Trick or Treat? The haunting of Castlemartyr Castle in the early Seventeenth Century

Castlemartyr Capella Hotel

Castlemartyr at dusk – the south front of the old castle consists of the tall medieval tower-house on the right and the lower early seventeenth century manor house with its three vast chimneys. The tall gable wall on the left indicates the size of the roof of the old manor house. The manor house was probably added by Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald between 1611 and 1641.

With Halloween fast approaching there may be a tendency in Ireland to bemoan the Americanisation of the ancient Irish festival of Samhain. However this post will recount details of events in Castlemartyr that might suggest superstitions could be manipulated for other purposes, even as early as the first decades of the seventeenth century.

An Englishman travelling about Ireland in the 1620s befriended Charles McCarthy, later created Viscount Muskerry in 1628. McCarthy, a major Gaelic landowner in County Cork, and a Catholic, was the owner of Blarney Castle. He was well connected and no doubt regaled his visitor with tales of the stone built into his castle that conferred eloquence on those who kissed it. Whether it was the present Blarney Stone or not is open to question.

McCarthy may have been suspicious of the Englishman’s tour – was he a spy sent to identify vulnerable estates that could be seized by the Crown and granted to English planters? Taking the visitor on a tour, McCarthy took him first to Castlelyons to meet the young Lord Barrymore – a scion of the Anglo-Irish Barry family who had married a daughter of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork. From Castlelyons, the travellers went towards Youghal, but with darkness approaching, they stopped at Castlemartyr for the night.

In those days Castlemartyr was the residence of Edmund FitzJohn FitzGerald, the son of the last effective Seneschal of Imokilly who had died in confinement in Dublin Castle in 1589 just before the order for his release arrived from London. Edmund was only about eighteen months old when his father died. However, despite the fact that his father had twice rebelled against Elizabeth I in the space of ten years, the family estate at Castlemartyr was not confiscated. So, when Edmund came of age about 1610/1611, he inherited his father’s estate. It was almost certainly after this time that Edmund modernised the old castle by adding a modern manor house to his tower house.

Charles McCarthy was certainly the reason why the English traveller was granted ‘meat and bed’ for the night at Castlemartyr, although traditional hospitality would certainly have seen him fed and housed for the night. Another detail would have helped – Edmund FitzGerald was a Catholic, just like McCarthy. One would give much to learn what topics were part of the dinner conversation, but one suspects that land and lineage may have been among the subjects discussed. These were normal subjects of conversation in a status conscious age. One wonders if their host recounted the tale of the execution of his grandmother, Shylie O’Carroll, who was hanged from the gateway of Castlemartyr during the Second Desmond Rebellion in an effort to persuade the Seneschal to surrender Castlemartyr. (Local legend has it that Shylie was hung from the castle gateway, but it seems she was hung in Cork.)

Following a grand meal, the guests were escorted to their chambers. Unusually, instead of being housed in the same room, the Englishman was given a room of his own, with a large window overlooking the park. Having got himself undressed, the visitor, locked the door and climbed into his comfortable bed, and extinguished his taper. A low fire in the grate was all that lit the chamber.

Some time later, the visitor’s sleep was interrupted by a noise. It emanated from the direction of the door into the room. But the door was locked but someone clearly tried to gain entry into the bedchamber. Footsteps sounded outside, departing from the door. Imagining that he was about to be murdered, the visitor cowered under the bedclothes awaiting his fate. All was quiet again for a time, the dying embers of the fire cast eerie shadows around the room.  Reassured that the door was secure, the Englishman dozed off again.

Castlemartyr scale

The scale of Castlemartyr is indicated by the size of the children in the photo. Note how the manor house has its windows on the upper floor.

It happened again…..footsteps outside his chamber, another attempt to open the door. This time more violently – the terrified Englishman was convinced now that somebody meant to do him harm. After all this was a Papist Irish household and he was a good Protestant Englishman. He cried out to the intruder but got no response. A sound of laughter, followed by receding footsteps suggested that the intruder had departed.

By now the visitor was very worried. He reached for his taper and  took it to the fire to light it from the last embers. This feeble light was to be his comfort for the rest of the hours of darkness. Wide awake now, and peeping from beneath the bed cover the Englishman contemplated his own, possibly immanent, mortality. Some time later, perhaps an hour or two, there was a noise at his window. It seemed as if someone was tapping on the glass. But that was impossible – the chamber was on an upper floor!

The tapping stopped and all was quiet again. By now the taper had burned very low and soon it would go out.  Then a shadow appeared on the ceiling, a figure seeming to reach into the chamber to open the door from inside. By now the taper was extinguished and the only remaining light came from the dying embers of the fire.  Once again footsteps sounded outside, this time very faint. Once again the door rattled as someone tried to gain entry.

It was too much for the petrified visitor, who spent the rest of the hours of darkness crouched under the bed, wrapped in a sheet. As soon as it was daylight, he got out, dressed quickly and opened the door to head out. The household was about to have breakfast, but the Englishman begged Charles McCarthy to depart with him immediately and speed on to Youghal. Despite McCarthy’s protests, the Englishman’s fears prevailed and they left at once…..

Witch Hunt

Brutal witch hunts seem to have been more common in Scotland, England, and the Continent than in Ireland. Religious disputes and land ownership were the principal concerns in Ireland, although Florence Newton of Youghal was prosecuted as a witch on September 11th 1661!

This strange tale was recounted some years ago at a lecture  given in the Hunt Museum, Limerick. The lecturer suggested that a number of factors made the tale interesting. A Catholic Irish gentleman escorted a Protestant visitor to the home of a long established Catholic gentry family with a rebellious lineage. This was a time when the Plantation of Ulster was under way. The Elizabethan Plantation of Munster was still fresh in Irish minds, and the English adventurers, like Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, were known for their rapacious acquisition of land – from whatever source. Families like the McCarthys of Muskerry and the FitzGeralds of Imokilly were wary of these interlopers. Was there a ghost in Castlemartyr that night?

Blarney Castle

Blarney Castle was the seat of Charles McCarthy, who may have recounted the tale of the stone that granted eloquence….

It seems likely that, with or without the prior knowledge of Edmund FitzGerald, members of the household at Castlemartyr tried to frighten the English visitor and discourage him from giving a good account of his visit, thereby discouraging any possible ‘claims’ by an English planter on the Castlemartyr estate. The ‘haunting’ of Castlemartyr by a poltergeist that night seems to have been a defensive mechanism by the household. In an age of superstition, when women were persecuted in large numbers as witches, this was a highly successful strategy by the FitzGeralds of Castlemartyr. It is interesting that this tale appears to be the earliest example of ‘trick or treat’ known in an Irish context!

Happy Samhain….or Halloween .

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Mainistir na Corann – the origins of the market town in 1608.

Midleton Farmers Market was founded in the year 2000, but the founders didn't realise that their market day, Saturday, was the very same day designated for a market in 1608!

Midleton Farmers Market was founded in the year 2000, but the founders didn’t realise that their preferred market day, Saturday, was the very same day designated for a market in 1608!

On Saturday, 30th May 2015, Midleton Farmers Market celebrated fifteen successful years of business. But little did the founders of this market realise in 2000 that their decision to hold the market on Saturday actually chimed with the earliest evidence for a market town at Mainistir na Corann or Corabbey. It really proved to be a serendipitous decision by the Midleton Farmers Market!

When exactly did the town now called Midleton actually begin? The truth is we’re not really certain. But we do have one date that certainly suggests a town either existing on the site, or being developed – 1608. There is some evidence for an earlier town or village – it comes from maps made during the sixteenth century by Continental or English cartographers working for the Crown.  Maps by Robert Lythe showing M Coragh (1571), Abraham Ortelius showing Cor (1573), and Francis Jobson showing Coragh (1589) all suggest the presence of a town or village at the site of the abbey. Robert Lythe’s map is especially precocious given its accuracy. Clearly there was something on the site – and not just the old abbey (whether in ruins or intact).

Midleton Bridge or the Cork Bridge spans the Owenacurra at the northern end of Midleton.  The riverbed here is quite shallow and makes an excellent ford.

Midleton Bridge or the Cork Bridge spans the Owenacurra at the northern end of Midleton. As can be seen from the photograph, the riverbed here is quite shallow and makes an excellent ford.

Paul McCotter has produced evidence that suggests that there may have been a settlement in the area before the monastery was founded in 1180, and that it developed further after the foundation of the monastery.  He notes the name Drohidfinagh (or Droichead Fineadh) which may refer to a settlement near the present Cork Bridge in Midleton. That area, at the northern end of Main Street later included the Fair Green. The current bridge was built on the last crossing point on the Owenacurra. Indeed the short stretch of the riverbed immediately north and south of the modern bridge is quite shallow, and is easily fordable, especially after a spell of dry weather. But the stream above and below this short stretch is deeper and less easily forded. It should be noted that Drohidfinagh is not a name in current use in Midleton. The name appears to suggest a community bridge – but this is a community in the sense of a clan rather than a community in the sense of a settlement. Perhaps the name refers to the ancient Gaelic chieftans, the Mac Tire, whose family dominated the area before the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in 1177/78.

Despite the fact that we have a record of the possessions of the Cistercian Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) from 1541, that record does not show clear evidence of a town or village attached to the monastery.  It isn’t until the former monastic estate was transferred to a new leaseholder, John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, in 1573 that things begin to change.  It is unknown the abbey buildings were damaged during the First Desmond Rebellion (1569-73), but it should not surprise us if some harm was done.  The Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-83) was, however, much worse. Mainistir na Corann, as we have noted, had already appeared as M Coragh on Lythe’s map which was based on a survey of Imokilly and East Cork conducted between November 1569 and January 1570. The town or village was clearly on those maps made up to 1612 usually under variations of Cor, Corabbey, M Cor, M Coragh. Clearly the place was developing into a town, but ,with the late sixteenth century wars. it didn’t have the most auspicious start.

The Second Desmond Rebellion did enormous damage to the fabric of buildings and to the local economy.  John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne claimed that he had lost some 3,200 head of cattle (valued at £2,160), over 1,000 horses (valued at over £1,000) and 21,000,sheep and goats (valued at over £2,100). Additional losses included 1,400 pigs (value £400) and five hackneys and five mares (valued at £20).  With other losses, FitzGerald estimated he had lost property valued at over £6,160 by the summer of 1581. He didn’t include the burning of Cloyne and the burning of his castle at Ballycotton in these figures. Anthony McCormack reckons that John FitzEdmund FitzGerald had sustained losses of over 310,000 sterling by the close of the war. This was a huge sum, even for one of the greatest and most crooked land-grabbers in Ireland! McCormack estimates that out of the 150,000 strong population of Munster, some 48,600 people may have died of war, starvation, disease and plague during this rebellion.

Cahermone Castle was acquired from impecunious relatives in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, who built the walled garden seen on the left.  Cahermone stands at the edge of Midleton town.

Cahermone Castle was acquired from impecunious FitzGerald relatives in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, who built the walled garden seen on the left. He also added a more modern house on the right. Clearly FitzGerald had his eye on the monastic estate of Corabbey.  Cahermone stands at the edge of Midleton town.

It is worth noting that John FitzEdmund Fitzgerald of Cloyne was a Catholic who was totally loyal to Queen Elizabeth; an illegitimate son, he had become the Dean of Cloyne Cathedral in succession to his father and kept the cathedral operating as a Catholic place of worship until his death in 1612! One wonders if he also maintained a small community at Chore Abbey. Sadly there would be another war at the end of the sixteenth century when the two Ulster lords, Hugh O’Neil and Red Hugh O’Donnell, brought their forces south to join the Spanish at Kinsale – Imokilly was seriously spoiled by the northern army in its search for provisions. FitzGerald had first moved into the area of Mainistir na Corann/Corabbey in 1571 when he acquired the neighbouring Cahermone Castle from some impecunious FitzGerald relatives..

On 14th October 1608, Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald (he had been knighted in 1601) was granted a license to hold a weekly market at Corabbey. Market day was to be on Saturday – just like today’s Farmer’s Market! Sir John had to pay an annual ‘rent’ of 5 shillings in English currency to the Crown for the license. He was now obliged to appoint a place for the holding of the market and to police this market by means of a clerk of the market and a piepowder court. This latter was a summary court that settled disputes on the spot between traders and their clients. It took its name from the old French term pieds poudres or ‘dusty feet.’ All stall-holders had to pay a fee (either a portion of their goods or give the equivalent value in currency). The fines from the piepowder court and the market fees represented quite a profit for the landlord, especially since the fees could be collected weekly.

It’s worth noting that in the following year, Sir James Craig was granted a license to hold an annual fair at Castleredmond on 3rd of May and one day following.

Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, acquired the estate of Corabbey some time after Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald's death in 1612.  Strangely, nobody ever talks about him in relation to Midleton.

The Elizabethan adventurer, Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork, acquired the estate of Corabbey some time after the death of Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald in 1612. Strangely, nobody ever talks about him in the context of Midelton’s history. He’s Midleton’s forgotten figure really.

By the 1620s, the monastic estate of Corabbey had clearly come into the hands of a new leaseholder – the formidable Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. An extraordinary property-developer, Boyle applied for and was granted a new license for a market in Mainistir na Corran/Corabbey. This license was granted on 23rd December 1624 and it too designated Saturday as the market day. Boyle was charged 6 shillings 8 pence (Irish currency) each year for this privilege. On the same day he was granted a license to hold an annual fair in Castleredmond on 3rd of May and two days following.

One interesting context for these market licenses – there is no record of such a license being issued for Ballinacorra village. Nearby locations like Rostellan, Dangandonovan, Carrigtohill, and even Killeagh are recorded as having a licence for a market or fair or even both.  This suggests that these areas are held by influential landlords and have a sufficient population  and commerce to warrant the issue of such licenses.

None of the men mentioned above would have applied for their licenses if they didn’t believe in the commercial opportunities that would benefit them. It seems highly unlikely that a license would have been issued if the applicant could not demonstrate a realy local need for a market. Clearly there must have been a town developing at Corabby/Mainistir na Corann to sustain all this activity – the market town that became Midleton was born. It is obvious that, if he didn’t found the town, then Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald was intent on developing it, as was Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork.

I understand that the founders of Midleton Farmers Market had absolutely no idea that Saturday was the original market day designated in 1608 and reaffirmed in 1624. They chose the day because it is a popular shopping day in Midleton. Serendipity indeed!

Sources: Margaret Curtis Clayton, ‘Early Stuart markets and fairs in Munster, c1600-1630’. Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, 2010.   Anthony McCormack, ‘The social and economic consequences of the Desmond rebellion of 1579-83.’ Irish Historical Studies, May 2004.