The ‘city’ of Cloyne – developing a medieval Irish town.


Cloyne emerging from the mist-JimONeill2

Jim O’Neill’s wonderfully atmostpheric aerial view of Cloyne emerging from the morning mist with the square tower of St Colman’s Catholic Church in the foreground and the Round Tower with the Cathedral in the background. 

There is a tradition that a town with a cathedral is deemed to be a ‘city’ regardless of how small the settlement actually is. Think of the tiny ‘city’ of St David’s in Wales, so well known to the Norman invaders of Ireland in 1169. But we don’t have cross St George’s Channel to experience this phenomenon. We have a native Irish bishop of Cloyne to thank for that designation of….Cloyne! Bishop Daniel O’Finn, who was the bishop of Cloyne between 1247 and 1264, used the phrase ‘…dictam civitatis…’ (..of the said city…) in his Charter of Cloyne. This charter is contained in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne which was assembled in the 1360s by Bishop John of Swaffham. So Cloyne has been deemed a ‘city’ since the middle of the thirteenth century. Indeed the beginnings of this ‘city’ were traced back, in the very same charter, to Bishop David McKelly O’Gilla Patrick (FitzPatrick!), who was the bishop of Cloyne from 1237 until 1238 when he was translated to Cashel. Bishop David granted the first charter to Cloyne a detail we learn from Bishop Daniel’s confirmatory charter which states that ‘…I and my successors will warrant….and we will safeguard to the said citizens and their heirs the aforesaid arrangement of my predecessor…’ So clearly Bishop David had set in train the process of making Cloyne into a proper town. The Charter of Bishop Daniel simply confirmed this arrangement. The intervening bishop, Alan O’Sullivan (1239-1246), seems to have been entirely satisfied by Bishop David’s arrangement, although there is no direct evidence. Bishop David also created Kilmaclenine (near Buttevant) as a borough on the same lines, although that place was never designated a ‘city’.

The Charter of Bishop Daniel also tells us that Bishop David had ‘measured and perambulated’ the north side of the ‘city’. This detail is crucial for it is now clear that the ‘city’ referred to in the charter was actually the ecclesiastical zone around the cathedral and round tower which were located on the southern side of the town.  So the plan of Cloyne with its four streets meeting at a crossroads in the middle of the town was set out by Biship David, and the town must have been developing rapidly at that time. This was an ideal time to develop a new town in Imokilly because the district had calmed down after the MacTire/McCarthy rebellion against the Normans had died out after 1220. The cathedral was probably built at the same time. The town was not laid out on a map, but on the ground itself. This should not surprise us…..if the bishops were Anglo-Normans, but, until the appointment of Nicholas de Effingham in 1284, the bishops of Cloyne all appear to have been native Irishmen and were clearly influenced by the Norman custom of founding towns. Proof of this lies in both the layout of Cloyne and in a fascinating, and very specific, reference in Bishop Daniel’s charter.

First Ordnance Survey Map Cloyne

Cloyne in the first edition Ordnance Survey 6 inch map (about 1842). Note the ecclesiastical zone with the cathedral and round tower making the original ‘city’ and the town planned out by Bishop  David  in 1237-1238 and confirmed by Bishop Daniel around 1250.

Cloyne is laid out around a crossroads with streets leading exactly north, south, east and west. This plan is certainly not an accident. The eastern street (now called Rock Street) is especially wide to accommodate a market. The bishop’s castle (his residence) stood on the south side of this street. Cloyne House, now a private residence, is the more recent successor to the medieval residence of the bishops of Cloyne.

The bishop says that ‘…I and my successors will deal with them (the citizens of Cloyne) honestly according as the laws of Breteuil have been heretofore used or will be used, and the said citizens and their heirs shall be responsible to me and my successors according to the same laws in all things.

Now this reference to Breteuil is both unexpected and crucial. Breteuil, or Breteuil-sur-Noye, is a small town in the Département of Oise in northern Normandy. It has a current (2012) population of about 4,500 inhabitants. Breteuil was founded as a castle about 1060 by William the Bastard, Duke of Normandy (William the Conqueror of England). William gave the castle of Breteuil to his cousin William FitzOsbern, who granted a charter of liberties to the men of the new town that developed there. FizOsbern installed a man called Roger as his castellan and this man’s son came to England in 1066 and was granted vast estates on the Marches (borders) of Wales. Roger the younger succeeded William FitzOsbern as Earl of Hereford in 1071 and set about settling his new lands, including founding towns, such as Hereford itself. The way to attract settlers to these new towns was to give them a generous charter of liberties. Roger had only one model to draw on – the charter of Breteuil, and this became the model for new towns founded in England, Wales and Ireland by the Normans. The charter of Breteuil hasn’t survived, but among the known provisions were: the granting of large burgage plots (town plots); few, and low, fines (feudal custom imposed fines for almost everything!); permission for the townspeople to take wood from the lord’s forest for building and heating. It is also claimed that the custom whereby a serf who managed to flee his master and stay in a town for a year and a day was deemed a free man (and was no longer a serf) was one of the customs of Breteuil, but this is actually uncertain. What is important is that the law of Breteuil was clearly designed to attract settlers, as happened in Cloyne.

breteuil church

An old postcard of the square (place) in Breteuil-sur-Noye.

Bishop Daniel’s charter confirmed the grant to each burgess (townsman) eight acres, in addition to the long thin burgage plots leading off the four streets.’…to have and to hold…freely, quietly, entirely, fully, honourably and peaceably in wood, plains and roads, in paths, meadows and pastures, in moors, marshes and waters…’ This rule applied to the inhabitants ‘…of whatever nation they may be…’  So Cloyne would not discriminate between the Gaelic Irish and the Norman (English, Welsh, Fleming or French). The citizens could take turf from the bog to the south of Cloyne for heating, as much as they required for their household needs.  And all this on payment of a rent of one mark sterling paid half at Easter and half at Michaelmas (29th September). A mark was not a coin but a unit of account worth 160 pence sterling, or 13 shillings and 4 pence or two thirds of a pound sterling (80 pence at Easter and Michaelmas). It’s worth noting that the two townlands located due south of Cloyne are called Commons East and Commons West, and are divided by the road that runs south from the crossroads at the centre of the town.

And Cloyne even had a portreeve, or ‘mayor’ or ‘provost’. He was chosen by a twelve burgesses (citizens of the town) who, presumably, formed a council. In essence, the portreeve and his fellow councillors answered to the bishop for the rents, fines and debts as well as the actions and failures of the townspeople. Did they meet where the courthouse used to sand on Rock Street? This would make sense if the market court or piepouder (pied poudre, French for ‘dusty feet’) court was held there and the market dues were collected there too.

And there is one more piece of evidence for the development of the town of Cloyne in the 1200s. In 1299, the sheriff of Cork submitted a report to the king in which he identified the towns in the county which held a weekly market.  Normally, the market was licensed by the king but, given the slow communications even with Dublin in the 1200s, local lords set up their own markets, presumably with the intention of getting a royal licence at a later stage. Carrigtwohill and Youghal are listed for they each had a royal market licence. However, ‘Midleton’ (actually, Corabbey), Ballinacurra and Cloyne are also listed.  Now this is interesting because these places did not have a royal market licence from the King – in each case a cleric (the abbot in Corabbey and bishop in Cloyne) or the lord of the manor (Ballinacurra), authorised the market. In Corabbey (Midleton) it was the abbot of the Cistercian monastery who set it up, and in Cloyne it was the bishop who authorised the weekly market….right outside his own residence on the present Rock Street! This may actually be a factor of the laws of Breteuil – that the inhabitants could conduct a market on payment of a fee to the lord of the manor.

Cloyne sth side

The original ‘city’ of Cloyne consisted of the ecclesiastical zone of the cathedral and the much earlier round tower. This was the site of the monastery founded by St Colman before 600 AD.

So, there you have it – Cloyne was a ‘city’ and burgary, or borough, in the 1200s. And it was developed by the Gaelic Irish bishops and was run according to the laws and customs of a town in….Normandy. I seem to recall that the late Myrtle Allen of Ballymaloe once wrote that ‘Imokilly is the Normandy of Ireland’. She was referring to the rich farmland, agricultural produce and fresh fish from Ballycotton (all we’re missing is the cider!) …. but little did she realise how remarkably true that was on her very own doorstep!

Going for a (long) walk on National Pilgrim Paths Day.

Pilgrim Paths Day 2015

In 1907, Canon Patrick Power, a priest of Waterford and Lismore diocese, published an interesting article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland entitled: The ‘Rian bo Padraig’ (The Ancient Highway of the Decies). The subject of his paper was part of the ancient route that led from Cashel in County Tipperary to Ardmore on the coast of County Waterford. Part of this route was called the Rian bo Padraigh or the ‘Path of St Patrick’s Cow.’ We shouldn’t be surprised to read that St Patrick had a cow, after all, in a previous life he had been a herdsman. Canon Power gives the local tale of how this trackway got its name:

St Patrick’s cow, accompanied by her calf, was grazing peacefully on the alluvial flats by the side of the Tar river in the extreme south of Tipperary, when the calf was abducted by a wily cattle-thief from Kilwaltermoy, or somewhere south of the Bride, in the County Waterford. The robber, with his booty, started in haste for his home some eighteen or twenty miles distant, and shortly afterwards, the cow, having discovered her loss, commenced a distracted pursuit. In her fury, as she went, she tore up the earth with her horns – hence the double trench – till she overtook the robber whom she promptly gave his deserts. 

A number of things come out in this story.

First the location of the abduction of the calf – on the very rich alluviall grasslands by the banks of the Tar river. The south of county Tipperary is known as excellent country for raising racehorses – but the same land is equally good for raising cattle, especially dairy cows. Second point: the cattle-thief rings true to the period – the national sport in ancient Ireland wasn’t hurling as the GAA would have us imagine.  Rather cattle-raiding was THE sport that everyone aspired to – after all Ireland is the only country that I know of with a cowboy story as its national epic – the Tain Bo Cualigne is all about a war started during a cattle raid. Even the Americans haven’t got a cowboy story as THEIR national epic, despite Hollywood’s best attempts. The third point is that the robber came from the area just south of Lismore, somewhere in the valley of the Bride River – another rich cattle-raising area.  But to get there the thief had to cross the Blackwater or Amhainn Mor na Mumhan (the Great River of Munster) and then the Knockmealdown Mountains.  It was a clever statagem for the route would throw off any pursuers.  Unless, of course, the pursuer happened to be a furious mother cow in search of her stolen calf. The double trench mentioned in the text refers to what Canon Power was able to observe on the ground as he spent years trying to trace the route of the cow’s pursuit of her calf – a double ditch or trench cutting across the landscape of western County Waterford.

Canon Patrick Power

Canon Patrick Power, who traced the route from Ardfinnan to Ardmore via Lismore.

What Canon Power did at the end of the nineteenth century was to trace the route of ancient pilgrims from Ardfinnan, on the Suir in south Tipperary, to Lismore, on the Blackwater in Waterford, and then on to Ardmore on the coast.  It took him years to do it, and he even managed to trace the alternative route from Lismore towards Kilwatermoy and beyond, almost to Molana Abbey, just north of Youghal. Power was able to supply his own hand-drawn maps to accompany his text and he mentioned all the local people who’d helped him in his quest to fine the route – most unusually for a scholar, but he felt he owed them much and wanted other scholars to consult the same people.

St Declan's Way

The whole walking route is now marked, and even signposted. Interesting how the distance is left off the signs!

Today the whole route is now identified as a Pilgrim Path, used by people travelling from Cashel to Ardmore or vice versa, and taking in the important monastic site of Lismore. Unfortunately it has taken us a long time to recognize the potential tourism, heritage,recreational and health benefits of these routes.  In several cases it is likely that much of the original route cannot be recovered so approximate routes are used to link up the known routes.


Midleton is located off map some distance below the bottom left. Ardmore is located near the bottom right, also off map. The Knockmealdowns are in the middle, between Lismore on the Blackwater and Ardfinnan on the Suir.


The Knockmealdowns can be covered by cloud because the mountains are at the meeting point of the inland airflows to the north and the sea borne weather to the south.

Saturday, 4th April (Holy Saturday or Easter Saturday, as you prefer) is National Pilgrim Paths Day – how appropriate that it happens during Easter!  My sister and I are joining walkers to follow part of the Rian bo Padraig. We’re going from Mount Mellary Abbey in County Waterford to Ardfinnan in County Tipperary on St Declan’s Way.  The eighteen mile hike will take us over the Knockmealdowns to give us a stunning view northwards over the Golden Vale in south County Tipperary.  It should take about four hours – or five for the weary and distracted!  Even the heavens are going to join in – the weather forecast looks splendid, with sunshine and warm spring temperatures (very important on top of a mountain range in Ireland!).

Mount Mellary Abbey

Mount Mellary Abbey is a Trappist (Cistercian) monastery founded as a refuge for French monks fleeing persecution in France after the July Revolution of 1830. The abbey stands on the southern side of the Knockmealdowns. The huge abbey church was built with stone removed from Mitchelstown Castle after it was burned out in 1922.

Here’s the link:


The village of Ardfinnan is presided over by its still inhabited castle. Note the width of the River Suir at teh foot of the castle.

One thing I’ve discussed locally is the idea of tracing the original route linking Molana Abbey to Cork by way of Cloyne – some of this route is actually known, but there are serious gaps. But I hope that one day we might be able to link St Finbarr’s Way (from Gougane Barra to Cork with St Declan’s Way and the Rian Bo Padraig via the pilgrim route through Imokilly. Such a route would allow a person to walk from Cashel to Gougane Barra via Lismore and Cloyne!


The Camino de Santiago has its identifiable waymarkers. So do the Irish Pilgrim Paths – this shows an ancient Irish monk carrying an early Irish crozier. Note that the monk is wearing a hood, not a pony-tail – it rains in Ireland! The Irish crozier was shorter than the Continental one – and a lot more practical – it was really a walking stick for elderly clerics, or for pilgrims!

If there’s no pilgrimage trail near you, just get out and find a nice track in the countryside to follow for a while – it’s good for the soul.