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

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Cromwell’s spy? St John Brodrick and the origins of the Brodrick estates in South East Cork.

Usually attributed to the Hodnetts, but actually held by a Mr E Gould in 1642, Ballyannan is an early 17th century fortified house with some later modifications. This house became the seat of St John Brodrick from 1653.

The ruins of Ballyannan Castle from the south. Usually attributed to the Hodnetts, but actually held by a Mr E Gould in 1642, Ballyannan is an early 17th century fortified house with some later modifications. This house became the seat of St John Brodrick from 1653. In appearance, it must originally have resembled a small French chateau, with plastered, presumably whitewashed,walls and pepperpot roofs on the three turrets.

He was in reality sent over by Cromwell as a spy to corrupt the Munster Army and send him intelligence; Lieutenant Colonel W. Pigot, and the Captains St John Brodrick and Robert Gookin being likewise employed for the same purpose.

Thomas Carte: A History of the Life of James Duke of Ormonde. 1735.

From at least 1653 to 1964 the ground landlords in Midleton were the Brodrick family. But one question needs to be addressed.  How exactly did the Brodricks get their land in the area? The quotation above refers to, among others, St John Brodrick – the first of the Brodricks of Wandsworth to acquire an estate in Ireland.  The story of St John Brodrick and his settlement in Ireland during the regime of Oliver Cromwell is not yet properly written, and, unfortunately, it contains some odd assertions.  I can’t claim that this post will clear everything up, but I hope to kill off some of the nonsense that is still floating around even in some very respectable history books. Thomas Carte’s reference to Brodrick being a Cromwellian spy was written by a staunch supporter of the Stuarts in 1735 and, while it may have a grain of truth, it perhaps does not tell the whole story behind Brodrick’s coming to Ireland.

A woodcut describing the enmity between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) during the English Civil War - but it could equally well express the sentiments of the Catholics vs. Protestants and Scots Presbyterians vs. English Episcopalians.

A woodcut describing the enmity between the Royalists (Cavaliers) and Parliamentarians (Roundheads) during the English Civil War – but it could equally well express the sentiments of the Catholics vs. Protestants and Scots Presbyterians vs. English Episcopalians.

The outbreak in 1642 of the Wars of the Three Kingdoms (the Irish Catholic Uprising, the English Civil War and the Covenanters’ War in Scotland), was to set the scene for the arrival of the Brodricks in south-east Cork. St John Brodrick was born in 1627 as the younger son of Sir Thomas Brodrick of Wandsworth. St John’s older brother, Alan, fought for King Charles I during the English Civil War and later served as secretary to the Sealed Knot society. This latter was a secret Royalist organisation in England aiming to restore King Charles II when Cromwell was Lord Protector. There are some assertions that St John Brodrick came to Ireland in 1642 to acquire estates here.  But as a fifteen year old boy it seems highly unlikely that he’d be allowed jump from the English frying-pan into the Irish fire.  There’s certainly no evidence that Brodrick inherited land in Ireland in 1642 – so he must have come by his estates another way.

What seems to have happened is that after his father’s death in 1643, St John Brodrick was groomed to fight with Parliament as a way of hedging the family’s bets on the outcome of the Civil War. He certainly seems to have been in the service of the Parliamentary cause by 1649. In that year he was sent to Ireland as an assistant to Lord Broghill who had just joined the Parliamentary side. And this connection to Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, proved instrumental in Brodrick’s land acquisitions in Ireland.

Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Great Britain and Ireland.  He still has a bad press in ireland and his regime settled a lot of officers on confiscated Irish lands - like St John Brodrick.

The man the Irish love to hate: Oliver Cromwell, Lord Protector of Great Britain and Ireland. He still has a bad press in Ireland and his regime settled a lot of officers on confiscated Irish lands, including St John Brodrick.

To understand what happened it is necessary to examine the complex four-sided civil war in Ireland from 1642 to 1652.  The Confederate Catholics made up the largest group, rebelling against the Crown in defence of their landholdings and their right to worship as they wished. Their best leader was the Ulsterman Owen Roe O’Neill, the victor of Benburb. Unfortunately the Confederates were divided into Gaelic Irish (often very hardline) and the Old English (more Royalist in sympathy). Benburb introduces the second group in Ireland – the Presbyterian Scots.  Some were settlers, mostly in Ulster where they obtained land under the Ulster Plantation. Others came over in Munroe’s army ….. only to be slaughtered at Benburb in 1646. Then there was the Royalist force, based mostly in Dublin and commanded by James Butler, Marquis of Ormond as he then was, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland.  This is the man who is the subject of Thomas Carte’s book, being promoted to a dukedom in 1660. The fourth group in Ireland were the Protestants of Munster. Their military leaders were David Barry, 1st Earl of Barrymore, who died of wounds shortly after the victory of Liscarroll in 1642, Morrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin who led the Munster Protestant Army for most of the period, and Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, a younger son of Richard Boyle, the same 1st Earl of Cork who had obtained a license for a market at Corabbey in 1624. The Munster Protestant victory at Liscarroll secured Cork and the area around Cork Harbour, as well as Youghal, for the Protestant cause, and, ultimately, for the Parliamentary cause.  Initially the Munster Protestant leaders’ loyalties were still somewhat vaguely aligned in favour of the king, although they treated James Butler, Marquis of Ormond, and Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, with great suspicion.

Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill. Created 1st Earl of Orrery in 1660, helped secure Cork for Cromwell and later secured Ireland for Charles II in 1660.  He founded Charleville in North Cork where he built a huge mansion, which he abandoned by the mid-1670s when he moved to Castlemartyr. A good friend of St John Brodrick, his neighbour in Midleton, Broghill was the son of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and brothe rof Robert Boyle the scientist.

Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill, Cromwellian commissioner for forfeited estates in the County of Cork.
Created 1st Earl of Orrery in 1660, Broghill helped secure Cork for Cromwell and, in 1660, he secured Ireland for King Charles II . He founded Charleville in North Cork, where he built a huge mansion, which he abandoned by the mid-1670s, when he moved his seat to Castlemartyr a few miles from Midleton. A good friend of St John Brodrick, his neighbour in Midleton, Broghill was a younger son of Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork and an older brother of Robert Boyle, the scientist. His descendants resised at Castlemartyr until the early 20th century.

During the period up to 1648, a strong rivalry existed between Inchiquin and Broghill. It didn’t develop into an open dispute – they managed to get along sufficiently to keep their hold on Cork secure. But the Parliamentary victory in the English Civil War, and execution of King Charles I in 1649, threw everything into confusion. Inchiquin was certainly disgusted by the death of the King. Broghill’s reaction, however, was more problematic. He later claimed that he was upset by the execution of the king, however, it does seem that his sympathies were very close to the Parliamentary side. One story put about after the Restoration of King Charles II (1660) is that Broghill was on his way to the Continent to consult Charles II when he was accosted by Oliver Cromwell in London and given a choice that was difficult to refuse – join fully and openly with Parliament or else get to know the Tower of London very intimately.  Broghill was in Somerset when he eventually decided to take up Cromwell’s offer of a commission in the Parliamentary army.  He apparently had a small part to play in the bloody sack of Wexford in 1649 before being sent by sea to Cork to secure that harbour and city for Cromwell. On Broghill’s arrival in Cork, Lord Inchiquin packed his bags and sailed off to Spain – where he became a Catholic! This left Broghill in total command of Cork. Cromwell spent the winter of 1649/50 in Youghal, a town controlled by the Boyles, in acknowledgement of Broghill’s importance in securing the area, and, presumably to keep Broghill firmly within the Parliamentary camp.

Murrough of the Burnings. Murrough O'Brien, Lord Inchiquin was the leader of the Protestant forces in Munster during the 1640s until ousted by Broghill in 1649.

Murrough of the Burnings. Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin was the leader of the Protestant forces in Munster during the 1640s until ousted by Broghill in 1649.

(Murrough O’Brien, Lord Inchiquin, was the infamous ‘Murrough of the burnings’ of Irish popular history and he came from County Clare – hence his title. His descendants later returned to Imokilly and settled at Rostellan where, as the Earls of Thomond, they built a new house on the site of Rostellan Castle and the medieval church. On discovering that the old church and graveyard had been violated, a local woman pronounced a curse that no son would ever inherit the Rostellan estate – and it worked! The property passed via daughters into the hands of other families. Inchiquin’s descendants also came into possession of Petworth House in East Sussex which contains a superb collection of paintings by Turner. The vitally important Petworth House papers have yielded astonishing detail on the history of County Clare, but they have not yet been explored for the history of Rostellan and Imokilly. Petworth is now owned by the National Trust.)

But what of St John Brodrick?  We know nothing, as yet, of his military career in England, which probably didn’t start until about 1645/46. One source suggests that Brodrick was appointed Provost Marshal to Broghill’s force in Cork. A Provost Marshal was an officer in charge of enforcing military discipline. But they often had another role – the gathering of intelligence. Basically, if his role as Provost Marshal is true, then St John Brodrick was indeed a spy for Cromwell, but not a secret agent. It is highly possible that Brodrick may have been given orders to keep Broghill on the straight and narrow path of Parliamentary loyalty. As an intelligence officer, it is also possible that Brodrick was instrumental in securing the transfer of loyalty among the Protestant troops in Cork from the king to Parliament by way of a mutiny. What is clear is that Brodrick and Broghill became great and firm friends. They appear to have shared a common religious outlook, both being ‘low church’ men. It seems likely that Brodrick got to know Oliver Cromwell during the latter’s sojourn in Youghal.

With the defeat of all the opposing armies in Ireland, the Cromwellian regime set about securing the country……and paying off its debts.  The Adventurers, the people who had loaned funds to Parliament, had to be repaid (with interest), and the soldiers in the Parliamentary army had to be paid.  The decade of civil wars meant that there was a serious shortage of funds, so Parliament came up with a better idea – pay everyone in land. The lands of Irish Catholics and Royalists would be confiscated and distributed to the Adventurers and old soldiers as payment.The bonus was that if these lands could be settled by good English protestants then Ireland would be secured against future Catholic rebellions.

Part of the Down Survey map of Barrymore with the former monastic lands of Corabbey shown as a yellow area marked 'Unforfeited Land.' Parts of Mogeesha, as well as Templenacarriga, Ballyspillane, Dungourney, and other areas were given to St John Brodrick by 1653.

Part of the Down Survey map of Barrymore  showing the parishes.The former monastic estate of Manisitir na Corann/Corabbey is shown as a yellow area marked ‘Unforfeited Land.’ Parts of Mogeesha parish, as well as Templenacarriga, Ballyspillane, Dungourney, and Clonmel parish on Great Island as well as areas were also given to St John Brodrick in the 1653 settlement. Mainistir na Corann was considered to be part of Barrymore since the dissolution because its last abbot was a Barry. During the 1700s, the parish was transferred back into Imokilly. This copy of the map is preserved in the Bibliotheque National in Paris. Source: downsurvey.tcd.ie.

One of the commissioners appointed to supervise the distribution of lands in County Cork was Roger Boyle, Lord Broghill. And he made sure that his good friend, St John Brodrick, got some choice parcels of land, often right next to his own estates.  One of those parcels was Mainistir na Corann/Corabbey now called Midleton. This was the old estate of the Cistercians of Chore, which had remained Crown property since the dissolution in 1543 and had been leased to Roger Boyle’s father, Richard, 1st Earl of Cork, by the 1620s. Brodrick also got estates in Orrery barony in North Cork – also next to Broghill’s lands in the same barony.  To ensure that his friend didn’t want for much, Broghill also ensured that Brodrick got lands in Mogeesha parish, Templenacarriga parish, Ballyspillane parish, Dungourney parish and non-monastic lands in Corabbey parish as well as parcels in Ballyoughtera Parish and Clonmel parish on Great Island – all confiscated from ‘Irish Papists,’  By 1653, St John Brodrick, a younger son, had obtained a considerable estate in Ireland.

St John Brodrick established a deerpark from Cahermone to Park South and Park North townlands and chose Ballyannan Castle as his seat. This fortified house had previously been held by a Mr Gould, an ‘irish Papist.’  Not a bad return for a ‘spy.’ There’s still a lot of research to be done on St John Brodrick and his background and career.

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.

Mainistir na Corann, Walter Raleigh and the last days of the abbey of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist's Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The  present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.

An early twentieth century photograph by the Horgan brothers of Youghal showing St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, across the Owenacurra River. The present church was completed in 1825 and stands on the site of the abbey church of Chore.  This photo is produced with the permission of Jim Horgan. The image can also be seen on the Cork County Library website’s digital collections.

What sort of property did the former abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann), Philip FitzDavid Barry, lease from the Crown for twenty-one years in 1544?  To discover that we will have to go back a few years before that date.

In referring to the dissolution of the monasteries, Brendan Bradshaw, an Irish priest and a wonderful scholar at Cambridge, said that more was ‘accomplished in the seven years between 1535 and 1542 in England than in the seventy years between 1536 and 1606 in Ireland.’  What he meant was that in England and Wales the conditions for dissolving monasteries were more effective in achieving the desired outcome than was the case in Ireland, where local interests effectively slowed down the process and inhibited its completion.  After first managing to get the Irish parliament to agree to dissolve a mere thirteen small religious houses near Dublin in 1537, the government manage to close down a number of friaries in 1538 and a larger number were dissolved in 1539 – but only in areas under government control.  With the appointment in 1541 of Anthony St Leger as Lord Deputy (chief governor of Ireland), a more thorough policy was embarked upon. A royal commission was sent to investigate all the accessible remaining monasteries and to make assessments of their property, value, income and potential use.  This commission examined the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) and its report preserves a glimpse of the monastery and its hinterland at the end of the medieval period.

In 1541 the commissioners swore in a jury to render a return concerning the property of the the Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann). The members of the jury were: Thomas Verdon, Dermot Mortell, Thomas Carroll, John Clerye, Maurice Fylye (Foley), Walter Galwey, John Skyddy, Richard Gowle.

The jurors noted that the church of the monastery had been the parish church from time immemorial. This suggests that, instead of building a separate church for use by the parishioners, the monks had set aside part of their conventual church for use by the parish congregation.  We don’t know if that entailed erecting a wall to divide the nave from the east end of the church (reserved for the monks).  If the community of monks had become very small since the Black Death in 1348-50, then such a wall is likely to have been built. What this meant was that the church was to be preserved for use by the parish. Other places were less fortunate because the church roof was often stripped to render the building useless.

All the other buildings within the monastic precinct at Chore (Mainistir na Corann) were deemed to be suitable and necessary for the farmer dwelling there. These buildings covered an acre of ground and were valued at 5 shillings.. The use of the word ‘farmer’ suggests that the plan was to grant or lease out the entire monastic estate for a sum of money to be remitted to the Crown. The ‘farmer’ of Corabbey is what Philip Barry became in 1544.

The other properties of the monastery included various plots of lands – usually entire townlands, scattered about the monastery. The main body of the monastic estate at Chore (the area immediately around the monastery) was estimated to contain 180 acres, 0 roods 0 perches.The detached portion of the estate at Kyllynamaragh and Ballygibbyn (near Mogeely) amounted to an estimated 120 acres 0 roods 0 perches.These were the lands of the monastic estate – about 300 acres, all told. A modest enough estate it seems.  But this figure was not the same as 300 acres today.

Castlemartyr Castle was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly.  They were governors of the Earl of Desmond's lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola' or Hounds of Blood for their savagery.  The towerhouse  at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle.

Castlemartyr Castle, sometimes called the Castle of Imokilly, was the seat of the FitzGeralds, Seneschals of Imokilly. They were governors of the Earl of Desmond’s lands in the barony and were called the Madrai na Fola’ or Hounds of Blood for their savagery. The towerhouse at the right is the most authentic FitzGerald structure. The great chimneys come from the manor house later constructed within the walls of the castle. The rebellious Seneschal was besieged here by the Earl of Ormond and Captain Walter Raleigh.  Ormond had the Seneschal’s mother, brother and infant son executed in front of the castle to encourage surrender – but the Seneschal managed to escape.

For example, the townland of Killeenamanagh (Kyllynmaragh) today measures 303 acres 3 roods and 22 perches in statute measurement.  Ballygibbon measures 203 acres 0 roods and 14 perches in statute measurement.  This gives a good idea of the estimation of acreages in the 1541 report.  The 120 acres estimated by the jurors is equal to over 507 acres (rounded up) in modern measurement!  What are we to make of Chore?  The trouble here is that we’re not exactly sure where to draw the boundaries.  Townparks alone currently measures 315 acres 0 roods and 35 perches.  Add in the 16 acres 2 rood and 37 perches of School-land (cut out of Townparks in 1696), and we get some 333 rounded up modern acres. There must have been more land attached to the monastery to give the 1541 estimated figure of 180 acres.

If we take the Killenamangh and Ballygibbon tract as being about 500 modern acres, it means that we must multiply the 1541 figures by 4.16 (at very least!) to get an approximate estimate of the area of monastic lands.  Thus the area of 180 acres estimated for Chore in 1541 gives us over 748.8 modern acres.to make up, say 749 acres when rounded up.  if we combine Townparks with School-lands and Broomfield West we get 697 modern acres.  This suggests that the remaining acreage of the monastic estate may have came from the northern part of Castleredmond and a chunk of Broomfield East. All in all then, we’re talking about a monastic estate of about 1200 acres.

But a word of warning – these acreage figures may be a serious underestimate of the monastic lands.  Even worse, did the abbot conceal some of the monastic estate, with the connivance of the jurors?  The jurors were local men and certainly knew of the Barry interest in the land and probably understated the size of the monastery’s landholdings – they certainly weren’t going to do anything that upset the then Lord Barry.  Also,we must remember that there were no accurate maps at the time and people measured land area by sight, based on experience.  Also, our multiplier of 4.16 may be an underestimate – the acre in Imokilly barony might even have been different from the acre in Barrymore barony!

What was the value of all this land?  The jury estimated that Chore should have produced an annual rental income valued at 66 shillings and 8 pence – if it were fully inhabited! But in fact the jurors noted that Chore was actually producing an annual income of 20 shillings from the rents paid by Richard Urlings (Verling) and others. The salmon weir was valued at 6s.8d per annum. The water mill was valued at 20s per annum, but because of the recent trouble following the Silken Thomas Rebellion was only producing 6s.8d per annum! The lands of Killeenamanagh and Ballygibbon should have produced 40s per annum if leased, but were now laid waste by rebellion and were unoccupied.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep.  It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century.

The Owenacurra River in Midleton is quite tame nowadays and not very wide or deep. It may have looked very different in the sixteenth century. The view is northwards towards the five arch bridge leading to Cork. This is the point at which the river was most fordable.  The monastic lands of Chore lay to the right of the photo.

The appropriated rectories should also have produced a good income of 65 shillings. Chore should have given tithes worth 100s, but the rebellion had reduced this to 13s.4d.Three other rectories were laid waste and only Mogeely was producing tithes valued at 6s.8d per annum.  This was a huge drop in the monastery’s income.

Four years after the monastic estate was leased to Philip FitzDavid Barry, the community of monks were still there – and were already £6 behind in their rent!

What is worth noting about all this is the lack of any mention of a town or village or other settlement – the reference to the value of rents ‘if the land was fully occupied’ suggests that if there was a settlement near the abbey, it was then so small as to warrant no mention in the Commissioners’ returns. Furthermore, no figure is given for the number of monks accommodated in the abbey – this is a serious failing of the Commissioners’ accounts, but understandable, since the Commission was asked to value the property of these monasteries..

What actually happened after the dissolution in Ireland was that religious life almost certainly continued there for some years, perhaps even decades.   It is likely that the number of monks at Chore was quite small.  Some monasteries apparently had no monks just prior to their dissolution!

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann.

Walter Raleigh at the age of 34 in 1588, just six years after his adventure at the ford of Mainistir na Corann. He was a particularly brutal soldier who was rewarded with vast tracts of land in East Cork.

If there was no village or town near the abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann) prior to is official dissolution, then it is likely a settlement grew up fairly quickly afterwards, perhaps as a way of obtaining more income from the land rents.  The most dramatic event in the next few decades was the attempted ambush of Captain Walter Raleigh at the ford over the Owenacurra by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the Seneschal of Imokilly.  This happened in 1582 during the second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583).  The Seneschal, the Earl of Desmond’s local governor, had hidden his men in the old abbey, suggesting that much of it was still intact at the time and it is uncertain if the buildings had been damaged during the First Desmond Rebellion (1569-1573). As Raleigh’s force approached the Owenacurra River from the direction of Cork, the Seneschal’s men opened fire on them and unhorsed a couple of soldiers.  Raleigh claimed to have stood his ground on horseback in the middle of the river protect his downed men.  This suggests that the Owenacurra River was wider and perhaps deeper than it appears today.  However, when the Seneschal realised that Raleigh wasn’t going to be deterred, he and his men slipped away. Bizarrely, at the time the abbey complex was held on a lease from the Crown by a relative, and rival, of the Seneschal. This was his cousin, another John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, who was also the Dean of Cloyne Cathedral, although he hever took holy orders. The Dean was actually a Catholic and a firm supporter of friars and other Catholic clergy. Despite all this he was known as Queen Elizabeth’s staunchest local supporter in Cork!  It was this John FitzEdmund FitzGerald who would go on to lay the foundations of the modern town on the site.

Sources: Brendan Bradshaw, The dissolution of the religious orders in Ireland under Henry VIII. (Cambridge 1974). Rachel Moss, ‘Reduce, reuse, recyle: Irish monastic architecture c1540-1640’ in Roger Stalley (editor), Irish Gothic Architecture – construction, decay and reinvention. (Dublin 2012).  Newport B White (editor), Extents of Irish Monastic Possessions, 1540-1541. (Irish Manuscripts Commission, Dublin 1945).    .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Mad Monks of Midleton – really!

Mad Monk bar

The Mad Monk Bar and Bistro on Church Lane in Midleton. It stands right beside the churchyard of St John the Baptist. This church is actually built on the site of the Abbey of Chore or Mainistir na Corann, founded for the Cistercians in 1180.

On Church Lane in Midleton there is a bar/bistro called Mad Monk.  This establishment was called O’Riordan’s Pub when I was growing up and then became Joe’s of Church Lane.  The name Mad Monk was given to the pub more recently. Curious about the change of name (which occurred when I lived in Limerick) I went in recently to inquire why the place was called Mad Monk.  The personnel behind the bar hadn’t a clue – they were very clear about that. It seems that nobody had explained the origins of the name to them. One clue may be in the pub’s logo – a monk indulging in beer!

Mad Monk Logo

Logo of the Mad Monk Bar in Midleton – not quite the version that comes to mind when discussing the actual mad monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann in 1228/1229. Clearly this image depicts the Brother Cellarer – note the keys for locking up the beverages!

But there were mad monks in Midleton or Mainistir na Corann in the early 1200s.  And they were hopping mad!  Not gaga mind you, just furious that they were being called to account.

How bad were they?  Well, a letter written to them in 1228 tells us. They are addressed as the Community of Chore.

To the Community of Chore, greetings.

The charge of much disorder as well as rebellion and conspiracy…..perpetrated in your house in the past year against the visitor sent to you on behalf of the General Chapter, namely the Abbot of Tintern Minor, has been brought to our attention by reliable and trustworthy men. He removed your former abbot, Brother R., from office for refusing to submit to the authority given to him, and at the same time he placed your church and you yourselves under interdict and suspended you from the divine services for as long as you supported the beforementioned R. as abbot or recognized him as your abbot.

This opening to the letters sent by Stephen of Lexington, Abbot of Stanley, was probably not what the monks of Chore or Mainistir na Corann wanted to read.  And it was very a serious recital of the charge against the abbey as well as the penalties imposed on the abbey.

But what exactly was it all about?

Right from the start, the Cistercians in Ireland faced trouble – from the Irish monks themselves. Some years after the establishment of Mellifont Abbey in 1142, the French monks quit the place and returned to Burgundy with complaints that the Irish had some very strange interpretations of the Cistercian Rule. You may recall that the Cistercians were a reformed version of the Benedictine order, but were more rigorous in their interpretation of the Rule of St Benedict. They were also more tightly organized throughout Europe, whereas the Benedictines were organised more loosely.

For example, every year the Cistercians had a Europe-wide meeting called a General Chapter. This meeting was held in Burgundy, either at Citeaux or at Clairvaux. Representatives were sent from every national affiliation of Cistercian monasteries – this meant that the monasteries founded from Mellifont represented the Irish affiliation, sending three abbots to the General Chapter. Furthermore, the Cistercians interpreted the Benedictine rule to rigidly structure every moment of the day for the monks – both choir monks (educated men who were usually ordained) and the lay brothers (‘peasant’ monks who tilled the fields and did all the manual labour). Cistercian monks had to sleep in open dormitories – one for the choir monks and one for the lay brothers. There were various other rules – like the lack of ornament in their churches (unnecessary according to St Bernard of Clairvaux).

However, this was fine in a country with a tradition of Benedictine monasticism. Ireland was not one of these countries – and so a rigourous interpretation of the rules was more the exception than the norm in Ireland.  From a very early date, Irish Cistercians slept in cells rather than in open dormitories. They accepted decoration in their churches, they often failed to attend the General Chapter – a VERY serious offence in the eyes of the Cistercian Order. In 1195 the abbot of Chore/Mainistir na Corann was one of the three representatives of the Irish Cistercians at the General Chapter. Intriguingly the abbot was ordered to go to Dublin impose a penance on the abbot of the very rich abbey of St Mary’s. The reason? the abbot of St Mary’s was one of the three representatives from Ireland for the previous year’s General Chapter – but he failed to attend, claiming to be sick.  The General Chapter had word that this abbot was not sick at the time he should have been in Burgundy and decided to rap him across the knuckles. The abbot of Chore (Mainistir na Corann/Midleton) was given the task of calling the abbot of St Mary’s, Dublin, to account. Irish absenteeism from the General Chapter was such that the order decided, after 1195, to allow some leeway to the Irish due to the remoteness of their country – they would only be obliged to attend the General Chapter every four years. Along with the abbot of Chore’s presence at the General Chapter that year,this commission suggests that the abbey of Chore was sufficiently important just fifteen years after its foundation to be given an important role in the Cistercian order in Ireland.

However, the real trouble in the Cistercian order in Ireland erupted when the General Chapter sent a mission to Ireland to investigate the rumours of widespread abuses, that is, lack of proper Cistercian discipline. Arriving in 1217, the mission was rebuffed at teh gates of Mellifont and refused admission to the abbey. Jerpoint abbey also refused the mission access, as did several other abbeys. When the Irish abbot of Baltinglass was deposed and an Englishman appointed in his place, the Irish monks in that abbey dragged the interloper from his horse and threw him out. When the abbot sought the assistance of the government and returned with armed men, the monks fortified the abbey against him! It should be noted that of the over thirty Cistercian monasteries in Ireland, nearly two thirds were part of the Mellifont affiliation – all founded by native Irish patrons and filled mostly with native Irish monks.  The remaining monasteries founded by the English in Ireland were not affected by this ‘Conspiracy of Mellifont’, as this revolt of the Mellifont affiliation of abbeys was called.

Finally, complaining to the pope that the Cistercian rule in Ireland did not extend beyond the wearing of the white habit, the General Chapter decided to crack down severely on the Irish.In 1227, Stephen of Lexington, the abbot of Stanley in Wiltshire, was commissioned with additional papal authority to bring the Irish to heel.  Despite threats (verbal and physical) Stephen and his assistants toured Ireland and tried to bring the Irish monasteries into obedience to the General Chapter.

The abbeys of Mellifont, Inislounaght and Monasternenagh all fortified themselves against Stephen’s mission. Other abbeys were visited by Stephen’s appointed lieutenants and with great difficulty the deeply damaging and embarrassing revolt was brought to an end. Fifteen of the Irish monasteries were placed under the supervision of foreign monasteries and the Mellifont affiliation was broken up until finally restored in 1274.

Tintern_de_Voto

Tintern Minor (so called because the first monks came from Tintern in Wales) in County Wexford. It was also called Tintern de Voto from a vow made by its founder William Marshal, who was caught in a storm at sea as he crossed to visit his Irish estates. The abbey was founded around 1200 and, after the dissolution, was granted, eventually, to the Colclough family who turned the church into a house – note the very domestic window on the upper wall of the transept.

At Mainistir na Corann the trouble was very serious – the abbot of Tintern Minor in County Wexford was charged with removing the abbot of Chore and forcing the abbey to conform properly to the Cistercian rule following a penance. But the abbot and monks of Chore rejected this injunction and continued in their merry way.  The abbot of Tintern was obliged to impose an interdict – basically the monks of Chore/Mainistir na Corann were forbidden to celebrate Mass and any other sacraments. They couldn’t even bury their dead with the proper rites! To most people this would have been a terrifying penalty – but not to the monks of Chore – they simply ignored the interdiction!

However, the lay people in the parish must have been distressed.  Whatever about the private quarrel of the monks with their order, the interdiction also banned ANY sacraments for the laity because the abbey church at Chore/Mainistir na Corann was also the parish church, and the interdiction against the monks also prohibited the celebration of any sacraments in their church. If the laity couldn’t be sure that their dead were condemned to hell or to purgatory (nobody went straight to heaven!) then it was likely that they sought reassurance from the priests at the neighbouring parishes of Ballinacorra, Ballyspillane, Inchinabecky,Caherultan and Mogeesha. This meant that the abbey would have lost out on dues for the sacraments.

Eventually with the help of the abbot of Tracton (some miles south of Cork) Stephen of Lexington brought Chore/Mainistir na Corann back into line.  As punishment, Chore, like Monasternenagh and Fermoy abbeys, was put under the supervision of Margam Abbey in Wales. The two decades of madness affecting the monks of Chore was at an end, as was the Conspiracy of Mellifont..

The priceless irony of all this was that Stephen of Lexington was elected abbot of Clairvaux in 1242 and was soon removed from office for unsatisfactory performance! Happily his letter to the community at Chore has survived as the oldest letter ever sent to Mainistir na Corann. Bizarrely, like Chore, Fermoy and Tracton, nothing remains of Stanley abbey today.

Of Monasteries, Mad Monks and the Medieval Origins of Midleton – Free Lunchtime Local History Lecture in Midleton Library

New Signs Midleton

Someone really needs to explain the non-existent relationship between the Cistercian monks who founded Mainistir na Corann and the Anglo-Normans who’d just invaded Cork. All will be revealed in a free public local history lecture on Friday 20th March at 1.00 pm in Midleton Library.

Recently I discussed with Mary Mitchell in Midleton Library the idea of a free public lunchtime local history lecture/talk.  We can now reveal the date and topic of the lecture.

The lecture is called Mainistir na Corann – of monasteries, mad monks and the medieval origins of Midleton. It will be presented by yours truly (yes, Tony Harpur himself and in the flesh!) in Midleton Library at 1.00 pm on Friday 20th March. The lecture is expected to last no longer than 45 minutes.

The lecture will cover the years c.1177 to c.1624 and will focus on the twelfth century religious and political context of the foundation of the Cistercian abbey of Mainistir na Corann/Chorus Sancti Benedicti. It will go on to describe what we know fo the recorded history up to the dissolution under Henry VIII. The final part will be a teaser for a future lecture discussing the origins of the TOWN of Mainistir na Corann which became Midleton in 1670. The aim of this lecture is to inform, correct misinformation, and to reveal new material based on recent studies. As a bonus after the lecture, I may even take some of the audience to see a stone I’ve discovered that appears to have come from the abbey!

Hope to see some of you there!