PRESBYTERIANISM AT FETHARD
Origins in Cromwellian period (1650’s), when Presbyterian, Baptist and Independent (Congregationalist) New English Settlers arrived in the area. Known land-owning Presbyterian families in the Fethard/Killenaule/Cashel area in this period included Jacob of Knockelly and St. Johnstown (& later Mobarnane). Minchin, Sankey of Coolmore and Mobarnane, Latham of Meldrum, Despard of Killaghy Castle. They inter-married with each other and with other Presbyterian families at Clonmel and Tipperary Town. Despite being outside of the Established Church, they rose to local prominence (politically). A Sankey was Sovereign (Mayor) of Fethard in 1719; a Latham in 1731. Many more were Freemen of Fethard Corporation.
The congregation was further augmented in the 1690’s, when several Presbyterian families, notably the Jacobs, purchased part of the estates of King James and the Duke of Ormonde. In the early years, this group did not have a resident minister or purpose-built meeting room. As a silver cup inscribed St. Johnstown: 16-7 survives, it can be (presumed with reasonable accuracy that this townland near Killenaule was the site of the meeting. The leading Presbyterian family of the district was the Jacobs and a room in their house at St. Johnstown may well have acted as meeting place.
G. H. Bassett’s Book of Tipperary (1889) states that the Synod of Munster Presbyterians had had a meeting house at Fethard since 1739. This information probably came from local Presbyterians at the time, as no records are available for this period in the Presbyterian Historical Society.
The old Presbyterian Meeting House of Fethard survives intact at Burke Street (formerly Moore Street), and is largely the property of Mrs. Angela Kennedy. Mrs. Kennedy owns the church proper, while a lean-to type construction, and yard is the property of a neighbour. The Meeting-House is solidly built, of limestone blocks with slated roof, and has been used as a store since its closure and sale in 1922. The price involved was £645 - a very considerable sum in those days. While it has seen use as a general storage shed, the interior is not that badly preserved, with the old maple-wood gallery acting as a lofted area. The ceiling was once very fine, with plain cornicing and an ornate centrepiece from which a central light hung. Parts of the plain ceiling are now starting to cave in, but repairs could easily be effected.
While it is definite that the Meeting-House is from the eighteenth century, the exact date is presently unknown. It is quite possible that this is the original building from 1739, as there is much evidence of ancient alterations in the structure, including blocked up windows and doors. It is the oldest Presbyterian Church building in Co. Tipperary, and one of the oldest outside of Ulster. It also ranks among the oldest dissenting Protestant (i.e. non-C.I.) Churches of Ireland. Its location is typical of dissenting meeting houses of the period before circa. 1830, which were invariably located on side streets, and partly obscured by other buildings.
Methodism in fethard
In the period form the turn of the nineteenth century, until at least the mid-1840’s, there was a Wesleyan Methodist Church building on Main Street in Fethard. From 1818, in line with many other Methodist communities in Ireland, the congregation became Primitive Wesleyan Methodist, so that its members remained full members of the Church of Ireland, and were baptised, married, buried and communicated at the Church of Ireland Parish Church. The meeting-house was used simply for preaching. Two ministers shared the responsibility of running the two churches at Main Street Cashel and Main Street Fethard.
It seems that the widespread emigration during and immediately after the Famine decimated the Protestant population in the Fethard area, and the Fethard Meeting House had closed before Griffith’s Valuation of August 1850. However, Methodism resurfaced in Fethard in the later nineteenth century, again on the Main Street, and seems to have been based on the military garrison. A Church was erected in this period, but seems to have been associated with both Presbyterianism and Methodism. It was demolished shortly after the garrison left in 1922, as it had been entirely dependant on them for numerical and financial support. The site was built on in the 1930’s, to provide offices for the Provincial Bank. On the formation of A.I.B., this branch closed. It is presently the residence of Mr. 0’Sullivan, Pharmacist, Fethard.