There is no better way of getting to know Clonmel than by going on the heritage trail. The trail starts on Parnell Street at the 17th century Town Hall and incorporates the original home of Magner’s Cider, the Franciscan Friary, and the place where Oliver Cromwell made his disastrous assault on the town. One of the highlights of the trail is the medieval precinct containing the 13th century Old St. Mary’s Church and graveyard and an impressive stretch of the 14th century town wall. Although the earliest legible headstone dates to 1625, it is likely that people were buried in the cemetery since the construction of the church. The vast majority of the stone monuments date to between 1700 and 1900. It may sound dark but it is worthwhile just wondering around and checking out who is buried, what age they were, and how they died. In effect you’ll be seeing in a very personal way how Ireland dealt with the famine, what British regiments were stationed in Clonmel, and the rise of the Protestant ascendency.
Originally built in the 1204, the entire above ground structure of Old St. Mary’s has been replaced by 14th, 15th and 16th century material. The Church’s main features are a 26m high bell tower, the eastern tower house, and the ornate 16th century east and west windows. The building is still in use as a place of worship by the Church of Ireland.
Just short distances away are the intriguing 18th century Quaker burial ground and the West Gate building. Built in the 19th century, the West Gate stands on top of its medieval predecessor. Right beside the tower is Hickey’s bakery and cafe. Recent winner of Irish Times’ best bakery in Ireland award, make sure you drop in for a coffee and some of its renowned tea brack.
Located at the corner of O’Connell Street and Gladstone Street, is Clonmel’s other jewel, The Main Guard. Built by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormond, between 1673 and 1684 as a prestigious courthouse for the Palatinate of Co. Tipperary, it has recently been restored and is now open to the public. (admission free; 9.30am-5.30pm Apr 5th-Sep 28th (including weekends), 9.30am-5.30pm Sep 29th-Oct 3rd)
If you want to explore deeper the processes that made Clonmel the place that it is today check out the South Tipperary County Museum (admission free; 10.00am-5.00pm Tues-Sat). Located at Mick Delahunty Square, the museum has two galleries. One traces the history and heritage of the county from prehistoric to modern times and the second hosts a varying programme of exhibitions. For heritage of a different kind you could also visit the interesting Museum of Transport at Gortnafleur Business Park (voluntary donations; open by appointment; +353 52 6129727). The collection is a labour of love of its enthusiastic owner, and includes Jaguars, Renaults, Mercedes, an MG, and a 1904 Clement Talbot.
A great way to finish your day in Clonmel is to have a refreshing drink at Hearn’s Hotel on Parnell Street. This is where Charles Bianconi established his coaching enterprise in 1815. By 1857 his carriages were covering 4,244 miles a day in 22 counties. Just around the corner from Hearn’s Hotel is the South Tipperary Arts Centre on Nelson Street (10.00am-5.30pm Tue-Fri, 12.00pm-4.00pm Sat). Home to exhibitions, plays and music, the centre’s programme is both varied and engaging.