Happy Birthday, Midleton! 350 years old in June 2020.

Seal of the Corporation of Midleton as illustrated by Samuel Lewis in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland. (1837)

 

It would be silly to let this month of June 2020 pass without noting that it marks the 350th anniversary of the town of Midleton in County Cork becoming…MIDLETON. The Charter of Midleton, issued by the government of King Charles II on 10th June 1670 gave an existing medieval town in the barony of Imokilly, County Cork, its new English-sounding name.

As a visitor approaches Midleton on the N25 from either Cork or Youghal, he or she is greeted by a large sign at the entrance to the town. It says ‘Mainistir na Corann 1180’ and, below, ‘Midleton 1670’. The first name refers to the foundation of the Cistercian Abbey of Chore, Mainistir na Corann in Irish, which was founded by Gaelic Irish monks from Monasternenagh, near Croom in County Limerick. Despite the image of a knight on the sign, the abbey was an entirely Gaelic Irish foundation, with the Anglo-Normans having no direct involvement in the foundation. It was founded by the local Gaelic chieftain, MacTire of Imokilly, with assistance from the Bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongain.

A town soon developed beside the abbey. Again, this seems to have been a Gaelic Irish creation almost certainly inspired by the creation of the nearby town of Cloyne in 1237-1238 by David O’Ceallaigh, Bishop of Cloyne. By 1299, the sheriff of Cork recorded a market in Mainistir na Corann, or Corabbey as it was called in English. The market wasn’t licensed by the Crown and it seems that the sheriff wanted to prompt King Edward I to issue a licence for Corabbey, as well as Ballinacurra and Cloyne, which also operated markets without a royal licence.

The dissolution of the Abbey of Chore took place in 1544 but was only finally confirmed in 1551. How this affected the town is unknown, but in 1608 the landlord at the time, Sir John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald of Cloyne, obtained a market licence for his town of Corabbey, suggesting that the town had survived and still held a weekly market. The licence stipulated that the market was to be held on Saturday – probably confirming the long established medieval market day.

In 1653, lands around Corabbey were granted to a Cromwellian soldier from Surrey, St John Brodrick. He was a good friend of Roger Boyle, Lord Orrery, who was the last Lord President of Munster under both Cromwell and King Charles II.  Brodrick’s lands were concentrated in east Cork but also included estates in County Waterford and even reached into County Limerick. But there was a problem – a glaring hole in the middle of his east Cork estates. This was Corabbey, held by the Rice family. Brodrick made them an offer they probably didn’t dare to refuse, and was able to consolidate his east Cork estates by purchasing the town of Corabbey.

With the restoration of King Charles II in 1660, St John Brodrick was knighted and in 1663 was confirmed in his possession of his Irish estates. It was probably then that the town was replanned around its broad straight Main Street – which only reached as far as the northern side of the modern Brodrick Street because the land at the southern end of the town was liable to frequent flooding by the Dungourney (Rocksborough) River. This evidence comes from a detail in a 1711 map of Cork Harbour in which the Main Street is shown as shorter than the present street. Brodrick also moved the parish church from Ballinacurra to a new church on the site of the abbey for greater convenience. That church was replaced by thee present St John the Baptist Church of Ireland on the site in 1825.

To give his town some status, Sir St John Brodrick needed to have it raised to a corporate borough. The first draft of the Charter was completed in 1668, but there was a problem – it listed all the townlands he had been granted but omitted one – the townland of Corabbey which he had purchased from the Rice family. After some negotiation this was amended in 1669 and the final Charter was issued on 10th June 1670. This is the reason for the ‘Midleton 1670’ reference on the signs at the Cork and Youghal entrance to the town. Intriguingly, William Penn of Shanagarry and Pennsylvania fame recorded in the summer of 1670 that he had conducted business in ‘Corabbey’ – perhaps the last mention of the old name of the town before it became Midleton.

Sadly, the original Charter document is missing but a manuscript copy made in 1784 was obtained by Professor John A Murphy of UCC and later presented to the Cork Archives in Blackpool. It gives the full text of the original charter.

The Charter of Midleton did three things  – it created a manor, established a parliamentary borough and renamed the town.

First, the charter established Sir St John Brodrick’s entire estate as a manor, giving it a personal jurisdiction with its own manorial courts. Among its many privileges the manor was responsible for effectively running the estate and the town, and the lands could only be sold off by passing an Act of Parliament. The manor controlled the market and fair, could impound stray animals, and was permitted to hold a deer park (at Cahermone and Park North and Park South in Midleton).

 

Already noted in 1685, the Market House of Midleton was rebuilt or refurbished on the same site in 1789. It belonged to the landlord rather than to the Corporation. Construction was authorised in the Charter of Midleton in 1670.The Charter of Midleton authorised the Corporation to erect a ‘common hall or tholsel’ for its meetings.  A Market House had been erected in Midleton by 1685, but it was built by the landlord, Sir St John Brodrick, rather than by the Corporation. The Corporation met in the upper storey. There was a public clock on the Market Houre by 1750. The building was either rebuilt or refurbished in 1789. The building remained in Brodrick hands until the mid-1960s.

 

Secondly, the Charter established Midleton as a corporate parliamentary borough. That is, Midleton had a corporation of fifteen men led by a Sovereign (mayor), two bailiffs, and twelve burgesses – all Protestants. The sole function of the corporation was to elect two MPs to the Irish House of Commons, and elect a new Sovereign and Bailiffs each year. The Corporation had no executive functions in running the town, although it was allowed to build a ‘common hall or tholsel’.  In fact Sir St John Brodrick built the Market House, which was refurbished in 1789, and now houses the library. The Municipal Corporations Commission (1835-1838) declared that it could not discover any function performed by the Corporation of Midleton apart from electing a Sovereign and Bailiffs. This isn’t surprising because the Act of Union in 1800 stripped the Corporation of its sole real function – electing MPs to represent the town. When the Corporation was abolished it seems that the office of Sovereign may have been overlooked and Rev Francis Jones, Rector of Midleton, used his office to summon a meeting of the east Cork great and good to a meeting in Midleton Courthouse on 6th January 1845 to press for the building of a railway from Cork to Waterford by way of Midleton and Youghal.

The third act of the Charter was to give the town of Corabbey a new name – Midleton…or was it Middleton? The charter started off mentioning the town of ‘MIDLETON’ but ends by mentioning the town of…’MIDDLETON’. Since both names were given in the Charter, both were legally correct! In 1685, Sir Richard Cox MP of Dunmanway declared that the town was called Midleton/Middleton because of its location mid-way between Cork and Youghal. Curiously, William Penn of Shanagarry and Pennsylvania was one the very last people to call the town Corabbey when he recorded doing business in the town in the summer of 1670.

Although Alan Brodrick became Baron Brodrick of MIDLETON in 1715 and Viscount MIDLETON in 1717, during the eighteenth century the name of the town came to be written as MIDDLETON. This lasted until early 1845 when the 5th Viscount Midleton wrote to the Postmaster General in London complaining that the post was going missing in Middleton, County Cork. Lord Midleton suggested that the town’s post office stamp be recut to say MIDLETON rather than MIDDLETON, since his own title followed the first spelling. After some time, the Postmaster General wrote back to say that following an investigation, the suggestion would be taken up and the stamp was recut to say MIDLETON. The Post Office was the first government body to adopt the modern spelling of the town’s name. And it’s unique – there simply isn’t another Midleton to be found! Even Google will confirm that. Interestingly, the name conferred on the town is the only part of the Charter of Midleton that still has legal standing. The manor was abolished in 1850 when a private act of parliament permitted the trustees to sell the estates to settle accumulated debts. The 5th Lord Midleton had to buy back the town at the auction in the Imperial Hotel in Cork. He paid over £30,000 for the privilege!

 

Sadly, the Covid-19 pandemic put paid to any plans to celebrate the 350th anniversary of Midleton becoming Midleton in the Charter of Midleton in June 1670.

A word about the date of the Charter of Midleton – it was issued on 10th June 1670. That is the OLD STYLE date, before the calendar was modernised in Britain and Ireland in 1752. The old calendar of Julius Caesar had begun to run out of sync with the seasons and in 1582 Pope Gregory XIII decreed the use of a new (Gregorian) calendar to correct the problem. Britain and Ireland only adopted the Gregorian calendar in 1752 – with the result that the Orange Order in Ulster now celebrates the Battle of the Boyne, which took place on 1st July 1690 (Old Style) on 12th July (New Style). If we follow this logic, the 10th June 1670 is really 22nd June 1670! Perhaps it is best to simply take the whole month to celebrate the Charter of Midleton! There’s bound to be a fine sunny day there somewhere.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mad Monks of Midleton – really!

Mad Monk bar

The Mad Monk Bar and Bistro on Church Lane in Midleton. It stands right beside the churchyard of St John the Baptist. This church is actually built on the site of the Abbey of Chore or Mainistir na Corann, founded for the Cistercians in 1180.

On Church Lane in Midleton there is a bar/bistro called Mad Monk.  This establishment was called O’Riordan’s Pub when I was growing up and then became Joe’s of Church Lane.  The name Mad Monk was given to the pub more recently. Curious about the change of name (which occurred when I lived in Limerick) I went in recently to inquire why the place was called Mad Monk.  The personnel behind the bar hadn’t a clue – they were very clear about that. It seems that nobody had explained the origins of the name to them. One clue may be in the pub’s logo – a monk indulging in beer!

Mad Monk Logo

Logo of the Mad Monk Bar in Midleton – not quite the version that comes to mind when discussing the actual mad monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann in 1228/1229. Clearly this image depicts the Brother Cellarer – note the keys for locking up the beverages!

But there were mad monks in Midleton or Mainistir na Corann in the early 1200s.  And they were hopping mad!  Not gaga mind you, just furious that they were being called to account.

How bad were they?  Well, a letter written to them in 1228 tells us. They are addressed as the Community of Chore.

To the Community of Chore, greetings.

The charge of much disorder as well as rebellion and conspiracy…..perpetrated in your house in the past year against the visitor sent to you on behalf of the General Chapter, namely the Abbot of Tintern Minor, has been brought to our attention by reliable and trustworthy men. He removed your former abbot, Brother R., from office for refusing to submit to the authority given to him, and at the same time he placed your church and you yourselves under interdict and suspended you from the divine services for as long as you supported the beforementioned R. as abbot or recognized him as your abbot.

This opening to the letters sent by Stephen of Lexington, Abbot of Stanley, was probably not what the monks of Chore or Mainistir na Corann wanted to read.  And it was very a serious recital of the charge against the abbey as well as the penalties imposed on the abbey.

But what exactly was it all about?

Right from the start, the Cistercians in Ireland faced trouble – from the Irish monks themselves. Some years after the establishment of Mellifont Abbey in 1142, the French monks quit the place and returned to Burgundy with complaints that the Irish had some very strange interpretations of the Cistercian Rule. You may recall that the Cistercians were a reformed version of the Benedictine order, but were more rigorous in their interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict. They were also more tightly organized throughout Europe, whereas the Benedictines were organised more loosely.

For example, every year the Cistercians had a Europe-wide meeting called a General Chapter. This meeting was held in Burgundy, either at Citeaux or at Clairvaux. Representatives were sent from every national affiliation of Cistercian monasteries – this meant that the monasteries founded from Mellifont represented the Irish affiliation, sending three abbots to the General Chapter. Furthermore, the Cistercians interpreted the Benedictine rule to rigidly structure every moment of the day for the monks – both choir monks (educated men who were usually ordained) and the lay brothers (‘peasant’ monks who tilled the fields and did all the manual labour). Cistercian monks had to sleep in open dormitories – one for the choir monks and one for the lay brothers. There were various other rules – like the lack of ornament in their churches (unnecessary according to St Bernard of Clairvaux).

However, this was fine in a country with a tradition of Benedictine monasticism. Ireland was not one of these countries – and so a rigourous interpretation of the rules was more the exception than the norm in Ireland.  From a very early date, Irish Cistercians slept in cells rather than in open dormitories. They accepted decoration in their churches, they often failed to attend the General Chapter – a VERY serious offence in the eyes of the Cistercian Order. In 1195 the abbot of Chore/Mainistir na Corann was one of the three representatives of the Irish Cistercians at the General Chapter. Intriguingly the abbot was ordered to go to Dublin impose a penance on the abbot of the very rich abbey of St Mary’s. The reason? the abbot of St Mary’s was one of the three representatives from Ireland for the previous year’s General Chapter – but he failed to attend, claiming to be sick.  The General Chapter had word that this abbot was not sick at the time he should have been in Burgundy and decided to rap him across the knuckles. The abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann/Midleton) was given the task of calling the abbot of St Mary’s, Dublin, to account. Irish absenteeism from the General Chapter was such that the order decided, after 1195, to allow some leeway to the Irish due to the remoteness of their country – they would only be obliged to attend the General Chapter every four years. Along with the abbot of Chore’s presence at the General Chapter that year,this commission suggests that the abbey of Chore was sufficiently important just fifteen years after its foundation to be given an important role in the Cistercian order in Ireland.

However, the real trouble in the Cistercian order in Ireland erupted when the General Chapter sent a mission to Ireland to investigate the rumours of widespread abuses, that is, lack of proper Cistercian discipline. Arriving in 1217, the mission was rebuffed at teh gates of Mellifont and refused admission to the abbey. Jerpoint abbey also refused the mission access, as did several other abbeys. When the Irish abbot of Baltinglass was deposed and an Englishman appointed in his place, the Irish monks in that abbey dragged the interloper from his horse and threw him out. When the abbot sought the assistance of the government and returned with armed men, the monks fortified the abbey against him! It should be noted that of the over thirty Cistercian monasteries in Ireland, nearly two thirds were part of the Mellifont affiliation – all founded by native Irish patrons and filled mostly with native Irish monks.  The remaining monasteries founded by the English in Ireland were not affected by this ‘Conspiracy of Mellifont’, as this revolt of the Mellifont affiliation of abbeys was called.

Finally, complaining to the pope that the Cistercian rule in Ireland did not extend beyond the wearing of the white habit, the General Chapter decided to crack down severely on the Irish.In 1227, Stephen of Lexington, the abbot of Stanley in Wiltshire, was commissioned with additional papal authority to bring the Irish to heel.  Despite threats (verbal and physical) Stephen and his assistants toured Ireland and tried to bring the Irish monasteries into obedience to the General Chapter.

The abbeys of Mellifont, Inislounaght and Monasternenagh all fortified themselves against Stephen’s mission. Other abbeys were visited by Stephen’s appointed lieutenants and with great difficulty the deeply damaging and embarrassing revolt was brought to an end. Fifteen of the Irish monasteries were placed under the supervision of foreign monasteries and the Mellifont affiliation was broken up until finally restored in 1274.

Tintern_de_Voto

Tintern Minor (so called because the first monks came from Tintern in Wales) in County Wexford. It was also called Tintern de Voto from a vow made by its founder William Marshal, who was caught in a storm at sea as he crossed to visit his Irish estates. The abbey was founded around 1200 and, after the dissolution, was granted, eventually, to the Colclough family who turned the church into a house – note the very domestic window on the upper wall of the transept.

At Mainistir na Corann the trouble was very serious – the abbot of Tintern Minor in County Wexford was charged with removing the abbot of Chore and forcing the abbey to conform properly to the Cistercian rule following a penance. But the abbot and monks of Chore rejected this injunction and continued in their merry way.  The abbot of Tintern was obliged to impose an interdict – basically the monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann were forbidden to celebrate Mass and any other sacraments. They couldn’t even bury their dead with the proper rites! To most people this would have been a terrifying penalty – but not to the monks of Chore – they simply ignored the interdiction!

However, the lay people in the parish must have been distressed.  Whatever about the private quarrel of the monks with their order, the interdiction also banned ANY sacraments for the laity because the abbey church at Chore/Mainistir na Corann was also the parish church, and the interdiction against the monks also prohibited the celebration of any sacraments in their church. If the laity couldn’t be sure that their dead were condemned to hell or to purgatory (nobody went straight to heaven!) then it was likely that they sought reassurance from the priests at the neighbouring parishes of Ballinacorra, Ballyspillane, Inchinabecky,Caherultan and Mogeesha. This meant that the abbey would have lost out on dues for the sacraments.

Eventually with the help of the abbot of Tracton (some miles south of Cork) Stephen of Lexington brought Chore/Mainistir na Corann back into line.  As punishment, Chore, like Monasternenagh and Fermoy abbeys, was put under the supervision of Margam Abbey in Wales. The two decades of madness affecting the monks of Chore was at an end, as was the Conspiracy of Mellifont..

The priceless irony of all this was that Stephen of Lexington was elected abbot of Clairvaux in 1242 and was soon removed from office for unsatisfactory performance! Happily his letter to the community at Chore has survived as the oldest letter ever sent to Mainistir na Corann. Bizarrely, like Chore, Fermoy and Tracton, nothing remains of Stanley abbey today.