In 1865 a “cattle show” was held at Clonmel on 16th, 17th and 18th August by the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland. Entries comprised 180 cattle and 85 horses, together with pigs and poultry. The show was patronised by the Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, who stayed with John Bagwell, M.P., at Marlfield House where the Mayor and Members of Clonmel Corporation were entertained to a champagne luncheon.
The Clonmel District Agricultural Society was formed in 1872 at a meeting at the Court House. The attendance included a former Mayor of Clonmel, Charles Bianconi, who in 1815, initiated Irelands first public transport system – a network of horse drawn carriages with its HQ in Clonmel. Others present included John Bagwell, Cornelius O’Donnell of Seskin, Patrick Quinlan of Suirmount, Solomon Watson of Ballingarrane and William Burke of Kilmore whose descendants have continued to assist the show for as many as five generations. This Society held its first show in 1873 “on a field adjacent to the Gas Company’s premises”, and included jumping competitions for hunters.
In 1880, when the Royal Agricultural Society of Ireland was merged with the Royal Dublin Society, Clonmel was again chosen as the venue for the Royal Irish Show. The jumping course, comprising a hurdle, double bank, stonewall and water jump, remained (with the later addition of a single bank), the standard course in Clonmel for many years.
Due to agrarian unrest, no shows were held for the six years prior to 1891. The Society then purchased the Davis road property where a grandstand was built, and in 1895 staged the first foxhound show in Ireland. No show was held in 1914 owing to the outbreak of World War 1, or in 1922 when Clonmel was occupied by anti-treaty forces.
On 2nd February 1924, the present organisation, designated the Clonmel Horse Show and Agricultural Society Ltd., was registered as a limited liability company under the Provident Society’s Act of 1893. The trade’s hall was erected in 1937. Due to the worldwide recession, the Show was reduced to one day from 1933 to 1936, and again from 1943 to 1946. Because of World War II no show took place in 1940, ‘41 or ’42.
Two-day shows were resumed in 1947 when Viscount Suirdale (later Earl of Donoughmore) was elected chairman of the committee. During the next 24 years he raised the standard of jumping competitions, latterly employing international course-builder Captain Anton Paalman. Between 1951 and 1970, the Countess of Donoughmore led the development of the horticultural section. This had been inaugurated in 1938.
During the chairmanship of Colonel S.J. Watson from 1971 to 1979, the show days were changed to the weekend. In 1975 the centenary of the 1865 show was celebrated with official visits from President O’Dalaigh and the then Taoiseach, Mr Liam Cosgrave.
Under the chairmanship of Mr. Victor Quinlan from 1980 – 1984, the scope and scale of the show was expanded to entertain the general public. The generous sponsorship of prize money reflected the active interest and support of the local community, and ensured the continued success of Clonmel’s historic show.
Dr. Richard Quirke was chairman for the 1985 and 1986 shows, which marked the re-introduction of the thoroughbred horse to the show rings in Clonmel, after a long absence.
During this period, he oversaw the Society’s interests during the Bord na gCon funded re-construction of the greyhound track and show grounds. It was at the invitation of Dr. Quirke in 1988 that seven local companies donated a new set of show jumps to the society, each bearing the logo of the particular business involved.
Mr. Eddie O’Gorman held the chair for the 1987 and 1988 shows. Some years previously, Eddie was the force behind the introduction of the renowned Clonmel Show Donkey Derby, in which well-known local and national personalities competed for honours. Eddie had to manage the personnel, employed under the Social Employment Scheme, Year 1, when much needed works were carried out to the boundary walls fronting Davis Rd., together with planting of trees and painting of buildings within the showgrounds.
In 1989 Mrs Caroline Acheson succeeded Mr O’ Gorman as chairperson of Clonmel Show, thus having the unique distinction of being the first woman to hold this position in the Show’s 124-year history. Mrs Acheson took on the co-ordination of the 1989 & 1990 work programmes of the FAS Scheme employees, thereby ensuring the further enhancement of the show grounds. She worked hard to protect the Society’s interest, in the transfer of the Greyhound Track lease from Bord Na gCon to the Clonmel Leisure Group. Generous and loyal benefactors were now sponsoring all classes and competitions, as a result of Mrs Acdhesion’s efforts. This put the show on a much sounder financial footing.
Mr John C. Byrne succeeded Mrs Acheson as chairman for the shows of 1992 – 1993. Mr Byrne encouraged the revival of the Home Industries section, and strongly promoted the new Make and Model classes. Mr Byrne also had to oversee the restoration of the Showgrounds following the completion of Clonmel Corporation’s new E.U. funded drainage scheme.
In 1994, Mr John FitzGerald became the youngest ever chairman of Clonmel Show. His youthful enthusiasm was infectious as he led the show committee through the 1994 and 1995 shows. Much of John’s time was devoted to keeping the Davis Road show grounds in workable condition under the terms of the show’s lease with its new tenant. During John’s tenure, a new judges’ box for the showjumping was erected, a much needed replacement for the existing 50-year-old model.
Mr Tom Acheson was chairman for five shows between 1996 and 2000. Many profound changes took place during Tom’s tenure as chairman. The show changed from being a 2-day weekend event to a one-day Sunday show. Developments on the adjoining lands, at Davis road, meant that they became unavailable for use on show days. The show then moved to its present location at Powerstown Park racecourse (through kind permission of the racecourse management) in 1998. Tom majored in developing the Pet’s corner and carnival amusements, which have proved to be a huge attraction for small children. These changes, though traumatic for many, have brought a re- invigorated show from the 20th.century into the 21st.
Mr William Burke, who is a descendant of one of the original organising committee members, succeeded Tom Acheson in 2001. No show was held in 2001 because of the national precautions being taken following an outbreak of Foot and Mouth in Co. Louth. The annual show resumed in July 2002. William was deeply involved in the efforts the recover the freehold of the Show’s Davis Road property. This has been the subject of ongoing negotiations because of an existing long term lease. He helped organise the sale of the “dog track” portion of the old show-grounds the Davis Road Greyhound Racing Co. This company has upgraded and modernised the track, thus ensuring greyhound racing continues Clonmel.
Mr John Farrell succeeded William Burke as chairman in 2004. In 2005 the Clonmel Show committee purchased a 73 acre property at Shanbally, Lisronagh, with a view to developing a permanent home for the Show in years to come. John served as chairman from 2004 to 2007 inclusive. John introduced the very popular Dog Agility classes to the show.
In 2008 Mrs Cecily Purcell was elected chairman and served for two years, which were possibly the wettest summers on record, necessitating the cancellation of the whole Show Jumping programme in 2008. Cecily further developed the children’s’ attractions at the show and introduced modern technology to make the contacting of the show’s volunteers more efficient and reliable.
Mr Bill Carroll, son of the late William Carroll, who was a past Show President, took over the chair for the 2010 show
During the past 30 years the show has undergone many fundamental changes. The format has changed from a two day mid week show to a single day “Sunday Show”. The venue has been changed to Powerstown Park Racecourse following the sale of its traditional site at Davis road. Most importantly, the emphasis of the show has changed, with the range of attractions for the general public growing every year. In particular, younger children are now well catered for guaranteeing a wonderful day out for all the family.