Carrick-on-Suir is located in the Suir valley, almost half way between Waterford and Clonmel. It is nestled between the Comeragh mountains to the south-west of the town and Slievenamon to the north-west. The town initially developed on an island located between the current river to the south of the main town and a small branch of the river which stretched roughly from Ballylynch to Tracey Park on the North. The northern branch of the river has been closed off for many centuries.
Old map of Carrick-on-Suir showing island setting of the original town
The name Carrick-on-Suir comes from the Irish translation of Carraig na Siuire which means the “Rock of the Suir. Carrick as a settlement may have been founded by the gaelic “Deisi” tribe who at one point ruled the whole of Waterford as well as south-east Tipperary. They fended off the Vikings and local raiders until about the late 12th century when the Normans arrived and ultimately shattered their power for ever.
Carrick was one of seven walled towns in County Tipperary developed by the Anglo Normans following their conquest of Ireland in the 12th century. In medieval times, Carrick was the largest town in the county with 36 acres of land enclosed by the town wall. Parts of the town wall are still to be seen in the Ormonde Castle and Castleview Tennis Club areas. The town was initially named Carraig MacGriffin after Matthew Fitzgriffin, Lord of the Tudor Manor.
In 1309, Edmond le Bottlier came to Carrick and in 1315 was made Earl of Carraig. The Butlers were to become very influential in the subsequent history of the town and Edmond’s son was created Earl of Ormond. With the river Suir, tidal to a couple of miles upstream of Carrick-on-Suir, the town grew in stature during this medieval period and developed into a thriving market town. The Butler family set up a woollen industry, which added much to the town’s prominence and prosperity.
Edmond erected two large, heavily garrisoned castle keeps named the Plantagenet Castle. From the courtyard a canal was built to the river which was protected by a guarded water-gate, to provide safe entry and exit for their long boats.
Painting of the original Carrick Castle
Ariel photo of Carrick castle showing the court yard
Blocked up entrance to Carrick Castle from the river Suir for the long boats
Later, a town wall was erected and in the north wall, guarded gates were built with small round keeps. At a later date some stalls – like houses or shops – were built and the population gradually increased.
Remains of Carrick Town wall at north of current tennis club
The stone bridge connecting Co. Waterford with Co. Tipperary may have been started as early as 1306. However, it was in the year 1447 that it was upgraded to its present form and is now known as the “Old Bridge”. This is one of the most handsome stone bridges in Ireland and it pre-dates the voyage of Columbus to the New World. One of the Ormond family was known as “Richard the Builder” and to him is attributed the building of the bridge.
Carrick’s four towered castle was also built in the 1400’s. Two of the towers are still to be seen incorporated into one of Ireland’s unique architectural treasures – the Elizabethan Manor House – built by Black Tom Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond in the 1560’s. In the year 1670 the Butlers set up a woollen industry and built many homes for their weavers. This industry flourished for a long number of years and in the 1901 census the occupation of the head of the Dowley family on the Waterford Road was given as a weaver.
Carrick’s Town Clock was erected in 1784, sponsored by a family named Galleway. It was built in Manchester and is reached by a stone stairway with a number of gun slots in the walls. The bell has yet to be heard.
The main town on the north bank is located in Co. Tipperary while Carrick-beg, on the south side, is part of Co. Waterford. Some 3 km to the east is Co. Kilkenny. The two towns were connected by the old bridge and for some 300 years, this was the only bridge over the river between Clonmel and the sea. This conferred further economic potential to the area by linking Co. Waterford with counties Tipperary and Kilkenny. Apart from the bridge at Carrick, there were of course numerous ferry crossings which continued to operate up to the early 1800′
The population of Carrick-on-Suir varied from a max of some 11,000 to a low of 4,000 around the mid 1950’s The former was associated with great population explosion of the early 1800’s before the famine when the town had appalling dwellings accompanied by an inadequate water supply and a rudimentary sewage system. The 1950’s was associated with the major depression of the time which was combined with large scale unemployment and emigration.
I can recall as a child, watching the large numbers of emigrants boarding the cross-channel ferry in Waterford from the relatively exclusive surroundings of the Adelphi Hotel (now the Tower Hotel). It was the sadness and futility of this sight that made me realise my good fortune of being born into a family with sufficient financial resources to protect against this terrible fate.
My own recollections of Carrick during the 1950’s were probably coloured by the fact that during most of this period I was attending Castleknock College in Dublin and was removed from the day-to-day life of the town. However, I would always have thought of Carrick as a drab and depressing town with dilapidated buildings inhabited mainly by poor or unemployed people who could be seen playing pitch and toss at nearly every street corner. The town had an inordinate number of public houses (1 per 50 inhabitants) and this led to widespread drunkenness and public disorder was not uncommon. The town was also regularly covered in fog from the river and I always felt the inhabitants looked more unhealthy than those of other similar towns. As my father suffered from asthma, he found that working on the quay during the fall and early winter was almost impossible due to the persistent fog that hovered over the river.
Shopping in Carrick was also very limited and for most major purchases people travelled to Waterford, Clonmel or Dublin. All-in-all Carrick was not a town that a young man would automatically select as his first choice in which to work, live and bring up a family. As a result, most of my school friends of that period lived and worked far removed from the town. On the plus side, the town seemed to be full of the most entertaining characters which made all visits to Carrick most enjoyable.
In the early 1800’s the main “industries” in Carrick-on-Suir were weaving, boat building, brewing, distilling, boot-making, tanning and milling. Other businesses of importance in Carrick were the butter and bacon market, together with the import export business on the river Suir. The river was pivotal to the main industries as it provided water for brewing and distilling, power for the milling and rapid and efficient transport to the port of Waterford and beyond.
As late as the mid-twentieth century the boat yards of William Kehoe were still to be seen west of the old bridge on the south bank of the river. This boat yard was a major industry during the peak of the river traffic when it built most of the lighters, sweeps and yawls used on the river. Towards the middle of the twentieth century the boatyard was reduced to only building river cots for the fishermen but some of the old lighters were still visible on the south bank above the old bridge.
The early history of banking in Carrick seems to mirror 2009 as in 1793 the Hayden & Rivers bank went bankrupt and a similar fate was to befall Sadlier’s Bank in 1856 and the Sausse Bank in 1860. In 1835, the first branch of the National Bank was opened in Carrick-on-Suir and it is still there in 2009 as a branch of the Bank of Ireland.
In 1856 the railway reached Carrick while in 1859 the streets were illuminated by gas, with a gas works at the new quay which was later occupied by Unicast.
In 1861 a linen factory was started by the Malcolmson family on the site of what was later to be the Irish Leathers Tannery. This also failed after only a short period. By the latter part of the nineteenth century the only industry prospering in Carrick was the brewing business of Richard Feehan1.
Meeting of the Blue Shirts outside the Dowley Head Office in 1934
Land Tenure in the 1800’s
During the nineteenth century, the land was mainly owned by landlords who rented it out to smaller landlords, tenant farmers or cottiers, usually at exorbitant rents. This continued up to the end of the 19th century when the Landlord and Tennant Acts provided money for the tenants to buy out their land from the landlord. This money would be repaid through the Land Commission over a long period by the tenant. The main Landlords in the Carrick area were Thomas Lawler of Cregg House, Richard Cox of Castletown, James Wall of Coolnamuck, John Power of Mount Richard, William O’Donnell of Deerpark, the Marquis of Waterford in Curraghmore, Henry Whitby Briscoe of Tinvane House and the Ponsonbys of Bessborough House.
On the north side of the river Suir, the most important landlord in the area was the Earl of Bessborough who at the end of the 1800’s occupied some 35,000 acres in Kilkenny, south Tipperary, Carlow and Kildare. Many of the smaller landlords in the Carrick area held their land from the Earl of Bessborough, including Tinvane.
The first Ponsonby to acquire land in Ireland was Sir John Ponsonby from Cumbria. He was a cavalry officer in Cromwell’s army during the invasion of Ireland in 1649. For his services, he was awarded an estate at Kildalton, originally the property of the D’Alton family. He initially married a Dorothy Briscoe, also from Cumbria, but later married Elizabeth Folliet and changed the name to Bessborough in her honour.
Drawing of the original house at Bessborough
Brabazon Ponsonby,a grandson of Sir John, became the 1st Earl of Bessborough. He was Commissioner of the Revenue and built a new residence at Bessborough designed by Francis Bindon in 1744. Many of the subsequent Ponsonbys also carried the name Brabazon.
The new Bessborough House commissioned by the 1st Earl in 1744.
John Willam Ponsonby (1781-1844) became the 4th Earl of Bessborough and was probably the most powerfull of the family as he was Lord Lieutennant of Ireland from 1844 to 1847, the initial years of the great famine in Ireland. His grandson, Fredrick George Brabazon Ponsonby (1815-1895) became the 6th Earl of Bessborough and chaired the 1882 Commission on landlord and tennant problems in Ireland. This was very important as it eventually lead to the Landlord & Tennant Acts which enabled the tennants to purchase their holdings from the landlords.
It should be noted that most of the Ponsonbys were absentee landlords and spent little time in Ireland except for holiday periods. At the outbreak of the War of Independence, the 8th Earl, Edward Ponsonby (1851-1920), removed most of the house contents to England for safe keeping. This was a judicious move as the house was seriously damaged by fire in 1923 during the Irish Civil War.
The house of Lord Bessborough’s land Agent at Belline, Piltown
Sir Vere Brabazon Ponsonby (1880-1956) became the 9th Earl of Bessborough in 1920. He rebuilt Bessborough House from 1925 but never used it as his principal residence as he had purchased Stansted House in west Sussex in 1924. He was appointed Governor General of Canada from 1931-1935 after which he returned to England were he became a prominent businessman. By the end of the decade he had divested himself of all his property in Kilkenny and this brought to an end Ponsonby interest in Bessborough.
In the early 1940’s the Oblate Fathers acquired the house and some of the land as their main seminary in Ireland. Later, ACOT (now Teagasc) acquired the estate and ran it as a horticultural college and an advisory centre. They immediately changed the name of the estate from Bessborough to Kildalton. Given what the Earl of Bessborough had done for Irish farmers through the “Landlord and Tennant Acts” at the end of the 1800’s, this was a surprising decision and may have reflected an anti-British attitude by the ACOT senior management in the last quarter of the 20th century.
The 9th Earl of Bessborough during his tenure as Governor General of Canada 1931-1935
The 9th Earl’s wife Roberte de Neuflize (French) with the 10th Earl, Fredrick, on a visit to Bessborough in 1915.
Curraghmore in Co. Waterford was one of the largest walled-in estates in Europe and is still more or less intact to-day and occupied by Lord Waterford.
- The Estate of the Marquis of Waterford at Curraghmore, Co. Waterford
- The residence of the Cox family at Castletown Cox, Co. Kilkenny
- Cregg House, the residence of the Lawler family
- Coolnamuck Court, residence of the Wall family
- Tinvane House, home of the Briscoe family (photo 2009)
Leslie J. Dowley