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Being both an historic walled town and home to one of the finest Elizabethan houses in Ireland, Carrick-on-Suir has a rich history dating back to the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in Ireland in the 13th Century.
By the 15th Century Carrick-on-Suir was the most strategically important place on the River Suir after Waterford, and, with the river trade from Clonmel to Waterford, the town was a vital commercial hub for hundreds of years.
Now, with a wealth of historic sites and influential historical figures, Carrick-on-Suir a must-visit town on the heritage trails of Ireland.
Carrig Mac Griffin
Carrick-on-Suir owes its origins to the River Suir. The name of the town stems from the original settlement of Carrig Mac Griffin, an island settlement upstream of Waterford which was one of seven walled towns in County Tipperary developed by the Anglo-Normans. The earliest known records the town date to 1247 when a charter of fairs was awarded to the Lord of the Manor of Carrick, Matthew Fitzgriffin.
The earliest church, St Nicholas of Myra, was also built during this period at the highest point of the island. This church was later to become the Protestant Church, and today it houses the Carrick-on-Suir Heritage Centre and Tourist Information Office.
By the early 14th century, Carrig Mac Griffin was home to the prosperous Butler family. The first significant leader of the Butler clan, Edmond le Bottiler, became the Earl of Carrick in 1315 and his son later became the Earl of Ormond. This family was extremely powerful and influential, and both the Butler and Ormond names are synonymous with medieval Irish history.
Edmond le Bottiler built two large, heavily garrisoned castle keeps known as the Plantagenet Castle on the north bank of the Suir in 1309, and a stone town wall during the same period. The walled town, which consisted of individual houses with kitchen gardens, grew to become the largest in the county with 36 acres of land inside the town wall. Indeed by the end of the 14th Century there was a public oven where townspeople were able to bake in safety without endangering their own homes. Oven Lane exists to this day, just off Main Street, and part of the town wall are still visible by the Castleview Tennis Club and near Ormond Castle.
It wasn’t until some time later in the 15th Century that Edmund Mac Richard Butler of Paulstown, or ‘Edmund the Builder’, rebuilt Ormond Castle, heavily fortifying it with four towers and including a large dock on the river and a watergate. However Edmund the Builder is perhaps best known for constructing the the first bridge above the Waterford estuary, now known as ‘The Old Bridge’. Both the bridge and the castle were completed in 1447: thus in one fell swoop Edmund had secured the town’s strategic and economic significance for centuries to come.
Unique Tudor Manor House
Within a hundred years the Butlers had become so powerful and wealthy that Black Tom Butler was able to build an unfortified Manor House on the north side of the castle in 1560, keeping only two of the castle’s original fortified towers to the south.
Black Tom built the Tudor Manor house in expectation of a visit from his cousin Elizabeth I, the daughter of Henry VIII and Ann Boleyn. Elizabeth never did visit, however the house contains many beautiful details including decorative plasterwork portraits of the Virgin Queen.
Another significant decoration in the the Tudor Manor House is the ‘Carrick Knot’ engraved in the stone above the fireplace in the main banqueting hall. It is also to be found in the decorative plasterwork. The Carrick Knot, (or Carrick Bend), is still in use by boatmen, fishermen and sailors today. The knot is also known as the Ormond Knot in heraldry, further cementing its link to Carrick-on-Suir, and today it is symbolic of the town’s close relationship with the River Suir, becoming one of the emblems of the town.
Today this combination of an unfortified Tudor Manor house with two of the earlier fortified towers and courtyards makes Ormond Castle unique and is now the starting point of The Butler Trail, part of Ireland’s Ancient East.
Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649 with his Parliamentary forces to ‘settle the Irish question’. The Irish opposition was led by James Butler, 12th Earl and 1st Duke of Ormond. He made the mistake of leaving garrisons to defend towns rather than facing the enemy in pitched battle, giving Cromwell the opportunity to defeat the garrisons one by one. In this manner, Carrick-on-Suir was taken by Cromwell in November of that year when his forces tricked the watch into opening New Gate.
The town’s bridge was vital to Cromwell’s campaign in the South East of Ireland, so Carrick-on-Suir was heavily defended. Irish forces later attempted to retake the town, however the the attack failed with the loss of 500 men who were later buried in what became known as the ‘Garraí Rua’, or the ‘Red Garden’.
Indeed by 1650 Cromwell’s hold on Carrick was so secure that he is believed to have spent time here in before his attack on Clonmel.
A New Prosperity
Following Cromwell’s death in 1658, Charles II ascended the throne in 1660, and James Butler, Duke of Ormond, returned to Ireland as the Lord Deputy.
In 1667 the Duke of Ormond convinced the king to remove restrictions on woollen and linen exports and subsequently founded the woollen industry in Carrick in the 1670s, with the help of Huguenots who had fled France, bringing prosperity to the area.
By the late 1680s the political landscape had changed again and the English wars returned to Ireland with William of Orange and James II fighting for the crown. William is believed to have visited Carrick-on-Suir on his way back to England after failing to capture Limerick. Such was the welcome in Carrick-on-Suir, even from families whose sons were fighting for James, that William is said to have granted the town exemption from taxation forever more. It was a promise that was sadly broken.
Carrick-on-Suir remained an island until the 18th century, when rivers to the north and west of the town were diverted. By this time the town enjoyed prosperity through the woollen industry, fishing, basketweaving and other river related businesses.
The population had grown to about 11,000 in 1799. However, during the next century the town suffered from high taxes and levies on the woollen industry, leading to high unemployment, poverty and emigration. The Great Famine of the mid 19th Century also contributed to a fall in population in the town and the surrounding area.
The Irish Tricolour was first flown publicly by Thomas Francis Meagher in his native city of Waterford on March 7th 1848. Meagher was later arrested and deported for leading the Young Irelanders’ 1848 Rebellion, but just before his trial he told a crowd of 50,000 at Slievenamon that future generations would one day see the tricolour flag proudly flown across Ireland. The Tricolour didn’t fly again until it was raised over the GPO in 1916 during the Easter Rising.
Following the Easter Rising, many people across Ireland joined the Republican cause. County Tipperary was already a hotbed of Republicanism and Carrick-on-Suir and the surrounding areas provided many soldiers and leaders in the War of Independence.
With the coming of Civil War, Carrick-on-Suir was initially occupied by the Anti-Treaty IRA until the town fell to the Free State army in August 1922. During the battle for Carrick-on-Suir, the Courthouse and the Police Station were burnt out, and both bridges were destroyed.
The Republicans retook Carrick-on-Suir briefly in December 1922, in the process burning down the Workhouse and another building on the Main Street near Dillon Bridge. They captured weapons before leaving the town to be reoccupied by the Free State Army the following day.
By the 1920s Carrick-on-Suir saw industrialisation with the establishment of numerous cotton factories and a local creamery and the arrival of the leather tanning industry in Carrick-on-Suir in the 1930s provided much needed regular local employment. The Town Council also embarked on social housing projects to deal with appalling living conditions experienced by many people in the town. But despite these developments, economic opportunities were limited and poverty was widespread leading to emigration to Dublin, Britain and further afield especially during the long recessions of the 1940s and 1950s.
Today the population of Carrick-on-Suir is steady at approximately 6,000, and while the town was hit hard by the recent recession, it is still a bustling market town with a positive outlook, making it a great little town for business, tourism, culture, shopping and hospitality.
Carrick-on-Suir owes its existence and much of its past prosperity to the River Suir. The town’s close relationship with the river has always been strong, with salmon cot fishing and trading boats and barges, ‘lighters’ and ‘yawls’, being a regular sight in the past.
The lighters carried cargo between Waterford and Carrick, where the cargo was transferred to the yawls which continued to Clonmel, towed by men and horses. By 1835 there were as many as 180 lighters and yawls working the river between Clonmel and Waterford. As a result Carrick-on-Suir was vital to the distribution of goods across the South East of Ireland.
Indeed for centuries Carrick-on-Suir was a busy river port connecting Clonmel and the Golden Vale with the Port of Waterford. Although the introduction of the railways in the 19th Century signalled the beginning of the end for the river trade, the town continued as a hub for commercial river traffic until the mid 20th Century when the final bells tolled with the sale of the last two boats in 1973, ‘Knocknagow 1’ and ‘Knockagow 2’.
The town’s close relationship with the river remains to this day with the swan, the salmon and the Carrick Knot being symbols of the town, the Old Tow Path being a popular walk for locals and visitors alike, and the river men in their cots still a regular sight on the river.
Carrick-on-Suir and its hinterland can also lay claim to being of significant importance in the cultural, musical and sporting history of Ireland, with its famous sons including the Clancy Brothers who changed the face of Irish music, Seán Kelly who is widely regarded as one of the world’s greatest road racing cyclists, Ballyneale’s Tom Kiely, Olympic Decathlon gold medalist in 1904, and Maurice Davin, one of the founders of the Gaelic Athletic Association. The traditions that they promoted continue to this day and are celebrated in the town by its sporting institutions, theatres, monuments, and festivals.
Today’s Historic Sites
It is no surprise then that Carrick-on-Suir is now noted for its historic sites and offers a unique experience to visitors. With its monuments, churches, parks, trails, castles and estates, Carrick-on-Suir and its hinterland has a rich and diverse heritage worth celebrating and the coming years promise to bring positive changes to the the tourism and heritage potential of the town.
The Heritage Centre located in the old Protestant Church just off Main Street, is now home to a diverse collection of items telling the story of Carrick-on-Suir and makes a great starting point for any visitor to the area. It is also the location of the Tourist Information Office.
For further information about the historical sites of Carrick-on-Suir and its hinterlands please click on http://www.carrickonsuir.net/activities/places-to-see.html or http://www.carrickonsuir.net/activities/things-to-do.html.