31 October 2019

Cashel Town Hall,
a reminder of
a mediaeval city

The Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary … designed by James Edward Rogers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

The Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary, is now the home of Cashel Heritage Centre and is also home to a local museum.

The town of Cashel owes its existence to the Rock of Cashel, which was the seat of the Kings of Munster from the fifth century until it was given to the church in 1101. A round tower, Cormac’s Chapel and the Anglo-Normans Gothic cathedral and tower house were built in the centuries that followed.

However, Cashel is not just the Rock, and the town has mediaeval walls, the ruins of 13th century Dominican abbey, a mediaeval tower house known as Kearney’s Castle that dates from the late 15th century, and many attractive Georgian buildings, including the Church of Ireland cathedral, the former Bishop’s Palace, and elegant Georgian townhouses that line John Street.

Local lore claims that Cashel first became a ‘borough by favour’ in 1216 at the favour Donnchad Ua Lonngargáin I, Archbishop of Cashel (1208-1216), who died that year either in Rome or at Cîteaux Abbey, or his successor, Archbishop Donnchad Ua Lonngargáin II (1216-1223), a Cistercian monk who resigned in 1223 and died in 1232.

Cashel received its first Charter in 1228, when King Henry III granted ‘that vill in frankalmoign to the Archbishop of Cashel and his successors’ with the right to hold an ‘annual fair at Cashel for eight days, namely, on the vigil and feast of the Holy Trinity and six following days.’

Frankalmoign is a tenure in which a religious corporation holds lands given to them and their successors forever, usually on condition of praying for the soul of the donor and his heirs. For a one-off payment of 300 marks to the Crown, the Archbishop of Cashel gained almost exclusive control of the town and its revenues.

Fourteen years later, in 1232, Archbishop Marianus or Mairin O Briain (1223-1237) transferred the borough of Cashel to the Provost (mayor) and burgesses, reserving only the shambles or meat market to his personal jurisdiction. He also granted free pastures and other privileges to the town’s residents.

The rent-paying burgesses of Cashel were entitled to rights and privileges according to their status, and many worked lands in the vicinity granted to them by the archbishops.

Cashel developed as a planned Norman town, with a grid-like street layout, off-set lanes, and a market place. Long narrow plots extend from the street front, and the continuity of many of these from probably the high medieval period is still evident in Cashel.

The new town probably reached the extent marked out by the town wall by about 1265. Despite its early elevation to borough status, Cashel did not receive a murage grant until 1303-1307. Edward Bruce halted his army and held a parliament at Cashel in 1316, making the borough, albeit ever so briefly, the capital of Ireland.

The town walls in Cashel were built in 1319-1324.

The borough privileges of Cashel were confirmed by Richard II in 1378, by Archbishop Roland Baron FitzGerald (1553-1561) in 1557, and by Queen Elizabeth I in 1584.

Cashel received city status in a charter granted by King Charles I in 1637, and a second charter from Charles I in 1639 set out the city system of government.

By the mid-17th century, the town walls were obsolete and were probably of little value after the invention of gun powder. The Rock of Cashel was burned by Murrough O’Brien, Earl of Inchiquin, at the Sack of Cashel in 1647.

At the end of the 17th century, before the Battle of the Boyne, King James II granted a new charter to Cashel, but later, while he was camped nearby at Golden, he issued an edict reverting to the charters of Charles I.

Under Charles I’s charters, Cashel was governed by a mayor, 17 aldermen, and bailiffs, along with the citizens and commons of Cashel. The elections of the Mayor, Recorder and Town Clerk were subject to the approval of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland and the Privy Council.

The Corporation elected two MPs to the Irish House of Commons until the Act of Union, and Cashel continued to elect one member of the House of Commons in Westminster until the borough was disenfranchised in 1870.

Meanwhile, Cashel Corporation was dissolved by Act of Parliament in 1840, and the landed estates and property of the corporation were transferred to the 21 town commissioners elected on 5 October 1840, with James Heney as the first elected chair.

The Town Hall, built by the Cashel Town Commissioners in 1866, is a three-bay, two-storey building, built on a prominent site in the centre of what was the medieval market place of Cashel.

The town hall was designed by the architect and artist James Edward Rogers (1838-1896).

Rogers was born in Dublin in 1838, a son of James Rogers, QC, of 20 Upper Mount Street. He was educated at Guildford Grammar School and Trinity College Dublin (BA 1861). While he was at TCD, he became a pupil of the architect Benjamin Woodward (1815-1861) who was then was working on the Oxford Museum.

Rogers regularly visited Oxford, where he became friends of the Pre-Raphaelites William Morris and Dante Gabriel Rossetti, who were then decorating Woodward’s debating hall at the Oxford Union with scenes from Arthurian legends. Together, they went ‘hunting in the parish churches on Sunday evenings to find a Guinevere.’

When Woodward was dying of tuberculosis, Rogers visited him in Algiers or the South of France in early 1860. He was later described by his lifelong friend, JP Mahaffy, as ‘Woodward’s favourite pupil.’

Woodward died in May 1861, Rogers graduated from TCD later that year, and probably set up his own practice in 1862, working first form his father’s address, and later from offices at Great Brunswick Street (Nos 205 and 179), now Pearse Street, Dublin.

He worked closely with both William Stirling and James Franklin Fuller, but most of his recorded work was with the Church of Ireland. He was architect to the Diocese of Meath until disestablishment in 1869 and also designed or worked on churches in the Diocese of Dublin and in the Diocese of Limerick.

His works include Saint Mary’s Church, Howth; Kenure Church and Kenure Rectory, Rush, Co Dublin; Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin; Saint Bartholomew’s Vicarage, Ballsbridge; Saint Paul’s Church, Kilfergus (Glin), Co Limerick; Kilkeedy Church, Clarina, Co Limerick; and Saint Patrick’s Church, Kilcock, Co Kildare; as well as No 31 Dame Street, Dublin; and the Carmichael School of Medicine, Brunswick Street, Dublin.

However, Rogers was best known for his drawings and watercolour paintings and as a book illustrator. He moved London in 1876 and does not appear to have practised as an architect in England, although he continued to exhibit his paintings at the Royal Hibernian Academy and at the Royal Academy and at the exhibitions of the Dublin Sketching Club and the Dublin Art Club. He died in London on 18 February 1896.

The Town Hall designed by Rogers in Cashel has a regular form that is enlivened by the varied openings and the gable-fronted addition. The three elevations incorporate myriad classical elements such as arcading, cornices, niches and pilasters, displaying evidence of fine stone-crafting.

Further interest and context are provided by the clock and an armorial date plaque. There is a striking contrast between the ornate limestone front and gable façades and the plain rendered rear façade is striking.

The Town Hall is now used as a tourist information office.

In front of the Town Hall, the Croke Cross was erected in 1895 to mark the jubilee of Thomas Croke (1824-1902), Archbishop of Cashel (1875-1902) and first patron of the Gaelic Athletic Association, which was founded in neighbouring Thurles.

This limestone cross, with echoes of the Celtic Revival, has figurative scenes and interlace in high relief, including a scene at the base of the east side of Saint Patrick baptising King Aengus of Munster on the Rock of Cashel.

The cross was first erected at the junction of Main Street and Friar Street. But it was demolished in a traffic accident. A replica was commissioned and was erected in its present position on Main Street in front of the Town Hall.

The Archbishop Croke Cross in front of the Town Hall in Cashel, Co Tipperary (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Kearney’s Castle, the oldest
surviving tower house and
domestic building in Cashel

Kearney’s Castle is the only known survivor of a group of fortified urban houses in Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Kearney’s Castle Hotel in Cashel, Co Tipperary, closed almost three years ago [December 2016], but the castle or former tower house, with it battlements and gargoyles, remains a landmark mediaeval building on the Main Street of the heritage town.

The Kearney family lived in the castle for many generations and it has had a chequered past.

The O Cearnaigh or Kearney family were the hereditary keepers of Saint Patrick’s Crozier, and there are Kearney family tombs in the ruins of the cathedral on the Rock of Cashel.

Saint Patrick’s Crozier, or the ‘Staff of Jesus’ (Bacall Íosa), is said to have been used by Saint Patrick to banish the snakes from Ireland. For centuries, it was venerated in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. But at the Reformation it was burned in 1538 along with other relics on the orders of Archbishop George Browne.

Kearney’s Castle, on the east side of the Main Street, is a late 15th century tower house, built ca 1480 and was modified ca 1600. It is a six-storey building with two cap-houses, running from west to east.

A member of this family, David Kearney (1568-1625), was Archbishop of Cashel fro 1603 to 1624. In 1611, he was one of only two Roman Catholic bishops in Ireland; the other was Conor O’Devaney a Franciscan and Bishop of Down and Conor, who was arrested that year and executed in 1612.

Archbishop David Kearney died in Rome on 14 August 1624.

Another family member, Thomas Kearney, was an Alderman of Cashel in 1640.

During the Confederate wars in the mid-17th century, the Irish Parliamentarian commander, Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, is believed to have used the castle as a garrison in 1647 when he sacked the town and slaughtered 3,000 inhabitants on the Rock of Cashel.

Father John Kearney, a member of the family, is said by some sources to have been hanged inside the castle in 1652, although it is more likely that he was hanged in Clonmel in 1653.

Father John Kearney (1619-1653), son of John Kearney and Elizabeth Creagh was born in Cashel, County Tipperary and joined the Franciscans in Kilkenny. He studied in Leuven and was ordained in Brussels in 1642.

On his way back to Ireland in 1644, he was arrested in London, tortured and condemned to death. But He escaped and made his way to France, finally travelling from Calais to Wexford. He returned to Ireland, taught philosophy in Cashel and preached in Cashel and Waterford. He was appointed the Franciscan novice master in Waterford and the porter or guardian at Carrick-on-Suir.

Kearney lived as a wanted man for nine years until he was arrested in Tipperary by the Parliamentarians in 1653 and was hanged in Clonmel. He was buried in the chapter hall of the suppressed Franciscan friary in Cashel. He was among the Irish martyrs beatified by Pope John Paul II on 27 September 1992.

A later member of the family was John Kearney (1742-1813), Church of Ireland Bishop of Ossory (1806-1813), was a nephew of Joseph Kearney of Moneygall, Co Offaly, was a direct ancestor of President Barack Obama.

Kearney’s Castle may be the oldest standing domestic building in Cashel (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Kearney’s Castle may be the oldest standing domestic building in Cashel, and it is the only known survivor of a group of fortified urban houses in the town. It displays variety in form, style, texture and materials and has fine stone crafting, especially in the parapet coping.

The castle has rubble limestone walls and crenellated parapet walls, with cut-stone coping and quoins and dressed gutter stones.

There are carved stone gargoyles on the upper front wall. The castle has arrow slit openings with cut limestone surrounds. The round-headed window on the top floor has a limestone sill, a moulded limestone surround, and replacement windows.

A square-headed, two-light window dating from ca 1600 has carved limestone label-moulding and a fixed timber lattice window with coloured glass.

High on the west and south walls is a number of drainage spouts, and the three on the west wall, above the arched window, are gargoyles.

There is a pronounced batter at the base of the castle, seen in the alleyway on the south side of the tower house. The ‘Jostle Stones’ were placed on the corners of building in the 19th century to protect them from the jostling wheels of carts and traps.

The round-headed entrance on the ground dates from ca 1990, when the hotel and bar were being modified or modernised. It has a dressed limestone surround and voussoirs, replacement timber doors and windows and a cast-iron portcullis feature.

Until it closed three years ago, Kearney’s Castle, also known locally as Quirke’s Castle and Grants, has been a favourite venue for locals and disco goers.

Kearney’s Castle Hotel closed three years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)