Harpur of Wexford….and Ballinacorra!

Duiske Abbey

In 1278, Duiske Abbey in Graiguenamanagh bought out the land holding of David le Harpur at Coppenagh, in County Kilkenny. This photo shows the abbey church in the late 19th century. The church has been superbly restored since the photograph was taken.

Some years ago I discovered that there was an interesting document in the National Library of Ireland. This was a quit claim pertaining to a parcel of land in the townland of Coppenagh near the eastern edge of County Kilkenny, not far from the village of Graiguenamanagh. In fact the document even mentioned Graiguenamanagh in its guise as the Abbey of Duiske. The document noted that the man who signed it had inherited the land in question from his grandfather, Robert. The name of the man who issued the document was David le Harpur. The date was February 18th 1278 (hint, check your calendar!). Basically the document recorded the transfer of lands to the Cistercian Abbey of Duiske by David le Harpur and his landlord Raymond Roche. Sadly the original document from 1278 hasn’t survived, so National Library of Ireland manuscript D.287 is a sixteenth century copy of the original made for the Earl of Ormond, who was awarded the lands of Duiske at the Reformation. Ormond was clearly intent ion ensuring that no Harpur would ever reclaim the land at Coppenagh! What I love about this document is that it names David le Harpur and his grandfather, Robert – the original  Anglo-Norman occupant of the land. Clearly Robert le Harpur must have come to Ireland in the year 1169 or very shortly thereafter. If we didn’t come on the first ship from Pembrokeshire, the Harpurs of Ireland surely came on the second one or third one! Sadly the passenger lists didn’t survive the centuries – if there ever were any.  But at least we can look the FitzGeralds, Carews, Barrys in the eye as equals.  We might even have been here before the Butlers – just! For some time I thought this particular document was the earliest documented reference to my family name in Ireland, but I was wrong.

Ruins of Harperstown Castle

Twentieth century image of the ruins of Harperstown Castle in County Wexford – there’s even less to see now.

It seems we are linked to a ‘Sir William le Harper’ or Harpur who is sometimes described as Strongbow’s harper (well the surname had to come from somewhere!).  Sir William was granted the lands of Aghdare which he, or a successor, renamed Harperstown.  Aghdare means the ‘ford of the oaks’ – just like Adare in County Limerick!  A later successor was David le Harpur who held three carucates of land in Aghdare in 1324. That’s a mere 360 acres – hardly a vast estate, but a comfortable landholding in the fourteenth century. Note how the name David keeps cropping up – a sure sign of Welsh origins, after all St David is the patron of Wales. Raise a toast to him on 1st March, his feast-day. There were extensive ruins of a castle and house at Harperstown in the later 19th century. There is some argument over whether that original Sir William le Harpur or a second man of the same name built the castle – suspicion must fall on the second fellow because the ‘castle’ was a tower house – a gentleman’s fortified mini castle, the equivalent of a small English manor house. Such buildings only come into being in Ireland, the north of England and Scotland from the mid-1300s.  The main line of the Harperstown Harpurs ended in a daughter, Agatha, who married William Hore in 1336. She took the entire inheritance with her, so Harperstown in County Wexford was a chief seat of the Hore family for centuries thereafter (they had it until 1878!).  At least the property went to another Anglo-Norman family, thanks to the Great Hore of the Harpurs! Happily, I can write about the family Hore without any shred of embarrassment.   Although I have to confess that I feel that some of this story seems too good to be true. The fact that Aghdare townland was renamed Harperstown does suggest that at least one branch of the family were a cut above the rest as minor gentry.

I really should have issued a health warning in respect of the above tale of Sir William Harpur. The health specialists now tell us that all the stuff about avoiding salt is overstated – salt is good for us, so take the story of Sir William le Harpur with a good dose!  The fact that great-great-great-great-great-etc.(ad infinitum!) aunt Agatha married William Hore in 1336 makes the tale of Harperstown Castle suspect.  The Harpurs almost certainly had a house on the site, but I suspect the tower house was built by the Hores.  So we can’t even claim credit for the castle, however ruinous! But we CAN claim to have given our name to a townland a few miles due south of Taghmon in County Wexford – Harperstown.  This is bordered on the north east by the townland of Harveystown, on the east by Youngstown and on the south by Waddingstown!  Harvey and Wadding are both grand old names from Wexford. There’s even a Horestown – which must make life interesting for the postman.  On the first edition Ordnance Survey map it is clear that Harperstown is virtually a private demesne of the Hores, and is heavily planted with trees.  Just north west in the townland of Augfad is a junction of five roads (one is actually the driveway into Harperstown House) called the Hand of Harperstown, presumably for a five-fingered sign-post that must have stood there.

Harperstown Castle 1880

Sketch of Harperstown Castle – this is actually the country house erected by the Hore family who held the place much longer than the Harpurs.

Let’s tease out the Wexford links before dealing with the Ballinacorra Harpurs in County Cork.  We know that the lands of Bargy and of Forth were granted to Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald, to be held jointly (see my previous post). This suggests that the settlers from Wales and England were brought over by FitzStephen and his Carew heirs as well as FitzGerald. Now we know from my previous post on Ballinacorra that Robert FitzStephen was one of the two men given leave to conquer the kingdom of Cork in 1177 – and his lands there included Imokilly. FitzStephen’s heirs in Cork were the Carews – keep that fact in mind for the moment.

harpers island map

The main dual carriageway from Cork to Midleton crosses Harpers Island just to the right (east) of the green emblem indicating E30 – the official name of the road. The railway from Glounthaune to Fota crosses the island from north to south – Harpers Island only became busy in the late 20th century!

Now, I was long aware of the existence of Harpers Island in the inner reaches of Cork Harbour, lying between Fota Island and Glounthaune.  I had assumed that this was linked to a family called Harper who had a house on Great Island in the later 1700s and early 1800s.  They seem to have been later arrivals, probably Cromwellian or Williamite settlers – but that could be wrong.  However, the Down Survey maps drawn up for the Cromwellian government shows the name in use by the 1650s. Clearly the island had the name since the middle of the 1600s, but does it go back further?  At present I have no idea.

Glounthaune Jul 83 C9

Harpers Island is the spit of land marking the upper edge of this body of water off Glounthaune (the village in the foreground). The island is utterly flat and even has reclaimed land – almost like a Dutch polder.

And yes, I know the spelling is different – Harper rather than my own Harpur.  When I was learning to spell words in primary school, one of the first things I tried to do was write my own name.  I wrote HARPER – which made a lot of sense to a five year old.  But my mother corrected me – it was HARPUR.  Which did not make sense to a five year old!.But she insisted so I stuck with it.  In fact the spelling of the name did change over the centuries – le Harpour, le Harpeur, le Harpur, Harpur, Harper.  My own line, and others from Wexford, preserved the HARPUR form. Another group of families with the name Harper moved into Ulster in the seventeeth century – they were Protestant planters.  Among them were Harpurs from Scotland – a branch of the Buchanan family, and staunch Presbyterians. These families do not seem to be related to my bunch.

Harpers Island causeway

The train from Cork to Cobh crossing the causeway from Glounthaune onto Harpers Island. From there it proceeds to Fota which has its own station and then on to Cobh. Harpurs Island made the building of this railway much easier in the 19th century.

Paul MacCotter mentioned in his historical introductory essay in Jeremiah Falvey’s Chronicles of Midleton that the Harpurs were among the earliest Anglo-Norman settlers of Ballinacorra.  I had a chance recently to ask him for further details – warts and all!  And he kindly gave me the sordid details.  You may recall from my previous post that many of the Anglo Norman settlers in Imokilly share names with Anglo-Norman settlers in south County Wexford.  Clearly there are family relationships at work here – after all, the Carews, FitzGeralds, Barrys and others were all related.  The Anglo-Norman ‘invasion’ of Ireland was a family enterprise. The overall leader, Richard FitzGilbert de Clare, Lord of Striguil, known as Strongbow, was the odd one out being barely related to the rest of the party, if at all.

So my suspicions are raised by the FitzStephan/Carew links between Bargy and Forth in Wexford and Imokilly in Cork. Bear in mind that, at this early stage, the FitzGeralds also had a short-lived foothold in Imokilly.  But the Harpurs identified in Ballinacorra by Paul MacCotter were also settled on Carew lands.

Bargy & Forth

The baronies of Bargy and Forth in south Wexford were shared between Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald. FitzStephen’s share was inherited by the Carews. The Harpurs were settled in Bargy in the century following the Anglo-Norman arrival in 1169. The links between this area and Imokilly were very strong – because FitzStephen took Imokilly from the local Irish lords. The Carews probably settled people from Bargy and Forth in Imokilly.

The earliest reference for the Ballinacorra Harpurs is 1260, when Henry le Harpur was impleaded by Richard de Carew for 14 acres in the vill of Castle Corth.  Basically Henry Harpur was arguing with his landlord over possession of 14 acres in Ballinacorra, and the landlord took him to court.  It is not certain if the Richard de Carew named here was the son or grandson of the Richard de Carew who bought the manor of Castle Corth/Ballinacorra from Thomas des Autres in the 1190s.

The second mention is more sordid. John, son of Theobald le Harpur, was accused of violent disseisin with members of the Cod family at Ardraha near Cloyne in 1295.  There was a row between John le Harpur and the Cods of Cloyne – and violence was used, or threatened. I wonder if it was over land? That could cause a row!

The last mention is from 1336 – now that’s an interesting date because it is shortly before Thomas de Carew sold Castle Corth or Ballinacorra to William de Barry. There is simply a mention of a David le Harpur residing at Castle Corth – he’s probably a burgess or townsman, a tenant of the estate, with a small plot of land.

There seems to be no further reference to the Harpurs of Ballinacorra after that – perhaps the Black Death finished them off in 1348. But note the year 1336 – this was also the fateful year in which Agatha Harpur of Harperstown in Wexford married William Hore.  It’s been downhill since.

There’s more research to be done here, but one thing is clear – the Harpurs of Ballinacorra must have been settled in Imokilly after 1220 by the Carews. And they probably came from County Wexford – just like my father’s family.  No wonder I feel so much at home here in Midleton!  Now if only we can reclaim Harperstown….or maybe Harpers Island. I fear asking for the return of Coppenagh might be too much to hope for (sigh).

Many thanks to Paul MacCotter for the information on the Harpurs of Ballinacurra given above!

Link to an online article on Harperstown and the supposed origins of the Harpurs of Wexford. (Take a dose of salt before reading this):


7 thoughts on “Harpur of Wexford….and Ballinacorra!

  1. Interesting stuff. I am Stephen John Harpur, living in Birmingham, UK.
    My father was Richard Harpur of Gorey, Co. Wexford, who married the girl next door – Catherine Travers. My grandfather was James Harpur of Gorey & previously Wexford town. He married Mary Reynolds. My great grandfather was John Harpur of Wexford town, and he married Anne Dempsey (1872) in the RC church of Cleariestown. At the time of marriage, he is shown as residing in Cleariestown, and she in Heavenstown. These places are immediately adjoining each other. I am still trying to do further research, but I think I have pinned John Harpur down to having died in Wexford town and then being buried in the old Kilmannon cemetery, near Cleariestown. Be interested if anyone has any further info. Best Wishes………………..Steve


    • Steve,

      There is still a lot of work to be done on the Harpurs of Wexford and Cork – there were so many branches of the family and we still have no idea of exactly where they may have originated in South Wales/Pembrokeshire. It is worth noting that my own great-grandfather was also a James Harpur, but in 1901 he is shown living in Berkeley near New Ross as an agricultural labourer. If I should come across anything about the Cleariestown Harpurs I’ll get in touch with you. I must say that the townland of Heavenstown sounds charming!


      • Hello Tony, Crikey, I wasn’t expecting such a quick reply. This is just to let you know that I have visited Cleariestown, and there are still Harpur’s there. One died recently, and his cottage was renovated and sold.(google – Harpur cottage, Cleariestown) He is someone that I need to check out.
        There is a Henry Harpur and his son Nicholas who own a farm in Cleariestown, to whom I have spoken. We don’t think we are related, unless it goes way back to links that have yet to be discovered. I see we have similar interests. I enjoy all kinds of History, and last year signed up to do a History Degree (p/t) with the open university. I have just started my second year, so I am procrastinating by being on here ! I just remembered, I was in Fishguard last year, while waiting for the ferry, I came across another Harpur who was running a militaria/antique ship. He was really enthusiastic when I told him that I was a Harpur, and said that his family came from Wexford….small world.


  2. Hi Tony. What a pleasant surprise to find this from a Cork man. My family in Ireland going back several generations have maintained that Harper’s Lane in Wexford Town was named for our family and spelled wrong. And while there are a few coincidences in my research, I have failed to make a direct connection to Francis Harper for whom the lane is named.

    Francis Harper, and he clearly preferred “er”, was a retail and lumber merchant, ship owner, three time mayor, magistrate, Lloyd’s agent and more who died in 1862. In Griffith’s he occupied all of the properties along Harper’s Lane and a residence on Main Street South a few doors down (among others). My family was sandwiched between his residence and Harper’s Lane.

    Have you any information as to where Francis Harper may have been born or come from. Our Harpurs hail from Gardimus, Ballymore before my branch residing and operating stores on Main Street South in Wexford Town.

    Coincidentally, I live in Wexford, PA USA. And straight from The Harp, thank you.


    • John,

      How nice to get in touch with a namesake from the US….and from Wexford in Pennsylvania too! Midleton was actually very familiar to the founder of Pennsylvania, William Penn, because he lived nearby at Shanagarry, and in 1670 records that he conducted business here in Midleton (or Corabby as he still called it). You do realise that there was a Harper’s Lane in Cork too! Another John Harper was a banker in Cork before 1800. However we don’t know if he was one of the original Harpur family (the Anglo-Norman family who came to Ireland in or just after 1169). it is also possible that he may have descended from a later English settler, hence the spelling of his name. In the 19th century the Harpur and Harper spelling were virtually interchangeable. There are many reasons why one spelling may have been preferred over the other. Harpur seems misspelled and very Irish it reflected a consciousness of coming from a long line descended from the Anglo_Norman Harpurs. The Harper spelling suggested a ‘respectable’ English family – an advantage in business at the time, perhaps.

      Francis Harper was clearly a successful businessman. However, I’m afraid I haven’t too much on him. He was certainly around in the 1830s, so he may have been around 70 or 80 when he died. I’ll have to look for any reference to his baptism – or to the baptism of his children. Remember that Catholics were not given civil registration in Ireland until 1863, despite Protestants and Jews being included in civil registration since the 1840s. If Francis was a Protestant, it should be possible to find him…….but these records are more difficult to access, whereas the Catholic registers are online on the National Library of Ireland website. However, few of the registers date from the 1700s, most starting some tim ein the 1800s, the earlier ones being lost.

      I see that Ballymore isn’t too far from Harperstown, in Bargy barony…..so that may be the seat of the most important branch of the family, and Ballymore may represent a place where your branch of the family simply managed to stay put for centuries. Sadly, Gardimus doesn’t appear as a townland in Ballymore Civil Parish is it the name of a house or even a particle of a townland? Amusingly in the same parish is the townland of Yoletown – perhaps this gives its name to Yola (the old dialect of County Wexford that combined medieval English, Flemish (old Dutch), and even Irish (Gaelic). It was almost a distinct language in its own right. I’ll look up the Catholic registers to see if the baptism of Francis Harper is anywhere recorded in the Catholic parishes of south County Wexford. It may take some time. Sadly the history of the Harpur family of Ireland has yet to be written.Thanks again for contacting me. Tony H.


      • Tony. Fascinating facts relating to PA in USA. I’ve been through all the Parish registers, Griffiths, directories, Cantwell’s, you name it. I’ve got lots of history for Francis. Just not where he was born or came from. He was Catholic and died 1862 at 74 and so born 1788 +/-. This is not in registers for most likely places. Straight from The Harp, I do thank you for your thoughtful response. And great blog!


      • Tony,
        I believe I am a descendant of Either Alexander Harper born 1708 or his brother Francis Harper born 1722. Their father was George HarpUr born @ 1667 and their grandfather was Nicholas HarpUr born @ 1645 both from England. I live in Greene County North Carolina USA, (Formerly Dobbs Co. < formerly Glascow County And formerly part of Craven Co. New Bern, NC). I have been trying to trace my Harper family lately and get confused too. Several Harpers migrated from Va and NC to different States including PA. Maybe we are cousins!??
        My name is Charles Craven Harper born 1960, Greene Co. NC.


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