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Norman Ireland-
The Medieval Norman Market Town Of Fethard, County Tipperary

On the arrival of the Normans in Ireland, castle fortifications started to be built in order to strengthen the position of the new invaders.

Norman Ireland at Fethard County Tipperary- town wall with tower house

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.

Norman Ireland's Market Towns

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.

Norman Ireland at Fethard County Tipperary- the North Gate

The North Gate at Fethard

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 in Wales.

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.

Success And Failure

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 chieftains.

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.

The Town Wall

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 building fortifications.

Norman Ireland at Fethard County Tipperary- traces of  medieval wicker work in the plaster of the North Gate tell us how Normans built vaults

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.

Murage Grants

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 years.

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 further.

Facts About The Fethard Town Wall

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 two others.

Norman Ireland at Fethard County Tipperary- 15th century Everard townhouse

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.

Read More About Fethard

Fethard Tourist Information

Fethard History

Nearby Attractions

The Rock Of Cashel (16 km from Fethard)

Find Out About Medieval Castles

Learn how to build a medieval castle, how to attack and defend one, enjoy the medieval castle lifestyle (Phew!) and learn castle vocabulary.

The Legacy

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.

Repairs and Reconstruction

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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