Patrick and the Origins of Christianity in Ireland

Ken Thompson’s wonderful statue of the young St Patrick at Westport, County Mayo. (photo by


Poor St Patrick! The famous national patron saint of Ireland, one of the most famous national patrons, has had his feastday, 17th March, cancelled in 2020! Ireland’s churches are closed to public gatherings – by the country’s bishops at the request of the public health authorities due to what he would have called a ‘plague’ sweeping not just the country but the whole world! What did he do to deserve this?

It’s bad enough that Patrick had his feastday cancelled but, throughout much of modern history, Patrick himself has been the subject of often vicious academic debate among scholars. Happily these debates had not really impinged on the popular Irish imagination.  It’s worth examining some recent scholarship to explore a different vision of Patrick’s mission in Ireland and why he really can be considered the founder of Christianity in Ireland.

We won’t go back to the infamous ‘two Patricks’ problem that emerged in the 1940s although we well consider some scholarly efforts to resolve the problem. We must start with two clear facts: first, since about 600 AD Ireland has been Christian, and, secondly, there are two writings (the Confession and the scathing Letter to Coroticus) which are clearly the work of one author.  These latter are found in later copies but they are clearly accepted (after much study) as the two earliest works of literature from Ireland (as opposed to oral myths and legends written down from oral sources later).

The traditional date of Patrick’s arrival in Ireland as a missionary is 432 AD. This date is important because in Gaul (now France) the writer Prosper of Aquitaine wrote that in the previous year 431 AD Pope Celestine sent a man called Palladius as a bishop to ‘the Irish believing in Christ.’ This statements suggests that there were Christians in Ireland, although it may not have been an organised Christian community. Palladius was the spanner in the works for Patrician scholars – who wa he? what did he do? are there any relics of Palladius in Ireland? Oh, and why was he written out of Irish history, even by the early writers?

That wonderful scholar of old Irish documentation, Mario Esposito, wrote an interesting article addressing the Patrick/Palladius problem in Irish Historical Studies in 1956.  He makes the important point that it wasn’t until the seventh century (about 650 AD) that Irish writers like Tirechan began to write about Patrick who had flourished in the earlier fifth century (before 450 AD) two centuries earlier.

There’s no point here in rehashing Esposito’s land and detailed scholarly argument but it does help to recount the conclusion of his argument. Esposito suggests that the man who wrote the Confession and the Letter, – the ‘Patricius peccator rusticissimus et contemptibilibus’ (Patrick, a rustic and contemptible sinner)- actually came to Ireland long BEFORE 432 AD.  This then allows Palladius to be sent from Rome to become Patrick’s successor as ‘bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.’ In other words, the Patrick who wrote the Confession had probably died by 432 AD but only after converting large numbers of the Irish to Christianity. – a detail that Prosper of Aquitaine refers to when he says that Christianity had spread to lands that were never under the Roman Empire – surely a reference to the Irish mission.


Mosaic of St Ambrose of Milan, an older contemporary of St Patrick who was chosen as Bishop of Milan by popular acclamation durng a dispute with the emperor.

If we accept Esposito’s chronology that Patrick had converted many of the Irish to Christianity by the time he died about 430 AD, then Palladius of Rome was sent by the pope to be the first OFFICIAL bishop in Ireland, while Patrick,  considered himself a bishop by divine appointment – exactly like St Ambrose of Milan (died 397 AD). Nobody doubted then or doubts now that Ambrose was the formidable Bishop of Milan before he died. Patrick says that he was ‘appointed by God’ and in Milan the vox populi (voice of the poeple) was deemed to be vox Dei (voice of God). So Esposito’s version resolves a lot of issues and gives both Patrick and Palladius their proper place in Irish history.

The scholar Raymond Keogh suggested in 2005 that Patrick and Palladius were the one and the same person! This is not an unusual suggestion – Palladius was a problem to Tirechan and Muirchu in the 600s. They got rid of him by asserting that he was murdered by pagan Irish opponents. However, Keogh does offer some interesting material that suggests that Patrick may have come to Ireland as a slave before 409 AD. The following year (410 AD), the  the citizens of Roman Britannia received a letter from the Emperor advising them to look to themselves for their own defence because the Roman army had been withdrawn to deal with the Visigoths who had sacked Rome that year.  Christianity continued in Britain long after this although it retreated to the fastnesses of Wales.

Fresco of St Augustine of Hippo in St John Lateran baslica. He was an almost exact contemporary of St Patrick.

If we combine Esposito’s chronology and Keogh’s dates, we find that Patrick would have been an almost exact contemporary of St Augustine of Hippo. who died in 430 AD, about the same time that Patrick died, if we accept the Esposito chronology. It was around this time (the early 400s) that the Ui Liathain spread out from what is now eastern County Cork to colonise parts of south west Wales. This area was a heartland of British Christianity at the time and it is perfectly possible that either Christian captives or converts moved in the other direction, from south-west Wales to Munster. So perhaps Christianity was introduced into south Munster (East Cork and West Waterford) by a non-Patrician route (Declan of Ardmore or Ultan of Caherultan) and perhaps by St Ailbe of Emly, whose name is celebrated in Welsh as St Elvis!

Ironically, the ancient dedication of the parish of Carrigtwohill was to St David of Wales, a dedication introduced by the Barrys from south Wales in the 1180s! With the arrival of the Barrys the territory of Ui Liathain became Barrymore. Origins of Christianity in Ireland are not easily resolved but we can have no doubt that Patrick was the main figure but other parts of the country must have had and influence form the remnants of the Roman Empire.

‘Known by the trees’ – Autumn glories from the behind the demesne wall.


The view from the front of Midleton Lodge shows the grove of trees on the north bank of the Dungourney River in mid-October 2016. The grove stands in front of the wall that separates the demesne from the woollen factory built by Marcus Lynch in 1794. This is factory is now part of the Jameson Experience, while Midleton Lodge is now the local council office and Lynch’s demesne is a public park. Lynch planted the trees in 1806-09.

Autumn ended in Ireland on Thursday 17th November when a cold Arctic snap plunged the comfortable temperatures into a biting winter mode with a dusting of snow in many parts of the country. Midleton, happily, escaped the snow but not the cold. The long, dry, sunny and pleasantt autumn weather was a most welcome season before the onset of winter. One of the glories of Midleton, and East Cork in general, this autumn been the colour of the leaves as they changed from green to yellow to red and then to brown before falling.

This abundance of trees in East Cork is due to an ironic circumstance of history. William J Smyth of UCC referred to this in a lecture he gave to the Royal Dublin Society in 1996. The title of his lecture was ‘The Greening of Ireland – Tenant tree-planting in Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries‘;  Smyth introduced his lecture with quotations from two Irish poems – one an anonymous but well known seventeenth century Irish (Gaelic) verse that we all learned at school, and the other twentieth century quotation came from a poem by Austin Clarke.

The seventeenth century reference from the poem Kilcash asks:

What shall we do without timber,

the last of the woods is down.

The Austin Clarke reference tells us:

For the house of the planter

Is known by the trees.


Kilcash Castle in County Tipperary is best known through the anonymous seventeenth century poem lamenting the passing of the old order, symbolised by the loss of woodlands.

The poem ‘Kilcash‘ refers to the systematic destruction of the ancient Irish woods and forests in the seventeenth century by the new English planters who had been granted estates in Ireland. Part of the reason for the destruction of the woods was to deny any Irish rebels and outlaws a place of refuge. A second reason was to enable the planters to make a quick financial return on their new estates – England was severely short of good timber for building houses and ships and for barrel staves. In addition wood was needed for making charcoal to smelt iron, especially iron for making cannon for the fleet. One of the key culprits in this activity was Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. Between 1600 and 1670 most of the remaining Irish woodlands were lost as a result of the various plantations imposed on different parts of the country.

Clarke’s poem makes ironic reference to the fact that those planter families were later instrumental in planting new trees to take the denuded look off their surrounds – mind you, this was done mostly inside the high walls surrounding the demesnes of the ‘Big House’.Those walls screened the bare countryside from easily offended eyes, and protected both the inhabitants and their trees from the peasantry. Thus the descendants of the people who originally cut down the forests and woods were also the first to begin replanting, often with foreign species! Even today, a plantation of deciduous trees indicates the site of a ‘big house’, whether intact or in ruins.

It was really only from the 1690s that the new landlords began to plant trees as a policy of ‘improvement’ on their estates. Between 1697 and 1791 Smyth estimates that there were seven parliamentary acts relating to tree-planting in Ireland. It was only from 1721 that tenants were given parliamentary encouragement to plant trees, and by 1765 tenants had an entitlement to the value of all the trees they’d planted.The really big improvements came with the foundation of the Dublin Society (later Royal Dublin Society) in 1731 and the act of 1765, which required the registration of trees planted in order to claim ownership. It was the 1791 act that led to a spectacular surge in tree-planting in the decades that followed.  From the surviving registers we get a good idea of why East Cork is so well wooded. Smyth notes that the densest area of planting seems to have been the barony of Imokilly (between Midleton and Youghal), and the southern part of Barrymore  This was a region of dense tree-planting between 1790 and 1815. (There was a dip between 1815 and 1820 when planting began again.)

Despite all this planting, British visitors to Ireland in the nineteenth century frequently noted the bare appearance of the Irish countryside, noting that the few trees were to be found within the walls of demesnes. Even now, with all the State forestry planting programmes, Ireland has only 8% of its land under forest or woodland, the lowest percentage of tree cover in the EU.

Donal P. and Eileen McCracken published a paper with the title ‘A Register of Trees, Co Cork, 1790-1860‘ in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1976 giving the register of tree-planting in County Cork. By the mid-1800s County Cork possessed nearly 52,000 acres of trees in plantations, nearly 15% of the Irish total.The register gives the numbers of trees planted by civil parish, with the townlands where the trees were planted being named. There are problems with the list – some townlands are clearly placed in the incorrect parish, so caution is advised when using this source.


A path in Marcus Lynch’s grove of trees between the Dungourney River and the wall of the old distillery in Midleton in October 2016.

The figures for Midleton Parish (called Middletown in the text) are as follows: Marcus Lynch planted 2010 in the grounds of Midleton Lodge between 1806-09; Samuel McCall planted 5,590 trees at Charleston in Castleredmond in 1809-12, and Swithin Fleming (incorrectly named Southeen in the text) planted 1,770 trees at Lakeview in Castlererdmond in 1831 (which indicates that his house was built by then); William Mc O’Boy (McEvoy?) planted 2,830 trees in Gearagh in 1815; in Bawnard, John Lander planted 5,100 trees in 1824 and Daniel Humphries planted 26,000 trees in 1827; in Ballyedkin, John Leech planted 61,300 trees in 1827-32, while Thomas Wigmore planted 144,870 trees in 1828-33; in Deer Park South, George Turkey (Tuckey?) planted 3,240 trees in 1832; in Broomfield, Benjamin James Hackett (the distiller) planted 1,480 trees in his grounds in 1834. This list gives a total of 254,190 trees planted in the area in and immediately around Midleton between 1806 and 1834.

Sadly many of these trees have been lost, but a lot survives – Marcus Lynch’s plantings are still a joy to behold just off Main Steet, and on the Youghal Road, in Midleton. But further afield we can see that planting was just as intense.


The woods at Rostellan were part of the demesne of the Marquis of Thomond’s East Cork estate. They are now run by the state forestry company. On the wall of the barrage in the foreground is one of three milestones installed there in 1734.

In the townland (and parish) of Aghada, Robert Austen planted 28,470 trees in 1814; Michael Goold planted 27,620 trees in Jamesbrook (Garranekinnefeake parish) in 1807-11;  in the parish and townland of Rostellan the Marquis of Thomond planted 55,140 trees in 1827, in Rossmore (Mogeesha parish), Edmund Coppinger planted 21,340 trees in 1824; in Barnabrow (Cloyne parish) in 1809-12 Timothy Lane planted 27,940 trees, while John Royal Wilkinson planted 20,100 trees there in 1831.


Planted in the 1980s to mark the entrance to the newly built St Colman’s Community College, on Youghal Road in Midleton, this avenue looks very well established today. It emulates the type of planting established around the town in the years around 1800.  

This is not a complete list (it leaves out places like Fota and Ballyedmund) but it shows that many landowners in East Cork felt it necessary to plant trees to improve their estates in the early nineteenth century. Despite losses in the 1940s, the legacy of this planting is the rich tapestry of trees that enrich the local landscape especially in summer and autumn. The good news is that such planting continues – directly opposite Marcus Lynch’s old house stands St Colman’s Community College which was built in the early 1980s. One farsighted decision made by the school was to plant an avenue of trees leading from the gate to the main entrance – just a few decades later it looks splendid.





Taxing times in early 17th century East Cork.

King James VI of Scots became King of Ireland and England on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

King James VI of Scots became King of Ireland and England on the death of Elizabeth I in 1603.

A week ago the Irish government presented its annual budget for the fiscal year 2016. The summary of taxation and expenditure was designed to facilitate the re-election of the government in the general election that must take place in the early spring. Whatever about the intricacies of modern government finance, back in the early seventeenth century things were rather different. The early modern period saw the government attempt to transplant English methods of raising revenue to Ireland with varying degrees of success. The Nine Year’s War (1594 to 1603), which included the great revolt of Munster from 1598, played havoc with the whole fiscal system in Munster. One of the causes of the Munster Revolt was the burden of taxation imposed on the province. Much of this burden came from the tax known as composition. Composition was itself a replacement of a medieval practice called cess (from ‘assessment’). During the conquests of the sixteenth century, the government quartered soldiers on the inhabitants of the province. This meant that a householder was obliged to house and feed a soldier (and his horse, if he had a horse) without any remuneration from either the soldier or the authorities.  Effectively this was military taxation, and it fell most heavily on the peasantry. The Gaelic and Anglo-Irish lords used a similar process called coign and livery so the government cess was predicated on the idea that the peasantry were accustomed to this system. The reality was that cess and coign and livery ate into the often meagre surplus produce of the peasantry and denied them access to a surplus that could be sold to be re-invested in their holdings. For the government, this system meant that there was no need to build accommodation for the soldiers – a substantial saving in funds at a period when soldiers were normally housed in expensive fortresses.

The composition was not imposed by Act of Parliament, instead it was imposed by proclamation. The process began in Connacht under Lord Deputy Sir Henry Sidney in 1575. The idea was to pay for the two new provincial Presidencies in Connacht and Munster by means of an assessed levy on the baronies in each county. The process of imposing the composition was by means of an agreement between the Lord President of the province and his fellow commissioners on the one hand and the landowners of all classes on the other hand. Once the figure for the composition to be imposed on the barony had been agreed a written contract was drawn up and signed by the government officials on one hand and by the leading landowners on the other. The landholders, large and small, agreed to a fixed overall amount to be paid in composition for a stated number of years, and the government undertook not to quarter its soldiers on the people. The irony of this was that sometimes these same soldiers had to be used to squeeze the composition out of the people who, for whatever reason, wouldn’t or couldn’t pay the sum demanded.

Early seventeenth century silver shilling of King James I. Silver was the preferred medium of currency at the time.

Early seventeenth century silver shilling of King James I. Silver was the preferred medium of currency at the time.

The composition was collected twice a year, as agreed, for example, in 1604, when the proprietors of Barrymore, Ibane, and Orrery agreed to pay equal amounts at the Feast of All Saints (1st November) and the feast of St John the Baptist (24th June).  It should be noticed that at the time the daily pay of a labourer was 6d for work done. The annual salary of the Lord President of Munster was £133 6s.8d. All figures are given in sterling value (the Irish currency was of a lower value).

How did the composition work out? In September 1592 many of the baronies of Cork agreed to pay sums as follow: Orrery was to pay £20 per annum for three years; Kerrycurrihy would pay £62 19s per annum for seven years; Barretts contracted to pay £23 per annum; Coursies (modern Courceys) agreed to £5 per annum; Duhallow would pay £30 per annum; Muskerry agreed to £35 per annum; Beare and Bantry agreed to pay £13 5s 8d per annum and Imokilly agreed to 90 marks per annum.  This latter figure was the equivalent of £60 per annum. What this suggests is that the two richest baronies were Kerrycurrihy (stretching from Ballincollig to Crosshaven, just south of Cork City) and Imokilly. Admittedly several other baronies, such as Carbery, Barrymore and Fermoy, etc., were not involved in this particular composition of 1592.

The only gold currency issued in Ireland was the emergency issue of gold pistoles by James ~Butler, Earl of Ormond, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the Great Rebellion in 1642-1649. A pistole was a gold coin valued at several times the standard currency unit.

The only gold currency issued in Ireland was the emergency issue of extremely rare gold pistoles by James Butler, Earl of Ormond, who was Lord Lieutenant of Ireland during the Great Rebellion in 1642-1649. A pistole was a gold coin valued at several times the standard currency unit.

The 1609 composition records are more complete. The total amount paid in composition by County Cork that year was over £574, which was almost half the amount of composition paid by the whole province (without County Clare, which was included in Connacht at the time, to the great irritation of the O’Brien, Earl of Thomond). What is interesting is to examine the amounts paid by the baronies and lordships. Carbery paid £54 6s 8d at Easter and £53 6s 8d  at Michaelmas. Imokilly paid £40 at Easter and the same again at Michaelmas. Kerrycurrihy paid £36 9s 1 1/4d at Easter and £40 13s 4d at Michaelmas. Barrymore paid £28 at both Easter and Michaelmas. Muskerry paid £23 6s 8d at both Easter and Michaelmas. All the other baronies and lordships paid less than £20 at each semester. What this shows is that the wealthiest baronies were Kerrycurrihy, Imokilly and Barrymore. The figure given for Carbery was actually misleading because Carbery was a very large barony which was later divided into two more compact baronies (Carbery East, Carbery West). The same happened with the sprawling lordship of Muskerry. Thus the composition figures show very clearly that the landed wealth of County Cork was concentrated around Cork Harbour at the beginning of the seventeenth century.

(The taxation figures used in this post are derived from the article referenced below.)

Reference: Margaret Curtis Clayton, ‘Taxation in early Stuart Munster,’ in Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Vol 116 (2011), pages 11-18.

A window for every day of the year…..or so it was said.

The entrance front of Ballyedmond House faced due north, allowing the drawing room and dining room to enjoy fine views to the south over Midleton. The staircase was located behind the two windows on the right of the porch. Note the chaste late Georgian style of the central block and the slightly more elaborate decoration of the two wings.

The entrance front of Ballyedmond House faced due north, allowing the drawing room and dining room to enjoy fine views to the south over Midleton. The staircase was located behind the two windows on the right of the porch. Note the chaste late Georgian style of the central block and the slightly more elaborate details of the two wings. The wings also housed additional accommodation for the family rather than the kitchen and stable.

Growing up in Midleton, I often heard of a grand country house that once stood on the brow of a hill not two miles north of the town. This was Ballyedmond House which, I was told, had a window for every day of the year. Sadly the house was demolished before I became seriously conscious of it. With three hundred and sixty five windows it must have been huge – and I longed to see a photograph of it. Curiously, Ballyedmond never belonged to the Brodricks, the landlords of Midleton until they sold all their remaining interests in 1966. In fact Ballyedmond’s last owner was a Smith-Barry.

Many years later I had the good fortune to meet somebody who had photos of this famous house (at least it was famous locally!). Some of these photos are reproduced here. Sadly, I don’t have an image of the house from the most public viewpoint – the road to Rathcormac which runs at the bottom of the valley below the site of the house. One thing is pretty clear from the photos – somebody in Midleton couldn’t count! There was simply no way that Ballyedmond House could boast 365 windows – it simply wasn’t big enough.

The Ballyedmond estate was in the civil parish of Templenacarriga, which is in the barony of Barrymore. It was inherited by the Courtenay family through a marriage with the Browne family. It seems that the Courtenays hired the Cork architect Abraham Hargrave the elder, and his son, also called Abraham, to either build the house or to restore it. The photographs show a house with a central block and two wings. However there is a problem – the central block is very clearly a restrained, even chaste, design of circa 1790 to 1820 with no trace of anything older in the structure. The online Dictionary of Irish Architects, run by the Irish Architectural Archive, suggests a date of 1809 to 1811 for the building,which suggests an entirely new house, perhaps on an old site.

The normal approach to Ballyedmond House was by a long winding driveway from the bottom of the hill eventually approaching the house from the east.

The normal approach to Ballyedmond House was by a long winding driveway from the bottom of the hill eventually approaching the house from the east.

The entrance front of the central block faced due north. It was of six bays, with a two bay breakfront topped by a die rather than a pediment. The ground floor windows were set in shallow arches – a feature associated with the work of James Gandon. The entrance was by means of a Doric porch. Within this block, the staircase was located immediately to the right of the entrance hall and the two reception rooms were located on the garden front with splendid views south over the valley towards Midleton and beyond. The drawing room was decorated in the Louis Seize (Louis XVI) style which became quite fashionable in the early 19th century in Britain and Ireland as if to commemorate the executed King of France during the Napoleonic Wars.

The two links were given the appearance of triumphal arches on the entrance front. Complicating everything was the style of the two wings – they were more clearly more early Victorian in character, but with references to the late Georgian or Regency style. The wings presented a windowless front to the visitor. This facade was embellished with a shallow arch in the middle flanked by two niches. The sides of the wings had windows set in architraves – a detail missing from the central block. Also, the roof of each wing had a more elaborate bracketed cornice, whereas the central block had a much plainer cornice.

If the Hargraves simply restored an older house then they did such a thorough job that the evidence of the original house was almost totally subsumed in the restoration To all intents and purposes what the photos show sits perfectly within the 1809-1811 time frame – at least for the central block. It is essentially a new house. The two wings were almost of the same height as the central block and are joined to it by the somewhat more elaborate links. Curiously, the wings were not designed to perform the traditional functions of kitchen wing and stable wing respectively. (The stables and farmyard were located in a separate building further up the hill, and the was in the basement.) The wings were actually additional living quarters for the family and their guests, suggesting that that Ballyedmond was intended to accommodate plenty of house parties.

The house remained in the Courtenay family until 1861 when it passed by inheritance to a relative, Captain Richard Hugh Smith-Barry. He was the fourth son of John Smith- Barry, the builder of nearby Fota House who in 1814 married Eliza-Mary Courtenay, daughter of Robert Courtenay of Ballyedmond. The lack of male heirs on the Courtenay side later in the 19th century meant that Ballyedmond passed to the Smith-Barrys, who appropriately were directly descended from the Barrys, Earls of Barrymore.

The last resident owner was Guy Smith-Barry. He liked to take a telescope onto the roof to spy out any ships coming in to Cork Harbour at Roche’s Point (it was clearly visible from the house!). It is eighteen kilometers from Midleton to Roche’s Point by road, add some tour kilometers from Main Street in Midleton to Ballyedmond, it seems that Guy Smith-Barry was able to view ships some twenty two kilometers away! That’s about thirteen and a half miles, which gives you some idea of the view from the roof of Ballyedmond. If he was expecting guests Guy would dash down to his car and drive to Cork, arriving in time to greet his visitors as they disembarked from the ferry from England.

Sadly, in the 1960s, the cost of maintaining Ballyedmond House became prohibitive, and Guy Smith-Barry was obliged to sell off the house and demesne to a local businessman, who promptly demolished the great house. Not a trace of it remains today except for some of the demesne walls and gate lodges.

Note: Abraham Addison Hargrave (1755 – 1808) ,the elder, came from Horsforth, near Leeds in Yorkshire, and made an architectural career for himself in Cork City and County. He had four sons, three of whom became architects, while another became a civil engineer.

Markets and Fairs in early Stuart Imokilly and Barrymore.

With Cork, Youghal was the most important town in the county in 1600. It was the center of commerce in the eastern part of County Cork.

With Cork, Youghal was the most important town in the county in 1600. It was the center of commerce in the eastern part of County Cork. Its development was promoted by Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork for forty years until 1642.

One of the aspects of regional history in Ireland was the existence of Presidencies in the provinces of Munster and Connacht. These were subordinate authorities set up in the sixteenth century to impose greater governmental control over these provinces.They alleviated the burden of control placed on the Castle (the government in Dublin Castle) and allowed for more rapid response to local issues.

Shortly after the climactic Battle of Kinsale in 1601 and the ending of the Nine Year’s War in 1603, the Council of Munster (the Lord President of Munster and his chief officials) set to work on modernizing the regional economy. The key to this was the encouragement of a monetary economy based on licensed and regulated markets and fairs.  Margaret Curtis Clayton has done a splendid job of compiling the information on the markets and fairs that were newly licensed in Munster in the period 1600-1630. It should be noted that the establishment of a market or fair on someone’s property generated additional lucrative income and often enhanced an existing settlement or improved its economic prospects. The period from 1603 to 1642 was one of rapid economic change in south east Cork.

It’s worth noting that Chore Abbey (Midleton) had a market licence from 1608 renewed in 1624 – suggesting that the settlement that survived the dissolution of the Cistercian abbey was now thriving. The proximity of an annual fair in Castleredmond, first licensed in 1609, was a further boost to the local economy. In each case the licence was issued to the proprietor or landlord, who was then obliged to appoint a clerk of the market to regulate it. The proprietor also had to designate a place for the market or fair and ran a pie-powder court to settle disputes. (The name comes from the French term pied poudre, or dusty feet, for the court was a summary court conducted on the spot.) The proprietor had to pay an annual fee to the Crown for the licence and was entitled to keep the fees charged to stall-holders and the profits of justice from the pie powder court.  It is worth noting that fairs were often linked to church feastdays.

John Speed's map of Munster 1600-1611.

John Speed’s map of the province of Munster 1600-1611.

In this post our concern is the licensing of such markets and fairs in the south east Cork baronies of Imokilly and Barrymore.

Carrigtwohill: 5 Feb 1607/8. Fair – no details. Prop. David Barry, Viscount Buttevant. Renewed 1618, details lost.

Castleredmond: 24 June 1609. Fair on 3 May & 1 day following. Prop. Sir James Craig. Rent. 6s 8d Irish. Renewed, with one additional day, on 23 Dec 1624 in favour of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, for a rent of 6s.8d. (Note: the date 3 May was the traditional Feast of the Invention of the Holy Cross.)

Chore Abbey (Midleton): 14 Oct 1608. Market on Saturday. Prop. Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald. Rent: 5s English. Renewed in favour of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, on 23 Dec 1624, for a rent of 6s.8d.

Dangandonyvane: 25 Nov. 1606. Fair on Feast of St James (25th July) & 2 days following. Prop. Thomas FitzGerald. Rent not recorded.

Killeagh:11 July 1631. Market on Tuesday. Fairs on 1 June and 1 November each with one day following. Prop. William Supple. Rent not recorded.

Rostellan: 25 Nov. 1606. Market on Saturday. Prop. Thomas FitzGerald. Rent not recorded.

Youghal: 22 Dec 1609. Market on Wednesday and Saturday. Fairs on Eve of St Luke (18 October) & 3 days following and on the Feast of the Ascension (usually late May). Prop Youghal Corporation. Free of rent.

What is of interest are the two market days in Youghal and the two annual fairs there. Clearly Youghal was of major importance. Cork appears to have had a market every day until 1613 when a shortage of goods led to the market being restricted to Wednesday and Saturday. Also of note is the absence of any licence for a market in Cloyne, Ballinacorra, Mogeely or Ballymartyr (Castlemartyr). Nor is there any market on Great Island – the nearest one being in Carrigtwohill. The absence of a market in Cloyne suggests that Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald was wary of intruding on pre-existing market rights established by the bishops during the medieval period. The market in Carrigtwohill followed a tradition of markets going back to the 1200s. In respect of Chore Abbey (Midleton), it is interesting to note that Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, succeeded Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald as leaseholder of both the old monastic estate, and Castleredmond. FitzGerald had died in 1612.

Reference: Margaret Curtis Clayton: ‘Early Stuart markets and fairs in Munster, c1600-1630.’ Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, vol 115 (2010), pp 167-177.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Red Picnic in Mogeely – mass murder in 1182.

Rock of Cashel

Cashel, an ancient site of great importance to the MacCarthys. The title ‘King of Cashel’ was synonymous with ‘King of Munster.’ The Rock of Cashel is effectively the emblem of Munster.

In the most important account of the twelfth century English invasion of Ireland, the author, Gerald de Barri, or Gerald of Wales also called Giraldus Cambrensis, tells several stirring and bloody tales.  Few are more brutal than the tale of a mass murder in Mogeely in 1182.

In his book Expugnatio Hibernica (the Conquest of Ireland),, written about 1187, Gerald tells us that when Robert FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan had ruled Cork for five years, Milo set out for a parley in Lismore with Ralph, the illegitimate son of FitzStephen, and five knights. They broke their journey at Mogeely, with fatal consequences..

‘They were sitting in the middle of some fields, waiting to have a parley with the men of Waterford, when, along with five other knights, they were killed by the traitor MacTire, with whom they were due to stay that night, being struck down with axes from behind when they were off guard.’

Geraldus goes on to tell us that;

As a result of this disaster, the whole country was immediately thrown into a state of such disorder that Diarmait MacCarthaig and almost all the Irish throughout the whole region joined MacTire in throwing off their allegiance to the English and rising against FitzStephen…..

Matters were clearly very serious for the English, but there was a hero in the wings…..:

‘The former peaceful conditions were not restored there until Raymond succeeded as heir to his uncle FitzStephen and took sole charge of the city.’

The reference to a parley with the men of Waterford suggests that there was between the English in Waterford and the English in Cork at the time, but it seems that the whole point of going to Lismore was to parley with the Waterford men there and NOT at Mogeely. So the reference is very likely a mistake.

In an earlier post I featured a postcard sent from Mogeely to Ladysbridge in 1910. The postcard showed the peaceful village with most of the population posing for the photographer. This post will examine the most notorious event in Mogeely’s history – a mass murder by battle axe in 1182. In homage to the appalling scenes of the ‘Red Wedding’ in the book and TV series Game of Thrones, I’m calling this twelfth century butchery in Mogeely……the ‘Red Picnic.’

The small peaceful village of Mogeely is located over a mile and a quarter north of Castlemartyr. Both villages are in the same Roman Catholic parish, and although Mogeely is the smaller of the two villages, it boasts the grander church, completed in 1912. It also boasted a railway line, until it finally closed in the early 1980s, and a modern creamery, celebrated for its unique regato cheese!

So what was the background to the ‘Red Picnic’ of Mogeely?

When the Anglo-Normans invaded Cork in 1177, Mogeely was the residence of the local lord of Imokilly, a chieftain called Mac Tire. This is actually a patronymic or surname, since we don’t even know the man’s personal name. Mac Tire ruled Imokilly, which in those days did not correspond to the modern barony of Imokilly. The old Imokilly of the twelfth century stretched from the western shore of Great Island, where Cobh (the former Queenstown) now stands, to a line running from north to south somewhere between Mogeely and Killeagh.  The area east of this line, as far as Youghal, would later be incorporated into Imokilly, while Great Island, and the civil parish of Mogeesha just west of Midleton, would be lost to Barrymore.

In 1177 there was serious trouble in the province of Munster. Since the so-called Treaty of Glanmire in 1118, the province had been divided into two distinct kingdoms, with a disputed area to the east. In the south, stretching from Lismore to Brandon in County Kerry, was the kingdom of Desmond, which the Anglo-Normans called the kingdom of Cork, from its capital city. This was ruled by the MacCarthaig or MacCarthy family, and the incumbent king in 1177 was Diarmait MacCarthy. He had succeeded his father in 1151 and managed to restore the much reduced power of his family in the area.


The so called Treaty of Glanmire divided Munster into two kingdoms. North Munster or Thomond was ruled from Limerick by the O’Briens. South Munster or Desmond was ruled from Cork by the MacCarthys. East Munster or Ormond was disputed between the two. The man who imposed this division was Turlough O’Connor, King of Connacht, and aspiring High King of All Ireland. The division aimed to reduce the O’Briens and MacCarthys to the status of lesser kings. The trouble in Ormond was probably a useful distraction for O’Connor. Glanmire is today a quiet and peaceful village in a steep-sided wooded river valley just east of Cork.

In the north lay the kingdom of Thomond stretching from North Tipperary to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, but also including Limerick city and some newly secured territories in modern County Limerick.  The ruler of Thomond in 1177 was Donal O’Brien. King since 1168, Donal was a direct descendent of the famous Brian Boru who died just a millennium ago during the celebrated battle at Clontarf (1014).  The O’Briens, a feisty and ambitious family, were considered jumped up upstarts by the MacCarthys.

The third area of Munster was Ormond (literally, East Munster) which effectively corresponded to the modern county of Tipperary. This territory was bitterly disputed between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys, because the MacCarthys were descended from the ancient kings of Cashel and had Diarmait MacCarthy’s grandfather, Cormac MacCarthy, had trounced the O’Briens in the 1120s, and secured possession of Cashel, County Tipperary, where he built Cormac’s Chapel, the most important building on the Rock of Cashel. It was probably Cormac who created the modern diocese of Cloyne in contravention of the Synod of Rath Breasail (1111) which had extinguished the older bishopric of Cloyne.

Cormac's Chapel

Cormac MacCarthy’s greatest work was his royal chapel. Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel was completed in the 1130s with the assistance of craftsmen sent from Germany by an Irish abbot in Regensburg. It does look very Germanic from some angles and it revolutionized Irish architecture in the twelfth century, virtually creating the Irish romanesque style in one go. The large church behind the chapel is the thirteenth century gothic cathedral.

By 1177 the festering disputes between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys had erupted into open war again. The reason was that King Donal O’Brien had expelled the group of families called the Ui Fidgente from their ancestral lands in the middle of the modern county of Limerick. This finally achieved the long sought O’Brien ambition of bringing the whole territory west of Limerick city under their own control – they had already tried it when Turlough O’Brien had founded Monasternenagh Abbey on lands he had won from the O’Donovans in 1148. The Ui Fidgente families were long-standing allies of the MacCarthys, who gave them shelter in other parts of their kingdom of Desmond.  This is how the O’Donovans, for example, came to be settled in South-West Cork.

Frescoes in Cormac's Chapel

The interior of Cormac’s Chapel was covered in frescoes and painted stonework. These are the finest surviving medieval fresco fragments in Ireland. They were preserved by the local people who had a custom of whitewashing the interior of the chapel over many centuries. It should be pointed out that the exterior of the building was very likely painted in bright colours too!

It is not known if King Henry II of England saw this dispute between Thomond and Desmond as a opportunity, but in 1177 he decided that three men would be awarded license to conquer the ‘kingdom of Cork’ and the ‘kingdom of Limerick,’ as the Anglo-Normans called the two territories. Milo de Cogan and his relative, Robert FitzStephen, who would divide Cork between them, but would reserve the city and one cantred for King Henry. Philip de Braose was licensed to take Limerick.The contemporary historian of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, Gerald de Barri, or Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), wrote that the three men and their knights and men-at-arms sailed first to Waterford where they disembarked. They then travelled on foot and by horse to Lismore, which was clearly intended as the launch point.  Lismore was the seat of a bishop (and papal legate) but it also seems to have been a private estate of the king of Desmond.

Very rapidly the party seized the eastern and central parts of Cork, especially around the harbour. Curiously, Geraldus does not mention any fighting during this invasion. King Diarmait MacCarthy decided to play for time and abandoned his city, moving further west. Once they had secured their lands in Cork, Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen decided to take their men north to help Philip de Braose to capture Limerick. But this expedition foundered when the citizens burned their city and de Braose lost heart.

Altar apse in Cormac's Chapel

The square apse for the altar in Cormac’s Chapel. The whole building is constructed of stone. Even the steeply pitched roof is built of stone using the ancient Irish corbelling technique found as early as Newgrange. Cormac’s Chapel marries Continental romanesque barrel vaults with native Irish construction ideas, thus creating a totally new indigenous interpretation of romanesque architecture.

On returning to Cork, de Cogan and FitzStephen began to sub-infeudate their lands. That is they divided it up into estates which they granted to their relatives and their followers.  The cantred of Ui Liathain, now called the barony of Barrymore, was given to Philip de Barri, brother of Gerald de Barri whose book Expugnatio Hibernica is the most celebrated contemporary eyewitness account of the whole Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. However, Philip was not in Ireland at the time but in Wales, and according to Geraldus, Robert FitzStephen’s illegitimate son Ralph ‘stole’ the lands of Ui Liathain from de Barri. What is so interesting about this comment by Geraldus is that he does not attempt to hide the sheer greed and chicanery of the men who invaded Ireland.  Mind you, his book contains a lot of family propaganda – the de Barris and their relatives the Carews could do no wrong in his eyes.

Geraldus tells us that for five years Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen ruled the kingdom of Desmond in peace after their invasion. Both men used their influence to restrain the rash behaviour of younger,wilder men in their respective parties. This was important, because a peaceful land would attract settlers from England and Wales. However all that changed dramatically in 1182. However it is not certain how much this peace extended to the displaced native Irish lords.

Milo de Cogan, and his newly married son-in-law, Ralph, son of Robert FitzStephen, and a party of knights set out to visit Lismore for a meeting. They travelled by way of Mogeely, the home of the former ruler of Imokilly, MacTire, now reduced to being a token local Irish landholder. This is the context for the mass murder of the English in Mogeely.

What does come out in Geraldus’s statement is that the Anglo-Norman party consisted of seven knights (Milo, Ralph and five others), but we don’t know how many men-at-arms and archers travelled with them on foot or horseback. The medieval manuscript known as MacCarthaigh’s Book gives an Irish account of the incident with the additional information that ‘slaughter was inflicted by the family of O MacTire.’ The ‘Red Picnic’ was a family affair – but not quite in the usual way of family picnics. The reference to ‘slaughter’ is common enough in the Irish Annals – you can slaughter a single individual or several people, the use of the word implies an element of butchery. In this case it might also support the idea that more than seven Anglo-Normans knights were given the battle-axe treatment in Mogeely. Clearly the Anglo-Norman party were relaxed and expected no trouble from MacTire – after all they were sitting in a field, with their guard down. Indeed I suspect that the party didn’t even post guards.

Irish chief's feast

An outdoor feast of the MacSweeney chief of County Donegal depicted in a English woodblock print from the sixteenth century. The chief and his wife are accompanied by two friars (note the tonsured heads) and another figure. The food is being prepared behind them – a wild boar is being butchered and boiled in a leather cauldron on the left foreground. The entertainment is provided by a bard reciting or singing to the accompaniment of a harp. The entertainment is enhanced by the two figures displaying their bare backsides to the chief’s table – they are professional farters! No wonder the entertainment is held outdoors! Was the butchery in Mogeely done just before a meal like this?

Were they having a picnic? I know that sounds silly, but it is actually possible that they were taking a quick bite to eat and a drink. Remember, during the twelfth century the main meal of the day was eaten in the early afternoon, in broad daylight. We don’t know what time of the year the massacre happened but it must have been during some dry and warm weather – even today you simply wouldn’t sit on wet grass or muddy ground in Ireland. Indeed there are illustrations from the sixteenth century of Irish chiefs having a feast outdoors, and one can easily imagine the same happening in the late twelfth century.

If the weather on this occasion was indeed dry and warm then the break would have been necessary for men who were probably wearing chain mail or, at very least, leather armour, and it may have been their first stop since leaving Cork earlier that day.. Anybody who has ever lifted a mail hauberk or jacket will be aware of the sheer weight of it, and even a leather jacket can bring on a sweat on a warm day in an Irish summer. Another thing to note about the above account is that Anglo-Norman knights on foot were very vulnerable attack by ferocious Irish enemies wielding two handed battle axes. It was the armoured knight on a trained warhorse who terrified the Irish.

Geraldus is clearly furious at this mass murder, calling MacTire a traitor. This would be true if MacTire had been allowed to keep his personal lands in return for some fealty exacted from him by FitzStephen. However the Irish Annals of Lough Ce mention the murder with some jubilation at the death of Milo de Cogan, suggesting that there was really no love lost between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans. The whole incident might lead you to imagine that the Red Picnic in Mogeely was an isolated local feud, but in fact it proved to be deadly serious – and not just for the victims.

Raymond le Gros illustration

Raymond le Gros as depicted in a thirteenth century copy of the Expugantio by Geraldus. He was simply the best general the Anglo-Normans had in Ireland, getting them out of many a difficult situation time and time again.

The Red Picnic in Mogeely sparked off at least two decades of trouble and warfare for the Anglo-Normans as they tried to regain secure control of the land they had taken during the invasion of Cork in 1177/1178. Raymond le Gros did crush the initial revolt in 1183, but it seems that Robert FitzStephen was trapped in Cork city and may even have died there by the time Raymond had arrived. Raymond embarked at Waterford with twenty knights and two hundred men-at-arms, half mounted and half on foot.  Sailing directly to Cork he relieved the city. There is a priceless irony in the fact that, during the Irish Civil War in 1922, the new Free State Army performed almost exactly the same action as Raymond, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, who were based in Cork Harbour. Like Raymond, the Free State Army sailed from elsewhere in Ireland (Dublin actually) directly to Cork and managed to secure Cork for the Dublin government and eventually put down the Republican forces in Munster.

Free State Troops land in Cork

The greatest irony of the Irish Civil War (1921-1923) was that the army of the new Irish Free State repeated Raymond le Gros’s sea voyage to Cork in 1183 to put down a revolt sparked off by the massacre in Mogeely. In 1922 the Free State was trying to regain control of Cork which was in the hands of hard-line Anti-Treaty Republican forces.

Raymond was soon joined by his cousin, Richard de Cogan, who came with a picked force sent by King Henry. When some of the Irish leaders were killed and their forces driven off, it seems that a measure of peace had temporarily returned to the area. At the end of February (1183?) reinforcements led by Philip de Barri also arrived. Philip had come to secure his estates in Ui Liathain, the area from Carrigtwohill in the south to Castlelyons in the north, from the Glanmire river in the west to Conna in the east..  Along with Philip came his brother Gerald – the very historian we’ve quoted above. Philip’s descendants gave us the Irish family name Barry. Raymond le Gros established his nephews as the Carew family in Cork, while Richard de Cogan gave us the still current surname of Cogan in County Cork. It was really only in the years from 1206 to 1220 that the Anglo-Norman settlement of East Cork could get underway and set down firm roots, and even then Tadgh MacCarthy invaded Imokilly in 1216 and burned Cloyne.

Tomb of Raymond le Gros

The medieval effigy that marked the supposed tomb of Raymond le Gros in Molana Abbey near Youghal. This drawing was made in the late 18th century by Daniel Grose and is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy. Sadly the effigy has since disappeared.

Diarmait MacCarthy died in 1185 but was immediately succeeded by his equally warlike son Donal, who would invade Imokilly with ferocious intent in the 1190s, burning all the castles there, including Castra na Chore or Ballinacorra, another castle that may have given Castleredmond townland its name and a castle at Mogeely. Donal MacCarthy’s death in 1206 seems to have eased the pressure on the Anglo-Normans in East Cork, allowing for settlement to begin there. The MacCarthys, of course, are almost two a penny in Munster, especially in Cork. And the MacTire family, onetime lords of Imokilly, what did the Red Picnic do for them? By 1300 they had been reduced to the condition of local robbers, but their descendants are still around – their name is now Woulfe. Somehow it seems appropriate given the blood soaked picnic they perpetrated one fine day in a field near Mogeely in 1182.

Molana abbey

The ruined Augustinian church of Molana Abbey, near Youghal, where Raymond le Gros was buried sometime between 1185 and 1198. Founded as Dairinis in the 6th century, ithis site is celebrated as the place where the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis was compiled in the 8th century.  This is one of the oldest compilations of Canon Law anywhere.

Note: the texts quoted in italics in this post were taken from pages 187 and 189 of the translation attached to the definitive version of the Expugnatio.  A.B.Scott & F.X.Martin, editors: Expugnatio Hibernica – The Conquest of Ireland by Geraldus Cambrensis. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978.

As for the Imokilly Regato Cheese PDO produced at Mogeely: here’s a link to show that this Italian style cheese is indeed made in East Cork and even has a product denomination (PDO) from the European Union!  And no, Kerrygold is NOT a sponsor of this blog!

Imokilly Regato Link: