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.

2017 -Tercentenaries and other commemorations.

midleton-college-pic1

The original foundation building of Midleton Endowed School (now Midleton College) was completed under the supervision of Thomas Brodrick in 1717 and opened to take in pupils later that year. The present appearance of the front of the building is affected by the loss of the original cupola over the front door before 1750, and the blocking of windows probably in the 1820s refurbishment by the architect Joseph Welland, who was born about a mile away. The wing on the left is a later nineteenth century addition.

This year will see two tercentenaries marked in Midleton. First up comes the 300th anniversary of the first teaching year at Midleton College. The College, or Endowed School, was founded in 1696 by Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, on a site in Midleton provided by the Brodrick family as a sort of payment for their political and legal assistance in helping her to resolve the disputes over King William III’s (William of Orange) grant of her Irish estates. The Free School, as it was also called, was finally completed in 1717 and George Chinnery was appointed its first Headmaster. It also took in its first pupils shortly after Chinnery’s appointment. Oh, and the School Governors finally paid off one of the joiners for providing the wainscotting to the schoolroom! I’ll follow up with a post on the vicissitudes of the foundation, and delayed completion, of the school in a later post. Suffice to say that the design of the original foundation building is intriguing because of its ultimate source. The design and construction of the building was specifically placed in the hands of Thomas Brodrick, the older of St John Brodrick’s two sons.

Alan_Brodrick

Alan Brodrick (1656?-1727), 1st Viscount Midleton, former Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

The second tercentenary to be marked is that of the creation of the Viscountcy of Midleton. In 1717, Alan Brodrick, Lord Chancellor of Ireland since 11th October 1714, was elevated as The Viscount Midleton. He already held a lessor title, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, since 1715 but this new title moved him up one rank in the peerage. It should be noted that his elevation was based on his own political acumen and credentials. Oddly, his older brother, Thomas Brodrick MP, was never given a title despite his chairmanship of the British parliamentary inquiry into the South Sea Bubble crash of 1720. Very likely the inquiry’s report accusing too many ministers of corruption left Tom Brodrick in a bad odour in Court circles.  Alan Brodrick remained Lord Chancellor of Ireland until 1725 when, in the wake of a dispute with Speaker William Connolly, he resigned. Unfortunately for him, Alan Brodrick was blamed by the Irish peers and MPs for the British Parliament’s Dependency of Ireland upon Great Britain Act of 1719 (popularly called the Declaratory Act) which asserted the British parliament’s right to make laws binding on Ireland notwithstanding the existence of the Irish parliament. In fact that Act came about due to the obstinacy of the Irish peers in Parliament who ignored the wiser advice of given them by Brodrick in the matter.  Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, held his titles as a member of the Irish peerage, which meant that he could not sit in the British House of Lords. However, he did sit in the British House of Commons as an MP following election for Midhurst. The title Viscount Midleton is still extant having passed to a cousin on the death of the second Earl of Midleton in the later 20th century.

midleton-market-house-clock

Midleton’s Market House now serves as the town library. The Tricolour was provocatively flown from the upper windows in 1917. Happily, the clock is due to be repaired this year.

In Easter 1917, a group of young nationalists in Midleton decided on a dramatic stunt to commemorate the first anniversary of the Easter Rising.  They got into the Market House on Main Street in Midleton and unfurled the ‘Republican Flag’ (the green, white and orange Irish tricolour) out of a window on the upper floor. At the time, this was a highly illegal gesture because the British authorities were still sensitive to any hint of sedition a year after the Easter Rising in 1916. It seems to have been the first know attempt to display in Midleton the flag that eventually became the national flag of the Irish state. The Market House now houses the public library. There are proposals to conserve and repair the Town Clock on the Market House this year. As an aside, a certain Henry Ford, whose family came from County Cork, established a tractor factory in Cork in 1917!

aghada-hall

Aghada Hall became the base of the US Naval Air Station Queenstown from 1918. The US Navy took up station in Cork Harbour in May 1917.

Of course there are other anniversaries to commemorate in 2017 – the centenary of the arrival of the US Navy into Cork Harbour as the United States was compelled to enter the First World War by the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram which offered Mexico most of the western parts of the United States in return for attacking the US. It’s rather ironic that President-elect Donald Trump is indulging in sabre-rattling against Mexico a century later! The Germans were desperate in 1917 – is Trump desperate in 2017?

passchendaele

Battlefield or the swamp of Hell? They sent men to fight and die in that – the battlefield of Passchendaele in 1917.

Staying with the Great War, we will see the necessarily grim commemorations of the horrific battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It lasted as long as the Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916) which we commemorated in Midleton by unveiling and dedicating a World War I memorial. For all the horrors of the Somme, Passchendaele was worse for the ground in Flanders was churned to mud and many of those who died were actually drowned rather than died of wounds inflicted by weapons.

luther-theses

Martin Luther’s protest at the abuse of church power sparked off the Protestant Reformation from 1517.

October 31st 2017 (yes, Hallowe’en!) will mark the 500th anniversary of the famous incident when the Augustinian friar Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the University church in Wittenberg to spark a debate on the efficacy and validity of indulgences. This act (which may or may not have happened) sparked off a movement that led to the Protestant Reformation. This is undoubtedly the biggest commemoration this year – and, hopefully, historians will provide new insights into a complex development.

This is just a sample of the events for this year.

Happy New Year!