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)