Rincolisky Castle – A Loving Restoration

There are so many ruined castles in West Cork that it’s important we celebrate the ones that have been saved, and the people who have done the saving.

I’ve written about two of them already, Kilcoe (Kilcoe Castle – A Magnificent Reconstruction) and Black Castle or Leamcon. There is also Baltimore Castle, restored by the McCarthy Family and open to the public. I’ve also done some primers on what castles are all about. If you’re new to this, check out Tower House Tutorial, Part 1, Tower House Tutorial, Part 2 and Illustrating the Tower Houses.

Rincolisky, also known as Whitehall (the name of the townland in which it stands) was a castle of the O’Driscoll Clan – the fierce, sea-going, fabulously wealthy family whose seats of power were in Baltimore (Dún na Séad, or Castle of the Jewels) and Cape Clear (Dún an Óir, or Castle of Gold). 

The siting is interesting. It is in clear view of Kilcoe Castle, built by the McCarthys probably to keep an eye on the O’Driscolls and the O’Mahonys, and Rossbrin Castle would also have been visible battlement-to-battlement. Here’s what Samuel has to say about that in his Tower Houses of West Cork;

The tower house seems to have been located to defend the isthmus between Cunnamore and the mainland; the isthmus would ease the defence of herds of cattle and it is possible that some form of occupation may have existed before the construction of the tower house. The defensive strength of the site seems to have have been deliberately enhanced by the quarrying required for the tower house’s construction. The scarp faces eastward, perhaps because attack from this direction was expected.

Samuel, Mark Wycliffe. The Tower Houses of West Cork

The name Rincolisky comes from the Irish Rinn Cuil-Uisce, or Point of the Backwater. It appears to be 15th century, as are many of the castles in this region, and there is one documentary mention of the year 1495 as the year in which is was built. After the Battle of Kinsale and the subsequent subduing of all the West Cork clans, it passed into the ownership of Sir Walter Coppinger, along with the lands, which apparently included a ‘town’ of which no trace now remains. The Coppingers remained in possession throughout the tumultuous 17th century after which time is passed to their relatives, the Townsends. At some point in the 18th century the Townsends abandoned the draughty old tower house in favour of a more comfortable manor house (like the ones described here), styled Whitehall. They may have used stone from the castle (the upper floors) or the bawn walls in its construction. This would explain the total absence above ground of traces of the bawn. 

At this point, Rincolisky fell into disuse and became, as is the fate of so many West Cork castles, a convenient place for a local farmer to keep cattle (below, photo by Margaret McCarthy). And so it remained for a couple of centuries, until it found the champion it needed and deserved. 

Stephanie Jaax loved this area and spent summers here with her parents who owned the castle. She was determined to bring it back to life and what a daunting proposition that was! Stephanie was also set on doing it properly and this involved getting all the required surveys and assessments done by archaeologists and working to conservation and historical standards at all times. To see how well she has succeeded, take a look at this video, which shows not only the castle, but the surrounding area.

Rincolisky is one of the Raised Entry Castles of West Cork. Similar to Ardintenant and to Black Castle. Black Castle (or Leamcon) has the same layout, in fact, with the raised entry directly above the ground entry.

Rincolisky Castle offers a wonderful opportunity to observe how three spaces could be accommodated beneath the vault. 

The main kitchen/dining area at Rincolisky is on the ground floor (unlike at Leamcon where it is on the top floor). Originally this area may have been used for storage and it was self-contained – that is, there would have been no access to any other floor from this level.

Now, however, a wooden stairway leads to the second story, a wooden floor laid on the joists which were stretched between the joist stones in the walls (see Dunmanus Castle for examples of this. From this floor, a spiral stairway leads up to the final floor under the vault, used now as a sleeping space. One surprising things is that the areas under the vault are not as dark as I imagined they would be. given so few, and such small, windows. Partly this is because of the whitewashed lime render which really helps to brighten up the interior, and partly it is the result of clever and subtle lighting.

Access to the second floor in the 15th century would in fact have been from the outside. The raised entry, now repurposed as a window but originally a door, was what separated the public from the private areas of the castle. Ascending the outside steps to the raised entry, you would go straight ahead into the second floor, or turn left to ascend the steep stone stairs to the storeys above the vault.

The second floor may have been used as a public space where the chief met with others and carried out the business of the clan lands. But see also further down – it was possible this kind of business was conducted in an adjacent ‘hall.’

The private areas of the castle – the home of the chief and his family – were accessed by ascending the steep mural staircase which then turned into a spiral staircase within the corner of the castle.  Nowadays this brings you to the final floor of the castle, used for sleeping, living and bathing. But originally this would have led up to two more stories and access to the wall walk and roof. 

The current top floor is beautifully done – with a bedroom, bathroom and living room. The crowing glory is a sunny terrace with stunning views across the sea and surrounding countryside.

Throughout all her renovations, Stephanie has employed archaeologists to carefully excavate and uncover all the original features and has followed best practice as provided by Cork County Council Planning Department and heritage experts.

The photograph above is of three distinguished medievalists – from the left Con Manning, Margaret McCarthy and Eamonn Cotter – pondering over the most recent excavation.

This, of course, has severely limited what she was able to do and how she had to do it, and made it more expensive. This process continues, as the area around the entrance was excavated this summer by Eamonn Cotter to try to establish what lay immediately outside the ground-level and raised entries. His finding have turned up the original lime render (Above) which would have coated the entire building (leading to the name White Hall), traces of the original bawn wall (found also in the previous excavations) and a complex series of structures which were built, and collapsed, over time. 

These structures incorporated what may have been a bread oven and it seems the buildings were attached to the castle, as evidence by traces of a gable wall, now no longer visible. Eamonn posits that the first building may have been a ‘hall’. In his report he says.

At some point in the 17th century the building was roofed with local slate and imported North Devon ridge tile. . .

It is well established from historical sources and from excavations that many, if not all, tower houses had ground-floor buildings attached or adjacent to them, buildings generally identified as halls. . . The building uncovered at Rincolisky may be interpreted as such a hall. Its roof, with imported glazed ridge tile, would certainly suggest it was a high status building. Its location, immediately adjacent to the castle and tucked into a corner of the bawn, is replicated in other tower houses. . . 

Halls were for the conduct of business and meetings. This hall was replaced by another building during the 17th or 18th century, but this building has left no clear evidence of its purpose or longevity.

When we see Rincolisky now, it sits alone and isolated. It is hard to imagine that it was a bustling place, surrounded by an enclosed bawn, with other buildings inside the bawn and even attached to the castle, while a nearby ‘town’ carried on all the business of medieval trade. What is not hard to imagine is that, without Stephanie’s dedication, care and attention to detail, this castle would have ended, as so many others have, crumbling into an unrecoverable state. All of us owe her our appreciation and gratitude for salvaging and lovingly restoring such an important part of our heritage.

And what about you? Ever had a hankering to stay in a castle? Rincolisky is available to rent – so why not give it a go? Check out the listing on VRBO and read Stephanie’s own description of the thoughtful way she approached both the reconstruction and the furnishing of the castle.

Ships in Churches

You’ll have to look carefully at the photo above. It’s inside the ruined church which stands in St Mary’s graveyard, Colla Road, Schull.

Here’s the church – a view taken a day or two ago, in a spell of clear, cold weather. It has a fascinating history, which you can read here. Go in through the old main entrance, and immediately look to the wall on your right. Scratched into the plaster there is the ship image. But it’s not the only one.

There are more ship images visible on this porch wall; the first – shown in the header – is the most clearly defined. Here are more detailed views of others (I have counted five in total), including further examples on the opposite wall. There may once have been more.

Of course, we would like to know the story of these carvings: who made them? When? And why? As to the ‘when’ we have to sift through the history of the building, although what is known is somewhat fragmentary. One record states that what we see today was built in 1720, but there must have been something there before that, as there is an ogival window in the north-eastern part of the building which is thought to be fifteenth century, and some further architectural features which suggest an even earlier construction:

The north porch – where the ship scribings are – is likely to date from the early eighteenth century, so the ships could not be any older than this. They could have been drawn any time, perhaps, over three hundred years – but are most likely to have been from the earlier part of that period. It has even been suggested that they could have been made by the craftsmen who rendered the walls. Interestingly, ‘graffiti’ which shows ships in churches is not uncommon: there are further instances in Ireland, Britain, and other parts of the Christianised world. The following were traced from St Spas church, Nessebar, Bulgaria. They are possibly the closest examples I have found so far that resemble our main Schull scribing. Interestingly, only one is shown in ‘full sail’. Most examples of this type of graffiti show the vessels without sails, or with the sails furled. Our Schull example is undoubtedly under full sail – and this makes it rare. I attach a further image below the Bulgarian scribings: I have tried to enhance the contrast of the photograph.

What about ‘Who Made Them’? We don’t have an answer to that. We must remember that the Schull examples are a very small part of a very widespread phenomenon and, as I mentioned, there have been suggestions that the ships were a deliberate part of the construction process of the churches: they might have been drawn by the plasterers themselves. Masons left behind their own ‘marks’ on stone walls, ever since medieval times. A British project was started in 2010 to survey all types of ‘informal’ marking on stone and plaster found specifically in Norfolk.

These stone inscribed Masons’ marks are from the Norfolk survey. Below – from the same source – two images of ship graffiti from Cley-on-Sea, Norfolk:

Where do we go from here in our little review of this strange find in Schull? Well, it’s worth noting that these are not the only ‘ships in churches’ image that we find in the corpus of European-wide church architecture. I often remember going into churches and noticing model replicas of ships hanging from the ceiling! I don’t remember seeing such a thing in Ireland, but certainly in Britain and Scandinavia. Here is one from Denmark:

Strangely, I have never looked for an explanation of these. When you start reading about them, it is suggested that they are always in churches which are associated with the sea and with maritime communities, and the church models are seen as prophylactic votive offerings: representing and honouring the ships that the community sail in will prevent them from coming to harm. That begins to make sense, as does the idea that the plaster ship graffiti is also, perhaps, a preventative measure against disaster or ill-fortune.

That theory could be presented as a strong likelihood for finding ship graffiti in churches – but there’s a problem. There are as many examples of ship graffiti in churches which are located far inland as there are on or close by the coast. If you would like my own opinion on this whole quandary, take a look at the photo of Schull church, above. It is built on a mound, perhaps natural but maybe not, with its east wall facing outwards like a ship’s prow. Could there be a far wider symbolism in all this when it comes to the nature of a church building? Is it a stone representation of a vessel, captained by priest or parson, and crewed by the faithful of the community? A final thought on this: when you go into the main body of a church, you enter the Nave. Definition of a nave:

. . . The name of the main public area of the church, the nave, was derived directly from the Latin word navis, meaning ‘ship’ or ‘vessel’, and references dating back to the very earliest days of the Christian church direct that a church should be built ‘long . . . so it will be like a ship’ . . .


MATTHEW CHAMPION – MEDIEVAL SHIP GRAFFITI IN ENGLISH CHURCHES, 2015

The Down Survey – Closer to Home

Last week we gave a brief introduction to the wealth of historical material that we can find in the website devoted to the 17th century Down Surveyhere’s a link to that site, and another (here) to our previous article. The subject – and some of the deeper detail we can discover in the website – is well worth a further look.

The Down Survey (the above view of some of the islands out in Roaringwater Bay is extracted from it) was carried out between 1656 and 1658, and thus gives us an excellent picture of how terrain we are so personally familiar with was perceived pictorially in the mid 17th century. We don’t know who the surveyors were, except that they were under the command of Sir William Petty, ‘surgeon- general of the English army’. Ireland became one of the most-mapped countries in the world at that time, following the Cromwellian and Williamite land redistributions. The beneficiaries were the new landlords of the Ascendancy, who wanted to know exactly what they had acquired, and the initial emphasis was on boundaries and basic land-measurement.

We wanted to know what our little bit of West Cork looked like on those earliest maps. Our view is down toward Rossbrin Cove, below where we live, and our house is a mere blip on the contemporary aerial view at the top of the page. In the first example from the Down Survey mapping – under that view – the cove of ‘Rofsbrinine Harbour’ is marked, and the castle, whose remains still guard the harbour entrance to this day (above), is clearly shown.

This view looks across the channel from the site of Rossbrin Castle. Immediately in the foreground is Horse Island, while beyond is the distinctive profile of Cape Clear. Let’s look at the Down Survey entry for Cape Clear – with. for comparison – a modern map of that island below it.

That map, above, is taken from a nautical chart. It’s understandable that a 17th century map wouldn’t have the level of accuracy we would expect from a modern survey, but take a look, now, at this contemporary aerial view of Cape Clear Island:

It’s remarkable, I think, how strikingly the early map resembles the profile – if not the fine detail – of the modern chart – and also the shape of the island as shown on the aerial view. For example, the ‘Bill of Cape Clear’ shows up very clearly on the chart – the beak-like protrusion on the far western end of the land-mass – a feature which is represented as very similar on the 17th century version, and of course on the modern prospect. Here’s a view of Dún an Óir – Cape Clear’s castle – today:

Just to add to the experience, the above satellite view gives a more ‘flattened’ impression of what is really going on locally: compare this to the expanded view of our coastline from the Down Survey – note that ‘Cape Cleare’ is included on this extract:

As a further example, to finish off this brief overview (which will be continued in future posts) let’s have a look at the Down Survey entry for the Baltimore area – a little further along our coast, travelling east:

This is in fact the Down Survey entry for the Parishes of ‘Tullogh & Baltimore’. The first thing to note is that the north point is facing downwards! If you look at many of the survey pages the orientation varies considerably, and is probably more to do with what conveniently fits on a sheet than any attempt to be consistent. So that we can make an easier comparison with today’s terrain, I have also switched the orientation of this aerial view:

In my opinion it’s remarkable that the Down Survey maps do bear a very reasonable resemblance to the reality. Obviously, a great deal of detail is missing, but the purpose of the maps – to delineate land ownership – is satisfactorily served (albeit that this is to the benefit of the incoming English lords and landowners).

Here’s a view of the site of the medieval fish palace at Baltimore. The Down Survey comprises more than maps: there is other related material, including terriers. These particular terriers don’t have legs or tails – it’s a term for a written, descriptive survey of an estate: some english examples are recorded from the ninth century. Here’s the terrier for Baltimore within the Down Survey:

The terrier in this case is mainly a description of parcels of land, their owners, and the values. Here’s a closer example, from a terrier for ‘Skull’:

There’s a lot more of West Cork within the Down Survey archives. A future post will turn in greater detail to some of this material.

The Down Survey

Here’s a fascinating title block. What are these cherubs doing? The couple on the left are excited about the operation of a magnetic compass; the little drummer is wearing a plumed helmet and has a decorated sash around his torso; cherub number 4 is bearing a spherical astrolabe, while the three on the right are actively engaged in surveying – using a Gunter’s Chain. This latter instrument – by the way – achieved, in the seventeenth century, something we seem to find tricky in our present day: the simple reconciling of imperial and metric measurements!

The cherub image, and the two above, adorn and decorate a remarkable document: the Down Survey map of Ireland. As this survey was ordered by Oliver Cromwell after an cogadh a chriochnaigh Éire (the war that finished Ireland) it seems strange that the north point of the compass is a fleur-de-lis: usually a symbol of the Virgin Mary. Cromwell himself was, of course, a Puritan and a Protestant and his actions in Ireland were aimed at subduing the rights and practices of Catholics, driving them ‘to Hell or Connaught’ – the poorest lands to the west of the Shannon river.

The decade following the Irish rebellion of 1641 witnessed a particularly turbulent period of warfare in Ireland between Catholic families and invaders from England, who were led by the dispossessed followers of the crown during the Civil War, which lasted through most of that period. The Act for the Settling of Ireland (1652) imposed penalties including death and land confiscation against Irish civilians and combatants after the Irish Rebellion and subsequent unrest. British historian John Morrill wrote that the Act and associated forced movements represented …perhaps the greatest exercise in ethnic cleansing in early modern Europe…

Sir William Petty – in charge of the Down Survey. Portrait by Godfrey Kneller, courtesy Romsey Town Council.

. . . Taken in the years 1656-1658, the Down Survey of Ireland is the first ever detailed land survey on a national scale anywhere in the world. The survey sought to measure all the land to be forfeited by the Catholic Irish in order to facilitate its redistribution to Merchant Adventurers and English soldiers. Copies of these maps have survived in dozens of libraries and archives throughout Ireland and Britain, as well as in the National Library of France. This Project has brought together for the first time in over 300 years all the surviving maps, digitised them and made them available as a public online resource . . .

http://downsurvey.tcd.ie/

We are very fortunate to be able to freely access – through the internet – this website which contains all available copies of the surviving Down Survey maps, together with written descriptions (terriers) of each barony and parish that accompanied the original maps. These bring out for us very detailed information on what the surveyors recorded in Ireland three and a half centuries ago.

Examples from map extracts, showing the quality of reproduction which can be obtained from the site. These show our own West Cork, with local names that have a familiar ring: Ballidehub, Skull, Rofsbrinie, Affadonna. Having discovered this resource, we know this site will be invaluable in our history researches. Look out for my next post exploring the fine detail of the survey.

Caheragh Explorer

I’ll explain at the outset that Caheragh is (more or less) pronounced ‘corer’ (as in coring apples)! It’s a parish in West Cork that we have visited before. Have a look at my article on the Ilen River, here. This locality is brimming over with history and we go exploring as often as possible: there is always more to find. And – with wide views and cloud scapes in all directions from the high ground – it’s an uplifting place, especially when blessed with the August sun.

Here’s a vista to the north-east, from the top of the mound beside the graveyard that might just be a ring-fort, or possibly the site of a monastic centre dating from medieval times – more on that later. In the middle distance is the Ilen River with its wooded banks, heading out towards Castle Donovan and – eventually – to its source on Mullaghmesha (or, perhaps, Nowen Hill – we have yet to determine exactly where it rises. This post from the Sweet Ilen series covers the area). And that Donovan castle itself graces the cover of the latest Skibbereen Historical Journal (Volume 18, 2022), which you can get in bookshops locally, or online here. You will find a summary of some of my research on the Ilen River in this journal, together with many other fascinating and erudite articles.

But, going back to that sunlit vista, you’ll notice Tadhg’s Little Oak Tree is indicated. I can’t resist quoting the story of this feature that appears as a ‘Redundant Record’ in the Historic Environment Viewer:

. . . On E bank of River Ilen. Site of tree, ‘Darriheen Teige’ or ‘Daraichin Teige’ (Tadhg’s little oak tree), where Tadhg O’Donovan, chieftain of Clan Cahill, was slain c 1560 by rival group of O’Donovan’s (O’Donoghue 1986, 55). Nearby is Poll a’ Daraichin (pool of the little oak) . . .

Archaeology.ie Historic Environment Viewer – Record CO132-066

Well, it seems strange that the ‘site of a tree’ is a recorded monument. In fact, if the oak was still flourishing (we couldn’t find it), it would probably be just one of only a few trees included in Ireland’s vast record of archaeological monuments!

For today’s post I am indebted to our historian friend Pat Crowley, who directed us to a clip from The Southern Star newspaper dated January 12, 1929. It was a letter written to the newspaper by Captain Francis O’Neill, retired Chief of Police in Chicago and well-known prolific collector of traditional Irish music. O’Neill (1848-1936) was raised in his family home at Tralibane, in the parish of Caheragh. He has been mentioned in this journal, and I was fascinated to read his letter, which became a protracted discussion on the parish, the old graveyard, historic sites and archaeology in the area.

All this came about because Francis had returned from Chicago to West Cork in 1906 – after a long absence – ostensibly to visit the burial place of his parents, and to order a suitable monument to mark their graves (above).

. . . On my return to Ireland July 1906, after an absence of 41 years, I visited the bleak Caheragh graveyard, in which the remains of my parents, and O’Neill ancestors, were buried. There being nothing visible in the environment to indicate its origin as a cemetery, personal curiosity, abetted by that of the Downings of Tralibane – cousins of McCarthy Downing, MP – led to investigation . . . The result, somewhat disconnected and fragmentary, is herewith submitted for publication . . .

Southern Star 12.01.1929

The O’Neill burial plot at Caheragh. Francis ordered the large cross to mark the graves of his parents. The inscription reads:

Erected By
Captain Daniel Francis O’Neill
Chicago USA
To the Memory of his Parents
John O’Neill of Tralibane
Died Nov 1867 Aged 66 Years
And
Catherine O’Mahoney (Cianach)
Died 1900 Aged 88 Years
Requiescant In Pace
Amen

Quoting again from Francis O’Neill’s letter to the Southern Star:

. . . All available authorities in my library have been consulted, and I find that references to the parish of Caheragh are both meagre and obscure… The earliest mention of this parish which has come to my notice, is in the report of Dive Downes, Episcopal Bishop of Cork and Ross, who made a trip on horseback to all parishes in his diocese in the years 1699 – 1702. Following is the entry: – “Caheragh Church, about two miles distant from Drommaleage Church to the SW lies close to the Island River (he means Ilen). On the west side of the river are 35.5 lowlands in this parish, of which 20 lie on the west side of the river, and 6.5 lie on the east side of the said river . . . There are about 12 Protestant families in this parish. ’Tis thought there are forty Papists for one Protestant in this parish . . . Will Gureheen, a very old man, is priest of this parish . . . The church is ruinous. The north side is down . . .”

Southern Star 12.01.1929

A vista to the west, from the top of the mound beside the graveyard. The present-day village of Caheragh is distant beyond the green pasture (a long way from this ‘Old Graveyard’ – why…?), identifiable through the spire of the 1963 Holy Family Church. O’Neill continues, now quoting from Samuel Lewis “A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland” published in London in 1837:

“Near Lisangle are the ruins of a strong castle, once the residence of McCarthy, King of Cork. The ruins of the old church also remain, which the people here call the ‘Abbey of Cahir” . . . The absence of ruins at Caheragh, which, by the way, seems to have never attracted the attention of historians or antiquaries, is easily accounted for. The stones, conveniently at hand, were utilised in the building of the walls which encompassed the graveyard . . .

Southern Star 12.01.1929

Above – the western boundary wall of Caheragh Old Graveyard. The small road continues over the Ilen River: the bridge here was built by the Congested Districts Board for Ireland in the early years of the twentieth century, to replace a ford, the stone flag bed of which can still be seen.

. . . The Irish word Cathair, spelled and pronounced in English Caher or Cahir, meant a circular stone fort, and therefore Caheragh, under any form of spelling, signifies the field of the stone fort. But where is the fort? one naturally asks. Remembering the descriptive nature of the Irish place names on my short call at Caheragh in 1906, I looked for something to justify the name and found it. In order to gain a vantage point, to view the country round about, I struggled through the thicket of furze to the top of the hill east of the road and, unexpectedly, to my great delight, found the outlines of the stone foundations of the Cahir, mostly covered with soil and grass, but quite distinct on the flat top. Again was the correctness of Irish topographical names vindicated . . .

Letter from Capt Francis O’Neill, Southern Star 12.01.1929

This feature (the two pictures above) is the hilltop referred to by O’Neill, where he claims to have found the ruins of the ‘Cahir’. Today it is recorded on the National Monuments Record as a ‘ringfort’ or ‘rath’:

CO132-017001-

Class: Ringfort – rath

Townland: CAHERAGH

Description: In pasture, atop hillock broken by rock outcrop. Circular area (36.5m N-S; 37.5m E-W) enclosed by earthen bank (max H 3.8m). Break in bank to NNW (Wth 5m); and WSW (Wth 4m), where triangular feature adjoins inner bank face. Possible souterrain (CO132-017002-) in SW quadrant

Archaeology.IE National Monuments Record

Top: flat-topped mound with circular summit, very much in line with the expectation of a ringfort structure. Centre: stone embankment seen from the top of the ‘fort’. Lower: a defined ‘entrance’ through the ‘fort embankment’ on the summit of the mound. This could be ancient or modern: cattle use the fields in which this feature is located, and some of the topography could be shaped by this usage over centuries.

. . . The builders of Abbeys and Monasteries were wise in their day in the choice of locations for their establishment, and one essential desideratum was near to a plentiful supply of water, such as the banks of lakes and rivers, or adjoining never-failing springs. In this instance the River Ilen met all requirements, and taking everything into consideration, I am led to the conclusion that the graveyard at Caheragh was the site of the “Abbey of Cahir” mentioned by Lewis in the Topographical Dictionary of Ireland . . .

Letter from Capt Francis O’Neill, Southern Star 12.01.1929

Above: evidence of built structures on the summit of the ‘ringfort’ mound at Caheragh. A significant circular foundation is clearly outlined. Perhaps, after all, there is some substance in the Captain’s musings on what occupied this site in earlier times? This account is from The county and city of Cork remembrancer; or, Annals of the county and city of Cork by Francis H Tuckey, Savage and Son, 1837:

. . . 1317 December 28, Geoffrey Fitz John de Cogan is presented by the King (by mandate to the Bishop of Cork), to the church of the Blessed Mary de Catheragh, in the King’s gift, by reason of his wardship of the lands and heir of John de Cogan . . . ‘Blessed Mary de Caheragh’ was a monastic site, said to be ‘situated on the hilltop commanding the view above the graveyard at Caheragh’ (possibly on the site of the ringfort). It was no doubt founded here because of the proximity of the watercourse . . .

So there – for your consideration – is the suggestion that the hill above Caheragh’s Old Graveyard (which may, in earlier times, have been a ringfort with a souterrain) was the monastic settlement Blessed Mary de Caheragh in medieval times. That’s quite a thought. My own opinion would be that the monastery would have been founded on the level ground close to the river: in fact where the graveyard is today. As the monastery declined, a church might have remained, eventually becoming a ruin. It was common for old churches and their environs to be used for burials and this might account for the comparative remoteness of this site from the village itself. Now – of course – there is no trace of a church ruin. This theory would hold good except for the annals quoted above, which state that a monastic site was situated on the hilltop overlooking what is now the graveyard.

Evidence of stone quarries on the hillside suggest that significant quantities of stone has been used locally. Graveyard wall, field fences, or built structures? But the most challenging feature has to be the ringed foundation, or base, clear to see on the edge of the hill (below). Could it be a souterrain entrance – or, more fanciful, the base of a round tower?

I’ll leave you with that conundrum (and my whimsical daydream below) for now, but we will continue with Francis O’Neill’s musings (which become even more complex) in a future post.

Timoleague Tour

We had a great afternoon yesterday, exploring aspects of the history of Timoleague, in West Cork. Our Finola Finlay (above) was involved in an event organised by the Glass Society of Ireland . . . a professional all-island, non-profit association that opens a window onto the contemporary Irish Glass Community . . . The day’s proceedings were centred around the ecclesiastical buildings in the town, the earliest of which is the Franciscan Friary, now a substantial ruin beside the Argideen River.

This view of the ruined ‘abbey’, above, dates from 1830. It is located on the site of an early Christian monastic settlement founded by Saint Molaga, from whom the town of Timoleague derives its name. A story that I heard for the first time yesterday was told by local historian Donal Whooley: the Saint was trying to found his community back in the sixth century, but everything that he and his followers built fell down the following day. According to legend, it was originally to be built a mile west of Timoleague, but all work done on that site by day would fall down by morning. Interpreting this as God’s wish that the church should be built elsewhere, Molaga fixed a blessed candle on a sheaf of corn, and floated it down the Argideen river, siting his settlement on the spot that it came ashore, on the big bend in the waterway where the Friary ruins can be found today. Here is a view from the great three-light window which looks out to the east over the river. Finola told us that, in its heyday, this window would have been filled with beautiful medieval glass, bringing light and colour into the substantial nave of the church.

That’s Donal, above, leading our group of almost fifty keenly attentive people who shared an interest in the town and its history. To the right (in a blue jacket) is Father Patrick Hickey. He told us of the symbolism of the cockerel you can see on the large headstone in the nave (below), dating from 1821. Evidently some of the disciples were standing together while Christ was being crucified: nearby stood a pot in which a rooster was being boiled for supper. Judas reportedly said: do you think there’s any chance that our Lord will rise again? Mrs Judas retorted: there’s about as much chance of that as there is of that rooster jumping out of the pot and crowing! At which point – of course – the cockerel did just that!

It was the custom to place burials in ruined church buildings. Here’s another fine headstone in Timoleague Abbey, to Michael Deasy, ” . . . who departed this life on the 23 December 1755, aged 33. May he rest in peace. Amen . . . “

Lively discussions ensued on the efficacy of wart wells, and Donal suggested that this repurposed bullaun stone, above could be the oldest human element on the whole site!

Here’s an aerial overview of the geography of Timoleague. The Friary ruin is only one of many historic sites of interest which caught our interest yesterday. It was Finola’s task to introduce us (or those of us who had never seen it) to the little Church of the Ascension.

This building is currently undergoing major improvement works: the lime rendered tower has created a striking landmark in the town. This work has become necessary by water penetration through the stonework leading to deterioration of the fabric. The conservation project is led by a hard-working Parish committee who also served us delicious tea and cakes since the tour was a fund-raiser for their efforts.

You can see Finola addressing us in this little Protestant church in the header picture. Above is one example of the fine early glass here, this one by Clayton and Bell. For a fuller description of this church and its many stories, read our post here.

The early OS map extracts, above, give further context to the town’s history. The top map dates from the 1830s and comparison of the plan forms of the Church and Chapel buildings with those in the lower map, which dates from c1900, and then the present day aerial view (higher up the page) shows the degree of change which has taken place. We finished our town tour in the Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Here’s Finola standing outside it, below, prior to giving us an introduction to the history of the building, and its windows.

The fine Harry Clarke Studio window (one panel of which is shown in the upper picture) is a ‘must-see’, as is the mosaic work from the same church. The building work for this Catholic church, replacing an earlier chapel, dates from 1912.

Father Patrick Hickey nicely rounded off our day of Timoleague history by showing us the replica of the ‘Timoleague Chalice’ (above). The replica is kept in this Catholic church. According to Fr Hickey, ‘back in the penal days’ three monks were found floating in an open boat just off the island of Cape Clear. They had with them a box, or trunk. They were brought ashore but two of them died. The other asked that the box be kept on the island – but unopened – until he could return to retrieve it. He never returned, and in later years another visiting Priest said it could be opened. Inside was a gold chalice – blackened with age – and some liturgical vestments. The vestments fell to dust immediately, but the chalice was sent away for inspection, and was confirmed as coming from the Friary at Timoleague, where the replica is now kept.

Here is another ‘souvenir’ of Timoleague – it’s an extract from a poem written in Irish: The Mourner’s Soliloquy in the Ruined Abbey of Timoleague. The poet, Seághan Ó Coileáin, ” . . . was a Gaelic-language poet born in County Cork, in a time of faded Irish glory. He lived as a village schoolmaster, with a large family and no patron . . . “

Abroad one night in loneliness I stroll’d,
Along the wave-worn beach my footpath lay;
Struggling the while with sorrows yet untold,
Yielding to cares that wore my strength away:
On as I mov’d, my wayward musings ran
O’er the strange turns that mark the fleeting life of man.

The little stars shone sweetly in the sky;
Not one faint murmur rose from sea or shore;
The wind with silent wing went slowly by,
As tho’ some secret on its path it bore:
All, all was calm, — tree, flower, and shrub stood still,
And the soft moonlight slept on valley and on hill.