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 – how to steal land….and other monastic misbehaviour!

Cahermone Castle is a massively built fifteenth century tower house on the southern bank of the Dungourney River just east of Midleton.  Built by a branch of the FitzGeralds, it may stand on the site of an earlier residence.  Just a few yards to the east of his facade is the point where the watercourse from Loughaderra meets the Dungourney River.  This was the watercourse that the Abbot Robert tried to divert in 1307.

Cahermone Castle is a massively built fifteenth century tower house on the southern bank of the Dungourney River just east of Midleton. Built by a branch of the FitzGeralds, it may stand on the site of an earlier residence. Just a few yards to the east of his facade is the point where the watercourse from Loughaderra meets the Dungourney River. This was the watercourse that the Abbot Robert tried to divert in 1307.

In 1309, the abbot of Chore abbey (Mainistir na Corann) was fined one mark by the King’s court for diverting the watercourse between Dunarlyn and Cathermoyne.  On appeal, Abbot Robert got this fine reduced to two pence!  What on earth was all this about? Well, it was all to do with land and money.  In medieval Ireland every parish had tithes levied upon it to pay for the upkeep of the church and its clergy. Sometimes the produce from the tithes had to go to a cleric or religious house far away – perhaps even in England.  But in this particular case the story was very local and it very likely upset the Bishop of Cloyne too! You see, the abbot had interfered with parish boundaries!

I wondered about this watercourse, and on inspecting the first edition Ordnance Survey map I found that it marked out what is certainly the watercourse mentioned above.  And watercourse is the correct word – for it isn’t really a stream.  It looks more like a water-filled ditch bordering several fields.  Intriguingly the origin of this watercourse lies at Loughaderra or Loughaderry. Situated about four miles east of Midleton, and a mile west of Castlemartyr, Loughaderra is a small lake lying right beside the main road to Youghal. Although it has no apparent outflow, in fact, Loughaderra feeds a small watercourse that flows through a marsh or bog just to the west and then flows into Ballybutler lake. A surprising number of people don’t know about this second small lake because it is situated in the middle of farmland, and away from any roads. From Ballybutler (or Butlerstown as it was also called) the watercourse flows just west of Churchtown North graveyard and the Two Mile Inn pub. The ruined medieval church in the graveyard was the parish church of Inchinabecky parish, despite being located at the southernmost point of the parish! The watercourse then flows in a north westerly direction towards Cahermone Castle and empties into the Roxborough or Dungourney River just before reaching the castle.

This watercourse divides two townlands just before the Dungourney River – Roxborough lies to the north-east and Cahermone lies to the south-west. Everything north-east of the watercourse was in Inchinabecky and everything to the south-west was in Mainistir na Corann or Corabbey Parish (as Midleton was then called).  This latter parish was the parish of the Cistercian monastery ruled by Abbot Robert.  The two townlands mentioned in the indictment were Cathermoyne, or Cahermone in Mainistir na Corann parish, and Dunarlyn. Dunarlyn was most likely the modern Roxborough townland in Inchinabecky parish – it’s the only one that fits, being situated on the other side of the watercourse.  Abbot Robert seems to have been obsessed with land – and with good reason.  You see, the Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) was already in financial difficulties.

The later history of the Abbey of Chore or Mainistir na Corann is part of the rather sorry tale of the gradual decline of the Cistercian order in Ireland until the dissolution of the abbeys by King Henry VIII. Questionable clerical standards, difficult finances and an obsession with land appear to have been the lot of the monastery – or at least of the abbots.

What happened at Mainistir na Corann was pretty much the same story that can be found in the Cistercian order throughout Ireland from the later 1200s to the dissolution of the monasteries under Henry VIII. There was, apparently,  steady decline in standards of religious life and adherence to the Cistercian rule throughout this period.  This wasn’t simply a uniform decline – each monastery was different.  Some were endowed with large and viable estates and others were barely able to scrape by with very small estates.  Several records survive in the Calendar of Papal Letters indicating that abbots sought ecclesiastical benefices (rectories or vicarages) as a means of boosting the monastic coffers.  Several Irish monasteries ended up in debt to Italian bankers.

Despite the restoration of Cistercian discipline after the Conspiracy of Mellifont and the Visitation of Stephen of Lexington, things went awry in Mainistir na Corann very quickly.  Already in 1278 the abbot of Mainistir na Corann was rdeposed for being absent from the General Chapter for seven years!  This was barely two years after the Mellifont affiliation of Irish Cistercian monasteries had been restored!  A few years later the Papal Taxation lists recorded that Chore Abbey (Mainistir na Corann) was valued at just twenty marks, with the tithe being assessed at two marks per annum.  This was a very small value although it probably only applied to the monastic parish, which was smaller than the monastic estate. A note appended to the taxation assessment suggested that there was little hope of collecting the Papal tax given that the monastery was already heavily in debt!  One would love to know if this money was owed to the Italian bankers noted above.

(NOTE: a mark was not a coin but an accounting unit valued at two thirds of a pound – 13 shillings and 4 pence.)

Then we find that the abbot of Chore is in serious trouble in 1301. Along with Richard Codd he was summoned by the King’s law court for unjustly removing Nicholas Joyce from his farm at ‘Lycham’ and ‘Roskagh.’  In effect the abbot was engaged in a land grab, or was assisting in a land grab!  The question arises here; where exactly were Lycham and Roskagh?   Denis O’Sullivan says that these are townlands in the civil parish of Bohillane, between Ladysbridge and Garryvoe.  Indeed there are townlands called Loughane and Rooskagh in that parish.  MacCotter suggests that they are actually the particles of Sythan and Rooskagh in Carrigshane townland – due east of Midleton and within the boundaries of the old civil parish. Given what happened in 1307 with the diversion of a watercourse by Abbot Robert, this latter may be the more likely location.  Indeed one wonders if the abbot in question in the 1301 case was actually the same Abbot Robert – who clearly had form! Robert was obviously notorious for his land grabbing – in 1307, aside from attempting to divert the watercourse, he successfully sued for the recovery of lands at Donickmore near Ballygibbon in Mogeely parish from Thomas Hodnett.

The abbots of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) were not above suing major regional lords for the recovery of monastic property. In 1342, the then abbot sued for the recovery of a mill, a messuage, and two carucates of land from David FitzDavid Barry of Buttevant – a relation of the lord of the Barrys, a family that tried for centuries to get hold of the abbacy of Chore. monastery.

Abbot Robert of Chore was charged with diverting a watercourse between Dunarlyn and Cahermone in 1307.  The map shows the townland divisions marked in red - Cahermone is at the bottom with the later castle picked out in green.  The civil parish boundary as a broad blue line.  This boundary between Midleton and Inchinabecky parishes follows the broad blue line in a loop from top right almost to bottom left and turns sharply to the right again. The overlaid blue line from top left to bottom left shows the course of the  Dungourney River which flows into Midleton.  The parish boundary is also marked by the overlaid black line at the bottom - which follows the watercourse that Robert tried to divert. The grey line going from south to north is my suggested route of the abbot's attempted  diversion - cutting off a chunk of Roxborough townland - then called Dunarlyn.  A real land grab, medieval style.

In 1307, Abbot Robert of Chore was charged with diverting a watercourse between ‘Dunarlyn’ and Cahermone townlands. These townlands were located in two different parishes. The map shows the townland divisions marked in red – Cahermone is at the bottom with the later castle picked out in green near the point where the disputed watercourse meets the Dungourney River. The civil parish boundary as a broad blue line. The barony boundary is in yellow. The boundary between Midleton and Inchinabecky parishes follows the broad blue line in a loop from top right almost to bottom left and turns sharply to the right again. The overlaid blue line from top left to bottom left shows the course of the Dungourney River (labelled DR) which flows into Midleton. The parish boundary is also marked by the overlaid black line at the bottom – which follows the watercourse (appropriately labelled WC) that Robert tried to divert. The grey line (labelled ?) going from south to north is my suggested route of the abbot’s attempted diversion – cutting off a chunk of Roxborough townland – then called Dunarlyn. A real land grab, medieval style.  The map is the six inch first edition Ordnance Survey map.

The Great Famine of the early 1300s and the Black Death of 1348-50 left much of the rural economy of medieval Europe in tatters – especially with the loss of between one third and one half of the workforce.  The feudal lords tried to enforce their feudal manorial rights as if nothing had changed, but the labour shortage forced them to gradually give way to peasant demands. For the Cistercians the disaster was compounded by the loss of lay brothers – the illiterate lower class of monks who did all the manual labour that kept the monastic economy going.  Indeed the communal lifestyle of the monks may have made the effects of the great plague even worse than usual for disease spread like wildfire in these communities. This forced the Cistercians to become common landlords, parcelling out the estate to peasant farmers who paid a rent in cash or kind for their farms. Effectively the monasteries lost the day-to-day control over their lands.

This didn’t stop the Barrys from trying to gain control of Mainistir na Corann – in 1443 the death of Abbot Philip O’Loughnane led to a dispute between Rory O’Loughnane and John de Barry, a monk of Whitland Abbey in Wales. Barry was imposed on the monastery by his relatives who used force of arms to impose him.  In 1447, Rory O’Loughnane appealed to the Vatican to be authorised to succeed Philip as the legitimate abbot.  Rory had to get a dispensation on account of his illegitimate birth and then sought Papal sanction to remove John Barry as abbot of Chore. It is likely that Rory was the illegitimate son of Abbot Philip – clearly celibacy was an aspiration rather than a reality for many clerics at the time! The dispute was resolved in 1450 when John Barry was transferred to Tracton Abbey – a house founded and controlled by the Barrys, and Rory was able to be installed as abbot in Mainistir na Corann.  Incredibly there was an attempt to unseat him by one of his monks, John O’Dorney in 1463!

The last abbot of Mainistir na Corann was Philip FitzDavid Barry – the Barrys had finally, and indisputably, got their hands on the abbey.  As a result of this the abbey estate was transferred from Imokilly barony to Barrymore barony for some centuries.  When Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries came to Mainistir na Corann in about 1543, The following year Abbot Philip (helped by his Barry relatives) managed to negotiate a twenty-one year lease of the abbey estate for himself at an annual rent of £3.14.4 (£3 14 shillings and 4 pence).  In the eyes of the Crown the abbot and his monks were now laymen, but it is likely that Philip maintained some discreet form of communal religious life in the abbey for some years. Already in the reign of King Edward VI the estate of Chore was behind in its annual rents to the Crown.  Some things never changed, it seems.

Abbot Philip’s lease fell due in 1565, in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, who transferred the lease to another leaseholder.