Ballinacorra’s medieval import? Dundry stone for Cloyne Cathedral.

The blocked up great window of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral. The carved stone that marks the outline of the window is not native to Cloyne or even to Ireland. It was imported from Dundry near Bristol in the thirteenth century.

The blocked up great window of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral. The carved stone that marks the outline of the window is not native to Cloyne or even to Ireland. It was imported from Dundry near Bristol in the thirteenth century. Sadly the great window was crudely blocked up in the middle of the eighteenth century to accommodate the memorials of the Longfield family of nearby Castle Mary.

‘The only part of the building to survive more or less intact from the early Gothic era is the south transept, where there are plenty of original details cut in imported Dundry stone.’

Professor Roger Stalley.

The old phrase ‘coals to Newcastle’ refers to the shipping of coal from Newcastle to London from the seventeenth century. The idea that anyone would ship coal TO Newcastle in the far north of England was so odd that the phrase  was used to  describe very peculiar behaviour. Yet Ireland, a land rich in stone, imported tons of stone from England during the medieval period! Sometimes, if you know where to look, you can just pick up evidence of the trading links that existed in a place centuries ago. However, some of this evidence may reveal something of the local Irish trading patterns and infrastructure in medieval times.

The Waterford Museum of Treasures is the best municipal museum system in Ireland. The medieval museum is a modern building built on the vaulted undercroft of the Choristers' Hall beside Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford. Dundry stone was used to clad this building in recognition of the original use of the stone for the medieval cathedral.

The Waterford Museum of Treasures is the best municipal museum system in Ireland. The medieval museum is a modern building built on the vaulted undercroft of the Choristers’ Hall beside Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford. Dundry stone was used to clad this building in recognition of the original use of the stone for the medieval cathedral. This picture gives a good idea of the pale honey colour of the stone.

Recently I read a fascinating book edited by Professor Roger Stalley of Trinity College Dublin. The book, Irish Gothic Architecture: construction, decay and reinvention, is a collection of excellent research essays on the topic of later medieval Irish architecture, particularly Gothic architecture, although it also looks at nineteenth century perceptions of Gothic architecture. The essays are wonderful, but one made me sit up and go back over it carefully. The reason was the sentence quoted at the top of this post. The essay discussed the building of several cathedrals in Ireland in the thirteenth century, but the discussion of Cloyne Cathedral is important for those interested in south-east Cork.  While most of the stonework in the windows of the cathedral has been redone at a later stage, especially in the nineteenth century, those windows in the south transept are original to the building. They were created when the transept was first built in the 1200s.

How did Professor Stalley know this? Well he certainly didn’t consult any surviving documents. Instead he looked at the woindows, especially on  the outside, and realized that the stone used to build these windows wasn’t local. But he recognized the stone, nonetheless. It is an oolitic limestone that came from Dundry, a quarry located in the extreme north of Somerset and only a few miles south of Bristol, in the west of England!

The medieval vaulted undercroft of the Choristers' Hall in Waterford was built of Dundry Stone. The arcade was inserted later, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

The medieval vaulted undercroft of the Choristers’ Hall in Waterford was built of Dundry Stone. The arcade was inserted later, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

Dundry stone was imported into Ireland following the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169/70. This stone was famously used to build Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, but in fact, was used in churches from Kinsale in County Cork to Trim in County Meath. It was used for parish churches, monastic churches and cathedrals, but now Cloyne Cathedral joins the list. But why import stone into a country that is already rich in building stone? The most likely reason is that some of the principal masons working on these churches were also English. These English masons came to Ireland because they were familiar with erecting and decorating large stone churches, which were still a fairly new phenomenon in Ireland, having been introduced here just thirty years earlier..

Now these English masons almost certainly came from the West Country of England, for the architecture of Christchurch, Dublin, and other buildings, suggest similarities to some of the architectural features used in the west of England.churches. These masons were entirely familiar with the stone that was available in the west of England.. But in Ireland they discovered that the local stone was different – mostly a hard limestone that the masons found difficult to carve. So they did what the first Norman masons did in England just after the Conquest in 1066 – they imported the stone that they were familiar with. So, just as the earliest Norman masons imported Caen stone for the Tower of London, so the earliest English masons in Ireland imported Dundry stone to make the carved window openings and other decorations. However, by the time the cathedral was built in Cloyne, it is possible that most of the work was done by Irish masons. Sadly, the cathedral accounts do not survive so we really don’t know who built the structure. Whoever they were, they knew about Dundry stone and they chose it for the window openings.

Building the Tower of Babel was a favoured imaged of medieval book illuminators because it depicted the vanity of man. These images are valuable for modern scholars seeking to understand the workings of medieval masons.

Building the Tower of Babel was a favoured imaged of medieval book illuminators because it depicted the vanity of man. These images are valuable for modern scholars seeking to understand the workings of medieval masons.

But what Stalley does not consider is the implications of importing this stone from England into south-east Cork . This is where economics come into play. Most of the Dundry stone used in Ireland went to places that were accessible by water, being located either on the coast or by a river.The reason this mattered was simple – it just cost too much to freight the stone by cart over land. The more of the stone that could be shipped by water as close as possible to the building site, the cheaper the cost of importing it.

The three eastern windows of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral are also framed in Dundry stone.

The three eastern windows of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral are also framed in Dundry stone.

So we need to identify a port that could have been used to import the Dundry stone. Given the economics of moving building stone over land, I would suggest three possible candidates – Ballycotton (directly facing the Bristol Channel, Aghada, the first seat of Robert FitzStephen in Cork and just inside the entrance to Cork Harbour, and Ballinacorra. The first, Ballycotton, presents problems, because it does not seem to have been a major port with the appropriate facilities for offloading heavy cargo. By the time the cathedral was built in Cloyne, Ballycotton seems to have become a fishing village only. Aghada was only used as a caput baroniae (baronial seat) for a short period in the late twelfth century, by 1200 it had been replaced by Ballinacorra. Ballinacorra is much further from the open sea than Aghada, being part of the inner harbour area and possessed ancient links to Cloyne – its ‘great church’ was dedicated to St Colman, suggesting that it was founded directly from Cloyne, probably as a port within Cork Harbour. The present Ballinacorra village is located just a few miles from Cloyne and the terrain is not difficult, so getting shipments of Dundry stone to the cathedral site would have been relatively easy. Remember, only the cut stone was being shipped in – this was a very small amount of the overall amount of stone used in the cathedral. My own opinion, alas not supported by any documentary evidence, is that the Dundry stone for Cloyne came through the port of Ballinacorra.

Sadly, in the middle of the eighteenth century the Longfield family of nearby Castle Mary had the great thirteenth century five light window in the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral crudely blocked up to provide space for their family memorials.

(Note: I exclude Youghal from the above list of ports because it was really only established in the early thirteenth century.)

Reference:Roger Stalley, editior, Irish Gothic Architecture: construction, decay and reinvention. Wordwell Press, Dublin 2012. The quotation at the head of this post is is from the essay by Roger Stalley: ‘Cathedral-building in thirteenth century Ireland,’ contained within the volume. .

Advertisements

The Red Picnic in Mogeely – mass murder in 1182.

Rock of Cashel

Cashel, an ancient site of great importance to the MacCarthys. The title ‘King of Cashel’ was synonymous with ‘King of Munster.’ The Rock of Cashel is effectively the emblem of Munster.

In the most important account of the twelfth century English invasion of Ireland, the author, Gerald de Barri, or Gerald of Wales also called Giraldus Cambrensis, tells several stirring and bloody tales.  Few are more brutal than the tale of a mass murder in Mogeely in 1182.

In his book Expugnatio Hibernica (the Conquest of Ireland),, written about 1187, Gerald tells us that when Robert FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan had ruled Cork for five years, Milo set out for a parley in Lismore with Ralph, the illegitimate son of FitzStephen, and five knights. They broke their journey at Mogeely, with fatal consequences..

‘They were sitting in the middle of some fields, waiting to have a parley with the men of Waterford, when, along with five other knights, they were killed by the traitor MacTire, with whom they were due to stay that night, being struck down with axes from behind when they were off guard.’

Geraldus goes on to tell us that;

As a result of this disaster, the whole country was immediately thrown into a state of such disorder that Diarmait MacCarthaig and almost all the Irish throughout the whole region joined MacTire in throwing off their allegiance to the English and rising against FitzStephen…..

Matters were clearly very serious for the English, but there was a hero in the wings…..:

‘The former peaceful conditions were not restored there until Raymond succeeded as heir to his uncle FitzStephen and took sole charge of the city.’

The reference to a parley with the men of Waterford suggests that there was between the English in Waterford and the English in Cork at the time, but it seems that the whole point of going to Lismore was to parley with the Waterford men there and NOT at Mogeely. So the reference is very likely a mistake.

In an earlier post I featured a postcard sent from Mogeely to Ladysbridge in 1910. The postcard showed the peaceful village with most of the population posing for the photographer. This post will examine the most notorious event in Mogeely’s history – a mass murder by battle axe in 1182. In homage to the appalling scenes of the ‘Red Wedding’ in the book and TV series Game of Thrones, I’m calling this twelfth century butchery in Mogeely……the ‘Red Picnic.’

The small peaceful village of Mogeely is located over a mile and a quarter north of Castlemartyr. Both villages are in the same Roman Catholic parish, and although Mogeely is the smaller of the two villages, it boasts the grander church, completed in 1912. It also boasted a railway line, until it finally closed in the early 1980s, and a modern creamery, celebrated for its unique regato cheese!

So what was the background to the ‘Red Picnic’ of Mogeely?

When the Anglo-Normans invaded Cork in 1177, Mogeely was the residence of the local lord of Imokilly, a chieftain called Mac Tire. This is actually a patronymic or surname, since we don’t even know the man’s personal name. Mac Tire ruled Imokilly, which in those days did not correspond to the modern barony of Imokilly. The old Imokilly of the twelfth century stretched from the western shore of Great Island, where Cobh (the former Queenstown) now stands, to a line running from north to south somewhere between Mogeely and Killeagh.  The area east of this line, as far as Youghal, would later be incorporated into Imokilly, while Great Island, and the civil parish of Mogeesha just west of Midleton, would be lost to Barrymore.

In 1177 there was serious trouble in the province of Munster. Since the so-called Treaty of Glanmire in 1118, the province had been divided into two distinct kingdoms, with a disputed area to the east. In the south, stretching from Lismore to Brandon in County Kerry, was the kingdom of Desmond, which the Anglo-Normans called the kingdom of Cork, from its capital city. This was ruled by the MacCarthaig or MacCarthy family, and the incumbent king in 1177 was Diarmait MacCarthy. He had succeeded his father in 1151 and managed to restore the much reduced power of his family in the area.

glanmire

The so called Treaty of Glanmire divided Munster into two kingdoms. North Munster or Thomond was ruled from Limerick by the O’Briens. South Munster or Desmond was ruled from Cork by the MacCarthys. East Munster or Ormond was disputed between the two. The man who imposed this division was Turlough O’Connor, King of Connacht, and aspiring High King of All Ireland. The division aimed to reduce the O’Briens and MacCarthys to the status of lesser kings. The trouble in Ormond was probably a useful distraction for O’Connor. Glanmire is today a quiet and peaceful village in a steep-sided wooded river valley just east of Cork.

In the north lay the kingdom of Thomond stretching from North Tipperary to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, but also including Limerick city and some newly secured territories in modern County Limerick.  The ruler of Thomond in 1177 was Donal O’Brien. King since 1168, Donal was a direct descendent of the famous Brian Boru who died just a millennium ago during the celebrated battle at Clontarf (1014).  The O’Briens, a feisty and ambitious family, were considered jumped up upstarts by the MacCarthys.

The third area of Munster was Ormond (literally, East Munster) which effectively corresponded to the modern county of Tipperary. This territory was bitterly disputed between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys, because the MacCarthys were descended from the ancient kings of Cashel and had Diarmait MacCarthy’s grandfather, Cormac MacCarthy, had trounced the O’Briens in the 1120s, and secured possession of Cashel, County Tipperary, where he built Cormac’s Chapel, the most important building on the Rock of Cashel. It was probably Cormac who created the modern diocese of Cloyne in contravention of the Synod of Rath Breasail (1111) which had extinguished the older bishopric of Cloyne.

Cormac's Chapel

Cormac MacCarthy’s greatest work was his royal chapel. Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel was completed in the 1130s with the assistance of craftsmen sent from Germany by an Irish abbot in Regensburg. It does look very Germanic from some angles and it revolutionized Irish architecture in the twelfth century, virtually creating the Irish romanesque style in one go. The large church behind the chapel is the thirteenth century gothic cathedral.

By 1177 the festering disputes between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys had erupted into open war again. The reason was that King Donal O’Brien had expelled the group of families called the Ui Fidgente from their ancestral lands in the middle of the modern county of Limerick. This finally achieved the long sought O’Brien ambition of bringing the whole territory west of Limerick city under their own control – they had already tried it when Turlough O’Brien had founded Monasternenagh Abbey on lands he had won from the O’Donovans in 1148. The Ui Fidgente families were long-standing allies of the MacCarthys, who gave them shelter in other parts of their kingdom of Desmond.  This is how the O’Donovans, for example, came to be settled in South-West Cork.

Frescoes in Cormac's Chapel

The interior of Cormac’s Chapel was covered in frescoes and painted stonework. These are the finest surviving medieval fresco fragments in Ireland. They were preserved by the local people who had a custom of whitewashing the interior of the chapel over many centuries. It should be pointed out that the exterior of the building was very likely painted in bright colours too!

It is not known if King Henry II of England saw this dispute between Thomond and Desmond as a opportunity, but in 1177 he decided that three men would be awarded license to conquer the ‘kingdom of Cork’ and the ‘kingdom of Limerick,’ as the Anglo-Normans called the two territories. Milo de Cogan and his relative, Robert FitzStephen, who would divide Cork between them, but would reserve the city and one cantred for King Henry. Philip de Braose was licensed to take Limerick.The contemporary historian of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, Gerald de Barri, or Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), wrote that the three men and their knights and men-at-arms sailed first to Waterford where they disembarked. They then travelled on foot and by horse to Lismore, which was clearly intended as the launch point.  Lismore was the seat of a bishop (and papal legate) but it also seems to have been a private estate of the king of Desmond.

Very rapidly the party seized the eastern and central parts of Cork, especially around the harbour. Curiously, Geraldus does not mention any fighting during this invasion. King Diarmait MacCarthy decided to play for time and abandoned his city, moving further west. Once they had secured their lands in Cork, Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen decided to take their men north to help Philip de Braose to capture Limerick. But this expedition foundered when the citizens burned their city and de Braose lost heart.

Altar apse in Cormac's Chapel

The square apse for the altar in Cormac’s Chapel. The whole building is constructed of stone. Even the steeply pitched roof is built of stone using the ancient Irish corbelling technique found as early as Newgrange. Cormac’s Chapel marries Continental romanesque barrel vaults with native Irish construction ideas, thus creating a totally new indigenous interpretation of romanesque architecture.

On returning to Cork, de Cogan and FitzStephen began to sub-infeudate their lands. That is they divided it up into estates which they granted to their relatives and their followers.  The cantred of Ui Liathain, now called the barony of Barrymore, was given to Philip de Barri, brother of Gerald de Barri whose book Expugnatio Hibernica is the most celebrated contemporary eyewitness account of the whole Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. However, Philip was not in Ireland at the time but in Wales, and according to Geraldus, Robert FitzStephen’s illegitimate son Ralph ‘stole’ the lands of Ui Liathain from de Barri. What is so interesting about this comment by Geraldus is that he does not attempt to hide the sheer greed and chicanery of the men who invaded Ireland.  Mind you, his book contains a lot of family propaganda – the de Barris and their relatives the Carews could do no wrong in his eyes.

Geraldus tells us that for five years Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen ruled the kingdom of Desmond in peace after their invasion. Both men used their influence to restrain the rash behaviour of younger,wilder men in their respective parties. This was important, because a peaceful land would attract settlers from England and Wales. However all that changed dramatically in 1182. However it is not certain how much this peace extended to the displaced native Irish lords.

Milo de Cogan, and his newly married son-in-law, Ralph, son of Robert FitzStephen, and a party of knights set out to visit Lismore for a meeting. They travelled by way of Mogeely, the home of the former ruler of Imokilly, MacTire, now reduced to being a token local Irish landholder. This is the context for the mass murder of the English in Mogeely.

What does come out in Geraldus’s statement is that the Anglo-Norman party consisted of seven knights (Milo, Ralph and five others), but we don’t know how many men-at-arms and archers travelled with them on foot or horseback. The medieval manuscript known as MacCarthaigh’s Book gives an Irish account of the incident with the additional information that ‘slaughter was inflicted by the family of O MacTire.’ The ‘Red Picnic’ was a family affair – but not quite in the usual way of family picnics. The reference to ‘slaughter’ is common enough in the Irish Annals – you can slaughter a single individual or several people, the use of the word implies an element of butchery. In this case it might also support the idea that more than seven Anglo-Normans knights were given the battle-axe treatment in Mogeely. Clearly the Anglo-Norman party were relaxed and expected no trouble from MacTire – after all they were sitting in a field, with their guard down. Indeed I suspect that the party didn’t even post guards.

Irish chief's feast

An outdoor feast of the MacSweeney chief of County Donegal depicted in a English woodblock print from the sixteenth century. The chief and his wife are accompanied by two friars (note the tonsured heads) and another figure. The food is being prepared behind them – a wild boar is being butchered and boiled in a leather cauldron on the left foreground. The entertainment is provided by a bard reciting or singing to the accompaniment of a harp. The entertainment is enhanced by the two figures displaying their bare backsides to the chief’s table – they are professional farters! No wonder the entertainment is held outdoors! Was the butchery in Mogeely done just before a meal like this?

Were they having a picnic? I know that sounds silly, but it is actually possible that they were taking a quick bite to eat and a drink. Remember, during the twelfth century the main meal of the day was eaten in the early afternoon, in broad daylight. We don’t know what time of the year the massacre happened but it must have been during some dry and warm weather – even today you simply wouldn’t sit on wet grass or muddy ground in Ireland. Indeed there are illustrations from the sixteenth century of Irish chiefs having a feast outdoors, and one can easily imagine the same happening in the late twelfth century.

If the weather on this occasion was indeed dry and warm then the break would have been necessary for men who were probably wearing chain mail or, at very least, leather armour, and it may have been their first stop since leaving Cork earlier that day.. Anybody who has ever lifted a mail hauberk or jacket will be aware of the sheer weight of it, and even a leather jacket can bring on a sweat on a warm day in an Irish summer. Another thing to note about the above account is that Anglo-Norman knights on foot were very vulnerable attack by ferocious Irish enemies wielding two handed battle axes. It was the armoured knight on a trained warhorse who terrified the Irish.

Geraldus is clearly furious at this mass murder, calling MacTire a traitor. This would be true if MacTire had been allowed to keep his personal lands in return for some fealty exacted from him by FitzStephen. However the Irish Annals of Lough Ce mention the murder with some jubilation at the death of Milo de Cogan, suggesting that there was really no love lost between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans. The whole incident might lead you to imagine that the Red Picnic in Mogeely was an isolated local feud, but in fact it proved to be deadly serious – and not just for the victims.

Raymond le Gros illustration

Raymond le Gros as depicted in a thirteenth century copy of the Expugantio by Geraldus. He was simply the best general the Anglo-Normans had in Ireland, getting them out of many a difficult situation time and time again.

The Red Picnic in Mogeely sparked off at least two decades of trouble and warfare for the Anglo-Normans as they tried to regain secure control of the land they had taken during the invasion of Cork in 1177/1178. Raymond le Gros did crush the initial revolt in 1183, but it seems that Robert FitzStephen was trapped in Cork city and may even have died there by the time Raymond had arrived. Raymond embarked at Waterford with twenty knights and two hundred men-at-arms, half mounted and half on foot.  Sailing directly to Cork he relieved the city. There is a priceless irony in the fact that, during the Irish Civil War in 1922, the new Free State Army performed almost exactly the same action as Raymond, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, who were based in Cork Harbour. Like Raymond, the Free State Army sailed from elsewhere in Ireland (Dublin actually) directly to Cork and managed to secure Cork for the Dublin government and eventually put down the Republican forces in Munster.

Free State Troops land in Cork

The greatest irony of the Irish Civil War (1921-1923) was that the army of the new Irish Free State repeated Raymond le Gros’s sea voyage to Cork in 1183 to put down a revolt sparked off by the massacre in Mogeely. In 1922 the Free State was trying to regain control of Cork which was in the hands of hard-line Anti-Treaty Republican forces.

Raymond was soon joined by his cousin, Richard de Cogan, who came with a picked force sent by King Henry. When some of the Irish leaders were killed and their forces driven off, it seems that a measure of peace had temporarily returned to the area. At the end of February (1183?) reinforcements led by Philip de Barri also arrived. Philip had come to secure his estates in Ui Liathain, the area from Carrigtwohill in the south to Castlelyons in the north, from the Glanmire river in the west to Conna in the east..  Along with Philip came his brother Gerald – the very historian we’ve quoted above. Philip’s descendants gave us the Irish family name Barry. Raymond le Gros established his nephews as the Carew family in Cork, while Richard de Cogan gave us the still current surname of Cogan in County Cork. It was really only in the years from 1206 to 1220 that the Anglo-Norman settlement of East Cork could get underway and set down firm roots, and even then Tadgh MacCarthy invaded Imokilly in 1216 and burned Cloyne.

Tomb of Raymond le Gros

The medieval effigy that marked the supposed tomb of Raymond le Gros in Molana Abbey near Youghal. This drawing was made in the late 18th century by Daniel Grose and is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy. Sadly the effigy has since disappeared.

Diarmait MacCarthy died in 1185 but was immediately succeeded by his equally warlike son Donal, who would invade Imokilly with ferocious intent in the 1190s, burning all the castles there, including Castra na Chore or Ballinacorra, another castle that may have given Castleredmond townland its name and a castle at Mogeely. Donal MacCarthy’s death in 1206 seems to have eased the pressure on the Anglo-Normans in East Cork, allowing for settlement to begin there. The MacCarthys, of course, are almost two a penny in Munster, especially in Cork. And the MacTire family, onetime lords of Imokilly, what did the Red Picnic do for them? By 1300 they had been reduced to the condition of local robbers, but their descendants are still around – their name is now Woulfe. Somehow it seems appropriate given the blood soaked picnic they perpetrated one fine day in a field near Mogeely in 1182.

Molana abbey

The ruined Augustinian church of Molana Abbey, near Youghal, where Raymond le Gros was buried sometime between 1185 and 1198. Founded as Dairinis in the 6th century, ithis site is celebrated as the place where the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis was compiled in the 8th century.  This is one of the oldest compilations of Canon Law anywhere.

Note: the texts quoted in italics in this post were taken from pages 187 and 189 of the translation attached to the definitive version of the Expugnatio.  A.B.Scott & F.X.Martin, editors: Expugnatio Hibernica – The Conquest of Ireland by Geraldus Cambrensis. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978.

As for the Imokilly Regato Cheese PDO produced at Mogeely: here’s a link to show that this Italian style cheese is indeed made in East Cork and even has a product denomination (PDO) from the European Union!  And no, Kerrygold is NOT a sponsor of this blog!

Imokilly Regato Link: http://www.kerrygold.com/products/kerrygold-regato-classic

.

.

Before Midleton – the foundation of Mainistir na Corann in 1180: a medieval whodunnit.

Clairvaux undercroft

Sadly, this splendid undercroft is not the remains of the abbey that gave Midleton its Irish name – this is Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, France. Here St Malachy of Armagh met St Bernard of Clairvaux, the abbot, and negotiated the introduction of the Cistercian order into Ireland. This abbey is where Malachy died in St Bernard’s arms in 1148. Today, much of Clairvaux is a high security prison, although it is now possible to visit the surviving monastic remains.

Before Midleton appeared on the map in 1670 there was a history attached to the site of the present town.  This history is usually said to begin in the year 1180 – the date by which a Cistercian abbey was founded on the site of the present town. Sir James Ware, a critically important 17th century historian in Ireland, recorded the event thus……Fundatum anno Dom. 1180, et Monachis repletum Cisterciensibus ex coenobio de Nenay, alias Magio, apud Limericenses.  (Founded in the year of Our Lord 1180, and supplied with monks from the abbey of Nenay, or Maigue, near Limerick.) 

Sadly, in Paul MacCotter’s words, this foundation has been the subject of ‘much rubbish and some good history.’  The rubbish is too often repeated as ‘history’ today by people today because they are generally unaware of the failings of the common source of their ‘information’. Much of what people pass off as ‘information’ on medieval history of a location is derived from Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary – in an earlier post, I warned about relying too much on that particular source!

Curiously, at very least since 1945, there really has been no justification for anyone to repeat the Lewis nonsense.  In that year the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society published a whole issue on the barony of Imokilly.  Included in the issue was a fine article by Denis O’Sullivan on the medieval religious houses of Imokilly. One of O’Sullivan’s aims appears to have been to resolve some of the issues surrounding the history of the abbey at Chore (Midleton), and he paid particular attention to the foundation of the abbey. I suspect he was as underwhelmed as your present author is about the reference by Lewis to a ‘Barry Fitzgerald’ as the founder of Chore Abbey (Midleton). In this post I will attempt to identify the principal founding patron of the abbey of Chore (Midleton). To do this I will take on board the results of Denis O’Sullivan’s careful analysis of the surviving evidence pertaining to the origins of the abbey.

First we must establish some basic information about the abbey. Various sources, but especially the seventeenth century scholar, James Ware, tell us that the abbey was founded at Chore in 1180. Sadly, the second fact is an omission: the name of the founder is not given by Ware. This is unusual, for Ware was a good historian and, because scholars like him preserved so much information, we generally know who founded what in medieval Ireland.  The third detail to note is that the monks came from Monasternenagh Abbey in County Limerick (the Nenay or Maigue of the Latin text quoted above) – a critical detail the importance of which has been too often underestimated when discussing Chore (Midleton). The fourth detail is the distinction drawn by Paul MacCotter between the initial Anglo-Norman invasion of the kingdom of Cork in 1177/1178 and the later Anglo-Norman settlement of the conquered territories.  This brings us back to the first fact above – the foundation year of 1180. You may recall from previous discussions about Ballinacorra that the Anglo-Norman settlement of south-east Cork was not secured until about 1220. The abbey at Chore was well established by then. Interestingly, MacCotter isn’t the first scholar to make this distinction between conquest and settlement – Denis O’Sullivan made exactly the same point in 1945.

When monks were sent out from one monastery to establish another the new monastery was described as a ‘daughter’ of the monastery that supplied the original monks.  The original monastery was considered to be the ‘mother’ house. Thus as the ‘daughters’ of Mellifont provided monks for further monasteries, they helped to create the Mellifont filiation – from the Latin filia or daughter. This was an alliance or affiliation of monasteries that acknowledged Mellifont’s seniority and even permitted it to act as a guardian of their interests.

This monastic filiation or alliance is the critical detail here – it entirely undermines all attempts to attribute the foundation at Chore (Midleton) to the Anglo-Normans. And, oddly, it is a fact the importance of which has been ignored by so many people.

So, how does Denis O’Sullivan reveal the evidence for the Gaelic Irish origins of the Abbey of Chore? He looks at the writings of James Ware’s De Hibernia et Antiquitatibus Eius (London, 1654), Mervyn Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin, 1786) and Louis-Auguste Allemande’s Histoire monastique d’Irlande (Paris, 1690).  O’Sullivan makes it clear that Ware (the earliest of these scholars) never revealed the name of a founder of the abbey of Chore – even in his unpublished manuscripts. Indeed in one of his manuscripts Ware notes that the Barrys were patrons of the abbey – but in the same sentence they are NOT named as the founders. This seems to have been where the confusion arose – because the Barrys of Barrymore were patrons of the abbey at the dissolution, Allemande and Archdall assumed the Barrys (or the Fitzgeralds) were the founders. This idea was picked up by Smith and others, including Lewis, giving us the bizarre Barry Fitzgerald attribution.

But back to the history of the foundation of the abbey of Chore (Midleton).  How did it come about and who was the founder?

Firstly,we must briefly note the twelfth century (1101-1200) reforms in the church in Ireland.  This was part of a general European church reform in matters of discipline and organisation. The Irish church, beginning in 1101, but especially with the synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, was remodelled into a diocesan structure following the Continental model. Part of the reform included establishing clearly defined territorial dioceses – a nightmare in a country with shifting political boundaries. Within these dioceses parishes were created to minister to the local communities. These usually consisted of several townlands – see our previous posts on this topic.  These medieval parishes were still being created up to and after the year 1200, but historians believe that most parishes were created by that date. These parishes survived the centuries as the famous Civil Parishes on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (mid-1800s) – they were ‘civil’ because they represented the parishes of the state church that was created following the Reformation.  They are still an important reference point for genealogists in Ireland. The parishes were grouped into rural deaneries.  One such deanery was Imokilly. This was simply an ecclesiastical administrative structure within the diocese – it need not detain us any further.

Mellifont Lavabo

The ruins of the lavabo or hand-washing place in the cloister of Mellifont. The remains of the mother house of most of the medieval Cistercian monasteries in Ireland were ravaged by quarrying after the abbey was dissolved in the reformation. Mellifont was founded at the southern extremity of the diocese of Armagh in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh. The first monks came directly from Clairvaux.

Another important result of the twelfth century reforms was the introduction of Continental religous orders into Ireland. The Augustinians seem to have been the first to be introduced. But in 1142, St Malachy of Armagh introduced the Cistercians directly from Clairvaux, with the blessing of St Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest of the Cistercians, and one of the most influential religious leaders in twelfth century Europe The importance of this can hardly be overstated, because the Cistercians influenced church architecture in medieval Ireland to an extraordinary degree. The Abbey of Mellifont in County Louth, founded by St Malachy in 1142, very quickly produced offspring by providing monks to found new Cistercian houses elsewhere in Ireland. One of these new foundations was the abbey of Monasternenagh, founded in 1148, near Croom in County Limerick.  In the same year, our old friend Diarmaid McMurrough, King of Leinster, founded a Cistercian monastery at Baltinglass in County Wicklow with monks from Mellifont. Baltinglass would send out monks to found Abbeymahon monastery in County Cork in 1172. This was the same Diarmaid McMurrough who may have sailed from Imokilly to bring the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in the 1160s!

Monasternenagh

Monasternenagh, near Croom in County Limerick, was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on lands taken from the O’Donovans. The first monks came from Mellifont. This was the mother house of Chore (Midleton). Monasternenagh may have been founded to celebrate Turlough’s crushing defeat of the O’Donovans. This victory allow the O’Briens to secure their authority over what is now County Limerick. Turlough’s vicitory a serious setback for the MacCarthys, the rivals of the O’Briens for the dominance of the province of Munster.

Monasternenagh (Mainistir an Aonaigh – the Monastery of the Fair – it was built on an ancient fairground, in Latin it was called de Magio – of the Maigue, from the river bordering the site) was founded by Turlough O’Brian, king of Munster from 1142 to 1167. However, Monasternenagh was not founded on O’Brien lands. Turlough O’Brian had recently defeated the O’Donovans and took some of their most valuable lands to provide a site, and an endowment, for his new Cistercian monastery.  It should be noted that founding a monastery of this type in Ireland at the time advertised the founder as a modernising reformer of the church in Ireland. The O’Donovans were long standing allies of the MacCarthys, kings of Desmond or Cork, and rivals of the O’Briens.  By founding Monasternenagh Abbey on O’Donovan lands, Turlough O’Brien meant to ensure that that the O’Donovans could never recover their ancestral lands!  Turlough’s son, Donal Mor O’Brien would later drive out the O’Donovans and their allies for good, sending the O’Donovans to south west Cork. It is worth noting that Monasternenagh may actually have been founded to mark an important victory – just as William the Conqueror built Battle Abbey on Senlac hill, the site of his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror to celebrate his victory over King Harold at Hastings in 1066. The O’Brien kings appear to have followed this idea of founding religious houses on or near the site of their victories.

Within a few decades, the community at Monasternenagh provided monks for new foundations – Inishlounaght and Holy Cross in County Tipperary, and Chore (Midleton) in County Cork.  Inishlounaght soon provided monks to found the abbey of Fermoy in the diocese of Cloyne in 1170. Ten years later, Monasternenagh provided monks for both Holy Cross and Chore (Midleton). Intriguingly, it seems that Holy Cross seems to have been founded in exact imitation of William the Conqueror’s Battle Abbey, for Holy Cross abbey stands on or very near the site of the battle of Thurles (1174) where Donal Mor O’Brien, king of Thomond, inflicted the first defeat on the Anglo-Norman invaders.  It was certainly founded in imitation of Monasternengah, which was itself founded by Donal’s father, Turlough, to celebrate a victory over the O’Donovans. Clearly there was a pattern to the O’Brien policy of founding such religious houses, but it is the later history of Holy Cross that provides interesting parallels with Chore (Midleton).

Baltinglass Abbey

Baltinglass Abbey in County Wicklow was founded in 1148 by Diarmait MacMurrough – the man who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland. This abbey was founded in the same year as Monasternenagh, which was also the year in which St Malachy of Armagh died at Clairvaux.

Now it is important to remember that there were only four Cistercian monasteries in County Cork – two were founded in the diocese of Cloyne (Fermoy and Chore) the others were Abbeymahon (1185, diocese of Ross) and Tracton (1224, diocese of Cork). Abbymahon was founded from Baltinglass by Diarmaid MacCarthy in 1185, so it was a part of the Mellifont filiation.  However, Tracton, the last of the medieval Cistercian monasteries created in Ireland, was founded by the Anglo-Norman Odo de Barry in 1224. Tracton’s founding monks came from Whitland in England.  This is the critical detail to keep in mind – the Cistercian abbeys founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Normans drew their founding monks directly from either England or Wales and they remained culturally English until the dissolution. In the 1200s Inislounaght would be poacned from the Mellifont filiation and placed permanently under the abbey of Furness in England.

Thus two groups of Cistercian monasteries developed in Ireland – native Irish foundations, almost all of which were linked to Mellifont, and the English foundations which admitted no Irish monks. Of the thirty-six Cistercian abbeys in medieval Ireland, twenty-seven were affiliated to Mellifont.  All the others were founded by the Anglo-Normans from English and Welsh monasteries and were affiliated to English and Welsh monasteries.

Holy Cross Abbey front

Holy Cross Abbey near Thurles in County Tipperary was founded in 1180, the same year that Chore Abbey (Midleton) was founded. This abbey was established by Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, the son of the Turlough O’Brien who founded Monasternenagh in 1148. Like his father, Donal wished to commemorate a victory in battle, in this case the Battle of Thurles in 1174, when he inflicted the first real defeat on the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland. Ironically, Donal Mor O’Brien was a relative by marriage of Diarmait MacMurrough, who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland!

And this is Denis O’Sullivan’s most important point in his 1945 article. The Cistercian monasteries founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Norman were NOT linked to Mellifont.  Chore (Midleton) was linked to Mellifont, because it was founded from Monasternenagh which was itself founded from Mellifont in 1148. In effect, Chore (Midleton) was a  grand-daughter of Mellifont – and the majority of its abbots whose names are recorded were native Irish..One other thing we must do is consider Paul MacCotter’s useful division of the early Anglo-Norman period in Ireland into a conquest phase and a settlement phase.  This division is matters because there could be several years between the initial conquest and parcelling out of conquered lands, and a determined Anglo-Norman settlement in those lands.

So now we know that Chore (Midleton) was a native Irish Cistercian abbey, but who exactly founded it? Crime writers tell us that to solve a whodunnit you need to establish motive and means to identify the culprit.  This sounds like a good approach to so we’ll apply it here.

First the means. The monks from Monasternenagh simply couldn’t walk into Imokilly and take the land.  This land was already occupied by someone. And evictions were not pleasant experience in twelfth century Ireland, just as they are not pleasant experiences in post-crash Ireland today.  You can be sure the local bishop would have objected if he hadn’t been consulted first, for the Cistercians did not allow their abbeys to be placed under diocesan control. Sadly, the surviving records (Ware and others) do not give the names of the founders.  But Denis O’Sullivan was able to show that the founders were likely to be two particular local men. The clue that O’Sullivan noted was the location of the abbey estates. These estates were concentrated in two specific areas. The bulk of the monastic estate was in a single block situated on the east bank of the Owenacurra river, in the northern half of the large parish of Ballinacorra.  This area comprised the modern townlands of Townparks, Park North, Park South, the northern half of Castleredmond, Broomfield West and Broomfield East, and the later townland of School-lands. These lands were part of the patrimony of the See of Cloyne. But, although we have no evidence for it, one must wonder if these lands were shared with, or possibly farmed by, the Mac Tire family who would have paid a rent to the bishop. Add to this some lands due north of Mogeely were added to the abbey’s estate by the Mac Tire chief. These were Killeenamanagh (literally ‘the little cell of the monks’) and the next townland to the north, Ballygibbon. These last two effectively formed a detached grange of the main monastic estate.  In all some two thousand acres were included in the founding grant of the monastery. To top up the funds from this estate, the tithes of Mogeely, and the tithes of the newly founded monastic parish of Chore were granted to the monastery. It should be noted that in the fourteenth century record called the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, the lands originally held by the Mac Tire in Mogeely were actually property of the See of Cloyne, valued at five knight’s fees. By the time the Pipe Roll records were composed, the MacTire had lost their property. So it is not impossible that the Mac Tire also held lands in the parish of Ballinacorra up to the year 1180.

Now you may recall that Monasternenagh was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on sword-land, that is land won by the sword from the O’Donovans. This custom of founding monasteries on sword-land was a means of preventing one’s enemy from taking those lands.  The MacTire family contributed to the foundation of Chore because it seems they realised that their own estates were under threat from the Anglo-Normans who had arrived in 1177/1178.  By granting part of the estates to a religious foundation, they prevented the land from falling into the hands of their enemies.  This proved to be a wise move given that just two years later in 1182, five Anglo-Norman knights, including Milo de Cogan, were murdered in the MacTire seat at Mogeely, sparking off a major revolt against the invaders.  De Cogan, you might recall was one of the two leaders of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Cork, along with Robert FitzStephen, whose illegitimate son was also killed at Mogeely. After this rebellion was put down by Raymond le Gros from 1173, the Mac Tire sept seem to have lost their lands.

However, the MacTire connection only accounts definitively for two specific townlands, directly controlled by that family. What about the rest of the property, which constituted the main monastic estate in a single block?  This was the actual site of the present town of Midleton, in the northern half of the parish of Ballinacorra.  This land was likely to have been church land before 1180, let out to tenants, in this case probably the MacTire family. Thus the means for establishing the abbey really belonged to the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh.  As for motive?  Well that too was pretty much something the bishop had.

It is likely that the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh, was the prime mover in founding Chore Abbey (Midleton). And it is likely that he had a similar motive to the Mac Tire family. His first aim was religious – the Cistercians represented the best of the reforming ideals sweeping the church in Ireland.  But Bishop Matthew may also have had more material motives. In granting diocesan lands to a religious foundation the bishop probably hoped to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.   The behaviour of the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland was often brutal – they had sacked the ecclesiastical town of Lismore, seat of the Papal Legate in Ireland, during their initial invasion, and they were not likely to respect Cross lands – that is land held directly by the diocese.

Lismore cathedral nave

Lismore Cathedral was the seat of the Papal Legate to Ireland – but that didn’t stop the Anglo-Normans from sacking the place during their invasion. Was this atrocity an incentive to the bishop of nearby Cloyne to found Chore Abbey (Midleton)?

As it was, the des Autres, or de Altaribus family, built their castle right next to the existing church in Ballinacorra and soon granted tithes of Ballinacorra and Ballymartyr (now Ballyoughtera) to the Augustinian abbey of St Thomas the Martyr in Dublin. It is not known if the des Autres consulted the bishop before erecting their castle. They might have been obliged to come to terms with the bishop somewhat later, for the Pipe Roll of Cloyne indicates that the site was held on a rent to the bishop in the following century. This threat to diocesan property may have been an incentive for the bishop to establish a Cistercian monastery on his vulnerable See lands. It is worth noting that the much maligned Prince John of England, in his capacity as Lord of Ireland, was actually quite good at laying down the law on the Anglo-Norman magnates in Ireland – he insisted that church land in Ireland be left untouched and that these lands should remain in the hands of the church authorities. It is known that very early during the Anglo-Norman settlement, John issued a writ of protection to the bishop of Limerick making it clear that anyone encroaching on church lands would incur severe punishment. (And yes, this is the same King John of Robin Hood infamy!)

Even more interesting, if we look at the names of the known abbots of Chore (Midleton), we find that most of them were Gaelic Irish, with hardly any Anglo-Norman or English names in the list until the very end. Clearly, Chore Abbey (Midleton) was a Gaelic Irish foundation and remained Gaelic in culture long after its foundation. It seems certain that Bishop Matthew O’Mongaigh of Cloyne was the principal founder of Chore Abbey, with support, or donations of land, from the Mac Tire chieftain at the time.  So now you know whodunnit.

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):

http://www.taghmon.com/vol1/5hore/5hore.htm

Before Midleton – there was Ballinacorra…….

It makes no sense to discuss the early history of Midleton without considering the older, and now overshadowed,neighbour, – the village of Ballinacorra. So I’d like to examine some aspects of Ballinacorra’s history here.  I must acknowledge my debt to Paul MacCotter, who, as an excellent medieval historian, has presented so many insights into the history of the area around Midleton and Cloyne.

Ballinacurra Main Street

The Main Street of Ballinacorra around 1900. The building on the left might stand on the site of the mill recorded in 1301. The modern village looks very much as if it had been planned, and perhaps it was redeveloped in the later 1700s. Flowing under the road in the foreground is a culverted stream.

The village of Ballinacorra still retains its own identity despite being considered by many to be simply a suburb of Midleton. It is far enough away from Main Steet in Midleton to treat the larger town as an interloper.  In the decades since the 1960s, the main road from Midleton to Ballinacorra has  become built up, especially on the west side from Lakeview filling station (that’s a gas station to you Yanks!) to the Dark Road (‘dark’ because it was heavily shaded by trees). The eastern side of the road had just Lakeview Terrace and a couple of houses, along with Lakeview House itself. There were fields between the Presentation Convent boundary wall, which marked the southern end of Midleton town, and Lakeview filling station, and there are still fields on the eastern side between Lakeview House and the other houses on that side of the road.  However, the building of ‘The Cotswolds’ (!) and ‘Castleredmond’ housing estates has filled in some of the open space.  Charleston House still stands proudly isolated behind its high wall, trees and mercifully green fields on the western side of the road, directly opposite the entrance to the Castleredmond estate. Should the demand for housing boom again, it is likely that all the land bordering this road will be built up.

Aerial view Castleredmond

Ballinacorra Creek runs from the bottom left to the center right. The sharp straight end of the creek is the modern road from Midleton to Whitegate, cutting Ballincorra village off from its waterfront. The village proper lies byond the white line of the road. Ballinacorra house, with its adjacent farm buildings, lies at the bottom of the picture next to the creek. The strange bent wall visible at the bottom of the ploughed field, just above Ballinacorra House, draws the eye to the site of the medieval church, and the trees which surround and cover the mound that marks the Anglo-Norman motte or earthwork castle – Castranachore. The waterway coming in from the upper left is the estuary of the Owenacurra River, which flows through Midleton.

One important change in the road between Midleton and Ballinacorra was the rebuilding of that road since the 1950s – which entailed by-passing Ballinacorra and even filling in part of the waterfront thus cutting the village off from Ballinacorra Creek. This waterfront and its quays were the reason for the village’s whole existence in the first place.  During the building of the Whitegate Oil Refinery in the 1950s, it was realised that the old road was inadequate and a narrow turn in the road at the top of the Main Street in Ballinacorra to Whitegate made it difficult to get large vehicles through the village.  The solution therefore was to widen the road from Midleton to Whitegate, and it was necessary to by-pass Ballinacorra because the narrow Main Street was too constricted.  Thus Ballinacorra became one of the first villages in Ireland to be by-passed. Today, when driving from Midleton to Whitegate on the R630, it is easy for the motorist to overlook the existence of the village because the road was laid out on a raised embankment which filled the eastern end of Ballinacurra Creek.  This causeway was necessary because the road had to drop down a steep slope from Castleredmond, cross the Creek, and climb up the steep slope on the other side leading into Ballinacorra townland and continuing to Whitegate.  In effect, Ballinacorra became lost in a hole, as well as being cut off from its historic waterfront by this wide, busy road and fast traffic. You get a better idea of the difficulties posed for the engineers when you turn off the main road into the village itself and drive up the Main Street to rejoin the main road further on.

As mentioned in my previous post, Ballinacorra is a much older settlement than Midleton.  It was certainly extant in the middle of the twelfth century, and perhaps earlier. By 1160, the parish had been created as part of the organisation of the newly re-established diocese of Cloyne, the cathedral of which was just a few miles away (literally in the next parish!).  It is likely that, as with Ballycotton, the site at Ballinacorra was developed as a port for Cloyne – indeed Ballinacorra was a much more secure port for shipping. Despite being located about nine nautical miles from the sea, Ballinacorra’s sheltered position, its proximity to Cloyne (compared with Ballycotton) and its access to the rich grain growing lands of the vale of Imokilly, made it a good spot for a port. The land may have been controlled by the Ui Mac Tire family – a bunch of parvenues who had recently usurped older ruling families to take over as the local lords of Ui Mo Caille or Imokilly.  Imokilly is now a barony stretching from Midleton to Youghal and southwards to the sea.  In the twelfth century only the western part of the modern barony from the present day Castlemartyr/Mogeely (& Ballymacoda?) line to Midleton and the eastern shore of Cork Harbour was called Imokilly, but it was later expanded to Youghal. Originally the barony included the territory stretching towards Carrigtohill, but these lands were incorporated into Barrymore well before 1500. Th original lands of Imokilly seem to have been controlled by the Ui Mac Tire in the north and the Bishop of Cloyne in the south.

The Ui Mac Tire were closely allied to the MacCarthy dynasty who ruled the kingdom of Cork or Desmond (South Munster). Indeed it likely that the MacCarthys re-established the diocese that had been extinguished at Rath Breasail. in 1111. They also seem to have been closely linked to the church reforms that had been in progress since 1111.  Perhaps Cormac MacCarthy, the man who built Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, was the re-founder of the modern diocese of Cloyne! The MacCarthy kings were closely linked to the church reforms that were in progress in twelfth century Ireland, and their close allies the Ui Mac Tire may have followed suit.  There’s an interesting German connection here that will be addressed in a later post!

The parish of Ballinacorra covered much of the area that was later covered by the civil parish of Midleton.  A civil parish is effectively the medieval parish; today the civil parish provides the basis of Church of Ireland parish unions and is also of Roman Catholic parishes, although Catholic parishes might be drawn up to ignore civil parish boundaries.  However, in 1180, the large parish of Ballinacorra was divided in two. The northern portion of the parish was given over as a separate parish to the Cistercians who settled at Chore on the site of today’s Midleton town. The southern portion of the original parish remained as the parish of Ballinacorra or, as it later bacame, Castranachore – a name still applied to the whole civil parish in the Tithe Applotment Book of 1833.  We know that Ballinacorra was established before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the area in 1177 because the parish church was dedicated to St Colman of Cloyne.  This dedication to a native Irish saint invariably indicates a pre-Norman foundation.  In this case it also suggests an older direct link to the monastery of Cloyne, which had become the Cathedral of Cloyne.

Ballinacorra Church West front

The west end of the ruined church at Ballinacorra. This view shows the typical later medieval west end of an Irish parish church – there’s no door, for that is on the south side of the church. The image is taken from the edge of the churchyard overlooking Ballinacorra Creek. The church is right on the water’s edge.

The location of the medieval church in Ballinacorra, right on the southern shore of Ballinacorra Creek, strongly suggests that Ballinacorra was envisaged as a port for both the town of Cloyne, and for the Mac Tire lands.  The grain grown in Imokilly could easily be transported to Cork by boat or ship from Ballinacorra – a trade that continued into the twentieth century.  It might be thought that Youghal would have been the principal port for the area, but the dedication of that parish to St Mary suggests that Youghal is a later foundation of the Anglo-Normans.

In 1177, King Henry II gave two of the original leaders of the Anglo-Norman expeditionary party in Ireland the right to seize the kingdom of Cork.  This broke the Treaty of Windsor which had divided Ireland between a territory under Henry and the rest of the country under Rory O’Connor, the so called ‘High King’ of the Irish.  The two men given this license were Robert FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan.  These ruthless men promptly swooped into Cork – with the land of Imokilly being the first to fall victim to their raid.  FitzStephen claimed Imokilly and Olethan.  He subdivided much of the land into smaller estates for his knights. These knights then rented out the land to smaller tenants – in some cases they left the lands in the hands of the Irish families that had originally claimed it, as long as they paid rent to their new landlords.  This was done because there seem to have been insufficient Anglo-Norman tenants to go around.  Robert FitzStephen had granted much of Uflanethe (the plain between Midleton and Castlemartyr/Mogeely) to the father and son team of Robert and Thomas des Autres. It is uncertain if the des Autres were the new landlords to the Mac Tire family of if FitzStephen was their immediate landlord.  Whatever it way the arrangement was worked out, the Mac Tire still occupied Mogeely and held what is now Midleton, with Castleredmond, the two Broomfield townlands, and Killenamanagh near Mogeely.  The des Autres continued to hold lands in Imokilly throughout the medieval period, but in increasingly smaller holdings.  This family is most likely the modern Waters and probably the Salter family that can be found in East Cork today.  Indeed Paul MacCotter suggests that they give their name to several townlands, including of Ballintotis – the former Balyogy became Baile an tAiteirs (des Autres town) perhaps from the family’s possession of Ballintotis in the fourteenth century.

The des Autres may have established their caput, or seat, at Ballincorra by building an earth and timber castle there.  Thus Ballinacorra became Castlecor or Caislean na Cora.  This earth and timber castle may represented by the unexcavated tree-covered mound in the grounds of Ballinacorra House.  This steep mound is located just yards from the medieval church – the relationship suggests a classic example of Anglo-Norman manorial practice: church and castle (or manor house) being set side by side.  The location of the medieval village is unknown, but most likely it was on the site of the present village.  It is even possible that the village was originally on the site of Ballinacorra House but the building of the castle meant that the inhabitants were forced to move to the site of the modern village.  This high-handed behaviour was common enough among the Anglo-Norman elite.

Ballinacorra Graveyard

The eighteenth century wall separating Ballinacorra House from the old churchyard. The trees mark the site of the still extant mound, which appears to be the motte of the early Anglo-Norman castle that gave the village its other name – Castle Cor or Castranacore. The proximity of the castle to the church was typical of the Anglo Normans. It is possible that the original village was moved east to its present site when the castle was established on this site.

This type of high-handed behaviour may have precipitated the foundation of the Abbey of St Mary of Chore (Midleton) in 1180 by Mac Tire and the Bishop of Cloyne (perhaps with encouragement from the MacCarthys).  By handing some of their property to the Cistercians, the Mac Tire kept it out of the hands of the Anglo-Normans.      .

In a deed that is hardly later than 1183, Robert des Autres granted the tithes of three churches in his lands to St Thomas’s Augustinian Abbey in Dublin.  One of these grants was ‘the great church of Castello de Cor.’ No, this referred not to a place in Italy but to the church at Ballinacorra (or Castlecor as it was now called).  Note the name of this castle – it will come up, and cause trouble, in a later post!

In 1182 a party of Anglo-Norman knights travelling from Cork to Waterford stopped off for the night at Mac Tire’s house in Mogeely – and were murdered. This incident sparked off a widespread revolt against the Anglo-Normans in Cork and the MacCarthy king, Diarmaid, launched a massive attack on Imokilly.  All the castles of Imokilly were destroyed – including Castlecor.  This revolt was suppressed by Raymond le Gros in 1183, but the Mac Tire and MacCarthys continued to fight a guerilla war until about 1220.  All this suggests that the initial Anglo-Norman settlement was rather weak and that the new estates must have suffered from the conflict.  Perhaps the des Autiers suffered severe damage to their properties during the revolt and its suppression as well as ongoing troubles into the early 1200s.

Sailing route to Ballinacorra

The sailing route from the lower part of Cork Harbour to Ballinacorra follows the yellow line via East Ferry to the green dot which marks the Creek of Ballinacorra. The total distance to Roche’s Point and the open sea is about 9 nautical miles. (Image from sailcork.com)

With Robert FitzStephen’s death in 1183, his estates were inherited by his nephew Raymond le Gros, the same man who had suppressed the Mac Tire/MacCarthy revolt that year.It isn’t certain when Raymond died, but it was sometime between 1185 and 1198.  Raymond’s lands were inherited by his nephew, Richard de Carew. Since we know that Thomas des Autres sold the vill and castle of Cor (Ballinacorra) to Richard de Carew in the 1190s, we can surmise that Raymond was probably dead by the middle of that decade.

The status of Castranachore/Caislean na Cora/Castle Cor/Castle Corth now changed as de Carew made it the caput or capital of his large manor which seemed to correspond to the old territory of Uflanethe.  This manor stretched from near Carrigtohill in the west almost to Killeagh in the east with a portion reaching the sea at Garryvoe and Ballycrenane in the south east.  From north to south, the manor reached from Dangan to the northern outskirts of Cloyne. The manor of Castlecorth also included the eastern portion of Great Island (Templerobin parish?) and a larger detached portion around Aghada, where the original caput seems to have been located by Robert FizStephen.

Being at the center of the manor, Ballinacorra (or Castlecorth, as it was called) was a busy market town and very useful port. This was effectively the most important town in Imokilly along with Cloyne and the newly developed port of Youghal.  Later medieval documents show that, by 1301, there was a watermill in the town (perhaps on the stream that flows into the creek). There also seems to have been a leper hospital in the vicinity of Castlecorth – but no remains are extant today.

To inhabit their new capital, the Carews seem to have brought in settlers from elsewhere – particularly from south Wexford. It is interesting to note that Robert FitzStephen was awarded a half-share of two cantreds or baronies in south County Wexford by Dermot MacMurrough.  These were the baronies of Bargy and Forth on the south coast of the county (indeed on the extreme south east corner of Ireland – the point of Ireland nearest to Pembrokeshire, whence came the original Anglo-Norman forces. Families with names like Walsh, Burgess, Coppinger, Tanner, Dene, Cod, Field, Fleming, Marshall, Mynes and even Harpur all settled in Ballinacorra from 1220. The names of these settlers were remarkably similar to the names of the Anglo-Norman settlers in Bargy and Forth – almost certainly they were all related, perhaps younger sons in search of more opportunity.  Paul MacCotter, who has had a chance to study some of these names, is very clear that this is a very close relationship between the families settled in south Wexford and in Imokilly, a relationship that deserves further exploration, especially since the Carews also inherited Robert FitzStephen’s property in Wexford.

Events in the fourteenth century brought about some serious changes in Ballinacorra/Castlecorth.  Firstly, a strong Gaelic revival led by the MacCarthys meant that Thomas Carew, sixth lord of Castlecorth after Raymond de Carew, lost much of his valuable estates in West Cork. In 1339 he sold the Burgary (town) of Castlecorth to William de Barry, the brother of David Barry, the lord of Barrymore.  The result of this was that Ballinacorra/Castlecorth ended up in Barrymore barony until the later 1600s or early 1700s.  This didn’t just mean the village or town of Ballinacorra, it also included the three townlands of Ballinacorra (town/East/West), the two Bawnards (East/West), and Loughatalia. To make matters worse, Thomas Carew was attainted for treason in 1340 and his manor of Castlecorth was confiscated by the government, although it was reluctantly allowed to remain under the tenuous control of the Carews of Garryvoe.  The separation of the vill or town of Ballinacorra/Castlecorth from the manor of Castlecorth was disastrous.  The port still functioned, but the town was no longer the center of economic activity in the western part of Imokilly.  In the following century as the FitzGeralds re-established themselves in Imokilly, the focus seems to have shifted to the newer town of Castlemartyr.

Bennett's maltings

The grainstore built by Anderson and Lapp in the late 1700s and later acquired by John H Bennett & Co, maltsters. This image shows the buildings before they were converted into apartments. The lovely still water shows what the creek looks like at high tide. Sadly Ballinacorra Creek was allowed to silt up in the twentieth century and eventually closed as a port in the 1960s.

Paul MacCotter reckons that Ballinacorra had declined by the seventeenth century to a small village, but it had one more shot at glory as a result of the Reformation – the parish was reunited with its northern portion in the early seventeenth century.  The suppression of the Cistercian abbey at Chore (Midleton) by Henry VIII eventually led to the two parishes becoming one, thus the name Castranachore rather than Corabbey for the parish of Midleton in the Tithe Applotment Book in 1833.  In the later 1600s Colonel Richard FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the heir to the Seneschal of Imokilly, moved to Ballinacorra, having failed to regain his ancient seat of Castlemartyr.  He probably lived in Ballinacorra House, which is certainly the oldest continuously inhabited house in the parish of Midleton. At present it appears to be an eighteenth century modification of a seventeenth century house, but one wonders if it actually is a reworking of a later medieval tower house or small castle?  Eighteenth century Ballinacorra was divided between the Longfields of Castlemary (near Cloyne) and the Boyles, Earls of Shannon, who lived at Castlemartyr.  At one point the brother of George Berkeley, Bishop of Cloyne,

Edward Bransfield RN

Edward Bransfield RN was born in Ballinacorra about 1785, and was press-ganged into the Royal Navy in 1803. Unusually, for a Catholic, he did well for himself, rising through the ranks, becoming a noted early explorer of the Antarctic. Very likely his hedge-school education equipped him to take advantage of any opportunities that presented themselves to him, unlike most impressed men at the time.

It would seem that Ballinacorra (as we must now call it) revived in the later 1700s, when Anderson and Lapp, two Cork merchants built quays and grain stores on Ballinacorra Creek.  Later the malting of barley became the most important industry there, supplying malted barley to several breweries, including the Guinness brewery at St James’s Gate in Dublin.   By then however, the creation of the borough of Midleton in 1670 meant that the northern neighbour overshadowed the village of Ballinacorra.  In 1803, a young fisherman called Edward Bransfield was press-ganged from his father’s fishing boat into the Royal Navy.  The young man remained in the navy after the final defeat of Napoleon in 1815, spending his time exploring the Southern Ocean and the shores of Antarctica as well as the South Shetland Islands, which he claimed for King George III (who actually had died the day before!). Sadly, the port at Ballinacorra was finally closed in the 1960s, thus ending centuries of international trade from the Creek of Ballinacorra.

Before Midleton – a church, a village and an abbey.

Main Street Ballinacurra

An early twentieth century photograph of Main Street, Ballinacorra (looking south). This village is located a mile due south of Midleton and was a prosperous little port and malting centre in the early twentieth century. The house visible at the end of the street is thatched in this image, but burned down in 1924 and was rebuilt with a slate roof by JJ Coffey & Sons. (The Horgan Collection)

The town of Midleton is about a mile north of the village of Ballinacorra.  This village was a small, if busy, port until the middle of the twentieth century, but its origins go back much further.  Indeed, it certainly existed in the middle of the twelfth century (1101-1201), although the whole area of Midleton/Ballinacorra had been inhabited since the Bronze Age, at least. 

We know that Ballinacorra existed at an early date because the ruined church there is dedicated to St Colman of Cloyne. The diocesan and parochial structures were put in place in Ireland between 1101 (first Synod of Cashel), 1111 (Synod of Rath Breasail – this set up clear a diocesan structure), and 1152 (Synod of Kells/Mellifont – this confirmed, after slight amendments, the modern diocesan structure).  The diocese of Cloyne was almost certainly created before his death in 1138 by King Cormac MacCarthy (the man who commissioned Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel), and was confirmed in 1152 at Kells. These three synods were native Irish reform initiatives – the basic structure of the Irish church was established before 1160, with the parish network being developed up to about 1200.

Ballinacorra Church interior

The interior of the ruined medieval church of St Colman in Ballinacorra. This view of the west end shows the damage resulting from neglect since the church was abandoned in the seventeenth century. The trees in the background mark the location of the mound, or motte, that is all that remains of the earth and timber castle founded by the des Autres or de Altaribus family in the early 1180s. (From historicgraves.ie)

The churches founded to serve as parish churches, or given new status as parish churches, were all native Irish foundations with, mostly, dedications to native Irish saints.  Hence the sprawling parish of Ballinacorra had a church noted between 1177 and 1189 as the ‘great church’ of ‘St Colman of Cor.’ The church at Ballinacorra was dedicated to St Colman of Cloyne – and the location of the church on the banks of the Ballinacorra creek suggests that the associated settlement was probably a port for the episcopal see of Cloyne, just a few miles away. The ‘of Cor’ in the name is a reference to something topographical or a very important local feature – probably a great weir or a series of weirs (I plan to discuss this in another post). Paul MacCotter (A History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne, 2013) says that the church of St Colman at Cor was almost certainly founded as the mother church in the western part of Uflanetad – the tuath stretching from the Owenacurra River in the west to the Kiltha River  at Castlemartyr in the east.  A tuath was a basic Irish political unit ruled by a chieftain or very minor king.  Uflanetad (or Ui Fhlannchadha in Irish) was the heartland of the Ui Meic Tire, a family of parvenu nobles who had allied themelves to the MacCarthys and usurped the other local lineages in the area.. In essence the church at Ballinacorra was the equivalent of a minster – a central church that sent out clergy into the surrounding countryside to minister to the people.  Strangle as it seems but the modern Roman Catholic parish of Midleton covers almost the same area as Ui Fhlannchadha!

All of this was upset in 1177 when the Anglo-Norman knights Robert FitzStephen and Raymond ‘le Gros’ de Carew were given license by King Henry II to take the McCarthy kingdom of Cork. Robert and Raymond had arrived in Ireland by 1169 from England and Wales accompanied by their cousins and colleagues and they set about ‘helping’ Diarmait McMorrough take back his kingdom of Leinster. Henry II’s grant of 1177 was probably the King’s way of keeping two potential trouble-makers thoroughly occupied in a near impossible project. One of the earliest ‘castles’ in County Cork was an earth and timber structure situated at Castra na Corth or Castra Cor or Dun Chureda. This was situated right beside the parish church of St Colman of Cor. This castle was probably founded by the newly settled Anglo-Norman family of des Autres (or de Altaribus). There was certainly a castle there by 1183 when it was burned by Diarmait McCarthy, King of Desmond (Cork). The tall, steep, tree-covered mound in the grounds of Ballinacorra House is almost certainly the remains of this castle (see image above).

Monasternenagh

Monasternenagh Abbey (1148) gives an idea of what the Abbey of Chore might have looked like. The O’Briens, as kings of Thomond, were the wealthy patrons of this particular monastery.

With the Anglo-Norman incursion into Cork, the local political arrangements and landholdings were severely upset.  In 1179 or 1180 a group of Cistercian monks from Monasternenagh near Croom in modern County Limerick arrived on the banks of the Owenacurra to found a monastery.  This became known as Mainistir na Corann, or in Latin, Monasterium de Choro Sancti Benedicti Beatae Mariae Virginae: the monastery ‘de Choro’ of St Benedict of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  As part of the establishment, and to avoid conflict with the secular (diocesan) clergy, the sprawling parish of St Colman of Cor was split – the northern part being erected into a new parish attached to and tended by the monastic community.  The abbey church also served as a parish church – this was certainly the case at the dissolution of the monastery during the Reformation.  St Colman’s church continued to serve the more reduced parish to the south of the new monastic parish.

Mellifont Lavabo

Mellifont in County Louth was founded directly from Clairvaux in Burgundy in 1142. This abbey was the ‘grandmother’ of the abbey at Chore.

It is important to note something here. The date of this monastic foundation is three years after Henry II gave Robert FitzStephen and Raymond le Gros leave to take Cork.  Despite the much repeated nonsense published by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary in 1837, the abbey of Chore was NOT founded by the Fitzgeralds or ANY Anglo-Normans.   The monks actually came from an Irish Cistercian monastery, Monasternenagh, founded by an irish king. Turlough O’Brian of Thomond, in 1148.  The monks who founded Monasternenagh came from Mellifont Abbey, founded by St Malachy of Armagh near Drogheda in County Louth in 1142.  THAT monastery was founded directly from Clairvaux in Burgundy with the support and encouragement of St Bernard of Clairvaux.  The Barry Fitzgerald mentioned by Lewis is a figment of someone’s imagination. Chore Abbey was a grand-daughter of Mellifont and a great grand-daughter of Clairvaux.  It is worth noting that Chore Abbey was founded in the same year that Domhnall Mor O’Brian, King of Thomond, founded Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary, probably to celebrate his victory over the Anglo-Normans at Thurles.

Holycross Abbey_1

Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary was founded in 1180 – the same year that Chore Abbey was founded on the site of Midleton. Domhnall Mor O’Brian, King of Thomond, brought monks from Monasternenagh to found Holy Cross, probably to celebrate a victory over the Anglo-Normans. (William the Conqueror founded Battle Abbey to celebrate his victory at Hastings.) Monasternenagh also supplied the monks who set up Chore! One must wonder if there was anybody left in Monasternenagh when the two new monasteries were founded in 1180!  Note the weir in the foreground of this photograph – yet another link to Chore Abbey (Midleton).

If you visit Midleton today you won’t find a trace of the abbey – it has literally been swept from the face of the earth.  But Ballinacorra still possesses the crumbling ruins of its medieval parish church, situated in its little graveyard, beside the mound that was the castle and beside the creek that leads to the Owenacurra estuary. .