On the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, castle fortifications started
to be built in order to strengthen the position of the new invaders.
Following on from that the crown developed a policy of settling the new colony. Part of that was the establishment of fortified towns designed to attract foreign settlers to Ireland.
On this page we will introduce you to one such town- an Irish heritage town that we think is a well kept secret- Fethard in County Tipperary, Ireland, seen in the photo above.
The establishment of fortified market towns in those parts of Ireland that had been conquered by Normans, was a policy by the English crown meant to strengthen the crowns position in these areas.
Markets created revenue for the crown, and they also had the potential to attract new settlers from England and Wales who were seeking new opportunities. Settlement of the new colony was desired and settlers were given special legal and economic privileges.
The North Gate at Fethard
The town of Fethard bears all the marks of
a planned Norman settlement with a central large market square and an evenly
laid out pattern of streets.
The village did not grow step by step but was
built in one go after being granted to its’ founder, William de Braose in 1208.
This planned town was created specifically in order to attract settlers from
England and Wales. Many may have come from the founders’ vast estates estates
Merchants in Fethard traded in silk and
wine, salt, coal, nails and sea-fish, to name but a few market goods. The town
was fed by the excellent agricultural lands surrounding it.
However, there were other such planned
market towns in Norman Ireland meant to attract English settlers to colonize
this part of Ireland. Some failed and some survived. Fethard did well, in part
perhaps because the town authorities moved to build extremely strong
fortifications to protect its’ residents from potential attacks by Irish
The English colony was far from secure
during the 13th and 14th centuries. There were many
reports of attacks on merchants travelling to or from Fethard passing through
nearby woods, and some were killed.
In response, the towns’ wall started to be
built in 1292 when King Edward I of England made provision for the burgesses of
Fethard for the “inclosing of their vill and the greater security of Ireland”.
See the impressive wall and a tower house castle on the photo above. This provision entitled the town to start
The traces of wicker work in the ancient plaster of the
town's North Gate tell us about how these vaults
were built by the Normans in Ireland.
Alongside, the crown also provided so
called ‘murage grants’ (‘murage’ stemming from the French word ‘mur’ for wall) as
financial aid towards the building of fortifications. The grant was given in
the form of a tax break for the burgesses of Fethard, the first one of 1292
lasting seven years. It was followed by other such grants over the next two hundred
Different parts of the wall can be
attributed to different phases of the murage grants. During the 14th
and 15th centuries, the area inside the wall was enlarged, and
previously wooden fortifications were replaced with stone. Quite likely the
wall was adjoined by a ditch on the outer side to strengthen defenses even
The wall was built from roughly cut
limestone blocks. It is 6 metres in height at the highest points, and 4 metres
thick and 1,100 metres long, enclosing an area of 18 acres. Originally the town
had 5 gates, but only one gate is complete today, and there are the remnants of
The Everard townhouse at Fethard, a 15th century build- home to one of the most influential families in the town who were instrumental in striking a deal with the English crown for the 1608 charter that granted the town the right to look after its' own legal affairs.
Fethard Tourist Information
The Rock Of Cashel (16
km from Fethard)
Learn how to build a medieval castle, how to attack and defend one, enjoy the medieval castle lifestyle (Phew!) and learn castle vocabulary.
Norman Ireland is still alive in Fethard today. The town
walls and gates at Fethard are among the best preserved in the entire country.
In part, this may be due to a lack of prosperity or industrial activity in the
town since the 18th century and into the present. Furthermore, Fethard would
most likely not be here today if the town authorities had not surrendered to Cromwell and
handed over the keys to him in 1650.
Reconstruction work of the Fethard town
wall, surviving gates and medieval town houses has been ongoing. The work has
been funded by the National Development Plan and other sources with strong
voluntary contributions by the local community.
If you enjoyed our article on Norman Ireland at Fethard, please pay it back.
Kindly like our Facebook page, leave a Facebook comment underneath, or share us using the social sharing buttons at the top left. Regards, Colm and Susanna.
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