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Architecture and heritage

Clonmel Courthouse, Co. Tipperary

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Clonmel Court Office

Historical and Architectural Information

Clonmel courthouse, built in the late 1790's, was designed by Sir Richard Morrison a member of a well known family of architects. He worked together with his son William to design many country homes and public buildings including Fethard Glebe House and Thomastown Castle. David Beaufort, travelling through the area in 1806, noted that Clonmel courthouse was "allowed to be one of the most convenient and beautiful of the kind and size". Sited on the corner of Nelson Street -Wellington Street. it was originally on the very periphery of the town. However, subsequent progress and rapid expansion have changed all that. The building is now firmly at the centre of activity and is one of the town's more prominent landmarks. Many important judgements have been pronounced within the confines of the courthouse but undoubtedly the most outstanding case dealt with was the trial of the five most prominent personalities of the Young Ireland Movement (1847/48). Thomas Francis Meagher and William Smith O'Brien were tried and deported after the Rising of 1848.

Clonmel courthouse is probably Richard Morrison's first complete major building and was heavily influenced by the work of James Gandon (Gandon's Customs House having been built at that time and the Four Courts being in the course of construction). The plan of the courthouse owes much to Gandon's Waterford courthouse plan, whilst exhibiting many of the features characteristic of Morrison's architecture, one of the most significant being a top-lit stair/hall linked by a corridor to the main entrance hall. The design is quite interesting in so far as it closely resembles the external middle part of Cassel's Leinster House - now Dáil Éireann.

A detached, five-bay, two-storey courthouse, with a central three-bay breakfront comprising an engaged pedimented tetrastyle Ion sandstone portico over a rusticated arcade on the ground floor. The building which dominates this secondary street, has a hipped slate roof with double-pitched sections, square-headed timber sash windows, and sandstone details. It is set behind cast iron railings on an ashlar limestone plinth wall, with two double gates and limestone pillars. There is a benchmark on the south-west corner plinth. The building was extensively refurbished and extended to the rear and the basement cells filled in, c. 1994-7.

Internally the courthouse has a groin-vaulted entrance, a hall with niches and arched recesses, a corridor with circular top-lights, two elliptical staircases, an original panelled and galleried double-height district courtroom with column-framed recess and coved ceiling, a panelled and galleried double-height coved Circuit courtroom, not original, and a top-lit stair hall at the rear.

The entrance hall extends across almost the full width of the building and the courtrooms open directly off the entrance hall and are separated by a spacious corridor. The courtrooms are two storey chambers with deep coved ceilings pierced by high clerestrorey windows. Both courtrooms have been much altered over time, the circuit court was extensively remodelled in the late nineteenth century and the arrangement of galleries and seating date from that period. The district court to which a public gallery was added retains much of its original galleries although altered somewhat.

The original judge's throne with Corinthian columns framing the recess for the judge's seat remains intact. From the entrance hall, staircases diverge to the left and right leading to a spacious 'ballroom' and side chambers. On the first floor is a corridor with two lantern-lit circular spaces with glazed floors, a former ballroom with a limestone fireplace, and a former grand jury room with elaborate coving decoration. The sheriff's office at first floor level to the rear is a lofty and spacious room with a coved ceiling and repeat frieze, with crowned harps, lions and unicorns. An unusual feature of the courthouse is the first floor corridor linking the 'ballroom' with the sheriff's room, this is an insertion over the ground floor corridor, which was originally a single storey space, thus allowing daylight overhead to the clerestorey windows of the courtrooms.

Renovation and refurbishment works.

Due to the decline in the overall condition of the courthouse and having regard to its historical and architectural importance, a decision was taken, by Tipperary South Riding County Council, in the 1980's that major refurbishment works should be carried out. The works related principally to the preservation and renovation of the exterior of the building and interior improvements to the courtrooms, staff accommodation and ancillary facilities.

The refurbished building has three courtrooms and includes provision for high court and family court sittings, in addition to the circuit court and district court. Judges, court staff and members of the legal profession have been provided with improved facilities. Space has also been provided for interview rooms and other requirements associated with the courts. The design team, main contractor and all associated with the project were very attentive to all detailing of the building with much emphasis being placed on the preservation of its character, while adapting it to meet the requirements of a modern court system.