Nenagh is a market town in County Tipperary, Ireland: in Irish it's Aonach Urmhumhan, the market Fair of Ormond. Tipperary was from 1838 divided into a north and south riding, but this was abolished in 2014, so Nenagh became the county town jointly with Clonmel and had a population in 2016 of 8968. It was a seat of the Norman rulers of Ireland, acquiring a castle and an abbey which are worth seeing. Another reason to visit is to reach the eastern shores of Lough Derg.
In the long-ago, the ancestors of the Gaels helped build the Tower of Babel, and fashioned the Gaelic language in the chaos that followed. They left Egypt about the same time as the Israelites, settling awhile in Scythia, then wandered in the wilderness to Spain, which they conquered. They built a tower in Corunna so tall, almost as tall as this tale, that from it they glimpsed Ireland. Now called Milesians (Latin Miles Hispaniae, Soldier of Spain) they set off to claim the new land, which was inhabited by pagan gods. Many battles, reversals, betrayals and casting of spells later, a deal was struck: the pagan gods would rule the underworld, to which they departed via the many burial mounds. The Milesians got to rule the land above, called, mmm, here's a dilemma. At Nenagh they had met three goddesses called Banba, Fódla and Ériu, who each extracted a promise that the country would bear their name. Ériu it was who gave her name to Ireland, but Banba and Fódla seem to have been alright with this, as they were a trinity of the same deity.
These legends were invented by 11th century monks to give Ireland a back-story rooted in the Bible Old Testament. For centuries they were swallowed as having a factual basis - including by English overlords who found interpretations legitimising their own rule. The first Anglo-Norman rulers under Henry II were styled not lord, not governor, but Chief Butler of Ireland. This hereditary officer was so named because at royal coronations he presented the new monarch with his first cup of wine. The Butler dynasty initially had their main residence at Nenagh, building up the castle and abbey, until relocating to Kilkenny in the 14th C.
The medieval town was a peaceful, prosperous backwater, until being caught up in more than a century of destructive turmoil from 1550 through into the Civil Wars and Williamite Wars. It languished until the 18th C when agricultural reform and industry arrived and the Butlers sold their lands in the area. In 1838 Tipperary was divided into a north and south riding, with Nenagh as county town of the north, so it developed civic structures such as the courthouse and county jail. And Banba was belatedly placated by having Nenagh's main square named after her.
Bus 395 / 397 very occasionally runs to Nenagh from Templemore and Thurles, which is on the main railway line from Dublin Heuston to Cork.
There's a branch railway line from Limerick via Nenagh to Ballybrophy and Thurles. The axe has long hovered over this route: it's not been officially discontinued, but in 2020 no passenger trains run on this line.
By road follow M7 from Dublin towards Limerick.
The town can be explored on foot, including Tyone. You need wheels to visit the lakeshore at Dromineer or Garrykennedy, or to get into the hills behind Silvermines.
- 1 Nenagh Castle, O'Rahilly Street, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. Apr-Oct Tu-Sa 10:00-13:00, 14:00-16:30, Nov-Mar Tu-Sa 14:00-15:00. An early 13th century castle, with a massive 30 m chess piece of a circular Donjon or Keep. It was battled over several times but never smashed, so the lower two-thirds are a fine Norman survival. The top third is a tale of "bishop takes castle, check!" - in 1861 Bishop Flannery added the top level of clerestory windows and crenellations. He intended it to become the bell tower of a grand RC Puginesque cathedral, but the economic slump of the US Civil War put a check on that, and then Ennis Cathedral was developed instead. You can climb the castle's interior 101 spiral stairs to the top, but they're steep and narrow. Free.
- St Mary's of the Rosary 100 m north of the castle is a neo-gothic RC church built in 1895 using mainly local Lahorna stone and Portroe slate.
- St Mary's Church adjacent is Church of Ireland, also neo-gothic but a much smaller and simpler affair built in 1862. Neither church is "oriented": they face southeast parallel to Church Street.
- Banba Square is the town's civic centre. The most prominent building is the 19th century County Courthouse in Doric style, with a slender bronze statue of Justice on the pediment. Her portly predecessor had to be ousted when her weight cracked the stonework.
- Nenagh Heritage Centre, Banba Square (200 m NW of castle), ☏ . Tu-F 10:00-16:00. Museum and genealogical centre in the former county jail. The octagonal building was the governor's house, and one cell block also survives. Free.
- 2 Franciscan Friary or Abbey was founded early 13th century. The Annals of Nenagh were written here 1336 to 1528 - they're biographies of local worthies. In spite of burning, smashing-up and the Reformation, a Franciscan community survived here into the 18th C; and even after that, they clung on as parish clergy. Only in 1817 did the last Franciscan priest die. The building is unusually long and thin, with no division into nave and chancel. It's "oriented" ie facing east, with an impressive east gable window, but since there's only one south-facing window the interior would have been gloomy most of the day. The ruin is still in use as a graveyard which you can visit any time, free.
- 3 Tyone Priory 1 km southeast of town is a scrappy ruin of similar date to the Friary. It was an Augustinian hospital and priory dedicated to St John the Baptist. It fell into ruin after the Dissolution in 1551, but a graveyard was established in what was probably a cloister. In 1992 a community group decided that the graveyard needed a bit of cleaning up. They used a JCB.
- 4 Dromineer is a village 10 km northwest of Nenagh on the shores of Lough Derg, a large freshwater lake on the River Shannon. It has the teetering stump of a 13th C tower house, a 10th C ruined church, accommodation and a pub that does meals. It's a popular base for boating and similar activities on the lough. Too popular, almost: they've had to install a lifeboat, which in 2013 rescued 33 people. Dromineer is the northern end of the 68 km Lough Derg Way, which follows the Shannon from Limerick. There's also a walking route from Nenagh, see Do.
- 5 Garykennedy is another little harbour on the lough. There's a ruined 15th C tower house and a 19th C church.
- 6 Silvermines 8 km south of Nenagh had mines active from the 14th century to 1984, so there are many spoil heaps. It was mostly lead they mined, but there was indeed silver. The main reason to visit is to hike up Keeper Hill, which rears up to 694 m behind the village, and the other hills of the Silvermines range. The terrain is heath and bog, with unusual species that can tolerate the soil's high lead content.
- Look up your ancestors at the genealogy centre within the Heritage Centre, hours as above.
- The Leisure Centre is on Dublin Rd 500 m east of town centre. It has a gym, pool and fitness classes, and is open M-F 07:00-22:00, Sa 09:00-20:00, Su 10:00-18:00.
- Omniplex Cinema is on Summerhill, corner with Church Road.
- Sli Eala (Swan Way) is a walking trail along the Nenagh River to Lough Derg. The first section out of Nenagh is on ratty roads, it's better to pick up the trail at Ballycommon 5 km north. From there follow the back lanes to Ballyartella, which has scenic old watermills (still operational), bridge and tower house. Follow the river downstream to Annabeg then into Dromineer. The trail is named for the mute swans on the river.
- The Devil's Bit is a peak of 478 m (1570 ft) west of Templemore, and roughly equidistant from Roscrea, Thurles and Nenagh. It's usually climbed on its south side from the car park on R501. The legend goes that the devil took a bite out of it, broke his teeth, and spat out the lump which landed as the Rock of Cashel. The tower near the summit is a 19th century Folly. The large cross on the summit was erected in 1953/54.
- Farmers Market is every Saturday 10:00-14:00 along Kenyon St.
- Aldi supermarket is on the business park 500 m west of the centre. It's open M-F 09:00-22:00, Sa Su 09:00-21:00.
- Cafe Q, 63 Pearse St E45 PO34. M-Sa 08:45-19:00, Su 10:30-18:00. Coffee, light bites and cake.
- Turban on Kickham St is reliable Indian food, open daily 16:30-23:00.
- Hibernian Inn at 54 Pearse St dishes up solid filling food. It's open daily 09:30-23:00.
- Andy's Gastropub, 23 Sarsfield St, ☏ . M-F 07:30-23:30, Sa Su 07:30-00:30. Pub with good bar food, also has rooms for B&B.
- The Peppermill, Kenyon St, ☏ . Tu-F 17:00-21:30, Sa 16:00-22:00, Su 12:00-18:30. This is the only fine dining within town: Irish cuisine with a creative zing.
- Town centre pubs are Figgerty's, Una Powell's, and D Pallas Bar all on Summerhill; Lily's, The Well, and Silvermines a couple of blocks south; then The Talbot, Maximus, Louie's and Kenyon Bar towards the railway station.
- 1 Abbey Court Hotel (Great National), Dublin Rd E45 KA99, ☏ . Reliable mid-range place with pool and fitness centre. B&B double €95.
- Clare Street House is a B&B actually on the corner of Upper Sarsfield St and William St, tel +353 67 43627.
- Williamsferry House, William St, ☏ . 4-star quality approved accommodation. 3-min walk to centre of Nenagh. Private car park. Free wifi. Complimentary refreshments on arrival. Single from €45, double from €70 with breakfast..
- 2 Ashley Park House, Burrisokane Road E45 RW32 (Off N52 five miles north of town), ☏ . Upscale B&B in an 18th century country house, in extensive woodland and formal gardens. Often hosts weddings. No availability in 2020.
Nenagh has a good mobile and 4G signal from all Irish carriers. As of July 2020, 5G has not reached this area.