Heritage Week 2016 – another success!

 

Midleton in early 1900s

Main Street, Midleton, around 1900.

Heritage Week 2016 has now ended but it started a day late as usual in Midleton. On Sunday 21st August some fifteen to eighteen people joined my early 20th century Midleton walking tour of the town. They were brave souls to ignore the Met Eireann weather warning and venture forth. (Youghal’s Medieval Festival was postponed for a week!)  In fact we only had a few showers of misty rain, some breezes and a grey threatening sky overhead, but we were actually fine! Given that I spoke about some of the bad weather in the period 1896 to 1918, the dull day was appropriate.

On Thursday evening, 25th August, Cal McCarthy spoke in Midleton Library about Spike Island in Cork Harbour as a prison in the 19th century . He was supported by the director of the Spike Island heritage site, Tom O’Neill, who encouraged us all to visit before the season closed at the end of October. We had an audience of about twenty for that event.

Saturday 27th saw my lecture in the same venue on ‘Living in Midleton a Hundred Years Ago’. Given that was a lovely day outside, and the last Saturday before the schools reopened,  we had a final audience of about twenty, which was a very welcome number.

Some twelve  people (and Mollie the Jack Russell!) joined the second walking tour on Sunday 28th August in glorious end of summer sunshine and heat. It was a bit difficult to talk about the great storm of 1903 in Midleton in that sort of weather!

I hope everybody learned something new and got a better understanding of Midleton’s (and Spike Island’s) history during the week!

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Life a hundred years ago – National Heritage Week 2016

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National Heritage Week 2016 will start on Saturday 20th August and run until Sunday 28th August. The theme this year is to celebrate a hundred years of heritage, but this can also mean celebrating life a hundred years ago. One might imagine that it would be entirely devoted to commemorating the 1916 Rising but the options are actually much broader than that.

There are a number of events in the East Cork area, including Cloyne, Castlemartyr and Youghal. Naturally Midleton will celebrate Heritage Week 2016 with FIVE events – two walking tours, two lectures and an intriguing musical recital. The events are free so do go along,. You will never know what you might learn!

Charles Street Midleton

Charles Street, now Connolly Street, Midleton, at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the background is the spire of St John the Baptist’s Church. The Potato Market was located in the yard behind the archway on the right. The granary building on the right was built to serve the former brewery which was only identified as a result of last year’s Heritage Week tour of the town! (Lawrence Collection, NLI)

Midleton Events for Heritage Week 2016 are:

Sunday 21 August, at 2.00 pm: Walking through Midleton in 1916. Meet at Midleton Library for this Walking Tour.

Thursday 28th August, at 7.30 pm: Too beautiful for Thieves and Pick-pockets. A free public lecture about Spike Island by Cal McCarthy. Venue: Midleton Library.

Saturday 27th August, at 12.00 noon. Living in Midleton a hundred years ago. A free public lecture about daily life in Midleton at the beginning of the twentieth century, given by Tony Harpur. Venue: Midleton Library.

Saturday 27th August, at 1.00 pm: What the Wild Geese heard – popular music from the 17th and 18th centuries. A FREE recital by the Hibernian Muse Early Music Ensemble. Venue: St John the Baptist’s Church..

Sunday 28th August, at 2.00 pm. Walking through Midleton in 1916. Meet at Midleton Library for this Walking Tour.

Other events in the Midleton area:-

Castlemartyr: Saturday 20th August, at 8.00 pm: John Saul, Horticulturist, from Castlemartyr to the White House. A public lecture by Conor Neligan, County Heritage Officer. Venue: Castlemartyr National School.

Cloyne: Saturday 20th August, 11.00 am to 4.30 pm: Discover Cloyne Cathedral. Including tours and guided visits. Venue: Cloyne Cathedral, Cloyne.

For further events in East Cork and elsewhere please consult:http://www.heritageweek.ie/whats-on

Cork’s Lifelong Learning Festival 2016 Expands to Midleton

Lifelong Festival

The annual Cork Lifelong Learning Festival has expanded beyond the city in 2016. One of the venues this year is Midleton!

As part of the Festival, on Saturday 16th April, a free historical walking tour will be conducted by yours truly, meeting at the Courthouse at 12.00 noon.

The tour will go from the Courthouse to Distillery Walk, with brief side trips up Chapel Lane and Connolly Street. This tour aims to introduce people to the history of Midleton through its buildings.  The tour will last an hour. So, if you are participating in the festival’s events,  do come along and join us! Open to young and old alike!  This year’s festival runs from Monday 11th April to Sunday 17th April. And yes, the tour is free! And you can join us at any stage!

Let’s hope the weather gods are kind on that day!

http://www.corkcity.ie/services/corporateandexternalaffairs/learningfestival2016/

A funeral, culture, history and football…a busy weekend in September.

Thomas (left) and David Kent under escort to Fermoy Military Barracks in 1916. Thomas was executed in Cork on 9th May, but David was taken to Dublin and tried there. He was sentenced to five years of penal servitude.

Thomas (left) and David (right) Kent crossing Fermoy Bridge under miltiary and police escort to Fermoy Military Barracks in 1916. Thomas was executed in Cork on 9th May, but David was taken to Dublin and tried there. He was sentenced to five years of penal servitude. Thomas will finally be buried in the family grave in Castlelyons on 18th September 2015.

Tomorrow, Friday 18 September, sees the State Funeral of the ‘forgotten man’ of 1916. Thomas Kent of Bawnard, Castlelyons, County Cork, was executed a few days after his violent arrest, following a court marital in Victoria Barracks, Cork.This happened in the wake of the 1916 Easter Rising when the authorities were nervous that there might be further disturbances. Ninety-nine years after his execution, Kent’s remains were exhumed from the yard of Cork Prison, the former military prison, where he had been buried in accordance with British law. The government offered his family a State Funeral to honour him, but also, one suspects, to make up for decades of official refusal to exhume his remains. The funeral, in a way, will mark the beginning of the official commemoration of the 1916 Rebellion.

Midleton Endowed School was founded by Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney in 1696. However the main building (on the right) wasn't completed until 1717 under the direction of Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The wing on the left was added in the 19th century.

Midleton Endowed School was founded by Elizabeth Villiers Countess of Orkney in 1696. However the main building (on the right) wasn’t completed until 1717 under the direction of Thomas Brodrick of Midleton. The wing on the left was added in the 19th century.

Later that evening, Ireland celebrates Culture Night. In Midleton, we will have traditional music in the Library from 6.30pm,  followed at 7.15pm by an illustrated lecture on the Architects and Architecture of Midleton 1717-1908 presented by myself.The aim of the lecture is to encourage people to LOOK at the buildings around them, and to dismiss erroneous attributions or claims made for some buildings.

The Australian Gunner Ambrose Haley died of wounds received on the Western Front and was buried by his relatives in the family plot in Holy Rosary Cemetery, Midleton.

The Australian Gunner Ambrose Haley died of wounds received on the Western Front and was buried by his relatives in the family plot in Holy Rosary Cemetery, Midleton. (Australian National War Memorial)

The weekend sees a busy schedule. In my last post I wondered if anyone had got around to cloning a human being. This could prove useful! Firstly, Midleton sees the official opening of MY Place, the converted former fire station, now splendidly transformed into a community and yought facility (from 12.00 noon on Saturday 19 September). Then, on Sunday 20 September, the same venue hosts a World War I exhibition and lectures by the Western Front Association (Cork Branch).

With Cork, Youghal was the most important town in the county in 1600. It was the center of commerce in the eastern part of County Cork.

Youghal, as we know it, was founded by the Fitzgeralds. This weekend celebrates their influence in Munster and especially East Corka and West Waterford, especially the foundation of the Dromana estate 800 years ago.

However, the same days see the annual Youghal Celebrates History Conference at the Mall Arts Center in Youghal and at Dromana House in County Waterford. This year’s theme is the FitzGeralds of Desmond which links into 800 years of Dromana. Now you know why I wondered in my last post if someone had figured out how to cone a human being.

Sunday's prize - capturing the Sam Maguire Trophy is the goal of Kerry and Dublin on Sunday.

Sunday’s prize – capturing the Sam Maguire Trophy is the goal of Kerry and Dublin on Sunday.

And just to top it all off – Sunday also sees the All-Ireland Football Final between Kerry and Dublin, a contest that promises much excitement. Hopefully Kerry will do Munster proud again!

Links:

http://www.irishexaminer.com/ireland/castlelyons-village-prepares-for-thomas-kent-funeral-354029.html

http://culturenightcorkcounty.ie/events/324/midleton-library/

https://www.facebook.com/MY-Place-Midleton-219145221590464/timeline/

http://youghalcelebrateshistory.com/

http://www.rte.ie/sport/gaa/2015/0916/728318-column/

Heritage Week 2015 ends successfully in Midleton.

Midleton in early 1900s

Main Street Midleton about 1900. The Market House (1789) is on the left with the town clock in the cupola on the roof.

Today at 2.30 pm a group of us set off from the Library (formerly the Market House) to view some sites associated with aspects of Midleton’s commercial and industrial heritage. I suspect a few eyes were opened – but I must say one or tow knew their stuff. And why not – they were dyed-in-the-wool natives of Midleton. I hope they enjoyed the tour!

I wish to put on record my gratitude to all those who helped organize the various events, especially the staff at Midleton Library and at MYPlace, as well as the shopkeepers who displayed the posters and last, but not least, all the members of the public who attended the two lectures and who came along for the two tours of the town.  Well done to everybody – and clearly someone was smiling on us – the tours enjoyed lovely warm and dry weather!

It was nice to see other places celebrate Heritage Week too – Youghal, Cloyne Cathedral, Carrigtwohill and Ladysbridge in particular,

Now I wonder what the Heritage Council will propose as the theme for Heritage Week 2016? Check out this blog for details of next year’s Heritage Week – when the details are available.

‘A good market for flesh…..and fish.’ Heritage Week 2015 in Midleton.

https://i2.wp.com/www.heritageweek.ie/wp-content/uploads/2010/06/NHW-2015-Logo.jpg

I thought the opening words of the title would get your attention!  This year’s Heritage Week is almost upon us. Starting on Saturday 22 August and running to Sunday 30 August, Heritage Week 2015 has our industrial heritage as its theme. I’ve expanded this slightly to include Midleton’s commercial history as well as its industrial history. It should be noted that I’m including Ballinacorra in this – because we simply cannot talk about the industrial and commericial heritage of Midleton without reference to the port at Ballinacorra. I hope people will take the time to attend something during the week or, at least, visit a heritage site.

In co-operation with Midleton Public Library and MyPlace the following events have been organized in Midleton:

Sunday 23 August: Walking Tour – Discover Midleton’s Commercial and Industrial Heritage. Meet at Midleton Library, starting at 2.30 pm. Guide: Tony Harpur.

Wednesday 26 August: A good market for flesh….and fish.’ The commercial and industrial history of Midleton and Ballinacorra. 1608-1948. Public lecture in Midleton Public Library. Time: 2.00 pm. Speaker: Tony Harpur.

Thursday 27 August: A Heritage Week Extra! From Mainistir na Corann to Midleton. 1177-1670. Public lecture at MyPlace Midleton. Time: 8.00 pm sharp. Speaker: Tony Harpur.

Sunday 30 August: Walking Tour – Discover Midleton’s Commercial and Industrial Heritage. Meet at Midleton Library, starting at 2.30 pm. Guide: Tony Harpur.

Main Street, Midleton, around 1900.

The parking on Main Street, Midleton hasn’t changed much in over a hundred years!

Other events in the East Cork area worth visiting:

Saturday 22 August: Discover Cloyne Cathedral. The cathedral is open from 11.00 am to 4.00  pm. Tours: 11.30 am and 2.30 pm..Free event.

Saturday 22 August and Sunday 23 August: Mrs Kevin’s Cat! A family living history event – join the search for Mrs Kevin’s lost cat in Fota House. Time: 12.00 noon to 14.00 pm.

Sunday 23 August: Youghal Medieval Festival. Family event. Venue: St Mary’s College gardens. Time: 12.00 noon to 6.00 pm.

Wednesday 26 August: Why can’t I find my ancestors? Genealogy event in Cork County Library HQ, Carrigrohane Road, Cork. Time: 1.30 pm to 2.30 pm.   Note: one to one genealogy sessions are also available that week in the same venue. Times: Monday/Tuesday/Thursday/Friday 9.30 am to 4.30 pm. & (NB) Wednesday 9.30 pm to 12.00.*

Sunday 30 August: History Hunt in Cloyne Cathedral. Family event. Time: 2.30 pm to 5.00 pm.

Other events for National Heritage Week 2015 can be found on http://www.heritageweek.ie or on the County Heritage Service webpage: http://www.corkcoco.ie/co/pdf/609621658.pdf. You can also pick up a booklet or leaflet in any local library branch.

Great turnout for Mainistir na Corann lecture

There was clearly considerable interest in Midleton’s history of monasteries, mad monks and its medieval origins last Friday 20 March, for over thirty people turned out to hear the lunchtime lecture that I gave. This was an excellent turnout given the lovely bright sunny spring day outside and the fact that it was lunchtime. Some excellent feedback followed. The number attending was limited to about thirty by the capacity regulations governing the town library and also the limited amount of seating that was available without upsetting other library users.

My thanks to everyone who turned up and to the library staff for facilitating the event.

Of Monasteries, Mad Monks and the Medieval Origins of Midleton – Free Lunchtime Local History Lecture in Midleton Library

New Signs Midleton

Someone really needs to explain the non-existent relationship between the Cistercian monks who founded Mainistir na Corann and the Anglo-Normans who’d just invaded Cork. All will be revealed in a free public local history lecture on Friday 20th March at 1.00 pm in Midleton Library.

Recently I discussed with Mary Mitchell in Midleton Library the idea of a free public lunchtime local history lecture/talk.  We can now reveal the date and topic of the lecture.

The lecture is called Mainistir na Corann – of monasteries, mad monks and the medieval origins of Midleton. It will be presented by yours truly (yes, Tony Harpur himself and in the flesh!) in Midleton Library at 1.00 pm on Friday 20th March. The lecture is expected to last no longer than 45 minutes.

The lecture will cover the years c.1177 to c.1624 and will focus on the twelfth century religious and political context of the foundation of the Cistercian abbey of Mainistir na Corann/Chorus Sancti Benedicti. It will go on to describe what we know fo the recorded history up to the dissolution under Henry VIII. The final part will be a teaser for a future lecture discussing the origins of the TOWN of Mainistir na Corann which became Midleton in 1670. The aim of this lecture is to inform, correct misinformation, and to reveal new material based on recent studies. As a bonus after the lecture, I may even take some of the audience to see a stone I’ve discovered that appears to have come from the abbey!

Hope to see some of you there!

Did Dermot Mac Murrough set sail from East Cork to bring the Normans to Ireland?

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Archtraitor or just another twelfth century Irish politician? This medieval image is thought to represent Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster – the man who brought the ‘English’ into Ireiand.

Diarmait MacMurchada (also known as Dermot MacMurrough) is a name perennially linked to treason in Ireland – although it’s a bit rich considering the propensity of medieval Irish kings to betray almost any agreement made in good faith!  But what blackens MacMurchada’s name for most Irish people was his decision to seek aid from King Henry II of England to recover his Kingdom of Leinster, particularly his direct patrimony of Ui Cinnsealagh (the area now covered by the dioceses of Leighlin and Ferns – essentially Counties Carlow and Wexford).  But most people in Ireland interpret this to mean that MacMurchada brought the English into Ireland in 1169, and so began eight centuries of trouble here. In reality Ireland was politically troubled before the events of 1169 – and there was no guarantee that this would end any time soon. Modern Irish historians now recognize that Mac Murchada was doing exactly what any Irish king might attempt – seek help to regain his kingdom and get revenge on his enemies.  An Anglo-Norman takeover of Ireland was almost certainly not on the agenda.  It is likely that Mac Murchada behaved like any modern politician and lied about some things.  Besides, Henry owed Mac Murchada, for the King of England had hired mercenaries from MacMurchada to put down rebellion in Wales.

But what has an exiled king from County Wexford got to do with South East Cork?  Well, MacMurchada may have sailed from the mouth of the Dissour River (just north of Ballymacoda) to seek aid from King Henry II!  I came across this when looking for something else…..and, as you can imagine, my jaw dropped. Ballymacoda is a long way from South Wexford – and was an even longer journey in the middle of the twelfth century!  I’d better give a short synopsis of the events leading up to this departure.

Diarmait Mac Murchada was born around 1110 as the son of Donnchad Mac Murchada, King of Leinster. Diarmait was descended from Brian Boru through his father’s grandmother. When Diarmait was about five, his father was killed by his own cousin, Sitric Silkbeard, King of Dublin (he was an Irish Viking, to put it crudely). Donnchad was buried in a grave with a dead dog for company – an insult the Mac Murchadas never forgave. This incident gives you a flavour of Irish politics at the time.

Baltinglass Abbey

Diarmait Mac Murchada founded Baltinglass Abbey,Co Wicklow, for the Cistercians in 1148 – only a couple of years after the order had arrived in Ireland to found Mellifont Abbey. Diarmait was considered by churchmen to be a modernizing reformer, and was held in high regard by them.

On the death of his brother, Diarmait unexpectedly became King of Leinster. He seems to have been a somewhat schizophrenic ruler.  On the one hand he gave generously to the church, supporting reforms and founding new monasteries and nunneries (ironically, this seems to have been a speciality of his). However Diarmait was also seen by many as a ruthless tyrant – although this seems to have been the norm at the time.  Gerald de Barri (better known as Giraldus Cambrensis) who visited Ireland in 1185 to discover what his cousins the Barrys were up to wrote of Diarmait that he preferred to be feared rather than loved and that he didn’t respect his noblemen, preferring to promote men of low birth (presumably on merit). ‘He was a tyrant to his own subjects……his hand was against every man, and every man’s hand was against him.’  And so it turned out, for Diarmait had abducted, Dervogilla, the wife of Tiernan O’Rourke (perhaps with the woman’s connivance). O’Rourke was the King of Breffny (in modern Sligo and Leitrim) and he appealed to his overlord and ally Rory O’Connor, King of Connacht and High King of Ireland, who led an attack on Diarmait that did such huge damage in Leinster that his own people seem to have revolted against Diarmait.  Indeed so endangered was his life, that Diarmait had to flee disguised as a monk.  He took ship to Bristol to seek out King Henry in 1166.

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Dervogilla, the woman whose abduction caused all the trouble for Diarmait Mac Murchada, later founded the lovely Nun’s Church in Clonmacnoise. The church may have been inspired by the fine church architecture commissioned by her abductor!

But where exactly did Diarmait find his ship?  Prompted by a recent visit to Youghal, Goddard Orpen, a wonderful historian of medieval Ireland, suggested in a note published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland in 1903 that Diarmait took ship from a place called Corkeran.  He based this idea on lines from a poem composed in Norman French shortly after the events of the so-called ‘Norman invasion of Ireland. The poem called The Song of Dermot and the Earl tells us that:

‘Quant fut li reis exule, A Korkeran (est) eschippe, A Corceran en mer entra, Awelaf Okinead od se mena.’

When the king was exiled, to Corceran he escaped, at Corceran he entered the sea, Olaf O’Cineadha gave him aid’ (my translation)

Orpen identifies the place called Korkeran/Corceran as Gort Corceran which is located just east of Ladysbridge, north of the road to Ballymacoda.  There is an error in Orpen’s account – he says it is near the mouth of the Dissour River – true, but it is actually on the Womanagh River, which flows into the Dissour just a short distance to the north.  Perhaps Olaf O’Cineadha was living in Gort Corceran and he arranged the ship.  This man’s Norse-Irish name is interesting and suggests strong intermarriage over the generations between the various Norse settlers in Dublin, Wexford, Waterford and Cork with the native Irish.  Given that one of the parishes in the city of Waterford was named for St Olaf – it’s possible that Olaf O’Cineadha had connections there.  Whatever the reason, it is clear that the two men knew each other – did Olaf supply ships to take Diarmait’s men to Wales to assist Henry II some years earlier?

It has to be admitted that Orpen’s suggestion was greeted with horror by William Henry Grattan Flood in 1904. (Pity the poor man. With that moniker, he had a lot to live up to – named for two celebrated eighteenth century Irish parliamentarians Henry Grattan and Henry Flood!)  Grattan Flood insisted that Diarmait left from County Wexford – specifically from Corkerry near New Ross, on the banks of the Barrow in County Wexford.  On the surface this looks good – it was in Diarmait’s home territory. But it also entailed a long trip down the River Barrow passing Waterford – a place with no love to Diarmait.

Orpen’s response is firm – he quotes the Song of Dermot and the Earl to say that MacMurchada was driven out by his own people, a detail supported by other evidence from the time. Diarmait was so hounded by his enemies that he had to disguise himself as a monk in order to escape – it suggests the man had a serious popularity deficit, as we would say today. To get a flavour of the vicious nature of Irish politics at the time consider a detail revealed by Dagmar O’Riain-Raedel.  She recounts the horrific tale of two rival Irish kings being finally persuaded by the Bishop of Lismore to make a solemn peace with oaths sworn on relics in the cathedral of Lismore.  The two rivals duly obliged the bishop.  But as soon as they stepped outside the door of the cathedral, having sworn their solemn oaths, one man promptly buried his battle axe in the head of the other.  So much for a binding oath to keep the peace in twelfth century Ireland!  At least the murderer had the courtesy to wait until he was outside the church before doing the dastardly deed – unlike the Anglo-French knights who murdered Archbishop Thomas Beckett in Canterbury a decade or so later! (Sadly twenty-first century Ireland got a taste of this twelfth century behaviour during the week when gunmen killed a wedding guest the door of a church in Enniskillen as he was about to attend the nuptials – tradition can be wonderful, but some traditions deserve to be firmly consigned to the dustbin of history.)  The brutal murder at Lismore suggests that Diarmait Mac Murchada was in very real personal danger of assassination or murder.  Hence his flight from Ui Cinnsealagh.  According to Orpen, the nearest point where Diarmait could have safely taken ship for England was in East Cork, specifically Youghal (which probably didn’t exist as a town at the time), or Imokilly barony in East Cork.  The townland of Gort Corceran is near the middle of Imokilly – and Orpen had already noted the name and location on the Ordnance Survey map of the area.

Medieval irish axemen

How to resolve a political dispute in twelfth century Ireland. This illustration may refer to the brutal murder at Lismore cathedral and gives a hint of the personal danger that Diarmait Mac Murchada faced when he was defeated by O’Connor and O’Rourke.

However there are a couple of details that neither Orpen nor Grattan Flood addressed.  The Dissour empties into Youghal Bay, as does the River Blackwater.  The Blackwater leads to Lismore, site of the monastic foundation of St Carthage and a place with a long continental connection, as well as being the site of that vicious axe-job!  At the time, the Bishop of Lismore was Gilla Crist Ua Connairche, called Christianus in Latin.  He was also the Papal Legate in Ireland, so much business pertaining to the Irish church was conducted by shipping passengers, pilgrims and messages from Youghal Bay.  As a king with an interest in church reform, Diarmait might have been given a warm welcome by the clergy of the area – including the Papal Legate and the Bishop of Cloyne.  Indeed, Diarmait’s flight may have been assisted by churchmen – which very likely explains the monkish disguise he adopted.  Also, it should be noted that Gort Corceran is just a few miles from Cloyne.

lismorelarge2

The Cathedral of St Carthage in Lismore, County Waterford, is a medieval structure with much later rebuilding, especially in the early nineteenth century. It is delightfully situated across from the castle gardens. Lismore was the seat of the Papal Legate in the lifetime of Diarmait Mac Murchada. An infamous murder was committed just outside the door of the cathedral in the twelfth century – one king murdered his rival moments after they had sworn an oath inside to keep the peace. Politics, twelfth century Irish style.

To make matters even more interesting, the Dissour river flows through Killeagh, just north of Gort Corceran – and Killeagh was originally the cell or monastery of St Ia (NOT St Abban!).  St Ia gives her name to St Ives in Cornwall as well as sites in Brittany – suggesting a long history of communication between Killeagh area and foreign shores.  In addition it seems that the first two bishops of the restored diocese of Cloyne may have come from the Irish monastery in Regensburg in Germany.  With these overseas connections, the idea of Diarmait Mac Murchada taking ship from Youghal Bay, even from the mouth of the Dissour, makes sense. The idea is reinforced by the fact that the Anglo-Normans later founded an important manor and castle at Inchiquin – right on the banks of the Dissour.  This allowed them to get supplies directly from England if required. If the bishop of Cloyne was involved in Mac Murchada’s flight, it is possible that Diarmait might have embarked from Ballycotton – a settlement controlled directly by the bishop and a significant harbour at the time (see my previous previous post on Ballycotton).

inchiquin castle

The thirteenth century juliet or round keep of Inchiquin Castle on the banks of the Dissour River. Curiously, the Manor or Seigniory of Inchiquin remained effectively outside the control of the Sheriff of Cork for many centuries. The FitzGeralds were the first to hold the manor.

I suspect the jury is still out on Orpen’s suggestion – but it is worth further investigation.  Recently, I met Paul Mac Cotter, who wrote the History of the Medieval Diocese of Cloyne, and he said that there were many connections between Wexford, especially south Wexford, and Imokilly in the thirteenth century, shortly after the Anglo Normans settled the place. Perhaps these connections went back to Diarmait Mac Murchada in 1166!

capel_island

Capel Island off Knockadoon Head marks the southern end of Youghal Bay and is close to the mouth of the Dissour River. Named after the de Capella family, an Anglo-Norman family who settled in Imokilly around 1200, it may have been one of the last sights of Ireland seen by Diarmait Mac Murchada as he went to seek aid from King Henry of England. The de Capella family are known today as the Supple family.

One thing is clear though – without Diarmait’s trip to see Henry II there would be no FitzGeralds, Butlers, Burkes, FitzMaurices, Supples, Cods, Roches or even Harpurs in Ireland! I’ll update you if I get further information that can shed light in favour of, or against, Orpen’s idea.

There is a delightful irony in the fact that William Henry Grattan Flood was born not far from the Dissour River – in Lismore actually. He even spent much of his life in Enniscorthy, County Wexford, as a church organist – right in the heart of Diarmait Mac Murchada’s home territory!  This is the man who preserved and published the Wexford Carol – the finest of the native Irish Christmas carols! For that alone we can happily forgive him for his peeved response to Orpen’s suggestion about Diarmait’ Mac Murchada’s flight from Ireland.

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The Winter Solstice and Newgrange – a new old approach to Christmas in Ireland

Newgrange about 1880

The entrance to Newgrange about 1880 – not a ‘window’ to be seen.

Some people in Ireland start their Christmas celebrations with an ancient pagan ceremony – if they can get tickets!

Over five thousand years ago the inhabitants of the Boyne Valley in modern County Meath built a great passage tomb to contain the bones of their ancestors.  Curiously the remains of just five individuals were found inside the burial chamber when it was excavated by Professor Michael J Kelly in the 1960s.  Perhaps these individuals were especially significant to the community that built Newgrange and the mound was actually a temple to the ancestors. During the excavation, Kelly and his team made a bizarre discovery. There was an unusual ‘window’ over the entrance to the tomb and they speculated what its purpose was.  Suspicion fell on the alignment of the ‘window,’ or lightbox, as it is now called.  It seemed to be facing the direction of sunrise on the winter solstice.  There really was only one way to test it…..

Newgrange entrance

The reconstructed entrance to Newgrange, with the lightbox above the doorway. The superbly carved stone can be seen in the previous image from the 1880s.

On December 21st 1967, Professor Kelly and some colleagues were the first people in modern times to witness the sunlight enter the lightbox and illuminate the entire interior of the tomb right to the very back of the passage.  The whole event lasted just seventeen minutes but it confirmed the extraordinary skills available in Ireland five thousand years ago.  More recently it has been noted that the Newgrange alignment with the solstice sunrise appears to be more precise than similar alignments elsewhere, such as at Maes Howe in the Orkney Islands.  Our ancestors valued this moment because it marked the turning point of the year and the assurance that spring was not far off.

Newgrange Solstice

A five thousand year old phenomenon restored – the light entering the passage at Newgrange at sunrise on the winter solstice.

Clearly our ancestors valued the winter solstice.  The reason is not difficult to discern – they were farmers and the solstice marked the point of the year when the sun stopped slipping further and further down towards the southern horizon with each passing day.  It would now begin to climb higher in the sky.  This heralded the promise of spring and the new season for planting crops. Today the winter solstice in Ireland gives us a bare seven and a half hours of daylight!  So the increasing brightness and (hopefully) warmth of the sun is still a welcome sight.

Today, if you are lucky, you can enter a lottery to obtain tickets from the Office of Public Works Heritage Service to enter the passage at Newgrange before sunrise on 21st December and wait expectantly for the eerie and spectacular event.  The space inside the passage is very limited so only a small number of people are admitted on the winter solstice.

Back when it was built, the light entered the lightbox at Newgrange at exactly sunrise, but today, because of a wobble in the earth’s axis (called precession), the sunlight enters about four minutes after sunrise.  The whole phenomenon is fraught because the weather in Ireland does not always guarantee a clear sunny morning – cloud does obscure the whole sky in some years.  However the phenomenon is so popular that large crowds gather outside the mound to witness the sunrise.  When you live this far north of the Equator, the assurance that the sun has stopped sliding towards the southern horizon is something we look forward to!  The Newgrange experience is now part of the run-up to Christmas for many people in twenty-first century Ireland.

Happy Winter Solstice everyone!