Splendid Ecclesiastical Remains

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Among the splendid ecclesiastical remains of Cong [County Mayo], the twelfth century advocates may revel, and defy us to prove an earlier date for their erection than that of the introduction of the Augustinian Order into Ireland, even if their ornamentation and design did not afford ample data for judging their age. These ruins would scarcely have held together to the present day, had not Sir B. L. Guinness restored several of the dilapidations, cleared out much of the rubbish which had accumulated within and around them, and rendered the burial ground sufficiently decent for the interment of Christian people. We enter the abbey from the village by a very beautiful doorway, which, although it has been often figured, we would here present to our readers, but that we know it is of the “composite order,” having been made up some years ago of stones taken from another arch in this northern wall. Within it, we find ourselves in the great abbey church, one 140 feet long, entirely paved with tombstones; facing the east window, with its three long, narrow lights, and having in each side wall of the chancel a slender window looking north and south. The chancel walls are perfect, but the northern wall of the nave no longer exists. Underneath the chancel window the guides and village folk maintain that Roderick O’Conor was buried, when, after fifteen years’ retirement within this abbey, he died here in 1198. But this we know from history to be incorrect, for the Donegal Annals distinctly state that “Ruaidrí Ua Conchobair, King of Connacht and of all Ireland, both the Irish and English, died among the canons at Cong, after exemplary penance, victorious over the world and the devil. His body was conveyed to Clonmacnois, and interred to the north of the altar.” But, although Roderick himself was not buried here others of his name and lineage were. Thus we read that in 1224, “Maurice the Canon, son of Roderick O Conor – the most illustrious of the Irish for learning, psalm-singing and poetical compositions – died and was interred at Cong.” It is probably his tomb which is pointed out as that of the king. “A.D.1226, Nuala, daughter of Roderick O’Conor, and Queen of Ulidia, died at Cunga Feichín, and was honourably interred in the church of the canons.” And in 1274, Finnuala, daughter of King Roderick, died at, and was probably buried at Cong. But although the dust of the last monarch is not beneath our feet, that of chieftains, warriors, and prelates remains and especially that of the abbots, down to the days of James Lynch, whose decorated tomb is dated 1703; and even later, for the Rev. Patrick Prendergast who was always styled “The Lord Abbot,” was interred here in 1829.’

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‘The O’Duffys were distinguished ecclesiastics in this locality, and the Annals contain many entries concerning them. Thus we read that in “A.D. 1150 Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, Archbishop of Connacht, chief senior of all Ireland in wisdom, in chastity, in the bestowal of jewels and food, died at Cunga on the 16th of the month of May, on the festival of St. Brénainn, in the 75th year of his age.” His name is inscribed on the great processional “Cross of Cong,” made in 1123. “A.D. 1168, Flannagán Ua Dubhthaigh, bishop and chief doctor of the Irish in literature, history, and poetry, and in every kind of science known to man in his time, died in the bed of Muireadhach Ua Dubhthaigh, at Cunga.” Cadhla or Catholicus O Duffy, and several of the name, attained to the see of Tuam; in 1136, we read of the death at Clonfert, of Donnell O Duffy, “Archbishop of Connacht and successor of Cíarán, head of the wisdom and piety of the province”; and Cellach O Duffy was Bishop of “Mayo of the Saxons” in 1209. But none of these died abbots of Cong, and the only Abbot of the name referred to in the Annals is the one described by the Four Masters in the following quotation, under the year 1223: Dubhthach ua dubhthaigh abb Conga decc. “Duffagh O Duffy, Abbot of Cong, died”.’

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‘The original plan of this abbey is not easily made out at present. Through an arched doorway in the southern wall we pass into a low vaulted apartment, and thence into a large open space containing the principal stairs, which lead up to the second story of the great tower, the upper portion of which, however, no longer exists. The space to the east and south of this, which was formerly occupied by the monastery, is now a graveyard, and the site of the Roman Catholic chapel, and is divided by a high screen wall, the western facade of which forms the present great architectural feature of this splendid pile…It measures 80 feet in length, and contains a doorway and two windows, with circular arches; and two large and most elaborate ornamented lancet-headed doors, with undercut chevrons along the deep moulding of the arches, which spring from clustered pillars, the floral capitals of which – all of different patterns – present us with one of the finest specimens of twelfth-century stone-work in Ireland. Several stones have been inserted in these doorways, which now present us with some of the finest and most enduring specimens of carved limestone in this or any other country. Above the string course appear some narrow lights probably those of the dormitories. To the west of this wall stood the open cloisters, which were probably so low as not to obscure the decorated front represented on the foregoing page. From this point the ground slopes gradually to the river, where, according to tradition, the friars of old had a fish house – the walls of which are still standing – so constructed that, when the salmon or trout got into the crib below, it touched a wire, that rang a bell, to inform the providore or cook of its arrival.’

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From Sir William Wilde’s Lough Corrib, Its Shores and Islands, first published in 1867.

 

Too Large for Modern Rural Life

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During the reign of James I the splendidly named Sir Faithful Fortescue whose family originated in Devon came to this country where prior to his death in 1666 he bought an estate in County Louth. From him descended several branches of the Fortescues, one of which eventually acquired the titles of Viscount and Earl of Clermont. Meanwhile the parcel of land first acquired by Sir Faithful was further supplemented by various successors and came to include an estate called Stephenstown close to the village of Knockbridge. Here sometime around 1785-90, Matthew Fortescue built a new house to mark his marriage to Mary-Anne McClintock whose own Louth-based family had, through her mother (a Foster), already inter-married with the Fortescues.

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Stephenstown is a large, square house of two storeys over raised basement and with five bays to each side. Around 1820, the next generation of Fortescues added single-storey over basement wings to either side but that to the south was subsequently demolished. At some other date seemingly the building’s windows were given Tudor-revival hood mouldings, probably not unlike the make-over given during the same period to nearby Glyde Court (see The Scattering, April 20th 2015). However later again these openings reverted to a classical model, with classical pediments on the ground floor and entablatures on the first, the whole covered in cement render. A single storey porch on the entrance front was the only other alteration. From what remains, it would appear the interior had delicate neo-classical plasterwork, perhaps on the ceilings (none of which survive) and certainly on friezes below the cornice in diverse rooms.

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It is not easy to piece together the history of Stephenstown in the last century. The last direct descendant of the original builder was another Matthew Fortescue who in 1894 married a cousin, Edith Fairlie-Cuninghame. He died twenty years later without a direct heir, after which his widow married an Australian clergyman, the Rev. Henry Pyke who took on the Fortescue surname to become Pyke-Fortescue. Curiously the couple are listed as dying on the same day, 24th September 1936, upon which Stephenstown seemingly passed to another relative, Digby Hamilton. He sold up in the 1970s after which the house stood empty (and the trees in the surrounding parkland were all cut down). When Alistair Rowan and Christine Casey published their volume on the buildings of North Leinster in 1993, they noted that Stephenstown was ‘an elegant house, too large for modern rural life, empty in 1985, and likely to become derelict.’ That likelihood has since become a reality.

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A Rock and a Hard Place

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Some 150 feet above the plains of County Laois rises an outcrop of limestone called the Rock of Dunamase (from the Irish Dún Másc meaning ‘fort of Másc’). On top of this are the remains of a once-substantial fortress, the origins of which have been discovered by archeological excavation to date back to the 9th century when a hill fort (or dún) was constructed on the site. This cannot have survived very long since Dunamase was attacked and pillaged by Vikings around the year 843-44. According to the Annals of the Four Masters, ‘Dun Masg was plundered by the foreigners, where Aedh, son of Dubdharchrich, Abbot of Tir-da-glas [modern Terryglass, County Tipperary] and Cluain-eidhnach, was taken prisoner; and they carried him into Munster, where he suffered martyrdom for the sake of God; and Ceithearnach, son of Cudinaisg, Prior of Cill-dara, with many others besides, was killed by them during the same plundering expedition.’ It would appear that as a result of this devastation, no further occupation of Dunamase occurred until the 12th century and the arrival of the Normans.

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By the second half of the 12th century, Dunamase was evidently in the possession of Diarmait Mac Murchada, King of Leinster since it was given as part of his daughter Aoife’s dowry when she married Richard de Clare (‘Strongbow’) in 1171. Thereafter the site continued to pass through the female line for several generations: Aoife and Richard de Clare having no adult sons, their lands went to an only daughter Isabel de Clare who married William Marshall. None of their five sons outliving them, the lands were divided between five daughters, one of whom – Eva Marshall – married the Welsh March lord William de Braose. Once more this couple only had daughters, the second of whom Maud married Roger Mortimer; in the mid-1320s their grandson, another Roger, the first Earl of March, became the lover of Queen Isabella (the She-Wolf of France) and led the revolt against her husband Edward II. When the king’s son, Edward III, had Mortimer executed for treason in 1330, the family lost their Irish property and although it was later restored to them, by that stage Dunamase seems to have come under the control of the local O’Mores. In any case, by the middle of the 14th century it had begun to fall into a state of disrepair and although there are stories that Dunamase was destroyed by Cromwellian troops (as there are about almost every other dilapidated fortress in Ireland), it seems that by the time the latter came to Ireland in the mid-17th century the site had long since become uninhabitable. Some restoration work was undertaken towards the close of the 18th century by Sir John Parnell, Chancellor of the Irish Exchequer and Lord of the Treasury (also great-grandfather of Charles Stewart Parnell): he incorporated stone door and window cases from other local antiquarian sites into the upper portion of the old castle with the intention of creating a banqueting hall but the work remained incomplete and was abandoned after his death in 1801.

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After more than six centuries of neglect in an exposed position, it is understandable not a lot of the Rock of Dunamase’s Norman castle survives. Sometimes utilising the natural rock formation for defensive purposes, a series of walls had been constructed, the interior portion of the site accessed by an outer and inner barbican, the second of these incorporating a ditch and a drawbridge. The upper part of the rock was further protected by a curtain wall with its own gatehouse, and at the very top was a large hall or keep. This part of the structure was most modified by Sir John Parnell but it is likely he also undertook remedial work elsewhere on the rock and thereby secured what has survived to the present day since otherwise even more might have been lost. Now a visitor to Dunamase needs to bring along imagination in order to conceive how the place once looked. On the other hand, the views from the top remain superlative, stretching in every direction for many miles and only occasionally spoilt by injudicious development (made even more apparent from such high ground). It is easy to understand why the Rock of Dunamase was chosen as a place of defence but also, given the site’s relative inaccessibility, why it was subsequently abandoned.

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Outstanding in its Field

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Located in the middle of a field, the now-disused church at Ballynafagh, County Kildare. Built beside the remains of a mediaeval religious site, the building dates from 1831 when constructed with the support of £900 from the Board of First Fruits. It remained in use until 1959 when the last services were held there but retained its roof until as recently as 1985. The windows and doors have since been blocked up to stop access to the interior but the structure remains in good shape, with west and east ends marked by distinctively tall finials (although as can be seen below the top of that on the north-east corner has broken off).

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Burnt Out

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Although the Everard family is said to have come to Ireland around 1177, only from the fifteenth century onwards does it come to prominence as effective owner of the town of Fethard, County Tipperary, and of the surrounding territory. In 1578 John Everard entered the Inner Temple and twelve years later was called to the Bar, being appointed justice of the  Court of King’s Bench (Ireland)  in 1602 and subsequently knighted. As evidence of his authority in this part of the country, in 1608 he secured the new charter for Fethard from the English crown, according to the terms of which the town’s Corporation was renewed and enlarged, ‘and was endowed with such liberties and privileges as were needed to draw more people to the town and to increase its trade and commerce.’ The previous year Sir John had surrendered all his property to the English authorities, and then received it back again, evidence of the esteem in which he was held. What makes this notable is that the Everards were, and remained, adherents of the Roman Catholic faith. As a judge he was expected to take the Oath of Allegiance to the crown but, his conscience making this impossible, he resigned the position. Ultimately the Everards’ loyalty to the old religion would lead to tragedy, but first came farce. In 1613 the only Irish Parliament  held during the reign of James I was called, to which Sir Jhn was returned as member of the House of Commons for Tipperary.  He was the Catholic choice for the position of Speaker of the House of Commons, but they were iin a minority, the government’s choice being Sir John Davies, Attorney General for Ireland. When the vote was taken, Sir John Everard installed himself in the Speaker’s chair and refused to move. According to a contemporary source, ‘Sir Thomas Ridgway, Sir Richard Wingfield, Sir Oliver St John and others, brought Sir John Davies to the chair, and lifted him into Sir John Everard’s lap; the Knights perceiving Sir John Everard would not give place to their speaker, they lifted Sir John Everard out of the chair, and some of Sir John Everard’s part holding him by the collar of the gown to keep him in the chair…’ Ultimately this undignified incident ended in Everard’s defeat, not least because Sir John Davies was a much heavier man who literally crushed his opponent by sitting on top of him.

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Despite his embarrassing setback over occupation of the Speaker’s chair in the House of Commons – after which he was temporarily imprisoned in the Tower of London – Sir John Everard continued to flourish, to remain in possession of his lands, and of a judicial pension, and to practice as a Roman Catholic until his death in 1624. He had three sons, the most prominent being the middle child Richard who even while his father was still alive was created a baronet. Like his father Sir Richard remained resolutely Roman Catholic, and as before this brought him into difficulties with the English authorities, especially after the Confederate War began in Ireland in 1641. It seems that initially Sir Richard ‘kept aloof from both parties; but for not joining with them, the “old” Irish took away from him “160 cows, 33 stud mares, and 2,000 sheep.” The tenants on his Estate were subject to similar treatment: the richest of whom with their flocks and goods Sir Richard conveyed to “safe quarters”.’ This account continues, ‘Later on, when the object of the Catholic Confederation was clearly known and defined, Sir Richard readily joined the popular movement, and in 1646 was one of the Confederate Catholics who sat in what might be designated the “Irish Parliament at Kilkenny”.’ Following Oliver Cromwell’s arrival in this country in 1649, Sir Richard was one of the leaders of the opposing Confederate army. He was involved in defending Limerick against the Cromwellian forces but following the city’s surrender was one of those hanged by Henry Ireton.

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Before strife once again overwhelmed Ireland, Sir Richard embarked on building a new residence in the midst of a fertile plain lying between the Galtee Mountains and the small town of Clogheen, County Tipperary. Commonly called Everard’s Castle, this has at its centre a substantial four-bay, three-storey over basement rectangular block with square flanking towers of four storeys (again over basement) at each of the corners. This is the last of a group of such semi-fortified houses, beginning with Rathfarnham Castle, County Dublin built for Archbishop Adam Loftus in the late 1580s (see A Whiter Shade of Pale, August 26th 2013) and taking in others like Kanturk Castle, County Cork (see An Abandoned Project, December 7th 2015), Leamaneagh Castle, County Clare and Portumna Castle, County Galway. However, whereas many of these were castellated, Everard’s Castle is notable for its gables, all twenty six of them: it would also have had seven chimney stacks. It is, therefore, closer to the English model of manor house than the familiar Irish tower house, and suggests Sir Richard was expecting years of peace, not war, to follow. On the other hand, deep corbels above the first-floor windows were intended to carry a defensive wooden gallery, so he must have reckoned with the possibility that his new property would be subject to attack. The front has a low door placed asymmetrically which again suggests certain caution on the part of the original builder. However one of the other sides of the house features a finer and larger cut stone doorcase with hood mould and carved decoration. And there are many two- and three-mullioned windows throughout the structure, which would have made it much lighter and airier than was the norm in this country at the time.

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A stone formerly over the entrance but now elsewhere on the site carries the date 1641, presumably the year in which work on Everard’s Castle was completed. The family was not to enjoy occupation for long. After a couple of years Sir Richard became embroiled in the Confederate Wars and, as has been mentioned, was hanged by Ireton in 1651. The year before, as Cromwell’s army advanced south Lady Everard set the house on fire, rather than allow it fall into enemy hands: it has stood a ruin ever since, and became known as Burncourt (or sometimes Burntcourt). Legend has it the building took seven years to build, was occupied for seven years and took seven days to burn. As for the family, following Sir Richard’s death they forfeited their lands but these were restored to his eldest son Sir Redmond Everard following the restoration of Charles II in 1660. In turn his son, Sir John Everard, was attainted for supporting James II, and although some of the family property was subsequently returned, their baronetcy and presence in this part of Ireland ended with the death of another Sir Redmond Everard around 1740. In 1751 the Fethard territories were sold to wealthy Bordeaux wine merchant Thomas Barton, while the area around Burncourt was acquired by a Dublin lawyer, Cornelius O’Callaghan. His great-grandson, another Cornelius O’Callaghan who was created first Viscount Lismore, was responsible for building another immense castle nearby: Shanbally designed by John Nash. Notoriously this was blown up by the Irish Land Commission in 1960. So while Shanbally is gone, Burncourt remains, thereby providing a partial memory of Tipperary’s architectural heritage.

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Pray for the Soul

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Like many other religious sites, the former Franciscan friary at Ross Errilly, County Galway continued to serve as a burial site long after it had officially been put out of commission during the 16th century Reformation. Later visitors often commented on the poorly interred bodies here: in 1851 the Rev. John Hervey Ashworth claimed he had counted no less than sixty skulls scattered about the semi-ruinous buildings (see To Walk the Studious Cloisters Pale, July 14th 2014). Today there are no corpses to be seen, but many handsome tombstones inserted into the mediaeval walls, such as the two examples seen here dating from the early 18th century.

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Accommodating the Dead

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The remains of the old church at Ballykelly, County Derry, a building which suffered from successive assaults – it is known to have been badly damaged in both the 1640s and the 1690s – but continued to be used for religious services until 1795 when a new church was built not far away. Internally its most significant remaining feature is the sandstone semicircular arch presumably added in 1719 when the church was extended by the addition of a chancel. More peculiarly in 1848 the south wall of the church was taken down to accommodate one end of a large neo-classical mausoleum dedicated to the Cather family, with its oversized anthemion acroteria at each corner. Unfortunately this monument’s poor condition suggests it could soon go the same way as the adjacent ruined church.

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