A Midleton Mystery: WHERE exactly was Drohidfynnaght?

The five arched bridge leading from the northern end of  Midleton town center to Cork. It has one end higher than the other due to the high ground sloping down on western bank of the Owenacurra River.

The five arched bridge leading from the northern end of Midleton town center to Cork. It has one end higher than the other due to the high ground sloping down on western bank of the Owenacurra River.

‘Grant…to John Fitz Gerald Fitz Edmond of Clohermony….of 10 acres between Drohidfynnaght on the east, and the river running from the mill there on the west….’   From The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns, 1994.

In the Irish Patent Rolls of Queen Elizabeth I there is a grant of 1573 to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cahermone (Clohermony) of the ‘site of the monastery of the B.V.M. de Choro S. Benedicti alias the abbey of Chore, lands in Castle Redmond, Chore, with a mill and salmon weir,’ etc. This grant was awarded to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald a year after the 1551 lease of the same property to Giles Hovenden and his heirs male finally expired after twenty one years.

However, the FitzGerald lease included some additional properties. There was a messuage and garden in Carrigtwohill, a parcel of land called Fearryn Edmund Roe, plots in Knockacottig, and several rectories and vicarages. In the middle of all these was the statement about Drohidfynnaght. But this location isn’t on a modern map of East Cork.

The wording suggests that it was a townland. Drohidfynnaght appears to be located in the east with the river and mill on the west. However, you must remember that this is an abbreviated 19th century transcription of a document that was destroyed in the Four Courts fire of 1922. The essentials were recorded by the Keeper of Public Records during the 19th century and published in the series Calendar of State Documents (Ireland)Elizabeth I. All the published, and known fiants, of the Tudor sovereigns were later republished as a group by Eamonn de Burca in 1994, with a new introduction by Kenneth Nicholls.

I decided to consult Dr Seosamh O’Ceallaigh in Donegal about the possible meaning of the name Drohidfynnaght. He was a good choice since his PhD is in Irish, especially the Classical Irish of this late medieval and early modern period. He must have been in stitches with laughter when I sent him my message – because he was probably the very best person to solve this mystery. Drohidfynnaght consists of two conjoined words. Drohid refers to a bridge. That I already knew, but it was nice to know that there was a bridge in the area of Midleton. Well, there were two rivers or streams to cross. But ‘fynnaght’ stumped me. I thought it might refer to ‘fine’ which is a kin-group or might perhaps refer to a religious community (monastery). But Joe, being from Fanad in County Donegal, was very quick to get back – ‘fynnaght’ is the same word as ‘fanad’! It means a sloping piece of ground. Thus Drohidfynnaght means a bridge of the sloping ground.

At once, Joe doubled my difficulties – you see, he’s never been to Midleton, and really had no idea that there are TWO places in the modern townland of Townparks that could fit the bill perfectly! The first is the northern part of Townparks running beside the Owenacurra River and up the Mill Road. The river here runs from north to south. The eastern bank is perfectly flat. The western bank drops to the river in a steep slope exactly where the present Cork Bridge is located. And there was at least one mill on this river in the sixteenth century. The shape of Townparks townland at this point suggests it might be an addition to the old townland of Chore or Mainistir na Corann which later became Townparks.

The other site is at the opposite end of the town at the southern end of Main Street. The north bank of the east-west flowing  Roxborough, or Dungourney, River is flat. But the south bank is a steep slope up the Rock which marks the high ground south of Midleton town centre. The two roads here lead to Cloyne (due south) and Youghal (due east). These were the two most important towns in Elizabethan Imokilly. The area on the south bank is part of Townparks and it stretches out the Youghal Road and down towards Lakeview. This could easily have been the Drohidfynnaght mentioned in the grant of 1573, except at the present state of research we have no idea if there was a mill there at the time.  Indeed there seems to be no evidence of a mill in this area even in later centuries.

My own preference is for the northern area of Townparks by the Cork Bridge. This bridge is older than it appears because it was widened twice. I examined it during the summer and it was clearly an older bridge with two side additions. The first extension was in the early 19th century, and then in the middle of the 20th century (around 1950). The original bridge is still preserved directly under the roadway. But it isn’t as old as the 1573 grant – it’s clearly of eighteenth century date and was quite narrow compared with today’s bridge. Also, Lewis Bridge, across the Roxborough River, is a late eighteenth century single span bridge, with no surviving evidence of the earlier crossing.

Lewis Bridge

Lewis Bridge crosses the Roxborough or Dungourney River at the southern end of Main Street in Midleton. It’s a late eighteenth century elliptical arched single-span bridge.

The proximity of the former monastic mill in the 1543 dissolution record for the abbey suggests that Drohidfynnaght is on or near the area of the old Fair Green in Midleton. The text says ‘from Drohidfynnaght’ to the mill and river. But this could be from the boundary of the townland of Drohidfynnaght to the river. So it suggests that John FitzEdmund FitzGerald didn’t get ALL of Drohidfynnaght, if it was a townland – he only got the most lucrative bit of it!

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Found at last! Midleton’s ‘lost’ Tudor landlord.

The coat of arms issued to John Hovenden of Killabban, Queen's County, by Clarenceaux Herald of Arms in 1585.

John Hovenden was the eldest son of Giles Hovenden who was granted the lease of the lands of Corabbey in June 1551. A quiet man, barely mentioned in the state papers, John may have succeeded his father as the leaseholder of Corabbey until 1572. The name is spelled Hoveden in this image – it was the original name in medieval times with the first ‘n’ sneaking in by Tudor times. 

Lease to Gyles Hovynden ; of the site of the abbey of Chore alias Core, the lands of Chore and Kyl-(blank)-agh and Ballygybbyn, and the rectories of Chore, Downebowlogg, Kylrovayn, Kyl(collehy), St Katherine by Cork and Mogellygg. To hold for 21 years. Rent £26 5s.’ Fiant 6806 Elizabeth I (or 1147a Edward VI).

from The Irish Fiants of the Tudor Sovereigns, (vol III) 1994

One of the difficulties facing Irish historians is the lack, or apparent lack, of documentation. We’ve already noted that when the Cistercian abbey of Mainistir na Corann/Corabbey was dissolved in 1543, the monastic buildings and the old monastic estate was granted to the former abbot, Philip FitzDavid Barry, on a twenty-one year lease with a rent payable to the crown. If anything, this was a kindness since the abbey had been Philip’s home since the early sixteenth century.  But that lease would have run to 1565 – about seven years into the reign of Elizabeth I. What happened to the land between the end of the lease in 1565 and 1573 when the property was granted to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne and Cahermone on a new lease? Who held the land until FitzGerald took over? Nobody has bothered to explain this gap. But now the mystery is solved – thanks to a document that was incorrectly filed by an Elizabethan civil servant about 1572!

The destruction of the Four Courts, Dublin, in June 1922 destroyed a vast amount of historic Irish public records, including the original fiants.

The horrific destruction of the Four Courts, Dublin, in June 1922 destroyed a vast amount of historic Irish public records, including the original fiants. (Cashman Collection/RTE)

The above text is from a fiant recording the grant of the site and former monastic estate of Corabby/Mainistir na Corann together with the tithes of certain rectories to Giles Hovenden during the short reign of King Edward VI. A fiant was a warrant issued by the government to the Court of Chancery in Ireland. This court was the authority that issued letters patent under the Great Seal of Ireland. Basically a fiant takes its title from the Latin phrase at the start of the order: Fiant litterae patente – ‘let letters patent be made….’ The letter patent (or published letter) was the key legal document that certified a government grant or order. It was registered in the rolls of the Court of Chancery, thus guaranteeing the patent extra legal effect. The Four Courts Fire of 1922 destroyed all the fiants issued throughout Irish history, but we are fortunate that they had been calendared and published in the 1880s and republished in the 1990s. So these important records survive in a somewhat abbreviated fashion. Since the exact date and year of the issue of this particular fiant is lost from the copy of the record, we must look to the term of office of Sir James Croft, the Lord Deputy of Ireland who signed it. Croft was Lord Deputy from 21 April 1551 to April 1552, and because the fiant was issued in the month of June, we can firmly date the fiant and the grant of the leasehold of Corabbey to June 1551.

What is interesting is that this grant of the leasehold to Giles Hovenden is simply unknown in Midleton. The reason is that this fiant was misfiled during the reign of Elizabeth I – some things NEVER change in the Irish civil service! The grant itself is quite a surprise because the previous leaseholder was Philip FitzDavid Barry the ‘former’ abbot of Corabby, who was a local man, almost certainly born in Castleredmond Castle. Abbot Philip had been granted a twenty-one year lease in 1544, so it should have run until 1565. However, since he was almost certainly the abbot Philip of Chore who was granted the vicarage of Inchinabecky and the rectory of Shandon in 1504, it is likely that he was already elderly and died some time between 1546 and 1551. It is very likely that, following Philip Barry’s death, the lease of Corabbey came back into the hands of the Crown due to the accumulated arrears of rents.  So the land was let out again for another twenty-one year period to Giles Hovenden.

Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was made a ward of Giles Hovenden by the Crown when his father was murdered.

Hugh O’Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was made a ward of Giles Hovenden by the Crown when his father was murdered.

So who exactly was Giles Hovenden?  He was an Englishman who came to Ireland during the reign of Henry VIII to serve in the king’s army. It seems that he came from Ulcomb near Maidstone in Kent. It should be noted that the Hovendens appear to have been neighbours of the St Leger family – Sir Anthony St Leger of Ulcomb and Leeds Castle was the Lord Deputy of Ireland for an astonishing three separate terms – 1540-1548, 1550-1551 and 1553-1556. A captain of light horse in 1532, Giles Hovenden was given some interesting commissions to execute. He was one of the Commissioners for the government of Connaught in 1544, In conjunction with James FitzJohn FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, on 28 July 1551, Hovenden was made a commissioner for the government of the counties of Cork, Limerick and Kerry. In December 1551, the earl asked Hovenden to arrest his own son and heir, Gerald FitzJames FitzGerald (later the 15th Earl), and his own brother Maurice FitzJohn FitzGerald, because they had raided McCarthy lands in Cork! Clearly Hovenden was able to get on very well with the ‘Old English’ and the Gaelic Irish.  He seems to have had business dealings with Conn O’Neill, 1st Earl of Tyrone, concerning the Earl’s lands in Ballygriffin in County Dublin. It seems likely that Giles Hovenden retired from government service in  1556 when St Leger left office for the last time.

On 29 November 1549 Giles Hovenden was granted the lands of Killeban in Leix, later Queen’s County, now County Laois. He married Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir Walter Cheevers and had five sons and a daughter John, Peter, (or Piers), Richard, Walter, Henry and Joanna.

The eldest son, John Hovenden of Killeban, was granted the arms shown at the head of this post in 1585.  There is very little in the official records about John Hovenden – one commentator suggests that he kept his head down and attempted to lead a quiet life, quite an achievement in a turbulent age. It is perfectly possible that this man inherited his father’s leasehold of Corabbey, for the second son, Peter, had property and income from King’s County (Offaly), Queen’s County (Laois), Kildare, Meath, Down, Tipperary, Louth and Roscommon.  The fourth son, Walter, after military service in the Netherlands, was killed when the O’Mores attacked the fort and town of Maryborough (now Portlaoise) in 1579.

The third and fifth sons, Richard and Henry,became the foster-brothers of Hugh O’Neill, who later became the 2nd Earl of Tyrone! They actually ‘went native’ as both served O’Neill as military officers during his revolt against Queen Elizabeth I during the Nine Years War. Henry actually became O’Neill’s secretary and confidential advisor and, perhaps, his chief of intelligence. henry followed O’Neill into exile during the Flight of the Earls in 1607.

Edward VI became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died aged fifteen in 1553. He was the king when Giles Hovenden was granted the twenty-one year lease of Corabbey. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

The Tudor boy king. Edward VI became king in 1547 at the age of nine and died aged fifteen in 1553. He was the king when Giles Hovenden was granted the twenty-one year lease of Corabbey. (c) National Portrait Gallery, London; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

How did Hugh O’Neill end up as a foster-brother to Giles Hovenden’s sons? The Earldom of Tyrone had been awarded to Conn O’Neill by Henry VIII when Conn submitted to the Crown as part of the Surrender and Regrant policy. Conn planned to pass on the earldom to his illegitimate son, Matthew, Baron of Dungannon  Matthew was the father of Brian and Hugh O’Neill. However, in typical Irish fashion, Conn’s legitimate son, Shane, objected and in 1558, Shane’s men killed Matthew. A year later Conn, Earl of Tyrone, died and he should have been succeeded by his grandson Brian, the new Baron of Dungannon, and the government’s preferred choice. But Shane O’Neill was too strong and he claimed the title Earl of Tyrone for himself. Brian was assassinated in 1562 by a cousin, probably on Shane O’Neill’s orders.  This left Brian’s younger brother, Hugh, a minor, as the new Baron of Dungannon and the government’s preferred candidate as Earl of Tyrone. However the young Hugh O’Neill was very vulnerable to assassination. The government placed him in the care of Giles Hovenden as a Ward of the Crown.  Hugh grew up with Richard and Henry Hovenden. There is some speculation that Hugh may have been fostered in the Gaelic Irish fashion to Giles Hovenden when he was still a boy. This might explain why English officials considered the Hovenden brothers to be O’Neill’s foster-brothers.  This close relationship was the basis of the friendship that led to Richard and Henry ‘going native’ during the 1590s when Hugh O’Neill finally gained control of his earldom of Tyrone.

Bective Abbey in County Meath was converted into a house after it was suppressed by Henry VIII. Did the Hovendens do the same to Corabbey?

Bective Abbey in County Meath was converted into a house after it was suppressed by Henry VIII. Did Giles Hovenden do the same to Corabbey/Mainistir na Corann?

So there you have it – a missing link in the history of Midleton, or, more correctly, Corabbey/Mainistir na Corann. The leasehold of the old Cistercian monastery and its estate was granted to Giles Hovenden, formerly of Kent, in June 1551. He was Midleton’s ‘missing Tudor-era landlord’.The irony is that Hovenden’s ward or foster-son, Hugh O’Neill, helped to suppress the Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583). This led to the final defeat and death of the same Gerald FitzJames FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond, who had been arrested with his uncle Maurice by Giles Hovenden in December 1551! Later Hugh O’Neill would conduct a devastating raid on Barrymore and Imokilly, including the former Hovenden leasehold of Corabbey, during his sweep into Munster in 1600 during the Nine Years’ War (1594-1603).

Only loyal subjects of the Crown need apply in Tudor Ireland!

Only loyal subjects of the Crown need apply in… Tudor Ireland!

Why do I say that the fiant of June 1551 was misfiled? If the Hovenden lease of Corabbey did indeed run to 1572, then it was necessary for the government to examine the details of that lease when it lapsed that year to ensure that the land was indeed available to let without encumbrances to a new tenant. An inspection of the fiant showed that a new lease on the former monastic estate could indeed be granted to someone else. In 1573 the old monastery and the former monastic estate were granted on a twenty-one year lease to John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, who had bought neighbouring Cahermone Castle and its estate from impoverished relatives in 1571. FitzGerald now had a nice little estate that ran all the way to the Owencurra River. And the government clerk omitted to replace the original fiant of 1551 with the documents relating to the reign of King Edward VI! No wonder the historians have missed it, despite the fact that it was hiding in plain sight for over a century!  Now I wonder if any papers have survived about the Hovendens in Corabbey…..

Link: http://freepages.family.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~mjbrennan/Hovendens_01.htm