Found at last! Midleton’s ‘lost’ Tudor landlord.

The coat of arms issued to John Hovenden of Killabban, Queen's County, by Clarenceaux Herald of Arms in 1585.

John Hovenden was the eldest son of Giles Hovenden who was granted the lease of the lands of Corabbey in June 1551. A quiet man, barely mentioned in the state papers, John may have succeeded his father as the leaseholder of Corabbey until 1572. The name is spelled Hoveden in this image – it was the original name in medieval times with the first ‘n’ sneaking in by Tudor times. 

Lease to Gyles Hovynden ; of the site of the abbey of Chore alias Core, the lands of Chore and Kyl-(blank)-agh and Ballygybbyn, and the rectories of Chore, Downebowlogg, Kylrovayn, Kyl(collehy), St Katherine by Cork and Mogellygg. To hold for 21 years. Rent £26 5s.’ Fiant 6806 Elizabeth I (or 1147a Edward VI).

from The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns, (vol III) 1994

One of the difficulties facing Irish historians is the lack, or apparent lack, of documentation. We’ve already noted that when the Cistercian abbey of Mainistir na Corann/Corabbey was dissolved in 1543, the monastic buildings and the old monastic estate was granted to the former abbot, Philip FitzDavid Barry, on a twenty-one year lease with a rent payable to the crown. If anything, this was a kindness since the abbey had been Philip’s home since the early sixteenth century.  But that lease would have run to 1565 – about seven years into the reign of Elizabeth I. What happened to the land between the end of the lease in 1565 and 1573 when the property was granted to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne and Cahermone on a new lease? Who held the land until FitzGerald took over? Nobody has bothered to explain this gap. But now the mystery is solved – thanks to a document that was incorrectly filed by an Elizabethan civil servant about 1572!

The destruction of the Four Courts, Dublin, in June 1922 destroyed a vast amount of historic Irish public records, including the original fiants.

The horrific destruction of the Four Courts, Dublin, in June 1922 destroyed a vast amount of historic Irish public records, including the original fiants. (Cashman Collection/RTE)

The above text is from a fiant recording the grant of the site and former monastic estate of Corabby/Mainistir na Corann together with the tithes of certain rectories to Giles Hovenden during the short reign of King Edward VI. A fiant was a warrant issued by the government to the Court of Chancery in Ireland. This court was the authority that issued letters patent under the Great Seal of Ireland. Basically a fiant takes its title from the Latin phrase at the start of the order: Fiant litterae patente – ‘let letters patent be made….’ The letter patent (or published letter) was the key legal document that certified a government grant or order. It was registered in the rolls of the Court of Chancery, thus guaranteeing the patent extra legal effect. The Four Courts Fire of 1922 destroyed all the fiants issued throughout Irish history, but we are fortunate that they had been calendared and published in the 1880s and republished in the 1990s. So these important records survive in a somewhat abbreviated fashion. Since the exact date and year of the issue of this particular fiant is lost from the copy of the record, we must look to the term of office of Sir James Croft, the Lord Deputy of Ireland who signed it. Croft was Lord Deputy from 21 April 1551 to April 1552, and because the fiant was issued in the month of June, we can firmly date the fiant and the grant of the leasehold of Corabbey to June 1551.

What is interesting is that this grant of the leasehold to Giles Hovenden is simply unknown in Midleton. The reason is that this fiant was misfiled during the reign of Elizabeth I – some things NEVER change in the Irish civil service! The grant itself is quite a surprise because the previous leaseholder was Philip FitzDavid Barry the ‘former’ abbot of Corabby, who was a local man, almost certainly born in Castleredmond Castle. Abbot Philip had been granted a twenty-one year lease in 1544, so it should have run until 1565. However, since he was almost certainly the abbot Philip of Chore who was granted the vicarage of Inchinabecky and the rectory of Shandon in 1504, it is likely that he was already elderly and died some time between 1546 and 1551. It is very likely that, following Philip Barry’s death, the lease of Corabbey came back into the hands of the Crown due to the accumulated arrears of rents.  So the land was let out again for another twenty-one year period to Giles Hovenden.

Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was made a ward of Giles Hovenden by the Crown when his father was murdered.

Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was made a ward of Giles Hovenden by the Crown when his father was murdered.

So who exactly was Giles Hovenden?  He was an Englishman who came to Ireland during the reign of Henry VIII to serve in the king’s army. It seems that he came from Ulcomb near Maidstone in Kent. It should be noted that the Hovendens appear to have been neighbours of the St Leger family – Sir Anthony St Leger of Ulcomb and Leeds Castle was the Lord Deputy of Ireland for an astonishing three separate terms – 1540-1548, 1550-1551 and 1553-1556. A captain of light horse in 1532, Giles Hovenden was given some interesting commissions to execute. He was one of the Commissioners for the government of Connaught in 1544, In conjunction with James FitzJohn FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, on 28 July 1551, Hovenden was made a commissioner for the government of the counties of Cork, Limerick and Kerry. In December 1551, the earl asked Hovenden to arrest his own son and heir, Gerald FitzJames FitzGerald (later the 15th Earl), and his own brother Maurice FitzJohn FitzGerald, because they had raided McCarthy lands in Cork! Clearly Hovenden was able to get on very well with the ‘Old English’ and the Gaelic Irish.  He seems to have had business dealings with Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, concerning the Earl’s lands in Ballygriffin in County Dublin. It seems likely that Giles Hovenden retired from government service in  1556 when St Leger left office for the last time.

On 29 November 1549 Giles Hovenden was granted the lands of Killeban in Leix, later Queen’s County, now County Laois. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Walter Cheevers and had five sons and a daughter John, Peter, (or Piers), Richard, Walter, Henry and Joanna.

The eldest son, John Hovenden of Killeban, was granted the arms shown at the head of this post in 1585.  There is very little in the official records about John Hovenden – one commentator suggests that he kept his head down and attempted to lead a quiet life, quite an achievement in a turbulent age. It is perfectly possible that this man inherited his father’s leasehold of Corabbey, for the second son, Peter, had property and income from King’s County (Offaly), Queen’s County (Laois), Kildare, Meath, Down, Tipperary, Louth and Roscommon.  The fourth son, Walter, after military service in the Netherlands, was killed when the O’Mores attacked the fort and town of Maryborough (now Portlaoise) in 1579.

The third and fifth sons, Richard and Henry,became the foster-brothers of Hugh O’Neill, who later became the 2nd Earl of Tyrone! They actually ‘went native’ as both served O’Neill as military officers during his revolt against Queen Elizabeth I during the Nine Years War. Henry actually became O’Neill’s secretary and confidential advisor and, perhaps, his chief of intelligence. henry followed O’Neill into exile during the Flight of the Earls in 1607.

Edward VI became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died aged fifteen in 1553. He was the king when Giles Hovenden was granted the twenty-one year lease of Corabbey. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Tudor boy king. Edward VI became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died aged fifteen in 1553. He was the king when Giles Hovenden was granted the twenty-one year lease of Corabbey. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

How did Hugh O’Neill end up as a foster-brother to Giles Hovenden’s sons? The Earldom of Tyrone had been awarded to Conn O’Neill by Henry VIII when Conn submitted to the Crown as part of the Surrender and Regrant policy. Conn planned to pass on the earldom to his illegitimate son, Matthew, Baron of Dungannon  Matthew was the father of Brian and Hugh O’Neill. However, in typical Irish fashion, Conn’s legitimate son, Shane, objected and in 1558, Shane’s men killed Matthew. A year later Conn, Earl of Tyrone, died and he should have been succeeded by his grandson Brian, the new Baron of Dungannon, and the government’s preferred choice. But Shane O’Neill was too strong and he claimed the title Earl of Tyrone for himself. Brian was assassinated in 1562 by a cousin, probably on Shane O’Neill’s orders.  This left Brian’s younger brother, Hugh, a minor, as the new Baron of Dungannon and the government’s preferred candidate as Earl of Tyrone. However the young Hugh O’Neill was very vulnerable to assassination. The government placed him in the care of Giles Hovenden as a Ward of the Crown.  Hugh grew up with Richard and Henry Hovenden. There is some speculation that Hugh may have been fostered in the Gaelic Irish fashion to Giles Hovenden when he was still a boy. This might explain why English officials considered the Hovenden brothers to be O’Neill’s foster-brothers.  This close relationship was the basis of the friendship that led to Richard and Henry ‘going native’ during the 1590s when Hugh O’Neill finally gained control of his earldom of Tyrone.

Bective Abbey in County Meath was converted into a house after it was suppressed by Henry VIII. Did the Hovendens do the same to Corabbey?

Bective Abbey in County Meath was converted into a house after it was suppressed by Henry VIII. Did Giles Hovenden do the same to Corabbey/Mainistir na Corann?

So there you have it – a missing link in the history of Midleton, or, more correctly, Corabbey/Mainistir na Corann. The leasehold of the old Cistercian monastery and its estate was granted to Giles Hovenden, formerly of Kent, in June 1551. He was Midleton’s ‘missing Tudor-era landlord’.The irony is that Hovenden’s ward or foster-son, Hugh O’Neill, helped to suppress the Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583). This led to the final defeat and death of the same Gerald FitzJames FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, who had been arrested with his uncle Maurice by Giles Hovenden in December 1551! Later Hugh O’Neill would conduct a devastating raid on Barrymore and Imokilly, including the former Hovenden leasehold of Corabbey, during his sweep into Munster in 1600 during the Nine Years’ War (1594-1603).

Only loyal subjects of the Crown need apply in Tudor Ireland!

Only loyal subjects of the Crown need apply in… Tudor Ireland!

Why do I say that the fiant of June 1551 was misfiled? If the Hovenden lease of Corabbey did indeed run to 1572, then it was necessary for the government to examine the details of that lease when it lapsed that year to ensure that the land was indeed available to let without encumbrances to a new tenant. An inspection of the fiant showed that a new lease on the former monastic estate could indeed be granted to someone else. In 1573 the old monastery and the former monastic estate were granted on a twenty-one year lease to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, who had bought neighbouring Cahermone Castle and its estate from impoverished relatives in 1571. FitzGerald now had a nice little estate that ran all the way to the Owencurra River. And the government clerk omitted to replace the original fiant of 1551 with the documents relating to the reign of King Edward VI! No wonder the historians have missed it, despite the fact that it was hiding in plain sight for over a century!  Now I wonder if any papers have survived about the Hovendens in Corabbey…..

Link: http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mjbrennan/Hovendens_01.htm

Advertisements

Cromwell’s spy? St John Brodrick and the origins of the Brodrick estates in South East Cork.

Usually attributed to the Hodnetts, but actually held by a Mr E Gould in 1642, Ballyannan is an early 17th century fortified house with some later modifications. This house became the seat of St John Brodrick from 1653.

The ruins of Ballyannan Castle from the south. Usually attributed to the Hodnetts, but actually held by a Mr E Gould in 1642, Ballyannan is an early 17th century fortified house with some later modifications. This house became the seat of St John Brodrick from 1653. In appearance, it must originally have resembled a small French chateau, with plastered, presumably whitewashed,walls and pepperpot roofs on the three turrets.

He was in reality sent over by Cromwell as a spy to corrupt the Munster Army and send him intelligence; Lieutenant Colonel W. Pigot, and the Captains St John Brodrick and Robert Gookin being likewise employed for the same purpose.

Thomas Carte: A History of the Life of James Duke of Ormonde. 1735.

From at least 1653 to 1964 the ground landlords in Midleton were the Brodrick family. But one question needs to be addressed.  How exactly did the Brodricks get their land in the area? The quotation above refers to, among others, St John Brodrick – the first of the Brodricks of Wandsworth to acquire an estate in Ireland.  The story of St John Brodrick and his settlement in Ireland during the regime of Oliver Cromwell is not yet properly written, and, unfortunately, it contains some odd assertions.  I can’t claim that this post will clear everything up, but I hope to kill off some of the nonsense that is still floating around even in some very respectable history books. Thomas Carte’s reference to Brodrick being a Cromwellian spy was written by a staunch supporter of the Stuarts in 1735 and, while it may have a grain of truth, it perhaps does not tell the whole story behind Brodrick’s coming to Ireland.

A woodcut describing the enmity between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) during the English Civil War - but it could equally well express the sentiments of the Catholics vs. Protestants and Scots Presbyterians vs. English Episcopalians.

A woodcut describing the enmity between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) during the English Civil War – but it could equally well express the sentiments of the Catholics vs. Protestants and Scots Presbyterians vs. English Episcopalians.

The outbreak in 1642 of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (the Irish Catholic Uprising, the English Civil War and the Covenanters’ War in Scotland), was to set the scene for the arrival of the Brodricks in south-east Cork. St John Brodrick was born in 1627 as the younger son of Sir Thomas Brodrick of Wandsworth. St John’s older brother, Alan, fought for King Charles I during the English Civil War and later served as secretary to the Sealed Knot society. This latter was a secret Royalist organisation in England aiming to restore King Charles II when Cromwell was Lord Protector. There are some assertions that St John Brodrick came to Ireland in 1642 to acquire estates here.  But as a fifteen year old boy it seems highly unlikely that he’d be allowed jump from the English frying-pan into the Irish fire.  There’s certainly no evidence that Brodrick inherited land in Ireland in 1642 – so he must have come by his estates another way.

What seems to have happened is that after his father’s death in 1643, St John Brodrick was groomed to fight with Parliament as a way of hedging the family’s bets on the outcome of the Civil War. He certainly seems to have been in the service of the Parliamentary cause by 1649. In that year he was sent to Ireland as an assistant to Lord Broghill who had just joined the Parliamentary side. And this connection to Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, proved instrumental in Brodrick’s land acquisitions in Ireland.

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Great Britain and Ireland.  He still has a bad press in ireland and his regime settled a lot of officers on confiscated Irish lands - like St John Brodrick.

The man the Irish love to hate: Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Great Britain and Ireland. He still has a bad press in Ireland and his regime settled a lot of officers on confiscated Irish lands, including St John Brodrick.

To understand what happened it is necessary to examine the complex four-sided civil war in Ireland from 1642 to 1652.  The Confederate Catholics made up the largest group, rebelling against the Crown in defence of their landholdings and their right to worship as they wished. Their best leader was the Ulsterman Owen Roe O’Neill, the victor of Benburb. Unfortunately the Confederates were divided into Gaelic Irish (often very hardline) and the Old English (more Royalist in sympathy). Benburb introduces the second group in Ireland – the Presbyterian Scots.  Some were settlers, mostly in Ulster where they obtained land under the Ulster Plantation. Others came over in Munroe’s army ….. only to be slaughtered at Benburb in 1646. Then there was the Royalist force, based mostly in Dublin and commanded by James Butler, Marquis of Ormond as he then was, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  This is the man who is the subject of Thomas Carte’s book, being promoted to a dukedom in 1660. The fourth group in Ireland were the Protestants of Munster. Their military leaders were David Barry, 1st Earl of Barrymore, who died of wounds shortly after the victory of Liscarroll in 1642, Morrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin who led the Munster Protestant Army for most of the period, and Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, a younger son of Richard Boyle, the same 1st Earl of Cork who had obtained a license for a market at Corabbey in 1624. The Munster Protestant victory at Liscarroll secured Cork and the area around Cork Harbour, as well as Youghal, for the Protestant cause, and, ultimately, for the Parliamentary cause.  Initially the Munster Protestant leaders’ loyalties were still somewhat vaguely aligned in favour of the king, although they treated James Butler, Marquis of Ormond, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with great suspicion.

Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill. Created 1st Earl of Orrery in 1660, helped secure Cork for Cromwell and later secured Ireland for Charles II in 1660.  He founded Charleville in North Cork where he built a huge mansion, which he abandoned by the mid-1670s when he moved to Castlemartyr. A good friend of St John Brodrick, his neighbour in Midleton, Broghill was the son of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and brothe rof Robert Boyle the scientist.

Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, Cromwellian commissioner for forfeited estates in the County of Cork.
Created 1st Earl of Orrery in 1660, Broghill helped secure Cork for Cromwell and, in 1660, he secured Ireland for King Charles II . He founded Charleville in North Cork, where he built a huge mansion, which he abandoned by the mid-1670s, when he moved his seat to Castlemartyr a few miles from Midleton. A good friend of St John Brodrick, his neighbour in Midleton, Broghill was a younger son of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and an older brother of Robert Boyle, the scientist. His descendants resised at Castlemartyr until the early 20th century.

During the period up to 1648, a strong rivalry existed between Inchiquin and Broghill. It didn’t develop into an open dispute – they managed to get along sufficiently to keep their hold on Cork secure. But the Parliamentary victory in the English Civil War, and execution of King Charles I in 1649, threw everything into confusion. Inchiquin was certainly disgusted by the death of the King. Broghill’s reaction, however, was more problematic. He later claimed that he was upset by the execution of the king, however, it does seem that his sympathies were very close to the Parliamentary side. One story put about after the Restoration of King Charles II (1660) is that Broghill was on his way to the Continent to consult Charles II when he was accosted by Oliver Cromwell in London and given a choice that was difficult to refuse – join fully and openly with Parliament or else get to know the Tower of London very intimately.  Broghill was in Somerset when he eventually decided to take up Cromwell’s offer of a commission in the Parliamentary army.  He apparently had a small part to play in the bloody sack of Wexford in 1649 before being sent by sea to Cork to secure that harbour and city for Cromwell. On Broghill’s arrival in Cork, Lord Inchiquin packed his bags and sailed off to Spain – where he became a Catholic! This left Broghill in total command of Cork. Cromwell spent the winter of 1649/50 in Youghal, a town controlled by the Boyles, in acknowledgement of Broghill’s importance in securing the area, and, presumably to keep Broghill firmly within the Parliamentary camp.

Murrough of the Burnings. Murrough O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin was the leader of the Protestant forces in Munster during the 1640s until ousted by Broghill in 1649.

Murrough of the Burnings. Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin was the leader of the Protestant forces in Munster during the 1640s until ousted by Broghill in 1649.

(Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, was the infamous ‘Murrough of the burnings’ of Irish popular history and he came from County Clare – hence his title. His descendants later returned to Imokilly and settled at Rostellan where, as the Earls of Thomond, they built a new house on the site of Rostellan Castle and the medieval church. On discovering that the old church and graveyard had been violated, a local woman pronounced a curse that no son would ever inherit the Rostellan estate – and it worked! The property passed via daughters into the hands of other families. Inchiquin’s descendants also came into possession of Petworth House in East Sussex which contains a superb collection of paintings by Turner. The vitally important Petworth House papers have yielded astonishing detail on the history of County Clare, but they have not yet been explored for the history of Rostellan and Imokilly. Petworth is now owned by the National Trust.)

But what of St John Brodrick?  We know nothing, as yet, of his military career in England, which probably didn’t start until about 1645/46. One source suggests that Brodrick was appointed Provost Marshal to Broghill’s force in Cork. A Provost Marshal was an officer in charge of enforcing military discipline. But they often had another role – the gathering of intelligence. Basically, if his role as Provost Marshal is true, then St John Brodrick was indeed a spy for Cromwell, but not a secret agent. It is highly possible that Brodrick may have been given orders to keep Broghill on the straight and narrow path of Parliamentary loyalty. As an intelligence officer, it is also possible that Brodrick was instrumental in securing the transfer of loyalty among the Protestant troops in Cork from the king to Parliament by way of a mutiny. What is clear is that Brodrick and Broghill became great and firm friends. They appear to have shared a common religious outlook, both being ‘low church’ men. It seems likely that Brodrick got to know Oliver Cromwell during the latter’s sojourn in Youghal.

With the defeat of all the opposing armies in Ireland, the Cromwellian regime set about securing the country……and paying off its debts.  The Adventurers, the people who had loaned funds to Parliament, had to be repaid (with interest), and the soldiers in the Parliamentary army had to be paid.  The decade of civil wars meant that there was a serious shortage of funds, so Parliament came up with a better idea – pay everyone in land. The lands of Irish Catholics and Royalists would be confiscated and distributed to the Adventurers and old soldiers as payment.The bonus was that if these lands could be settled by good English protestants then Ireland would be secured against future Catholic rebellions.

Part of the Down Survey map of Barrymore with the former monastic lands of Corabbey shown as a yellow area marked 'Unforfeited Land.' Parts of Mogeesha, as well as Templenacarriga, Ballyspillane, Dungourney, and other areas were given to St John Brodrick by 1653.

Part of the Down Survey map of Barrymore  showing the parishes.The former monastic estate of Manisitir na Corann/Corabbey is shown as a yellow area marked ‘Unforfeited Land.’ Parts of Mogeesha parish, as well as Templenacarriga, Ballyspillane, Dungourney, and Clonmel parish on Great Island as well as areas were also given to St John Brodrick in the 1653 settlement. Mainistir na Corann was considered to be part of Barrymore since the dissolution because its last abbot was a Barry. During the 1700s, the parish was transferred back into Imokilly. This copy of the map is preserved in the Bibliotheque National in Paris. Source: downsurvey.tcd.ie.

One of the commissioners appointed to supervise the distribution of lands in County Cork was Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill. And he made sure that his good friend, St John Brodrick, got some choice parcels of land, often right next to his own estates.  One of those parcels was Mainistir na Corann/Corabbey now called Midleton. This was the old estate of the Cistercians of Chore, which had remained Crown property since the dissolution in 1543 and had been leased to Roger Boyle’s father, Richard, 1st Earl of Cork, by the 1620s. Brodrick also got estates in Orrery barony in North Cork – also next to Broghill’s lands in the same barony.  To ensure that his friend didn’t want for much, Broghill also ensured that Brodrick got lands in Mogeesha parish, Templenacarriga parish, Ballyspillane parish, Dungourney parish and non-monastic lands in Corabbey parish as well as parcels in Ballyoughtera Parish and Clonmel parish on Great Island – all confiscated from ‘Irish Papists,’  By 1653, St John Brodrick, a younger son, had obtained a considerable estate in Ireland.

St John Brodrick established a deerpark from Cahermone to Park South and Park North townlands and chose Ballyannan Castle as his seat. This fortified house had previously been held by a Mr Gould, an ‘irish Papist.’  Not a bad return for a ‘spy.’ There’s still a lot of research to be done on St John Brodrick and his background and career.

Mainistir na Corann, Walter Raleigh and the last days of the abbey of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist's Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The  present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.  This photo is produced with the permission of Jim Horgan. The image can also be seen on the Cork County Library website’s digital collections.

What sort of property did the former abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann), Philip FitzDavid Barry, lease from the Crown for twenty-one years in 1544?  To discover that we will have to go back a few years before that date.

In referring to the dissolution of the monasteries, Brendan Bradshaw, an Irish priest and a wonderful scholar at Cambridge, said that more was ‘accomplished in the seven years between 1535 and 1542 in England than in the seventy years between 1536 and 1606 in Ireland.’  What he meant was that in England and Wales the conditions for dissolving monasteries were more effective in achieving the desired outcome than was the case in Ireland, where local interests effectively slowed down the process and inhibited its completion.  After first managing to get the Irish parliament to agree to dissolve a mere thirteen small religious houses near Dublin in 1537, the government manage to close down a number of friaries in 1538 and a larger number were dissolved in 1539 – but only in areas under government control.  With the appointment in 1541 of Anthony St Leger as Lord Deputy (chief governor of Ireland), a more thorough policy was embarked upon. A royal commission was sent to investigate all the accessible remaining monasteries and to make assessments of their property, value, income and potential use.  This commission examined the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) and its report preserves a glimpse of the monastery and its hinterland at the end of the medieval period.

In 1541 the commissioners swore in a jury to render a return concerning the property of the the Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann). The members of the jury were: Thomas Verdon, Dermot Mortell, Thomas Carroll, John Clerye, Maurice Fylye (Foley), Walter Galwey, John Skyddy, Richard Gowle.

The jurors noted that the church of the monastery had been the parish church from time immemorial. This suggests that, instead of building a separate church for use by the parishioners, the monks had set aside part of their conventual church for use by the parish congregation.  We don’t know if that entailed erecting a wall to divide the nave from the east end of the church (reserved for the monks).  If the community of monks had become very small since the Black Death in 1348-50, then such a wall is likely to have been built. What this meant was that the church was to be preserved for use by the parish. Other places were less fortunate because the church roof was often stripped to render the building useless.

All the other buildings within the monastic precinct at Chore (Mainistir na Corann) were deemed to be suitable and necessary for the farmer dwelling there. These buildings covered an acre of ground and were valued at 5 shillings.. The use of the word ‘farmer’ suggests that the plan was to grant or lease out the entire monastic estate for a sum of money to be remitted to the Crown. The ‘farmer’ of Corabbey is what Philip Barry became in 1544.

The other properties of the monastery included various plots of lands – usually entire townlands, scattered about the monastery. The main body of the monastic estate at Chore (the area immediately around the monastery) was estimated to contain 180 acres, 0 roods 0 perches.The detached portion of the estate at Kyllynamaragh and Ballygibbyn (near Mogeely) amounted to an estimated 120 acres 0 roods 0 perches.These were the lands of the monastic estate – about 300 acres, all told. A modest enough estate it seems.  But this figure was not the same as 300 acres today.

Castlemartyr Castle was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.  They were governors of the Earl of Desmond's lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola' or Hounds of Blood for their savagery.  The towerhouse  at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle.

Castlemartyr Castle, sometimes called the Castle of Imokilly, was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly. They were governors of the Earl of Desmond’s lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola’ or Hounds of Blood for their savagery. The towerhouse at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle. The rebellious Seneschal was besieged here by the Earl of Ormond and Captain Walter Raleigh.  Ormond had the Seneschal’s mother, brother and infant son executed in front of the castle to encourage surrender – but the Seneschal managed to escape.

For example, the townland of Killeenamanagh (Kyllynmaragh) today measures 303 acres 3 roods and 22 perches in statute measurement.  Ballygibbon measures 203 acres 0 roods and 14 perches in statute measurement.  This gives a good idea of the estimation of acreages in the 1541 report.  The 120 acres estimated by the jurors is equal to over 507 acres (rounded up) in modern measurement!  What are we to make of Chore?  The trouble here is that we’re not exactly sure where to draw the boundaries.  Townparks alone currently measures 315 acres 0 roods and 35 perches.  Add in the 16 acres 2 rood and 37 perches of School-land (cut out of Townparks in 1696), and we get some 333 rounded up modern acres. There must have been more land attached to the monastery to give the 1541 estimated figure of 180 acres.

If we take the Killenamangh and Ballygibbon tract as being about 500 modern acres, it means that we must multiply the 1541 figures by 4.16 (at very least!) to get an approximate estimate of the area of monastic lands.  Thus the area of 180 acres estimated for Chore in 1541 gives us over 748.8 modern acres.to make up, say 749 acres when rounded up.  if we combine Townparks with School-lands and Broomfield West we get 697 modern acres.  This suggests that the remaining acreage of the monastic estate may have came from the northern part of Castleredmond and a chunk of Broomfield East. All in all then, we’re talking about a monastic estate of about 1200 acres.

But a word of warning – these acreage figures may be a serious underestimate of the monastic lands.  Even worse, did the abbot conceal some of the monastic estate, with the connivance of the jurors?  The jurors were local men and certainly knew of the Barry interest in the land and probably understated the size of the monastery’s landholdings – they certainly weren’t going to do anything that upset the then Lord Barry.  Also,we must remember that there were no accurate maps at the time and people measured land area by sight, based on experience.  Also, our multiplier of 4.16 may be an underestimate – the acre in Imokilly barony might even have been different from the acre in Barrymore barony!

What was the value of all this land?  The jury estimated that Chore should have produced an annual rental income valued at 66 shillings and 8 pence – if it were fully inhabited! But in fact the jurors noted that Chore was actually producing an annual income of 20 shillings from the rents paid by Richard Urlings (Verling) and others. The salmon weir was valued at 6s.8d per annum. The water mill was valued at 20s per annum, but because of the recent trouble following the Silken Thomas Rebellion was only producing 6s.8d per annum! The lands of Killeenamanagh and Ballygibbon should have produced 40s per annum if leased, but were now laid waste by rebellion and were unoccupied.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep.  It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep. It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century. The view is northwards towards the five arch bridge leading to Cork. This is the point at which the river was most fordable.  The monastic lands of Chore lay to the right of the photo.

The appropriated rectories should also have produced a good income of 65 shillings. Chore should have given tithes worth 100s, but the rebellion had reduced this to 13s.4d.Three other rectories were laid waste and only Mogeely was producing tithes valued at 6s.8d per annum.  This was a huge drop in the monastery’s income.

Four years after the monastic estate was leased to Philip FitzDavid Barry, the community of monks were still there – and were already £6 behind in their rent!

What is worth noting about all this is the lack of any mention of a town or village or other settlement – the reference to the value of rents ‘if the land was fully occupied’ suggests that if there was a settlement near the abbey, it was then so small as to warrant no mention in the Commissioners’ returns. Furthermore, no figure is given for the number of monks accommodated in the abbey – this is a serious failing of the Commissioners’ accounts, but understandable, since the Commission was asked to value the property of these monasteries..

What actually happened after the dissolution in Ireland was that religious life almost certainly continued there for some years, perhaps even decades.   It is likely that the number of monks at Chore was quite small.  Some monasteries apparently had no monks just prior to their dissolution!

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann.

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann. He was a particularly brutal soldier who was rewarded with vast tracts of land in East Cork.

If there was no village or town near the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) prior to is official dissolution, then it is likely a settlement grew up fairly quickly afterwards, perhaps as a way of obtaining more income from the land rents.  The most dramatic event in the next few decades was the attempted ambush of Captain Walter Raleigh at the ford over the Owenacurra by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the Seneschal of Imokilly.  This happened in 1582 during the second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583).  The Seneschal, the Earl of Desmond’s local governor, had hidden his men in the old abbey, suggesting that much of it was still intact at the time and it is uncertain if the buildings had been damaged during the First Desmond Rebellion (1569-1573). As Raleigh’s force approached the Owenacurra River from the direction of Cork, the Seneschal’s men opened fire on them and unhorsed a couple of soldiers.  Raleigh claimed to have stood his ground on horseback in the middle of the river protect his downed men.  This suggests that the Owenacurra River was wider and perhaps deeper than it appears today.  However, when the Seneschal realised that Raleigh wasn’t going to be deterred, he and his men slipped away. Bizarrely, at the time the abbey complex was held on a lease from the Crown by a relative, and rival, of the Seneschal. This was his cousin, another John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, who was also the Dean of Cloyne Cathedral, although he hever took holy orders. The Dean was actually a Catholic and a firm supporter of friars and other Catholic clergy. Despite all this he was known as Queen Elizabeth’s staunchest local supporter in Cork!  It was this John FitzEdmund FitzGerald who would go on to lay the foundations of the modern town on the site.

Sources: Brendan Bradshaw, The dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland under Henry VIII. (Cambridge 1974). Rachel Moss, ‘Reduce, reuse, recyle: Irish monastic architecture c1540-1640’ in Roger Stalley (editor), Irish Gothic Architecture – construction, decay and reinvention. (Dublin 2012).  Newport B White (editor), Extents of Irish Monastic Possessions, 1540-1541. (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin 1945).    .

The Mad Monks of Midleton – really!

Mad Monk bar

The Mad Monk Bar and Bistro on Church Lane in Midleton. It stands right beside the churchyard of St John the Baptist. This church is actually built on the site of the Abbey of Chore or Mainistir na Corann, founded for the Cistercians in 1180.

On Church Lane in Midleton there is a bar/bistro called Mad Monk.  This establishment was called O’Riordan’s Pub when I was growing up and then became Joe’s of Church Lane.  The name Mad Monk was given to the pub more recently. Curious about the change of name (which occurred when I lived in Limerick) I went in recently to inquire why the place was called Mad Monk.  The personnel behind the bar hadn’t a clue – they were very clear about that. It seems that nobody had explained the origins of the name to them. One clue may be in the pub’s logo – a monk indulging in beer!

Mad Monk Logo

Logo of the Mad Monk Bar in Midleton – not quite the version that comes to mind when discussing the actual mad monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann in 1228/1229. Clearly this image depicts the Brother Cellarer – note the keys for locking up the beverages!

But there were mad monks in Midleton or Mainistir na Corann in the early 1200s.  And they were hopping mad!  Not gaga mind you, just furious that they were being called to account.

How bad were they?  Well, a letter written to them in 1228 tells us. They are addressed as the Community of Chore.

To the Community of Chore, greetings.

The charge of much disorder as well as rebellion and conspiracy…..perpetrated in your house in the past year against the visitor sent to you on behalf of the General Chapter, namely the Abbot of Tintern Minor, has been brought to our attention by reliable and trustworthy men. He removed your former abbot, Brother R., from office for refusing to submit to the authority given to him, and at the same time he placed your church and you yourselves under interdict and suspended you from the divine services for as long as you supported the beforementioned R. as abbot or recognized him as your abbot.

This opening to the letters sent by Stephen of Lexington, Abbot of Stanley, was probably not what the monks of Chore or Mainistir na Corann wanted to read.  And it was very a serious recital of the charge against the abbey as well as the penalties imposed on the abbey.

But what exactly was it all about?

Right from the start, the Cistercians in Ireland faced trouble – from the Irish monks themselves. Some years after the establishment of Mellifont Abbey in 1142, the French monks quit the place and returned to Burgundy with complaints that the Irish had some very strange interpretations of the Cistercian Rule. You may recall that the Cistercians were a reformed version of the Benedictine order, but were more rigorous in their interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict. They were also more tightly organized throughout Europe, whereas the Benedictines were organised more loosely.

For example, every year the Cistercians had a Europe-wide meeting called a General Chapter. This meeting was held in Burgundy, either at Citeaux or at Clairvaux. Representatives were sent from every national affiliation of Cistercian monasteries – this meant that the monasteries founded from Mellifont represented the Irish affiliation, sending three abbots to the General Chapter. Furthermore, the Cistercians interpreted the Benedictine rule to rigidly structure every moment of the day for the monks – both choir monks (educated men who were usually ordained) and the lay brothers (‘peasant’ monks who tilled the fields and did all the manual labour). Cistercian monks had to sleep in open dormitories – one for the choir monks and one for the lay brothers. There were various other rules – like the lack of ornament in their churches (unnecessary according to St Bernard of Clairvaux).

However, this was fine in a country with a tradition of Benedictine monasticism. Ireland was not one of these countries – and so a rigourous interpretation of the rules was more the exception than the norm in Ireland.  From a very early date, Irish Cistercians slept in cells rather than in open dormitories. They accepted decoration in their churches, they often failed to attend the General Chapter – a VERY serious offence in the eyes of the Cistercian Order. In 1195 the abbot of Chore/Mainistir na Corann was one of the three representatives of the Irish Cistercians at the General Chapter. Intriguingly the abbot was ordered to go to Dublin impose a penance on the abbot of the very rich abbey of St Mary’s. The reason? the abbot of St Mary’s was one of the three representatives from Ireland for the previous year’s General Chapter – but he failed to attend, claiming to be sick.  The General Chapter had word that this abbot was not sick at the time he should have been in Burgundy and decided to rap him across the knuckles. The abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann/Midleton) was given the task of calling the abbot of St Mary’s, Dublin, to account. Irish absenteeism from the General Chapter was such that the order decided, after 1195, to allow some leeway to the Irish due to the remoteness of their country – they would only be obliged to attend the General Chapter every four years. Along with the abbot of Chore’s presence at the General Chapter that year,this commission suggests that the abbey of Chore was sufficiently important just fifteen years after its foundation to be given an important role in the Cistercian order in Ireland.

However, the real trouble in the Cistercian order in Ireland erupted when the General Chapter sent a mission to Ireland to investigate the rumours of widespread abuses, that is, lack of proper Cistercian discipline. Arriving in 1217, the mission was rebuffed at teh gates of Mellifont and refused admission to the abbey. Jerpoint abbey also refused the mission access, as did several other abbeys. When the Irish abbot of Baltinglass was deposed and an Englishman appointed in his place, the Irish monks in that abbey dragged the interloper from his horse and threw him out. When the abbot sought the assistance of the government and returned with armed men, the monks fortified the abbey against him! It should be noted that of the over thirty Cistercian monasteries in Ireland, nearly two thirds were part of the Mellifont affiliation – all founded by native Irish patrons and filled mostly with native Irish monks.  The remaining monasteries founded by the English in Ireland were not affected by this ‘Conspiracy of Mellifont’, as this revolt of the Mellifont affiliation of abbeys was called.

Finally, complaining to the pope that the Cistercian rule in Ireland did not extend beyond the wearing of the white habit, the General Chapter decided to crack down severely on the Irish.In 1227, Stephen of Lexington, the abbot of Stanley in Wiltshire, was commissioned with additional papal authority to bring the Irish to heel.  Despite threats (verbal and physical) Stephen and his assistants toured Ireland and tried to bring the Irish monasteries into obedience to the General Chapter.

The abbeys of Mellifont, Inislounaght and Monasternenagh all fortified themselves against Stephen’s mission. Other abbeys were visited by Stephen’s appointed lieutenants and with great difficulty the deeply damaging and embarrassing revolt was brought to an end. Fifteen of the Irish monasteries were placed under the supervision of foreign monasteries and the Mellifont affiliation was broken up until finally restored in 1274.

Tintern_de_Voto

Tintern Minor (so called because the first monks came from Tintern in Wales) in County Wexford. It was also called Tintern de Voto from a vow made by its founder William Marshal, who was caught in a storm at sea as he crossed to visit his Irish estates. The abbey was founded around 1200 and, after the dissolution, was granted, eventually, to the Colclough family who turned the church into a house – note the very domestic window on the upper wall of the transept.

At Mainistir na Corann the trouble was very serious – the abbot of Tintern Minor in County Wexford was charged with removing the abbot of Chore and forcing the abbey to conform properly to the Cistercian rule following a penance. But the abbot and monks of Chore rejected this injunction and continued in their merry way.  The abbot of Tintern was obliged to impose an interdict – basically the monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann were forbidden to celebrate Mass and any other sacraments. They couldn’t even bury their dead with the proper rites! To most people this would have been a terrifying penalty – but not to the monks of Chore – they simply ignored the interdiction!

However, the lay people in the parish must have been distressed.  Whatever about the private quarrel of the monks with their order, the interdiction also banned ANY sacraments for the laity because the abbey church at Chore/Mainistir na Corann was also the parish church, and the interdiction against the monks also prohibited the celebration of any sacraments in their church. If the laity couldn’t be sure that their dead were condemned to hell or to purgatory (nobody went straight to heaven!) then it was likely that they sought reassurance from the priests at the neighbouring parishes of Ballinacorra, Ballyspillane, Inchinabecky,Caherultan and Mogeesha. This meant that the abbey would have lost out on dues for the sacraments.

Eventually with the help of the abbot of Tracton (some miles south of Cork) Stephen of Lexington brought Chore/Mainistir na Corann back into line.  As punishment, Chore, like Monasternenagh and Fermoy abbeys, was put under the supervision of Margam Abbey in Wales. The two decades of madness affecting the monks of Chore was at an end, as was the Conspiracy of Mellifont..

The priceless irony of all this was that Stephen of Lexington was elected abbot of Clairvaux in 1242 and was soon removed from office for unsatisfactory performance! Happily his letter to the community at Chore has survived as the oldest letter ever sent to Mainistir na Corann. Bizarrely, like Chore, Fermoy and Tracton, nothing remains of Stanley abbey today.

Before Midleton – the foundation of Mainistir na Corann in 1180: a medieval whodunnit.

Clairvaux undercroft

Sadly, this splendid undercroft is not the remains of the abbey that gave Midleton its Irish name – this is Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, France. Here St Malachy of Armagh met St Bernard of Clairvaux, the abbot, and negotiated the introduction of the Cistercian order into Ireland. This abbey is where Malachy died in St Bernard’s arms in 1148. Today, much of Clairvaux is a high security prison, although it is now possible to visit the surviving monastic remains.

Before Midleton appeared on the map in 1670 there was a history attached to the site of the present town.  This history is usually said to begin in the year 1180 – the date by which a Cistercian abbey was founded on the site of the present town. Sir James Ware, a critically important 17th century historian in Ireland, recorded the event thus……Fundatum anno Dom. 1180, et Monachis repletum Cisterciensibus ex coenobio de Nenay, alias Magio, apud Limericenses.  (Founded in the year of Our Lord 1180, and supplied with monks from the abbey of Nenay, or Maigue, near Limerick.) 

Sadly, in Paul MacCotter’s words, this foundation has been the subject of ‘much rubbish and some good history.’  The rubbish is too often repeated as ‘history’ today by people today because they are generally unaware of the failings of the common source of their ‘information’. Much of what people pass off as ‘information’ on medieval history of a location is derived from Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary – in an earlier post, I warned about relying too much on that particular source!

Curiously, at very least since 1945, there really has been no justification for anyone to repeat the Lewis nonsense.  In that year the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society published a whole issue on the barony of Imokilly.  Included in the issue was a fine article by Denis O’Sullivan on the medieval religious houses of Imokilly. One of O’Sullivan’s aims appears to have been to resolve some of the issues surrounding the history of the abbey at Chore (Midleton), and he paid particular attention to the foundation of the abbey. I suspect he was as underwhelmed as your present author is about the reference by Lewis to a ‘Barry Fitzgerald’ as the founder of Chore Abbey (Midleton). In this post I will attempt to identify the principal founding patron of the abbey of Chore (Midleton). To do this I will take on board the results of Denis O’Sullivan’s careful analysis of the surviving evidence pertaining to the origins of the abbey.

First we must establish some basic information about the abbey. Various sources, but especially the seventeenth century scholar, James Ware, tell us that the abbey was founded at Chore in 1180. Sadly, the second fact is an omission: the name of the founder is not given by Ware. This is unusual, for Ware was a good historian and, because scholars like him preserved so much information, we generally know who founded what in medieval Ireland.  The third detail to note is that the monks came from Monasternenagh Abbey in County Limerick (the Nenay or Maigue of the Latin text quoted above) – a critical detail the importance of which has been too often underestimated when discussing Chore (Midleton). The fourth detail is the distinction drawn by Paul MacCotter between the initial Anglo-Norman invasion of the kingdom of Cork in 1177/1178 and the later Anglo-Norman settlement of the conquered territories.  This brings us back to the first fact above – the foundation year of 1180. You may recall from previous discussions about Ballinacorra that the Anglo-Norman settlement of south-east Cork was not secured until about 1220. The abbey at Chore was well established by then. Interestingly, MacCotter isn’t the first scholar to make this distinction between conquest and settlement – Denis O’Sullivan made exactly the same point in 1945.

When monks were sent out from one monastery to establish another the new monastery was described as a ‘daughter’ of the monastery that supplied the original monks.  The original monastery was considered to be the ‘mother’ house. Thus as the ‘daughters’ of Mellifont provided monks for further monasteries, they helped to create the Mellifont filiation – from the Latin filia or daughter. This was an alliance or affiliation of monasteries that acknowledged Mellifont’s seniority and even permitted it to act as a guardian of their interests.

This monastic filiation or alliance is the critical detail here – it entirely undermines all attempts to attribute the foundation at Chore (Midleton) to the Anglo-Normans. And, oddly, it is a fact the importance of which has been ignored by so many people.

So, how does Denis O’Sullivan reveal the evidence for the Gaelic Irish origins of the Abbey of Chore? He looks at the writings of James Ware’s De Hibernia et Antiquitatibus Eius (London, 1654), Mervyn Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin, 1786) and Louis-Auguste Allemande’s Histoire monastique d’Irlande (Paris, 1690).  O’Sullivan makes it clear that Ware (the earliest of these scholars) never revealed the name of a founder of the abbey of Chore – even in his unpublished manuscripts. Indeed in one of his manuscripts Ware notes that the Barrys were patrons of the abbey – but in the same sentence they are NOT named as the founders. This seems to have been where the confusion arose – because the Barrys of Barrymore were patrons of the abbey at the dissolution, Allemande and Archdall assumed the Barrys (or the Fitzgeralds) were the founders. This idea was picked up by Smith and others, including Lewis, giving us the bizarre Barry Fitzgerald attribution.

But back to the history of the foundation of the abbey of Chore (Midleton).  How did it come about and who was the founder?

Firstly,we must briefly note the twelfth century (1101-1200) reforms in the church in Ireland.  This was part of a general European church reform in matters of discipline and organisation. The Irish church, beginning in 1101, but especially with the synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, was remodelled into a diocesan structure following the Continental model. Part of the reform included establishing clearly defined territorial dioceses – a nightmare in a country with shifting political boundaries. Within these dioceses parishes were created to minister to the local communities. These usually consisted of several townlands – see our previous posts on this topic.  These medieval parishes were still being created up to and after the year 1200, but historians believe that most parishes were created by that date. These parishes survived the centuries as the famous Civil Parishes on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (mid-1800s) – they were ‘civil’ because they represented the parishes of the state church that was created following the Reformation.  They are still an important reference point for genealogists in Ireland. The parishes were grouped into rural deaneries.  One such deanery was Imokilly. This was simply an ecclesiastical administrative structure within the diocese – it need not detain us any further.

Mellifont Lavabo

The ruins of the lavabo or hand-washing place in the cloister of Mellifont. The remains of the mother house of most of the medieval Cistercian monasteries in Ireland were ravaged by quarrying after the abbey was dissolved in the reformation. Mellifont was founded at the southern extremity of the diocese of Armagh in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh. The first monks came directly from Clairvaux.

Another important result of the twelfth century reforms was the introduction of Continental religous orders into Ireland. The Augustinians seem to have been the first to be introduced. But in 1142, St Malachy of Armagh introduced the Cistercians directly from Clairvaux, with the blessing of St Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest of the Cistercians, and one of the most influential religious leaders in twelfth century Europe The importance of this can hardly be overstated, because the Cistercians influenced church architecture in medieval Ireland to an extraordinary degree. The Abbey of Mellifont in County Louth, founded by St Malachy in 1142, very quickly produced offspring by providing monks to found new Cistercian houses elsewhere in Ireland. One of these new foundations was the abbey of Monasternenagh, founded in 1148, near Croom in County Limerick.  In the same year, our old friend Diarmaid McMurrough, King of Leinster, founded a Cistercian monastery at Baltinglass in County Wicklow with monks from Mellifont. Baltinglass would send out monks to found Abbeymahon monastery in County Cork in 1172. This was the same Diarmaid McMurrough who may have sailed from Imokilly to bring the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in the 1160s!

Monasternenagh

Monasternenagh, near Croom in County Limerick, was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on lands taken from the O’Donovans. The first monks came from Mellifont. This was the mother house of Chore (Midleton). Monasternenagh may have been founded to celebrate Turlough’s crushing defeat of the O’Donovans. This victory allow the O’Briens to secure their authority over what is now County Limerick. Turlough’s vicitory a serious setback for the MacCarthys, the rivals of the O’Briens for the dominance of the province of Munster.

Monasternenagh (Mainistir an Aonaigh – the Monastery of the Fair – it was built on an ancient fairground, in Latin it was called de Magio – of the Maigue, from the river bordering the site) was founded by Turlough O’Brian, king of Munster from 1142 to 1167. However, Monasternenagh was not founded on O’Brien lands. Turlough O’Brian had recently defeated the O’Donovans and took some of their most valuable lands to provide a site, and an endowment, for his new Cistercian monastery.  It should be noted that founding a monastery of this type in Ireland at the time advertised the founder as a modernising reformer of the church in Ireland. The O’Donovans were long standing allies of the MacCarthys, kings of Desmond or Cork, and rivals of the O’Briens.  By founding Monasternenagh Abbey on O’Donovan lands, Turlough O’Brien meant to ensure that that the O’Donovans could never recover their ancestral lands!  Turlough’s son, Donal Mor O’Brien would later drive out the O’Donovans and their allies for good, sending the O’Donovans to south west Cork. It is worth noting that Monasternenagh may actually have been founded to mark an important victory – just as William the Conqueror built Battle Abbey on Senlac hill, the site of his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror to celebrate his victory over King Harold at Hastings in 1066. The O’Brien kings appear to have followed this idea of founding religious houses on or near the site of their victories.

Within a few decades, the community at Monasternenagh provided monks for new foundations – Inishlounaght and Holy Cross in County Tipperary, and Chore (Midleton) in County Cork.  Inishlounaght soon provided monks to found the abbey of Fermoy in the diocese of Cloyne in 1170. Ten years later, Monasternenagh provided monks for both Holy Cross and Chore (Midleton). Intriguingly, it seems that Holy Cross seems to have been founded in exact imitation of William the Conqueror’s Battle Abbey, for Holy Cross abbey stands on or very near the site of the battle of Thurles (1174) where Donal Mor O’Brien, king of Thomond, inflicted the first defeat on the Anglo-Norman invaders.  It was certainly founded in imitation of Monasternengah, which was itself founded by Donal’s father, Turlough, to celebrate a victory over the O’Donovans. Clearly there was a pattern to the O’Brien policy of founding such religious houses, but it is the later history of Holy Cross that provides interesting parallels with Chore (Midleton).

Baltinglass Abbey

Baltinglass Abbey in County Wicklow was founded in 1148 by Diarmait MacMurrough – the man who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland. This abbey was founded in the same year as Monasternenagh, which was also the year in which St Malachy of Armagh died at Clairvaux.

Now it is important to remember that there were only four Cistercian monasteries in County Cork – two were founded in the diocese of Cloyne (Fermoy and Chore) the others were Abbeymahon (1185, diocese of Ross) and Tracton (1224, diocese of Cork). Abbymahon was founded from Baltinglass by Diarmaid MacCarthy in 1185, so it was a part of the Mellifont filiation.  However, Tracton, the last of the medieval Cistercian monasteries created in Ireland, was founded by the Anglo-Norman Odo de Barry in 1224. Tracton’s founding monks came from Whitland in England.  This is the critical detail to keep in mind – the Cistercian abbeys founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Normans drew their founding monks directly from either England or Wales and they remained culturally English until the dissolution. In the 1200s Inislounaght would be poacned from the Mellifont filiation and placed permanently under the abbey of Furness in England.

Thus two groups of Cistercian monasteries developed in Ireland – native Irish foundations, almost all of which were linked to Mellifont, and the English foundations which admitted no Irish monks. Of the thirty-six Cistercian abbeys in medieval Ireland, twenty-seven were affiliated to Mellifont.  All the others were founded by the Anglo-Normans from English and Welsh monasteries and were affiliated to English and Welsh monasteries.

Holy Cross Abbey front

Holy Cross Abbey near Thurles in County Tipperary was founded in 1180, the same year that Chore Abbey (Midleton) was founded. This abbey was established by Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, the son of the Turlough O’Brien who founded Monasternenagh in 1148. Like his father, Donal wished to commemorate a victory in battle, in this case the Battle of Thurles in 1174, when he inflicted the first real defeat on the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland. Ironically, Donal Mor O’Brien was a relative by marriage of Diarmait MacMurrough, who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland!

And this is Denis O’Sullivan’s most important point in his 1945 article. The Cistercian monasteries founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Norman were NOT linked to Mellifont.  Chore (Midleton) was linked to Mellifont, because it was founded from Monasternenagh which was itself founded from Mellifont in 1148. In effect, Chore (Midleton) was a  grand-daughter of Mellifont – and the majority of its abbots whose names are recorded were native Irish..One other thing we must do is consider Paul MacCotter’s useful division of the early Anglo-Norman period in Ireland into a conquest phase and a settlement phase.  This division is matters because there could be several years between the initial conquest and parcelling out of conquered lands, and a determined Anglo-Norman settlement in those lands.

So now we know that Chore (Midleton) was a native Irish Cistercian abbey, but who exactly founded it? Crime writers tell us that to solve a whodunnit you need to establish motive and means to identify the culprit.  This sounds like a good approach to so we’ll apply it here.

First the means. The monks from Monasternenagh simply couldn’t walk into Imokilly and take the land.  This land was already occupied by someone. And evictions were not pleasant experience in twelfth century Ireland, just as they are not pleasant experiences in post-crash Ireland today.  You can be sure the local bishop would have objected if he hadn’t been consulted first, for the Cistercians did not allow their abbeys to be placed under diocesan control. Sadly, the surviving records (Ware and others) do not give the names of the founders.  But Denis O’Sullivan was able to show that the founders were likely to be two particular local men. The clue that O’Sullivan noted was the location of the abbey estates. These estates were concentrated in two specific areas. The bulk of the monastic estate was in a single block situated on the east bank of the Owenacurra river, in the northern half of the large parish of Ballinacorra.  This area comprised the modern townlands of Townparks, Park North, Park South, the northern half of Castleredmond, Broomfield West and Broomfield East, and the later townland of School-lands. These lands were part of the patrimony of the See of Cloyne. But, although we have no evidence for it, one must wonder if these lands were shared with, or possibly farmed by, the Mac Tire family who would have paid a rent to the bishop. Add to this some lands due north of Mogeely were added to the abbey’s estate by the Mac Tire chief. These were Killeenamanagh (literally ‘the little cell of the monks’) and the next townland to the north, Ballygibbon. These last two effectively formed a detached grange of the main monastic estate.  In all some two thousand acres were included in the founding grant of the monastery. To top up the funds from this estate, the tithes of Mogeely, and the tithes of the newly founded monastic parish of Chore were granted to the monastery. It should be noted that in the fourteenth century record called the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, the lands originally held by the Mac Tire in Mogeely were actually property of the See of Cloyne, valued at five knight’s fees. By the time the Pipe Roll records were composed, the MacTire had lost their property. So it is not impossible that the Mac Tire also held lands in the parish of Ballinacorra up to the year 1180.

Now you may recall that Monasternenagh was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on sword-land, that is land won by the sword from the O’Donovans. This custom of founding monasteries on sword-land was a means of preventing one’s enemy from taking those lands.  The MacTire family contributed to the foundation of Chore because it seems they realised that their own estates were under threat from the Anglo-Normans who had arrived in 1177/1178.  By granting part of the estates to a religious foundation, they prevented the land from falling into the hands of their enemies.  This proved to be a wise move given that just two years later in 1182, five Anglo-Norman knights, including Milo de Cogan, were murdered in the MacTire seat at Mogeely, sparking off a major revolt against the invaders.  De Cogan, you might recall was one of the two leaders of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Cork, along with Robert FitzStephen, whose illegitimate son was also killed at Mogeely. After this rebellion was put down by Raymond le Gros from 1173, the Mac Tire sept seem to have lost their lands.

However, the MacTire connection only accounts definitively for two specific townlands, directly controlled by that family. What about the rest of the property, which constituted the main monastic estate in a single block?  This was the actual site of the present town of Midleton, in the northern half of the parish of Ballinacorra.  This land was likely to have been church land before 1180, let out to tenants, in this case probably the MacTire family. Thus the means for establishing the abbey really belonged to the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh.  As for motive?  Well that too was pretty much something the bishop had.

It is likely that the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh, was the prime mover in founding Chore Abbey (Midleton). And it is likely that he had a similar motive to the Mac Tire family. His first aim was religious – the Cistercians represented the best of the reforming ideals sweeping the church in Ireland.  But Bishop Matthew may also have had more material motives. In granting diocesan lands to a religious foundation the bishop probably hoped to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.   The behaviour of the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland was often brutal – they had sacked the ecclesiastical town of Lismore, seat of the Papal Legate in Ireland, during their initial invasion, and they were not likely to respect Cross lands – that is land held directly by the diocese.

Lismore cathedral nave

Lismore Cathedral was the seat of the Papal Legate to Ireland – but that didn’t stop the Anglo-Normans from sacking the place during their invasion. Was this atrocity an incentive to the bishop of nearby Cloyne to found Chore Abbey (Midleton)?

As it was, the des Autres, or de Altaribus family, built their castle right next to the existing church in Ballinacorra and soon granted tithes of Ballinacorra and Ballymartyr (now Ballyoughtera) to the Augustinian abbey of St Thomas the Martyr in Dublin. It is not known if the des Autres consulted the bishop before erecting their castle. They might have been obliged to come to terms with the bishop somewhat later, for the Pipe Roll of Cloyne indicates that the site was held on a rent to the bishop in the following century. This threat to diocesan property may have been an incentive for the bishop to establish a Cistercian monastery on his vulnerable See lands. It is worth noting that the much maligned Prince John of England, in his capacity as Lord of Ireland, was actually quite good at laying down the law on the Anglo-Norman magnates in Ireland – he insisted that church land in Ireland be left untouched and that these lands should remain in the hands of the church authorities. It is known that very early during the Anglo-Norman settlement, John issued a writ of protection to the bishop of Limerick making it clear that anyone encroaching on church lands would incur severe punishment. (And yes, this is the same King John of Robin Hood infamy!)

Even more interesting, if we look at the names of the known abbots of Chore (Midleton), we find that most of them were Gaelic Irish, with hardly any Anglo-Norman or English names in the list until the very end. Clearly, Chore Abbey (Midleton) was a Gaelic Irish foundation and remained Gaelic in culture long after its foundation. It seems certain that Bishop Matthew O’Mongaigh of Cloyne was the principal founder of Chore Abbey, with support, or donations of land, from the Mac Tire chieftain at the time.  So now you know whodunnit.

Before Midleton there was……Mainistir na Corann.

New Signs Midleton

Sign erected at the Waterford/Youghal entrance to Midleton in autumn 2014. The Cistercian monk weilding a sickle makes sense for the foundation of the abbey in 1180 , but the Anglo-Norman knight suggests a lack of research.  Is he the mythical ‘Redmond Barry’ who supposedly founded the abbey?  A figure in Cromwellian or Restoration costume might make more sense for the Charter of 1670. The sheaf of wheat or barley on the main sign represents the distilling tradition of the town.  The coat of arms was only granted in the late 20th century to the town council, which was abolished in a local government ‘reform’ in 2014.

As I mentioned in a previous post, Midleton became the name of a a settlement in eastern County Cork only in 1670 when King Charles II granted a charter of incorporation to St John Brodrick, the local landlord, and thereby set up the town of Midleton as a parliamentary borough.  Today as you approach Midleton from either Cork or Waterford, the visitor will notice large signs giving two names – Mainistir na Corann 1180 and Midleton 1670.  It seems odd that a town should have two foundation dates, but actually the town only has one foundation date – 1670. The other date refers to the foundation of a Cistercian monastery on the site in 1180.

As a schoolboy in Midleton one of the earliest things I learned was the name of the town in Irish – Mainistir na Corann.  We were told that this meant ‘the monastery of the weir.’  It was explained that there was a monastery where the town was now built and, to my great disappointment, it had disappeared long ago.

Thomas Crofton Cloyne Round Tower

Cloyne Round Tower is the last remnant of the early Christian monastery that dominated the religious life of much of East Cork before 1200. This illustration by Mariane Nicholson was published in Thomas Crofton’s book ‘Researches in the South of Ireland’ (1824).

Much later I learned that the monastery was not as old as St Colman’s monastery at nearby Cloyne, St Declan’s monastery in Ardmore, County Waterford, or St Carthage’s important monastery at Lismore, also in County Waterford.  Midleton only really paid attention to the pre-1670 heritage in 1980 when the parish celebrated the foundation of the monastery eight centuries earlier, in 1180.  There was an exhibition of books and manuscripts from the library of the nearest Cistercian monastery – Mount Mellary in County Waterford.  A small monument was put up in the town and a booklet published to commemorate the foundation.  And that, basically, was it.

One thing we didn’t do was highlight the remains of the monastery because there is nothing left of it.  It seems that the last remnants were swept away to pay for building St John the Baptist Church (Anglican) in the 1820s. Quite literally the Cistercian abbey has, it seems, been wiped from the face of the earth and is only commemorated in the Irish name of the town.  But to confuse matters, when the Christian Brothers came to Midleton to run a school in the 1860s, they were settled at part of the former Hackett’s Distillery on the Mill Road.  It was remarked then, and since, that this was the site of the medieval monastery.  Certainly there’s a weir nearby, and the Cistercians had owned the site at Broomfield up to the Reformation.  But I’m suspicious – did someone get their facts about the precise location of the abbey mixed up, or did the facts arrive after the arrival of the Christian Brothers?  When your town or locality doesn’t have a local history society to promote considered and careful research (and knowledge) then stories will come about that make no sense.

St John's Midleton

The present Church of St John the Baptist in Midleton is the third or fourth one on the site. It is believed to stand on the site of the Cistercian abbey that gave us the name Mainistir na Corann – the Irish name for Midleton. The present Anglican church was built in 1825 to designs by James and Richard Pain.

The foundation of the Cistercian abbey is also repeatedly ascribed to the Anglo-Normans (my paternal ancestors), who arrived in Ireland in 1169 and only took Cork in the later 1170s.  So the foundation by ‘Redmond Barry’ was thought to be correct – it’s given by Samuel Lewis in his Topographical Dictionary of Ireland (1837).  This is specious nonsense – but it is repeated ad nauseam, even on the Wikipedia entry for Midleton. This early period is little studied due to lack of surviving documents – but in the 1940s this myth of a Norman foundation was firmly debunked by Denis O’Sullivan in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

Midleton Bridge

The five arched bridge over the Owenacurra River in Midleton in the evening sunlight. This bridge carries the road to Cork. The river is not especially deep here – I stood in the middle of it just below the bridge last summer, without getting my feet wet (and there was water flowing around me). The Owenacurra can be particularly shallow after a dry spell, but it can transform into a raging torrent after heavy rains.

 What I am going to do is explore Midleton before Midleton, just to set the record straight, and throw in a few ideas of my own. If I upset anyone still clinging to outmoded ideas, tough!  History is about revision – not for the mere sake of revision, but to gain a more accurate picture of the past.  I do hope you’ll join me on this exploration.