St Nicholas Priory in Exeter and the creation of East Cork parishes

medieval charter

A medieval charter with seals attached. One seal is for the granter, the others are for the witnesses. This is NOT one of the charters mentioned in this post.

When the Anglo-Norman invaders Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen invaded the kingdom of Cork in 1177, they immediately began to donate some of the income from their land seizures to a small Benedictine priory in Exeter, in the county of Devon.

The Priory of St Nicholas was founded following after William the Conqueror presented the church of St Olave in Exeter to his newly founded Battle Abbey in Sussex. Battle Abbey was founded by William after 1070 on the site of the Battle of Hastings after he was instructed to do so by Pope Alexander II in reparation for the volume of blood spilled during the battle in 1066.

Two years after the battle of Hastings, William laid siege to Exeter, which had rebelled against him. The rebellion had probably been instigated by the lady Githa, the mother of King Harald Godwinson, the Anglo-Saxon king killed at Hastings. William took a fearful revenge on Exeter, but Githa managed to escape into exile, probably in her birthplace of Denmark. Shortly after his foundation of Battle Abbey, in 1070, William gave the Exeter church of St Olave to the abbey. The abbey sent a party of monks to Exeter to administer the church and its estates. They promptly set about building a monastery and a new church for the monastery, which they dedicated to St Nicholas in 1087, the very year that William the Conqueror died. The priory remained relatively small and subordinate to Battle Abbey until the smaller monasteries were dissolved by King Henry VIII in 1536. The prior and monks were pensioned off and the church and cloister pulled down. The remaining structures were sold off and later transformed into a large house during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I.

From 1177, the priory was the beneficiary of grants made to it by the Anglo-Norman invaders of Ireland. Some of these endowments were in County Wexford, but it seems the majority were in County Cork. The church of St Sepulchre on the south side of the city was renamed for St Nicholas when it was given to the Exeter priory by Milo de Cogan, with a considerable parcel of land outside the city. The old Church of Ireland of St Nicholas on Douglas Street is on the same site.

In 1936, the Royal Irish Academy published the records of these grants in an article written by Dr Eric St John Brooks (Litt D), who had inspected them in the Exeter Muniment Room. The Bedfordshire Historical Record Society informs us that Dr Eric St John Brooks (1883-1955) was born in Dublin but spent most of his career in England working for The Times and the Times Literary Supplement. His research interests focused on Irish history and he became one of the leading authorities on the Anglo-Norman period and edited documents for the Irish Manuscripts Commission.

The documents that Dr Brooks recorded consist of ten charters of which two refer to County Wexford and the rest are concerned with County Cork. Four of these are joint grants of Robett FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan, One is from Milo de Cogan, another is from his brother, Richard de Cogan, a most interesting one referring to Imokilly comes from Thomas de Landri (locally Landers), and a final one comes from Bishop Alan O’Sullivan of Cloyne and refers to lands in Imokilly. The seal of Robert FitzStephen is also preserved on some charters, depicting a knight on horseback. Milo de Cogan and his brother also have seals depicting a tree.

seal of alan fitzwalter

The seal of Alan FitzWalter resembles that of Robert FitzStephen. The knight on horseback was a popular motif for seals of landowners in the 12th century.

The reference to the deeds will also include supplementary information derived from Paul McCotter’s important work: A History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne (2013), a work that seriously updates Brooks’ paper.

The seven earliest deeds relating to County Cork are written in the what seems to be the same hand, except for that of Thomas de Landri. There is also a cartulary or roll of charters, all copied from originals around the time of King Edward I (reigned 1273-1307). Sadly, the edges of the vellum cartulary had been nibbled by generations of mice by the time Brooks recorded the documents it contained. This meant that some of the details of the documents have been destroyed. But reference to other evidence suggested solutions to some of the missing details.

This post will deal with the documents relating to Imokilly and Barrymore.

Document 1: This was a grant by Thomas de Landry of all the tithes of Balicornere to St Nicholas Priory in Exeter. This was a grant of all the tithes of the parish of Ballygourney, also called Ballintemple or Churchtown South in Imokilly. the grant doesn’t mention a church in Ballygourney, so it seems that there was no church there at the time. Indeed the parish may only have been formed, perhaps with this grant. We know from later sources that the parish church was later dedicated to St Nicholas suggesting that the priory in Exeter had the medieval church constructed and dedicated to its own patron saint. Thomas de Landri’s descendants gave their name to the townland of Ballylanders in this parish. This deed can be dated some time between 1177 and 1182.

Document 2: A deed granted by Bishop Alan (O’Sullivan) of Cloyne (1240-1248) to St Nicholas of Exeter of the lands of ‘Killmedwa’ and ‘Ardcatten.’ These two places are not precisely identified. It is thought that ‘Killmedwa’ was actually Kilva townland, located north of Cloyne. The priory had to pay a rent of 2 pounds of wax annually on the feast of St Colman (24th November). The grant also included a messuage (a town holding) at ‘Imelbeltim’ in Cloyne. One of the witnesses was Thomas de Cavilla, who was later confirmed as prebend of Kilcredan in 1248. This deed was dated 7th March 1244 and granted at Cloyne.

Turning to the cartulary roll we have a number of other documents to consider below.

Document 3: Grant of Robert FitzStephen of the lands of ‘Chelmechwe’ and ‘Canetocher’ and ‘Artathy’ to St Nicholas of Exeter for the soul of the granter’s brother, William Wallensis (Walsh), and for the soul of the granter’s soul, of his wife’s soul, his father’s soul and that of his mother. The lands named above are identified by Brooks as Kilva (‘Chelmechwe’ – also ‘Killmedwa’ above?). ‘Canetocher’ is probably Carrigatogher townland. ‘Artathy’ is uncertain but it must have been high ground in the vicinity of the first two, on the high ground north of Cloyne.William Wallensis or ‘Walsh’ as we would now call him was originally William of Hay, who with his brothers, Walter and Howel, were all sons of the famous Nesta of Wales – who was also the mother of Robert FitzStephen. McCotter disagrees with Brooks, who thought it was near Castlemartyr, and suggests that it refered to Aghada parish.

Document 4: Grant of Roger de Caunttiton (Condon) of his church of Corkbeg to St Nicholas of Exeter. the grant also includes ‘Incheogaryanochillan’. This last is probably not the parish of Inch but may refer to the island of Corkbeg.

Document 5: Grant of Robert FitzStephen to St Nicholas of Exeter of ten carucates of land between a ‘dún and the sea’ and another ten carucates ‘beyond the  wood.’ This was almost certainly in the parish of Aghada where the dun was probably the site of FitzStephen’s first castle in Imokilly. Brooks suggests that it was in the land between Ballinacurra and Castlemartyr, but McCotter is surely correct to identify it as the parish of Aghada. The grant also included the chapel of his castle – so this was the origin of the parish of Aghada, and its appropriation by St Nicholas of Exeter. In theory a carucate was about 120 acres but it varied depending on the fertility of the soil.

Document 6: A grant by Walter FitzRobert of the church of Clonpriest to St Nicholas of Exeter. This included all the tithes and benefits of the church and parish. The proviso was that the granter’s son, William, would hold the church for life, paying the priory of St Nicholas a pound of wax every year. It seems that St Nicholas Priory didn’t hold this property for very long because it ended up in the parish of Youghal and was held by the College of St Mary in Youghal from the 1400s.

seal of gilbert de clare 1148

Seal of Gilbert de Clare about 1148. Gilbert was Earl of Pembroke and the father of Richard FitzGilbert de Clare – better known as Stongbow.

Document 7: Robert de la Marshall granted his church of ‘Chalcorfyn’ with all tithes, oblations and with 1 knight’s fee to St Nicholas of Exeter. The grant was also quit of all obligations to him. This was the parish of Kilcurfin which was a separate parish until the early 1600s when it was united with Carrigtwohill parish. The townland of Kilcorfin lies north west of the village of Carrigtwohill. This grant was probably made in 1185.

What these documents show is the origin of some of the parishes in East Cork following the arrival of the Anglo-Normans. These parishes were based on the feudal land grants made to his followers by Robert FitzStephen. So these civil parishes approximate to the estates carved out by the invading forces in 1177. The Anglo-Normans (and one Gaelic bishop) settled these properties and incomes on the modest priory of St Nicholas of Exeter immediately after the invasion of 1177. The priory must have been relieved to be so generously endowed so rapidly. It should be noted that in 1615 the FitzGeralds of Ballymaloe claimed that these endowments had belonged to the Abbey of Chore – a breathtaking act of fraud following the Reformation! 

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!

Poor little rich girl – Pauline Roche 1835 – 1894

Although it reads like a novel, Pauline Roche’s tale is not a work of fiction by the Bronte sisters but a riveting tale about a feisty young lady righting a long standing wrong done to her. It is a tale that links Aghada Hall to Rome, and to Ballyadam, near Lisgoold. Here it is told by William Grey in his blog.

Forgotten Victorians

I love Pauline Roche, she’s the sort of relation everyone should have in their family history. Her story is so bizarre that it reads like a novel.

She is John Roche’s great-granddaughter, and in an unintended way, one of the major beneficiaries of his will, at her marriage, she was said to have about £7,000 (roughly £ 7.5m today). So to set her in context; Pauline Roche is Ernest O’Bryen‘s first cousin on her mother’s side. Her mother Jane is John Roche O’Bryen‘s eldest sister. She is also his second cousin on her father’s side, because William Roche, Pauline’s father is their ( Jane and John Roche O’Bryen) first cousin once removed.

Vatican City Bridge and St Peters Vatican City Bridge and St Peters

Pauline was born in Rome in 1835, and her father died the same year, when she was three months old. Her mother died the following year (1836) when she was eleven…

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Aghada Hall, co. Cork.

A fascinating post by William Grey about the now vanished Aghada Hall (previously Aghada House), which was the HQ of the US Naval Air Station Queenstown during World War I. One of the best things about this post is the selection of rare photographs of this locally important house.

Forgotten Victorians

Aghada  Hall was, apparently, a large  Georgian house designed by the Cork architect  Abraham Hargrave (1755-1808); though it seems to bea comfortable gentleman’s residence rather than a vast mansion.” It was completed in 1808. John Roche was also responsible for the start of the Aghada National School in 1819.

It’s time to revise this post quite a lot, and I am extremely grateful for a Thackwell grandson for the photos of the house. For the purposes of clarity, I’m going to call it Aghada Hall. John Roche, (17??- 1829) who had it built referred to it as Aghada House, but it was later referred to as Aghada Hall. Tony Harpur, a local historian in Cork sent me the following:

“The first edition Ordnance Survey map names the house as Aghada House (c1840). The house was named in the Ordnance Survey map of the early 20th century as…

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William Cosgrave VC and Aghada’s Gallipoli commemoration.

Gallipoli commemoration

Commemoration of the Turkish war dead at Gallipoli on 24th April 2015. From left to right are: Prince Harry (in uniform), President Higgins of Ireland, President Erdogan of Turkey, Prince Charles (in uniform).

Political correctness Irish style dates from 1922, and can be summed up in the following statement: ‘whatever you say, never say anything good about the British, or about the Irish who fought for the British – indeed it’s better to forget the latter altogether!’ Happily these men who joined the Royal Army and the Royal Navy between 1914 and 1918 are now being openly acknowledged – as they were today when President Michael D Higgins joined representatives of the Turkish, British, Australian, and New Zealand governments in the first part of the international centenary commemorations on the Gallipoli peninsula. Today they recalled the huge sacrifice of the Turkish troops who were defending their homeland. Tomorrow (Anzac Day in Australia and New Zealand) they will commemorate the Allied dead.

William Cosgrove VC

Corporal William Cosgrove VC, 1st Battalion, Royal Munster Fusiliers.

William Cosgrove was one of seven children born into a poor family in Ballynookera near the small village of Aghada on the eastern shore of Cork Harbour.  William’s father, Michael Cosgrove, even journeyed to Australia in search of work (I knew there had to be an Australian connection in this tale)! Thus William and his siblings were left in the care of their mother Mary Morrissey. Mary moved to a small cottage in the townland of Peafield with her children Michael, Daniel,Ned, David, Joseph and daughter Mary Catherine and young William. All the boys, except Joseph and William, later emigrated to America.  The daughter, Mary Catherine, died of tuberculosis at the age of thirteen.


The old tower of St Erasmus’s church in Aghada is all that is left of a building that Cosgrove knew. The present church is a modern replacement.

William Cosgrove attended National School (primary school) at Ballinrostig, but as soon as he was old enough, his mother apprenticed him to a local butcher in Whitegate called Rohan. This proved fortuitous for Mr Rohan had a contract to supply meat to the garrison at the nearby Fort Carlisle which protected the entrance to Cork Harbour.  As an apprentice, William had to deliver the meat to the fort by horse and cart. What he saw of the garrison turned William Cosgrove’s mind towards a military career, and  on 1 March 1909, he enlisted in the 1st Battalion of the Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Strictly speaking, William was under age and shouldn’t have been admitted into the Royal Army, but his strapping build and six foot height suggested that he would pass for somebody older.

Royal Munsters cap badge

Despite being an ‘Irish’ regiment, the cap badge of the Royal Munster Fusiliers displayed a Bengal Tiger. Tigers are not native to Ireland – but the emblem commemorated the fact that the regiment originated with the East India Company’s Army.

In the following four years, William Cosgrove was posted to India and Burma. This was an appropriate posting since the Royal Munster Fusiliers had developed from the East India Company’s Army, featuring a Bengal tiger on their cap badge. However, while William’s battalion was in Rangoon in August 1914, the Great War broke out in Europe, and it changed everything. The battalion was ordered back to Europe, departing from Rangoon on 21 November and arriving in England on 10 January 1915, where it was posted to Coventry. On 13 January the British Cabinet approved a naval plan to bombard the Gallipoli Peninsula with Constantinople as the ultimate objective of the operation, thereby opening a route to send supplies to Russia. This plan was enlarged on 28th January when it was decided to include the Royal Army in the operation.

King George V inspects the 29th Division in March 1915 just before they embarked for Gallipoli.

King George V inspects the 29th Division in March 1915 just before it embarked for Gallipoli.

In March 1915, the 1st Munsters were assigned to the 29th Division, a new division formed from units that had been on garrison duty throughout the Empire. Among the other units assigned to the 86th Brigade of the 29th Division was the 1st Battalion of the Royal Dublin Fusiliers. The 87th Brigade included the 1st Battalion Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers, while the 88th Brigade had the 2nd Battalion The Leinster Regiment.  As you can see, quite a number of Irish regiments were called up for the Gallipoli campaign – not counting the Irishmen who had enlisted in the English, Welsh and Scottish regiments.

The converted collier River Clyde beached too far from the shore making a rapid advance on the beach impossible. Hundreds of men were cut down as they disembarked at V Beach.

The converted collier River Clyde beached too far from the shore making a rapid advance on the beach impossible. Hundreds of men were cut down as they disembarked at V Beach.

The 86th Brigade, including the 1st Munsters were assigned to attack V beach on 25 March. Some 2000 men of the Munsters, Royal Dublin and Hampshire regiments were aboard the converted collier HMS River Clyde when it beached at 6.25 am. Unfortunately, ‘beached’ is the wrong word to describe what actually happened – the vessel grounded too far from the shore and the men who were burdened with 60lb packs were subject to ferocious Turkish fire as they disembarked.  Of the first 200 men to enter the water to wade ashore, some 149 were killed outright and 30 were wounded.. Those troops who had come from the slaughter on the Western Front claimed that the fire on V beach was even worse than anything they had experienced from the Germans!

William Cosgrove, by now a corporal, was one of the men from the 1st Munsters to disembark on V beach that day. However, the savage defence left units cut up and the men of the 86th Brigade were too shocked and exhausted to do anything, so they dug in and lay down for the rest of the day. By nightfall, out of that morning’s compliment of 900 men and 28 officers of the Munsters, there were only 300 men and 6 officers alive! Cosgrove’s heroics would come on the next day, but for now he took cover with his colleagues behind a sandbank just ten yards from the shoreline.

Fort Seddulbahir was a prime objective for the forces landing on V Beach and W Beach at Gallipoli.

Fort Seddulbahir was a prime objective for the forces landing on V Beach and W Beach at Gallipoli.

Lt Col Doughty-Wylie came ashore on the morning of the 26th to assess the situation, and gathering what men he could into ad-hoc units, he decided to launch them into an attack on a crucial Turkish strongpoint at Seddulbahir. This seems like suicide to the modern reader, but anyone who saw the movie Saving Private Ryan’would realise that getting off the beach was the key to survival when under enemy fire. By 8.00 am the first Turkish outposts had fallen, but now a problem presented itself – barbed wire.

Barbed wire was a very effective barrier to attacks, holding up men who could then be mown down by machine guns. Even low fences of barbed wire presented serious obstacles.

Barbed wire was a very effective barrier to attacks, holding up men who could then be mown down by machine guns. Even low fences of barbed wire presented serious obstacles.

The use of barbed wire during the Great War was not simply the use of coils of wire stretching across a front. It was more systematic than that – and the Germans were particularly good at it.  It’s important to recall that the Germans had been brought in to modernise and train the Turkish army, and the commander of the Turkish forces at Gallipoli was a German officer – Liman von Sanders.  At Gallipoli the barbed wire was stretched across the front on tall stout posts and was so strong and full of barbs that it presented a truly effective barrier to the attacker.  And the beauty of barbed wire for the defender was that a machine gun could simply fire through it and slaughter the men who’d stopped to cut it.

Otto Liman von Sanders commanded the Turkish troops at Gallipoli.  He was originally assigned to train the Turks in modern warfare - and proved very good at it!

Otto Liman von Sanders, a German officer, commanded the Turkish troops at Gallipoli. He was originally assigned to train the Turks in modern warfare – and proved very good at it!

Doughty-Wylie’s attack had taken most of the village of Seddulbahir but now his advance needed support to take Hill 141. Captain Stoney of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers brought his scratch unit, including Cpl William Cosgrove, into this attack. The first task they had to do when they advanced was to cut the wire – and the men were equipped with pliers to do the job. But Cosgrove discovered that the wire was so tightly strung and so strong that the pliers made no impression. Worse, tightly strung wire was deadly for it could whip back and cause an injury.

An artist's sketch of William Cosgrove's heroic  removal of the barbed wire stanchions whilst under fire.

An artist’s sketch of William Cosgrove’s heroic removal of the barbed wire stanchions whilst under fire. Note the tropical helmets the men are wearing.

Realizing the problem Corporal Cosgrove called out to the men to wrap their arms around the stakes and pull them up. And this is what they proceeded to do, all the while under savage fire. Eventually enough barbed wire was felled to allow the attack to carry forward. Cosgrove and his men took a Turkish trench some 200 yards long by 20 yards deep and only 700 yards from the shore.

At some point during this attack Cosgrove was wounded – but he didn’t realise ihow badly hurt he was until they had taken the Turkish trench.  Cosgrove claimed that a machine gun had opened fire at him, with one of the bullets hitting a bbelt hook on the left side of his tunic and passing trhough his body. The bullet actually nicked his spine knocking splinters of bone of his backbone and passing out the other side of his torso to knock off his other belt hook!

A professional soldier, William Cosgrove did not hold his Turkish opponents in contempt, rather he had a very high regard for their fighting spirit, as he later wrote:’ ….I am sorry that such decent fighting men were brought into the row ….by the Germans.

Cosgrove was evacuated to the military hospital in Malta, where he underwent two operations to remove the splinters from his body. Meanwhile, four days after his feat, Cosgrove’s actions were reported to his commanding officer by 2nd Lt AH Brown of the Royal Munster Fusiliers.  Brown was only one of the witnesses to Cosgrove’s heroics, but his report formed the basis of the award of the Victoria Cross to the ‘Giant Munster’. William Cosgrove was convalescing in Aghada, probably in Fort Carlisle, when he learned that he was to be awarded the Victoria Cross.

Victoria Cross

The citation for the award to Corporal William Cosgrove read:

For most conspicuous bravery in the leading of his section with great dash during our attack from the beach to the east of Cape Helles on the Turkish positions, on April 26th 1915.  Cpl Cosgrove, on this occasion, pulled down the posts of the enemy’s high-wire entanglement single-handed, notwithstanding a terrific fire from both front and flanks, thereby greatly contributing to the successful clearing of the Heights.

The 29th Division suffered 94,000 casualties during the Great War, Gallipoli alone accounting for 34,000 of these, and some twenty-seven of its men were awarded the Victoria Cross – hence their nickname the Incomparables.

William Cosgrove continued to serve in the Royal Army for another nineteen years, transferring to the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers after the Royal Munster Fusiliers were disbanded in 1922. On retiring from the army in 1934, Cosgrove’s health deteriorated rapidly – some fragments of bone from his spine had not been detected and removed at Malta and had been slowly killing him for years!

An arial view of the entrance to Cork Harbour.  On the left (west) is Fort Camden - now a public amenity undergoing restoration. On the right (east) is Fort Davis, formerly Fort Carlisle, to which William Cosgrove delivered the meat ration before he enlisted in 1909.

A satellite view of the fortified entrance to Cork Harbour. On the left (west) is Fort Camden – now a public amenity undergoing restoration. On the right (east) is Fort Davis, formerly Fort Carlisle, to which William Cosgrove delivered the meat ration before he enlisted in 1909. The harbour is at the top of the picture (north) and the open sea is at the bottom (south).   Aghada and Whitegate villages are out of picture on the upper right.

William Cosgrove died at Millbank Military Hospital on 14 July 1936.  His body was brought home to Cork aboard the old SS Innisfallen on 17 July and he was interred Aghada that evening. Some three hundred members of the Munster Fusiliers Old Comrades Association formed a guard of honour as his body was taken from the ship and a large crowd attended the burial. It should be remembered that the nearby Fort Carlisle was still a British military post.  In 1938 a public appeal raised funds to allow a large Celtic cross to be erected over Cosgrove’s grave.

William Cosgrove's grave is marked by this large Celtic Cross erected in 1938.

William Cosgrove’s grave is marked by this large Celtic Cross erected in 1938.

This Sunday (26th April), the little village of Aghada on the eastern shore of Cork Harbour will commemorate the centenary of William Cosgrove’s heroic action under fire at Gallipoli.  There will be a special Memorial Mass in the local church and a special exhibition about William Cosgrove in the Community Hall. Not quite Anzac Day in East Cork…more like Gallipoli Day.