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).
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.