Even the ducks have flown – Midleton’s history of flooding.

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The from Lewis Bridge of the flooded southern end of Main Street, Midleton, on Wednesday morning, 30th December. (Irish Examiner)

Walking by the banks of the Owenacurra River, the principal river on which Midleton stands, I have noticed in recent weeks that even the family of ducks which frequent the place have now flown. Only the herons are still in residence. That’s how serious the rainfall has been since November, exacerbated by the sudden flooding of parts of Midleton on the night of Tuesday 29th December and on the morning of Wednesday 30th December 2015. However, the history of flooding in Midleton goes much further back – it’s a reality of the town that simply hasn’t been properly addressed.

One of the best early descriptions of flooding in Midleton is that from 1895: this flood happened on a Saturday night/Sunday morning and saw the Owenacurra River overflow its banks between Ballyedmond and Ballinacurra. ‘…all the low lying lands…are deeply flooded to a greater extent and depth than has been seen before by the oldest inhabitant.’  So severe was the flooding that the streets and sidewalks (the original word in the text) were ‘.…deeply submerged during the day causing much inconvenience to pedestrians going to and returning from their respective places of worship, many of them having to employ cars to convey them over the flooded portions of the town.

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View over the flooded area of the distillery (mid-ground) towards the west. The disused railway line to Youghal is represented by the double of row of trees on the right. The flooded rugby club is just above the distillery. (Irish Examiner)

In 1911 another flood proved, perhaps, more devastating, because it happened on a Saturday, a busy market day: the flooding was caused by a massive thunderstorm lasting from about 10.30 am to about 3.30 pm accompanied by flashing lightning that terrified both the people of the town and draft animals.The worst of the storm happened between 12.00 noon and 1.30 pm. The deluge proved so bad that vehicular traffic had difficulty making its way through the town. The lower end of the Main Street was several inches deep in water and ‘…presented the appearance of initiating a lake.’ The lower part of Thomas Street was inundated to a depth of three feet and cellars on Main Street began to fill with water.

The flash flooding of 1920 left many homes deluged and even threatened the lives of animals who had gone into the Owenacurra or Roxborough rivers. The depth of the flooding reach some five or six feet The lower part of Thomas Street was inundated to a depth of three feet, with seven or eight houses being abandoned as the inhabitants sought refuge elsewhere. The cellars on Main Street began to fill with water.

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The onset of the flooding on Main Street, Midleton, on the night of Tuesday 29th  December. (Irish Mirror)

What is too frequently forgotten is that the centre  of Midleton is a low lying area between two rivers – the Owenacurra on the west and the Roxborough/Dungourney River on the south. Although the land between these rivers is not entirely flat (indeed there is an outcrop of rock at one point) most of it is quite flat, but deceptive. Midleton is usually, but incompletely, described as being on the Owenacurra River, but the more dangerous river is almost certainly the Roxborough. This is the river that has flooded the lower end of Main Street frequently in recent years. The trouble with the Roxborough is that it is barely noticeable in the town – people just drive over Lewis Bridge to and from Main Street, not realizing that the river below the bridge is a strongly flowing stream that can flood very rapidly. The Roxborough is fed not only by its main stream coming from Dungourney but also by a watercourse coming from Loughaderra and Ballybutler in the east, near Castlemartyr.

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View down the flooded southern end of Main Street, Midleton, on Wednesday 30th December 2015. Note the ripples caused by a strong southerly wind blowing the water up the street. (Irish Examiner)

There is an opinion that the railway line that was built to link Midleton and Youghal to Cork in 1858-1860 may actually follow an original ancient dried up course of the Roxborough/Dungourney River just to the north of the town. This was the area that was badly flooded on 29th and 30th December 2015, as was part of the modern distillery, and the areas along the Dungourney Road, including the Rugby Club (the latter being under several feet of water) and several houses. The route of the railway line runs directly alongside these sites.

The trouble with the Owenacurra is that it reaches a pinch-point where the Cork Road Bridge stands. There is a ridge of higher ground bringing the Cork Road into Midleton with a corresponding area of somewhat raised land on the other side around the courthouse. This can lead to the floodwater in the Owenacurra backing up on the northern side of the bridge. To complicate matters, several houses were built very close to the river in the latter years of the twentieth century, often on low ground.

The background to all this is the almost persistent rain since early November (seven storms in eight weeks, with more rainfall in between) adding up to a record rainfall for the month of December – indeed the rainfall in December alone was the equivalent of THREE MONTHS of winter rainfall! The two rivers and their tributary streams were full to saturation and almost contantly in full spate. The exceptionally high tides coming in from the sea, as well as a strong southerly wind all contributed to the conditions for a perfect storm leading to a flood. The arrival of Storm Frank on the 29th December was the spark that led to disaster. The two rivers burst their banks – but, fortunately, the Roxborough/Dungourney didn’t completely burst its banks – that would have been a true catastrophe.

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The N25 linking Cork to Waterford and Rosslare flooded between Castlemartyr and Killeagh. The flood was so bad that it took a week of pumping to clear the road for traffic. (Evening Echo)

No warning was given by the County Council of an immanent flood threat. The flooding started during the night of 29th and rapidly became very serious indeed. Families were evacuated from their homes in several areas and one family was rescued from a car trapped between two flooding streets. The Defence Forces were called upon to use their high-axle trucks to drive through the floods to rescue people. The Midleton Park Hotel, Midleton College and the Castlemartyr Resort Hotel all accommodated evacuated families. Meanwhile the waters were spreading. It was the combined efforts of volunteers, property owners, business owners and the small local council staff that prevent even more properties from flooding. The southern end of Main Street was closed for most of Wednesday 30th, being opened around 6.00 pm.   It is extraordinary that not a single life was lost, despite some houses on the Mill Road being situated below road level!  One observer said that she had lived in Midleton for 84 years and never saw a flood like it.

The 2015 flooding wasn’t just confined to Midleton – parts of Castlemartyr were flooded, as well as Glanmire and Glounthaune. Many local roads were rendered impassable by floods, and the N25 (or Euroroute 1), the main road from Cork to Waterford, was actually closed between Castlemartyr and Killeagh due to a local turlough (a seasonal lake) spreading its waters over a mile of the road. It took a week of pumping to clear the N25 for traffic again. As the flooding has receded people discovered that several of their local roads are now barely passable, if not entirely ruined. The road linking Lisgoold to Midleton and that linking Midleton to Dungourney are in a particularly poor condition.

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Councillor Susan McCarthy’s photo of the flood on Main Street, Midleton, on the morning of 30th December. The fine stone building across the street is the Pugin building, formerly the Midleton Arms Hotel and more recently McDaid’s Pub. Refurbishment started before Christmas and is still ongoing, although the ground floor got flooded on this occasion. (Councillor Susan McCarthy)

One thing that did emerge was the community spirit – farmer brought in their tractors and tankers to suck up the waters from flooded houses and business premises, and to remove the flood from Main Street, Brodrick Street and other parts of the town. Irish Distillers used their equipment to assist properties on the Dungourney Road whilst clearing the floodwaters from their own property. Many shopkeepers reopened as soon as they could, often within a day of the flooding.

The reality is that Midleton was actually fortunate that matters were not worse than they turned out to be. This is of no comfort to the people evacuated from their flooded homes, or to businesspeople who are still picking up the pieces. Some thirty or so families were evacuated or had to abandon their homes and some forty businesses suffered, some being flooded for the first time ever. Yet, compared with the people living along the banks of the Shannon River (who have been inundated from the middle of December at the latest) and in Bandon (who were flooded twice), Midleton got off relatively lightly.

Regrettably, Midleton IS historically prone to flooding, but thankfully it usually affects just one or two localized parts of the town. The flooding of December 2015 was a severe shock – the lack of warning, the extent of the damage, the closure and even destruction of local roads was a real wake-up call to the people of Midleton. We have to do something about the matter. Hopefully something will come of the public meeting at the Midleton Park Hotel on Tuesday 12th January at 6.30 pm.

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Ambush! Where was Walter Raleigh ambushed in Midleton in 1580?

The traditional site of the Seneschal of Imokilly's attempted ambush of Walter Raleigh is usually placed on the Owenacurra River near the present St John the Baptist's Church, Midleton, built on the site of the medieval Cistercian abbey.

The traditional site of the Seneschal of Imokilly’s attempted ambush of Walter Raleigh is usually placed on the Owenacurra River (foreground) near the present St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, built on the site of the medieval Cistercian abbey.

‘...in Ireland he was a reprehensible snob and killer.’ Such is Michael Twomey’s blunt assessment of Walter Raleigh published in History Ireland in 2014. Twomey bolsters his assessment with a litany of incompetence and brutality committed by Raleigh during his time in Ireland, with the damning conclusion that Raleigh ‘..added nothing to Youghal’s infrastructure and very little to its economy.‘ And they’ve named a section of the town’s historic center after him!

The Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583) which convulsed Munster barely a decade after the previous Desmond Rebellion proved to be devastating for the FitzGerald interest in the province. The Earldom of Desmond went defunct, and ultimately extinct, as a consequence and many estates held since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the province in 1177 were confiscated and awarded to English adventurers. The often brutal Walter Raleigh was one of the biggest beneficiaries gaining some 40,000 acres of confiscated lands for his troubles. Edmund Spenser, the celebrated poet who wrote The Faerie Queen, was another beneficiary of the confiscations that followed the crushing of the rebellion.

What is little known (even in Midleton) is that Raleigh’s life might have been rudely cut short if the rebellious Seneschal of Imokilly had got his act together in September 1580!

The incident is recorded in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles which was published in 1587. James Fitzmaurice, leader of the Desmond Rebellion, while on pilgrimage to Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary in August 1580 was suddenly killed. This meant that John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Seneschal of Imokilly, was now the effective military leader of the rebels. Captain Raleigh, based in Cork, had already attacked Barryscourt Castle, near Carrigtwohill, which had been burned by David, Lord Barry, to deny it to the Queen’s forces. The Holinshed chronology seems rather confusing but it actually seems that after Barryscourt, Raleigh had gone to Youghal. After a short time there Raleigh had to return to Cork, and prompted the attempted ambush at Corabbey, now Midleton. It’s best to give the Holinshed version before discussing the incident further. (Note: I’ve modernized the spelling to make it easier for the modern reader. The ‘captain’ in the text refers to Raleigh.)

Sir Walter Raleigh painted in 1588 when he was aged just 34. This elegant portrait gives no idea of the sheer brutality of the man who participated in the massacre of Papal and Spanish forces at Smerwick Harbour near Dingle in 1580, a crime condemned all over Europe.

Sir Walter Raleigh painted in 1588 when he was aged just 34. This elegant portrait gives no idea of the sheer brutality of the man who participated in the massacre of Papal and Spanish forces at Smerwick Harbour near Dingle in 1580, a crime condemned all over Europe.

This captain, making his return from Dublin, and the same well known unto the seneschall of Imokilly, through whose country he was to pass, lay in ambush for him and to entrap him between Youghal and Cork, lying at a ford, which the said captain must pass over with six horsemen and certain kerne, The captain, little mistrusting any such matter, had in his company only two horsemen and four shot on horseback, which was too small a force in so doubtful and dangerous times: nevertheless he had a very good guide, which was the servant of John Fitzedmond of Cloyne, a good subject, and this guide knew every corner and starting hole in those places.

The captain being come towards the ford, the seneschal had spied him alone, his company being scattered behind, and very fiercely pursued him, and crossed him as he was to ride over the water, but yet he recovered the ford and passed over. The Irishman who was his guide, when he saw the captain thus alone and so narrowly distressed, he shifted for himself and fled unto a broken castle fast by, there to save himself. The captain being thus over the water, Henry Moile, riding alone about a a bowshot before the rest of his company, when he was in the middle of the ford, his horse foundered and cast him down; and being afraid that the seneschal’s men would have followed him and have killed him, cried out to the captain to come and to save his life; who not respecting the danger he himself was in, came unto him and recovered both him and his horse. And then Moile, coveting with all haste to leap up, did it with such haste and vehemency that he quite overlept the horse, and fell into the mire fast by, and so his horse ran away, and was taken by the enemy. The captain nevertheless stayed still, and did abide for the coming of the residue of his company, of the four shot which were as yet not come forth, and for his man, Jenkin, who had about two hundred pounds in money about him, and sat upon his horse in the meanwhile, having his staff in one hand and his pistol charged in the other hand. The seneschal, who had so fiercely followed him upon spur, when he saw him to stand and tarry as it were for his coming, notwithstanding he was counted a man (as he was indeed) of great service, and having also a new supply of twelve horsemen and sundry shot come unto him; yet neither he nor any one of them, being twenty to one, durst to give the onset upon him, but only railed and used hard speeches unto him, until his men behind were recovered and were come unto him, then without any further harm departed.

Basically what happened was this: having returned from Dublin, where he was given a new commission to root out rebellion by Lord Deputy Grey, Raleigh had attacked David, Lord Barry, at Barryscourt, but was foiled by Barry’s burning of his own castle. Continuing to Youghal, Raleigh spent a short time there before he took a small escort of mounted men with him to go back to Cork. Their guide was a local man, a servant of John FitzEdmond FitzGerald of Cloyne, a cousin and mortal enemy of the Seneschal of Imokilly. One of the men in Ralaeigh’s party carried two hundred pounds in cash – probably pay for the garrison in Cork. The Seneschal discovered Raleigh’s plan and attempted to ambush him at a ford. Raleigh, riding ahead of his men, evaded the Seneschal’s personal attack and reached the far bank of the river. One of Raleigh’s men, The local guide ran off into a nearby ruined castle to save his life. Henry Moile was thrown from his horse in mid-stream. Raleigh came to his aid but Moile was too eager to remount and fell off his horse into a mire on the riverbank. Raleigh however stood his ground until the rest of the party caught up. The Seneschal, who had twenty men with him, some armed with guns, didn’t bother to attack Captain Raleigh but abused him with insults. When the rest of his men had crossed the stream, Raleigh gathered them up and made his way safely to Cork.

The first point to note is that Raleigh’s party was to pass through the country of the Seneschal of Imokilly – that means he was going from Youghal to Cork, through the barony of Imokilly. This is important because it meant that Raleigh’s movements could easily have been made known to the Seneschal whose seat was at Castlemartyr, although it is unlikely he was actually in residence at the time. But knowledge of Raleigh’s movements would have given the Seneschal time to plot an ambush. It is worth noting that the river (or ford) that Raleigh crossed is not named. There is one important clue – the ‘broken castle fast by.’ There were two castles in the immediate vicinity of Corabbey (Midleton). About half a mile to the east stands the ruin of Cahermone Castle, which had been acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, the loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth mentioned in the text. This stands on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River. The other castle was Castleredmond. No longer extant, Castleredmond stood on the shore of the Owenacurra Estuary at its narrowest point. However, given the silting of the Ballinacurra Creek and the Owenacurra Estuary especially since about 1900 it simply isn’t possible to suggest that this was the site of the ford where the ambush took place.  Indeed there is no known historical evidence for a ford at that point. The third option is that the ‘broken castle’ was actually the ruined Cistercian abbey of Chore, on the site of the present St John the Baptist’s Church in Midleton. This was indeed ‘fast by’ the fordable river Owenacurra, which marked the boundary between Imokilly and Barrymore baronies. However it seems highly unlikely, given the apparent eye-witness account of the ambush, that the narrator mistook a ruined abbey for a ‘broken castle.’  In short there is only one place where this ambush might have happened – on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River near Cahermone and NOT on the Owenacurra River.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the Owenacurra has lost much of its volume of water, and indeed can almost dry up entirely, because so much of the water is siphoned off upstream to supply the town of Midleton. The Roxborough River, despite being previously diverted into the distillery, has always been blessed with a good and rather deep flow of water. Given the proximity of Cahermone Castle, I’m inclined to place the ambush on the Roxborough rather than on the Owenacurra. Add to this is the mention of the ‘mire’ into which Henry Moile fell – there is an area of bogland next to the Roxborough River which probably extended further east towards Cahermone before the land was reclaimed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. it should be noted that the townland of Park South straddles the Roxborough between Townparks (marking the center of Midleton) and Cahermone. Park South (along with Park North) formed part of Sir St John Brodrick’s deerpark as authorized in the Charter of Midleton of 1670.

The ruins of Cahermone Castle with the later additon on the right. The castle was acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne who supplied the guide for Raleigh's party in 1580. This is most likely the 'broken castle' in which the guide took refuge during the attempted ambush.

The ruins of Cahermone Castle with the later additon on the right. The castle was acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne who supplied the guide for Raleigh’s party in 1580. This is most likely the ‘broken castle’ in which the guide took refuge during the attempted ambush. The castle stands on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River.

The comic detail of Henry Moile over-leaping his horse in mid-stream suggests that the Holinshed source was actually present at the ambush and recounted it to amuse the company but also to display his courage in standing by his hapless colleague. In addition the detail that Jenkin had two hundred pounds in coin in his possession is very telling. it was a considerable sum of money at the time.

Unfortunately the Seneschal of Imokilly, John FitzEdmund FitzGerald (NOT the gentleman from Cloyne!), does not come out of the affair with much credit. Indeed, the whole incident is redolent of hesitation and uncertainty on the part of the Seneschal and his men. Raleigh attempted to ford the river under the direction of a guide provided of John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, a Catholic gentleman who was both Dean of Cloyne (but a layman for all that) and a staunch supporter of Queen Elizabeth I. At this stage FitzGerald was very likely safely shut up in Cork, for Cloyne had fallen to his cousin, the Seneschal, who had burned much of it. The fact that this Raleigh’s guide had fled to the ruined castle suggests that he was familiar with the place, as he probably would be if he was a servant of John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne.

Raleigh comes out of the tale with considerable credit, although one must question his foolishness in traveling through a rebellious country from Youghal to Cork with such a scanty force. Perhaps he felt it was sufficiently subdued to warrant the risk. Or perhaps he was in a hurry and a smaller party would make better speed than a larger one. It could well be that he just couldn’t spare the men and had to leave some to garrison Youghal.

Barryscourt Castle, Carrigtwohill, was extensively refurbished by David, Lord Barry, after he had burned it to deny it to Raleigh in 1580. Raleigh later tried to get Queen Elizabeth I to grant it to himself, but she refused,   preferring to keep the Barrys on side.

Barryscourt Castle, Carrigtwohill, was extensively refurbished by David, Lord Barry, after he had burned it to deny it to Raleigh in 1580. Raleigh later tried to get Queen Elizabeth I to grant it to himself, but she refused, preferring to keep the Barrys on side. The castle was restored by the Office of Public Works at the end of the twentieth century. 

The specific details given in the story and the description of the site of the ambush all point to one conclusion – Walter Raleigh was himself the source of the story in the 1587 Holinshed. This is reinforced by an interesting coda related in the text. Some time after the failed ambush, there was a parley between the Crown and the rebels. Raleigh and the Seneschal were both present and Raleigh took the opportunity to berate the Seneschal for his cowardice during the ambush. One of the Seneschal’s men piped up that his master was indeed a coward that day but was otherwise a valiant man. The Earl of Ormond intervened and suggested a duel to settle the argument, but the Seneschal sensibly demurred. It seemed he preferred to keep his head rather than lose it. After a peace had been arranged (and the rebellion crushed) the Seneschal was allowed, eventually, to return to his residence at Castlemartyr. Some time later he was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle by a suspicious government. There were apparently plans to release him given the lack of any evidence against him, but John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the last effective Seneschal of Imokilly, died in prison in 1586.

References:-

Holinshed’s Chronicle, 1587: http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/texts.php?text1=1587_0542

Michael Twomey: ‘A good heritage/tourism story getting in the way of historical facts?’ History Ireland, Issue 1 (January/February 2014), vol 22.

See:- http://www.historyireland.com/volume-22/good-heritage-tourism-story-getting-way-historical-facts/

A quick follow up to the Midleton House post.

view of Holy Rosary Church with part of Midleton House, The Rock, and the Roxborough or Dungourney River in the foreground. This photo dates from after 1908, the year the church spire was completed. Note the extensive and elaborate gardens. (National Library of Ireland.)

View of Holy Rosary Church with part of Midleton House, The Rock, and the Roxborough or Dungourney River in the foreground. This photo dates from after 1908, the year the church spire was completed. The photo appears to have been taken on a summer evening, for the shadows are cast from the west. The camera was positioned on Lewis Bridge. Note the extensive and elaborate gardens to the side and behind Midleton House. (Eason Photographic Collection, National Library of Ireland.)

As you know our last post examined the history of the name Midleton House associated with two different houses, each on opposite banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River in Midleton.  The National Library of Ireland has a lovely early twentieth century image showing part of Midleton House , The Rock. What is of note is not just the dominant position of the newly built Holy Rosary Church (spire completed in 1908) but the fine gardens around the house. Today there are a lot more large trees around the house.

Hurricane Gonzalo blows out – and a Midleton Walking Tour blows in!

Last week I had an email from Grace Fox at SECAD (South & East Cork Area Development).  She asked me to give a tour of Midleton to a group taking a new Tourism and Heritage Programme at SECAD.   Her suggestion was to do the tour on Tuesday 21st October.  I said ‘yes’ subject to the weather – the tail end of Hurricane Gonzalo was due to arrive overnight on Monday and continue into the next day.  Fortunately the worst of the storm went north, and we got away lightly here in the deep south.

I met the group of about twelve people at the Courthouse at the northern end of Main Street (and believe me the wind was bitter – thermal underwear weather!). First we looked around the Fair Green and old Goose’s Acre area with the old Workhouse (now the Community Hospital), Allen’s Mill (now apartments), Neville’s garage (formerly part of the old US Naval Air Station at Aghada – moved here in 1921!), the Courthouse (by George and Richard Pain, 1829), the Munster & Leinster Bank by George Coppinger Ashlin (now the Allied Irish Bank).

Main Street Midleton

Midleton Walking Tour

The northern end of Main Street.  Yes, that is a blue sky in the background!  The red brick structure is the Allied Irish Bank, designed in a Dutch Renaissance style by George Coppinger Ashlin and built for the Munster and Leinster Bank in 1902.  The Courthouse stands directly opposite (out of picture). The yellow building is one half of a structure that once contained the Post Office and was built in 1910.  The building now houses a bookshop on the ground floor and law offices upstairs, convenient for the Courthouse. 

It’s so nice to have an attentive group!

 

We then proceeded down Main Street looking Old Bank House, the predecessor of the Munster & Leinster Bank, the older of the two Market Houses in Midleton (the town is unique in having TWO Market Houses), the different building plots on Main Street, and then on to Connolly Street to look at Midleton College (founded 1696).  This is a secondary school (boarding and day school) not a third level institution. It was also the site of one of the earliest known experiments in medical anesthesia in Ireland in the 1830s.  The wind dropped and the temperature seemed more pleasant once we had the shelter of the buildings in Main Street.

From there we returned to Main Street, crossing over to Church Lane, to view St John the Baptist’s Church (Church of Ireland) and the oldest cemetery in Midleton, going back to the seveneeth century – I have ancestors buried there.  This was also the site of the Cistercian Abbey of Chore (Mainistir na Corann in Irish, meaning the Monastery of the Weir, the weit being the most valuable asset of the monastery at the Dissolution).  At one period the settlement was known as Corabbey, until the charter of King Charles II in 1670 gave the town an official corporate identity and a new name – MIDLETON.  Even the spelling is by royal appointment!  St John the Baptist’s Church is the third Anglican church on the site since 1670 and was also designed by George and Richard Pain (1825).

Moving on to Main Street, we stopped to look at the library which is now housed in the ‘new’ Market House.  Well, it was new in 1789 when it was built – just in time for the French Revolution!  It later became known as the ‘Town Hall‘ – that is, a place used by the town as a reading room (how appropriate that it houses the library) and as a place of assembly for public meetings, dinners and even dances.  Bear in mind the shambles was on the ground floor (the butchers’ market)!  I’m sure this added a delightful aroma to the genteel proceedings upstairs.

We moved on further to look at a building designed by Augustus WN Pugin but executed under the supervision of his son Edward – now called McDaid’s Bar, but known to long established Midleton residents as the former Midleton Arms Hotel.  This structure was originally two houses (with shops on the ground floor, but Viscount Midleton didn’t have the money to complete the rebuilding of the entire street in the same fashion.  Main Street would have looked spectacular if the project had been completed.  The building was occuppied by Crown Forces during the Irish War of Independence (1919-1921).  There are still traces of bullet marks on the building where the IRA had fired on the British troops who were stationed there to secure the southern end of the street (the Royal Irish Constabulary were based at the Northern end of the street).

From there we went on to Brodrick Street or Coolbawn as locals call it.  In fact Coolbawn refers to the area in which Brodrick Street stands.  And no, there’s no ‘e‘ in Brodrick – despite the official street sign!  The Brodricks were the family who developed Midleton into the town we see today.  Crossing Main Street (it’s a LONG street, about eight hundred yards) we entered the old Coppinger brewery.  I had some funny looks when I told them this!  Midleton is noted for distilling whiskey, not for brewing beer.  However the Coppinger family had closed down the brewery by the time the first Ordnance Survey map of Midleton was surveyed in the late 1830s.  The business almost certainly failed because of Fr Theobald Mathew’s spectacularly successful campaign against the demon drink – the Famine drove us back to drink!  We then gathered at Distillery Walk (it should really be called Distillery Drive given all the cars parked there) to discuss the Coppingers and their importance in Midleton, with their house on the other side of Main Street. (More about that house below!)

midleton walking tour

Midleton walking tour

Holding forth about the Coppinger family at Distillery Walk, with Lewis Bridge in the background (beyond the railings).  The scene is dominated by Ashlin’s Holy Rosary Church (1896 & 1908). Just visible over the parapet of the bridge is the former  Lewis Place, now called Midleton House, one of two houses with that name in Midleton.   Later, I realized that I had forgotten to tell them about General John Joseph Coppinger (1834-1909), who fought on the Union side in the US Civil War – he’s buried in Arlington National Cemetery (yes, the one across the Potomac from DC!).  

Note the attentive note taking by most of the group.  There were plenty of questions too!

Then crossing over Lewis Bridge (which traverses the Roxborough River) we turned off to look at one of the two houses called Midleton House.  There I explained that this house was originally called Lewis Place (queue shock and surprise in the group – NOBODY had EVER heard called THAT!).  This house was probably built around 1760 (perhaps earlier!) and only later acquired the name Midleton House.  People in the town believe this is the ONLY house entitled to that name, whereas, in fact, the house directly across the Roxborough River was also called Midleton House from the 1890s.   That house was the home of the Coppinger family that I noted above.  The Coppingers were prosperous brewers, maltsters, grain merchants and bankers, and were the most important, and wealthiest, Catholic residents of Midleton in the nineteenth century.  We also considered the 1867 Fenian ‘incident’ in Midleton (I refuse to call it a rebellion, it was plain murder!) and the buildings of the area called the Rock (from a large rock that had to be cut away to create the road to Youghal).  Among the buildings there are Bank House – built by the Coppingers as the Midleton branch of the National Bank of Ireland in the 1830s, as well as Rock Terrace (1861) and some earlier terraces and a lovely pair of late Georgian townhouses to complete the scene.   We didn’t do the Holy Rosary Catholic Church because we could all see it from where we stood – this was also designed by George Coppinger Ashlin in 1894 and built in two years, opening in 1896!  The spire was added to Ashlin’s original design in 1907/08.  They knew how to build them back then!  So, curiously, the Main Street and Rock are bracketed by George Coppinger Ashlin’s buildings.

In all the tour took just over two hours – and it was the first component of the group’s tourism studies.  I hope they learned more about Midleton in those two hours than they had expected. A huge  ‘thank you’ to the group for their enthusiastic attendance on  a very chilly afternoon.  And the best of luck to them in their course.