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

 

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.

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

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.  

Samhain/Halloween in Irish folklore.

The Turnip Jack O'Lantern is the Irish Halloween tradition - the use of pumpkins is an American idea.

The turnip Jack O’Lantern is the Irish Halloween tradition – the use of pumpkins is an American idea which, sadly, has caught on in Ireland.  .

As we enter the dark half of the year, in Ireland tonight we are celebrating Halloween or, more properly, Samhain. Our ancient feast of Samhain was partially replaced by the Christian feast of All Saints or All Hallows on 1st November. This feast pushed the ancient pre-Christian observances of Samhain to the evening of 31st October – the Eve of All Hallows or Halloween. The Feasts of All Hallows and All Souls (2nd November) both commemorate the dead, and Samhain was a liminal festival which marked a time when the division between the world of the living and the world of spirits and the dead is very faint and it is possible to pass from one to the other. It also marked the end of the old year and the start of the new year in the ancient Irish calendar. Sadly, Halloween has become a celebration of b-movie fright nights rather than a time to reflect on the dead. The blog Irish Archaeology has highlighted the folk traditions that were recorded by the Irish Folklore Commission in the 1930s. The Commission asked schoolchildren to interview elderly people about their memories and local traditions. These recollections were written out in school copy books and are now preserved in the Department of Folklore in University College Dublin.

The website Dúchas has published examples of these Halloween recollections:

http://www.duchas.ie/download/15.10.23-halloween.pdf

For the blog Irish Archaeology: http://irisharchaeology.ie.

http://irisharchaeology.ie/2015/10/halloween-in-irish-folklore/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+irisharchaeology%2FdNsJ+%28Irish+Archaeology%29