Nenagh (Co. Tipperary / Northwest)
Nenagh (Aonach Urmhumhan – “The Fair of Ormond”; formerly An Aonach, previously Oenach Teite) (pop.7500), anciently an important tribal meeting place and now the largest town in North Tipperary, lies west of the Nenagh River, the border between the baronies of Upper and Lower Ormond.
The town is of some historic and architectural interest, and the district is rich in antiquities. Although not exactly a pulsating cultural powerhouse, Nenagh does have several good pubs, eateries and accommodation options.
Banba Square, Nenagh’s civic focal point. (Photo by Gramscis cousin)
The town’s most important buildings are located on or near the square (pictured: the old Town Hall, former Prebyterian church (1906) and Nenagh Round / Castle).
Banba Square derives its name from the legend that the goddess Eiru (Ireland) appeared nearby in the form of Banba of the Herds, another Celtic deity, to Amergin, leader of the Milesians, the mythical ancestors of the Gaels, to bless their takeover of the island.
A lifesized figure of Christ (c.1955) stands on a freestanding pedestal with marble plaques commemorating the 1916 Rising, the War of Independence and the 1981 Long Kesh Hunger Strikers.
Monument in the grounds of the Courthouse on Banba Square to Nenagh’s three Olympic gold medalists to date: Johnny Hayes (Marathon, London 1908), Matt McGrath (Hammer, Stockholm 1912) and Bob Tisdall (400m, Los Angeles 1932). The Old Gaol is visible in the background. (Photo by Gramscis cousin)
(Matt McGrath, an NYPD officer who participated in four Olympic Games, was involved in an Oscar Pistorius-type scandal in 1910 when he was charged with shooting an “intruder” invited into his house by his wife. He was acquitted, and went on to win his second silver medal at the 1924 Paris Olympics at the age of 45, thus becoming the oldest track and field medallist of all time).
Nenagh & District Heritage & Family History Research Centre is housed in the Old Gaol, of which only one block remains, together with the handsome Gatehouse (adorned with an incongruous BVM statue) and heptagonal Governor’s Residence, built in 1840-1842. Exhibits include a model of the complex, the original kitchen, a condemned man’s cell, reproductions of a schoolroom and a Grocery shop / Bar, and a Museum of Rural Life. The Lough Derg Room hosts rotating art and information exhibitions.
Ormond (Urmhumhan – “East Munster”), part of the O’Brien kingdom of Thomond (Tuadhmhumhain / Tuamhain – “North Munster”) at the time of the Norman invasion, was seized from the control of the O’Kennedy clan by Theobald FitzWalter (nephew of Thomas a Becket) and subsequently granted to him as a Barony by King John. FitzWalter was also given the lucrative hereditary post of Chief Butler of Ireland, and founded the Butler dynasty that was to play such an important role in Ireland’s history as Earls and eventually Dukes of Ormonde.
Nenagh Castle, a pentagonal fortress with a twin-towered gatehouse, high curtain wall and two diagonal towers defending the mighty donjon / keep, built between 1200 and 1217, was the main residence of the Butlers of Ormond until the C14th. The small settlement that grew up around the castle developed into a minor market town during the medieval period.
Nenagh’s Franciscan Friary was founded by Bishop Donal O’Kennedy of Killaloe, while the Butlers sponsored the Augustinian Hospitallers, called the Cruciferi / Crutched Friars, who establish the Priory of St John the Baptist at nearby Tyone (Teach Eoin – “John’s house”), both sometime before 1252.
The O’Briens, the O’Kennedys and the O’Carrolls destroyed the settlement in the mid-C14th, by which time the Earls of Ormond had definitively transferred their main seat to County Kilkenny. Nenagh remained in the possession of the O Briens of Ara for well over a century.
In 1533 the Castle and lands were recovered by Sir Piers Rua Butler, 1st Earl of Ossory (later 8th Earl of Ormond). Nenagh”s importance grew when King Henry VIII granted the town a fair charter. It was burned by The O’Carroll of Ely in 1548, but continued to develop as a commercial hub.
A detachment of Eoghan Rua / Owen Roe O’Neill’s army briefly took Nenagh during the 1641 Revolution, but lost it shortly afterwards to Murrough “the Burner” O Brien, Earl of Inchiquin. The castle surrendered after a brief siege to the Parliamentarian General Ireton in 1651.
James Butler, 2nd Duke of Ormonde, supported the English Parliament’s 1688 “Glorious Revolution” against King James II, so the town was again burned in the first year of the Williamite War by the Jacobite leader Patrick Sarsfield; the Castle was occupied by “Long” Anthony O Carroll for the ousted Stuart monarch, but in August 1691 fell after a 24-hour siege to General Ginkel, who had the fortifiations “slighted”.
In 1703 the Butler connexion with Nenagh was severed by the sale of manor and town to defray the Duke’s debts. New landowners revitalised local commerce but did little for the indigenous population of the area.
By the C19th Nenagh was primarily a garrison and market town providing services to the agricultural hinterland. The principal sources of employment were a brewery, corn mills, iron and coach building works, plus cottage industries such as tailoring, dressmaking, millinery, shoemaking, carpentry, wood-turning, wheelwrighting, harnessmaking, printing, and monumental sculpting. Nenagh was chosen in 1838 as the seat the Assize Courts for the northern jurisdiction of County Tipperary.
The “Battle of the Breeches” of July 1856 arose from the disbandment of the North Tipperary Militia following the end of the Crimean War without payment of a bounty promised to the soldiers. They were also ordered to give up their uniforms, and one man who refused was incarcerated in the guardhouse. His comrades tried to free him, along with the other prisoners in the Gaol. The resulting revolt saw 2,000 troops posted to the town, and two of the militia, one a pensioner, were killed. Nine men were subsequently deported for their involvement in the mutiny.
Under the Local Government (Ireland) Act 1898 Nenagh became the County Town for County Tipperary”s North Riding, superseded in 2002 by the new administrative County of North Tipperary.
Nenagh Round, the massive circular donjon / keep of Nenagh Castle, is all that remains of the once mighty Butler stronghold. Its design is said to be rare in Britain or France and arguably unique in Ireland. In 1750 a farmer called Newsome attempted to demolish the structure, because the sparrows nesting there were damaging his barley crop. The absurd mock battlements and clerestory windows were added in 1861 at the instigation of Rev. William Flannery, Bishop of Killaloe, with the idea that the tower, “castellated in the manner of Windor“, would become the campanile of a Pugin-designed cathedral that was never built.
The Franciscan Friary, for a time the Order’s Irish headquarters and long one of the richest religious establishments in Ireland, with a strong intellectual tradition, was where te Annals of Nenagh were compiled over two centuries. Butler family patronage protected the priory from King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries, but it was destroyed by Cromwellian troops in 1651. The ruins remained in sporadic use for many years; the last inhabitant was Fr Patrick Harty, who died in 1817. Of the many gravestones in and around the former church nave, the oldest is that of a Mrs Minchin, who died in 1696. Another intriguingly reads “Erected By His Comrades Of The League Of Youth / Paddy Kenny / Who Gave His Life For Ireland / June 29 1934“.
St John’s Priory stands in ruins in a graveyard enclosure beside the River Nenagh, across the road from Tyone Mill. It is probable that Abbey, Mill and Bridge all formed part of a monastic hospital complex. It was torched by The OKennedy Donn in 1342, when five canons were slain, and suffered a heavy death toll in the Bubonic Plague epidemic of 1348. The Priory was under the control of the O’Mearas of Toomyvara for a century and a half until King Henry VIII‘s 1540 Dissolution of the Monasteries. The old church has been rather badly ‘restored’. An affecting C19th monument commemorates six “Good And Beloved Children Of Dan And Catherine Tracey Of Nenagh“.
Kenyon St Graveyard, an atmospheric walled cemetery around the remains of the former CoI parish church, contains headstones dating back to the early C18th, including those of soldiers who died locally. One reads “Murray, Farewell Companion True & Brave / A Random Shot Consigned Thee To The Grave / Yet Lives The Soldier’s Fame To Grace The Bier / Thy Laurels Won In Egypt Flourish Here / Neil Murray 1811“.
Nenagh Barracks, located at Summerhill, was built in 1832 on a site used by the military authorities since the mid-C18th. Curently derelict, it is due for redevelopment in the near future. (Photo by joemw39)
Nenagh Courthouse, recently refurbished, was built in 1843. Designed by John B Keane, it is similar to his previous courthouse in Tullamore, based on William Morrison‘s courthouses in Carlow and Tralee.The slim Lady Justice now crowning the building replaced a stouter version found to be causing structural damage.
St Mary’s church (CoI) was designed by Joseph Welland and built in 1862. Its austere simplicity is in striking contrast to its larger and more ornate neighbour.
St Mary of the Rosary church (RC), a neo-Gothic edifice designed by Walter G Doolin, was built at vast expense between 1892 and 1906.
The old Town Hall was designed in 1895 by the then Town Engineer Robert Gill (grandfather of Tomás Mac Giolla). It housed the offices of Nenagh Town Council until 2005, and is now the home of the fledgling Nenagh Arts Centre.
The New Civic Offices on the Limerick Road, opened in 2004, house both Nenagh Town Council and North Tipperary County Council. Designed by Ahrends Burton & Koralek, they have won international recognition for their striking modern design.
The ‘Spout’, a highly visible early C19th fountain beside the Dublin Road, recently restored, was the town’s main source of drinking water for over a hundred years. In 1905 the town council ordered the removal of the original inscription “ERECTED BY LOCAL CONTRIBUTION TO COMMEMORATE the benevolence of the English Nation to the poor of Ireland At a Season of extreme distress AD 1822” as it was felt to be offensive.
Nenagh Train Station, opened in 1863, is on the relatively little used railway line between Limerick and Ballybrophy (Co. Laois).
Nenagh Olympic Athletic Club possesses Ireland’s only international standard indoor athletics track, venue for Munster and All Ireland championships.
Nenagh has a strong sporting tradition, enjoying notable prowess in GAA sports, rugby and soccer, and in recent years has become an imprtant centre for cycling.
There are several other interesting old burial grounds in the vicinity, notably around the medieval church ruin at Lisbunny (where there is also an interesting set of three Standing Stones, one with carvings said to have astrological significance).
Nenagh is close to Dromineer, Garrykennedy and Portroe on Lough Derg.
The Arra Mountains, hills overlooking Lough Derg, give their name to a well-known traditional slip jig, and reach their highest point with the summit of Tountinna (457m), accessible by road and commanding terrific views in several directions. (Photo by Elaine Cox)
Ballina (Co. Tipperary / West)
Ballina (Béal an Átha –“mouth of the ford”) (pop, 2000) is a pleasant town on the scenic eastern bank of the River Shannon, near the southern end of Lough Derg. It is marketed as a “twin-town” of the more famous Killaloe in County Clare, to which it is joined by a stone bridge.
Ballina has several good pubs and eateries along the Main Street and on the old river quay.
The church of Our Lady & St Lua (RC), a T-shaped barn constructed c.1845, features a wealth of stained glass and an interesting bellcote.
Templeachally church stands in ruins on elevated ground overlooking the Shannon. The South wall features a gothic arched door, and the east window is shrouded in ivy. There is a fine sandstone piscina, topped with a six-petalled bowl. The churchyard contains many hand-carved local slate slabs dating from the mid-C18th to the early C19th century. The laneway next to it also gives access to two fine Gallán Stones.
The tree-lined riverside park, formerly a railway line, is a popular mooring area for visiting river cruisers.
Derg Marina caters for leisure craft of every shape and size.
The Spirit of Killaloe offers short excursions on the River Shannon.
The Lakeside Hotel & Leisure Centre has a regular fan club, and the nextdoor Cherry Tree restaurant is excellent.
The annual Brian Boru Festival takes place in early July each year. A joint celebration of the most famous High King of Ireland, it involves many community-based activities including a hurling match between the teams from both towns.
Oddly, the Roman Catholic parish of Ballina & Boher is in the Diocese of Cashel rather than that of Killaloe.