The Main Guard

As its name suggests, it was here that the main guard of the town troops for Clonmel were once stationed. During the siege of Clonmel in 1650 the old Manor Court was destroyed, and after the restoration of the Duke of Ormond's palatinate rights in 1662 he ordered the building of a new courthouse. It was completed in 1674. The rumour abounds that Christopher Wren designed the Main Guard, but no evidence exists to support this claim.

A Versatile and Much-Altered Building

The building's most striking features are its five semi-circular arches and a handsome clock and bell tower. On the west wall can be seen two coats of arms: those of the Borough of Clonmel and those of the Ormond family, both bearing the date 1675. For a number of years the arches were hidden, as Lewis, writing in 1837, recorded: "The ground floor has some years since been converted to shops". Also in the courthouse were private apartments, a dining room and a drawing room. These were used to entertain James II in Clonmel in 1689. The building was also used as a "tholsel", that is, a building where tolls, duties or customs were gathered.

Courthouse and Barracks

After the Ormond palatinate became redundant in 1715 the Clonmel Assize Court was held in the building, and it was there that Fr. Nicholas Sheehy, the anti-Penal agitator, was tried in 1766. When the new courthouse was built in 1810 all trials were moved from the Main Guard and the building became a barracks. In 1820 Pigot's Commercial Dictionary stated that the building "is devoted to the use of the soldiery, possesses a good clock, is known by the name of the Main Guard and stands at the entrance into Main Street." (now O'Connell Street).

In recent years the Main Guard has undergone substantial renovation by the Office of Public Works, who have brought the building back to its original 17th Century design. The Main Guard is open to visitors from March to late October.

Sources - CBC, "Official Guide to Clonmel"; Shee & Watson, "Clonmel: An Architectural Guide"

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