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Tipperary Through The Ages

Tipperary is a place with a long history and rich heritage which any visitor to the county will appreciate. It is visible as you journey around the county and see the many castles, abbeys and churches which dot the landscape. It is also apparent in the stories and personalities that you will encounter along the way. Tipperary has been at the centre of many key events in Irish history. The following is but a short summary of the main players, dates and places. A visit to the Premier County is the most appropriate way to find out more.

The most storied place in Tipperary is undoubtedly the Rock of Cashel. From here, the powerful Eóganacht dynasty ruled as Kings of Munster in ancient times. St. Patrick brought Christianity here in the 5th century when he arrived to baptise King Aengus. According to legend, during the baptismal ceremony Patrick accidently stuck his crozier into Aengus’ foot, but the King remained silent as he assumed this was part and parcel of his initiation into the church. In the centuries since, Cashel has been an important centre of ecclesiastical power.

There are many other links to early Christian times around the county. The magnificent Derrynaflan hoard, a sumptuously decorated collection of liturgical vessels, is a tangible reminder of this early Christian heritage. It was discovered in 1980 at the 6th century monastic site of St Ruadhan in the middle of Littleton Bog. Ahenny High Crosses in the east of the county are a splendid local example of early Christian artwork. St Patrick’s Well outside Clonmel was reputedly where the national apostle met St. Declan back in the 5th century. Peace and tranquillity can be found at St. Berrihert’s Kyle and Holy Well in the Glen of Aherlow, a site which has drawn pilgrims since the 7th century.

The heritage of Tipperary is intimately tied to the fortunes of Christianity and the arrival of monastic orders from Europe from 1100 onwards brought a new era of ecclesiastical development. The Cistercians, Dominicans, Franciscans and Augustinians all had a presence in Tipperary during the Middle Ages. Sadly, these monasteries were suppressed by King Henry VIII in 1540. Today they stand in a ruined state, apart from Holycross Abbey, which was restored and re-consecrated in the 1970s, and Fethard’s Augustinian Abbey. Athassel Abbey near Golden, Hore Abbey at the foot of the Rock of Cashel, Kilcooley Abbey in the Slieveardagh region, Molough Abbey, a convent near the River Suir, and Cahir Abbey recall this pre-Reformation era.

The Normans arrived in Ireland in the 12th century and were patrons of many of these Abbeys. One Norman family in particular emerged to dominate Tipperary for the following five centuries. The Butlers of Ormond have an association with almost every corner of the county. They were the chief landowners, they built castles and they endowed monasteries. Today their story is related through the Butler Trail, a modern driving route that links some of the key Butler sites. At Ormond Castle in Carrick-on-Suir, the Main Guard in Clonmel and Cahir Castle, you can get a sense of the power and influence exerted by the Butlers over the centuries.
One of the remarkable aspects of the Butler story is that they managed to retain their lands and titles during the turbulent years of the 17th century; because it was in the middle of this century that Oliver Cromwell undertook his notorious conquest of Ireland. His campaign brought him to Tipperary in 1650 where he secured the surrender of the towns of Carrick-on-Suir, Fethard, Cashel and Cahir. However, he met fierce resistance at Clonmel where over 2,000 of his soldiers were killed before the townspeople submitted. A visit to these medieval towns is an ideal way to learn more about this fascinating period in Irish history.

In the 19th century, Tipperary became one of the focal points in the fight for Irish Independence. Tipperary gained the moniker ‘The Premier County’ and the nationalist writer Thomas Davis penned the famous line “Where Tipperary leads, Ireland follows”. The only significant engagement of the 1848 Young Ireland rebellion took place at Ballingarry in the Slieveardagh Hills and the house where the shootout happened is now a museum.
The Gaelic Athletic Association was founded in Thurles in 1884 and Tipperary has remained at the forefront of the organisation ever since. As the independence struggle intensified in the early 20th century, it was in Solohead in West Tipperary where the first shots of the War of Independence were fired in January 1919. Tipperary was in the vanguard of the ensuing military campaign which ultimately led to the foundation of an independent Irish state.