The Two Tipperarys, Donal A. Murphy (Relay Publications, Nenagh, £25)

Published in 18th–19th - Century History, Issue 4 (Winter 1995), Reviews, Volume 3

The existence of two administrative counties with all the appropriate apparatus of local government within the geographical county of Tipperary has always raised the question as to how this arrangement came about. There are bigger, more populous counties in Ireland: scale and internal geographical features in counties like Donegal, Cork and Galway, for example, create more unwieldy and contrived constructs than Tipperary. Murphy has provided the answer and much more besides in this rather intriguing book. In the 1830s a strong, focused lobby of north Tipperary political, well connected families made an issue of the inconvenience for them and their tenants in travelling on county business to Clonmel. With the Grand Jury (consolidation) Act of 1836, which gave the lord lieutenant power to create new counties, facilitating their campaign they secured the status of county for north county Tipperary and gained considerable commercial advantage for the newly selected county town of Nenagh.
Clonmel on the southern extremity of the county was a most inappropriate central place but since 1358 it had been firmly located as the site for the ‘court of the liberty’. Its status was apparently guaranteed by legislation in 1715 which decreed that Tipperary was to remain ‘one county forever’. A coterie of strong landlords, its strategic trading position on the Suir and the general principle of geographical inertia made it unlikely that its status would ever be diminished. This may explain the rather subdued response of Clonmel when the campaign for north Tipperary began in earnest in the late 1830s. John Bloomfield and the Prittie family, particularly the second Baron Dunalley, were the leading men promoting Nenagh. Once Dr Thomas Lefroy, the member for Dublin University, had brought forward the necessary legislation and when it appeared certain that the division of the old shire was imminent, Thurles entered the fray to claim the status of county town. A committee of the privy council adjudicated competing claims and declared in favour of Nenagh.
The best section of the book details the implications of this decision for the morphology and commercial life of the author’s home town. Law and order guaranteed assizes business. The building of two impressive public buildings—the gaol and courthouse—gave new focal points to urban streets and no little employment. A new newspaper, the Nenagh Guardian, was founded: the participation rate in local politics of landed gentry and middle elements, hitherto reluctant to travel to Clonmel, dramatically improved. Nenagh had town commissioner status long before its north Tipperary rivals of Templemore and Thurles and, significantly, eleven of the twenty town commissioners were Catholics.
Murphy uses the career path of O’Brien Dillon to exemplify the emerging Catholic ‘district liberators’. Dillon participated in the politics of the Catholic Association, the Liberal Club and repeal. He was a Poor Law Guardian, urban developer, town commissioner, witness to the Devon Commission and most intriguing of all, an emigrant to New York at the age of sixty-four. Michael Doheny of Cashel, the Young Irelander, would have provided an interesting parallel, albeit in a more national context. The book succeeds when it focuses on the specific area of county administration and indeed the development of representative local politics in the nineteenth century deserves greater attention.

Willie Nolan


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