Thurles is a market town in County Tipperary, Ireland, with a population in 2016 of 7940. In Irish it's Durlas Éile, "strong fort of the Éile", a tribe or small kingdom that reached its zenith in the 5th Century AD. No stronghold remains, and the main reason to visit is Holy Cross Abbey 6 km southwest.
By the 19th century, people had more leisure time, disposable income and transport. Various ball games were played, but the rules were haphazard (could you pick up the ball, or not? Grab your opponent by the throat, or not?) and some games were little better than mass brawls between entire villages. Soccer and rugby then became codified and developed sporting structures, but Gaelic football and hurling were slow off the mark - they remained strong in Tipperary and Limerick but were losing support elsewhere. Only in 1887 was the Gaelic Athletic Association founded, at Hayes Hotel in Thurles.
From the outset the GAA wrapped itself in the Irish flag, making out that rival games were unpatriotic, the "garrison games" of the British oppressor. That was a cockamamie version of history: English gentry had long supported Gaelic games, because watching their Irish tenantry knock lumps out of each other was something they could enjoy all day, while placing wagers on the outcome. GAA Rule 27 banned members from taking part in or watching non-Gaelic games: in 1938 they even expelled the President of Ireland for watching an Ireland v Poland soccer match. But as usual the British had exacerbated the hostility. On "Bloody Sunday" in 1920 a police and Black and Tan paramilitary force came to Croke Park in Dublin at the start of a Gaelic football match and began shooting into the crowd: 14 were killed and 60-70 injured. Not until 2001 did GAA abolish Rule 21, which banned members of the British forces, and Rule 42 still stands: that GAA grounds may not be used for competing sports. (A waiver allowed Ireland to play a rugby international at Croke Park in 2007.) Where the GAA has succeeded, beyond the dreams of rugby's Corinthian contingent, is in keeping the game amateur and local. Even the "big names" of the sport are hardly known beyond Ireland, and you are never going to walk down a street in Istanbul or Kuala Lumpur and see the young men all got up in Corofin GAC jerseys.
Trains run every couple of hours from Dublin Heuston via Kildare, Portlaoise, Ballybrophy and Templemore, taking 75 min to Thurles. They continue south via Limerick Junction (for Tipperary, and change for Limerick), Mallow and Cork. 1 Thurles railway station is 500 m west of town centre.
Long-distances buses scoot past on the motorway and don't stop in Thurles. The X8 from Dublin to Cork stops in Cashel 22 km south, but with few onward buses to Thurles.
Local Link Bus 391 ambles through the lanes from Limerick three times a day, via Castletroy (for the University), Newport, Kilcommon Cross and Ballycahill.
Kavanagh Bus 393 / 396 runs three times M-Sa from Clonmel via Fethard, Ballinulty and Gortnahoo to Thurles.
Bus 394 runs twice M-Sa from Clonmel via Cashel and Holycross (for the abbey) to Thurles.
Bus 397 runs once M-Sa from Nenagh around 11:00, taking an hour to Thurles and setting off back around 16:00.
Bus 812 runs twice M-Sa between Roscrea, Templemore, Thurles and Urlingford.
M8 passes 5 km east of town, so Dublin and Cork are both within a 90 min drive, and Limerick is less than an hour.
The town is compact but you need wheels to reach Holycross and other outlying places.
- Liberty Square is the centre of town, with well-preserved 19th century low-rise buidings. Pity about the traffic.
- 1 Lár na Páirce Museum (Tipperary GAA Museum), Slievenamon Road, ☏ , ✉ firstname.lastname@example.org. M-Sa 10:00-17:30. Lár na Páirce is a museum of memorabilia relating to the GAA and Gaelic Games; but it's chiefly a merchandising outlet for club colours. Adult €5, child €3, conc €4.
- 2 Cathedral of the Assumption, Thurles Townparks. The original RC cathedral of the diocese was on the Rock of Cashel, but that was grabbed by the Protestants at the Reformation. As elsewhere, the Catholics weren't allowed to build their own churches until the Penal Laws were relaxed. This Italianate Romanesque cathedral was built over earlier chapels and completed in 1879, with an impressive rose window and baptistry, and white marble altar. The high-domed tabernacle is by Giacomo della Porta, a pupil of Michelangelo; it came from the Gesu Church in Rome. The cathedral's eight bells can be dinged by hammer but not change-rung, for fear of bringing the campanile crashing down. Free.
- 3 St Mary's, St Mary's Avenue. Su year-round 13:30-17:30, plus Jun-Aug M-Sa 10:00-17:00. St Mary's is a "First Fruits" church built in 1825 over a Norman ruin - see County Tipperary for more on this initiative to build more Protestant churches in Ireland. It remains in use as a C of I church and its ground floor also has a small museum about the Great Famine. A "Sheila na Gig" from elsewhere in town is also here. Adult €2.50.
- 4 Famine Warhouse 1848, Farranrory Upper (12 km east of Thurles), ☏ . Apr-Sept W-Su 14:30-17:30, Oct-Mar Sa Su 14:00-16:00. 1848 saw rebellions all across Europe, and in the aftermath of the Great Famine, the Young Irelander Rebellion was staged here. A contingent of 47 police approached the flag-waving rebels, but found themselves outnumbered and bolted into this farmhouse, within which were five children. A stand-off turned into a shoot-out, "The Battle of Widow McCormack's cabbage plot". Two rebels were fatally shot but the police were safely ensconced, and when their reinforcements came, the rebels fled. Several were convicted and transported to Bermuda; others escaped to France or the US. Free.
- 5 Farney Castle, Lisnasella (Turn south off R503 at Ballycahill), ☏ . M-Sa 10:00-17:30. The round tower was built in 1495, the rest is a modern mock-castle mansion. Much of the place is now artisan shops selling their own porcelain and knitwear. Castle tours are available.
- 6 Holy Cross Abbey, Holycross (6 km southwest of Thurles). Impressive abbey founded for the Benedictines in 1168 but affiliated to the Cistercians from 1182 and extended 1400-1450. Much of what you see now is a 20th C reconstruction of the abbey church, which in 1975 became the RC parish church. It's long been a pilgrimage site of symbolic importance for religious and national identity in Ireland, as it claims to hold fragments of the "True Cross." The first was probably bestowed by the King of Limerick at the 1182 Cistercian launch - his family had received it from Pope Pascal II. (Other accounts credit Queen Isabella, widow of King John, in 1233, but by then she was out of favour and busted to being a mere Countess.) In the 15th C the fragment was set in the silver Ormond Reliquary. The abbey was ruined at the Reformation but the relic remained, and continued to draw pilgrims; it was a money-spinner for the village. At the 1975 re-opening, the Vatican provided a second fragment, set in a golden Cross of Jerusalem. This was stolen in 2011 but the police recovered it; perhaps it was too recognisable to be sold, and no arrests were made. The abbey is in a picturesque village with a medieval river bridge. Free.
- 7 Loughmore is a scenic village 10 km north of Thurles. It's more correctly "Loughmoe" or Luach Maigh. The main sight is the ruined castle, a 13th C tower house, seat of the Purcells. In the village graveyard is a mausoleum to the Cormack brothers, publicly hanged in 1858 for the murder of a cruel land agent; they protested their innocence to the last. In 1910 their bodies were exhumed from Nenagh jail and brought in grand procession to be reburied here.
- The Leisure Centre on Cathedral St has pool, gym and fitness classes.
- The Source Arts Centre on Cathedral St has music, comedy, shows and art exhibitions. It's open Tu-F 10:00-17:00, Sa 14:00-17:00.
- Angling for trout and salmon along the River Suir.
- Horse riding can be arranged at several stables. The nearest is Tipperary Equestrian Centre on Mill Rd 1 km southeast of town.
- 1 Semple Stadium hosts games of Hurling and Gaelic Football for Tipperary GAA and for Munster, and has hosted music events. With a capacity of 45,690, as a GAA venue it's second in size only to Croke Park in Dublin.
- 2 Thurles Racecourse, Thurles (1.5 km west of town). This track has National Hunt (jumps) races Nov-March. It's an oval right-handed 2 km circuit with 6 flights of hurdles and 7 steeplechase fences then a steep uphill finish; and races make two circuits. On race days there's a free minibus shuttle from the railway station. Adult €15, conc €8.
- 3 Thurles Greyhound Stadium, ☏ . Racing every Saturday, 20:00-22:30. Adult €5.
- 4 Thurles Golf Club, Turtulla Bridge, ☏ . Blue tees 6663 yards, par 72. 18 holes €30.
- 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.
- Féile Music Festival, which ran 1990-97 as "The Trip to Tipp", was revived in Sept 2019. There are no plans to stage it in 2020 and its prospects for 2021 are unknown.
- The shopping centre is on the main road 500 m south of Liberty Square.
- Lidl is just west of the railway, open M-Sa 08:00-22:00, Su 09:00-21:00.
- The Farmers Market is Saturday 09:30-13:00 outside the greyhound track.
There's a slew of cheap eating places in Liberty Square and adjoining streets. No jokes please about horsemeat from inept runners at the races, they've heard them all before.
- The withering of the traditional pub scene has culled many in Thurles, but there's plenty left. Around the centre are The County, Q11 Bar, Skehan's, Millea's, Arch Bar, Brennan's, Coppingers, Denis Corbett and Noel Ryan's.
- West of centre find Tom Dunne's, Bowes and Mackey's; south are Larry's and Glasheens. It might be a very quiet pint in some of these.
- A little string east of the river has De Búrca’s, Hickey's, The Coachyard, Monks (aka O'Gorman's) and Kennedy's.
- Thurles doesn't have a brewery or distillery.
- Hayes Hotel, Liberty Square, ☏ . In Nov 1884 the GAA was founded in this town-centre hotel. Under new owners in 2020, it's a modern comfy mid-range place. B&B double €110.
- 1 Anner Hotel, Dublin Rd E41 X789, ☏ . Friendly well-run mid-range hotel with a pool and fitness centre. B&B double €120.
- 2 Inch House, Nenagh Rd, Inch (10 km west of town), ☏ . Upscale 18th country manor with six bedrooms, sleeps 19. From 2018 it no longer operates as a hotel and restaurant: it's for events such as weddings and family dos, self-catered or they can bring in event catering.
As of Dec 2020, Thurles has 5G with Eir and 4G with Three, but no signal with Vodafone.
- Cashel to the south is a must-see for the Rock and nearby religious sites.
- Waterford has a rich Viking, medieval and Georgian heritage on display in its museums.
- Cork is a great destination for its range of sights and amenities.