Mainistir na Corann, Walter Raleigh and the last days of the abbey of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist's Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The  present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.  This photo is produced with the permission of Jim Horgan. The image can also be seen on the Cork County Library website’s digital collections.

What sort of property did the former abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann), Philip FitzDavid Barry, lease from the Crown for twenty-one years in 1544?  To discover that we will have to go back a few years before that date.

In referring to the dissolution of the monasteries, Brendan Bradshaw, an Irish priest and a wonderful scholar at Cambridge, said that more was ‘accomplished in the seven years between 1535 and 1542 in England than in the seventy years between 1536 and 1606 in Ireland.’  What he meant was that in England and Wales the conditions for dissolving monasteries were more effective in achieving the desired outcome than was the case in Ireland, where local interests effectively slowed down the process and inhibited its completion.  After first managing to get the Irish parliament to agree to dissolve a mere thirteen small religious houses near Dublin in 1537, the government manage to close down a number of friaries in 1538 and a larger number were dissolved in 1539 – but only in areas under government control.  With the appointment in 1541 of Anthony St Leger as Lord Deputy (chief governor of Ireland), a more thorough policy was embarked upon. A royal commission was sent to investigate all the accessible remaining monasteries and to make assessments of their property, value, income and potential use.  This commission examined the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) and its report preserves a glimpse of the monastery and its hinterland at the end of the medieval period.

In 1541 the commissioners swore in a jury to render a return concerning the property of the the Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann). The members of the jury were: Thomas Verdon, Dermot Mortell, Thomas Carroll, John Clerye, Maurice Fylye (Foley), Walter Galwey, John Skyddy, Richard Gowle.

The jurors noted that the church of the monastery had been the parish church from time immemorial. This suggests that, instead of building a separate church for use by the parishioners, the monks had set aside part of their conventual church for use by the parish congregation.  We don’t know if that entailed erecting a wall to divide the nave from the east end of the church (reserved for the monks).  If the community of monks had become very small since the Black Death in 1348-50, then such a wall is likely to have been built. What this meant was that the church was to be preserved for use by the parish. Other places were less fortunate because the church roof was often stripped to render the building useless.

All the other buildings within the monastic precinct at Chore (Mainistir na Corann) were deemed to be suitable and necessary for the farmer dwelling there. These buildings covered an acre of ground and were valued at 5 shillings.. The use of the word ‘farmer’ suggests that the plan was to grant or lease out the entire monastic estate for a sum of money to be remitted to the Crown. The ‘farmer’ of Corabbey is what Philip Barry became in 1544.

The other properties of the monastery included various plots of lands – usually entire townlands, scattered about the monastery. The main body of the monastic estate at Chore (the area immediately around the monastery) was estimated to contain 180 acres, 0 roods 0 perches.The detached portion of the estate at Kyllynamaragh and Ballygibbyn (near Mogeely) amounted to an estimated 120 acres 0 roods 0 perches.These were the lands of the monastic estate – about 300 acres, all told. A modest enough estate it seems.  But this figure was not the same as 300 acres today.

Castlemartyr Castle was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.  They were governors of the Earl of Desmond's lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola' or Hounds of Blood for their savagery.  The towerhouse  at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle.

Castlemartyr Castle, sometimes called the Castle of Imokilly, was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly. They were governors of the Earl of Desmond’s lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola’ or Hounds of Blood for their savagery. The towerhouse at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle. The rebellious Seneschal was besieged here by the Earl of Ormond and Captain Walter Raleigh.  Ormond had the Seneschal’s mother, brother and infant son executed in front of the castle to encourage surrender – but the Seneschal managed to escape.

For example, the townland of Killeenamanagh (Kyllynmaragh) today measures 303 acres 3 roods and 22 perches in statute measurement.  Ballygibbon measures 203 acres 0 roods and 14 perches in statute measurement.  This gives a good idea of the estimation of acreages in the 1541 report.  The 120 acres estimated by the jurors is equal to over 507 acres (rounded up) in modern measurement!  What are we to make of Chore?  The trouble here is that we’re not exactly sure where to draw the boundaries.  Townparks alone currently measures 315 acres 0 roods and 35 perches.  Add in the 16 acres 2 rood and 37 perches of School-land (cut out of Townparks in 1696), and we get some 333 rounded up modern acres. There must have been more land attached to the monastery to give the 1541 estimated figure of 180 acres.

If we take the Killenamangh and Ballygibbon tract as being about 500 modern acres, it means that we must multiply the 1541 figures by 4.16 (at very least!) to get an approximate estimate of the area of monastic lands.  Thus the area of 180 acres estimated for Chore in 1541 gives us over 748.8 modern acres.to make up, say 749 acres when rounded up.  if we combine Townparks with School-lands and Broomfield West we get 697 modern acres.  This suggests that the remaining acreage of the monastic estate may have came from the northern part of Castleredmond and a chunk of Broomfield East. All in all then, we’re talking about a monastic estate of about 1200 acres.

But a word of warning – these acreage figures may be a serious underestimate of the monastic lands.  Even worse, did the abbot conceal some of the monastic estate, with the connivance of the jurors?  The jurors were local men and certainly knew of the Barry interest in the land and probably understated the size of the monastery’s landholdings – they certainly weren’t going to do anything that upset the then Lord Barry.  Also,we must remember that there were no accurate maps at the time and people measured land area by sight, based on experience.  Also, our multiplier of 4.16 may be an underestimate – the acre in Imokilly barony might even have been different from the acre in Barrymore barony!

What was the value of all this land?  The jury estimated that Chore should have produced an annual rental income valued at 66 shillings and 8 pence – if it were fully inhabited! But in fact the jurors noted that Chore was actually producing an annual income of 20 shillings from the rents paid by Richard Urlings (Verling) and others. The salmon weir was valued at 6s.8d per annum. The water mill was valued at 20s per annum, but because of the recent trouble following the Silken Thomas Rebellion was only producing 6s.8d per annum! The lands of Killeenamanagh and Ballygibbon should have produced 40s per annum if leased, but were now laid waste by rebellion and were unoccupied.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep.  It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep. It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century. The view is northwards towards the five arch bridge leading to Cork. This is the point at which the river was most fordable.  The monastic lands of Chore lay to the right of the photo.

The appropriated rectories should also have produced a good income of 65 shillings. Chore should have given tithes worth 100s, but the rebellion had reduced this to 13s.4d.Three other rectories were laid waste and only Mogeely was producing tithes valued at 6s.8d per annum.  This was a huge drop in the monastery’s income.

Four years after the monastic estate was leased to Philip FitzDavid Barry, the community of monks were still there – and were already £6 behind in their rent!

What is worth noting about all this is the lack of any mention of a town or village or other settlement – the reference to the value of rents ‘if the land was fully occupied’ suggests that if there was a settlement near the abbey, it was then so small as to warrant no mention in the Commissioners’ returns. Furthermore, no figure is given for the number of monks accommodated in the abbey – this is a serious failing of the Commissioners’ accounts, but understandable, since the Commission was asked to value the property of these monasteries..

What actually happened after the dissolution in Ireland was that religious life almost certainly continued there for some years, perhaps even decades.   It is likely that the number of monks at Chore was quite small.  Some monasteries apparently had no monks just prior to their dissolution!

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann.

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann. He was a particularly brutal soldier who was rewarded with vast tracts of land in East Cork.

If there was no village or town near the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) prior to is official dissolution, then it is likely a settlement grew up fairly quickly afterwards, perhaps as a way of obtaining more income from the land rents.  The most dramatic event in the next few decades was the attempted ambush of Captain Walter Raleigh at the ford over the Owenacurra by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the Seneschal of Imokilly.  This happened in 1582 during the second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583).  The Seneschal, the Earl of Desmond’s local governor, had hidden his men in the old abbey, suggesting that much of it was still intact at the time and it is uncertain if the buildings had been damaged during the First Desmond Rebellion (1569-1573). As Raleigh’s force approached the Owenacurra River from the direction of Cork, the Seneschal’s men opened fire on them and unhorsed a couple of soldiers.  Raleigh claimed to have stood his ground on horseback in the middle of the river protect his downed men.  This suggests that the Owenacurra River was wider and perhaps deeper than it appears today.  However, when the Seneschal realised that Raleigh wasn’t going to be deterred, he and his men slipped away. Bizarrely, at the time the abbey complex was held on a lease from the Crown by a relative, and rival, of the Seneschal. This was his cousin, another John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, who was also the Dean of Cloyne Cathedral, although he hever took holy orders. The Dean was actually a Catholic and a firm supporter of friars and other Catholic clergy. Despite all this he was known as Queen Elizabeth’s staunchest local supporter in Cork!  It was this John FitzEdmund FitzGerald who would go on to lay the foundations of the modern town on the site.

Sources: Brendan Bradshaw, The dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland under Henry VIII. (Cambridge 1974). Rachel Moss, ‘Reduce, reuse, recyle: Irish monastic architecture c1540-1640’ in Roger Stalley (editor), Irish Gothic Architecture – construction, decay and reinvention. (Dublin 2012).  Newport B White (editor), Extents of Irish Monastic Possessions, 1540-1541. (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin 1945).    .

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