Before the building of a stone castle in Cloughjordan there had been a settlement in nearby Modreeney. Captain John Harrison, a Cromwellian grantee of land in the area became a central figure in the growth of Cloughjordan as the major settlement, as it was he and his son who built houses there for the soldiers of his regiment. He incorporated the old de Marisco tower house into a new building. Later a descendent of the Harrisons married into the Prittie family, also Cromwellian grantees, and the lands became the Dunalley estate under Lord Dunalley after 1800. Ground rent was paid by many householders in Cloughjordan to the Dunalley estate until the late twentieth century. The town had, as a result, a mix of Protestant and Catholic religions, which remains the case today.
During the nineteenth century market fairs were held in Cloughjordan but it was the arrival of the Great Southern and Western Railway in 1864 that established Cloughjordan as a major market venue.
A branch line had been built from Ballybrophy, on the Dublin to Cork main line, to Roscrea and on to Birr to facilitate the military barracks there and it was decided to link Roscrea with the Nenagh to Limerick branch line. The railway brought many changes, not least the standard railway time, as previously Cloughjordan could be up to one hour adrift from other towns. The possibility of travel was opened up to many more people with a trip to Dublin or Limerick now taking only hours instead of days. The railway also brought goods, which had previously been brought by canal boat to Dromineer on Lough Derg and onwards by horse and cart. But it was in the ability of the railway to take large amounts of livestock quickly to the Dublin and British market that assured Cloughjordan’s market fairs and allowed the surrounding farms to prosper.
Fairs brought many people and increased business to the town. At least once a month the entire town was given over to the marshalling of livestock and the fostering of trade. Traders arrived by train and stayed in the commercial hotels. Farmers bought and sold goods and cattle and celebrated successful deals. Their wives came to buy provisions with the proceeds and to ensure the menfolk got home. Middle-men could get involved, young lads would get a little work and shopkeepers and publicans would do a roaring trade. And, as MacDonagh wrote of Nenagh fair… “There again were thimble men, And shooting galleries, And Card trick men, Of all sorts and degrees”.
Cloughjordan’s success as a market town waned with the coming of motor transport. The centralising of cattle sales in Marts, mostly in big towns like Nenagh, also had the effect of reducing trade. The railway continued to play its part in the transport of cattle into the late twentieth century. The transport by rail of beet to the sugar factory in Thurles grew throughout the twentieth century.
Modern-day Cloughjordan is quieter than in those times described above. Yet business continues and the recent revival of a twice-monthly street market give us a little taste of the old town market fairs. These are held on the first and third Saturday of the month. Nowadays the market offers fresh home-made produce, organic foodstuffs and fresh vegetables, as well as hand-made crafts.