The Building Restoration
By the 1980s, the Tholsel together with much of the medieval built fabric of Fethard was falling into terminal disrepair and towards the end of that decade discussions began around a restoration project. This became the enormous plan to restore the battlements of the entire Town Wall circuit of over a kilometre. The group ‘Friends of Fethard’ spearheaded the works with the support of the Heritage Council of Ireland. John Magnier famously donated his senatorial salary to the project. Lord Killanin leant his prestige and expertise. Against all expectations, the Friends of Fethard succeeded in restoring about a third of the wall – along the picturesque river frontage and including a rebuild of the entire upper section of the Mural Tower. The celebrated architect, David Newman Johnson, oversaw. The Friends of Fethard’s plans to restore both Edmond’s Castle and Templars’ Castle ran into the problem of funding constraints and so work stopped.
At the same time, The Heritage Council published Tadgh O’Keeffe’s Archaeological and Historical Survey of Fethard – which was the first detailed gazetteer of the architectural treasures the town contained.
After a lull during the 1990s, O’Keeffe, now a lecturer at Trinity College Dublin, published his Royal Irish Academy Historic Towns Atlas (No. 13), devoted to Fethard. It was a huge coup for Fethard to find itself featured amongst a select portfolio of towns like Kilkenny (No. 10), Dublin (No.11) and Belfast (No.12).
In 2003 South Tipperary County Council commissioned The Dublin Civic Trust to carry out a detailed analysis of The Tholsel with a view to securing its future. In 2007, The Heritage Council came back on board with a Public Realm Plan for Fethard (with the Paul Hogarth Company) in tandem with Oxford Archaeology’s Fethard Historic Town Walls Conservation & Management Plan.
The Tholsel’s importance was acknowledged in all these important documents. KPMG were commissioned by the Heritage Council to undertake detailed feasibility studies for three historic buildings whose potential was unfulfilled. These were: The Tholsel, Fethard, The Clock Tower Youghal, and St. Lawrence’s Gate Drogheda. The potential was clear.
At the suggestion of South Tipperary County Council, the Fethard Business and Tourism Group came together under the auspices of the Community Council, to make all of this a reality. Architect Michael O’Boyle undertook a conservation analysis of the Tholsel with a view to its development as a tourism venue. It was Michael who first posited that the building had once been adorned with eight gables – a contention that was thrillingly confirmed during the building works. Principal Architect Grainne Shaffrey put the plans through with great skill, and Architect Ken Hennessy with Pat Tallis Builders painstakingly and immaculately restored the Tholsel. Kilkenny Archaeology supervised the digging and wrote up the finds.
With the indispensable support of Coolmore, Event Communications – an incredible team – brought the interactive experience to life so that the Tholsel (and Fethard) are now part of Failte Ireland’s brand new initiative ‘Ireland’s Ancient East.’ The Tholsel has finally put Fethard on the tourist map after a long but determined journey from abstract analysis to physical reality.
Tipperary County Council, South Tipperary Development Company, Ireland’s Ancient East, Coolmore, Andrew Lloyd Webber Foundation, private donors and the local community were all essential supporters of the Fethard Horse Country Experience to get it to where it is today.