Ightermurragh Castle and Early Modern Imokilly.

Ightermurragh Castle

Ightermurragh Castle is a Stuart era ‘stronghouse’ built in 1641 by Edmund Supple and Margaret Fitzgerald ‘whom love binds as one.’ It remains one of the best preserved fortified houses in County Cork. The view shows the castle from the south-east, with the main entrance in the projecting wing. The original armorial over the door is long gone. Note the windows on the east wall, which gave a view of the formal garden.

In the barony of Imokilly, the local road R633 leads from Ladysbridge to Ballymacoda by way of the ancient parish of Ightermurragh. There is an old graveyard on the southern side of the road. Inside this enclosure there are scant remains of the seventeenth century church which stood there. There had been an earlier medieval chapel dedicated to the St Mary the Virgin which was subordinate to the College of Youghal. It seems likely that the chapel took its dedication from the Collegiate Church of St Mary at Youghal. However a new church seems to have been built following Ightermurragh’s erection as a separate parish in 1637. The creation of a separate parish with a new church at Ightermurragh was part of the attempt by the reformed Established Church to make a firm imprint on East Cork in the early seventeenth century. The nearby church of Kilcredan was also built in the early 1600s as perhaps the earliest purpose-built Protestant church in East Cork.

Ightermurragh Graveyard

The small graveyard of Ightermurragh where the Protestant church erected in 1637 once stood.

This date is interesting because it suggests a link to the erection of a fortified house  within sight – Ightermurragh Castle. What makes this juxtaposition so interesting is that although the church was built by the Established Church, the ‘castle’ was built by a man described as ‘Ir papist’ in the Down Survey. – the builder of the ‘very fayre large House’ was an Irish Catholic. The same Down Survey text says that the church was ‘demolished’. Even more interesting is the proximity of Ightermurragh Castle to the Fitzgerald’s Castle Richard (Inchinacrenagh) across the Womanagh River.which runs from west to east from near Cloyne to debouch into Youghal Bay near Ballymacoda.

With the most unfortunate timing, the fortified house at Ightermurragh was built in 1641 by the seemingly happily married Edmund Supple and his wife Margaret Fitzgerald ‘whom love binds as one‘ as proclaimed by the Latin inscription over the principal fireplace on the ground floor.

They built a four square three story block of rubble limestone with basement and attics. The main block runs east-west with a square, full height, central projection on the south front to house the arched entrance door. The north front is similar, but it housed the ‘back door’ or servant’s door at the foot of the wooden staircase that rose the full height of the building. The different floors are identified on the exterior by  string courses. The windows are square stone mullioned openings of various sizes with hood mouldings. They are entirely typical of the early seventeenth century architecture of early Stuart Ireland.

The house had seven tall chimneys with corresponding fine fireplaces in various rooms of the house from the ground floor to the second floor. There was one oddity of Ightermurragh worth remarking on. When we build houses in Ireland today, we like to have the largest windows on the south west to capture the best of the day’s light.  But when Edmund and Margaret built their new house, the best views were to the east over what appears to have been a walled garden. The entire west gable end was built without a single window. Indeed this end of the house consists of a huge chimney fed by the vast kitchen fireplace in the basement and by another fireplace on each of the first and the second floors.

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Ightermurragh viewed from the south-west showing the entirely windowless west gable wall. This wall consists of a single great chimney. Note the box machicolation over the entrance door – and indication of the often unsettled conditions of early modern Imokilly.

Ightermurragh is the best preserved seventeenth century fortified house in East Cork. It lacks just the roof and the internal timber floors and partitions. Oh, and the leaded glass casements are gone from the stone-mullioned windows too.

In all, Ightermurragh must have been one of the best houses built in Imokilly before the Cromwellian invasion. It was clearly a modern, well built, well lit house with plenty of heating available from its numerous fireplaces. However  Ightermurragh also looked backwards – it was a defended or fortified house. The principal entrance was protected by a ‘box machicolation’ on the parapet. This parapet ran all around the top of the house. There were holes for muskets to protect the entrance and other parts of the house. It should be recalled that there were no police to keep order when robbers attacked a dwelling.

Alas, Edmund Supple and his wife, Margaret Fitzgerald, had little time to enjoy their fine house. In 1642, the Great Catholic Rebellion had spread countrywide to all parts of Ireland….although Imokilly was relatively quiet until 1645. One night, Edmund, Margaret and their little child had to flee in the face of serious armed threats, presumably from the Protestant forces in Cork led by Lord Inchquin and Lord Broghill.

With the Cromwellian settlement of 1653,  Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill  who was now Lord President of Munster, awarded himself the Fitzgerald lands of Castlemartyr and also took for himself Ightermurragh. – the Ightermurragh holding was some 620 acres spread over five townlands.

With the Restoration in 1660, the Supples tried to recover their lands by a lawsuit. However, Boyle, now Earl of Orrery, was to entrenched to be moved.

Ightermurragh West Gable

The inner face of the west gable wall displays the huge kitchen fireplace (which has a bread oven) in the basement, with a small ruined fireplace on the first floor and a fine preserved fireplace on the second floor. Note the complete lack of windows on this wall.

By 1750 Ightermurragh was leased to a gentleman called Smith . He had a most unfortunate experience one night. Some robbers, apparently from Cloyne, got into the castle and began to threaten Smith to make him divulge his money. He gave was money he had in the house at the time but it wasn’t enough. It appears that Smith was really a farmer and not a particularly wealthy man. Failing to find any further money in their search of the house, the gang took Smith down to the kitchen. There they tied him to the spit in the huge fireplace – it was big enough to roast a whole ox. Smith was roasted over his own kitchen fire until the robbers were finally convinced that he had no more money in the house.  With dawn approaching, the robbers grabbed their loot and fled into the darkness. Poor Smith finally got himself untied from the kitchen spit and, severely traumatised by his experience, fled to his relatives in Rathcoursey. It would seem that the robbers were never identified, caught or punished. It seems an appropriate story to recount at Halloween.

After this, Ightermurragh was abandoned although the Earl of Shannon, Boyle’s successor, did try to prevent the locals from looting the stonework in the later 19th century.  Ightermurragh stands today as a gaunt reminder of how promise could turn sour in a very short time.  

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‘…a good market for flesh and fish….’ Celebrating good food and drink in Midleton.

Main Street, Midleton, was designed as a market place - and with the Food and Drink Festival in September, it reverts to this function.

The broad and straight Main Street in Midleton was originally designed as a market place – and with the Food and Drink Festival in September, it reverts to this function.

Does anyone know how to clone a human being? I fear I may have to subject myself to the procedure this month. Tomorrow, Saturday 12th Sept, Midleton celebrates its annual Food and Drink Festival. The whole Main Street from the Courthouse to Brodrick Street will be closed off for the festival, which will spill over into Connolly Street. The festival actually started on Friday 4th September with Fishy Friday – an appropriate celebration of Midleton’s proximity to the sea and the fishing port of Ballycotton.  Wednesday 9th Sept saw the official launch banquet with a medieval feast in the Jameson Heritage Center. Tomorrow’s street festival is the main event.

What I suspect is that most visitors will not be aware that Midleton had a good reputation for produce as early as 1750. In that year, Dr Charles Smith published The Ancient and Present state of the County and City of Cork. This survey of the county included the remark that Midleton (or Middleton, as he wrote it) possessed a good market for flesh and fish. The remark was interesting in that it almost certainly reflected the reputation of the town’s produce at the time. Alas, in keeping with the eighteenth century tradition of emphasizing the importance of meat and fish, Smith does not discuss the vegetable produce of the town. One would give much to know what people thought of the local vegetables and fruit at the time.

The earliest list of grocers and food shops in Midleton dates from 1824 (Pigot’s Directory). One gets the impression that the listing may be incomplete. It lists just three bakers, two butchers, a couple of grocers….and eight or nine spirit dealers, which gives an idea of the priorities. There was one distillery (Hackett’s) in 1824. Market day was, of course, on Saturday and there were four fairs during the year.

MiddletonFoodAndWineFestival2013 Slater’s Directory of 1856 gives us more detail: eleven bakers, eight butchers (five on Charles Street – now Connolly Street), fifteen grocers, nine spirit dealers and nineteen public houses (pubs). The Murphy brothers ran the only distillery (Hackett’s had closed by 1850). In 1870 Slater’s listed fifteen bakers, eleven butchers (all on Charles Street except for one on Main Street) and twenty-two pubs. In 1881 there were just ten bakers, still eight butchers, thirty two grocers (!) and only nineteen pubs.

These changes reflected the changing economy of Midleton from 1824 until 1881. The directories also show how the railway completed in 1859 had a major effect on the shopping habits of the people with more imports being made more readily available.

The Ballymaloe Quartet. Rachel Allen, Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen and Rory O'Connell.

The Ballymaloe Quartet. Rachel Allen, Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell.

Midleton’s modern obsession with good food can be traced to Myrtle Allen. The doyenne of modern Irish cuisine opened a restaurant in the dining room of her home, Ballymaloe House in 1964. Myrtle had the bizarre notion of serving food produced locally and in season instead of relying on imported, and out of season, ingredients. Nowadays this is considered to be a standard policy in the best restaurants. With cookery courses being launched a couple of years later, Myrtle and Darina O’Connell (now Darina Allen) have had an enormous influence on the Irish restaurant trade. But it went further than that – they also had a huge impact on Irish artisan food producers, making the Ballymaloe effect even more important in the whole world of Irish food.  A very good reason to celebrate good food and drink during the harvest season in Midleton..

Link: http://info660993.wix.com/midletonfoodfestival