The Murdered Man on his Black Horse – a memory of the 1641 rebellion in East Cork folklore?

Hanging a Protestant Minster 1641

The gruesome murder of the Protestant Minister, Mr Blandry in Ulster in 1641. (Image from Trinity College, Dublin)

 

Be careful what you do or you’ll meet the murdered man on a black horse.

In the 1940s, this warning was given to children living near Churchtown North by the Two Mile Inn just east of Midleton. In fact it applied to the road running from the graveyard at Churchtown (North) to Kilmountain Cross, the L3627, although I have no idea if it applied to the continuation of the same road beyond Kilmountain Cross towards Mogeely. I first heard this warning at the beginning of December 2018, followed by the question ‘who was the murdered man?

Having attended the Midleton Library launch of Peter O’Shea’s book Murder Most Local, which recounts the stories of murders in East Cork from the early 1730s to the 1930s, I thought I’d bring the story back further. Peter noted that, thankfully, East Cork seemed to have been a lot less murderous than West Cork for which several volumes could be written just on the subject of local murder alone!

Let’s look at the introductory statement again – a murdered man on a black horse. These are very specific details. How did the local people know the man had been murdered? There seem to be no visible or gruesome details in the story. What about the ‘black horse’? Why specifically that colour? Even in the 1940s, before rural electrification, a brown or dun coloured horse would look black at night, but the detail is remarkably clear – the horse was definitely black.

The trouble with folklore is that it can be annoyingly unspecific and therefore difficult to pin down. Folklorists generally agree that such stories as the one noted above may contain a garbled verbal memory of something that happened ‘long ago.’ The challenge is to identify a specific incident that may be referred to in the local folklore. In the case under discussion, we may actually have an incident that is recalled in the warning – but we have to go back several centuries to a very turbulent period.

For our purpose I suggest that we can safely dismiss any association between the murdered man on his black horse with the tale previously recounted here of the 1182 massacre at Mogeely of the Anglo-Norman invaders Milo de Cogan and Ralph son of Robert FitzStephen. That story deals with the massacre of several men, whereas our folklore tale refers to just one man.

There is, however, a slightly more recent alternative incident more directly attached to the Churchtown-Mogeely road which may have given rise to the ‘murdered man on his black horse’.

The story starts in Ulster in 1641. Sir Phelim O’Neill and his co-conspirators organised a savage anti-Protestant rebellion. The rebellion was really about land and the fact that since the beginning of the 1600s most of the land in Ulster was confiscated from the overwhelmingly Catholic natives and granted to English and Scottish Protestant settlers. O’Neill’s rebellion was marked by murder and atrocities as well as robbery. By early 1642 the Ulster rebellion had spread countrywide, even into east Cork.

Sir_Phelim_O_Neill

Sir Phelim O’Neill, who plotted and led the initial phases of the Ulster Rebellion of 1641. (Image from Trinity College, Dublin)

In December 1641 the government of King Charles I set up the Commission for the Despoiled Subject to investigate the ‘disturbances’. The chairman of the Commission was the Rev Henry Jones, Dean of Kilmore, who was soon appointed Bishop of Clogher. The Commissioners quickly realised that many of the refugees from Munster were unable to get to Dublin and report to the commission, so Philip Bisse (or Bysse), the (Protestant) Archdeacon of Cloyne was appointed to take the depositions from those Protestants who had suffered in Munster. Bisse had to travel about the province to take the depositions from refugees. Unfortunately, it was a mission which cost him his life.

The best account of what happened comes from a refugee, Mrs Elizabeth Danvers, who had fled from Kilkenny and then from Mogeely. This Mogeely was the one in the barony of Kinatalloon, between Conna and Tallow, rather than the Mogeely in Imokilly. Elizabeth Danvers gave very detailed testimony to the Commission which revealed a lot about the rebellion in East Cork.  I’ll let Elizabeth tell the story in her own words as recorded in her deposition on 14th August 1645, preserving the spelling of the day:

‘About June 1643 (as this deponent hath very credibly heard) Certeine Rebells whose names they cannott expresse meeting with one Mr Bysse minister (whoe had bin employed as one of the Commissioners for enquiry of the losses & sufferings of his maiesties loyall subiects within the province of Mounster) nere Corr Abbey betweene Corke and Youghall did then and there very cruelly wound him the said Mr Bysse, and that done they there hanged him to death, there Leaving his body unburied exposed to Ravenous creatures.’  

Note that Mrs Danvers account says that the incident happened near Cor Abbey (now Midleton). But how do we know it was the Mogeely road, now designated L3627? Well, this was the main road from Cork to Youghal at the time for the stretch of the modern N25 between Churchtown North and Castlemartyr was only laid out in the later 18th century. Elizabeth says that Bisse’s body was left unburied by the roadside, an appalling prospect in a highly religious age. In a more superstitious age this was likely to lead to the road being haunted by the victim’s ghost. Elizabeth Danvers made her 1645 deposition before the head of the Commission….Henry Jones, who was now the Bishop of Clogher.

1641 Depositions manuscript

An original manuscript from the 1641 Depositions, written in ‘secretary hand’. (Image: Trinity College, Dublin)  

Incredibly, we may even have candidates for the murder of the archdeacon!  The Cromwellian government investigated a murder on the road from ‘Curr Abbey’ to ‘Carrick Towell’. In evidence given to investigators on 4th November, 1652, Mr Maurice Brown of Barryscourt told an interesting tale. In the year 1643 David Connell of Carrigtwohill had confessed to him that he had murdered Ensign Cooke in that same year and, furthermore, he even admitted…

 ….to the deponent (Maurice Brown), that hee was in Companie, with one John DrumAdda (John of Dromadda?) and others, who slew divers (i.e. several) English men, within fourteen dayes betweene Curr Abbey and Youghall.

According to the Down Survey, the townland of Dromaddamore (near Ladysbridge) was owned by Garrett Fitzgerald in 1641, while Dromaddabeg (also near Ladysbridge) was held by William Power of Shanagarry. We don’t know if John ‘DrumAdda’ was related to either man.

John Temple Irish Rebellion

Sir John Temple’s 1646 book about the Irish rebellion is still used today by some in Northern Ireland to justify their separation from the Republic of Ireland, despite being debunked by careful study of the 1641 Depositions. (Image: Trinity College, Dublin)

So, is the murdered man on the black horse the ghost of Philip Bisse, Archdeacon of Cloyne? It seems most likely that it was. After all, Elizabeth Danvers says that he encountered several rebels on the road, who promptly murdered him. They probably stole is valuable horse to boot.

We have no idea of David Connell or John of Dromadda were every punished for the murders committed on the road between Corabby and Youghal in 1643.

The same road where the Archdeacon was murdered is still used as an alternative route between Cork and Youghal whenever the N25 is blocked or impassable.

The depositions of Elizabeth Danvers and Maurice Brown are part of the original manuscript of the 1641 Depositions preserved in Trinity College, Dublin, and they can be viewed on the 1641 Depositions website: 1641.tcd.ie/index.php

 

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‘…mean thatched cabins…….’ The Masshouses in South East Cork in 1731.

Penal laws against the Catholic Church had existed in Ireland since the reign of Elizabeth I, but the most infamous laws were passed by the Irish Parliament in the 1690s into the early 1700s.

Penal laws against the Catholic Church had existed in Ireland since the reign of Elizabeth I, but the most infamous laws were passed by the Irish Parliament in the 1690s into the early 1700s.

These Masshouses are generally mean thatched cabins; many, or most of them, open at one end, and very few of them built since the first of King George the First.

These words are from the official return made to the Irish government in December 1731 by Henry Maule, Bishop of Cloyne in the Established Church (Church of Ireland). The Irish House of Lords had ordered an inquiry into the ‘State of Popery’ in Ireland and each bishop was required to submit detailed returns. The House of Lords wished to know how effective the Penal Laws enacted since 1693 had been in curtailing the practice of Catholicism.There were a number of restrictions imposed by these laws. Catholics couldn’t build a place of worship that looked like a church, it couldn’t be located in sight of a church or beside a main road, and it couldn’t have a bell or belfry.

Interior of Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park gives an idea of the similarity to the Masshouses of the period. Presbyterian marriages were not recognized by law, although Catholic marriages were actually recognized. Such were the bizarre anomalies of the Penal Laws.

Interior of Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park gives an idea of the similarity to the Masshouses of the period, except for the dominant pulpit and box pews. Presbyterian marriages were not recognized by law, although Catholic marriages were actually recognized. Such were the bizarre anomalies of the Penal Laws.

Maule’s returns were published in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1893. This publication proved fortuitous because the original returns were kept in the Public Record Office until until its destruction at the outset of the Irish Civil War in 1922. We owe a debt of gratitude to Rev Fr Patrick Hurley, PP Inchigeela, for publishing this document before the fire at the Public Records Office. .

In his report accompanying the returns, Maule noted that ‘It appears,then, from the Returns made by the Clergy that there are seventy Masshouses in the Diocese of Cloyne.’  He goes on to say that ‘The reputed Popish Priests officiating in these Masshouses are reckoned to be ninety-two.‘  In respect of the masshouses Bishop Maule noted that ‘Some new Masshouses have been attempted to be raised about three years ago, particularly at Cloyne and Charleville, within view of the Churches of those towns, and where no Masshouses were before. But the finishing of the same has been hitherto prevented by the care of the respective Magistrates of these places.‘ Here is clear evidence that in some locations Catholics had difficulty erecting a shelter for the altar so that they could celebrate Mass. It was a very hit and miss business – some landlords and magistrates allowed masshouses on their land, even new ones or the repair of old ones. Others simply refused to allow them – the Brodricks of Midleton were noted in this respect.

Bishop Maule also noted the absence of nunneries in the diocese, but he did record that one old Franciscan friar inhabited a thatched house adjoining the ‘Abbey of Buttevant‘ near Mallow. However, Maule noted that ‘strolling vagabond Friars‘ from Aglish in County Waterford, Kilcrea near Cork, Kinsale friary and even from Killarney in County Kerry regularly visited the diocese, to ‘do much mischief.’  This ‘mischief‘ included confirming ‘the Papists in their superstition and errors‘, marrying ‘Protestants to Papists contrary to Law‘, they haunted ‘the sick beds, even of Protestants; they endeavour to pervert them from our holy Religion‘, and finally ‘they are become greatly obnoxious even to the Papists themselves‘.

In all, Henry Maule calculated that there were 14,200 ‘Protestant souls‘ and 80,500 ‘Popish souls‘ in his diocese, reckoning at six to a family for both figures.  There were 47 Protestant clergy and 92 Catholic clergy with one friar to serve these populations. The diocese could boast 44 churches in repair for use by the Established Church (compared with the 70 masshouses identified in the returns).

Tullyallen Masshouse from near Dungannon was built in 1768 on land leased from the liberal Lord Charlemont. Here we see the west door, the plain white walls, thatch and the chimney at the opposite end indicating the schoolroom. The priest lived in a wing at the back. Surprisingly few of these buildings survive in Ireland. Most were replaced in the early 19th century.

Tullyallen Masshouse, from near Dungannon, County Tyrone, was built in 1768 on land leased from the liberal Lord Charlemont. Here we see the west door, the plain white walls, standard sash windows, thatched roof and the chimney at the opposite end, indicating the schoolroom. The priest lived in a wing at the back. Surprisingly few masshouses survive in Ireland. Most were replaced in the early 19th century. In appearance it could be a Presbyterian chapel. The masshouses described in this post were usually open at the end. Tullyallen Masshouse is now preserved in the Ulster American Folk Park.  (National Museums of Northern Ireland.)

An inspection of the parishes in Imokilly and Barrymore might give an idea of the conditions that Catholics faced throughout Ireland in observing their religion before 1750. The parishes are identified by their Anglican designation at the time. The words and spelling are those of Bishop Henry Maule. Here the parishes are here set out in alphabetical order.

Union of parishes of Aghada: one Masshouse with scarce a roof. Three Popish priests and two strolling Fryars haunt this and Cloyne.(Note the difficulty of maintaining the masshouse which served Whitegate, Rostellan, Aghada, Inch and Trabolgan. TH)

Ardagh: one old Masshouse. One Popish Priest. (Now part of Killeagh parish. TH.)

Ballynoe: one Masshouse lately repaired, no Popish Chappell. Two Officiating Popish Priests. (The reference to a chapel was part of the survey, presumably to discover which of the better off Catholic family was likely to be harbouring seminary priests. TH)

Bohillane: no Masshouse. No Popish Priest. (Bohillane was the medieval parish situated between Ightermurrough and Cloyne civil parishes. TH)

Carricktowel: one Masshouse, one Popish Chapel. One Popish priest, a Popish Priest Officiating in this Chappel. (It seems that either the Coppingers or the Cotters had a private chapel in their house near Carrigtohill. TH)

Castlemartyr: no open Masshouse. One reputed Popish Priest.

Cloyne: Masshouse began, but not finished. An officiating Priest, with a Coadjutor.(Maule had noted the intervention of the magistrates in preventing the completion of the Masshouse in Cloyne. TH)

Cloyne Priest: no Masshouse. The same priest with Youghal. (This is Clonpriest which had long been attached to the parish of Youghal. TH)

Dongorney: one Masshouse, One Popish Priest.

Eigthermarah: one large Masshouse. Two reputed Officating Priests. (This is the civil parish of Ightermurrough, now incorporated into Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Parish. Presumably the large masshouse was required to serve Garryvoe and Bohillane too. TH)

Great Island: one old Masshouse. Two officiating Priests assisted by two Itinerants. (The old parishes of Templerobin and Clonmel on Great Island are given as one. It is not certain if the ‘itinerants’ were friars. TH)

Killeagh: one large Masshouse built (since King George the Second’s accession) on ye great high road. Two Officiating Popish Priests. (This was an extraordinarily daring situation since masshouses were prohibited beside main highways. This one in Killeagh had been built in the previous four years, since 1727. TH)

Killmacdonogh: one old Masshouse, One Popish Priest. (This was part of the modern parish of Ballymacoda. TH)

Kilmahon: no Masshouse. No reputed Popish Priest. (Kilmahon is Shanagarry, now part of Cloyne parish. TH)

Lisgoold:one Masshouse. One Popish Priest.

Midleton: no open Masshouse. One Popish Priest. (Clearly the Brodricks did not tolerate an open masshouse on their property – yet there was one in Midleton before the Chapel of St John was built in 1803. TH)

Rathcormack: one Masshouse. Two Popish Priests.

Youghal: one large Masshouse, without the walls of the town. One Popish Priest Officiating therein.(Youghal had quite sectarian politics at times in the eighteenth century. The Corporation and the magistrates refused to allow a masshouse within the walls of the town until St Mary’s church was built within the town walls at the end of the century. TH)

The simple interior of Tullyallen Masshouse shows the wooden altar in the middle of the back wall, open rafters and whitewashed walls. The confessional stands near the door. The building had a T-shape plan, the stem of the T being the sacristy and priest's house.

The simple interior of Tullyallen Masshouse shows the wooden altar in the middle of the back wall, open rafters and whitewashed walls. The confessional stands near the door. The building had a T-shape plan, the stem of the T being the sacristy and priest’s house. The better off parishioners paid a pew rent to sit directly opposite the altar. (NMNI)

It’s worth noting Bishop Maule’s comments about ‘reputed‘ priests and ‘no open Masshouse‘ for these refer to the need for Catholic clergy, and congregation, to be circumspect in some areas  He also noted that Doneraile had ‘a kind of Shedd instead of a Masshouse,’ and Newmarket had ‘two old tattered Masshouses.

Source: Rev. Patrick Hurley PP, ‘The Past History of the Diocese of Cork’ in The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Vol II a, Part III, 1893.

The reconstructed Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park. Note the similarity to the Tullyallen Masshouse, although the windows are smaller and higher.

The reconstructed Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park. Note the similarity to the Tullyallen Masshouse, although the windows are smaller and higher. (NMNI)