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  • The Otherworld
    The Otherworld
  • Lady Kennaway departing
    Lady Kennaway departing
  • The Famine and Emigration
    The Famine and Emigration

“Superstitious practices tend to be carried out in secret and to be resorted to only when more rational methods have been tried and found wanting.”

E. Estyn Evans Irish Folkways (1957)

“Is gnách go ndéantar cleachtais phiseogacha faoi cheilt agus ní théitear ina muinín ach amháin nuair a bhaintear triail as modhanna eile níos ciallmhaire ach nach mbíonn aon mhaitheas iontu.”

E. Estyn Evans Irish Folkways (1957)

Murder exerts a fascination over us, particularly murdermystery. In this area you can learn about some of the most intriguing cases to be found anywhere, and they all had their roots here in Tipperary!

Bíonn an-spéis go deo againn i ndúnmharú, go háirithe an mistéir a bhaineann le dúnmharú. Sa limistéar seo gheobhaidh tú amach faoi roinnt de na cásanna móra a d’fhéadfadh tarlú áit ar bith, agus bhí a mbunús acu ar fad anseo i dTiobraid Árann!

Tipperary’s religious story is full of characters, heroes and victims. Here are just a few – more to be found all around you!

Tá scéal reiligiúnach Thiobraid Árann lán le carachtair, laochra agus íospartaigh. Níl anseo ach cúpla ceann - tá neart eile le feiceáil timpeall ort!

“Another ship-load of female immigrants from Ireland has reached our shores….everybody is crying out against the monstrous infliction, and the palpable waste of the immigration fund furnished by the colonists in bringing out these worthless characters…”

The Argus newspaper, Melbourne, 4 April 1850.

“Tá lán loinge eile d’imircigh ban as Éirinn tagtha i dtír againn... tá gach duine ag gearán faoin damáiste ollmhór, agus an cur amú atá á dhéanamh ar an gciste imirce a thug na coilínigh uathu chun na daoine seo a thabhairt amach, nach fiú faic iad”

Nuachtán The Argus, Melbourne, 4 Aibreán 1850.

“The Judgement of God sent the calamity to teach the Irish a lesson, that calamity must not be too much mitigated.”

Charles E. Trevelyan (1807-1886)

“’Le breithiúnas Dé seoladh an anachain chun ceacht a mhúineadh do na hÉireannaigh, níor chóir an anachain sin a mhaolú an iomarca.”

Charles E. Trevelyan (1807-1886)

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Famine and MigrationThe Otherworld


The Otherworld is never far away in Tipperary. The passage tomb on top of Slievenamon has been regarded as a portal to the Otherworld for thousands of years. Holy Wells are still visited today just as they have been since pagan times.

To see a ghost is unusual but not unheard of - some people say this Museum is haunted by the way, so keep an eye out! A thorn-tree standing alone in a field is still described as a fairy-thorn and the ringforts of 1,500 years past are still fairy-forts…. It was these same fairies who lay behind one of the most bizarre killings in Tipperary’s history. In 1895, a local man Michael Cleary became obsessed with the idea that his wife Bridget was a ‘changeling’, a supernatural abomination left by the fairies after they had stolen his real wife. Bridget and Michael were a handsome young couple, living in Ballyvadlea near Fethard. When Bridget became sick, Michael lost faith with conventional medicine and turned to traditional cures instead to drive out the changeling. A ghastly ritual followed over two days, attended by neighbours and family, including Bridget’s own father. Bridget was tortured with a hot poker and roasted over the hearth. Eventually, Michael threw lamp oil over her and as she blazed up he shouted ‘It is not Bridget I a burning. You’ll soon see her go up in the chimney’. Bridget’s body was buried in a dyke and then Michael headed to the fairy fort with his neighbours to rescue his ‘real’ wife.

“Superstitious practices tend to be carried out in secret and to be
resorted to only when more rational methods have been tried and
found wanting.”
E. Estyn Evans Irish Folkways (1957)


Hidden in a compartment in Tipperary Museum’s new ‘Death and Faith’ section is not something you would expect to see - portions of a Horses skull and teeth! This may seem strange but the back story of this object is rather interesting.

To give this more context, let’s go back to the summer of 1993 and to the village of Drangan here in Tipperary. Renovation work was being carried out on the ‘old school’ building as it was called locally. This building started its life as a church when it was first built in 1806.

Some 47 years later in 1853 the current Catholic Church of the Immaculate Conception, was built.  The older, 1806 church building was then used as a boy’s school right up until 1967 when a new premises was built to house the school. The original 1806 church building subsequently fell into disrepair which brings us back to the renovation work. It was at this time that those working on the renovations of the old church had unearthed some bones in the foundation of the building.

This horse skull was found in a few sections, mandible or lower jaw missing and teeth were dislodged.  There was no evidence of the rest of the skeleton which indicates that the skull was buried on its own. That in itself raises a lot of questions… why would you do this? What does it signify?? It was clearly no accident…

In actual fact, the burial of horse skulls dates back to the Iron Age and seems to have been a common practice right up until the 19th century, not just in Ireland but in the UK and Europe. In archaeological terms it is known as a foundation deposit or a domestic ritual depending what source you read. The word ‘Ritual’ brings up some intense connotations, but it’s much more common place than you would think. We also have ritualistic aspects in modern Irish culture. For example some people still place a piece of cloth outside their home on the eve of St. Bridget’s day. The idea being that St. Bridget will bless it during the night and it can be used to heal the sick and bless the home. This would be classed as a domestic ritual. In general terms, ‘Domestic Ritual’ means how religious and domestic life were intertwined, how the sacred and domestic function overlaps. How their religious practices links in with their everyday life.

 The practice of depositing horse skulls in the foundation of a home or other buildings began in Prehistory. But it wasn’t just horse skulls that were deposited, other items such as axe heads, pottery, arrow heads and even some human remains have been found in some sites in Europe and further afield. At different periods in time the practice and the meaning of ‘Domestic Rituals’ has changed from culture to culture. But one thing that is constant is the use of domestic animals, particularly the horse.

But the real questions is why they did this. Taking the evidence above, coupled with the absence of written sources from this time period, the reasons why they did such things is purely speculation. To truly understand the ritualistic reasoning’s of these people, their religious beliefs must be taken into account, but unfortunately as the beginning of this phenomenon is prehistoric, people had no written sources. Therefore other theories have been formed based on what has been found. One is that they brought good luck to the building and those who inhabited it and protected them from supernatural threats

 Looking at the more modern examples of this there is evidence to suggest that the burial of horse skulls had a significant purpose. These people believed that the placing of a horse skull in the foundation of a building would promote the acoustics of that building. So being a church you can see where they were going with this. There are also sources which say the placing of a horse skull was to ward off evil. Ireland has always been a very superstitious country and we seem to hold on to these beliefs in one way or another, which in our case today is quite fortunate for our understanding of such practices.

In 1938 the Irish folklore commission conducted a survey in Ireland asking about local traditions involving the burial of horse skulls. The results showed that almost every area of the country, people reported knowing about this phenomenon and 99% of the individuals who said they were aware of the practice said it was relating to the acoustics of the building.

Interestingly a folklorist called Sean O’ Suilleabhian, in 1945 published a reaction to this survey and his opinion was that the acoustic reasoning for the burial of horse skulls was only a secondary factor. He wrote that the original ritual reasons had been forgotten over the years and lost to history.

Other academics have since said that they don’t agree with O’Suilleabhian as evidence in Sweden relating to horse skull deposits said that they were frequently buried alongside acoustic pots in thrashing barns. Therefore is possible that acoustics were the primary function of this modern phenomenon. But it’s important to realise that we don’t need to separate the ritual from the practical reasons, one could easily evolve from the other in some way or another.

Another element of this story is the use of the horse in particular. The horse as an animal was highly respected in ancient Ireland. They were a prized possession and a status symbol. This is really no surprise as the impact the animal had on various areas of daily life justifies it. The horse was not only used for daily farming and travel, but also for battle and survival.

There are many references to horses in Irish and other Celtic mythology and art. For example the Ulster cycle mentions the story of the Táin Bó Cúailnge. This is predominantly about a bull but in this story there are a number of sections relating to chariot warfare, and it emphasizes the importance of the horse. The two horses mentioned by name in the story were said to have risen from a lake and were trained by Cú Chulainn himself for battle. An interesting aspect also relates to the cliffs of Moher where the story goes that the Tuatha de Danann leapt from the cliffs and turned into horses. So the horse has a mythological importance as well as importance in daily life.

This discovery in Drangan also raises another, final question. Was the horse killed for this purpose? In this particular instance, it is quite hard to say. The section of the skull which attaches to the neck there are some marks which could well be butcher marks, skinning marks or even marks left from the excavation process. From looking at the teeth the horse it is quite mature in age and it is hard to ascertain whether the horse died of old age or was killed for this purpose. It is likely that its burial is so modern in age it probably died of old age and was then used.

Looking at this question from an Iron Age point of view, if the horse was so important, would they just kill it for their religious rituals? But we have to remember that this practice began during the same era as the Irish bog bodies date to. From studies carried out on the bog bodies it is clear that these individuals were not of a low standing in society, they were high status individuals. No signs of hard work and well fed, and some are of the opinion they may have been kings. So if they purposefully sacrificed their kings, it is unlikely that the horse would be spared -particularly as that animal was important to them in many ways.

What makes Ireland so interesting, is that even though we are a predominantly Catholic country, we didn’t become so overnight. Over time we have managed to meld our pagan beliefs with our Catholic traditions and unknowingly carried on the traditions of ancient Ireland. Unfortunately some of those traditions are slowly dying out and like the domestic rituals mentioned above, will be lost to history unless we can record and preserve them.

The Bronze Age in Ireland dates from approx 2500BC to 500BC. The early part of the Bronze Age saw the introduction of new techniques in metal working. Axes and daggers were the most common weapons. This metal working did not totally replace the use of stone but gradually its use increased.

It is during the Bronze age we see the production of some of the finest examples of gold working in Europe emerge from Ireland including lunale, torcs and bracelets. Many of these iconic objects are on display in the National Museum of Ireland in Kildare Street today.

Late bronze age people were farmers and many sites from this period exist in the archaeological record today. The practice of depositing hoards especially in bogs is also common in this era.

Knowledge of how to make bronze, an alloy of copper and tin came to Ireland from Europe. Mines mostly in Kerry provided the copper and the tin was imported from Britain. Although some copper sources have been identified near Rear Cross- Holyford in Tipperary.

The process of extracting copper from the rock involved a technique called fire setting. A fire was lit underneath the rock containing the copper ore. Once it was heated water was used to cool it quickly. The fractured rock was then broken into smaller fragments with a stone hammer called a maul. The smaller pieces of rock containing the ore where then layered with charcoal and burnt to extract the copper- a process called smelting. The extracted copper cooled and formed into a lump called an ingot. It was this ingot that was then mixed with tin to form bronze objects. In the early part of the bronze age clay and stone moulds were used to shape objects. However as the technology developed there was a move away from flat tools and weapons to more 3D socketed objects.

The burials from the bronze age lack the prestige of the earlier megalithic monuments from the Stone age. Instead the most common burial type of the period is known as a cist. Cists are box like structures made of stone slabs set in the ground. Frequently the floor of the cist would have also been lined with a slab and the top covered over either with one or more large flat stones once the burial had been inserted.
The soil excavated to make the grave was used to back fill once the burial was complete.

Most burials from the period are rectangular in shape 80cm long x 50cm wide x 50cm deep. The small size of the cist meant that unburnt bodies were placed on their side, knees drawn up to the chin, sometimes tied into position and literally rammed into the grave in order to fit. However cremation is more common in cist burials. It is usually only a single burial found in the cist. However variations do occur sometimes. A single pot, usually a food vessel is sometimes found placed near the head.

The discovery of these cist burials is usually made through chance finds such as ploughing, quarrying or agriculture. One such find in Tipperary was at Moneynahoola, Lisvernane in the 1990s.

This cist has been reconstructed and can now be seen at Tipperary Museum of Hidden History when we reopen.

The image below is taken from the book, 'Early Ireland: An introduction to Irish Prehistory' by Michael J. O'Kelly.

Borstal was first established in Kent, England in 1901 by John Ruggles Brise for the punishment and reform of 16 – 21 year old males.  Ruggles Brise was an advocate for the total separation of juvenile and adult offenders in prison, as he felt incarceration together only lead to juveniles learning more about crime from older more experience prisoners. 

The basic principle behind the borstal system was to encourage young offenders to become useful members of society upon release.  Offenders received a minimum sentence of 2 years.  While in borstal a system of non violent discipline, a strict regime, (as per timetable), rewards for good behaviour, education and training helped to rehabilitate the offenders.  On release the boys were relocated and supervised for a period of time, in the belief that it was better to take them out of the environment that caused them to offend originally.    

In 1906 a disused wing of the County Gaol in Clonmel was chosen as the location for Ireland’s Borstal.  By 1910 the entire complex of the former County Gaol had been converted to a full scale borstal with a capacity for 110 inmates (where you are standing now). This remained Ireland’s only Borstal until it was relocated to St. Patrick’s Institution in Dublin in 1956.   

During World War 1 over 400 Irish borstal boys opted to join the British Forces in order to bring forward their release.  However in order to qualify for such a release boys had to get permission from their parents, they were still juveniles after all.  Then the approval of a judge, as well as the body responsible for supervision on release had to be obtained.  Finally an interview with an army recruitment officer and a medical exam before acceptance into the army.  Over 70 of these recruits died in action.  One such boy was James K from Dublin.

When James K, originally from Anglesea Street in Dublin appeared before the Southern Police Court on Saturday 24 July 1915 he was already free on bail and awaiting trial on charges of shop-breaking and larceny. He now faced further charges of stealing a bicycle, a gentleman’s cape and a parcel of books from a property in Merrion Street.

With his bail revoked, James remained in Mountjoy prison until his appearance at Dublin City Commissions on 4 August when both sets of charges were tried on the same day. He was sentenced to two terms of three years, running concurrently, in Clonmel borstal institution for juvenile-adult male offenders. A baker by profession, he was nineteen years old and lived with his parents and six siblings.

James did not serve his three-year sentence and never returned to Dublin. Neither he nor the sentencing judge were to know that his detention in Clonmel would merely be a detour on his journey to the battlefields of France where, in April 1916, he was killed in action while fighting with the British armed forces during the First World War.

James was a private with the Royal Dublin Fusiliers, 8th Battalion when he was struck down. His journey from urban street criminal to war veteran was one that was replicated dozens of times for young men who made that detour through the Ireland’s only borstal institution at Clonmel in south Tipperary.


Dueling has taken many forms throughout history, from the Roman Horatii brothers who epically fought the Curiatii brothers to gentlemen fighting with swords over the hand of a lady and even gun slinging cowboys drawing at dawn in the Wild West of America.

By the mid-1700s, defending your honour by dueling was a widespread practice amongst the Irish gentry and nobility. Having custom made dueling pistols was a highly prized status symbol. To uphold ones honour was vital and failure to do so may have resulted in you being shunned by upper-class society. Although it was technically against the law, it was the final resort for many Gentleman and in a number of cases, even Women, up until the mid 1800s.

On January 21st 1748, a duel took place between Robert Millar and John Brown at Turin Castle, County Mayo. After a failed discussion to resolve their issues, the two men separated. Suddenly, without warning Brown turned and shot twice at Millar. He then threw his pistol at the wounded man and left quickly on his horse. Millar died of his wounds four days later. Brown was subsequently convicted of manslaughter in Dublin.

Due to the high profile tragedy of the Miller- Brown duel, it prompted calls for a regulatory code to be issued. This transpired at the Clonmel Summer assizes of 1777 where the ‘code duello’ was introduced and later adopted throughout Ireland.

This code comprised of 25 rules which the participants had to adhere to. They were so strict about this that all gentleman were required to keep a copy in their pistol cases. Although some of the rules are what you might expect in regards to dueling some are very much of their time such as;

“Rule 10. Any insult to a lady under a gentleman’s care or protection, to be considered as, by one degree, a greater offence than if given to the gentleman personally, and to be regulated accordingly”

But we know from history, that some women were very much capable of defending their own honour. There are documented incidents of women dueling with not just other women but also men.

One of the more well-known examples took place in London at the end of the 1700s between Lady Almeria Braddock and Mrs. Elphinstone. According to sources, Mrs. Elphinstone insulted Lady Braddock by insinuating that she was much older than she claimed to be. This resulted in Lady Braddock challenging Mrs. Elphinstone to a duel in Hyde Park. Both ladies chose their pistols and fired, thankfully none were injured in the process but even so both women decided to switch to swords. Lady Braddock, managed to strike and cut Mrs. Elphinstone’s arm, it was at this point both women laid down their weapons. Mrs. Elphinstone apologized for her comments and the two became fast friends once again.

Duels were not only the last resort for personal disputes but also for political clashes among many high ranking individuals both here and in the UK.

One of the more unlikely participants throughout history was Daniel O’Connell- a man who would rather fight with words than violence. In the year 1815 he was challenged to a duel by John Norcot D’Esterre in the hopes that if O’Connell refused his people would see him as a coward and lose their respect. O’Connell was very much aware of the motive and even with the knowledge that D’Esterre was a renowned shot, he accepted.

On the morning of the duel both man arrived, O’Connell in good spirits and D’Esterre a little nervous according to reports. Both men took their shot, D’Esterre surprisingly missed while O’Connell hit his target. Surgeons were unable to locate the bullet which had passed through D’Esterre’s bladder and hit his spine, he died some two days later.

Even though O’Connell was quite despondent after the death of E’Esterre, which was not his intention, this did not deter him from challenging Robert Peel to a duel some months later. Twice his challenge was stopped by magistrates. It was only in 1816 that O’Connell, after returning to his Catholic faith saw the error of his ways and vowed to never partake in a duel again- a vow he never broke.

In the following decades, his straight up refusal to duel cemented the idea that he was nothing more than a coward and a scoundrel in the eyes of the British. They were infuriated that he was able to voice his opinion on various matters and people but yet not accept the challenge of a duel in response. His reply to the idea of dueling was that it was ‘“a practice inconsistent with common sense, and a violation of the divine law”.

The image below shows a fire arms license which was issued to Richard Burke of Carrick-On-Suir.

The earliest records of a Gaol in Clonmel point to a small building located in the area around the current O’ Connell Street sometime after the Cromwellian occupation of 1650.
In 1675 James Butler 1st Duke of Ormonde financed the building of the new Palatinate Courthouse (The Main Guard) and shortly afterwards in 1677 he provided for the building of a new Gaol opposite the current St Peter and Pauls Church.

During the 17th and 18th centuries the prison system was very different to the one we are familiar with today. Prisons were run by private individuals. Gaolers had no concern for the physical or moral well being of their prisoners. Those who could afford it, could pay the gaoler in order to buy themselves some comforts while imprisoned such as private rooms, family visits, food and even drink. Overcrowding, disease and escapes were common.
Many crimes were punished by means other than imprisonment. Offenders were only held in prison while awaiting trial or after sentencing awaiting transportation. Actual prison sentences were short – generally under two years. Other punishments included fines or corporal punishments such as whipping, branding, the stocks and even hanging. Such executions were held in public at the Gallows, (hence place names such as Gallows Hill), until 1868. It was thought that such public displays on busy days like Market Day, would act as a deterrent to would be criminals.
Towards the end of the 18th century an English Quaker called John Howard and an Irish gentleman Sir Jeremiah Fitzpatrick pioneered prison reforms. They advocated for the separation of prisoners and better prison hygiene.
In the 1780’s a nationwide gaol building programme was established by the Grand Juries, who were now in charge of the prison system. They hoped by building a new prison to implement the reforms suggested by Howard and Fitzpatrick. The building of the new Clonmel Gaol was completed c 1790 and was located in modern day Emmett Street, behind the present Garda Station and County Council Offices. By 1818 Clonmel Gaol is recorded as totally inadequate by the prison inspector and a new building programme, including a Governor’s House commences. This prison could accommodate 100 males separately and 40 females.

As a result of laws passed in England in the 1820’s by the 1840’s all prisoners in Clonmel Goal were engaged in some form of education or trade such as carpenters, weavers, smiths, tailors and shoe makers. The female prisoners operated a laundry service for local households. Many of these enterprises turned a profit and the money was invested back into the prison to provide uniforms and buy food. Prisoners received a sum of money for their labour on leaving prison and had acquired skills to enable them to gain employment and turn away from crime. All prisoners were provided with a uniform and bedding.

In 1842 Nenagh Gaol opened following the division of Tipperary into North and South, thus greatly reducing the numbers in Clonmel Gaol. However during the Famine years 1845 – 1849 these figures rose significantly again. 1856 saw an end to the policy of transportation and the introduction of penal servitude in Mount Joy and Spike Island prison – only short sentences of 2 years or less were served in County gaols such as Clonmel. In 1875 it was no longer legal to commit dangerous lunatics to gaol.

Between 1864 and 1869 Clonmel Gaol was once more remodelled to accommodate 120 males and 59 females in single cells. Each cell was 9ft long, 8ft wide and 8ft high. Part of the old gaol was removed and a new Militia Barracks constructed (present day Garda Station). The new goal covered an area of over 4 acres and was surrounded by a sandstone wall 30 feet high with an iron gate, still visible just a few minutes’ walk from the museum today. In 1893/94 six warder’s cottages were built in Emmett Street, opposite the gate.

Prison life was hard. In 1841 the prison was heated by Arnott Stoves. In 1867 cells had gas lights which were extinguished one hour after lock up. Prison registers recorded the name, age, height, weight, eye colour, complexion, distinguishing marks, place of birth, next of kin, occupation, education, offence committed, date of remand, place and length of sentence of each prisoner. They were also photographed; the rules read to them, bathed, given a blanket and prison clothes and their hair cropped before being assigned their prison number and cell. Prisoners were given 1 hour a day in the exercise ring and made to stay five paces apart. Lock up in winter was 5.30pm, summer 6pm and prisoners rose at 7am in winter, 6am in summer time.
The separate or silent system advocated single cells and no communication. Wooden partitions were erected between inmates in the women’s laundry, the school room, chapel and work sheds. It was felt this would allow prisoners time to reflect on their misdeeds and repent. Globally this was felt not to be effective and prisoners disregarded it and so the practice was discontinued. However its use in Clonmel is still in evidence in 1895 when Michael Cleary, husband of Brigid, while awaiting trial for her murder is recorded as guilty of communicating. His punishment was 24 hours in his cell with only bread and water.

In 1877 The General Prison Boards Act was passed which put local prisons under government control. This was to allow for uniformity of discipline. Prisoners were classified according to their moral character, length of time in prison and their behaviour. Work was encouraged. Four grades were introduced with prisoners moving from one grade to another if they obeyed the rules, entitling them to privileges such as better food rations.

In the 1890’s increased prosperity and emigration meant the numbers in prison decreased making commercial activities such as the laundry and farm unviable. In 1910 the last prisoner was committed to Clonmel gaol. Thereafter any prisoners sentenced in Clonmel were transported to Waterford to serve their time.

Pictured below are some of our Gaol related artifacts which are on display. Be sure to check them out when we reopen!