St Elvis and Christianity in Ireland before St Patrick.

Patrick baptizes King of Cashel

Propaganda by the scribes of Armagh gives us the story of St Patrick baptizing the King of Cashel. Patrick’s crozier pierced the foot of the king, who thought it was part of the ritual, so he didn’t cry out. This tale was designed to claim that Armagh had primacy over Cashel and the province of Munster.

Down here in the deep south of Ireland we celebrate St Patrick’s Day like all Irish people around the world….including elsewhere in Ireland. But there is a very strong tradition in Munster that four saints introduced Christianity to the province before St Patrick arrived.  These four were St Ailbe of Emly, St Ciaran of Saigir, St Abban of Moyarny and St Declan of Ardmore. Saint Ibar or Iberius in Latin is sometimes included as a pre-Patrician saint.

St Ailbe

Window depicting St Ailbe in the Honan Chapel in University College Cork. Each of the windows depicts a saint from Munster.

St Ailbe, considered the most important of these, is known in Pembrokeshire as St Eilfyw or Eilfw. The smallest parish in Britain, just four miles north west of St Davids is named after him. He is credited with founding the monastery of Emly, which was later erected into a diocese at the Synod of Rath Breasail in 1111. In the eighteenth century the see of Emly was united with the Diocese of Cashel, the see of the Archbishop of Cashel. Ailbe is said to have been a Irish foundling taken back to Wales by some Britons who raised him as a Christian. On a journey to Rome he was ordained by St Hilary, the pope at the time. Ailbe is said to have baptized St David of Wales and then returned to Ireland to set up his monastery. It is ironic that his name is so well known worldwide for the Latin version of Ailbe is…..Elvis!  So you now know that the king of rock and roll was named after an Irish saint! But I have no idea if the saint was as good as the king with a guitar.

Elvis Presley

They call him the king, but he’s named after a saint! And an Irish saint at that!

Ciaran of Saigir was a nobleman who converted to Christianity and went to Rome on pilgrimage, where he was ordained a bishop by the pope. Returning to Ireland he became bishop of Ossory – a diocese that didn’t exist in the fifth/six/seventh century. He’s called Ciaran the Elder to distinguish him from the St Ciaran who founded Clonmacnoise.

St Abban's Church Killeagh

The now disused church of St Abban in Killeagh in east Cork. What is baffling is that Killeagh is named after a local woman, St Ia (known as St Ive in Cornwall). Nobody knows how Killeagh got a church dedicated to a Leinster saint. Killeagh lies on the main road from Midleton to Youghal.

St Abban was from the area around New Ross in Wexford – a town that was founded in the early 1200s by William Marshal. Abban’s claim to fame is his sister – St Gobnait of Ballyvourney.  Abban is said to be buried in Ballyvourney which marks the western outpost of the diocese of Cloyne. The abbey of Abingdon in England claimed to be named after him, but I suspect they were simply making that claim in the hope of acquiring relics. They actually had nothing to do with Abban. Come to think of it, the village of Killeagh in east Cork – on the road from Midleton to Youghal has a redundant Anglican church dedicated to St Abban – despite the fact that the village takes its name from St Ia (a woman) who gives her name to St Ives in Cornwall.  We’re still baffled by the St Abban connection.

Ardmore

The lovely ruined cathedral and superb round tower at Ardmore, a site dedicated to St Declan. The man had an eye for good scenery. Ardmore is still a popular holiday resort and remains a virtually unspoiled village in County Waterford. The twelfth century sculpture cycle on the west gable of the cathedral is one of the most important in Ireland.

St Declan of Ardmore had the best eye for scenery – Ardmore is a lovely seaside village in the western part of County Waterford which still preserves its tiny ruined Cathedral and its complete round tower.  Declan too went to Rome and was ordained by the pope – and met St Ailbe there. St Declan was considered the patron saint of the Deisi – the people who inhabited western County Waterford. In the modern Catholic parish of Midleton there is a site called Caherultan – said to be the church of St Ultan, a pupil of St Declan. There was certainly a parish church there in the medieval period, but the parish was abolished after the Reformation and the church has vanished.

St Declan's Well Ardmore

Early twentieth century pilgrims at St Declan’s Well in Ardmore. People still go there to take the water. ‘Doing the rounds’ of the holy sites was a way of imitating the pilgrims Rome who visited the seven basilicas there – not everybody could go to Rome on pilgrimage.

Now I don’t expect you to believe all the above stories, for many of them originate as anti-Patrician propaganda written to counter the claims of the church in Armagh to primacy over the whole of Ireland in the 7th and 8th centuries. But there is an interesting grain of truth in several of them. However, the most important detail to remember is that the south of Ireland had a lot of connections with Britain, especially Wales and with Gaul (now France). The evidence for this comes from both ancient Irish sources and ancient Welsh sources, as well as the presence of Irish inscriptions in ogham script on stones in Wales and Cornwall.   Indeed the Ui Liathain and their neighbours to the east, the Deisi even colonised parts of South Wales as the Roman Empire began to contract in the late 300s and early 400s. The Ui Liathain ruled the area that corresponds to south-east County Cork from the Blackwater to the sea and from the Glanmire River to the lower Blackwater. It is ironic that their lands were later settled by Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen and their followers from Wales – the Barrys, the Carews and the FitzGeralds. The Deisi territory in Waterford was colonized by the Powers and the FitzGeralds.

What these stories of the saints suggests is that there was much interchange of goods,persons (including slaves) and ideas between the south coast of Ireland and Wales. Christianity was one of the imports into Ireland – it survived in Wales after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the colonization of England by the Angles and Saxons.

Indeed, when we consider that the Laigin (or peoples of Leinster) even colonized the Lleyn peninsula in north-west Wales, giving their name to the place, we must wonder if the southern half of Ireland was heavily Christianized before the arrival of St Patrick. Modern scholars now believe that Patrick operated north of a line from Galway in the west to Dublin in the east. He didn’t come south of that line because Christianity was already well established in the south, with bishops supervising the church there. A stray bishop would NOT have been welcomed by the southern bishops!

Palladius

Palladius was appointed the first bishop to the Irish believing in Christ in 431 – clearly there were enough Christians in Ireland by this date to warrant the appointment of a bishop. St Patrick is traditionally said to have arrived in 432, but modern scholars reckon he came later and that 432 marked the arrival of Palladius. The scribes of Armagh may have appropriated details from the life of Palladius and attributed them to Patrickd whilst at the same time ‘disappearing’ Palladius from Irish history.

And then there is the reference in Prosper of Aquitaine’s Chronicle: in 431 Pope Celestine sent Palladius as bishop to the Irish believing in Christ.  The crucial thing about Prosper was that he was a contemporary of the two men mentioned in that statement. He was an eyewitness to these events. Prosper wrote his Chronicle to tell the story of how the Pelagian heresy was put down by St Germanus of Auxerre, and others. This heresy had flourished in Britain, alarming the Catholic Church and it probably prompted the decision to appoint Palladius to minister to the Irish Christians as their first bishop.  This was an extraordinary decision because Palladius had to leave the jurisdiction of the Roman Empire to take up his new post. It is very likely that Palladius (a Gallo-Roman) was indeed the first bishop in Ireland, preceding St Patrick by several years.

St Declan's Way

Modern pilgrimage in Ireland. There is now a walking trail from Ardmore to Cashel, linking St Declan to St Ailbe. It’s a sort of secular Camino – Irish style. Instead of sun, sangria and tapas, you get rain, Guinness and Tayto crisps!

Poor Palladius! He was condemned as a failure and almost entirely written out of Irish history centuries later when the scribes of Armagh were trying to claim for St Patrick the credit for converting the Irish to Christianity. The real goal of these scribes was to make Armagh the paramount church in Ireland. But you have got to hand it to them – it was brilliant propaganda! Now the whole world believes that Patrick was Irish and nobody has heard about Palladius, who probably did much to consolidate Christianity in the south of Ireland.  Even Stalin, with his retouched photos during the purges, was a mere amateur by comparison.  And at least nobody died in Ireland!

Ah well, A Happy St Patrick’s Day to you!

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The Red Picnic in Mogeely – mass murder in 1182.

Rock of Cashel

Cashel, an ancient site of great importance to the MacCarthys. The title ‘King of Cashel’ was synonymous with ‘King of Munster.’ The Rock of Cashel is effectively the emblem of Munster.

In the most important account of the twelfth century English invasion of Ireland, the author, Gerald de Barri, or Gerald of Wales also called Giraldus Cambrensis, tells several stirring and bloody tales.  Few are more brutal than the tale of a mass murder in Mogeely in 1182.

In his book Expugnatio Hibernica (the Conquest of Ireland),, written about 1187, Gerald tells us that when Robert FitzStephen and Milo de Cogan had ruled Cork for five years, Milo set out for a parley in Lismore with Ralph, the illegitimate son of FitzStephen, and five knights. They broke their journey at Mogeely, with fatal consequences..

‘They were sitting in the middle of some fields, waiting to have a parley with the men of Waterford, when, along with five other knights, they were killed by the traitor MacTire, with whom they were due to stay that night, being struck down with axes from behind when they were off guard.’

Geraldus goes on to tell us that;

As a result of this disaster, the whole country was immediately thrown into a state of such disorder that Diarmait MacCarthaig and almost all the Irish throughout the whole region joined MacTire in throwing off their allegiance to the English and rising against FitzStephen…..

Matters were clearly very serious for the English, but there was a hero in the wings…..:

‘The former peaceful conditions were not restored there until Raymond succeeded as heir to his uncle FitzStephen and took sole charge of the city.’

The reference to a parley with the men of Waterford suggests that there was between the English in Waterford and the English in Cork at the time, but it seems that the whole point of going to Lismore was to parley with the Waterford men there and NOT at Mogeely. So the reference is very likely a mistake.

In an earlier post I featured a postcard sent from Mogeely to Ladysbridge in 1910. The postcard showed the peaceful village with most of the population posing for the photographer. This post will examine the most notorious event in Mogeely’s history – a mass murder by battle axe in 1182. In homage to the appalling scenes of the ‘Red Wedding’ in the book and TV series Game of Thrones, I’m calling this twelfth century butchery in Mogeely……the ‘Red Picnic.’

The small peaceful village of Mogeely is located over a mile and a quarter north of Castlemartyr. Both villages are in the same Roman Catholic parish, and although Mogeely is the smaller of the two villages, it boasts the grander church, completed in 1912. It also boasted a railway line, until it finally closed in the early 1980s, and a modern creamery, celebrated for its unique regato cheese!

So what was the background to the ‘Red Picnic’ of Mogeely?

When the Anglo-Normans invaded Cork in 1177, Mogeely was the residence of the local lord of Imokilly, a chieftain called Mac Tire. This is actually a patronymic or surname, since we don’t even know the man’s personal name. Mac Tire ruled Imokilly, which in those days did not correspond to the modern barony of Imokilly. The old Imokilly of the twelfth century stretched from the western shore of Great Island, where Cobh (the former Queenstown) now stands, to a line running from north to south somewhere between Mogeely and Killeagh.  The area east of this line, as far as Youghal, would later be incorporated into Imokilly, while Great Island, and the civil parish of Mogeesha just west of Midleton, would be lost to Barrymore.

In 1177 there was serious trouble in the province of Munster. Since the so-called Treaty of Glanmire in 1118, the province had been divided into two distinct kingdoms, with a disputed area to the east. In the south, stretching from Lismore to Brandon in County Kerry, was the kingdom of Desmond, which the Anglo-Normans called the kingdom of Cork, from its capital city. This was ruled by the MacCarthaig or MacCarthy family, and the incumbent king in 1177 was Diarmait MacCarthy. He had succeeded his father in 1151 and managed to restore the much reduced power of his family in the area.

glanmire

The so called Treaty of Glanmire divided Munster into two kingdoms. North Munster or Thomond was ruled from Limerick by the O’Briens. South Munster or Desmond was ruled from Cork by the MacCarthys. East Munster or Ormond was disputed between the two. The man who imposed this division was Turlough O’Connor, King of Connacht, and aspiring High King of All Ireland. The division aimed to reduce the O’Briens and MacCarthys to the status of lesser kings. The trouble in Ormond was probably a useful distraction for O’Connor. Glanmire is today a quiet and peaceful village in a steep-sided wooded river valley just east of Cork.

In the north lay the kingdom of Thomond stretching from North Tipperary to the Cliffs of Moher in Clare, but also including Limerick city and some newly secured territories in modern County Limerick.  The ruler of Thomond in 1177 was Donal O’Brien. King since 1168, Donal was a direct descendent of the famous Brian Boru who died just a millennium ago during the celebrated battle at Clontarf (1014).  The O’Briens, a feisty and ambitious family, were considered jumped up upstarts by the MacCarthys.

The third area of Munster was Ormond (literally, East Munster) which effectively corresponded to the modern county of Tipperary. This territory was bitterly disputed between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys, because the MacCarthys were descended from the ancient kings of Cashel and had Diarmait MacCarthy’s grandfather, Cormac MacCarthy, had trounced the O’Briens in the 1120s, and secured possession of Cashel, County Tipperary, where he built Cormac’s Chapel, the most important building on the Rock of Cashel. It was probably Cormac who created the modern diocese of Cloyne in contravention of the Synod of Rath Breasail (1111) which had extinguished the older bishopric of Cloyne.

Cormac's Chapel

Cormac MacCarthy’s greatest work was his royal chapel. Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel was completed in the 1130s with the assistance of craftsmen sent from Germany by an Irish abbot in Regensburg. It does look very Germanic from some angles and it revolutionized Irish architecture in the twelfth century, virtually creating the Irish romanesque style in one go. The large church behind the chapel is the thirteenth century gothic cathedral.

By 1177 the festering disputes between the O’Briens and the MacCarthys had erupted into open war again. The reason was that King Donal O’Brien had expelled the group of families called the Ui Fidgente from their ancestral lands in the middle of the modern county of Limerick. This finally achieved the long sought O’Brien ambition of bringing the whole territory west of Limerick city under their own control – they had already tried it when Turlough O’Brien had founded Monasternenagh Abbey on lands he had won from the O’Donovans in 1148. The Ui Fidgente families were long-standing allies of the MacCarthys, who gave them shelter in other parts of their kingdom of Desmond.  This is how the O’Donovans, for example, came to be settled in South-West Cork.

Frescoes in Cormac's Chapel

The interior of Cormac’s Chapel was covered in frescoes and painted stonework. These are the finest surviving medieval fresco fragments in Ireland. They were preserved by the local people who had a custom of whitewashing the interior of the chapel over many centuries. It should be pointed out that the exterior of the building was very likely painted in bright colours too!

It is not known if King Henry II of England saw this dispute between Thomond and Desmond as a opportunity, but in 1177 he decided that three men would be awarded license to conquer the ‘kingdom of Cork’ and the ‘kingdom of Limerick,’ as the Anglo-Normans called the two territories. Milo de Cogan and his relative, Robert FitzStephen, who would divide Cork between them, but would reserve the city and one cantred for King Henry. Philip de Braose was licensed to take Limerick.The contemporary historian of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland, Gerald de Barri, or Geraldus Cambrensis (Gerald of Wales), wrote that the three men and their knights and men-at-arms sailed first to Waterford where they disembarked. They then travelled on foot and by horse to Lismore, which was clearly intended as the launch point.  Lismore was the seat of a bishop (and papal legate) but it also seems to have been a private estate of the king of Desmond.

Very rapidly the party seized the eastern and central parts of Cork, especially around the harbour. Curiously, Geraldus does not mention any fighting during this invasion. King Diarmait MacCarthy decided to play for time and abandoned his city, moving further west. Once they had secured their lands in Cork, Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen decided to take their men north to help Philip de Braose to capture Limerick. But this expedition foundered when the citizens burned their city and de Braose lost heart.

Altar apse in Cormac's Chapel

The square apse for the altar in Cormac’s Chapel. The whole building is constructed of stone. Even the steeply pitched roof is built of stone using the ancient Irish corbelling technique found as early as Newgrange. Cormac’s Chapel marries Continental romanesque barrel vaults with native Irish construction ideas, thus creating a totally new indigenous interpretation of romanesque architecture.

On returning to Cork, de Cogan and FitzStephen began to sub-infeudate their lands. That is they divided it up into estates which they granted to their relatives and their followers.  The cantred of Ui Liathain, now called the barony of Barrymore, was given to Philip de Barri, brother of Gerald de Barri whose book Expugnatio Hibernica is the most celebrated contemporary eyewitness account of the whole Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. However, Philip was not in Ireland at the time but in Wales, and according to Geraldus, Robert FitzStephen’s illegitimate son Ralph ‘stole’ the lands of Ui Liathain from de Barri. What is so interesting about this comment by Geraldus is that he does not attempt to hide the sheer greed and chicanery of the men who invaded Ireland.  Mind you, his book contains a lot of family propaganda – the de Barris and their relatives the Carews could do no wrong in his eyes.

Geraldus tells us that for five years Milo de Cogan and Robert FitzStephen ruled the kingdom of Desmond in peace after their invasion. Both men used their influence to restrain the rash behaviour of younger,wilder men in their respective parties. This was important, because a peaceful land would attract settlers from England and Wales. However all that changed dramatically in 1182. However it is not certain how much this peace extended to the displaced native Irish lords.

Milo de Cogan, and his newly married son-in-law, Ralph, son of Robert FitzStephen, and a party of knights set out to visit Lismore for a meeting. They travelled by way of Mogeely, the home of the former ruler of Imokilly, MacTire, now reduced to being a token local Irish landholder. This is the context for the mass murder of the English in Mogeely.

What does come out in Geraldus’s statement is that the Anglo-Norman party consisted of seven knights (Milo, Ralph and five others), but we don’t know how many men-at-arms and archers travelled with them on foot or horseback. The medieval manuscript known as MacCarthaigh’s Book gives an Irish account of the incident with the additional information that ‘slaughter was inflicted by the family of O MacTire.’ The ‘Red Picnic’ was a family affair – but not quite in the usual way of family picnics. The reference to ‘slaughter’ is common enough in the Irish Annals – you can slaughter a single individual or several people, the use of the word implies an element of butchery. In this case it might also support the idea that more than seven Anglo-Normans knights were given the battle-axe treatment in Mogeely. Clearly the Anglo-Norman party were relaxed and expected no trouble from MacTire – after all they were sitting in a field, with their guard down. Indeed I suspect that the party didn’t even post guards.

Irish chief's feast

An outdoor feast of the MacSweeney chief of County Donegal depicted in a English woodblock print from the sixteenth century. The chief and his wife are accompanied by two friars (note the tonsured heads) and another figure. The food is being prepared behind them – a wild boar is being butchered and boiled in a leather cauldron on the left foreground. The entertainment is provided by a bard reciting or singing to the accompaniment of a harp. The entertainment is enhanced by the two figures displaying their bare backsides to the chief’s table – they are professional farters! No wonder the entertainment is held outdoors! Was the butchery in Mogeely done just before a meal like this?

Were they having a picnic? I know that sounds silly, but it is actually possible that they were taking a quick bite to eat and a drink. Remember, during the twelfth century the main meal of the day was eaten in the early afternoon, in broad daylight. We don’t know what time of the year the massacre happened but it must have been during some dry and warm weather – even today you simply wouldn’t sit on wet grass or muddy ground in Ireland. Indeed there are illustrations from the sixteenth century of Irish chiefs having a feast outdoors, and one can easily imagine the same happening in the late twelfth century.

If the weather on this occasion was indeed dry and warm then the break would have been necessary for men who were probably wearing chain mail or, at very least, leather armour, and it may have been their first stop since leaving Cork earlier that day.. Anybody who has ever lifted a mail hauberk or jacket will be aware of the sheer weight of it, and even a leather jacket can bring on a sweat on a warm day in an Irish summer. Another thing to note about the above account is that Anglo-Norman knights on foot were very vulnerable attack by ferocious Irish enemies wielding two handed battle axes. It was the armoured knight on a trained warhorse who terrified the Irish.

Geraldus is clearly furious at this mass murder, calling MacTire a traitor. This would be true if MacTire had been allowed to keep his personal lands in return for some fealty exacted from him by FitzStephen. However the Irish Annals of Lough Ce mention the murder with some jubilation at the death of Milo de Cogan, suggesting that there was really no love lost between the Irish and the Anglo-Normans. The whole incident might lead you to imagine that the Red Picnic in Mogeely was an isolated local feud, but in fact it proved to be deadly serious – and not just for the victims.

Raymond le Gros illustration

Raymond le Gros as depicted in a thirteenth century copy of the Expugantio by Geraldus. He was simply the best general the Anglo-Normans had in Ireland, getting them out of many a difficult situation time and time again.

The Red Picnic in Mogeely sparked off at least two decades of trouble and warfare for the Anglo-Normans as they tried to regain secure control of the land they had taken during the invasion of Cork in 1177/1178. Raymond le Gros did crush the initial revolt in 1183, but it seems that Robert FitzStephen was trapped in Cork city and may even have died there by the time Raymond had arrived. Raymond embarked at Waterford with twenty knights and two hundred men-at-arms, half mounted and half on foot.  Sailing directly to Cork he relieved the city. There is a priceless irony in the fact that, during the Irish Civil War in 1922, the new Free State Army performed almost exactly the same action as Raymond, with the assistance of the Royal Navy, who were based in Cork Harbour. Like Raymond, the Free State Army sailed from elsewhere in Ireland (Dublin actually) directly to Cork and managed to secure Cork for the Dublin government and eventually put down the Republican forces in Munster.

Free State Troops land in Cork

The greatest irony of the Irish Civil War (1921-1923) was that the army of the new Irish Free State repeated Raymond le Gros’s sea voyage to Cork in 1183 to put down a revolt sparked off by the massacre in Mogeely. In 1922 the Free State was trying to regain control of Cork which was in the hands of hard-line Anti-Treaty Republican forces.

Raymond was soon joined by his cousin, Richard de Cogan, who came with a picked force sent by King Henry. When some of the Irish leaders were killed and their forces driven off, it seems that a measure of peace had temporarily returned to the area. At the end of February (1183?) reinforcements led by Philip de Barri also arrived. Philip had come to secure his estates in Ui Liathain, the area from Carrigtwohill in the south to Castlelyons in the north, from the Glanmire river in the west to Conna in the east..  Along with Philip came his brother Gerald – the very historian we’ve quoted above. Philip’s descendants gave us the Irish family name Barry. Raymond le Gros established his nephews as the Carew family in Cork, while Richard de Cogan gave us the still current surname of Cogan in County Cork. It was really only in the years from 1206 to 1220 that the Anglo-Norman settlement of East Cork could get underway and set down firm roots, and even then Tadgh MacCarthy invaded Imokilly in 1216 and burned Cloyne.

Tomb of Raymond le Gros

The medieval effigy that marked the supposed tomb of Raymond le Gros in Molana Abbey near Youghal. This drawing was made in the late 18th century by Daniel Grose and is preserved in the Royal Irish Academy. Sadly the effigy has since disappeared.

Diarmait MacCarthy died in 1185 but was immediately succeeded by his equally warlike son Donal, who would invade Imokilly with ferocious intent in the 1190s, burning all the castles there, including Castra na Chore or Ballinacorra, another castle that may have given Castleredmond townland its name and a castle at Mogeely. Donal MacCarthy’s death in 1206 seems to have eased the pressure on the Anglo-Normans in East Cork, allowing for settlement to begin there. The MacCarthys, of course, are almost two a penny in Munster, especially in Cork. And the MacTire family, onetime lords of Imokilly, what did the Red Picnic do for them? By 1300 they had been reduced to the condition of local robbers, but their descendants are still around – their name is now Woulfe. Somehow it seems appropriate given the blood soaked picnic they perpetrated one fine day in a field near Mogeely in 1182.

Molana abbey

The ruined Augustinian church of Molana Abbey, near Youghal, where Raymond le Gros was buried sometime between 1185 and 1198. Founded as Dairinis in the 6th century, ithis site is celebrated as the place where the Collectio Canonum Hibernensis was compiled in the 8th century.  This is one of the oldest compilations of Canon Law anywhere.

Note: the texts quoted in italics in this post were taken from pages 187 and 189 of the translation attached to the definitive version of the Expugnatio.  A.B.Scott & F.X.Martin, editors: Expugnatio Hibernica – The Conquest of Ireland by Geraldus Cambrensis. Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978.

As for the Imokilly Regato Cheese PDO produced at Mogeely: here’s a link to show that this Italian style cheese is indeed made in East Cork and even has a product denomination (PDO) from the European Union!  And no, Kerrygold is NOT a sponsor of this blog!

Imokilly Regato Link: http://www.kerrygold.com/products/kerrygold-regato-classic

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