Trick or Treat? The haunting of Castlemartyr Castle in the early Seventeenth Century

Castlemartyr Capella Hotel

Castlemartyr at dusk – the south front of the old castle consists of the tall medieval tower-house on the right and the lower early seventeenth century manor house with its three vast chimneys. The tall gable wall on the left indicates the size of the roof of the old manor house. The manor house was probably added by Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald between 1611 and 1641.

With Halloween fast approaching there may be a tendency in Ireland to bemoan the Americanisation of the ancient Irish festival of Samhain. However this post will recount details of events in Castlemartyr that might suggest superstitions could be manipulated for other purposes, even as early as the first decades of the seventeenth century.

An Englishman travelling about Ireland in the 1620s befriended Charles McCarthy, later created Viscount Muskerry in 1628. McCarthy, a major Gaelic landowner in County Cork, and a Catholic, was the owner of Blarney Castle. He was well connected and no doubt regaled his visitor with tales of the stone built into his castle that conferred eloquence on those who kissed it. Whether it was the present Blarney Stone or not is open to question.

McCarthy may have been suspicious of the Englishman’s tour – was he a spy sent to identify vulnerable estates that could be seized by the Crown and granted to English planters? Taking the visitor on a tour, McCarthy took him first to Castlelyons to meet the young Lord Barrymore – a scion of the Anglo-Irish Barry family who had married a daughter of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork. From Castlelyons, the travellers went towards Youghal, but with darkness approaching, they stopped at Castlemartyr for the night.

In those days Castlemartyr was the residence of Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, the son of the last effective Seneschal of Imokilly who had died in confinement in Dublin Castle in 1589 just before the order for his release arrived from London. Edmund was only about eighteen months old when his father died. However, despite the fact that his father had twice rebelled against Elizabeth I in the space of ten years, the family estate at Castlemartyr was not confiscated. So, when Edmund came of age about 1610/1611, he inherited his father’s estate. It was almost certainly after this time that Edmund modernised the old castle by adding a modern manor house to his tower house.

Charles McCarthy was certainly the reason why the English traveller was granted ‘meat and bed’ for the night at Castlemartyr, although traditional hospitality would certainly have seen him fed and housed for the night. Another detail would have helped – Edmund FitzGerald was a Catholic, just like McCarthy. One would give much to learn what topics were part of the dinner conversation, but one suspects that land and lineage may have been among the subjects discussed. These were normal subjects of conversation in a status conscious age. One wonders if their host recounted the tale of the execution of his grandmother, Shylie O’Carroll, who was hanged from the gateway of Castlemartyr during the Second Desmond Rebellion in an effort to persuade the Seneschal to surrender Castlemartyr. (Local legend has it that Shylie was hung from the castle gateway, but it seems she was hung in Cork.)

Following a grand meal, the guests were escorted to their chambers. Unusually, instead of being housed in the same room, the Englishman was given a room of his own, with a large window overlooking the park. Having got himself undressed, the visitor, locked the door and climbed into his comfortable bed, and extinguished his taper. A low fire in the grate was all that lit the chamber.

Some time later, the visitor’s sleep was interrupted by a noise. It emanated from the direction of the door into the room. But the door was locked but someone clearly tried to gain entry into the bedchamber. Footsteps sounded outside, departing from the door. Imagining that he was about to be murdered, the visitor cowered under the bedclothes awaiting his fate. All was quiet again for a time, the dying embers of the fire cast eerie shadows around the room.  Reassured that the door was secure, the Englishman dozed off again.

Castlemartyr scale

The scale of Castlemartyr is indicated by the size of the children in the photo. Note how the manor house has its windows on the upper floor.

It happened again…..footsteps outside his chamber, another attempt to open the door. This time more violently – the terrified Englishman was convinced now that somebody meant to do him harm. After all this was a Papist Irish household and he was a good Protestant Englishman. He cried out to the intruder but got no response. A sound of laughter, followed by receding footsteps suggested that the intruder had departed.

By now the visitor was very worried. He reached for his taper and  took it to the fire to light it from the last embers. This feeble light was to be his comfort for the rest of the hours of darkness. Wide awake now, and peeping from beneath the bed cover the Englishman contemplated his own, possibly immanent, mortality. Some time later, perhaps an hour or two, there was a noise at his window. It seemed as if someone was tapping on the glass. But that was impossible – the chamber was on an upper floor!

The tapping stopped and all was quiet again. By now the taper had burned very low and soon it would go out.  Then a shadow appeared on the ceiling, a figure seeming to reach into the chamber to open the door from inside. By now the taper was extinguished and the only remaining light came from the dying embers of the fire.  Once again footsteps sounded outside, this time very faint. Once again the door rattled as someone tried to gain entry.

It was too much for the petrified visitor, who spent the rest of the hours of darkness crouched under the bed, wrapped in a sheet. As soon as it was daylight, he got out, dressed quickly and opened the door to head out. The household was about to have breakfast, but the Englishman begged Charles McCarthy to depart with him immediately and speed on to Youghal. Despite McCarthy’s protests, the Englishman’s fears prevailed and they left at once…..

Witch Hunt

Brutal witch hunts seem to have been more common in Scotland, England, and the Continent than in Ireland. Religious disputes and land ownership were the principal concerns in Ireland, although Florence Newton of Youghal was prosecuted as a witch on September 11th 1661!

This strange tale was recounted some years ago at a lecture  given in the Hunt Museum, Limerick. The lecturer suggested that a number of factors made the tale interesting. A Catholic Irish gentleman escorted a Protestant visitor to the home of a long established Catholic gentry family with a rebellious lineage. This was a time when the Plantation of Ulster was under way. The Elizabethan Plantation of Munster was still fresh in Irish minds, and the English adventurers, like Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, were known for their rapacious acquisition of land – from whatever source. Families like the McCarthys of Muskerry and the FitzGeralds of Imokilly were wary of these interlopers. Was there a ghost in Castlemartyr that night?

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle was the seat of Charles McCarthy, who may have recounted the tale of the stone that granted eloquence….

It seems likely that, with or without the prior knowledge of Edmund FitzGerald, members of the household at Castlemartyr tried to frighten the English visitor and discourage him from giving a good account of his visit, thereby discouraging any possible ‘claims’ by an English planter on the Castlemartyr estate. The ‘haunting’ of Castlemartyr by a poltergeist that night seems to have been a defensive mechanism by the household. In an age of superstition, when women were persecuted in large numbers as witches, this was a highly successful strategy by the FitzGeralds of Castlemartyr. It is interesting that this tale appears to be the earliest example of ‘trick or treat’ known in an Irish context!

Happy Samhain….or Halloween .

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Midleton College – a School from Scandal.

Midleton College Founded 1696. This inscription over the great door of the original block of Midleton College is both accurate, and disingenuous. The school was indeed founded by Elizabeth Villiers in 1696, but the building itself didn’t exist at the time. Indeed, the original school house was only completed in 1717 – over two decades after the indenture of foundation was issued by Elizabeth Villiers. There are three questions to answer regarding Midleton Endowed School, as it was originally called. First, what prompted the foundation of the school in 1696? Secondly, what caused such a long delay between the foundation of the school and the completion of the school building; in 1717, when the Rev George Chinnery was appointed the first headmaster? Finally, what was the architectural source for the design of the original building?

Midleton College

Midleton Endowed School was founded by Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney in 1696. However the main building (on the right) wasn’t completed until 1717 under the direction of Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The wing on the left was added in the second half of the 19th century.

Figure 1 The original Midleton School that was completed in 1717 is the building on the right of this photograph. The wing on the left was added in the latter part of the 19th century. The original building has lost some features, especially a cupola which originally stood on the roof over the centre of the building. The H-plan if this part survives intact. This photograph comes from the National Library of Ireland’s Eason Collection and is mislabelled ‘Barracks, Midleton!’

To understand the origins of Midleton Endowed School (its original name) we have to go back to 1660, and to the restoration of King Charles II. As soon as he was back on the throne, Charles sought to establish his younger brother, James, Duke of York, in a style befitting a royal prince. To this end, Charles granted James a huge Irish estate of over 95,649 acres which brought in almost £26,000 per annum. When James succeeded his brother as king in 1685 he retained this estate as a source of private income.  However, James’s inept religious policies were sufficient to give his son-in-law, William of Orange, Stadholder of Holland, the opportunity to organize a successful invasion of England in 1688 with a fleet that was larger than anything the Spanish had ventured a century earlier. With the final defeat of Jacobite forces in Ireland, confirmed by the Treaty of Limerick in 1691, King William was in a position to award James’s private Irish estate to his wife, Queen Mary, who was the daughter of James and his first wife, Anne Hyde.

It’s intriguing to think that some of the rents from the townland of Youngrove near Midleton may have contributed to the construction, or decoration, of Kensington Palace, which was being built at the time. It was at Kensington that Mary died in 1694 having first extracted a promise from her husband that he would give up his only English-born mistress, Mary’s childhood companion, Elizabeth Villiers. On Mary’s death in 1694, her sister, the Princess Anne, might have expected to inherit her father’s Irish estate. However,  William, wilful as ever, granted the estates, along with a Scottish title, to his former mistress Elizabeth Villiers, perhaps in acknowledgement of her past services to him, as he decided to end all intimate associations with her. Elizabeth Villiers was now a rich woman in her own right, and a prize for any man that married her..

Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney

Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, was a childhood companion of Princess Mary, and later mistress of William of Orange, Mary’s husband. Elizabeth founded Midleton Endowed School in 1696.

This vast grant to William of Orange’s former mistress infuriated both the Irish and English parliaments, which wanted to sell off the lands to pay down the public debt. And therein lay the rub. Elizabeth, now Countess of Orkney, soon afterwards married to George Hamilton, who became known as Earl of Orkney, in right of his wife. Elizabeth needed the money from the rents to keep her in style appropriate to a noblewoman. She proposed to mollify opposition to her good fortune by using some of her Irish lands to endow a new school in Ireland. This move may have been designed to get the Irish House of Commons on her side against the English House of Commons.

To this end, before her marriage to Hamilton, Elizabeth entrusted her Irish estate to her brother, Edward, Viscount Villiers, and to one of William’s privy councillors, Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The latter was the eldest surviving son of Sir St John Brodrick, the Cromwellian soldier granted the lands of Corabbey in 1653, renamed Midleton in a charter of 1670. A year later, on 23 October 1696, Edward Villiers and Thomas Brodrick conveyed over 1,882 acres in the County Cork baronies of Kinnelea and East and West Carbery to the lawyer Alan Brodrick of Midleton, and to his brother in law, Laurence Clayton of Mallow.  These men were now the trustees of the lands Elizabeth Villiers had set aside to endow her newly founded school. Alan Brodrick was, of course, the younger brother of Thomas Brodrick, one of the two trustees of Elizabeth’s great Irish estate.

Alan_Brodrick

Alan Brodrick (1656?-1727), 1st Viscount Midleton from 1717. He was the key legal advisor to Elizabeth Villiers during her struggles to found Midleton College. A Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Brodrick became Lord Chancellor of Ireland in 1715.

All of the above suggests that Brodricks of Midleton seem to have been involved in the whole affair from the start. In fact, they even offered the site for the new school in their town of Midleton, carving out a totally new townland, called School Lands,  from their townland of Town Parks. This ingenious measure kept the newly founded school firmly outside the jurisdiction and control of the Corporation of Midleton.

The political arguments over the grant of lands to Elizabeth Villiers finally culminated in the Act of Resumption passed by the English Parliament in 1700. This removed the private Irish estate of James II from Elizabeth’s hands, except for certain properties, in particular the lands she had set aside to endow her new school.  A later Act in 1702, and a further indenture of 1703, confirmed the endowment of 1696. On paper, it seemed there was now nothing to stop the trustees constructing the school. Thomas Brodrick, one of the original trustees of Elizabeth’s estate and one of the original governors of the school, was specifically charged under the 1696 indenture with the task of building the school. He was to ‘frame modells, provide and contract for ground materials and other necessaries and to do all other things whatsoever in order to the erecting, building and furnishing a school, schoolhouse, and other fitting out-houses, and conveniences at Midleton aforesaid as he shall find best and most expedient.’ (Spelling as in the original.)

Yet, Brodrick did not begin to construct the school immediately after the confirmation of the endowment in 1702 and 1703. The problem was quite simply lack of money. It was due to ‘…the unsettled state of the country..‘ that the trustees of the school’s endowment, Alan Brodrick (Thomas’s brother) and Laurence Clayton (Alan and Thomas’s brother-in-law), were unable ‘…to accumulate out of the rents and profits a sufficient sum to build a School House.’

In October 1710 they finally felt the endowment was sufficiently secure to permit them to lease some of the lands to Francis Daunt, gentleman, for a fine of £300 and a yearly rent of £100. The lease was renewable for three lives, subject to perpetual renewal on payment of a fine of £25 for each life.  In 1712 remaining portion of the lands were leased to Thomas Hodges and William Ware and their heirs for £100 per annum. The perpetual renewal clause was the same as that granted to Daunt. Thus the lack of funds, due to the lack of any income from the endowment, had prevented Thomas Brodrick from commencing construction until sometime after 1710, perhaps even after 1712.

Midleton College facade

The original Midleton Endowed School (centre and right) is built entirely of locally quarried limestone. The central windows in each wing were blocked at some stage. The single largeschoolroom was the large room lit by the two arched windows. The circular upper windows light the dormitory. The original cupola over the centre was removed before 1750. On the left is the later 19th century wing with brick window surrounds.

The foundation indenture of 1696 also stipulated that the school master and ushers should not be appointed until the building was complete, ‘or sooner as they [the Governors] shall see occasion’. The appointment of Rev. George Chinnery MA as Master on 21 August 1717 suggests that the school was ready to accommodate the Master and his family, as well as the ushers, who were appointed at the same meeting. As an aside, the carpenter Benjamin Griffin was also granted extra payment for wainscoting the school room. All this shows that Midleton Endowed School wasn’t actually built until the second decade of the eighteenth century.

And what of the school’s architecture? Who designed it, and what were the sources of the building’s design?  As noted above, Thomas Brodrick was charged in the foundation indenture with framing models. That is, he was to draw up the plans for the building. Yet, Brodrick isn’t listed as an architect on the Irish Architectural Archive’s comprehensive online Dictionary of Irish Architects. As a gentleman he certainly had some acquaintance with, and perhaps a considerable knowledge of, architecture, but it seems likely that he may have had some professional help in drafting the design of the building. One possible architectural advisor may have been the Scot, John Curl, who was reworking Beaulieu near Drogheda. His work there was done for the Tichbourne brothers who were, like the Brodricks, staunch supporters of the Williamite settlement. It’s worth noting that the plan of the somewhat earlier Beaulieu bears some resemblance to that of Midleton School.

However, the it seems very likely that the original inspiration for the school building came from a source that was, ironically, linked to King James II. We have already noted that James’s first wife was Anne Hyde (1637-1671), the mother of Queen Mary and Queen Anne. Her father, Edward Hyde (1609-1674), was created Earl of Clarendon by Charles II at the Restoration. Clarendon didn’t approve of Anne’s marriage to the Duke of York, since he hoped to arrange for the Duke to marry a suitable foreign princess. He also disapproved of the king’s mistress, Barbara Villiers, a cousin of the foundress of Midleton School. Barbara Villiers was instrumental in attempting to undermine Hyde’s position as chief minister. (There was also a family link to Dromana House in County Waterford. Edward Villiers, a cousin of both Barbara and Elizabeth, married Elizabeth Fitzgerald of Dromana, County Waterford. Elizabeth also had a sister called Barbara, which confuses some commentators.)

ClarendonHouse_Circa1680

Clarendon House, St James’s, London, was designed by Roger Pratt for Edward Hyde, 1st Earl of Clarendon. The Earl of Clarendon was the grandfather of Queen Mary and Queen Anne.

In the 1664, King Charles granted Clarendon an eight-acre plot of land in St James’s in London. On this Hyde built a grand and very influential mansion – Clarendon House. Designed by Roger Pratt, and completed in 1667, Clarendon House was built to a plan that followed Pratt’s belief that the family apartments should be separated from the guest apartments at the opposite end of the house by an apartment of parade. The plan was laid out as a wide H with the transom, or crossbar, being the main entrance and garden facade. The house was a double pile (at least two rooms deep) and consisted of two equal storeys over a basement, with an attic lit by dormer windows above. The main section of Clarendon House, the ‘transom’, was of nine bays in length. The side wings, of the same height as the main section, were three bays wide on their principal facades, and accommodated the family on one side and guests on the other. The whole composition was topped off by a cupola situated on the roof directly on the central axis of the building above the main entrance. This may have lit a staircase hall. Pratt’s design for Clarendon House was a Carolean baroque scheme which influenced a number of large houses in England until the 1720s, the best known example being Belton House in Lincolnshire (built 1685-1688). One advantage of Pratt’s composition was that it could be enlarged or reduced in size to suit the pocket of a patron. Note that the term Carolean is derived from Carolus for King Charles II and refers to the style of baroque architecture and decoration employed in both Britain and Ireland after the Restoration in 1660 until the 1720s when the Palladian revival took hold.

Belton House

Belton House in Lincolnshire (built in 1685-1688)  is the best surviving imitation of Clarendon House, which was demolished at the same time. Belton is attributed to the architect William Winde.Enter a caption

Clarendon House was sold off by Edward Hyde’s heirs in 1675 to Edward Monck, 2nd Duke of Albemarle, whose spendthrift ways obliged him to sell it in 1683. Bought by a consortium of property developers, including Sir Thomas Bond, Clarendon House was in such a poor state that it was promptly demolished and the site used for developing Dover Street, Albemarle Street and, of course, Bond Street between 1684 and 1720.

Given that Elizabeth Villiers’ mother, Frances, was the governess of the Princesses Mary and Anne, and that Elizabeth was herself Lady in waiting to Mary when she married William of Orange, it is likely that this link to the Hyde family and Clarendon House influenced Thomas Brodrick’s scheme of architecture. One is left wondering if Elizabeth Villiers herself might have suggested Clarendon House as a model for Midleton School. It should be noted that Elizabeth’s sister, Mary, married William O’Brien, 3rd Earl of Inchiquin, who owned Rostellan near Midleton. Inchiquin was one of the first school governors, and a cousin of Henry Boyle of Castlemartyr, who was another governor of the school.

Midleton School was also laid out as two equal storeys over basement on the Clarendon House H-plan. The transom presents the main (west) facade to the visitor and to the grounds (east front) with the ends of the flanking accommodation wings located to the north and south. These wings present three window bays to the front and back, as at Clarendon House, although the central windows are now blocked up. Obviously one wing accommodated the Master and his family, while the other accommodated the ushers with the pupils boarding upstairs. The single schoolroom occupied the transom, with additional dormitory accommodation overhead. It is worth noting that the transom has a frontispiece in the centre of each facade, again as at Clarendon House. That on the west facade provided the main entrance while that to the east held a large arched window to provide morning light for the schoolroom. The principal door is flanked by two high arched windows and the upper storey has round windows, or oculi. Such round windows were used on certain buildings constructed in the English baroque style in the period 1790 to about 1720, for example on Christopher Wren’s portion of Hampton Court Palace, and the later Cannons House in Middlesex, and Appuldurcombe on the Isle of Wight. The north and south facades were designed with a four-bay frontispiece flanked by two bay setbacks. Again, the inner bay of each setback has had the windows blocked up. These blocked up windows present a difficulty.  Were they originally blind windows inserted to provide symmetry and interest to the facades, as at Belton? If so it seems very odd that they are now totally flush with the wall. There really would have been no point in making the recesses flush with the outer plane of the walls at a later stage.  It seems much more likely that these windows were original openings that were blocked up during the late 1820s under the supervision of Joseph Welland, a native of Midleton who was then the architect for the Commissioners of Education. It seems likely that Welland may have remodelled the original entrance door as well.

One other detail requires mention, although it is now absent. In his book, The Ancient and Present State of the County and City of Cork (1750), Dr Charles Smith gives a description of Midleton School in which he mentions a cupola on top of the building which had been taken down some years previously. There is no reason to disbelieve Smith since he appears to have been quite diligent in his researches. Since no copy of the school’s original plan or elevation has yet come to light, we must ask what was the purpose of this cupola?  At Clarendon House the cupola seems to have provided light for the staircase below. If the cupola on Midleton School was a glazed lantern, it may have been designed to draw more light into the dormitory on the upper floor. However, there exist in England examples of open arched cupolas on some houses of the period. These seem to have been intended to add dramatic flourish to the appearance of the building, emphasising the central axis. Either way, the mystery of the Midleton School cupola remains to be resolved, but whichever style of cupola was adopted it provided a dramatic flourish to emphasise the central axis of the building, just as the cupolas did on Clarendon House and on Belton and other houses built under the influence of Pratt’s design between the late 1660s and the 1720s.

Belton cupola

The glazed cupola on Belton House closely resembles that depicted on Clarendon House and probably represents the best surviving model of the cupola that originally adorned Midleton School.Enter a caption

All of the preceding argument shows ihat the architecture of the original building of Midleton School possesses Carolean baroque features rather than Palladian revival ideas, which came into fashion within a couple of years. The school expressed the architecture of the court of King Charles II, of William and Mary, and of Queen Anne. It is NOT Georgian architecture, despite the fact that King George I had been on the throne for three years when Midleton School was completed. In short, with its Roger Pratt style H-plan, its receding and protruding planes, its close set and varied windows (rectangular, arched and round), and its vanished cupola emphasising the central axis of the plan, the original design of Midleton School was a baroque composition rather than a Palladian design. Its architectural ancestor was clearly Roger Pratt’s Clarendon House erected in London for King Charles II’s chief minister, although the latter was a very grand townhouse. The baroque design of the school building is today obscured by the loss of the cupola, the blocking of window openings, perhaps by the alteration of the doorway, and the nineteenth century additions to the structure. Mercifully, enough survives of the original plan and elevation to support the idea that the school was a belated exercise in Carolean baroque architecture when it was completed in 1717,

Appropriately the school was approached via Charles Street, named after the monarch who granted the charter which established the Manor of Midleton and incorporated the Borough of Midleton in 1670. Charles Street, now Connolly Street, seems to have been laid out on its current triangular plan to focus on the school built between 1710 and 1717. To emphasise the baroque influence even further, the view from the school door would originally have taken in the large steeple attached to the previous St John the Baptist’s Church, a steeple that held a peal of six bells when Charles Smith visited in 1750. Thus the baroque influence wasn’t simply confined to the school building but reached out towards the town itself, although it was never fully developed there!

With five primary schools and four secondary schools, Midleton is known as a centre of education in East Cork, especially when one recalls that St Colman’s Community College also supplies opportunities for post-secondary education. This educational concentration grew from the endowment of 1696 which led to the creation of Midleton Endowed School, now entering its tercentenary of teaching as Midleton College.

 

The Midleton and Ballinacurra Historical Society is officially launched!

Our last post announced a meeting to form a historical society for Midleton and Ballinacurra. The good news is that over thirty people attended the meeting in Midleton Library on Monday 18th September and approved the creation of a society.  There was much discussion but it was important to lay down a number of principles – leave politics and religion outside the door, and we were advised to spread our wings south to Roches Point, east towards Killeagh, north to Dungourney and Clonmult, west to Leamlara and Ballyannan.

On the advice of Mr Willie Cunningham, who directed the process,  a committee of seven (the ‘Magnificent Seven‘!) was selected with the power to appoint officers from amongst their number, with your author as Chairman. The committee is also empowered to co-opt an eighth member should that be warranted. We are now tasked with organising various matters – membership, a constitution, finance, lectures, talks and events. We are also tasked with establishing relationships with our neighbouring societies/groups at Cloyne, Aghada,  Killeagh and Carrigtwohill. Oh, and we have to finalise a name for the society – the one given in the title is a working name for the moment.

Wish us luck!

At Last! A local historical society for Midleton and Ballinacurra.

Image: Midleton Market House as painted by Niall McCarthy.

Why is there no history society in Midleton?’ This question has frequently been posed to your author in the past few years. Often the question is prefaced wtih a comment about the presence of the Cloyne Literary & Historical Society (the granddaddy of our local historical societies), the well-established Whitegate-Aghada Historical Society and the Carrigtwohill Historical Society (founded just a few years ago). It seemed so embarrassing that Midleton, the largest town in the area, didn’t have a local historical society.

The The answer to the question posed at the head of this post is, of course, very simple – there isn’t a Midleton Historical Society one because nobody has set one up. There WAS a local historical society in Midleton in the 1980s but it completely lapsed many years ago. Midleton is a town that seems to have plenty of history but also possesses a contradictory attitude to its history and heritage. Heritage buildings have been demolished or radically altered without any appreciation of their importance. We still await the publication of a proper academic history of Midleton and Ballinacurra,  apart from a few valiant works by Jeremiah Falvey, Sean Horgan and John Fenton. In August Midleton & Area Chamber published Midleton – the Heart of East Cork, a booklet aimed at visitors but with interesting local historical information for residents of the area. However, the book covers more than Midleton, since its remit reaches to Roches Point, Knockaddon, Killeagh and Fota, taking in Ballycotton, Cloyne, East Ferry and Carrigtwohill on the way. It’s taken a while, but finally, there are moves afoot to found a local historical society for Midleton and Ballinacurra. And note the remit – we cannot discuss Midleton without discussing the older village of Ballinacurra., for so long the port of Midleton.

St John the Baptist Church Midleton

The Horgan brothers of Youghal photographed the site of the original foundation of the abbey that gave rise to the town of Corabbey, which was renamed Midleton by a Charter of King Charles II in 1670.

The desision to found this new society is prompted by the approaching year 2020. January of that year will see the 200th anniversary of the Ballinacurra-born Edward Bransfield RN’s identification of the CONTINENT of Antarctica, as opposed to the Antarctic pack ice. In June 2020 the Charter of Midleton will be 350 years old. The Charter gave the modern name Midleton to the town formerly known as Corabbey. And, finally, December 2020, will mark the 100th anniversary of the famous IRA ambush on Main Street that eventually in February 1921 led to the disastrous Clonmult Ambush. These were two key local events in the Irish War of Independence. Before that, we will see the centenary of the end of the Great War and the meeting of the First Dail as well as the first time the Irish Tricolour was flown over the Market House in Midleton (illegally, it must be said).

Choctaw evening 2

In order to prepare for these anniversaries, it is necessary to have a forum to organise events that will mark these occasions.  The people of Midleton and Ballinacurra, and of surrounding districts are invited to come to Midleton Library on Monday next, 18th September at 8.00pm for a meeting at which we aim to found a local historical society. This invitation is extended beyond Midleton and Ballinacurra to Castlemartyr,  Mogeely, Ladysbridge, Dungourney, Clonmult and Lisgoold in the hope that the history of these places can also be highlighted.

Mayhem and murder on Skellig night – the Fenian Rising in East Cork, March 1867.

Castlemartyr 1860

The main street of Castlemartyr from the west in the 1880s. The Fenians attacked from the other end of the street. The Constabulary Barracks was half-way down the street almost directly opposite the Market House. Later, the Royal Irish Constabulary moved into a new barracks closer to this end of the street, where they were attacked in 1920. The entrance to St Joseph’s Catholic Chapel is just behind the horse drawing the first car. Notice the small windows in the gables – an indicator of early to mid eighteenth century construction. Two buildings in Midleton have the same feature, suggesting that Midleton was originally a two storey town, just like Castlemartyr. 

On Friday evening, 31st March 2017, villagers and guests gathered at the village hall in Ballymacoda to be piped to the nearby church of St Peter in Chains where they comemorated the 150th anniversary of the death of Peter O’Neill Crowley, the local Fenian leader who was killed by Crown forces at Kilclooney Wood near Mitchelstown in north Cork – the last act of the Fenian Rising of 1867 in County Cork.

james stephens

The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish revolutionary republican organisation founded by James Stephens in 1858. Stephens was a participant in the failed 1848 Young Ireland rising, after which he fled to Paris. Following his move to the United States in 1856, Stephens began to recruit conspirators amongst the large Irish community in the US. The outbreak of the American Civil War provided Stephens with the perfect recruiting ground for an immense recruiting campaign. The thousands of Irishmen and Irish-Americans who joined the Union army provided Stephens with an enormous and potentially valuable of trained and experienced soldiers for his organisation. To raise funds, the Fenians issued bonds to be redeemed when an Irish republic was established.  However, very early on, tensions developed between the more hardline Amarican wing of the organisation which wanted a rising to be launched as soon as practicable in Ireland. The British reliance on slave-grown, and harvested, cotton from the Confederate states left an unwelcome odour in US political circles so that when the Fenians launched ‘invasions’ of British North America (Canada) in 1866, several US politicians didn’t feel it necessary to take drastic action against them.

The Fenians also managed to recruit about 7,000 men in the British regiments based in Ireland. However, the Brotherhood had been thoroughly penetrated by British agents and the enormity of the Fenian recruitment of trained soldiers in the army appalled the government and prompted the authorities to start rotating regiments from Ireland. They also swooped on the Fenian leadership in Ireland in September 1866, effectively paralyzing the Irish command structure. Early in 1867 James Stephens was overthrown as leader in a coup within the Fenian Brotherhood and the new leaders settled on launching a rising on 5th March – Shrove Tuesday.

Kilmallock barracks 1867

Killmallock Barracks, County Limerick, following the Fenian attack in 1867. The Constables and their wives defended it against a large force of Fenians.

 

The night of 5th March was also known as Skellig Night in Munster – it was, effectively, an Irish Carnival, although the puritanically minded Catholic Church tried to discourage such folk festivities. In Midleton, people ‘knocked about’ – that is they made merry and created harmless if noisy mayhem in their last opportunity to let their hair down  before Lent began next morning.

On Skellig Night, the night of Shrove Tuesday, 5th March 1867, four constables, Greany, O’Brien, O’Donnell and Sheedy, left the police barracks on Main Street, Midleton, to patrol the town. They turned north to eventually patrol the Cork Road. They then returned to the Barracks to consult the Head Constable. Oddly, it was on the Cork Road  that a carpenter called Timothy Daly assembled his force of somewhere between thirty and forty men, armed with a few guns, pikes and agricultural tools. It is not entirely known how the two groups of men managed to avoid each other but it seems likely that the Midleton Fenians assembled when the coast was clear, a likely event if they had monitored the regular patrols from the barracks.

The Fenians marked in military formation carrying sloped arms down the lenght of Main Street. Twice in the darkness the Fenians were approached by townspeople and asked who they were – one man thought that they were a large police patrol. (It should be noted that the Midleton Gas Company had been established 1859, but it is not certain how many public gas lights there were on Main Street at the time.} The Fenians marched to the southern end of Main Street and reassembled their men at Lewis Bridge where they redressed their ranks by the National Bank. This is where the four constables encountered them having resumed their patrol from the police barracks. The Fenians trapped the police within a semi-circle, with the wall and high wooden gates of Mr Green’s house behind the constables.

Bank House 2

The former National Bank at the Rock in Midleton was where the Fenians assembled to confront the patrol of four constables. The encounter left constables wounded – Patrick Sheedy soon died of his wounds.

The Fenians challenged the police in the ‘Name of the Irish Republic’ to surrender and give up their arms. Tim Daly reached for Sub-Constable O’Donnell’s gun and as the two men struggled over the gun, a shot rang out and Sub-Constable Patrick Sheedy fell mortally wounded. Next, Constable O’Donnell was shot in the head but only lightly wounded. The other two constables fled, in opposite directions as a fusillade rang out.

Rock Terrace 2

Witness to murder: the occupants of these houses would have witnessed the Fenians shooting Constables O’Donnell and Sheedy. Note the date of construction made out in yellow brick on the right – 1861.

The Fenians then stripped the fallen constables of their arms and munitions, and then in marched up Chapel Road towards Ballinacurra. From Ballinacurra they took the Gereagh Road to Ladysbridge. That village is the meeting point of five roads, so it was the assembly point for groups from Aghada, Cloyne and other places in the district.

AS the events in Midleton were taking place Peter O’Neill Crowley led the Ballimacoda Fenians in a raid on the Coastguard Station in Knockadoon. Nobody was hurt in the raid but the entire stock of guns and ammunition was removed from the Coastguard Station.  Taking the coastguard men as prisoners, the Fenians then marched via Killeagh to Mogeely where the prisoners were released. The Fenians then moved north of Mogeely to Bilberry Hill to await the other groups from Midleton and elsewhere.

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The coastguard station at Ring, Knockadoon. There si some question as to whether this structure is the one attacked by the Fenians on 5th March 1867 or a replacement. Evidence of fortification suggests that is dates from AFTER the Fenian raid – landowners once again began to build ‘fortified’ houses after 1867!

Meanwhile, earlier in the evening in Castlemartyr, the police were alerted to large fire at a farm haggard in Gortnahomna, just east of the village, belonging Mr Walker. When the police arrived, Head-Constable O’Connell became very suspicious and promptly decided to order his men back to barracks – no doubt to the horror of Mr Walker. Once they were back in their barracks the police promptly went into what is now called ‘lockdown’ – they got their guns ready, closed the shutters and fortified the building. (Note: this was not the building the constabulary occupied in 1921 but another building almost directly across from the Market House where Abernethy’s Garage later operated from.)

Captain John McClure,  leading the combined force from Ladysbridge, assembled his his men at the crossroads on the eastern side of Castlemartyr, across the river from the Main Street.  He then proceeded up the street to call on the constables to open up and surrender, but they refused. Calling for volunteers, McClure ordered Tim Daly and his men to attack the barracks.  A gunfight ensued, waking some of the villagers who opened their windows to see what was up. The Fenians ordered them to shut their windows and stay indoors, while the attack was continuing. The six constables in the barracks, trained and well armed, were able to hold off the Fenians, and one constable, firing from a side window, shot Tim Daly. The wounded man managed to move ten perches (fifty metres) from where he was shot, and he died partially on the pavement and partially on the roadway – almost exactly the same as Sub-Constable Sheedy in Midleton, as was noted at the Coronor’s inquest into Sheedy’s death. Daly laft a wife and eight children.

Abernethy's garage

The original Constabulary Barracks in Castlemartyr was apparently in this building which later became one of the best known motor garages in East Cork when the Constabulary were moved to another building in Castlmartyr..

When the Fenians retreated back across Castlemartyr bridge the Head Constable O’Connell led his men out to clear their attackers off. However, when they got to the bridge the realized how many men opposed them and retreated to the security of the barracks. It was later claimed that the Fenians had barricaded the bridge, but there was never any evidence for this. The police probably thought that discretion was the better part of valour.

Abernethy's Garage side

The narrow side window from which Tim Daly was apparently shot can be clearly seen in this image. It was an excellent building from which to control the main street of Castlemartyr.

Captain McClure then led the main body of his force to Killeagh from where they vanished – supposedly in the direction of Tallow in County Waterford. In fact many of them almost certainly ended up in Kilclooney Wood between Mitchelstown and Kilmallock. The next morning saw a train arrive at Mogeely railway halt from Youghal to disgorge companies of the 67th Regiment to take control of Castlemartyr. Peter O’Neill-Crowley and his men, waiting patiently but surely forlornly at Bilberry Hill, spotted this and realised that the rising must have failed. Some time later another train arrived – from Cork. This disgorged Companies of the 14th Regiment who replaced the 16th Regiment in Castlemartyr, while the rest of the 14th Regiment occupied Midleton. The Market House tin Midleton was pressed into service as a temporary army base.

A number of men were arrested in Midleton and Castlemartyr and rapidly hauled before the magistrates to await trial for treason before a special commission that was established almost immediately.

midleton-market-house-clock

The Market House in Midleton (now the library) was used as a base by the 14th Regiment the day after the failed Fenian rising.

Meanwhile various groups of Fenians gathered at Kilclooney Wood. It was there on 31st March that a force of police and soldiers found and attacked them . One man was shot – Peter O’Neill Crowley from Ballymacoda. He was gravely wounded and taken immediately to Mitchelstown where here died some hours later. His funeral a few days later was one of the biggest in County Cork. O’Neill Crowley’s body was carried on the shoulders of supporters all the way from Mitchelstown to Ballymacoda (a distance of about sixty MILES)! The irony of the whole incident was that one of the leaders of the Crown forces was Edward Redmond, the Resident Magistrate in Lismore, and uncle of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who eventually obtained the passage of Home Rule Act of 1914, and of Willie Redmond who died on the Western Front during the Great War.

In early April, the Lord Lieutenant of County Cork, Lord Fermoy, who lived at Trabolgan, summoned a meeting of the magistrates of Imokilly to meet at Midleton Courthouse to discuss the rising and to express their support for, and admiration of ,the work of the police in suppressing the rising. Constable O’Connell was highly commended for his actions in Castlemartyr, and condolences were expressed to Constable Sheedy’s widow.

Manning Tower Fota

Manning Tower, a Napoleonic era martello tower, located between Fota and Great Island, was attacked and raided, with nobody being hurt, in December 1867. This was the only martello tower ever ‘taken’ by an enemy and the raid led to the closure of martello towers as military installations in 1868.

In September, the rescue of two Fenian prisoners from a police van in Manchester led to the accidental death of a police sergeant and the subsequent manhunt eventually resulted in the capture of five men, of whom three were later tried for murder. the Three men were found guilty of murder, despite the flimsy evidence. They were condemned to hang. The men were Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien. who was born in Ightermurrogh, between Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda. O’Brien’s childhood home has long been demolished. This probably happened not long after his father, John O’Brien, was evicted from his farm by the Earl of Shannon despite being fully paid up in all his rents and any arrears. Michael O’Brien had fought in the American Civil War and was an American citizen.

The final act of the Fenian year in Cork came in December when ‘Captain Mackey’ (as pseudonym for a man called Lomasney) managed to raid Maiining Tower, the martello tower situated between Fota and Great Island. Mannin Tower was the only martello tower in Britain or Ireland to be successfully ‘attacked’ and ‘taken’ by an enemy force. This led, in early 1868, to the decommissioning of all martello towers in Britain and Ireland.

The Fenian Rising of 1867 was suppressed by the police – the military forces were hardly involved, except to secure ‘infected’ areas following the uprising. This was why Queen Victoria granted permission for the Irish Constabulary to be renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in September 1867.

One question must be asked: did the Fenians use ‘Skellig Night’ revels as a cover for assembling their forces?

Fota – A rude suggestion for a lovely name!

Fota Island arial

Fota Island from the north east. The main approach road comes from the bottom right and runs along the shore to the south of the island towards Belvelly bridge on the upper left of the picture.  The Cork to Cobh rail line is actually the thin line running across the water at the top of the picutre. It just touches Fota at the extreme western tip of the island. Manning Martello Tower is situated on its own ‘island’ at the top of the picture between Fota and Marino Point on Great Island (upper left). .

Irish placenames usually have some meaning….even if the intervening years have bowdlerised the name and left us all confused. For example, the townland of Ballintotis/Ballintotas just three miles east of Midleton has caused a lot of confusion, and not only in terms of its spelling. When Paul McCotter and Kenneth Nicholls edited the Pipe Roll of Cloyne in 1997 they added detailed explanatory notes which give a very reasonable and plausible explanation of the name Ballintotis/Ballintotas. It is actually Baile an tSátair, a name derived from the Anglo-Norman family called des Autier in French or de Altaribus in Latin. They were the landlords from 1177 to the early/mid-1400s. The surname probably still survives in the area as Waters  or Sawter.

Another local name in East Cork is Fota. This is a mostly flat island located between Carrigtwohill and Great Island. The island consists of two townlands, each in a different civil parish!

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Fota House by Richard and William Vitruvius Morrison is situated amidst fine gardens and a celebrated arboretum.

Fota is best known for the lovely Fota House. This was originally a hunting lodge that was rebuilt and extended in the 1820s as a grand Regency-style mansion by Richard Morrison and his son William Vitruvius. The house is now in the care of the Irish Heritage Trust and is open to the public. Attached to the  house are gardens which incorporate Fota’s famous arboretum. The present house was commissioned by John Smith-Barry who also began to develop the gardens and arboretum. He also began the planting of trees around the edge of the demesne which helped to give Fota its famously mild micro-climate.

The other famous feature of Fota is the wildlife park – the first to be established in Ireland. This is the most popular visitor amenity in County Cork. The wildlife park is involved in the conservation of rare and endagered species, particularly cheetahs, red pandas, scimitar horned oryx, Asian lions and, more recently, tigers.

 

The third element in Fota is the combination of Fota Island Resort and its golf course. The gold course hosted the Murphy’s Irish Open in 2001 and 2003.

One intriguing element of Fota is that it has its own railway halt – as a condition of the sale of the route for the construction of the railway to Queenstown in 1860-62, the Smith-Barrys required that all trains must stop at Fota!

Manning Tower Fota

Manning or Fota Martello Tower is situated on a flat island connected to both Fota and Great Island by the railway embankment. Manning Tower was the only one ever taken by an enemy when the Fenians seized it and stripped it of its arms in December 1867, almost 150 years ago!. 

One claim to fame that Fota has refers to the Martello tower built at the tip of the Island facing the ntrance from the lower harbour. Manning Tower was actually successfully raided in December 1867 by a party of Fenians – the only Martello tower to be successfully attacked by an enemy! Bizarrely this incident led to the official disarming of all Irish Martello towers in 1868.

There is however one oddity about Fota that is worth exploring – it’s name. The official cartographical name of the island is Foaty. And therein lies a clue to the origins of the seemingly Italian name presently used. The older form of the name suggests a Norse or Vicking origin.

Fota Frameyard

Fota’s superbly restored Frameyard is one of the most popular attractions in the gardens.

The British Museum’s website has an intriguing page created as part of its recent Vikings – Life and Legend exhibition. The page looks at Norse (Viking) placenames in Britain and Ireland.  Fota is given two possible meanings. It may be derived from the word fótr, or foot in Norse. This makes sense as the island was indeed a stepping stone, a link, between the mainland to the north and Great Island to the south. However, the other meaning that is offered begs serious questions: fod means female genitalia or anus!  The word -ay or -ey was added, meaning island. Frankly, it is difficult to see where the idea of Fota being derived from female genitalia derives from – it makes no sense in a local context. There’s no doubt that the island has a Norse name….but it may have a very  ordinary origin.

In 1997 the UCC scholar Donnchadh Ó Corráin examined the meaning of the name.Ó Corráin is clear about one thing, and that is the name Fota certainly has nothing to do with female genitalia, despite the success of breeding endangered animals! Indeed Ó Corráin has examined and rejected the possible Irish alternatives, which include fód thige (sod house), fódh teith (warm soil – a pretty good option), feóidhte (decayed/withered). O Corrain has noted that some of the medieval versions of the name have the letter ‘r’ included in the spelling, suggesting that fódr/fodri, or foot, is indeed the actual origin of the name.

Fota Cheetahs

Fota Wildlife Park may be famed for the fertility of its breeding programme for endangered animals, but the origin of the name almost certainly has noting to do with female genitals.

Of course there ARE rude names in East Cork. One is the name surname Cott. This is not derived from the word cott or small fishing boat. It is derived from the Anglo-Norman name Codd, which is still common in County Wexford. Codds are, of course, testicles!

Note: Donnchadh Ó Corráin’s scholarly exploration of the name Fota is found in the journal Peritia, 1997..

 

 

 

Bold Fenian Men – a lecture to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Fenian Rising in East Cork.

Rock Terrace 2

A view to a killing: Rock Terrace, Midleton, was built in 1861 – a mere six years before the Fenians under Timothy Daly shot dead Sub-Constable Sheedy and injured Sub-Constable O’Donnell across the street at the entrance to Mr Green’s house. Note the date of construction made out in yellow brick on the right of the photograph.

A hundred and fifty years ago this month (Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th March 1867) the Fenian Rising took place in various parts of Ireland.  A major series of incidents happened in Knockadoon, Midleton and Castlemartyr. No official ceremonies have been arranged but on Saturday 18th March, there will be a lecture on the subject in Midleton Library. Appropriately the library is housed in the old Market House.which was used to house troops from the 14th Regiment in the aftermath of the Rising.

The lecture will take place on Saturday 18th March at 12.00 noon in Midleton Library. Admission is free and all are welcome!