Fermoy, Co. Cork, is said to have originated in the last quarter of the 12th century with the foundation of a Cistercian Monastery by the Roche family which was known as the Abbey of Our Lady de Castro Dei. Strategically located on the River Blackwater, in a central part of southern Ireland, it became prosperous with the Government's establishment of an important military station there in the last decade of the 18th century. John Anderson, the landlord of two thirds of the manor, forseeing the advantages of such a development, played an energetic and entrepreneurial part in encouraging the government's decision to locate the military station there with a free grant of land and the construction of a temporary barracks on the southside of the river. He also planned the development of much of the town itself.
This panoramic view of the town is taken from the south. The centre of the town, on the south bank of the river, is seen in the foreground beyond which is the fine stone bridge which John Anderson built over the Blackwater, c.1797. To the left of the northern end of the bridge lay the entrance to Anderson's house, Fermoy house, built to a design by Abraham Hargrave c. 1790, which can be seen on the far left of the picture, its park leading down to the northern bank of the Blackwater. The house was later the seat of the Cooke-Collis family and was subsequently demolished. In the distance, connected to the the bridge and the centre of the town by Barrack Street, are the two vast barracks erected in the early 19th century. The East Barracks, in the distance to the right, was erected in 1806, the West Barracks, in the distance to the left, was built in 1809. The former occupied three sides of a quadrangle, eight hundred feet long and seven hundred feet wide, with barracks in the rear for cavalry, the whole occupying sixteen and a half acres. The latter, of similar arrangement, was less extensive. By the early 19th century the number of military personnel stationed in the town averaged some two thousand bringing employment and prosperity to the local population.
Irish townscapes of this date and quality are rare. This picture has traditionally been thought to be by William Sadler III (see N. Brunicardi, op. cit.). An attribution to Captain Thomas de Rienzi has, however, been suggested by professor Anne Crookshank. Little is known about De Rienzi who, in common with some other army officers, seems to have practised as an amateur artist in his spare time, apparently mostly in watercolour. A watercolour view of the Fermoy by De Rienzi, taken through the window of the Barracks (dated 1822) is illustrated in The watercolours of Ireland (Anne Crookshank and the Knight of Glin, the Watercolours of Ireland, London, 1995, p.232, plate 232).