Fethard has the most complete medieval town wall in Ireland, north or south (Derry has more wall, but it’s not medieval!). Off the beaten track, but still close to Kilkenny, Cashel and Clonmel, Fethard has remained almost unknown until now. A great place to start visit is in the Valley Park where the lovely River Clashawley flows beside the town walls. There are towers and turrets and arrow-loops and gates to be seen. The park is rich in biodiversity, with kingfishers, heron and trout all frequent visitors. During National Heritage Week, in August, this is the location of one of Ireland’s most well-known medieval festivals, a bustle of falconry, wolfhounds, archery and revelry of a truly medieval stamp.
Next up should be Holy Trinity church and its historic graveyard (the key is available from the XL shop on Main Street). Surrounded by medieval walls (you can stand on them and look out) and castellated buildings, the 13th church is still used for worship today. Inside are some lovely sixteenth century grave slabs and eccentric memorials. Just down the road is the Augustinian Friary. Abandoned during the reformation, the friars returned in the 19th century and partially rebuilt their monastery. In the church and surrounding graveyard is some excellent heraldry, some of which dates from the 15th century.
For those who want to do something a bit more exerting, the soft bulk of Fethard’s ‘mountain of the women’, Slievenamon, is just a short drive away. Rising gently to 700 metres above Tipperary’s rich pastureland, it provides the walker one of the best views in the country. From the summit (45 minutes walk from the car park above Kilcash), you can see away to distant Slieve Bloom and Mount Leinster. If you’re fit, don’t miss this most wonderful of mountain trails. Alternatively you can walk the lower slopes of the hill to the Holy Year Cross and look back through the heather towards Fethard, Cloneen and Kiltinan Castle.
Castles abound in and around Fethard. In the town itself are two surviving tower houses, while just two kilometres away is the extraordinary sight of Knockelly Castle. Situated on a rock outcrop, it is surrounded by a two-acre bawn, complete with four ‘flanking towers’. A little further on is Knockelly, ancestral home of the Australian folk hero, Ned Kelly. Not far from that is Coolmore, one of the largest and most famous racing stud farms in the world.
When your tour in and around Fethard is done don’t miss McCarthy’s. It has one of the finest nineteenth century interiors of any pubs you’ll find in Ireland. Still run by descendants of the original owners. Serving hearty Irish food at lunchtime and in the evenings (Wed-Sun). This is the place where local musicians come to play and sing. Settle down in the snug and take in the atmosphere. Don’t worry if you feel unwell, the proprietor is also the local undertaker!