One foggy morning recently, on a cycle passing through Ardfinnan village in Tipperary, we came across a gaggle of geese on the main road, beside the primary school.
I thought it was a flock of geese but as wikipedia explains “A gaggle is a term of venery for a flock of geese that is not in flight; in flight, the group can be called a skein. A gaggle is greater than or equal to five geese.”
While visiting The Main Guard in Clonmel recently, (you can read about our visit here), we found out about a murder trial that took place in the building when it was used as a courthouse in the 18th century.
Nicholas Sheehy was born into a wealthy family in 1728 and was educated in France and ordained in Rome in 1752. In 1755, he returned home and became a Parish Priest in South Tipperary.
These were troubled times although the Penal laws were not generally enforced, economic conditions for labourers and small farmers were worsening, as land rents were raised and tithes placed on potato crops.
Father Nicholas Sheehy, was arrested for the murder of a John Bridge, the trial took place in the courthouse. Despite been away at the time of the disappearance of John Bridge and no body ever been found. John Bridge was widely believed to have emigrated and another prisoner had also signed a confession to the alleged murder.
The charge was trumped up against Father Sheehy, as the authorities believed him to be a significant threat, as he had encouraged his Parishioners to withhold tithes. Father Sheehy was found guilty and hanged in 1766, his head was placed on a spike outside the jail on Gladstone Street for many years after in a warning to others.
I’d like to read more about the case, it is a bit of a mystery about what actually happened to the alleged victim in the case, John Bridge, was he murdered and his body buried never to be found or was he possibly told to disappear by local magistrates, keen to bring a murder charge against Nicholas Sheehy. It was widely believed at the time, that he had emigrated, a simple name change and it would be straightforward to vanish from any records in the 18th century.
If you have heard about this case or know more about Father Sheehy or John Bridge, let us know.
We are always visiting Clonmel as it is Richard’s home town, a few months ago, we decided to do the heritage walking trail of the town. We used an old heritage trail illustration booklet that we had in the house, I checked online and can’t find a copy of it but I believe you can pick up a newer version in the Tourist office,
One of the main buildings in the town that you will see at the top of O’Connell Street is called The Main Guard. In the late 1990’s, the building was boarded up and had fallen into disrepair, the OPW (Office of Public Works) took it over and spent a few years renovating it back to its original 17th century structure when it was used as a Courthouse.
Since it reopened in 2004, the OPW, maintain it and we didn’t realise until we were taking photos outside, that the building is now open to the public on a seasonal basis (April to October), it was opened on the Sunday of the May bank holiday when we visited, you can go inside and have a look around and admission is free. Richard, a local, had actually never been inside the building so it was great for him to see inside, this landmark in Clonmel. When we visited there was a photography exhibition of Tipperary’s medieval castles and monasteries on the ground floor and upstairs there are some information banners and photographs of The Main Guard renovation project and on a Father Sheehy who was convicted of murder in the Main Guard building when it was used as a Courthouse in 1766, you can read more about the trial here. I believe they use upstairs for exhibitions and history talks throughout the year and you can also arrange to have a group tour organised. You can check out the heritage website here for opening times.
Brief history of The Main Guard building
(Click on an image to enlarge it and click outside the photo on the screen to close the image)
This elegant 17th century building occupies a prominent position in the Clonmel streetscape, closing the O’Connell Street vista at its eastern end. The building is located at the intersection of the four main streets in Clonmel. The Main Guard was built by James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, between 1673 and 1684, as a prestigious courthouse for the Palatinate (Administration) of County Tipperary. Source: Clonmel Heritage Trail Booklet
The building has many of the hallmarks of a Sir Christopher Wren design, and it seems likely that its architect was influenced by Wren’s works. As well as the courthouse, there were private apartments, a dining room and a drawing room. Source: Clonmel Heritage Trail Booklet
The Main Guard was also used as a Tholsel in the 17th and 18th Century, which was a public office where tolls, duties and customs dues were collected. It was also a convenient place for civic gatherings. Source: Clonmel Heritage Trail Booklet
After a new courthouse was built in 1810, The Main Guard was converted and used at first as an army barracks, from where it got its current name and then later became a public house and shop.
The prominent arches have now been renovated back to the original design, the ground floor is an open arcade with 5 semi-circular arches at the west side and 1 arch on each side.
This is the old Clonmel heritage trail illustration booklet we used for our self guided walking tour around Clonmel’s sights. It has wonderful illustrations of the old buildings and sights around Clonmel. I’m not 100% on who the artist was, but the booklet states, designed by a Jim Fegan.
In 1810, The Main Guard building was converted and the stone arches were enclosed, as seen in this illustration. By the late 1990’s, the building had fallen into disrepair and was taken over by the OPW and renovated back to the original 7 arches.
Pictured in the late 1990’s before renovations. Up to recent times, The Main Guard building was used as a bar and grocery shop, called Cooney’s. Image Source: OPW
The trail we did is based around these information map boards pictured below, which will you find dotted around Clonmel. The boards have a map of Clonmel and each board, includes the illustrations of the buildings and sights.
Original form of the Palatinate Courthouse in 17th/18th Century setting with the town square and market cross.
This model depicts the way the building looked from about 1810 up to the 1990’s when the stone archways were enclosed and it was converted to stores.
Exhibitions are held in The Main Guard building. This one was aerial photographs of Tipperary’s many medieval castles and monasteries.
Another tourist trail you can do around Clonmel is connected to the Butler Family.
The Main Guard building is very similar in style to other buildings we have come across on our travels around Ireland and I believe they also served the same purpose as a courthouse and tholsel. There are similar buildings in Kilkenny and in Westport.
A walk around Clonmel town, will show you an array of old buildings from different historical and architectural periods, from the Medieval period up to the 19th Century. It is the largest town in County Tipperary and the river Suir runs through it. We did a self guided walking tour around the town and visited this charming Georgian street.
One of the first points we stopped at, on our self guided heritage tour of Clonmel, was Anne Street. I know when I first visited Clonmel, I noticed this beautiful old 19th Century street, which is located only a few minutes walk from the main street in the town. Charles Riall (1774 – 1855) engaged builders and architects Thomas and John Tinsley to carry out the work in 1820. It is believed the street was named after Charles Riall’s wife Anne. The street has changed little from when it was built in 1820, all the houses are three storey and have maintained most of their original features, ornate doors and large sash windows.
On the gable end of one of the houses, there is an original Post Wall box, which dates back to the reign of Queen Victoria, it has the royal initials VR on it. It would have been originally red but when the Irish State came into effect in 1922, all the post boxes were painted green.
Spend some time, in this picturesque historical south Tipperary town and do these 5 activities.
1. Browse the Farmers Market
On Saturday mornings, in the Castle car park, the Cahir Farmers market takes place, they have lots of stalls with fresh produce, delicious baked goods and crafts. We treated ourselves to breakfast of tea and scones.
Cahir Castle is in the town of Cahir (pronounced ‘care’), in South Tipperary and is one of the largest and best preserved medieval castles in Ireland.
It dates back to the 12th century and much of it’s defensive structure is still intact today. The castle is part of the Butler Trail – which is a historic medieval trail that follows the Butler Family roots encompassing castles, a priory, a courthouse and a cathedral in Kilkenny City, Kells, Carrick-on-Suir, Clonmel, Cahir and Cashel.
It has been used as the set of The Tudors and Braveheart, amongst other tv shows and films.
We got a guided tour, which lasts around 30 minutes. The tour is quite informative and gives the history of the castle and explains some of the features and how they were used strategically when the castle was under attack.
After the tour, we had some time to wander around by ourselves and explore the castle. Admission is €4 for adults.
3. Take a heritage town walk
There are three different historical heritage walks you can do in Cahir town, starting from Cahir Castle. We choose the green route, which is called Coronation Walk, which is a walk along the banks of the River Suir. It’s a gentle 4 km walk with no hills. Cahir has an active Tidy towns group, after spending some time here, we noticed, how clean Cahir is kept and all the nice shrubbery and planting really add to the town.
We chose the Coronation Walk as it leads to this beautiful cottage tucked away in the forest. Its like something out of a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
Swiss Cottage is a cottage orné (decorated cottage) which was designed by the architect John Nash in around 1810. It was built by the Baron of Cahir, Richard Butler, who would have used it to entertain his guests, a sort of hunting lodge meets play house for the gentry.
We also got a tour of the cottage, which gave a good insight into the background of the cottage and also the elegantly decorated interior.
The tour lasted about 20 minutes and admission was once again €4.
5. Have lunch in Cahir town
After our tour of the cottage, we walked back to Cahir town and headed for lunch. There is a wide variety of places to eat in the town, from cafes to pubs and fast food. We decided to go to The Lazy Bean Café, located on the Main Street called The Square, for tea and some delicious pancakes with bacon and maple syrup!
Have you visited Cahir yet ? or have you ever visited a castle in Ireland?