‘And one hen for the lord at Christmas’ – Ballycotton in 1364.



Ballycotton on its headland, with its two islands and tiny harbour for fishermen.

The fishing village of Ballycotton in East Cork is perched on a cliff with a headland providing modest protection for its tiny harbour. The modern village is apparently bereft of any buildings older than the early 19th century. Yet the site was settled for centuries. The village was certainly there before 1364 when the tenants were recorded in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne (Rotulus Pipae Clonensis), the most valuable account of the manors and estates of the Bishop of Cloyne to survive to the present day. Sadly, the original Pipe Roll was destroyed in the burning of the Public Record Office in Dublin in 1922. Fortunately for us, a Cork historian and antiquarian, Richard Caulfield, published the entire document in 1859. However, there were errors in that publication, probably the fault of the printer rather than of Caulfield himself. In 1996, the Cloyne Literary and Historical Society published a new edition, based on Caulfield’s original. but not content with simply republishing the original, the Society worked with two excellent editors, Paul MacCotter and Kenneth Nicholls, to produce a wonderful edition consisting of the original Latin text on one page, with the English translation on the facing page, and an enormous, and priceless, collection of Endnotes and Commentary taking up half the volume.

To illustrate the richness of the Pipe Roll as a record of mediaeval East Cork, in this post I am going to present the names of those who rented land from the Bishop of Cloyne at Ballycotton barely two decades after the Black Death had decimated the population of Ireland and Europe.

The name of the settlement given in the document was Balycottyn but other mediaeval spellings included Balycotekyn (1260), Balycocekyn (1275-76), probably derived from the Irish Baile Coitchinn – ‘common town’ since it was inhabited by common folk rather than clerics or gentlemen.

Ballycotton is described as consisting of two ploughlands of arable land, six acres of meadow land, thirty acres of turbary (peat bog), forty acres of moor and pasture, and sixty acres of underwood (scrubland).

The Bishop kept in hand one and a half ploughlands, six and a half acres of meadow, thirty acres of turf bog, forty acres of moorland, and the sixty acres of scrubland. Ballycotton was part of the Manor of Cloyne – one of several manors that belonged to the Bishop of Cloyne. There was no record of a church there and it should be noted that the village was always part of the parish of Cloyne. The inhabitants were mostly tied to the manor in 1364 – that is they were serfs or villeins who had no access to the King’s courts of law.

Gilbert Walys (Walsh)* held 56 ‘acres as they lie’ in betaghry (serfdom). That is his land was measured by custom rather than by a precise survey.  Gilbert owed 37s 4d in annual rent. He also paid 2s 4d annually on the feast of St Peter in Chains (1st August) for reaping the Bishop’s corn.

The same Gilbert Walys also held a second small parcel of land nearby at a rent of 3s 1d and 4d for reaping.

The 20 acres of land formerly held by William O’Longhan was now held by unnamed occupiers for 13s 4d and 10d for reaping.

The 15 acres formerly held by William Goygh were rented to the occupiers for 10s and 7 12 d for reaping.

Laurence O’Longhan held 14 acres in betaghry for 9s 4d annually and 7d for reaping.

The son of Laurence Codd held in fee farm (perpetual lease) fourteen acres besides his own holding at 13s 8d. He ploughed an acre in two days in spring for the Bishop and and also weeded the Bishop’s corn for two days in autumn. He was not permitted to interfere with the moor which lay beside his own moor.

Then comes a list of cottagers:

Richard Pussagh paid 6d annually for his cottage, Geoffrey Codd paid 12d, Thomas O’Duyr paid 6d, O’Lorkan paid 6d, as did Luke Lowys, Philip Barry, Adam Gogh, David O’Bryn, and David O’Fyn. John O’Kynel (O’Kineally) paid 3d for his cottage. It seems that all of these cottages had gardens attached to supply additional foodstuffs.

In addition to the rent all of these people in the cottages were fishermen – it is likely that those with larger holdings were also fishermen. They had to sell fish to the Bishop at a discount – he could take fish worth 12d for just 8d.. In season they had to sell a ling to the Bishop for just 2d, a cod for one and a half pence, three haddocks for 1d. However, the  Bishop was not entitled to take more fish than he actually required for his household.

Further obligations the Bishop’s tenants had to render to the lord of the manor included making turning and gathering the Bishop’s hay, they had to week the Bishop’s corn, and make the Bishop’s turf. Failing that they had to pay the bishop 3d. For every cow they possessed they paid the Bishop 3d, and if they had sheep, six sheep were counted as a single cow.

One final obligation was imposed on the tenants at Ballycotton – each man had to present the Bishop with a hen at Christmas.

As a document the Pipe Roll of Cloyne gives a wonderful insight into the lives of the tenants not just of Ballycotton but of all the Bishop’s estates in the fourteenth century.

*Correction: I had previously put the name Walys down as Wallace/Wallis. This was incorrect. The name is actually Walsh – a common name in East Cork.

(Source: Paul MacCotter and Kenneth Nicholls, editors: The Pipe Roll of Cloyne – Rotulus Pipae Clonensis. Cloyne Literary and Historical Society, 1996.)


Ballinacorra’s medieval import? Dundry stone for Cloyne Cathedral.

The blocked up great window of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral. The carved stone that marks the outline of the window is not native to Cloyne or even to Ireland. It was imported from Dundry near Bristol in the thirteenth century.

The blocked up great window of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral. The carved stone that marks the outline of the window is not native to Cloyne or even to Ireland. It was imported from Dundry near Bristol in the thirteenth century. Sadly the great window was crudely blocked up in the middle of the eighteenth century to accommodate the memorials of the Longfield family of nearby Castle Mary.

‘The only part of the building to survive more or less intact from the early Gothic era is the south transept, where there are plenty of original details cut in imported Dundry stone.’

Professor Roger Stalley.

The old phrase ‘coals to Newcastle’ refers to the shipping of coal from Newcastle to London from the seventeenth century. The idea that anyone would ship coal TO Newcastle in the far north of England was so odd that the phrase  was used to  describe very peculiar behaviour. Yet Ireland, a land rich in stone, imported tons of stone from England during the medieval period! Sometimes, if you know where to look, you can just pick up evidence of the trading links that existed in a place centuries ago. However, some of this evidence may reveal something of the local Irish trading patterns and infrastructure in medieval times.

The Waterford Museum of Treasures is the best municipal museum system in Ireland. The medieval museum is a modern building built on the vaulted undercroft of the Choristers' Hall beside Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford. Dundry stone was used to clad this building in recognition of the original use of the stone for the medieval cathedral.

The Waterford Museum of Treasures is the best municipal museum system in Ireland. The medieval museum is a modern building built on the vaulted undercroft of the Choristers’ Hall beside Christchurch Cathedral in Waterford. Dundry stone was used to clad this building in recognition of the original use of the stone for the medieval cathedral. This picture gives a good idea of the pale honey colour of the stone.

Recently I read a fascinating book edited by Professor Roger Stalley of Trinity College Dublin. The book, Irish Gothic Architecture: construction, decay and reinvention, is a collection of excellent research essays on the topic of later medieval Irish architecture, particularly Gothic architecture, although it also looks at nineteenth century perceptions of Gothic architecture. The essays are wonderful, but one made me sit up and go back over it carefully. The reason was the sentence quoted at the top of this post. The essay discussed the building of several cathedrals in Ireland in the thirteenth century, but the discussion of Cloyne Cathedral is important for those interested in south-east Cork.  While most of the stonework in the windows of the cathedral has been redone at a later stage, especially in the nineteenth century, those windows in the south transept are original to the building. They were created when the transept was first built in the 1200s.

How did Professor Stalley know this? Well he certainly didn’t consult any surviving documents. Instead he looked at the woindows, especially on  the outside, and realized that the stone used to build these windows wasn’t local. But he recognized the stone, nonetheless. It is an oolitic limestone that came from Dundry, a quarry located in the extreme north of Somerset and only a few miles south of Bristol, in the west of England!

The medieval vaulted undercroft of the Choristers' Hall in Waterford was built of Dundry Stone. The arcade was inserted later, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

The medieval vaulted undercroft of the Choristers’ Hall in Waterford was built of Dundry Stone. The arcade was inserted later, in the sixteenth or seventeenth century.

Dundry stone was imported into Ireland following the Anglo-Norman invasion of 1169/70. This stone was famously used to build Christchurch Cathedral in Dublin, but in fact, was used in churches from Kinsale in County Cork to Trim in County Meath. It was used for parish churches, monastic churches and cathedrals, but now Cloyne Cathedral joins the list. But why import stone into a country that is already rich in building stone? The most likely reason is that some of the principal masons working on these churches were also English. These English masons came to Ireland because they were familiar with erecting and decorating large stone churches, which were still a fairly new phenomenon in Ireland, having been introduced here just thirty years earlier..

Now these English masons almost certainly came from the West Country of England, for the architecture of Christchurch, Dublin, and other buildings, suggest similarities to some of the architectural features used in the west of England.churches. These masons were entirely familiar with the stone that was available in the west of England.. But in Ireland they discovered that the local stone was different – mostly a hard limestone that the masons found difficult to carve. So they did what the first Norman masons did in England just after the Conquest in 1066 – they imported the stone that they were familiar with. So, just as the earliest Norman masons imported Caen stone for the Tower of London, so the earliest English masons in Ireland imported Dundry stone to make the carved window openings and other decorations. However, by the time the cathedral was built in Cloyne, it is possible that most of the work was done by Irish masons. Sadly, the cathedral accounts do not survive so we really don’t know who built the structure. Whoever they were, they knew about Dundry stone and they chose it for the window openings.

Building the Tower of Babel was a favoured imaged of medieval book illuminators because it depicted the vanity of man. These images are valuable for modern scholars seeking to understand the workings of medieval masons.

Building the Tower of Babel was a favoured imaged of medieval book illuminators because it depicted the vanity of man. These images are valuable for modern scholars seeking to understand the workings of medieval masons.

But what Stalley does not consider is the implications of importing this stone from England into south-east Cork . This is where economics come into play. Most of the Dundry stone used in Ireland went to places that were accessible by water, being located either on the coast or by a river.The reason this mattered was simple – it just cost too much to freight the stone by cart over land. The more of the stone that could be shipped by water as close as possible to the building site, the cheaper the cost of importing it.

The three eastern windows of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral are also framed in Dundry stone.

The three eastern windows of the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral are also framed in Dundry stone.

So we need to identify a port that could have been used to import the Dundry stone. Given the economics of moving building stone over land, I would suggest three possible candidates – Ballycotton (directly facing the Bristol Channel, Aghada, the first seat of Robert FitzStephen in Cork and just inside the entrance to Cork Harbour, and Ballinacorra. The first, Ballycotton, presents problems, because it does not seem to have been a major port with the appropriate facilities for offloading heavy cargo. By the time the cathedral was built in Cloyne, Ballycotton seems to have become a fishing village only. Aghada was only used as a caput baroniae (baronial seat) for a short period in the late twelfth century, by 1200 it had been replaced by Ballinacorra. Ballinacorra is much further from the open sea than Aghada, being part of the inner harbour area and possessed ancient links to Cloyne – its ‘great church’ was dedicated to St Colman, suggesting that it was founded directly from Cloyne, probably as a port within Cork Harbour. The present Ballinacorra village is located just a few miles from Cloyne and the terrain is not difficult, so getting shipments of Dundry stone to the cathedral site would have been relatively easy. Remember, only the cut stone was being shipped in – this was a very small amount of the overall amount of stone used in the cathedral. My own opinion, alas not supported by any documentary evidence, is that the Dundry stone for Cloyne came through the port of Ballinacorra.

Sadly, in the middle of the eighteenth century the Longfield family of nearby Castle Mary had the great thirteenth century five light window in the south transept of Cloyne Cathedral crudely blocked up to provide space for their family memorials.

(Note: I exclude Youghal from the above list of ports because it was really only established in the early thirteenth century.)

Reference:Roger Stalley, editior, Irish Gothic Architecture: construction, decay and reinvention. Wordwell Press, Dublin 2012. The quotation at the head of this post is is from the essay by Roger Stalley: ‘Cathedral-building in thirteenth century Ireland,’ contained within the volume. .

The RNLB Mary Stanford out of Ballycotton rescues the crew of the Daunt Rock Lightship, February 1936


Gribble’s painting of the rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock Lightship by the Ballycotton-based RNLB Mary Stanford in February 1936.

(This post was amended later on 12 February to include some new details)

Ballycotton, a small fishing village and holiday destination situated on an east-facing headland in East Cork, is an old village that was once an estate of the Bishop of Cloyne.  Settlement in the area goes back many centuries.  We know who lived there in the 1200s because the text of the Pipe Roll of Cloyne has survived and been re-edited and republished most recently by Paul MacCotter and Kenneth Nicholls. Unfortunately anyone searching for Ballycotton’s medieval remains will be disappointed, since the medieval village was eroded into the sea centuries ago.  One extraordinary discovery there in the 19th century was a cross brooch from the 8th-9th century.  This gold brooch has a central inset with early Arabic script on it which seems to be the earliest Islamic inscription found in Ireland!  Clearly Ballycotton was an important harbour in the early medieval period – probably replaced by Ballinacorra as the port for Cloyne at a later date. The present village of Ballycotton dates from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Ballycotton Cross

The Ballycotton Cross is a brooch found in a bog near Ballycotton in the 19th century. Dating from the 8th or 9th centuries, it contains a black gemstone at the centre with an Islamic inscription in early Arabic script, which is clearly visible in this image! Image: Trustees of the British Museum.

Ballycotton’s links to the sea include its valuable service as the base of a lifeboat station of the Royal National Lifeboat Institution since 1858.  Nearby Crosshaven (on the western shore of Cork Harbour) and Youghal also boast lifeboat stations – which gives an idea of the dangerous nature of the shore on this stretch of County Cork’s coastline.  What makes this shore particlarly treacherous are the shoals or rocks lying just below the surface, for at low tide the viewer can see shelf of rock stretching out to sea – a nasty prospect for any vessel caught in a southerly or south easterly wind blowing hard ashore.  This same shelf can provide splendid beaches where there is sand, but it is the rocks that pose a serious threat. To make matters worse, there are a number of rocky islands – two at Ballycotton Head and one at Knockadoon Head.  Only one of these islands has a lighthouse – it stands on the larger of the two islands off Ballycotton.  In addition, there are lighthouses at Youghal and Roches Point.

On 7th February 1936 a huge storm drove a south-easterly gale on to the coast of Cork.  This storm developed into something approaching a hurricane. The wind was so strong that the spray from the waves breaking of the cliffs was sent over the lantern of the Ballycotton Lighthouse – over 196 feet above sea level!  The mighty stones that made up the breakwater of Ballycotton harbour were ripped up and tossed about. Slates were ripped from the roofs of the houses – and the telephone cables were cut. The fishermen of Ballycotton spent 10th February securing their vessels as best they could in their small harbour.


Kevin Dwyer’s aerial image of Ballycotton and its two islands. The lighthouse stands on the island at the bottom of the picture. The storm of 1936 sent spray over this lighthouse – 196 feet above sea level! The small harbour of Ballycotton is visible beyond the smaller island. The Mary Stanford slipped between the two islands on her outward voyage to her famous rescue mission.

About 8.00 am on the morning of 11th February, the lifeboat station in Ballycotton received an SOS delivered by car. The station was notified that the Lights Vessel Comet had broken her moorings off Daunt Rock and was drifting towards Ballycotton.

The LV Comet was a lightship – a floating lighthouse – on station off the Daunt Rock.  This is a dangerous undersea rock that comes perilously close to the surface some miles due south of the resort of Fountainstown (on the western side of Cork Harbour).   Lightships were tough, very heavy ships designed to withstand severe storms at sea.  Usually lightships were moored above or near a marine hazard to warn shipping of the danger lurking below the waves.  A previous lightship at the Daunt Rock had been lost in 1896 – the bodies of the crew were never recovered.  However, if a lightship should break her moorings and drift, then because of her strong construction, she would pose a serious hazard to other ships.  This wasn’t quite the situation in February 1936 – but it was perilously close to it.  The Comet managed to secure an anchor to the sea bed, but it was uncertain how long that would hold in the appalling seas.  The lives of eight men were now in grave peril.

The Coxswain of the lifeboat, Patrick Sliney, took immediate, but careful action. Conscious of the suicidal nature of the task ahead, and wary of upsetting the villagers, he prohibited the use of maroon flares to alert his volunteer crew. Instead he visited them quietly and asked them to assemble at the lifeboat station. They would take the Mary Stanford out before anybody realised that they were gone.

Apart from Patsy Sliney, the Mary Stanford‘s crew that day included:Second Coxswain John Lane Walsh, Motor Mechanic Thomas Sliney, Crewmen Michael Coffey Walsh, John Shea Sliney, William Sliney and Thomas Walsh. To reduce the time it took to get to the Daunt Rock, Sliney took his vessel through the narrow sound between the islands, cutting a half a mile from the journey. As the huge seas crashed over his boat, Sliney counted his men to make sure that nobody had been swept overboard.  There was no sign of the lightship, so the Mary Stanford slipped into Cobh to get information on the Comet’s whereabouts.  Despite the worsening weather, Sliney took his vessel back out to sea and found that the Comet was now drifting and was just a half a mile from the shore. And she wasn’t alone.

At that time, Cork Harbour was still an operational base of the Royal Navy, in accordance with the Anglo-Irish Treaty of 1921. The destroyer HMS Tenedos had stationed herself close to the Comet to assist, but dared not come too close in the wild seas.

On reaching the Comet, Sliney’s crew tried to attach a steel cable to the lightship to allow her to be towed to port by the Tenedos – but the cable parted each time.  At nightfall, the Mary Stanford returned to Cobh to get a stronger cable. The B & I Lines packet Innisfallen now stood by with the Tenedos to render assistance.  Meanwhile the famished crew of the Mary Stanford finally got their first bite of food all day as well as three hours of sleep, and a change of clothing.

The storm continued to rage the next day, 12th February, as the Mary Stanford returned to the lightship.  By now a fog was making visibility difficult.  The Tenedos departed her station and was later replaced by the Irish Lights Vessel Isolde.  Rescue was impossible under the weather conditions at the time, so the Mary Stanford stood by for the next twenty-four hours to warn off any shipping. Running low on fuel, the Mary Stanford was obliged to return to Cobh about 7.00 am the next morning, 13th February. Despite the salt burns and seasickness suffered by the crew and an injury to Patsy Sliney’s hand, the Mary Stanford returned to the rescue after refuelling, and permitting her crew a short rest.  On arrival, they found that the Irish Lights Vessel Isolde had arrived to tow the lightship to safety, but by now the weather had got even worse, and Isolde was unable to help.

As darkness fell, Sliney had the lifeboat’s light beamed on Comet, but the storm now threatened a new danger – the wind changed direction and the lightship was now in danger of being blown onto Daunt Rock itself.  The situation was extremely dangerous for the lightship crew, so Patsy Sliney was obliged to take drastic action.  The men on the lightship would have to jump aboard the Mary Stanford – if they missed, they would very likely drown!  Moving his vessel to the leeward side of the lightship, and having poured petrol on the sea to calm it (to no effect), Sliney placed his heaving boat alongside the lightship and urged the men to jump.  One man got aboard on the first attempt.  Five got aboard on the third attempt. The fourth attempt actually damaged the Mary Stanford – and neither of the two men aboard the lightship had jumped. They were too exhausted.  The fifth attempt also failed.  Sliney then took drastic action for his sixth attempt – he had some of his crew stand at the bows and, literally, grab the men from the lightship.  The procedure was as dangerous to the lifeboatmen as it was to the rescued men. Both the rescued men were injured in the attempt, but they were now safe, and received immediate first aid.


The RNLB Mary Stanford returns to Ballycotton after the Daunt Rock lightship rescue.

The Mary Stanford could now return to Cobh – but with additional drama, as one of the rescued men lost his nerve and had to be restrained from jumping overboard.  After spending the night in Cobh, the RNLB Mary Stanford returned to Ballycotton in fine weather having departed from her home base seventy-nine hours earlier.  It was, of course, 14th February – St Valentine’s Day.  For their extraordinary rescue of the crew of the Daunt Rock Lightship the volunteer crew of the Mary Stanford were honoured by the RNLI: Patsy Sliney was awarded the RNLI Gold Medal, John Lane Walsh and Thomas Sliney were awarded the Silver Medal and the crewmen, Michael Coffey Walsh, John Shea Sliney, William Sliney, and Thomas Walsh were presented with the Bronze Medal.

mary stanford abandoned

Looking forlorn and abandoned in dock in Dublin. At least she survived!

The Mary Stanford served the RNLI until 1959, when she was retired as a reserve lifeboat.  In 1969 she was sold to the Limerick Harbour Commissioners to serve as a pilot launch.  In the 1980s she was acquired by a trust to preserve her at Grand Canal Docks in Dublin.  This venture fell through and she was effectively abandoned until a group in Ballycotton decided to rescue her.  The RNLB Mary Stanford, after a short stop in Midleton, returned home to Ballycotton in the autumn of 2014 to await restoration.

MaryStanford returns

Home at last! Now placed overlooking the route she took to rescue the crew of the Daunt Rock lightship, the Mary Stanford awaits restoration. This image shows how high the Ballycotton lighthouse actually is – now you know how bad the storm of 1936 was! The Mary Stanford’s present location marks the start of the Ballycotton Cliff Walk which runs along the cliff that the vessel had to sail past in February 1936 to reach the Daunt Rock Lightship.  It is hoped that this cliff walk will eventually extend from Ballycotton to Roches Point, at the entrance to Cork Harbour.

To donate to the Mary Stanford restoration fund:


The Ballycotton Cross (now in the British Museum) is discussed here:


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