Off the beaten track, a visit to Fethard is a journey to what an Irish town should be. Friendly, beautiful and relaxed, Fethard is a great place to simply wander around. With an impressive scattering of medieval ruins, including the most complete town wall in Ireland, it is easy to imagine what the place looked and felt like in its medieval heyday. From the ruins of several fortified tower houses to the 13th century Holy Trinity Church, the nearby 17th century Town Hall and the 14th century Augustinian Friary with its heraldic images there is a wealth to see. Aside from all the history, more importantly, Fethard also has one of the best pubs in the country!
A brief history of Fethard
Fethard has the distinction of having Ireland’s most complete medieval town wall, retaining ninety percent of its original length of some 1100 metres. The extraordinary line of battlements of the south section, running parallel to the River Clashawley were restored by a community group, the ‘Friends of Fethard,’ in the early 1990s and unveiled by President Mary Robinson.
The Town Wall dates from 1292 when King Edward I of England made provision to the burgesses of Fethard for ‘the inclosing of their vill and the greater security of Ireland.’ Further murage grants followed in 1375 and 1409. Most of the great sweep of wall visible today is likely to be attributable to the five year murage levy of 1450–1455 granted during the Lord Lieutenancy of Richard, Duke of York prior to his claim on the English throne (Wars of the Roses 1455-1485). Subsequent 12-year maintenance-and-repair grants followed in 1456 to 1468 and 1468 to 1480. Despite the various works, the fortifications were insufficient to prevent the burning of the town by Garret Fitzgerald in the spring of 1468, avenging the judicial murder of Thomas Fitzgerald, Earl of Desmond.
The Town Wall’s highest point is in the north section where early masonry still stands to the height of 7.8m. Originally there were five gates into the town. Today only the North Gate remains standing. Fethard also has one of Ireland’s most significant urban tower houses in Court Castle and a rare fifteenth century hall house, Edmond’s Castle, which is incorporated into the Town Wall. The magnificent Thosel (Town Hall), dating from the early 1600s, is the subject of a major restoration project that will provide a tourist gateway to the town with a café, exhibition spaces and unique tourist accommodation.
Fethard’s early 13th century church in the centre of the town was reconstructed after the burning of 1468 and this was confirmed in 2011 when the roof timbers were tree-ring dated (dendrochronology) to 1489. This date is the earliest any timber roof in Ireland has been ascribed to. The churchyard and the Augustinian friary are both packed with monuments and coats-of-arms commemorating the ancient families whose names still occur in the town today. The countryside around Fethard is littered with medieval remains including the Butler castles at Kilcash, Kiltinan and Knockelly, and churches and abbeys such as Donaghmore and Kilcooley.
The wonderful state of preservation of the Town Wall is perhaps due to the town’s relative lack of prosperity during the 18th and 19th centuries when Fethard languished as an outstation of the British cavalry barracks at Cahir. Thanks to the efforts of the local community and South Tipperary County Council and with the support of the Heritage Council and Fáilte Ireland under the National Development Plan, much of the medieval fabric of the town has been restored or conserved for posterity.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
Fethard Historical Society
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