‘And one hen for the lord at Christmas’ – Ballycotton in 1364.



Ballycotton on its headland, with its two islands and tiny harbour for fishermen.

The fishing village of Ballycotton in East Cork is perched on a cliff with a headland providing modest protection for its tiny harbour. The modern village is apparently bereft of any buildings older than the early 19th century. Yet the site was settled for centuries. The village was certainly there before 1364 when the tenants were recorded in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne (Rotulus Pipae Clonensis), the most valuable account of the manors and estates of the Bishop of Cloyne to survive to the present day. Sadly, the original Pipe Roll was destroyed in the burning of the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. Fortunately for us, a Cork historian and antiquarian, Richard Caulfield, published the entire document in 1859. However, there were errors in that publication, probably the fault of the printer rather than of Caulfield himself. In 1996, the Cloyne Literary and Historical Society published a new edition, based on Caulfield’s original. but not content with simply republishing the original, the Society worked with two excellent editors, Paul MacCotter and Kenneth Nicholls, to produce a wonderful edition consisting of the original Latin text on one page, with the English translation on the facing page, and an enormous, and priceless, collection of Endnotes and Commentary taking up half the volume.

To illustrate the richness of the Pipe Roll as a record of mediaeval East Cork, in this post I am going to present the names of those who rented land from the Bishop of Cloyne at Ballycotton barely two decades after the Black Death had decimated the population of Ireland and Europe.

The name of the settlement given in the document was Balycottyn but other mediaeval spellings included Balycotekyn (1260), Balycocekyn (1275-76), probably derived from the Irish Baile Coitchinn – ‘common town’ since it was inhabited by common folk rather than clerics or gentlemen.

Ballycotton is described as consisting of two ploughlands of arable land, six acres of meadow land, thirty acres of turbary (peat bog), forty acres of moor and pasture, and sixty acres of underwood (scrubland).

The Bishop kept in hand one and a half ploughlands, six and a half acres of meadow, thirty acres of turf bog, forty acres of moorland, and the sixty acres of scrubland. Ballycotton was part of the Manor of Cloyne – one of several manors that belonged to the Bishop of Cloyne. There was no record of a church there and it should be noted that the village was always part of the parish of Cloyne. The inhabitants were mostly tied to the manor in 1364 – that is they were serfs or villeins who had no access to the King’s courts of law.

Gilbert Walys (Walsh)* held 56 ‘acres as they lie’ in betaghry (serfdom). That is his land was measured by custom rather than by a precise survey.  Gilbert owed 37s 4d in annual rent. He also paid 2s 4d annually on the feast of St Peter in Chains (1st August) for reaping the Bishop’s corn.

The same Gilbert Walys also held a second small parcel of land nearby at a rent of 3s 1d and 4d for reaping.

The 20 acres of land formerly held by William O’Longhan was now held by unnamed occupiers for 13s 4d and 10d for reaping.

The 15 acres formerly held by William Goygh were rented to the occupiers for 10s and 7 12 d for reaping.

Laurence O’Longhan held 14 acres in betaghry for 9s 4d annually and 7d for reaping.

The son of Laurence Codd held in fee farm (perpetual lease) fourteen acres besides his own holding at 13s 8d. He ploughed an acre in two days in spring for the Bishop and and also weeded the Bishop’s corn for two days in autumn. He was not permitted to interfere with the moor which lay beside his own moor.

Then comes a list of cottagers:

Richard Pussagh paid 6d annually for his cottage, Geoffrey Codd paid 12d, Thomas O’Duyr paid 6d, O’Lorkan paid 6d, as did Luke Lowys, Philip Barry, Adam Gogh, David O’Bryn, and David O’Fyn. John O’Kynel (O’Kineally) paid 3d for his cottage. It seems that all of these cottages had gardens attached to supply additional foodstuffs.

In addition to the rent all of these people in the cottages were fishermen – it is likely that those with larger holdings were also fishermen. They had to sell fish to the Bishop at a discount – he could take fish worth 12d for just 8d.. In season they had to sell a ling to the Bishop for just 2d, a cod for one and a half pence, three haddocks for 1d. However, the  Bishop was not entitled to take more fish than he actually required for his household.

Further obligations the Bishop’s tenants had to render to the lord of the manor included making turning and gathering the Bishop’s hay, they had to week the Bishop’s corn, and make the Bishop’s turf. Failing that they had to pay the bishop 3d. For every cow they possessed they paid the Bishop 3d, and if they had sheep, six sheep were counted as a single cow.

One final obligation was imposed on the tenants at Ballycotton – each man had to present the Bishop with a hen at Christmas.

As a document the Pipe Roll of Cloyne gives a wonderful insight into the lives of the tenants not just of Ballycotton but of all the Bishop’s estates in the fourteenth century.

*Correction: I had previously put the name Walys down as Wallace/Wallis. This was incorrect. The name is actually Walsh – a common name in East Cork.

(Source: Paul MacCotter and Kenneth Nicholls, editors: The Pipe Roll of Cloyne – Rotulus Pipae Clonensis. Cloyne Literary and Historical Society, 1996.)


Cork’s Lifelong Learning Festival 2016 Expands to Midleton

Lifelong Festival

The annual Cork Lifelong Learning Festival has expanded beyond the city in 2016. One of the venues this year is Midleton!

As part of the Festival, on Saturday 16th April, a free historical walking tour will be conducted by yours truly, meeting at the Courthouse at 12.00 noon.

The tour will go from the Courthouse to Distillery Walk, with brief side trips up Chapel Lane and Connolly Street. This tour aims to introduce people to the history of Midleton through its buildings.  The tour will last an hour. So, if you are participating in the festival’s events,  do come along and join us! Open to young and old alike!  This year’s festival runs from Monday 11th April to Sunday 17th April. And yes, the tour is free! And you can join us at any stage!

Let’s hope the weather gods are kind on that day!


A VERY brief history of Midleton!

Doorway St John the Baptist Church

The doorway to St John the Baptist Church (Church of Ireland), Midleton. Standing on the site of the medieval Cistercian Abbey of Chore, this church was completed in 1825 by the brothers George and Richard Pain. It’s a classic Board of First Fruits ‘hall and tower’ type church – although in this case Richard Pain’s elegant spire replaces the usual tower. Curiously some people believe that the church was completed in 1823, despite the large date-stone above the door! it always pays to look up. The previous church on the site was a neat structure built by St John Brodrick in the 1650s. (Photo: Buildings of Ireland website) 

The first day of April is probably not the best date to publish something, but this time it couldn’t be helped. On Friday, 1st April 2016, the Irish Examiner newspaper published a supplement called Midleton Living. As the name suggests it was all about Midleton. The supplement also came with the Evening Echo newspaper. I was invited to submit a brief history of Midleton for this publication. However, some people never got the newspaper or the supplement. There are in fact four historical articles in the publication, two of them by the Examiner’s own staff reporter Mary Leland.

The final one, opposite mine, concerns the monuments and public sculptures recently erected in Midleton, although I notice it is actually based on a press release prepared three years ago by the now defunct Midleton Town Council. Sadly, the council had never sought the assistance of a historian to draft this item. I expect a bit of negative feedback over one or two facts in my article. Don’t worry my double-barrelled elephant gun is LOADED with ammunition, namely solid, referenced, historical FACTS!

It is lovely to see that my article shares the same page as a lovely item about Kevin Aherne and his innovative Sage Restaurant, recently voted the best in the county! The ethos of this restaurant fits in beautifully with the origins of modern Midleton as a market town since 1608.

So, for the benefit of those who missed out, here’s the published article, which the editor titled Evolution from a market town to a thriving business hub. Please note that you may have to enlarge the resolution on your screen!

Brief History 1

Readers of this blog will be aware that I left out quite a bit of history from the article. There is no mention of scheming abbots, or mad monks, no mention of the attempted assassination of Walter Raleigh, and other matters. Space constraints obliged me to limit the article to just 800 words. But I reckon I covered the essentials of the development of Midleton as a market town.