to the college and on 6 Aug. a letter from his father desiring him that, rather than dally longer at Avignon, he should return to Ireland. About the same time Francis wrote to Rome requesting a dispensation from his missionary oath. With this letter he sent a request for money to pay his passage back to Ireland but the rector of the College in which he was lodging was also writing to Rome at this period saying that Francis was still in a violent state and suffering from scruples. By 10 Sept. 1763, Bray had got his dispensation and his passage money. Apparently, he left soon after for Ireland.
Despite his sickness, Bray must have enjoyed himself while in Avignon. In 1764 his cousins, the Powers of Glashy, were writing to each other about his late disgraceful conduct at Avignon and the heavy debts he had incurred there. The same correspondence suggests that he was somewhat dissolute during those months spent in Avignon.
On his journey to Ireland Francis travelled in the company of a Jesuit father, Philip Mulcaille a native of Kilkenny who had been his tutor and was his kinsman. By Feb. 1764 he was back in Fethard.
After this very little is known about him. We do know that he settled in London. Perhaps he was packed off there by angry parents. Archbishop Thomas Bray’s will informs us that he was married as there is reference to the interest from a £300 investment being left to “the widow of my brother Francis Bray who lives in London” for use during her lifetime. When she died the money reverted to “his beloved niece Margaret Power Bray daughter of his brother James”. The archbishop left one shilling “to my brother Francis Bray’s son John”.
The Power family papers contain referenced to Patrick and to Pierce, but of these we know nothing beyond a few passing comments. A letter of 26 May 1763 says: “Amby Kearnay told me that Paddy Bray is well settled in Spain, but I know not where or how”. Writing on 24 Feb. 1763, Canon James Power his uncle, had a different story to tell: “Pat Bray is in Spain reduced to a simple cadet and in great want. He deserves a better fate.”. perhaps he settled with his brother Michael. Pierce, another brother to the archbishop, is mentioned in a letter of 17 May 1776. And that is all we know of him.
As far as surviving records tell us those, together with Archbishop Thomas, were the members of the Bray family. It now remains to give some account of the life of Thomas.
It has been noted above that he was baptised on 15 March 1749 and may well have been born on the same day. Nothing is known about his young days in Fethard, nor do we know where he obtained his early education. Perhaps from the local parish priest or from some classical master who may have taught a small band of scholars somewhere about the town. The Castle Bar which is the house at the foot of the castle just of the Square and a bakery business, the Corcorans having fallen on hard times. Here the two Mockler sisters amassed a considerable amount of money through their hotel, their bakery and their pub. All this money collected by those thrifty spinsters was put to good use in the building of Mockler’s Tce. an excellent monument to a family long gone from Fethard and now almost forgotten.
Just beyond this estate is the creamery. Today it is part of the larger Avonmore Complex and the old creamery which saw so many farmers arrive with the milk in horse carts and ass carts was pulled down in the spring of 1982. The new creamery caters well for the needs of a sanitised society.
About a quarter of a mile beyond the creamery is the former house of the Barton family, now occupied by a Mr. Ponsonby. The first of the family of Barton in Ireland was a Thomas Barton who obtained 1,000 acres near Enniskillen, Co. Fermanagh in 1611. Not much is known about this Thomas, but it seems that he came in the army of the Earl of Essex in 1599, and was from Barton Hall, near Preston, Lancs.. On 27 Feb. 1613 he was appointed a burgess of Enniskillen corporation. His descendant, another Thomas, established a flourishing a wine business in Bordeaux in 1725, where the family still has, together with their later partners, Questier, one of the top wine trades in France; and in 1750 he purchased an estate at Grove for £30,500 together with a considerable part of the town of Fethard; Barton also acquired by a purchase price of £928, in 1764, all the property that James Butler, son of Richard Butler of Fethard, had about the town. Thomas Barton, and his only son William, made strong efforts to gain a measure of control over the town’s corporation from the time of his buying Grove Beyond doubt, they saw such control, or partial control, as benefiting them firstly by their being in a position to oversee the corporate affairs of the town which they practically owned, and secondly in being a vehicle for obtaining a seat in the Irish House of Commons. But luck was against them. A strong-willed man, Cornellieus O’Callaghan, held the corporation in his grasp which had been handed down to him from his equally tough grandfather. It was unlikely that O’Callaghan would have been willing to share his powerbase in Fethard since it could, and did, help him into the peerage as Lord Lismore of Shanbally, Clogheen. Barton’s grandson, Thomas, did eventually gain a half share in the corporation and a seat in parliament in the 1790s. This Thomas had a son, William, who, among other things, gave the site for the present catholic church in Fethard and a money donation towards its building. Two more generations of Bartons were to see an end to that family in Fethard; the last of the family being Captain Charles Robert Barton who died at Grove on 8 Dec. 1955.
Though they made use of agents in the collecting of rents, the Bartons appear to have been good and fair landlords; they did interest themselves in their tenants; and they did listen to the entreaties of tenants who occasionally found themselves unable to meet the instalments of their rent.
In the 1830s the house at Grove was much remodelled by the architect, William Tinsley, who later in life made quite a reputation for himself in the American mid-West especially in the design of colleges and churches. At Grove he added two wings and had built a portico of unfluted Ionic columns at the main entrance. Tinsley, also, had designed and built two small bridges over the stream that flows in front of the house. The entrance and one of the bridges are still intact. Incidentally, Grove house was occupied in the early part of this century by a Mr. Richard Bourke; the Barton of the day lived elsewhere.
A walk to the west from the bridge at the end of Watergate St. will take the visitor along a road which joins with that which comes into Fethard from Clonmel. This is a charming walk. From this road a fine view can be had of the walls that lie along the south of the town; walls that are in an excellent state of preservation. From this road the remains of the defensive towers, and a small church in ruins, can be seen. Parallel with this lies a very pleasant walk, especially so when the sun shines, between the river and the town wall. But, Fethard, like so many other towns has turned its back on the river. This river walk has not been developed or opened up to the Main St.. This area lends itself to flagging and flowers, shrubs and trees and with a little imaginative development this place could give pleasure to visitor and local alike. This latter walk starts from the north side of Watergate St. bridge, and by along this lane way it is possible to examine and see at close quarters a long section of the old walls which is easily accessible to the public.
Along this stretch they have been preserved in their original form, and as such represent an asset to Fethard. It would be nice to have the whole wall carefully and tastefully reconstructed and opened to public inspection and curiosity. Few towns can offer such a sight. In continental Europe it is a wonderful feeling to walk along old walls, which have been faithfully rebuilt after massive bombings, and are often not as old as those of Fethard; and which are open to the public. Doing so one often wishes that something alike could be done at home.
At the end of the Valley and on the road leading in from Clonmel is the local dance-hall, which throughout the 40s, 50s and 60s was a cinema, can be observed on the right-hand side. Fethard nowadays does not have a cinema.
Across the Clashawley river, over another ancient bridge, at one time known as Madam’s Bridge, can be seen the high pile of the Presentation Convent. Dean Cantwell, P.P. of Fethard, who, in recognition of his services to Fethard, was voted Chairman of the Town Commissioners in 1872/73, saw the need for a girl’s school and in 1862 the Presentation nuns were invited to the town. The first three nuns of the order to come, on 12 April 1862, in a covered wagon from the convent in Thurles, were: Mother Agnes Ryan, Mother Alphonsus Holohan and Mother de Pazzi Gubbins. Mother Agnes served as the first Mother Superior, and she opened the first school for girls on 1 May 1862. Ninety children attended it, but within a few weeks the attendance had increased to over three hundred girls. The original school and convent for the nuns was the large three-storied building which faces the Main St.. and stands next to the parish church. The same building was the first home and school in the town for the Patrician Brothers, and was, in more modern times, used as a steam laundry with that part of it nearest to the church serving as a secondary school for the Patrician Brothers.
The nuns moved into their present imposing convent home on 13 May 1871, the foundation stone having been laid on 26 June 1869, this cost them £3,100, which included the money paid for the ground. This block was designed in the Gothic-Revival style by Edward Welby Pugin, or by one of his pupils. Pugin, the son of a French/English convert, being an architect who enjoyed considerable success in catholic circles in Ireland towards the end of the last century. In 1872, the nuns built their new school, which is on the south side of the convent, at a cost of 31,000; a school that is still being used. Thom’s Directory for 1873 gave the cost of building the new school as £800, and recorded that it was placed under the authority of the Board of National Education; the same source notes that the money to help in the building was collected by local subscription. In 1876, the property of the nuns comprise done acre and was valued at £10. By 1912, the convent had a community of seventeen nuns, 230 pupils attending the National School, 50 girls in their Music Academy and gave employment to thirty persons in the steam laundry. Mother Agnes Ryan had wings, and a beautiful chapel, added to the handsome block of the convent building in 1885 at a cost of nearly £2,900. The architect in this instance was a Mr. Doolin, who, also, was the architect of Killusty Church. All-in-all the main block of the convent and the school represent a considerable monument to the zeal and drive of the first Mother Superior in Fethard.
The nuns opened a secondary school in 1916, which was begun under the direction of Sr. Columba in 1915, and enlarged it in 1923 to accommodate the growing number of girls who desired second-level education. And in 1921, a statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was unveiled. This was set into a portion of the old town wall which is four feet thick at this point. In 1925, ever mindful of the needs of the children, they had a lunch-hall built to provide meals for those children who could not go home at mid-day. Today the in nuns have greatly expanded their teaching facilities and work in close co-operation with the Patrician Brothers.
Should the walker turn left at the dance hall rather than right over the bridge leading into the town he would find himself in Kerry St. and on the road to Clonmel. In the days when nails were made by hand in a forge rather than by machinery in a factory, Kerry St. was the place where the Fethard nailers lived and worked. Tradition has it that their workshops were situated on the left side of the street as one goes toward Clonmel. Specimens of their long, sharp produce can still be picked up about the town.
Beyond Kerry St. on the right side is Congress Terrace, a housing estate built in the 1930s and named to commemorate the Eucharistic Congress of 1932. Rising to the south is Market Hill. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, this hill, and much of the land at its base, was common grazing ground for the inhabitants of Fethard. Here, under the old corporation, the freeman and citizens were permitted to graze a certain number of stock free, and had the right of placing extra animals on the land for a nominal sum.
Rather than going left to Kerry St. or right over the bridge into the Main St. it is possible to walk straight ahead along the road to Cashel. About half a mile out this road is the Railway Station.
The railway station was a staff manned one, and had a platform on both sides of the rail lines; it was the only station between Clonmel and Thurles to have such. The station had four sidings, the means whereby trains could be crossed without reversing and it had a through hoop. It was a particularly busy place on the day of the local fair which, incidentally, was held about the streets of the town. A number of special trains made up of cattle trucks took off from the station on those days. Much use was made of the railway by people going to Thurles, to Clonmel and to Dublin despite their being a bus service passing through Fethard between the two former places.
In 1846, the idea of a Clonmel and Thurles Railway company was mooted, but the project became defunct without having ever started construction. Another effort was made when the Southern Railway of Ireland company was incorporated on 5 July 1865 under the chairmanship of a Mr. Peter Graham of London, with a capital of £171,000. Its brief stated that the line to Thurles should be built in three years, but it took a lot longer than that to get as far as Fethard as there were considerable financial difficulties. The whole scheme was almost abandoned.
But in 171 another effort was made to have the line fully laid. The consulting engineers employed were Sir Charles Fox and Sons of Westminster, and their chief engineer in Ireland was Mr. Michael Betagh. In this final venture the Southern Railway had the same chairman as before, and the other directors were Englishmen except for three locals, Richard Bagwell, of Matlfield, Clonmel, Robert Cooke, of Kiltinan Castle, Fethard. by 1874, the company had twenty two miles of railway laid, but most of it was in an incomplete state. This effort was still not sufficient to have the railway completed. Soon after a Cork contractor, Joseph P. Ronayne, was employed and a sum of £42,000 was obtained from the Commissioners of Public Works. As the work progressed there was some talk of building a branch line to Cashel from somewhere between Rathcoole and Farranleen, and a further spur to the colleries at Slieveardagh from Laffan’s Bridge. Slieveardagh never got its line, and Cashel was not connected to the rail system until early in the new century, and then from a different point.
The section to Fethard was opened to the public on 23 June 1879. It was a day of great celebration in both Fethard and Clonmel. The line was fully opened to Thurles on 1 July 1880. The Clonmel station had been constructed in 1852, and the line from there to the Limerick Junction had been opened in the same year.
Today there is no railway line to Fethard; it was closed down in 1963, and the buildings sold in 1968. The fine cut-stone station house serves as a private dwelling, and the goods-yard and sheds, that in other days echoed and re-echoed to the bellowing of cattle, are now put to different uses.
Lower Main St.
Back again to the entrance bridge to the town from the Clonmel road. The town gate at this place was the last to be removed I the late 1870s; the one on the road to Killenaule having been taken down about ten years before. The gates at Burke St. and Watergate St. had been knocked down in the 1830s. These removals were considered necessary because of increasing traffic.
Once over the bridge the visitor is in the lower end of the Main St.. On the left is the Presentation Convent where nowadays the nuns are solely in charge of the junior schools having had, for various reasons, to share the teaching of the higher grades with the Patrician Brothers.
Immediately beyond it is the entrance to the parish church. This was tastefully remodelled a little over a decade ago by Christopher, Canon Lee. Though the entrance piers the visitors has a fine view of the delightful façade of the church as it stands a top a small rise. William Barton, son of Thomas who had served as an M.P. for Fethard, donated the site and one hundred guineas as a further proof of his generosity; and his brother, Charles, laid the foundation stone on 26 April 1818. The actual work of construction had begun on 2 April of the same year. The architect was the local parish priest, Fr. John Ryan, helped by a first-class stone mason who lived in the town. Fr. Ryan spent a part of his life in Spain and this influence shows in the façade of his church. Though in the main the façade is Georgian in style. When offering the site, Barton had imposed a rent of one shilling (or few new pence) a year on the parish, which the last of the house of Barton, Captain Charles R. Barton, remitted for all time in 1926. On Trinity Sunday, 6 June 1819, the church was opened and public mass was offered. We do not know the cost of the building, but we do know that the money was donated and collected locally and that voluntary labour was used. This church, like its predecessor, was dedicated to the Holy Trinity.
Most likely the church was in a primitive condition when opened for worship on that Sunday in 1819. Economically, Fethard would have been in poor condition at this time. The Napoleonic Wars finished a few years before and, as a result, there was no longer a great demand for horses and for farm produce. Money was scarce and famine was around the corner. To build a new church was in those conditions quite a burden on the people so perhaps, it was left to the next generation to finish the job. It has been said that the cost of building he church was in the region of £800 which, apart from Barton’s gift, had to be found in the parish.
Archdeacon Laffan, a forceful man who played a considerable role in the political and religious life in Fethard, finished the interior of the church. In 1825, he, together with Mr. Barton, opened a school in Fethard and both of them gave it financial support. Archdeacon Michael Laffan served as parish priest of Fethard and Killusty for 38 years, the longest serving pastor in the records of Fethard; and in that period he was to bring the new church from its infancy to full maturity. Under him the bounds of the parish were still defined, and in the same year, 1824, he was created Archdeacon. In passing it may be worthy of mention that he delivered the panegyric at the funeral of Dr. Thomas Bray in Thurles on 17 January 1821. Various facets in his life would suggest that he was a man of considerable private means. He died on 7 June 1861, and his long stewardship in Fethard is gratefully commemorated in the fine marble tablet erected in his church in 1884. In part it says of him: ‘As a patriot he threw himself, heart and soul, into the struggle for freedom of his native land; and in evil days inspired courage and independence into his down trodden countrymen’.
Previous to the present church being built the townspeople had made use of a thatched chapel which stood outside the town walls, in the lower end of the field in which the Patrician Brothers now have their residence. This building was in existence in 1704 when all priests had, by an act of parliament, to be registered for the state. It is not known when it was erected, but it may well have been sometime towards the end of the seventeenth century. The closeness of the church to the walls would suggest that the penal laws were not fully implemented in Fethard. Certainly, in the eighteenth century, even in the first three decades of it, there was little pursuit of catholics in the area. In 1731, this little church was repaired and enlarged, and was to continue in use down to 1819.
Down the years various additions have been made to the furnishings of the present parish church. In 1883, Mrs. Ellen Coyne, Main St. presented the high altar and the old side altars of the Sacred Heart and of Our Lady were presented by Patrick Coffey, Main St.. the communion rail was the gift of Archdeacon Kinane in 1887. The organ in the gallery over the entrance doors was presented by Clement J. Carroll in 1886, and in 1869, Henry Munster, M.P. for Cashel in the Imperial Parliament, gave the stations of the cross. These, re-made and re-erected in 1966, still hang in the church. In 1966/67, a new mortuary chapel, the gift of Archbishop Patrick M. O’Donnell, was built and the cavalry set of figures were transferred to this place.
Repairs were carried out, in 1903, on the timber-work of the roof. The Church was re-plastered and re-decorated in 1911. In the early 1960s a major survey of the church’s fabric was undertaken by the late Patrick J. Coffey, B.E., Burke St.. As a result, a comprehensive re-structuring of the church was carried out throughout the 1960s.
It was considerably and indeed beautifully renovated, while Canon C. Lee was pastor, during the years 1967/68. Before this, and especially from 1964, various structural additions and repairs had been done. All this has resulted in a church has now become a haven of light where paint, space and simple furnishings have been blended together. The fine marble altar has been elegantly re-set. Much of the dark glass in the window surrounds have been changed and replaced, with many of the original glass centre pieces being retained. In the lunette over the central door, the ancient Fethard Holy Trinity figure has been reproduced, and to each side the lunette represent the arms of both the Patrician Brothers and the Presentation Sisters.
When John O’Donovan, that wonderful gaelic scholar who travelled about Ireland in the 1830s with the survey people under Captain Larcom, was in Fethard on 17 Sept. 1840 he wrote the following about the Blessed Trinity figures which are now in the National Museum: ‘An effigy of the Blessed Trinity is still preserved in the Chapel at Fethard, whether pilgrims come far and near to see it. It is said to have been sent from Rome in the 13th century to be placed in the Church of the Blessed Trinity at Fethard. The present Parish priest wishes to remove it to his native town of Thurles but the inhabitants of Fethard are unwilling to part with a relic so ancient, so venerable for its name, and which reflects so much honour on their ancestors’. But the figures were eventually removed.
These figures were the central part of the Trinity patron held in Fethard on Trinity Eve and Trinity Sunday. Thousands came to worship them, but more especially to drink the local brew. The whole thing got out of hand and was eventually abolished by the parish priest.
Beyond the church entrance a lane way, known locally as Chapel Lane, leads on the left-hand side to the only remaining town gate. It is called Sparagoleith, or Half-gate.
The northern line of the old town walls can be seen from Sparagoleith without undue difficulty. To the right they stretch across to the North gate, which is no longer standing. Along this portion they were strengthened and heightened by the British military in the last century, whose barracks and parade ground lay to the north of them. So that today we are no longer looking upon the original walls at this point. To the left it is difficult to distinguish them as they stretch towards the Presentation convent. From the convent the walls crossed on the town side of the bridge and passed at the back of the houses on the south side of town up to a point opposite Whyte’s shop where a tower stood. Here the walls angled slightly to the south and then m0oved east again to Watergate St.. At this latter place they went at a tangent to Burke (or Moor) street. At about a quarter way down this street they turned sharply north to join the north gate.
Just beyond the arch of Sparagoleith, on the right side, is the entrance to Fethard’s new sports centre, serving as an entrance to it is the doorway arch to the old Everard home which up to 1965 was sited on the Square. It was removed to make way for a new garda barracks. Here the doorway has found an ideal resting place; it is functional, and its architectural merit is shown to full advantage. This complex was officially opened on Sunday, 9 June 1974. The building cost £12,000 which was collected from among the local people. The centre comprises three tarmacadamed tennis courts, a volley ball court, a basketball court, a putting green and two top class handball courts.
The building contractors for the scheme were Mr. William O’Dwyer from Tipperary and a local man, John Harrington. Voluntary local labour was also availed of. The great moving force behind this whole project was a local catholic curate, Fr. Denis Cunnigham.
Worthy of note is that the official opening was attended by Mr. Richard Everard of Overeen, Holland. Mr. Everard is a descendant of the Meath branch of the family which sprang from the same root stock as did the Fethard line.
It should not be forgotten that sport, other than hurling and football, has had long association with Fethard. Throughout the last century, and in the early years of this one, there was rock lifting and weight and hammer throwing. The main centres for those sports were in Knockelly, in Ballinard and on Market Hill, where Cantwell, the poet, lived and played the game and died at the age of 27 years as a result of a sporting accident.
The years between 1900 and 1920 could, perhaps, be called the golden age of athletics in Fethard. These, also, were the years of the Slievenamon Harriers who had among their members such men as Bill Prout, Ned and Jack Ryan, Pat Kelly, Pat Grank, Pat Keating, Tony Butler, Jim Whelan and Willie O’Brien. The Harriers were successful in winning the novice cross country championships of Ireland with Crowe, Prout, Kelly, Whelan and the two Ryans. Others from about Fethard, equally famous in those early decades, were Jack Carey, the Green, Willie Heffernan, Rocklow Road, and later Congress Tce., Dick Wall, Main St., Michael Heffernan, the Green and Tommy and Jim Fitzgerald, Knockelly. Those men travelled widely in Ireland in their day and were successful in the many events in which they participated.
Bill Prout was in the first class as a long distance runner and won several events as a cyclist. Bill often cycled thirty miles to a sports meeting, took part in one or several events and then cycled home again to be at his place of work, the post office, early on the following morning. In those days athletes had to have an endurance almost above the normal. Willie Heffernan was a sprinter and a long jumper, and in his prime, won a Munster 220 yards title. He was a founder member of the Fethard football club and its first treasurer. His other talent lay in music and he was for long a musician in the now forgotten Fethard Brass Band. And Willie was a cyclist of ability. Dick Wall, of Main St., was a boxer, and Tommy Fitzgerald, of Knockelly, was a track cyclist. So, too, were Jim Fitzgerald (brother to Tommy) and Jack Toppin, of Buffana. At this same period Nicholas Whelan of Crampcastle was also a cyclist of note.
Again, during the 1930s, Fethard had some first class athletes, and a very good relay team. Among those athletes were Michael Healy, Dick Long, Johnny Heffernan and Bill Houlihan; all of whom were sprinters. Dick Long won a Munster 880 yards title. Two other local men, Sean Hogan and Dick Rice, gained quite a reputation as sprinters in college games about the same time.
Because of the second world war being fought out across Europe in the 1940s, sports in Fethard, and elsewhere, hit a valley period. But cycling did enjoy somewhat of a revival throughout the decade, and such men as Tommy Cantwell, John O’ Donovan, Tom O’Brien of Ballinard and ‘Lovely’ Johnny Power were the main competitors.
The 1950s saw a resurgence of interest in athletics in the town when a club was founded by men such as Tom McCormack, Jimmy McCarthy, Tony Newport, Paddy Tierney and Paddy McCarthy, and in this decade Tom McCormack excelled as a cross country runner. It was in this period that Dermot Rice brought honour on himself, an to Fethard, by reaching the finals of six different events at the All Ireland Colleges competitors held at Castlebar; and Ted O’Brien set a Munster Colleges half mile record. An outstanding schoolboy athlete of the same period was Tommy Leahy of Kilnockin Rd.. Tommy was the winner of a number of under age Tipperary titles.
All those men kept the sport of athletes living in Fethard by their encouragement and participation so that the coming youth had an ideal to look to. Today athletics are very much a part of sport in Fethard., and some of the participants are known on a national level.
A volley ball team trained by the presentation nuns made Fethard known beyond the confines of their town, and their country, by their playing and their victories some few short years ago. The first team to play this game was put together by the nuns in the autumn of 1970 so that to have one of their teams get so far in so short a time reflects great credit on their trainers.
Looking north west from the entrance gate to the sports complex, can be seen the modern buildings that are the home and schools of the Patrician Brothers. The Brothers first came to the town when three members of the order were invited on 5 March 1873 by the then parish priest, Dean Cantwell; the last Dean to serve in Fethard, as on his death the honour passed to Cashel. The first three were: Brother Augustine Holton, Brother Vincent Riordan and Brother Arsenius Fitzpatrick. An old man, since gone home to his God, said that these three brothers were still teaching in Fethard in 1891. Originally, the brothers had their residence and school in the large building next to the parish church which had lately been vacated by the nuns for their new school. Here the brothers opened their first school on18 March 1873, with over 100 boys attending. Mention may be made that the Patrician order was founded at Tullow, Co. Carlow sixty five years previously by Dr. Delaney, bishop of Kildare and Leighlin. After two years in the town the brothers opened a classical school called the Academy, under Brother Anthony O’Neill, which in the main, prepared boys for the priesthood. One of those so prepared was John J.Cantwell of Loughcopple who later in life became archbishop of Los Angeles. But this school only lasted until 1889. The numbers attending the primary school in the Main St. must have been increasing because, in 1885, the brothers applied for permission to build a new National School at the Rocklow Rd.. Two years later, on 19 June 1887, the foundation stone was laid. This school of three classrooms had a main block with two arms extending to the east and with a large gravelled yard to its front, and east side. The building continued in use down to 1965. A new modern primary school was, in that year, built on the site of the old National school.
The brothers re-established their old academy, or secondary school, in their former property which was at the time a laundry, being run by the nuns. This was in 1941, and the first headmaster was Bro. Albert Small. As with so many other things when once established the need for it increases with each passing year. This was so with the secondary school, and, consequently, in 1946 a new school was built at the Rocklow Rd., and blessed by Archbishop Kinane on 19 Nov. 1956. Today, then, the brothers have all their units in the one area.
Since 1967 the brothers share their secondary school with the nuns, and the children attending these schools are interchanged between both teaching orders.
Beyond the brother’s schools the parish priest has an imposing house on the right hand side. This was built sometime during the years 1916/18 on the proceeds of one carnival held in Fethard.
Opposite to his house the Presentation nuns have opened a home and school, St. Bernard’s school, for orphan children. Formerly the nuns had their orphanage in the mansion of the Maude family, Dundrum House Dundrum, Co. Tipperary. For certain reasons they had to move from there on 16 March 1975; firstly, they went into temporary accommodation in Fethard, and between then and October of the same year three new houses were built for them and occupied. Local contractors, Harringtons, built the houses. These were paid for out of the funds of the Presentation order, together with a fifty percent grant from the state. The three houses, between them, hold something like thirty to forty children, and each is directed by a nun who has the role of house parent; in each home the house parent is assisted by two trainees in child care. The children’s ages range from eighteen months to eighteen years. This home is completely run out of a capitation grant paid by the Dept. of Education.
To the west of those buildings at a place on the river Clashawley known as ‘The Kennels”, the first electricity was generated. It was set up here some time before 1912. The company was an English one, and its engineer was a Mr. A. Steward. The power from here was used mainly to light the streets about the town. Previously Oil lamps and gas lamps had been used.
Upper Main St. and the Square
Coming downhill from Sparagoleith into the Square there is on the left hand side a ‘Nissen hut’ building that houses Fethard’s Country Markets. Every Friday morning the members of the Country Markets sell the best and the freshest of the produce, especially vegetables, from the countryside about. In the Markets the visitor can see on display crafts, honey, jams, vegetables, bread, indeed a wide range of home made, and well made articles, and the importance of the market can be gauged from the bustle and rush of people about the place.
Fethard was the pioneer in this scheme of Country Markets. The project was an ancillary to the work of the I.C.A.. The idea of such a market has been discussed at Dublin meetings of the I.C.A. throughout 1946, and the prime force behind it was most likely Mrs. Olive Hughes. As a result of those discussions the first market was opened in the lower part of the Town Hall, Fethard, in January 1947, and was jointly sponsored by the I.C.A. and the Irish Homespun Society. A Most inauspicious start as this was one of the worst seasons that Ireland had seen for many a year. But the venture grew and thrive mainly, I should think, because of the great power and drive of Mrs. Hughes. From the inception of the market its treasurer had been Mrs. Hannie Leahy and a very good one she has been; so good were her methods that they have been copied by many other centres which have set up markets. A few short years ago Mrs. Leahy retired from her arduous work. Though both Mrs. Hughes and Mrs. Leahy are retired, the markets still go on due to the great foundation, and great guidelines, laid down by those two women. Today there are seventy Country Markets across Ireland. Such Markets were in the forefront of the fight to have quality, and well presented, vegetables available to the public; they set the standards which today are considered the norm for all greengrocers though this was not always so. This Nissen hut is also being used by Fethard I.C.A. for their monthly meetings.
There has been a Fethard branch of the Irish Countrywomen’s Association since 1927, but in the twenties and thirties the Association was known as the Society of United Irishwomen. This society had been first formed on 15 May 1910 in Co. Wexford with a three point programme of better farming, better business and better living. In 1935 the Society was dissolved and the I.C.A. grew out of it. The aims of the I.C.A. could be said to be those of education, crafts and home and they have continued to be the guide line down to this day.
Some of the early officers of the local ranch were Mrs. Patten, wife of Canon Patten, rector of Fethard. Mrs. Hughes and the Misses Helen and Phyllis O’Connell. Mrs. Hughes was to go on to make quite a contribution to the I.C.A. at national level; she was national organiser of the association in 1943, and she was one of the small band of women who, nearly thirty years ago, had the foresight to appreciate the need for a permanent headquarters for the I.C.A.. Today, An Grianan, Termonfeckin stands as a tribute and a memorial to her and her colleagues. But the Misses O’Connell are better known for their lumra rug craft. Specimens of their work lie about An Grianan, and they were given the recognition they deserved by having their work, and themselves, appear on a calender issued by one of our oil companies. All Mrs. Patten’s contributions were at local level and the physical existence of the I.C.A. to this day is the best testimony that can be offered to her ability.
Fethard I.C.A. can also lay claim to the honour of being the first to organise summer schools which are, nowadays, so much a feature of I.C.A. activities. This whole scheme was put together, and ably organised by Mrs. Hughes in 1929. In the summer of that year twenty women went up Slievenamon to a house belonging to the Misses O’Connell’s mother. Local farmers recall hiring out their pony and carts to the women, half daft as they saw them, to ferry the equipment up the mountain. For many of those women it was their first experience of camping and living on a mountainside, but some of them on that expedition have said that no other summer school, organised by the I.C.A., came even half way to equalling that wonderful working holiday. At the first school the women were taught how to make straw baskets, straw mats and they practised singing and dancing.
Fethard I.C.A. contributed in many ways to the well being of the town; indeed, in so many ways that it would be impossible to recall them all, but one will serve as an example for all the rest. In the days before we saw the civilised selling of cattle in cattle marts, all stock had to be driven on to the streets of the nearby town and sold directly by the owner. With the hope of selling one’s stock, with the hope of getting even a reasonable price, the cattle had often to be on the streets at six o’ clock in the morning. A farmer and his young sons had to leave their beds at four or five o’ clock, round up their stock and drive them on foot along the road for three or four miles to the fair. And then the waiting, standing on a street in bitter cold weather herding cattle, until a buyer came along and a satisfactory sale agreed upon. It is to the eternal credit of the Fethard I.C.A. women that they saw the needs of all those hungry, cold men. Back in the 1940s a wagon began to appear outside the Town Hall on fair mornings. It was a large covered van on four iron wheels with one side open like a shop counter through which the local I.C.A. women dispensed tea, coffee and excellent fresh sandwiches. Those women were like angels of mercy to many a cold and hungry man.
Some two years ago Fethard I.C.A. celebrated its golden jubilee, with a number of the founder members attended the function which was worthy of the jubilee it honoured. We are happy to record the Association and the Country Markets are both still going strong in Fethard.
On the let hand side, as the visitor enters the Square from the Rocklow Rd., can be seen a private house which was formerly the Provincial Bank. This bank was built in 1932 by Messrs. Hearne of Waterford. The original Provincial Bank had been sited across the road in the house now lived in by Mrs. Schofield. The earlier bank opened only one day a week, Thursdays, and n fair days; it was a sub-branch of Clonmel’s. This had become too small so a move had to be made to a new building. A meeting house for Presbyterians had stood on the site which the later bank was built. This meeting house had been erected in 1739 at the instigation of the Munster Synod. In the later half of the last century the minister did not reside in Fethard but travelled from Clonmel for the services. Old natives still recall units of the British army marching to service there, and, of course, to the protestant church.
Standing prominently in the Square is the Town Hall. The façade, with its fine chimneys, is worthy of notice, though it has been much interfered with over the past decades and not to its benefit. Set into the façade are three sculptured plaques. The principal one shows a cruxification scene with the two Marys on each side of the cross, and an inscription, in Latin, underneath it which translates: ‘Madame Amy Everards, the founders and patrons of this edifice appointed to be set up, but death prevented their being so affixed. Dated 10 March 1646. On one side is the arms of the Dunboyne family, and beyond it is a crest showing the arms of the Everard and Roche families with the letters, I.E. and A.R. which stand for John Everard and Amy Roche.
Those plaques may have been removed to the tholsel, or Town Hall when it was being repaired. Though whether this was the site of a seventeenth century almshouse or was built originally as a tholsel house is not certain. Fethard did not have a tholsel house in 1597 as there is a record of an inquisition having been taken there.
The Everards and the Dunboynes, mentioned on the plaques were, probably, the patrons and founders of the almshouse, or poorhouse, built in the town. Where the almshouse was sited is not known, nor precisely when it was built. Quite likely the work was carried out in the early decades of the 1600s, as John Everard was dead in 1638. Also, James 1 granted a charter to the hospital of the Holy Trinity in Fethard on 13 June 1612, but we cannot be sure that this latter entry referred to the Everard almshouse.
When James 1 granted a charter to Fethard, in 1603, he made reference to the need for a tholsel and courthouse within the town, but this may have been the set phraseology of current charters. As no corporation books exist for the seventeenth century there is no way of knowing the state of the tholsel that existed in 1957. When the extant books open in 1707, we know from them that both the court house and tholsel were in a bad state of repair and that repairs were carried out at various times in the first half of that century. As the corporation, for the last hundred years of its life, met in a local tavern, it is unlikely that a thorough repair job was done throughout its time; and the structure that we know today may not have evolved until well into the last century, or when the Town Commissioners gained control of the political life of the town.