The Town of Carrick-on-Suir

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.

Medieval Carrick Map

Old map of Carrick-on-Suir showing island setting of the original town

The Comeragh Mountains as seen from Carrick-on-Suir Golf Club (2009)

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.

The Old Bridge with Slievenamon to the north west, 2009

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.

Carrick Castle 2

Painting of the original Carrick Castle

Carrick-beg Castle

In Carrick-beg there was an other castle. This castle was later donated to the Franciscans and became the first Friary in the Carrick area. The Franciscans eventually built a new Friary in Carrick-beg and the old Friary became the parish church for Carrick-beg named St. Molleran’s.

Carrick Castle Good

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.

The Elizabethan Ormond Castle in Carrick completed in c 1568

The original old bridge with covered centre piece which was completed in 1477. The parish church in Carrick-beg is in the background

The original old bridge with covered centre piece which was completed in 1477. The parish church in Carrick-beg is in the background (originally Carrick-beg Castle)

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.

The town of Carrick-on-Suir looking north from Seskin, 2009

Carrick from the air looking north

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.

The first branch of the National Bank opened in 1835, now a branch of the Bank of Ireland (2011)

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.

Lower Main Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900's

Lower Main Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900’s looking towards the West Gate

Upper Main Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900's

Upper Main Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900’s

Castle Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900's

Castle Street, Carrick-on-Suir in the early 1900’s

A hunting party on the steps of Powers of Mount Richard, now the residence of Mr. Niall Quirk

Carrick-on-Suir railway station, opened 15th April, 1853

The Dillon Bridge completed in the 1920's

The Dillon Bridge completed in the 1920’s

The Provincial Bank, Main St., Carrick-on-Suir (early 1900’s). In 1966 The Provincial Bank amalgamated with the Munster & Leinster Bank and the Royal Bank of Ireland to form Allied Irish Bank. Business was transferred across the street to the old Munster and Leinster and became AIB.

May 1934 Blue Shirt

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.

Bess 3

 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.

Bess 12

The 9th Earl of Bessborough during his tenure as Governor General of Canada 1931-1935

Bes wife with Fredrick 10th Earl

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

13 thoughts on “The Town of Carrick-on-Suir

  1. Avril Magnier

    Marvellous article and I have not read all of it yet. Keep up the good work!!
    Tell me, when is the 2013 golf outing. I will be home in August, so I would like to know if it is held in August.

    P.S. I live in France

  2. Seamus Nolan

    Not sure where this space is to answer Avril’s question about golf or for general comment !

    A very readable article ! A very enjoyable read .

    Having been brought up in Carrick in the 50s I do recall much poverty and unemployment. A mention of the Tannery’s role in the 50s and 60s as a major employer would be worth exploring.

    My father was never unemployed – we were never hungry or cold neither were any of my friends – I can however only recall one place where pitch and toss took place , the Fair Green .

    I can remember lying awake at night/early morning in Town Wall – where I lived – listening to the town clock striking out the hour every hour – yes it did strike – not a bell as such .

    Carrick was never really exciting – but to describe it as drab and depressing does not really ring true – whether Autumn (Fall ?) or Winter . All my family – I was 12 years old – emigrated to London in 1957 – but we went from Rosslare as I think the Cross Channel ferry had ceased operating from Waterford

    I could add much and pass comment on much but it could not take away from your excellent article

    Thank you for resurrecting memories

    Seamus (Jim) Nolan


    1. dick Hickey

      I have just found this wonderful piece of work by Leslie Dowley. A most useful addition to the body of historical pieces on my home town.
      I remember the Carrick of the 1950’s well. It was a poor town which reflected the general state of the economy at that time. We were priest ridden, poor and struggling to enter the post war giddiness which was evident in England. We listened with wonder to the tales of the returning emigrants every summer. London was where the lights were brighter (or so we were told). The fact that the Nolan family emigrated in 1957 reflects the state of affairs in the town. I saw people waiting for the Saturday bus to Waterford, standing on the Main Street with their suit cases, ready to take the boat to England. The number of boys and girls who left school at 14 (with Primary Certificate) was very high and, unless they got into the Tannery or got jobs as messenger boys or such other low paying jobs, emigrated to England. They followed their brothers and sisters and some never came back!
      Towards the end of the 1950s, things did improve and the number of students staying in school to the Leaving Certificate increased dramatically. This coincided with industrial development generally under Lemass, and the establishment of industrial estates in Waterford and elsewhere.

  3. eugene ocallaghan

    I am now convinced life turns full circle.i have just retired and happened on your historical dowley family .I have lived in tralee for over forty years and would have known your family and your wife’s quiet well , old Joe Cecil , Dow Robert , willie Morris eye , his son tom on waterford Rd, I am the last living person to sail lighters from carrick on suir to Waterford etc towed by Knocknagow and new forge steered by my uncle Danny o callaghan.i played small amount of rugby in carrick , bluey, Pat , Harry Dawson etc. Eugene o callaghan .

  4. Michael Healy

    My Great Grandfather John Healy ran a butchers or worked for a butcher in Carrick at the start of the last centuary and my Grandfather grew up there before moving to Sth. Wales for work where he sadly died in 1934. I visited Carrickbeg 4 years ago and it really felt like home , Strangly I found lots of information about our family from local people. Our house was in Corpse Road originally which is now Abbey Rd. I believe. Your article is wonderful .Michael Heal.

  5. Breda dowley

    Every where in the world you will find life have good and bad but as child growing up in carrick we had lots of fun the people were very warm and friendly we looked after each other life was not that bleak Breda dowley

  6. Ken evans

    I’m hoping I can achieve some finality through this site. Please, if someone can help put me out of my misery.
    I am a descendant of an Irish orphan girl Catherine Fahan who came to Australia on the New Liverpool which arrived here in August 1849. Only information I have is her native place Carrick on Suir Tipperary. Age 17, catholic. Parents not recorded. Catherine was in the Waterford workhouse before departure. Any information will be received with much gratitude….. Ken Evans

    1. Gemma Deny

      The name is probably Catherine Fahey. She may have been unable to read or write. Her name could have been I’
      written inncorrectly. I’ll have a look through the St. Nicholas baptism register .
      Gemma Denny

  7. Michael Joy

    I left Carrick not long after my Leaving Cert in 1965 and during my time in UCD I was often asked how I had so much general knowledge. My stock reply was that I was educated by the Chritian Brothers in Carrick-on-Suir ! While they have received bad press in recent times I am eternally grateful to them.
    I do recall the poverty of the 50s and the suitcased people crossing the Town Park to/from the station. We grew up in public housing but none of my family and very few of our neighbours emigrated.
    I am familiar with most parts of our country and very few can match the cultural activity of Carrick as exemplified by Brewery Lane and also the Operatic Society..
    It was very good to read this history. My late father worked for Dowleys and indeed I myself earned my summer pocket money thinning beet for Joe.


    Thank you for your wonderful article on Carrick on Suir. My grandmother Catherine Fitzpatrick was born in Clonmel in 1893 and by the 1901 Census the family was living at Ask Park in Carrick on Suir. They eventually came to Ameria in 1904. I love seeing your photos and learning about the history. I do have one question that you may be able to answer. On my grandmother’s baptism record the residence was recorded as “Streamvale, Clonmel”. I am trying to figure out if Streamvale was a section of Clonmel or if it was a street name?

    Your article is truly a gift to anyone with ancestors from Clonmel.
    Many thanks,
    Karen Wood Basli


    I am researching the history of Clonmel, Carrick on Suir and the Ardclone neighborhood of Piltown, where my grandmother originated in hopes of writing about her life and her journey to America. She made the voyage at age 11 in 1904 unaccompanied by an adult. You have done a wonderful job of capturing the lives of the Downey family. Thank you for sharing this information and great photos. I just hope that I can present the history of the Fitzpatrick, Doheny and Maher families as well.

  10. Jean Morris

    What an interesting and informative work. Many thanks to Leslie Dowley for making this available for all of us who have an interest in history, especially Carrick history.


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