As the 19th century drew through its years, Fethard became solely a market town. This had been a tendency since the decline of the merchant settlement there in the time Cromwell. The decline of the small fairs all over the countryside had the effect of increasing the number the number of those held in larger urban areas such as Fethard. For example, in the beginning of the 20th century there were monthly fairs held in the town each month while a pigs and sheep fair was held in addition to those in February, April and August.
Since 1880 onwards Fethard was enjoying all the benefits of railways transport, something which another venerable and one-time important town in Tipperary had to wait longer for, Cashel. By 1848 Thurles had been reached by the line from Dublin and by 1856 Waterford was reached by Limerick. An early scheme had been thought of to link Thurles and Clonmel but the matter was long delayed. Finally in 1865 a Bill went through the British Parliament to provide a rail link connecting Thurles, Fethard, Clonmel, Dungarvan and Youghal. A new company called the Southern Railway was formed. The company got into trouble from the first. Work began in 1869 but financial difficulties held everything up.
Eventually the portion of the line from Thurles to Fethard was completed on 23rd June, 1879 and the first trains began to run on this portion of the railway. It was of great commercial importance to the town of Fethard in the transport of animals before and after the fairs. The last part of the railway to Clonmel was finished in July of the following year. The Southern Railway Co. leased its railway to the Waterford and Limerick Railway Company which operated it for some time. Fethard was the only station on the line which had more than one platform on it
The Board of Works had loaned the finance to the Southern Railway and eventually it defaulted and the railway was taken over by that august body of bureaucrats, although the W and LR continued to operate it from day to day. It may sound amusing that when 1925 came about and the railways in the South of Ireland were being amalgamated, a protracted delay was experienced trying to discover who were the shareholders of the hapless Southern Railway. Not one admitted having even one share.
Fethard’s rail-linked ended in 1963 for the transport of passengers. Goods transportation ended four years later. As in many other cases, the poor quality roads were now left to take up the work hitherto done by the railways.
By the year 1900 the old Irish local government had been replaced by the new County Councils and Urban Councils. Although Clonmel had its corporation and Carrick on Suir, Tipperary and Cashel their urban councils, Fethard did not receive its old local Corporation or comparable body. It appears that the fall in population was the principal cause of this. That was a pity.
Up to the end of British domination of our part of Ireland, Fethard continued to be a garrison post. During the troubles of 1919 to 1921 members of the 136th Field Artillery were stationed there. They were the last foreign troops to occupy the ancient town near Slievenamon.
Let us look at the modern Fethard. It is set most lovely countryside and should be the focus of tourist routes. Is it? If not, why? In this lovely old town there are significant portions of the old walls still staunch and strong any many of the old town tower - houses still standing . Are these credits exploited to the full? I wonder. The old market place is still there, well-cared for and a credit to those who care for it. Nearby is the old Corporation meeting place which is now a fire station. This is symbolic of all that has happened to the town over the last few centuries. Small, charming towns like Fethard need to be cherished by their inhabitants and then others will follow suit.