Church and chancell down – the state of parish churches in South East Cork, 1615

Cloyne sth side

The Cathedral Church of St Colman in Cloyne was closed to the Reformed Church until the death of Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Dean of Cloyne, in 1612. He was a Catholic and the Established Church only gained entry on his death, with the appointment of a new Dean, Thomas Winter.

Some time between July 15th and August 25th, 1615, a Royal Visitation of the dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross took place to ascertain the condition of the parish churches and the status of each parish. The Visitation was ordered by the government in Dublin with a view to assessing with total accuracy the actual progress in imposing the reformed religion on Ireland. Where England, Wales and Scotland had accepted their respective reformations, Ireland proved more contentious.

William Lyon of Chester was the bishop of the three dioceses at the time. An avowed Protestant, he deplored the idolatry of the native Irish and the Old English families that clung to their ancestral religion. Lyon proposed to the government that the only solution to the obstinacy of the Irish in their religious preference was to, literally, exterminate all the Catholic clergy whenever and wherever they were discovered or identified. The government, perhaps lacking the machinery to do this, or more likely to avoid stirring up an expensive rebellion, declined to follow Lyon’s advice in this matter.

The final report of the Visitors must have made for grim reading for the bishops and divines of the Established Church – many parish churches were in ruins or only partially intact. Worse still, many parishes were impropriate (the Latin word appropriata is used to indicate this). That is the tithes were held by a layman (who might be a Catholic) who also held the patronage of the parish – it was the patron’s duty to appoint a minister or priest.  Naturally, a Catholic patron might decline to appoint a minister of the Reformed Church.

Fitzgerald Tomb Cloyne

Tomb of Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Ballymaloe, Dean of Cloyne. Located in the north transept of the cathedral this was the work of an English sculptor who also executed the tomb of  Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, in St Mary’s Collegiate Church in Youghal.

The frequent repetition of the phrase ‘church and chancell down‘ indicates either the deliberate destruction of the church during the wars under Elizabeth I, or simple neglect by the incumbent minister and the parishioners. It should be noted that the medieval practice of imposing the cost of maintaining the church on the parish and the maintenance of the chancel (roof and all the liturgical furnishings) on the Rector was still evident, even though few of the medieval churches displayed any external evidence of division into nave and chancel. The separation of nave and chancel was usually only visible in interior of the church.

This survey is taken from Michael A Murphy’s article ‘The Royal Visitation of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and the College of Youghal’ published in the journal Archivium Hibernicum, vol 2 (1913). Murphy covers all three dioceses, but this post will only examine the rural deanery of Imokilly. It should be noted that Murphy made some mistakes – his Kilmachin is actually Kilmahon (modern Shanagarry) and NOT Kilmaclenine, as he suggests. Note that the tithes of a parish were usually divided between a Rector (the actual parish priest) who got perhaps two thirds of the income and a Vicar (representing an absentee proprietor of the living) who got about a third of the tithe. A curate was given a small stipend from the Rector or Vicar who appointed him, the rest of his income coming from payments for performing parish services like baptisms, marriages and burials. Pluralism (holding several benefices/livings/curacies was commonplace because the tithes from Irish parishes rarely provided sufficient income. The term benefice or living are virtually interchangeable – it refers to the effective proprietor of the tithes.

The Cathedral of St Colman in Cloyne. Dean, Thomas Winter MA. (Winter was a pluralist, being Treasurer of Cashel and Precentor of Waterford and Lismore until 1614. He appointed to Cloyne in 1612, following the death of Sir John Fitzedmund Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe, a Catholic who kept Cathedral closed to ministes of the Reformed Chuch. Winter died on 25th August 1615.) Income valued at £20 per annum. No house for the Dean. All the church intruded upon by Sir John Fitz Garrett (Fitzgerald). It appears that three years after the death of Sir John Fitzgerald, the Dean and Chapter still didn’t have full access to all of the Cathedral in Cloyne!

The Precentor was Alexander Gough, a reading minister of over eighty years of age. (He didn’t have license to preach, but he was permitted to read published sermons.) Value of his office: £4 per annum. By right of office he held Kilcredan, near modern Ballmacoda, valued at 30 shillings. This church and its chancel were down (ruinous) in 1615. (Kilcredan was later rebuilt by Sir Robert Tynte of Youghal.)

Youghal (St Mary’s Collegiate Church, or the College of Youghal). The Guardian was Richard Boyle, minister and preacher. He was a relative of the Richard Boyle who became the richest man in Ireland and Earl of Cork. Value: £200. Church and chancel were in good condition. This was the richest and largest parish church in the diocese.

Garryvoe was a Rectory. Previously held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) but now held impropriate by the estate of Sir John Fitzgerald. The medieval church and chancel was intact and well kept at this time.  No rector named, but the vicarage was held by the College of Youghal (see above). William Wood was the minister and preacher appointed by the vicar.

Garryvoe Church

Garryvoe Church is a ruined late medieval single-cell structure (the internal divisions being invisible on the exterior). It is entirely typical of the rural parish churches built in Ireland in the 1400s. Many of these buildings continued to serve into the 17th century but others were in ruins by 1615.

Bohillane was a Rectory without any vicarate. Thomas Wilson was the minister and preacher. Value: £3 per annum. ‘Church and chancell down.’ A poor parish usually served by clergy attached to other parishes or vicarates.

Killmachin or Kilmahon (now Shanagarry) was Rectory previously held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) but now impropriate to Sir John Fitzgerald. Value: £5 p.a. ‘Church and chancell in decay.’ The vicar Thomas Wentmore served the cure.

Ballygourney* was a Rectory held by the Abbey of Chore (Midleton). This parish corresponds with the civil parish of Ballintemple or Churchtown South. The Vicar was John Hall, minister and preacher, and Bachelor of Theology. Value: £5 p.a. Church and chancell down. It is interesting that the Abbey of Chore is still mentioned as holding the tithes despite the fact that it was dissolved in 1543. However, the new landlord would have retained the tithes attached to the former abbey as part of the estate. Until 1612, Sir John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Ballymaloe was the landlord of Corabbey (Midleton) and thus, in 1615, his son and heir held the tithes of this particular parish.

Inchie alias Ninsh (modern Inch) was a Rectory held by Degorius (Gregorius?) Hawkes, a reading minister who served the cure. Hawkes also held the vicarage, valued at £10. The church and chancel were down and Hawkes was admonished to repair them.

Agfadda (or Aghada) was a Rectory with the church and chancel ‘well slated.’  Hawkes (see above) was the vicar and served the cure. Value:£10.

Corkbegg (Corkbeg) was a Rectory impropriated by Sir John Fitzgerald.. Vicar: William Thomas. Value: £6. Wentmore (see Kilmahon) served as curate. Church and chancel in good repair and slated.

Rostellan was a Rectory, impropriated to Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was Anthony Kingsmell, minister and preacher, who served the cure. Value: £3. Church and chancel down.

Capella de Rath alias Garrenefeke (modern Garranekinnefeake) was a rectory. The Vicarate was sequestered to the rectory because there was no income. No information on the church the site of which is still extant but was replaced by Holy Trinity Church in East Ferry in the later 19th century.

Capella Roberti (Templerobin on Great Island) was a Rectory held by the Augustinian Abbey of Bridgetown, near Mallow. Vicarate was vacant. Value: (detail missing). Bishop has been admonished to appoint a minister.  Church and chancel up. (An intact church yet no clergy to serve the parish…Bishop Lyons was letting matters slip!)  Great Island is now part of the Barony of Barrymore, but then it was attached to the Deanery and Barony of Imokilly.

Moysagh  (Mogeesha) was a Rectory impropriate to Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was Arthur Kingsmell (see Rostellan). Value: £5. Church well, chancel down.

Castrochorie (Ballincurra, probably including Chore, now Midleton) was a Rectory formerly held by the Prior of All Hallows in Dublin (site of Trinity College). The Vicarage was vacant and usurped by Sir John Fitzgerald. No curate. Walls up of both church and chancel. This refers to the medieval church that still stands in the graveyard of Ballinacurra. There is no mention of the parish of Corabbey suggesting that the Abbey of Chore (Midleton) was in complete ruin and that the two parishes had been reunited for the first time since 1180. The usurpation by Fitzgerald can be explained by his possession of Corabbey since 1583.

Ballinacorra Church interior

Ballinacurra Church was one of the oldest parish churches (before 1180?) and became the parish church of the newly reunified parishes of Castra Chore and Abbey Chore when the latter parish was suppressed before 1615, presumably on account of the destruction of the Abbey of Chore (Midleton) during the Elizabethan wars  In the early 17th century A number of larger windows were inserted into Ballinacurra church to allow the incumbent clergyman to read the Prayerbook during services.

Inchinabackey (now Churchtown North, two miles east of Midleton) was a Rectory previously held by All Hallows in Dublin. Sir John Fitzgerald had impropriated or usurped it, and the vicarage. Church up. There was neither vicar nor curate. The ruins of the church, clearly a classic 15th century structure, can still be visited in graveyard beside the N25.

Ballymartery (or Ballymartyr, alias Ballyoughtera, now Castlemartyr) was also a Rectory held by the Priory of All Hallows but was now usurped by Sir John Fitzgerald. The Vicar was William Thomas (see Corkbeg) and Thomas Wentmore (see Kilmahon) served as curate. Value: £6. Church and chancel ‘roofed not covered.’ This parish possessed one of the largest parish churches in the diocese, the ruins of which are still extant. The reference to the roof suggests that the timbers of the roof were present but there was no covering of slate, lead or thatch. This church was the burial place of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly who lived in the adjacent tower house of Castlemartyr.

Magely (Mogeely) was a Rectory formerly held by the Abbot of Chore (Midleton) and held in 1615 by Sir John Fitzgerald. Church and chancel were in ruins. No value given. The vicarage was vacant and usurped by Fitzgerald. There was no curate.

Capella de Dangidonovan (Dangandonovan) was a Rectory held by the Prior of Glassearge (?) but in 1615 held by Thomas Fitzgerald. No value given, Church and chancel down. No curate.

Killogh (Killeagh) was attached to the College of Youghal and the cure was served by Dean Boyle. ‘Church and chancell up and furnished.’

Cahirultan was a Prebend and Rectory held by William Thomas (see Corkbeg). Value £6. No curate. Admonished to provide a curate. Church and chancel ‘repayred cum libris’ (furnished with the correct liturgical books). A prebend was a cathedral stall, so the Rector of Cahirultan also served the Cathedral.

Kilcredan was a Prebend and also a Rectory and was held by Alexander Gough. Church and chancell downe. Value: £3. No curate. The Vicarage belonged to the College of Youghal, William Wood served the cure.

Kilcredan church

The present ruined church at Kilcredan was built in the 1630s by Sir Robert Tynte as the first purpose-built Protestant church in East Cork. The large windows are the result of a later remodelling but it is certain that this simple building had quite large windows when first built. It stands on the site of the ruinous church described in 1615.

Killuradonoge (Kilmacdonoge, now essentially Ballymacoda) was a Prebend held by Manass (Manus?) Marshall, BA and preacher. Value: £24. Church and chancel down. Cure served by Alexander Gough.

Titeskin was a Rectory held by John Twinbrooks, BA and reading minister. Value: £4. Church and chancel down.  Twinbrooks was also the vicar, and he served the cure. This is a wonderful example of an impoverished clergyman making ends meet by economising in his impoverished living.

Clonmell was a Rectory and Prebend attached to the Economy of the Cathedral Chapter.of Cloyne. Valued earlier. Church and chancel in decay. The cure was sometimes served by Israel Taylor. Rector admonished to provide more diligent cure. The Vicar was the same Israel Taylor. Clonmel was the parish that covered the western half of Great Island – Cobh stands in this parish. Templerobin covered the eastern part of the Great Island.

  • Correction: Ballygourney parish was previously incorrectly identified by my. This has now been corrected in this post and there is a separate blog post on the subject.

‘…mean thatched cabins…….’ The Masshouses in South East Cork in 1731.

Penal laws against the Catholic Church had existed in Ireland since the reign of Elizabeth I, but the most infamous laws were passed by the Irish Parliament in the 1690s into the early 1700s.

Penal laws against the Catholic Church had existed in Ireland since the reign of Elizabeth I, but the most infamous laws were passed by the Irish Parliament in the 1690s into the early 1700s.

These Masshouses are generally mean thatched cabins; many, or most of them, open at one end, and very few of them built since the first of King George the First.

These words are from the official return made to the Irish government in December 1731 by Henry Maule, Bishop of Cloyne in the Established Church (Church of Ireland). The Irish House of Lords had ordered an inquiry into the ‘State of Popery’ in Ireland and each bishop was required to submit detailed returns. The House of Lords wished to know how effective the Penal Laws enacted since 1693 had been in curtailing the practice of Catholicism.There were a number of restrictions imposed by these laws. Catholics couldn’t build a place of worship that looked like a church, it couldn’t be located in sight of a church or beside a main road, and it couldn’t have a bell or belfry.

Interior of Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park gives an idea of the similarity to the Masshouses of the period. Presbyterian marriages were not recognized by law, although Catholic marriages were actually recognized. Such were the bizarre anomalies of the Penal Laws.

Interior of Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park gives an idea of the similarity to the Masshouses of the period, except for the dominant pulpit and box pews. Presbyterian marriages were not recognized by law, although Catholic marriages were actually recognized. Such were the bizarre anomalies of the Penal Laws.

Maule’s returns were published in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1893. This publication proved fortuitous because the original returns were kept in the Public Record Office until until its destruction at the outset of the Irish Civil War in 1922. We owe a debt of gratitude to Rev Fr Patrick Hurley, PP Inchigeela, for publishing this document before the fire at the Public Records Office. .

In his report accompanying the returns, Maule noted that ‘It appears,then, from the Returns made by the Clergy that there are seventy Masshouses in the Diocese of Cloyne.’  He goes on to say that ‘The reputed Popish Priests officiating in these Masshouses are reckoned to be ninety-two.‘  In respect of the masshouses Bishop Maule noted that ‘Some new Masshouses have been attempted to be raised about three years ago, particularly at Cloyne and Charleville, within view of the Churches of those towns, and where no Masshouses were before. But the finishing of the same has been hitherto prevented by the care of the respective Magistrates of these places.‘ Here is clear evidence that in some locations Catholics had difficulty erecting a shelter for the altar so that they could celebrate Mass. It was a very hit and miss business – some landlords and magistrates allowed masshouses on their land, even new ones or the repair of old ones. Others simply refused to allow them – the Brodricks of Midleton were noted in this respect.

Bishop Maule also noted the absence of nunneries in the diocese, but he did record that one old Franciscan friar inhabited a thatched house adjoining the ‘Abbey of Buttevant‘ near Mallow. However, Maule noted that ‘strolling vagabond Friars‘ from Aglish in County Waterford, Kilcrea near Cork, Kinsale friary and even from Killarney in County Kerry regularly visited the diocese, to ‘do much mischief.’  This ‘mischief‘ included confirming ‘the Papists in their superstition and errors‘, marrying ‘Protestants to Papists contrary to Law‘, they haunted ‘the sick beds, even of Protestants; they endeavour to pervert them from our holy Religion‘, and finally ‘they are become greatly obnoxious even to the Papists themselves‘.

In all, Henry Maule calculated that there were 14,200 ‘Protestant souls‘ and 80,500 ‘Popish souls‘ in his diocese, reckoning at six to a family for both figures.  There were 47 Protestant clergy and 92 Catholic clergy with one friar to serve these populations. The diocese could boast 44 churches in repair for use by the Established Church (compared with the 70 masshouses identified in the returns).

Tullyallen Masshouse from near Dungannon was built in 1768 on land leased from the liberal Lord Charlemont. Here we see the west door, the plain white walls, thatch and the chimney at the opposite end indicating the schoolroom. The priest lived in a wing at the back. Surprisingly few of these buildings survive in Ireland. Most were replaced in the early 19th century.

Tullyallen Masshouse, from near Dungannon, County Tyrone, was built in 1768 on land leased from the liberal Lord Charlemont. Here we see the west door, the plain white walls, standard sash windows, thatched roof and the chimney at the opposite end, indicating the schoolroom. The priest lived in a wing at the back. Surprisingly few masshouses survive in Ireland. Most were replaced in the early 19th century. In appearance it could be a Presbyterian chapel. The masshouses described in this post were usually open at the end. Tullyallen Masshouse is now preserved in the Ulster American Folk Park.  (National Museums of Northern Ireland.)

An inspection of the parishes in Imokilly and Barrymore might give an idea of the conditions that Catholics faced throughout Ireland in observing their religion before 1750. The parishes are identified by their Anglican designation at the time. The words and spelling are those of Bishop Henry Maule. Here the parishes are here set out in alphabetical order.

Union of parishes of Aghada: one Masshouse with scarce a roof. Three Popish priests and two strolling Fryars haunt this and Cloyne.(Note the difficulty of maintaining the masshouse which served Whitegate, Rostellan, Aghada, Inch and Trabolgan. TH)

Ardagh: one old Masshouse. One Popish Priest. (Now part of Killeagh parish. TH.)

Ballynoe: one Masshouse lately repaired, no Popish Chappell. Two Officiating Popish Priests. (The reference to a chapel was part of the survey, presumably to discover which of the better off Catholic family was likely to be harbouring seminary priests. TH)

Bohillane: no Masshouse. No Popish Priest. (Bohillane was the medieval parish situated between Ightermurrough and Cloyne civil parishes. TH)

Carricktowel: one Masshouse, one Popish Chapel. One Popish priest, a Popish Priest Officiating in this Chappel. (It seems that either the Coppingers or the Cotters had a private chapel in their house near Carrigtohill. TH)

Castlemartyr: no open Masshouse. One reputed Popish Priest.

Cloyne: Masshouse began, but not finished. An officiating Priest, with a Coadjutor.(Maule had noted the intervention of the magistrates in preventing the completion of the Masshouse in Cloyne. TH)

Cloyne Priest: no Masshouse. The same priest with Youghal. (This is Clonpriest which had long been attached to the parish of Youghal. TH)

Dongorney: one Masshouse, One Popish Priest.

Eigthermarah: one large Masshouse. Two reputed Officating Priests. (This is the civil parish of Ightermurrough, now incorporated into Ballymacoda and Ladysbridge Parish. Presumably the large masshouse was required to serve Garryvoe and Bohillane too. TH)

Great Island: one old Masshouse. Two officiating Priests assisted by two Itinerants. (The old parishes of Templerobin and Clonmel on Great Island are given as one. It is not certain if the ‘itinerants’ were friars. TH)

Killeagh: one large Masshouse built (since King George the Second’s accession) on ye great high road. Two Officiating Popish Priests. (This was an extraordinarily daring situation since masshouses were prohibited beside main highways. This one in Killeagh had been built in the previous four years, since 1727. TH)

Killmacdonogh: one old Masshouse, One Popish Priest. (This was part of the modern parish of Ballymacoda. TH)

Kilmahon: no Masshouse. No reputed Popish Priest. (Kilmahon is Shanagarry, now part of Cloyne parish. TH)

Lisgoold:one Masshouse. One Popish Priest.

Midleton: no open Masshouse. One Popish Priest. (Clearly the Brodricks did not tolerate an open masshouse on their property – yet there was one in Midleton before the Chapel of St John was built in 1803. TH)

Rathcormack: one Masshouse. Two Popish Priests.

Youghal: one large Masshouse, without the walls of the town. One Popish Priest Officiating therein.(Youghal had quite sectarian politics at times in the eighteenth century. The Corporation and the magistrates refused to allow a masshouse within the walls of the town until St Mary’s church was built within the town walls at the end of the century. TH)

The simple interior of Tullyallen Masshouse shows the wooden altar in the middle of the back wall, open rafters and whitewashed walls. The confessional stands near the door. The building had a T-shape plan, the stem of the T being the sacristy and priest's house.

The simple interior of Tullyallen Masshouse shows the wooden altar in the middle of the back wall, open rafters and whitewashed walls. The confessional stands near the door. The building had a T-shape plan, the stem of the T being the sacristy and priest’s house. The better off parishioners paid a pew rent to sit directly opposite the altar. (NMNI)

It’s worth noting Bishop Maule’s comments about ‘reputed‘ priests and ‘no open Masshouse‘ for these refer to the need for Catholic clergy, and congregation, to be circumspect in some areas  He also noted that Doneraile had ‘a kind of Shedd instead of a Masshouse,’ and Newmarket had ‘two old tattered Masshouses.

Source: Rev. Patrick Hurley PP, ‘The Past History of the Diocese of Cork’ in The Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, Vol II a, Part III, 1893.

The reconstructed Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park. Note the similarity to the Tullyallen Masshouse, although the windows are smaller and higher.

The reconstructed Mountjoy Presbyterian Meeting House in the Ulster American Folk Park. Note the similarity to the Tullyallen Masshouse, although the windows are smaller and higher. (NMNI)

Before Midleton – the foundation of Mainistir na Corann in 1180: a medieval whodunnit.

Clairvaux undercroft

Sadly, this splendid undercroft is not the remains of the abbey that gave Midleton its Irish name – this is Clairvaux Abbey in Burgundy, France. Here St Malachy of Armagh met St Bernard of Clairvaux, the abbot, and negotiated the introduction of the Cistercian order into Ireland. This abbey is where Malachy died in St Bernard’s arms in 1148. Today, much of Clairvaux is a high security prison, although it is now possible to visit the surviving monastic remains.

Before Midleton appeared on the map in 1670 there was a history attached to the site of the present town.  This history is usually said to begin in the year 1180 – the date by which a Cistercian abbey was founded on the site of the present town. Sir James Ware, a critically important 17th century historian in Ireland, recorded the event thus……Fundatum anno Dom. 1180, et Monachis repletum Cisterciensibus ex coenobio de Nenay, alias Magio, apud Limericenses.  (Founded in the year of Our Lord 1180, and supplied with monks from the abbey of Nenay, or Maigue, near Limerick.) 

Sadly, in Paul MacCotter’s words, this foundation has been the subject of ‘much rubbish and some good history.’  The rubbish is too often repeated as ‘history’ today by people today because they are generally unaware of the failings of the common source of their ‘information’. Much of what people pass off as ‘information’ on medieval history of a location is derived from Samuel Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary – in an earlier post, I warned about relying too much on that particular source!

Curiously, at very least since 1945, there really has been no justification for anyone to repeat the Lewis nonsense.  In that year the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society published a whole issue on the barony of Imokilly.  Included in the issue was a fine article by Denis O’Sullivan on the medieval religious houses of Imokilly. One of O’Sullivan’s aims appears to have been to resolve some of the issues surrounding the history of the abbey at Chore (Midleton), and he paid particular attention to the foundation of the abbey. I suspect he was as underwhelmed as your present author is about the reference by Lewis to a ‘Barry Fitzgerald’ as the founder of Chore Abbey (Midleton). In this post I will attempt to identify the principal founding patron of the abbey of Chore (Midleton). To do this I will take on board the results of Denis O’Sullivan’s careful analysis of the surviving evidence pertaining to the origins of the abbey.

First we must establish some basic information about the abbey. Various sources, but especially the seventeenth century scholar, James Ware, tell us that the abbey was founded at Chore in 1180. Sadly, the second fact is an omission: the name of the founder is not given by Ware. This is unusual, for Ware was a good historian and, because scholars like him preserved so much information, we generally know who founded what in medieval Ireland.  The third detail to note is that the monks came from Monasternenagh Abbey in County Limerick (the Nenay or Maigue of the Latin text quoted above) – a critical detail the importance of which has been too often underestimated when discussing Chore (Midleton). The fourth detail is the distinction drawn by Paul MacCotter between the initial Anglo-Norman invasion of the kingdom of Cork in 1177/1178 and the later Anglo-Norman settlement of the conquered territories.  This brings us back to the first fact above – the foundation year of 1180. You may recall from previous discussions about Ballinacorra that the Anglo-Norman settlement of south-east Cork was not secured until about 1220. The abbey at Chore was well established by then. Interestingly, MacCotter isn’t the first scholar to make this distinction between conquest and settlement – Denis O’Sullivan made exactly the same point in 1945.

When monks were sent out from one monastery to establish another the new monastery was described as a ‘daughter’ of the monastery that supplied the original monks.  The original monastery was considered to be the ‘mother’ house. Thus as the ‘daughters’ of Mellifont provided monks for further monasteries, they helped to create the Mellifont filiation – from the Latin filia or daughter. This was an alliance or affiliation of monasteries that acknowledged Mellifont’s seniority and even permitted it to act as a guardian of their interests.

This monastic filiation or alliance is the critical detail here – it entirely undermines all attempts to attribute the foundation at Chore (Midleton) to the Anglo-Normans. And, oddly, it is a fact the importance of which has been ignored by so many people.

So, how does Denis O’Sullivan reveal the evidence for the Gaelic Irish origins of the Abbey of Chore? He looks at the writings of James Ware’s De Hibernia et Antiquitatibus Eius (London, 1654), Mervyn Archdall’s Monasticon Hibernicum (Dublin, 1786) and Louis-Auguste Allemande’s Histoire monastique d’Irlande (Paris, 1690).  O’Sullivan makes it clear that Ware (the earliest of these scholars) never revealed the name of a founder of the abbey of Chore – even in his unpublished manuscripts. Indeed in one of his manuscripts Ware notes that the Barrys were patrons of the abbey – but in the same sentence they are NOT named as the founders. This seems to have been where the confusion arose – because the Barrys of Barrymore were patrons of the abbey at the dissolution, Allemande and Archdall assumed the Barrys (or the Fitzgeralds) were the founders. This idea was picked up by Smith and others, including Lewis, giving us the bizarre Barry Fitzgerald attribution.

But back to the history of the foundation of the abbey of Chore (Midleton).  How did it come about and who was the founder?

Firstly,we must briefly note the twelfth century (1101-1200) reforms in the church in Ireland.  This was part of a general European church reform in matters of discipline and organisation. The Irish church, beginning in 1101, but especially with the synod of Rath Breasail in 1111, was remodelled into a diocesan structure following the Continental model. Part of the reform included establishing clearly defined territorial dioceses – a nightmare in a country with shifting political boundaries. Within these dioceses parishes were created to minister to the local communities. These usually consisted of several townlands – see our previous posts on this topic.  These medieval parishes were still being created up to and after the year 1200, but historians believe that most parishes were created by that date. These parishes survived the centuries as the famous Civil Parishes on the first edition Ordnance Survey map (mid-1800s) – they were ‘civil’ because they represented the parishes of the state church that was created following the Reformation.  They are still an important reference point for genealogists in Ireland. The parishes were grouped into rural deaneries.  One such deanery was Imokilly. This was simply an ecclesiastical administrative structure within the diocese – it need not detain us any further.

Mellifont Lavabo

The ruins of the lavabo or hand-washing place in the cloister of Mellifont. The remains of the mother house of most of the medieval Cistercian monasteries in Ireland were ravaged by quarrying after the abbey was dissolved in the reformation. Mellifont was founded at the southern extremity of the diocese of Armagh in 1142 by St Malachy of Armagh. The first monks came directly from Clairvaux.

Another important result of the twelfth century reforms was the introduction of Continental religous orders into Ireland. The Augustinians seem to have been the first to be introduced. But in 1142, St Malachy of Armagh introduced the Cistercians directly from Clairvaux, with the blessing of St Bernard of Clairvaux, the greatest of the Cistercians, and one of the most influential religious leaders in twelfth century Europe The importance of this can hardly be overstated, because the Cistercians influenced church architecture in medieval Ireland to an extraordinary degree. The Abbey of Mellifont in County Louth, founded by St Malachy in 1142, very quickly produced offspring by providing monks to found new Cistercian houses elsewhere in Ireland. One of these new foundations was the abbey of Monasternenagh, founded in 1148, near Croom in County Limerick.  In the same year, our old friend Diarmaid McMurrough, King of Leinster, founded a Cistercian monastery at Baltinglass in County Wicklow with monks from Mellifont. Baltinglass would send out monks to found Abbeymahon monastery in County Cork in 1172. This was the same Diarmaid McMurrough who may have sailed from Imokilly to bring the Anglo-Normans to Ireland in the 1160s!


Monasternenagh, near Croom in County Limerick, was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on lands taken from the O’Donovans. The first monks came from Mellifont. This was the mother house of Chore (Midleton). Monasternenagh may have been founded to celebrate Turlough’s crushing defeat of the O’Donovans. This victory allow the O’Briens to secure their authority over what is now County Limerick. Turlough’s vicitory a serious setback for the MacCarthys, the rivals of the O’Briens for the dominance of the province of Munster.

Monasternenagh (Mainistir an Aonaigh – the Monastery of the Fair – it was built on an ancient fairground, in Latin it was called de Magio – of the Maigue, from the river bordering the site) was founded by Turlough O’Brian, king of Munster from 1142 to 1167. However, Monasternenagh was not founded on O’Brien lands. Turlough O’Brian had recently defeated the O’Donovans and took some of their most valuable lands to provide a site, and an endowment, for his new Cistercian monastery.  It should be noted that founding a monastery of this type in Ireland at the time advertised the founder as a modernising reformer of the church in Ireland. The O’Donovans were long standing allies of the MacCarthys, kings of Desmond or Cork, and rivals of the O’Briens.  By founding Monasternenagh Abbey on O’Donovan lands, Turlough O’Brien meant to ensure that that the O’Donovans could never recover their ancestral lands!  Turlough’s son, Donal Mor O’Brien would later drive out the O’Donovans and their allies for good, sending the O’Donovans to south west Cork. It is worth noting that Monasternenagh may actually have been founded to mark an important victory – just as William the Conqueror built Battle Abbey on Senlac hill, the site of his victory over King Harold at the Battle of Hastings.

Battle Abbey

Battle Abbey was founded by William the Conqueror to celebrate his victory over King Harold at Hastings in 1066. The O’Brien kings appear to have followed this idea of founding religious houses on or near the site of their victories.

Within a few decades, the community at Monasternenagh provided monks for new foundations – Inishlounaght and Holy Cross in County Tipperary, and Chore (Midleton) in County Cork.  Inishlounaght soon provided monks to found the abbey of Fermoy in the diocese of Cloyne in 1170. Ten years later, Monasternenagh provided monks for both Holy Cross and Chore (Midleton). Intriguingly, it seems that Holy Cross seems to have been founded in exact imitation of William the Conqueror’s Battle Abbey, for Holy Cross abbey stands on or very near the site of the battle of Thurles (1174) where Donal Mor O’Brien, king of Thomond, inflicted the first defeat on the Anglo-Norman invaders.  It was certainly founded in imitation of Monasternengah, which was itself founded by Donal’s father, Turlough, to celebrate a victory over the O’Donovans. Clearly there was a pattern to the O’Brien policy of founding such religious houses, but it is the later history of Holy Cross that provides interesting parallels with Chore (Midleton).

Baltinglass Abbey

Baltinglass Abbey in County Wicklow was founded in 1148 by Diarmait MacMurrough – the man who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland. This abbey was founded in the same year as Monasternenagh, which was also the year in which St Malachy of Armagh died at Clairvaux.

Now it is important to remember that there were only four Cistercian monasteries in County Cork – two were founded in the diocese of Cloyne (Fermoy and Chore) the others were Abbeymahon (1185, diocese of Ross) and Tracton (1224, diocese of Cork). Abbymahon was founded from Baltinglass by Diarmaid MacCarthy in 1185, so it was a part of the Mellifont filiation.  However, Tracton, the last of the medieval Cistercian monasteries created in Ireland, was founded by the Anglo-Norman Odo de Barry in 1224. Tracton’s founding monks came from Whitland in England.  This is the critical detail to keep in mind – the Cistercian abbeys founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Normans drew their founding monks directly from either England or Wales and they remained culturally English until the dissolution. In the 1200s Inislounaght would be poacned from the Mellifont filiation and placed permanently under the abbey of Furness in England.

Thus two groups of Cistercian monasteries developed in Ireland – native Irish foundations, almost all of which were linked to Mellifont, and the English foundations which admitted no Irish monks. Of the thirty-six Cistercian abbeys in medieval Ireland, twenty-seven were affiliated to Mellifont.  All the others were founded by the Anglo-Normans from English and Welsh monasteries and were affiliated to English and Welsh monasteries.

Holy Cross Abbey front

Holy Cross Abbey near Thurles in County Tipperary was founded in 1180, the same year that Chore Abbey (Midleton) was founded. This abbey was established by Donal Mor O’Brien, King of Thomond, the son of the Turlough O’Brien who founded Monasternenagh in 1148. Like his father, Donal wished to commemorate a victory in battle, in this case the Battle of Thurles in 1174, when he inflicted the first real defeat on the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland. Ironically, Donal Mor O’Brien was a relative by marriage of Diarmait MacMurrough, who brought the Anglo-Normans to Ireland!

And this is Denis O’Sullivan’s most important point in his 1945 article. The Cistercian monasteries founded in Ireland by the Anglo-Norman were NOT linked to Mellifont.  Chore (Midleton) was linked to Mellifont, because it was founded from Monasternenagh which was itself founded from Mellifont in 1148. In effect, Chore (Midleton) was a  grand-daughter of Mellifont – and the majority of its abbots whose names are recorded were native Irish..One other thing we must do is consider Paul MacCotter’s useful division of the early Anglo-Norman period in Ireland into a conquest phase and a settlement phase.  This division is matters because there could be several years between the initial conquest and parcelling out of conquered lands, and a determined Anglo-Norman settlement in those lands.

So now we know that Chore (Midleton) was a native Irish Cistercian abbey, but who exactly founded it? Crime writers tell us that to solve a whodunnit you need to establish motive and means to identify the culprit.  This sounds like a good approach to so we’ll apply it here.

First the means. The monks from Monasternenagh simply couldn’t walk into Imokilly and take the land.  This land was already occupied by someone. And evictions were not pleasant experience in twelfth century Ireland, just as they are not pleasant experiences in post-crash Ireland today.  You can be sure the local bishop would have objected if he hadn’t been consulted first, for the Cistercians did not allow their abbeys to be placed under diocesan control. Sadly, the surviving records (Ware and others) do not give the names of the founders.  But Denis O’Sullivan was able to show that the founders were likely to be two particular local men. The clue that O’Sullivan noted was the location of the abbey estates. These estates were concentrated in two specific areas. The bulk of the monastic estate was in a single block situated on the east bank of the Owenacurra river, in the northern half of the large parish of Ballinacorra.  This area comprised the modern townlands of Townparks, Park North, Park South, the northern half of Castleredmond, Broomfield West and Broomfield East, and the later townland of School-lands. These lands were part of the patrimony of the See of Cloyne. But, although we have no evidence for it, one must wonder if these lands were shared with, or possibly farmed by, the Mac Tire family who would have paid a rent to the bishop. Add to this some lands due north of Mogeely were added to the abbey’s estate by the Mac Tire chief. These were Killeenamanagh (literally ‘the little cell of the monks’) and the next townland to the north, Ballygibbon. These last two effectively formed a detached grange of the main monastic estate.  In all some two thousand acres were included in the founding grant of the monastery. To top up the funds from this estate, the tithes of Mogeely, and the tithes of the newly founded monastic parish of Chore were granted to the monastery. It should be noted that in the fourteenth century record called the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, the lands originally held by the Mac Tire in Mogeely were actually property of the See of Cloyne, valued at five knight’s fees. By the time the Pipe Roll records were composed, the MacTire had lost their property. So it is not impossible that the Mac Tire also held lands in the parish of Ballinacorra up to the year 1180.

Now you may recall that Monasternenagh was founded in 1148 by Turlough O’Brien on sword-land, that is land won by the sword from the O’Donovans. This custom of founding monasteries on sword-land was a means of preventing one’s enemy from taking those lands.  The MacTire family contributed to the foundation of Chore because it seems they realised that their own estates were under threat from the Anglo-Normans who had arrived in 1177/1178.  By granting part of the estates to a religious foundation, they prevented the land from falling into the hands of their enemies.  This proved to be a wise move given that just two years later in 1182, five Anglo-Norman knights, including Milo de Cogan, were murdered in the MacTire seat at Mogeely, sparking off a major revolt against the invaders.  De Cogan, you might recall was one of the two leaders of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Cork, along with Robert FitzStephen, whose illegitimate son was also killed at Mogeely. After this rebellion was put down by Raymond le Gros from 1173, the Mac Tire sept seem to have lost their lands.

However, the MacTire connection only accounts definitively for two specific townlands, directly controlled by that family. What about the rest of the property, which constituted the main monastic estate in a single block?  This was the actual site of the present town of Midleton, in the northern half of the parish of Ballinacorra.  This land was likely to have been church land before 1180, let out to tenants, in this case probably the MacTire family. Thus the means for establishing the abbey really belonged to the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh.  As for motive?  Well that too was pretty much something the bishop had.

It is likely that the bishop of Cloyne, Matthew O’Mongaigh, was the prime mover in founding Chore Abbey (Midleton). And it is likely that he had a similar motive to the Mac Tire family. His first aim was religious – the Cistercians represented the best of the reforming ideals sweeping the church in Ireland.  But Bishop Matthew may also have had more material motives. In granting diocesan lands to a religious foundation the bishop probably hoped to keep it out of the hands of the invaders.   The behaviour of the Anglo-Normans during their invasion of Ireland was often brutal – they had sacked the ecclesiastical town of Lismore, seat of the Papal Legate in Ireland, during their initial invasion, and they were not likely to respect Cross lands – that is land held directly by the diocese.

Lismore cathedral nave

Lismore Cathedral was the seat of the Papal Legate to Ireland – but that didn’t stop the Anglo-Normans from sacking the place during their invasion. Was this atrocity an incentive to the bishop of nearby Cloyne to found Chore Abbey (Midleton)?

As it was, the des Autres, or de Altaribus family, built their castle right next to the existing church in Ballinacorra and soon granted tithes of Ballinacorra and Ballymartyr (now Ballyoughtera) to the Augustinian abbey of St Thomas the Martyr in Dublin. It is not known if the des Autres consulted the bishop before erecting their castle. They might have been obliged to come to terms with the bishop somewhat later, for the Pipe Roll of Cloyne indicates that the site was held on a rent to the bishop in the following century. This threat to diocesan property may have been an incentive for the bishop to establish a Cistercian monastery on his vulnerable See lands. It is worth noting that the much maligned Prince John of England, in his capacity as Lord of Ireland, was actually quite good at laying down the law on the Anglo-Norman magnates in Ireland – he insisted that church land in Ireland be left untouched and that these lands should remain in the hands of the church authorities. It is known that very early during the Anglo-Norman settlement, John issued a writ of protection to the bishop of Limerick making it clear that anyone encroaching on church lands would incur severe punishment. (And yes, this is the same King John of Robin Hood infamy!)

Even more interesting, if we look at the names of the known abbots of Chore (Midleton), we find that most of them were Gaelic Irish, with hardly any Anglo-Norman or English names in the list until the very end. Clearly, Chore Abbey (Midleton) was a Gaelic Irish foundation and remained Gaelic in culture long after its foundation. It seems certain that Bishop Matthew O’Mongaigh of Cloyne was the principal founder of Chore Abbey, with support, or donations of land, from the Mac Tire chieftain at the time.  So now you know whodunnit.