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!

A 1002213

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..

 

 

 

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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!

 

The 1867 Fenian Rising in Midleton, 5th and 6th March – 150 years ago this month.

1798-statue

Mistakenly called ‘The Fenian Man’ this statue actually commemorates the birth of Irish republicanism in the United Irishmen’s rebellions of 1798 – nearly seventy years BEFORE the 1867 Fenian Rising. However, the Fenian rebels who marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr did assemble at the Fair Green beyond the trees in the background.

In front of the Courthouse in Midleton there stands a recently erected life-sized bronze figure of a man holding a pike. The popular local name for this figure is ‘The Fenian Man‘. Unfortunately the name is a misnomer. The figure actually represents a participant in 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen – almost seven decades before the Fenian Rising. Many people in Midleton do not realise that the housing scheme called Tim Daly Terrace is actually the town’s real monument to Midleton’s role in the 1867 Fenian Rising.

The Fenian Rising is usually associated with other parts of the country , such as Tallaght in County Dublin and  Kilmallock in County Limerick. Yet, on the evening of March 5th 1867 about fifty men led by Tim Daly assembled at the Fair Green in Midleton to march ‘in military order‘ to Castlemartyr where they planned to attack the Constabulary barracks there Two police constables were shot at the Rock, Midleton, one, Sub-Constable Sheedy, being fatally wounded. The column continued to Castlemartyr via Ballinacurra and Ladysbridge, attracting further groups on the way. The attack on  Castlemartyr police barracks was fought off by the police, but it led to Tim Daly’s death. Daly left a wife and eight children. Sub-Constable Sheedy left a wife and seven children.

Damian Shiels’s blog Midleton Archaeology and Heritage Project gives an excellent account of the Fenian Rising in Midleton in 1867: https://midletonheritage.com/2012/12/14/midleton-and-the-1867-fenian-rising/

One of the ironies of Midleton’s involvement in the Fenian Rising is that almost exactly a month later the Christian Brothers opened their school in Midleton. The nationalist republican interpretation of Irish history is often called ‘the Christian Brothers’ version’ of Irish history. The present author’s personal experience of studying history at the same CBS Secondary School in the early 1980s is worth noting – Midleton (and East Cork’s) role in the Fenian Rising was entirely ignored!