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).    .

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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.