A few months ago, we did the self-guided heritage walking trail of Clonmel.
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. 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.
A brief history of The Main Guard building
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trail we did is based on 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.
An 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.
Check out our other blog posts on Tipperary.
Source: Clonmel Heritage Trail Booklet