Carrick-on-Suir’s local government was once based in a hotel; New Street Car Park was home to a British army barracks; a well known West Gate pub was formerly a bishop’s residence and 60 cobblers once plied their trade in the town.
These are just just some of the fascinating titbits of information historian Tom Walsh imparts to tourists and curious locals who take part in his walking guided tours of Carrick-on-Suir.
Tom from Pearse Square has been conducting the tours that cover 800 years of the town’s political, social and economic history every Wednesday afternoon since June.
Thee tour is a new tourism initiative introduced this summer by Carrick-on-Suir Tourism and Economic Committee and Carrick-on-Suir Development Assocation and will continue until the end of August.
The full tour takes about two hours and starts from Carrick-on-Suir Heritage Centre takes in Town Wall Street, William Street, New Street, Castle Street, Ormond Castle, Main Street, the two bridges, Carrickbeg, the West Gate, Sean Kelly Square and the former workhouse site on the Clonmel Road. Tom’s potted history lesson of the town from its medieval origins in the 12th century to the present day is interspersed with plenty of interesting anecdotes and nuggets of social history, some based on his own memories and experiences growing up in the town.
“There is 800 years history of the town covered in the tour and I feel you just can’t cover it without going through a certain amount of that local stuff as well. I like to throw in a bit of anecdote, a little story here and there,” he explains.
Tom has spent years researching the town’s past and in his spare time does genealogy research for people from as far afield as Australia, America and New Zealand searching for their roots in Carrick-on-Suir.
He worked in the grocery business for most of his life and his interest in local history developed after his shop, Walsh’s on Main Street closed.
“I was out of work for nearly two years and then Patsy Fitzgerald of Carrick-on-Suir Development Association asked me to come and join the Community Employment Scheme at the Heritage Centre. I was working in the Heritage Centre for 14 years and took up an interest in local history and read anything I could get and remembered it.”
Tom has a room full of books, articles and research on the town’s history at his home. His main sources are the works of local historians and collectors like Dr PC Power and JJ Healy, whose son’s wife gave him a box full of his research after her husband died.
He began doing the walking tours for the Clancy Brothers Music & Arts Festival a few years ago and in between did tours for some school and ICA groups and others who approached him.
The Nationalist followed Tom on one of his recent tours - a shorter one and a half hour version of the full tour - and found it an absorbing experience.
After leaving the Heritage Centre, Tom recounts how a royal charter to hold fairs was granted for the Fair Green in 1247 and that Cromwell’s army fought a battle where Pearse Park and the Fair Green are situated in 1649 in which up to 600 people died. And two centuries later, the area around Pearse Park and Town Wall Street was at one stage home to about 25 of Carrick-on-Suir’s 60 cobblers and shoemakers.
Moving on, we are told the design of St Nicholas Church was based on a church in Florence, Italy and there was meant to be a plaza in front of it but it didn’t materialise due to local residents objections. And William Street, the birthplace of the famous Clancy Brothers, was actually named after William of Orange, who camped his troops in the town in 1690.
In New Street, Tom recalls a British army barracks was situated on what is now the car park opposite the Town Hall and there was also extra accommodation there for up to 300 impoverished people when the town’s workhouse on the Clonmel Road was full to capacity.
It’s hard to believe now as no trace of the site’s past history remains. Tom remembers attending a boxing match in a hall at the former barracks complex when he was a boy. Meanwhile, we hear the Town Hall started out as a mechanics institute training young men in various trades.
Castle Street also throws up an intriguing history, and not just because it’s home to Ormond Castle. Tom tells us the story of the Wadding alms house, which still stands, albeit in a poor state of dereliction, and how the site was given to the charity by a bank that went bust.
Further down the street, he points out a row of houses where a cinema once stood.
Tom recalls how a lane beside the cinema was dubbed by local wags as “Slap Arse Lane” after the kids, who imitated cowboys riding horses when they emerged from watching one of the old Western movies.
After getting an overview of Ormond Castle’s story and some of its colourful former residents from the notorious Black Tom to the industrious First Duke of Ormonde, we move onto Main Street.
Tom tells us The Carraig Hotel is, the town’s oldest licensed premises, with the earliest inn on the site, The King’s Head, dating to the early 18th century. Carrick-on-Suir’s local government was once based there and it was a stopping point for the Bianconi coaches in the 19th century. The gateway where the horses entered is still present at the hotel’s rear, though it’s in a very bad state of repair.
We hear about the Main Street’s old indigenous shops and how the woollen trade was once a major industry in the town. We learn about how the network of lanes running from Main Street to the end of the Super Valu site on Greystone Street were once filled with tiny houses.
Tom points to Nora’s The Gate Bar at West Gate and tell us it was once home of a Bishop of Waterford & Lismore for 30 years in the 18th century as Carrick-on-Suir was considered safer to live in than Waterford.
Our tour ends on the Old Bridge where we hear that it was once a toll bridge and was the scene of Ireland’s worst inland waterways tragedy in 1799 when 100 soldiers, women and children were drowned when the boat transporting them crashed into the bridge.
From the bridge, Tom tells us about the businesses once based on the quays when the river was a major transport route for goods, and touches on Carrickbeg’s rich history, which he deals with thoroughly in the full tour.
After bidding us goodbye, he heads to Ormond Castle where he repeats the tour for a group of tourists from Nebraska in the US.
He brought them down Ball Alley Lane off New Street to show them the outline of the doorways and windows of some of these former little homes that are still visible. “They were fascinated that upwards of six, eight and nine people lived in these houses,” recounted Tom, who would love to see one of these old lane homes recreated as a tourist attraction.
Later this month, Tom will guide a party of Newfoundlanders through the streets and lanes of old Carrick and he hopes his tours will attract more of such international visitors next year when Ireland celebrates “The Gathering” series of festivals to welcome home the Irish Diaspora.
He is also keen for local schools to send their students on his tours and hopes next year the tours will begin just after Easter to attract them.
He points out that he is available to do guided tours outside the Wednesday walks for any individuals or groups. For further information contact Carrick-on-Suir Heritage Centre at (051) 640200.