The Main Guard | Attraction Guides | History Hit

The Main Guard

Clonmel, County Tipperary, Ireland

Sarah Roller

24 Nov 2020

About The Main Guard

The Main Guard was built in 1675 by the 1st Duke of Ormond, James Butler, as a courthouse in Clonmel, County Tipperary.

History of The Main Guard

In the 17th century, County Tipperary operated as a palatinate: following the Siege of Clonmel in 1650, James Butler, Duke of Ormonde, ordered the building of a new courthouse. This was completed in 1675, and also contained private apartments used for entertaining – King James II visited Clonmel in 1689 and stayed in them. The architecture is believed to have been based on designs by Sir Christopher Wren. The building also operated as a ‘tholsel’, a place for gathering tolls and taxes for the surrounding area.

In 1715, the Palatinate jurisdiction ended and the Clonmel Assizes were held in the building. Notably, Father Nicholas Sheehy was tried here in 1766: an anti-Penal Laws agitator, he was hanged, drawn and quartered after being found guilty of being an accessory to murder. The Penal Laws disenfranchised and persecuted Catholics in Ireland – many consider Sheehy’s death sentence to have been an act of judicial murder.

In 1810, the ground floor loggia was converted into shops. More recently, in the 1990s, the building was taken over by the Office of Public Works (OPW) and the building was heavily restored to be more in line with its original form.

The Main Guard today

The Main Guard is run by the OPW still: entrance is free and the interior is primarily an exhibition and event space. The exhibitions can be pretty sparse, but the interior is lovely and really gives a feel for the building’s original architecture.

Getting to The Main Guard

The Main Guard is on Sarsfield Street, in the heart of the town of Clonmel. Clonmel is on the N24, straddling the border between County Tipperary and County Waterford: there’s plenty of parking in and around town. Buses from Waterford (no. 55), Dublin (no. 717), and Cork (no. 245) will get you there: there are also services connecting from smaller nearby towns and villages.

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