The rich heritage of South Tipperary is revealed in the landscape, the street plans, and the numerous historical monuments.
From the sweeping vistas of Slievenamon to the distinctive Rock of Cashel, South Tipperary has no shortage of historical interest. The seat of the kings of Munster was here, and the first shots of the War of Independence were issued here at Soloheadbeg.
Best known for its rich medieval heritage, the county also has a wealth of prehistoric monuments – the earliest of which, a passage-tomb at Shrough on Slievenamuck, dates to Neolithic times (c. 4000 – 2400 BC).
Because the fertile soil of South Tipperary has been heavily exploited for centuries, most of the preserved prehistoric monuments (such as standing stones) survive in upland areas on the slopes of the Knockmealdown and the Galtee mountain ranges. In the west, around Emly and Lattin, there is a dense concentration of barrows, which are earth-built burial monuments from the Bronze and Iron Ages (c. 2400 BC – AD 400).
At the end of the 12th century, the Anglo-Normans began building large earthen mounds, known as ‘mottes’, with timber castles on their summits. The mottes, which were typically built at strategic points and river crossings, dominated the local landscape for many years. Today, one of the largest mottes in the country stands at Knockgraffon, near Cahir. It is accompanied by a bailey – a defended earthen enclosure which would have housed soldiers and horses.
Once land was acquired by the Anglo-Normans, other forms of settlement developed. There were moated sites (essentially a rectangular version of the ringfort) and hall-houses such as the castle in Mullinahone. Villages were established, invariably accompanied by a parish church and a tower house. Sometimes these are all that survive of the original settlement, such as those at Buolick near Littleton.
In other cases, the entire villages have survived – and one such example is at Lisronagh near Clonmel. Many towns owe their origins to this period. Many walled towns were built, and you can see the best-preserved example at Fethard. Cashel and Clonmel, of course, have sections of town wall intact. In both towns, the Church of Ireland churches are good starting-points for exploring the remains.
Other great monuments of the later medieval period include the religious houses. Several continental orders were attracted to South Tipperary. Among our fine examples are Athassel Abbey, a foundation of the Augustinian Canons near Golden; Kilcooly Abbey near Ballingarry and Hoare Abbey at Cashel, both Cistercian foundations; and Moor Abbey, a Franciscan abbey in the Glen of Aherlow.
Fethard has one of the finest medieval town walls in Ireland. It is a treasure trove of historical features, with several castles and churches all within a short walking distance of one another. Fethard’s very successful Medieval Walled Towns Festival arose from the Irish Walled Town Network initiative.