Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

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Above: Photographed in August 2018 by Ken Williams of Shadows and Stone, this drone photograph shows the outline of several barrows and ring-ditches, as well as a large circular enclosure,
in the Long Field behind the Haroldstown Dolmen in County Carlow. The road on the right is the R727 from Hackestown to Tobinstown, the bendy bit is Acaun Bridge and the grey lump in the
field by the bridge is the dolmen. This incredible photo, made possible by the long drought, is the first indication of any such complex in this area. (With thanks to Ken Williams)



In 2008, my wife and I built a house in a field in County Carlow in south-east Ireland. My family have owned the field since the 1680s. We named the house Oldfort because there’s an ancient ringfort in one corner of the field. The ground slopes lightly down from Oldfort to a soundless underground stream that flows east for half a mile before tumbling into the River Dereen. Close to the confluence of these two small waters are the very last vestiges of a monastery so old that almost nothing is known of it, save that it was probably founded in the 5th century AD to offer sanctuary and prayer to passing Christians.

Across the Dereen, a half dozen flat river-stones are sunk into a diagonal line beneath the shallow waters, rippling the surface bank to bank just as they did when they were heaved into place, perhaps by some of the more muscular monks who lived here back when the world was younger. The weir was probably built with a view to catching succulent eels but I am no expert on early Christian eel fishing.

The monastery is called Acaun, or Níocán in Irish, and is central to what, measuring 1.83 acres, ranks as the smallest townland in Carlow. It is almost all gone now but stare at the lumps of mossy-rock in the ground around you for long enough and they start to form shapes, to reincarnate the bold rectangles and square blocks that human hands and ancient tools scraped and carved in those otherwise silent times. Once these rocks were the walls of a chancel, a nave and other rooms within which men – and perhaps the occasional women – lived, toiled, ate and died.

Some of the legible gravestones are for men and women who died in the 18th century but I think that by the time today’s children are the old generation, and another hundred years of Irish rain has drilled into the rocks at Acaun, I can’t imagine there will be any trace left of their holy purpose.

When Acaun was built, Ireland was a land of warring kings such as Crimthann mac Énnai (see below) who ruled the Kingdom of Leinster from 443 AD until his death in 483. If it be true that the monastery was 5th century, it was probably him who gave the monks the royal assent, the planning permission of its day. Crimthann was one of the first Irish kings to tune into the Christian world. Legend holds that Saint Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, led the monarch bare-footed to a holy well in Rathvilly and dunked him in the waters just as John the Baptist dunked Jesus four centuries earlier.

When I walk in these places, I think of the monks and the eels and the saints and the kings and how their world is so utterly, utterly removed from the Ireland of today that it’s as if it was all make-believe.


Haroldstown Dolmen


The River Dereen rises at Knockanana, in a bog behind Martin Kelly's home, and is a specially conserved channel because of the salmon, trout and pearl mussel found within. It converges with the Slaney just upstream of Aghade Bridge in Ardattin, at a point just metres away from where the Douglas River joins (on the opposite bank of the Slaney) just north of the Richardson family's home at Aghade Lodge. During the course of its journey, the river flows beneath Acaun Bridge, near to the Haroldstown Dolmen. Standing on a ridge overlooking the Dereeen and comprising of a huge flat slab or table on top of half a dozen uprights stones, this is the denuded remains of what was once a very large portal tomb; one of many in the Slaney-Three Sisters area. According to the OPW's Archaeological Inventory of Carlow, such dolmens were constructed between 3300 and 2900 BC, probably by the farming community who lived here, and their chambers were filled with the cremated ashes of all those who lived in the area. (The pyramids were built between 2630 and 1814 BC while Stonehenge was built, in different stages, between 3100 and 1500 BC.) I am biased because I’ve spent most of my life living a stone’s throw from this beauty but it really is a picture perfect megalithic gem. I think that when I finish up in this life, I'd like some of my ashes to be scattered here, although that might confound the DNA readings of those interred here long ago! When my daughters were toddlers, they were convinced it was built by Asterix and Obelix.

"On the townland of Tobinstown there is a large cromlech; at the west end are two pillar stones, eight feet high; the table stone is twenty-three feet long, and at the west end eight feet broad, but at the other, which rests on small stones elevated about a foot from the ground, it is only six. The thickness at the upper end is four feet, at the lower two; the under surface is plain and even, but the upper is convex. Along the sides are several upright stones, from three to six feet, rendering the space underneath an enclosed room, entered between the two tall uprights. From this entrance is a sort of avenue, forty yards long, formed by small irregular artificial hillocks: the whole is in a low plain field, near a rivulet, on the road from Tullow to Hacketstown."
From Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837. Does this avenue still exist!?

In the "Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead" (Vol VI, Issue 1904 -05 - 1906, Carlow, p. 430), Lord Walter FitzGerald likewise noted that this was 'a very good specimen of a "Giant's Grave" or "Druid's Altar."' The immaginative Vallancy sketched the dolmen in the 1790s (I think) but his drawings bear no resemblance to what is there today!


Ballykilduff Barrow Graves

On 4 August 2018, photographer Ken Williams (Shadows and Stone) and his son discovered a Bronze or Iron Age barrow cemetery in what I have opted to call the Long Field at Ballykilduff, between Tullow and Rathvilly. They managed to photograph the sites just hours before the field was harvested. According to Ken: 'The complex consists of several barrows and ring-ditches as well as a large circular enclosure, which seems to have an inner barrow from certain angles. There is no previous record of any monuments in this particular area. It is just two fields [I think one - ed.] away from the wonderful Neolithic portal tomb of Haroldstown. Two of the barrows have double concentric ring-ditches. There are at least three and maybe four single ring-ditches and other unidentified features. The dry conditions over the previous few weeks have created perfect conditions for previously unseen crop marks to appear. They are caused by deeper or shallower soil having more or less soil depth, nutrients and water. Generally, the crops growing in deeper soil resulting from features cut into the ground show a darker colour and those on shallower soils where raised banks and other built-features occurred show as lighter crops.' Having been kindly advised where it was by Edwin Burgess, I swung in for a whistle-stop visit to the freshly cut "Long Field" the following day. It turns out that it is actually just beside the "dolmen" field and the dolmen was thus, one imagines, the burial site for a community who lived in what my wife and I were soon halucinating to be a full-blown village of circular double-ring structures, visible in in Ken's aerial photograph of this fertile, funerary landscape, both in the Long Field and in the ones adjacent to it. There are certainly more circles in the lower left hand corner of the field just north of the Long Field, closer to the R727. (As my pal Jamie Cahalane said, 'It must have been a pre historic housing estate -Boneville, Rockville. &c.')

The rings may be enclosed farmsteads, or ringforts, which are the most common type of filed monument in Ireland. A ditch running along the field has been identified as a townland boundary by James Grogan who also observed that two lines crossing the field in Ken’s photos were also ditch lines. Old maps of the area also indicate the remnants of two field boundaries running through the Long Field. Ken says the wheat fields on the other side of the river didn’t show any obvious markings. To find the Long Field, I turned right off the R727 just after the old "dump" and it was the first wheat field on the right. What makes it particularly pleasing to me is that when I returned home to Oldfort and looked back in that direction from our front steps, I could see series of golden flashes through the hedges and trees - and, unless I am mistaken, those golden flashes are from very same Long Field! The field belongs to Peter Murphy, as does the field with the dolmen in it. (Thanks to Clare Halligan)

Rectangular log cabins excavated at Russellstown and Busherstown in County Carlow appear to be among the first permanent dwellings built in Ireland. Rectangles then went out of fashion in favour of circular until the 10th century when rectangular dwellings came back into vogue, a switch attributed to Viking influence. A house built of oak might last a hundred years which was considered plenty enough time for those building it. And yet, despite all this civilisation, the new Norman settlers were inclined to think of the Irish as barbarians, not least with Gerald of Wales & co. spinning tales to say they were all immoral reprobates and so justify the conquering army.

There is also a rath at Tobinstown in the field / wood directly opposite the front gate to the Burgess farm, or just south of the former pub, on land owned by Pat Coleman. It has been suggested this is the remains of a Norman enclosure.

At Ballykillduff, just as one turns off the R727 after the Council Depot (or "dump"), there is also another graveyard, where a castle and another monastery and abbey once stood.

In 1850, Sir Ralph Howard, an absentee landowner based in London, held a 202 hectare estate which surrounded Hacketstown, in the parishes of Haroldstown and Rathvilly. He was related to the Lecky family of Ballykealy.

Was the road running past the dolmen straighter in times past? Edwin Burgess espied a line of ash trees on the bank that he feels mark the border of an earlier road.


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Above: On the 6" Ordnance Survey map (c. 1840), Acaun townland measures as 1 acre, 3 roods, and 13 perches (circa 1.83 acres). On the Historic
25"map, made between 1897 and 1913, the area in the half of the river nearest the 'island' shows 0.524 acres, with a further 0.36 acres in the millrace
and mill area, making a total of 0.884 acres. Note how the road runs along the west side of river before turning sharp right towards the dolmen
(cromlech); today it sweeps west towards Tobinstown Cross; I believe there’s a row of ash trees marking its former route running south.

Below: Acaun on Griffith's Valuations, with Lisnavagh Laundry and Tobinstown Post Office also shown.

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Below: Was this the half of a carucate of Nykan land’ [ie: 60 acres] mentioned in the Red Book of Ormond in 1306? As James Grogan observes:
“If you count up the acreage on the Lisnavagh side of the Acaun 'island' from the Hacketstown Road up to the stream running just south of Lisnavagh's
"Farm Yard" on the old Ordnance Survey map, and keep between the Lisnavagh road from Tobinstown Cross and the river and exclude the old church
and graveyard, you get 59.511 acres! It would be most likely that one land parcel that was recorded, as knowing the 'lie of the land' there, it would be
the easier side to access it in medieval times ... from little Acaun’s, mighty stories grow!'

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Rath Field Ringfort

The Lisnavagh estate is bordered by the ringfort, including Knocknagan and Tobinstown on the east, Rathmore to the north, Williamstown to the south and Rathvilly to the west. In the 4th century, these raths formed the epicentre of the Hy Kinsellagh's power base. In the woodland belt between our home at Lisnavagh and the R727 road, there is a typical, textbook and very well preserved Gaelic ringfort, or rath, dating from the 6th-11th century AD. This was one of at least 40,000 defended farmsteads built across Ireland during the early medieval period. These constitute an extremely rich and utterly unique settlement archaeology; nowhere else in Europe has anything approaching this wealth of archaology from that period. It becomes richer still when considered alongside the vernacular and literary heritage of the period and the remarkable archaeological finds like the Derrynaflan Chalice and the High Crosses, and the other great works of art from this Golden Age in Irish history.

I brought Kilkenny archaeologist Coílín O Drisceiol and TV-radio producer Neal Boyle to the ringfort in February 2013. As Coílín explained, the ringfort comprises of a big sausage of earth in a circle, measuring about 30 metres across, plus the remnants of a ditch that has “silted” up over the years. The ditch outside would have been much, much bigger and wider, perhaps 10 metres wide at its peak, and that would have been topped off with an earthen bank around the fort which would have been considerably higher, a couple of metres higher than it is now. This in turn would have had a big palisade around it. All up, it would have been very stoutly defended. Coílín reckons a ringfort of this size could have been built in eight weeks by a dozen ditch diggers working at full pelt.

The interior would have had a collection of houses, maybe two or three, probably round, made from wattle and daub, with perhaps a souterrain or underground passage to serve as a sort of fridge. A huge body of new information from excavations in the last 25 years shows these houses were large, round and circular, capable of taking 2 or 3 modern bungalows on the floor-space, generally built of post and wattle. The Irish laws from the time this was built provide chapter and verse of how to build a ringfort, with the dimensions of the ditch, how many houses you could out inside. They'd have been lovely and cosy inside with a hearth at the centre, timber posts supporting the roof like a wigwam. There’d often be a second, smaller house next door, the Granny Flat, and then there would be workshops and places for metalwork and other annexes.

This would have been the residence of a strong farmer in the area, somebody who had substantial – and good - land attached to the ringfort. There’s an element of continuity here from pre-history when people are living in enclosed, defended residences, particularly in the Bronze Age, defending against cattle raids. About twenty or so people would have lived here, maybe more, as well as animals. They would have enjoyed an excellent view all the way to Keadeen Mountain with its giant imprints by Boleycarrigeen where Finn McCool and his wife once lay. And just down the slopes to the east, they would have seen the Dereen wending and the riverside fields that are now alive with dolmens and barrow graves and secrets that we of the 21st century cannot comprehend.

On 8 August 2018, in the wake of Ken Williams' discoveries at Ballykilduff, I invited Alan O'Reilly of Carlow Weather (our neighbour) to send a drone over the as yet unharvested Rath Field, in case there were more ancient outlines to be found there. (Ken was unable to get there before the cut, but gave me the blessing to find another drone man). The drone footage revealed nothing obvious, save for the vague outline of an old shore, which is clearly marked on the 1840 OS Map. Truth be told, I’m quite pleased we are NOT living in a Bronze Age Cemetery, and am quite content to say that we can see both the ringfort and the Long Field where Ken found his crop circles from our front steps!



Acaun Townland & Mill

Acaun is the smallest of Carlow County's 603 townlands, leading the brilliant James Grogan to wonder (August 2018) why it wasn't assumed into Haroldstown to the east, Lisnevagh [sic] to the north or Tobinstown to the west. [On the Historic 25"map, made between 1897 and 1913, the townland of Lisnavagh has evidently grown into what was previously Tobinstown, suggesting that townland boundaries have, in some cases, moved through time.]

On the 6" OS map [pictured], made between 1829 and 1841, the townland of Acaun computes as 1 acre, 3 roods, and 13 perches, which comes out at circa 1.83 acres, all of which is contained between Acaun's mill race (natural or man made?) and the River Derreen.

A Maynooth University study from 1998 by Liam O'Paircin (page 558/559) shows the name was variously spelled as Nikan (1220s), Nichan (1302-6), Nycan (1303), Nican (1303), Nykan (1306), Nicanor, Níocán, Áth Cána (1839) and Eckawn (1933), with the first reference to it as Acaun seemingly coming in 1830. In the late 1830s, John O’Donovan, working in the Topographical Department of the first Ordnance Survey of Ireland, undertook an extraordinary project to establish the origin of as many of Ireland's 63,000 townland names as possible, working with maps and manuscripts at libraries and archives throughout Ireland and England. His deductions were published in 1839 as 'A note or an Irish form of a placename in the Ordnance Survey Parish Namebooks’. Under Acaun, he stated that the word "Eacaun” was inscribed 'on ruins of mill in this portion of land.’ As James Grogan notes, 'each' is another word for 'horse', so could the name refer to some form of horse paddock? Or is it a corruption of "achar", simply meaning 'area' or 'space' (and presumably from which the word "acre" derives?). O'Donovan also referred to it as Áth Cána, which he translated as "Ford of The Tribute". It's possible the original word ‘cana’ is old Irish for 'cleaning' or 'washing'. In the "Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead" (Vol VI, Issue 1904 -05 - 1906, Carlow, p. 430), Lord Walter FitzGerald noted: 'The name "Acaun" is an Irish word, said to mean a "small ford."'

I'm not quite sure why we think the monastery at Acaun started in the 5th or 6th century. Where did that infomation come from? Perhaps it was connected to the monastery at Killabeg, midway between Clonmore and Aghold on the east of the Slaney where there is the ruin of a church and a holy well.* Or Clonmore, 8km south-east, founded by - and named for - St Mogue in around 530AD? The earliest reference to Acaun that I know of is a Latin reference in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds I (48) from the 1220s stating 'ten carucates in Nikan’. A carucate was a medieval measure of land apparently based on how much 8 oxen could plough in a year and taken as roughly 120 acres. Does that mean the original 1220s reference equates to about 1200 acres? A subsequent reference in the Red Book of Ormond ** (38) from 1306 reads ‘pro dim. carucata terre Nykan’, which appears to mean 'for half of a carucate of Nykan land’ [ie: 60 acres]. Could that be the same 60 acres as in the lower map of Acaun pictured with this post?

In terms of the references in Mr O’Paircin’s work, referred to above, the two entries that most interest me are both from the Red Book of Ormond * (8) and dated 1303, viz:

De eodem domino Johanne de Valle pro uno feodo in le Nycan per ann.

De Hugone le Blound pro firme molendini del Nican.

Latin was never my strongpoint but James Grogan had a shot at translating these lines in August 2018 and came up with the following:

'The same John Wall plea for an fee for a year in Nycan'.

'On behalf of Hugo de Blound, firmly (perhaps meaning solid, working??) ??) mill of Nican'.

So Johanne de Valle (John Wall) and Hugone le Blound were evidently key players at Acaun in 1303. There is a solitary reference to a 'Hugone le Blound in Gyng Joybert’ in the "Inquisitions and assessments relating to feudal aids, with other analogous documents preserved in the Public record office; A.D. 1284-1431”, which was published in 1900 by authority of the Secretary of State. However, it appears his name was also Hugh Le Blunt and that was also variously known as Hugo le Blound, Blount, Blund, Blunt. Full details of his military service in Longshanks campaigns can be seen in 'The Parliament Writs and Writs of Millitary Summons (1827) by Francis Palgrave (p. 476). That said, while he was summoned to bash the Scots and Welsh, I see no obvious reference to Ireland and nothing under 1303. According to Vol. 1, The History of the Worthies of England, Hugo De Blound (de Blunt) was High Sheriff of Essex and Hertfordshire under Edward I for 1276-1278.

James Grogan has espied a potential link to Dame Alice Kyteler, once the richest woman, in Kilkenny, who became the central figure in Europe's first witchcraft trial in 1324. The daughter of a Flemish merchant-banker, Alice outlived three husbands and then pocketed the bulk of each man’s fortune. When a fourth husband fell ill, suspicion mounted, along with allegations that she was indulging in weird demon-worship. What James Grogan has noted is that Alice’s second husband was a Callan moneylender (who was accused of murder) by name of Adam le Blund (who she married in 1302), while her third husband (who she married in about 1316) was a Tipperary landholder named Richard De Valle. After Richard died, Alice sued his heir for her share of his estate. Could these two men have been kinsmen of Hugo le Blund and John De Valle? In 1324, Richard Ledred, Bishop of Ossory,*** set his sights on bringing Alice down. He arrested her maids Petronella and Basilia and then appears to have set to work, using the art of extracting information he’d learnt back in 1308 when he was a young Franciscan monk in France at the time of the suppression and annihilation of the Knights Templar. At length, poor Petronella of Meath made a confession that she sacrificed nine red cocks in the middle of a highway, and offered up the eyes of nine peacocks, and all sorts of voodoo madness, in order to commune with an imp, or evil spirit, called Robin Artisson, to whom Dame Alice was said to have made love. This was plenty enough to damn her mistress who was duly ordered to appear before Ledred's court, charged with witchcraft and demon-worship. Initially Alice’s influential kinsman Arnold de Poer saved her and managed to imprison Ledred. However, Ledred bounced back and ultimately Alice went on the run, mysteriously vanishing. Ledred took his revenge on Petronella and a handful of others whom he then burned on the stake.

1303, the year of the De Blound / De Valle reference, happens to be the very same year that Edmund Butler (1268-1321) was created Justiciar of Ireland with a fee of £500 per annum. Edmund had succeeded to his father’s lands upon the death of his elder brother Theobald, the 5th Chief Butler of Ireland, in 1299, and I am pretty sure that Edmund owned all the land around Acaun and Lisnavagh at this time. Edmund held a barony in Tullath Offelmyth, being a military tenant of Roger Bigod, earl of Norfolk and lord of Carlow, who died in 1307. According to the ecclesiastical taxation and evaluation of 1302-1306, 'Nichan’ was a parish within the deanery of Ofelinech [Offelmidth], which basically covered the Manor of Tullow. It also included Rathmore, Tullowphelim, Rathvilly, Clonmore, Villa Tankard, Lysenrute, Ruchyn, Aghowle (Co. Wicklow) and Rathcoole (Co. Wicklow). [Adrian Empey, The Liberty and Counties of Carlow in the High Middle Ages, Carlow: History & Society (ed. Thomas McGrath), p. 158]. There had been ongoing regional warfare with the Irish in the Wicklow Mountains, necessitating John Wogan, the then justiciar, to undertake a fund-raising tour of the “countries” to raise a defence budget. This was also the time that Edward Longshanks was taking on Bruce across the sea in Scotland. The Carlow communities contributed generously. In 1300-1305 William le Gras, a descendant of Redmond [Raymond] Le Gros granted Edmund Butler and his heirs “Castrum Gras which is called Tollathynerth in Offothirith [Forth] by the service of a knight’s fee, as he hold said lands in the gift of Edmund his father.” Castrum Gras, or Castlegrace now comprises of a large flat-topped mound about 6km east of Forth. [In 1545 these lands are mentioned in the will of James Butler, the earl of Ormonde.] Edmund, now the 6th Chief Butler, reached the high point of his career when he was created Earl of Carrick in 1315; he died in London in 1320, while on pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela and was buried in Gowran. His son James Butler became 1st Earl of Ormond.

And just to add to the mix, in 2010 a metal detector unearthed three coins at Lisnavagh. The oldest was found by the Stable Path, minted in Canterbury and dated to the lengthy reign of Edward III (1327-1377). There other two were silver shilling pieces, minted during the reign of Elizabeth I and found by what we call the 'Dutch Bank' (a grass bank, not a money one!)

In 1656-1658, Sir William Petty's map of the 'Barony of Ravillie in County of Catherlough' has the land of Williamstowne [sic] along the north-eastern border of the parish of Rathvilly. It is described as 'arable and healthy' and there is a castle marked on it. Just south-east of Williamstown, 'Tobins towne' is noted for 'past & Ar' (ie pasture and arable) and has an Abbey marked on its northern bounds. Some of the the lands marked Tobinstown appear to have been subsequently incorporated into Lisnavagh. The lands north east of Tobinstown in the Clonmore lordship belong to Sir John Temple. There is no mention of the raths at Tobinstown or Oldfort, nor of the Haroldstown dolmen.

During the reign of Charles II, Thomas Dinely passed this way and wrote in his Journal:‘From Tullagh Phelim (Tullow) to Hackets-Town is five miles in which two miles from Tullagh you are to pass a river called Dender, but most commonly Derrin (Dereen) upon which is a mill and a Bridge of Timber’.

Griffith's map of 1852 marks the mill 'in ruins' and shows the 'island' as having a Mr. James J. Baggot as landlord. On both Griffiths and 1901, Ellen Delaney [wife of Dinny, see below] was described as the 'mill owner'. The 1911 shows no occupancy at the mill. When Edward O’Toole visited [year?], he noted that a portion of the old mill was still standing, including a stone in the mill-race with a deep groove running obliquely down its whole length. O’Toole believed this groove was where the sluice gate was raised and lowered. You can still see the weir that diverted the mill stream from the river.

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Above: The next bridge up from Acaun is Saulsford Bridge, known locally as ’The
Steps’, seen here with Eagle Hill in the background. James Grogan found William
laid to rest just beside the Hozier tomb in Hacketstown. In Griifth's Survey,
William Saul held a tenancy in Ballykillduff from Abraham Brewster, the barrister
responsible for the Haroldstown Clearances explained below. Mr Saul later moved
to Ballykillane House closer to Hacketstown (beside Saulsford Bridge), where he
again had a lease from Mr. Brewster. There is some graffitti on Saulsford Bridge
written by Chris Gahan, Dan Tompkins and Paddy Blake who worked on the bridge
between 1987 and 1994.

* It has been suggested that this was Domnach-Fiacc, founded by St Fiacc after his conversion by St Patrick, but I think Domnach-Fiacc was at Bestfield, opposite St Fiacc's monastery at Sleatty. See: Loca Patriciana Part IX. The Journal of the Royal Historical and Archaeological Association of Ireland, Fourth Series, Vol. 3, No. 24 (Oct., 1875), pp. 487-529. With thanks to Sean Murray and his account of St Fiacc.

** The Red Book of Ormond is a cartulary (or chartulary) containing Latin records of the Butler family’s rentals, deeds, grants, covenants and quitclaims from about 1192 to 1547, marking the oldest Irish family register in existence. It was complied by a single scholar in the 14th century, with additional information added in the following centuries. (It should not be confused with the Red Book of Ossory, a contemporary register of the diocese of Ossory, compiled on the watch of Richard Ledred, Bishop of Ossory [see below], containing 79 vellum leave, on which are written a bunch of constitutions and taxations, charters and rentals, memoranda relating to rights and privileges, deeds and royal letters. Aside from his role in Dame Alice’s trial, this was Bishop Lederede’s principal legacy. It makes for turgid reading but there are two fine elements to this collection. The first is the texts of some 60 Latin songs, composed by Bishop Ledred, for the vicars choral of St Canice’s Cathedral ‘so that their mouths be not defiled with theatrical, foul and secular songs’. These were to be sung 'on great festivals and other occasions’; the focus seems to have been about the sufferings, and resurrection of Christ, and the virtues and afflictions of his mother, so I’m not widely convinced they’re worth looking up on YouTube. The second big noise from the Red Book of Ossory apparently dates to 1324 and concerns a medical treatise from the Mediterranean that shows that at least some people in Kilkenny had a handle on the art of distillation seven long centuries ago. My Latin is a little rusty but the treatise not only describes the distillation process in some detail, along with the alleged wonderful medical outcomes, but it also offers a neat distinction between aqua vini and aqua vitae (ie: usquebaugh, or whisky). Everything must have a beginning. Even whiskey. Whiskey begins with distillation? And, as the Red Book of Ossory tells us, one can therefore argue that distillation began in Kilkenny! Whether the Bishop himself was partial to a drop of usquebaugh, I know not. Certainly it became a popular drink among persons of rank in Ireland although the first written record of it is not until 1405 when the Annals of Connaught clocked Richard MacReynolds, a contender for clan chief, who ironically ‘entered into rest [as in died] at Christmas after drinking ‘water of life’ to excess.’

** Richard Ledred, a Franciscan monk from England, became bishop of Ossory in May 1317. Eight years earlier, while based in France, he had participated in the persecution of the Knights Templars. In order to become bishop, he had to go to Avignon to be consecrated by Cardinal Nicolò Albertini, the powerful Bishop of Ostia, who had personally crowned at least two Holy Roman Emperors. 1324 was the year of a major rebellion in England launched against King Edward II by no less a duo than his wife Queen Isabella and her lover Roger Mortimer. You may recall Isabella from 'Braveheart'. She’s the beautiful French princess who William Wallace seduced in a tent and then she gets to whisper into Longshanks dying ear that the baby she is carrying is not the pathetic Prince Edward’s but is, in fact, Mel Gibson’s. In reality, Isabella was 9 years old when Wallace was executed! One of Lederede’s arch-rivals was Alexander de Bicknor, Archbishop of Dublin, and de Bicknor supported Isabella. When Isabella won the war, things became rather hot under the collar in Ireland for Lederede who fled for the good of his health Amazingly he lived to be close to 100, dying in Kilkenny in 1360. He is buried somewhere in St Canice’s, the Kilkenny cathedral upon which he had expended considerable sums decorating.



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Above: The Ordnance Survey Map of Ireland shows the Haroldstown Dolmen (or cromlech), as well as Acaun Bridge, Mill, Monastery and Church in the bottom right. It also
indicates a ruined church and the site of both a castle and an abbey just to the east in Haroldstown and, beyond that, a well devoted to St Patrick. Was this Williamstown
Castle where the Cogan family lived? Was the well the one into which treasure was thrown to save it from Cromwell!?

Below: I cannot recall where this photo came from but this walled enclosure is apparently in about the same location as the ruined castle,up the road from Acaun, past the recycling centre on the left. That said, the OS letters of 1839 refer to ‘no definite traces of the castle ... standing’. The photo may be of a more recent wall around the church
/ graveyard. When my father saw this photo, he recalled the enclosure's usage as a Fox Covert [located across the Derreen from what was once Lisnavagh's River Wood] which
the late Johnny Alexander tried to sell some years ago as it nominally belonged to the Carlow Hunt.

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Acaun Church & Monastery

The ruins of Acaun church are just north of the Dereen bridge, on the west side of the river, running into Jim Murphy's farm. Measuring 56’ long and 20’6” wide, this building was once complete with chancel wall, nave and an adjacent house where perhaps the priest lived. St Patrick is said to have crossed the river at Acaun just before he baptized Crimthann. Right next to the church are the ruins of Acaun Monastery, believed to have been part of the Augustinian Order. It is a square building measuring 15’ x 16’ and includes an archway now so covered in earth that it has all but vanished (2014).

In the "Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead" (Vol VI, Issue 1904 -05 - 1906, Carlow, p. 430), Lord Walter FitzGerald noted: 'There are three (if not more) granite boulders, broader at the top than at the foot, bearing, in relief, crosses of four arms in a circle with long shafts. One is lying flat, and two are being used as headstones. They resemble "Abbot's slabs."'

When the monastery was suppressed, the Abbot or Superior apparently deposited the sacred vessels in a well in the grounds for safe keeping, and this is supposed to be the spot where the grass is greener than elsewhere. It is a rather wonderful place to walk though as you have a sensation that every rock was once hewn by a mason, and you can still see the vaguest traces of the monastic settlement.

Edward O’Toole of the Tullowphelim Historical Society later wrote of how ‘the upper part of a stone cross [was] sunk in the ground’ beside the traces of the foundation of Acaun Church. (He measured the cross as 2’4” breadth and 4” thick). The National Library holds a copy of a lease made by the Earl of Ormonde (later the Great Duke) of 'Tobinstown and the site of the Abbey of Skan (Acaun?)' to H. Masterson on 20th March 1633. He may well be the Henry Masterson of Co. Wexford referred to in some depositions taken after the 1641 Rebellion.

I get a little muddled as there is also said to have been a castle at Acaun in former times. This is marked on Sir William Petty’s Down Survey Map for 1683, while both James Fraser noted both the castle and abbey at Acaun in his 'Hand Book for Travellers in Ireland' (1854), p. 219. Was this the same as Williamstown Castle, once home to the Cogan / Coogan family (who also lived at Tyndale, Co. Dublin)? A tombstone slab inside Acaun Church is no longer legible but is believed to have been for these Cogans. [The Primitive Churches of Rathvilly Parish, Ogham, 1995/1996 Vol. 12]. William Henry Ford Cogan, a member of this family, was Whig MP for Co. Kildare from 1852-1880. The 1808 gravestone at Acaun (below) is to Bryan and Mary Coogan of Williamstown, not Cogan.

Most of Acaun church and graveyard was bought by farmer Jim Murphy in the early 1990s, while the adjoining monastery site and mill, which formerly belonged to Joan Makin / Barbara Herring, is now with my cousin Michael Doyle and his wife Julie of The Rookery in Acaun, so named for all the rooks in the surrounding fields and trees. There was a clean up of some of the area around Acaun in about 1988 when Sally Fitzmaurice, Jane Wright's sister, was working for the Archaeological Society.


Acaun Graveyard

In the "Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead" (Vol VI, Issue 1904 -05 - 1906, Carlow, p. 430), Lord Walter FitzGerald gives the following details on Acaun Churchyard:

"This churchyard is situated on the right bank of the Derreen river, a short distance above Acaun Bridge. Near it are extensive traces of foundations of buildings, which are said to have been a monastery. The people in the locality speak of a holy well into which treasure was thrown, and the well filled up, in Cromwell's time: but they do not know to whom it was dedicated. Only the foundations of Acaun Church now exist. A long granite stone, 56 inches in length, now serves as a headstone to a grave in the church ruins. It appears, by the way it is cut, to be a door-lintel, and has a projecting band running round its square head. The oldest inscribed tombstones are of modern date. The first of the two inscriptions which follow are copied from stones inside the church ruins.


This Stone is Erected by Jacob Jackfon for Him Self & his Family. Here Lyeth the bodys of James Jackfon Who Departd this Life Febry the 6th 1760 AGd 89 and Ann Jackfon his Wife Departd Septmbr, the 22d 1768 AGd 87 Here Lyeth the Body of George White Who Departed this Life the 28 Day of July 1771 AGd 55 years ~


On a flat slab, in the east end, faintly cut, is inscribed:
This tomb was erected in Memory of Mr Bryan Coogan of Williamstown County Carlow, & His wife Mary Coogan alias Drumgoold, & their Family, July 11th 1808
On a headstone of granite near the above:

Here lyeth ye Bodys of Meary & Terance & William Noland who depart ed this life Sept ye 17th Aged 37 in 1740
On a granite headstone to the east of the ruins:
Here lyeth ye Body of Gerald Keoghoe. Decd Nov. ye 2nd Aged 87, 1757

The remainder is underground.


On a visit to Dublin’s Deeds Registry, Sharon Oddie Brown of The Silver Bowl found a deed of 3 August 1749 ((Bk 133 - Pg 452 - Deed 92455) by which 'John JACKSON of Kilmorey Co. Wicklow farmer demised to Bryan COOGAN of Knockball, Co. Catherlow [Carlow]…. Lands of Williamstown held by Dennis NEILE a sample man held in [Parish Rathvilly] Barony Rathvilly, Co. Carlow rent of 10s/acre. WITNESS Daniel CULLEN of Doronin & Joseph JACKSON of Killmorey both in Co Wicklow, farmers.’ Knockball could be short for Knockballystine, a 405-acre townland located a few km south of Acaun, or Sharon wondered if it was Knockbawn in the Parish of Old Leighlan? Kilmorey may have been the townland of Kilmurry in Upper Talbotstown, Baltinglass, but I’m unsure about ‘Doronin’.

On my last visit to Acaun in 2010, there was a hefty "moat" around the graveyard and four foot high weeds and ferns in the graveyard itself. The names on the gravestones are almost entirely worn away but Cathy Goss cleverly managed to transcribe three more headstones before total erosion set in. These are all believed to be late 18th century: Edward Fitzsimmons (who died aged 73 yrs), Richard Healy (died 1799) and his wife, Judith (d. 1795); and one with the surname of Linnen (sic?). My father recalls that Sally Fitzmaurice (sister to Jane de Montmorency Wright) spent much time "rubbing" gravestones down by the river in the 1970's. Do the Archaeological Society, or other, have the results?

The Primary Valuation of Tenements Poor Law Union of Carlow of c1851/52 records a Judith Drumgoold of Williamstown, while an Ann Drumgood of Rathvilly was born in 1864. In 1908, the Kildare Observer and Eastern Counties Advertiser (15 Feb) reported: 'EVICTION NOTICE. An eviction notice in the case of Messrs Woolself, plaintiffs, and Patk Drumgoold, Williamstown, tenant, was handed in as served on the relieving officer, and Thos Doyle, Plaintiff, and Patk Nolan, tenant.'

The names Jackson, Drumgoold and Healy all appear on the list of Williamstown Tenantry offering support to Sir John Wolseley further below.




Kinsellagh's Hill & Dinny's Turn

A few fields north of Oldfort is a field we know as Kinsellagh's Hill, rising up from the main road between Lisnavagh House and Tobinstown Cross. My parents built a house towards the summit in 2006. Sometimes called Germaine's Hill, it rolls down to some flat fields running along the River Dereen where the old monastery and graveyard of Acaun are sited. The old road from Carlow to Hacketstown is said to have come through the centre of the Lisnavagh estate, arriving at the Ballybit end, coming down the Green Lane and the Lime Walk, past the present house, down Kinsellagh's Hill to what is called Dinny's Turn and through the River Field to a spot where the River Dereen was forded.* (I like to refer to Denny's Turn as 'Claridge's' after the concierge from Claridge's who lived beside it during much of the first decades of the present century). The main R727 road west of Tobinstown likewise did not exist between Lizzie Doyle's; all traffic wiggled up what we call Bunny Lane to Ballybit.

I think Dinny's Turn is named for a schoolmaster called Denis Delany who was related to the Delanys of Leix. In his 'Descriptive Remarks from the Ordnance Survey Parish Namebook' (1839), John O’Donovan noted: 'In lease given to Delaney who holds the land this portion of ground is called part of Tobinstown Must be a subdenomination made by Boundary Dept.' According to an article entitled ‘Hedge Schools or Pay Schools of Rathvilly Parish’ by Miss K. OToole, Kinsellagh’s Hill was also known as Germaine’s Hill. She writes: ‘About half a mile to the north of Tobinstown Cross Roads, at the foot of "Germaine's Hill" on the road to Rathvilly, a school was conducted by Denis Delany. The place is still called "Delany's Farm" or "Denny's Twin." Delany was a low-sized man with rather flat feet and he was called "Dinny Heels". When the National Schools were established, his occupation was gone, and he used to drive round in a donkey's trap to teach the children in their homes. Many of the old people up to 50 years ago, remembered him very well, but now "the very spot where many a time he triumphed is forgot".[iii]

In 1816 Denis Delany married Ellen Cummins (1789-1868), daughter of George and Margaret Cummins of Castlemore, near Tullow. According to the 2012 research of Sue Clements, a kinswoman, they lived in Acaun, from where Denis ran the hedge school. Their youngest child was born in 1832 but, by the time of Griffith's Valuation, Ellen was a widow and living in Acaun. Their eldest son Edward Delany (b. 1817) married Mary Dowd and was father to Patrick Delany, a teacher at the National School in Hacketstown according to the 1901 and 1911 census. Patrick was born in Acaun, in Rathvily parish, where he was baptized in 1863. He married Elizabeth Hughes and had at least two children -Margaret Mary (baptized at St. Andrew's in Dublin, 1899) and Edward Joseph (birth recorded in Baltinglass district, 1902). Denis and Ellen's otehr children were Marcella (b. abt 1820, married Patrick Kelly), Patrick (1821), Jerome (1825, emigrated to New Jersey, fought in the American Civil War, settled in Oklahoma, died in Ohio), Ellen (1826, married Thomas Bulger and settled in Tranmere, Cheshire), Mathew (1827) and Bridget (1832, never married and lived in the family home in Acaun with her unmarried first cousin Eugene Murphy until her death in 1926). I asked my Tobinstown neighbour Paddy Delaney if he was related to these people but he maintained his Delaneys were blow-in's.


* Similarly I gather the R727 formerly went down what we call Bunny Lane towards Ballybit and that the chunk of the R727 road running from that split all the way over the railway bridge to the N81 at Tankardstown Cross was built in the 19th century.

** Unrelated, but a gravestone inscribed ‘Barker’ was found in the yard by the Jackman's house just down from Paulville House!


The Uí Cheinnselaig of the Laigin


Perhaps Kinsellagh’s Hill was simply named for a man called Kinsellagh who once owned or leased the field. The Lisnavagh Rent Books for 1800 mentions a tenant by name of Widow Kinshellagh. But I like to think the hill was named for one of the Kings of Hy Kinsealagh who ruled south east Leinster in the 4th century AD, over three thousand years after the Haroldstown dolmen was pitched. The origin of the Hy Kinsealagh is suitably vague but this was certainly their terrain when they came to prominence in the wake of the death of Cormac Mac Art. They seem to have had a series of strongholds at Rathvilly (by the Moat), Rathdaniel, Raheendaw, Rathmore and Rathgall. These presumably included the various raths at Knocknagan, Tobinstown and Lisnavagh (aka the Rath Field), plus perhaps the ring barrows and enclosure at Ballykilduff, discovered in 2018, along with the aforementioned dolmen by Acaun Bridge of considerable significance.

Not far from the Knocknagan rath is a small, elevated, bramble-covered knoll which may also hark back to distant ages although it could feasibly be a construct of any century. It is rimmed with granite rocks but these may have been flung up from the surrounding field by farm labourers in more recent times. One of the granite rocks has a curious shape, almost like an anvil to my possibly deranged historical radar vision. There are trees at the heart of the knoll, unimpressive trees, probably elders but the brambles promise good blackberries in season. The view is predictably outstanding taking in the skyline of Mount Leinster, Keadeen, Eagle Hill, the Blackstairs and around to the midlands.

The rath of Rathmore appears to stand on the brow of the hill just inside the gates on the west side. There is certainly a mound here, covered in trees, but it's hard to imagine this was the headquarters of a great dynastic leader. Maybe I’m wrong. The views are exceptional, or would have been in more tree-less times, and the greeny-brown waters of the River Slaney flow at the foot of the hill. I used to swim in the river here in my childhood, when Rathmore belonged to the Raben family, and there was a rock from which one could jump into deeper waters. On one occasion we took a dinghy down the river from Rathvilly and disembarked at Rathmore. ('He's not a Jaffa', was a catchphrase from that trip). I returned again in August 2018 to picnic with my family but, after the hottest summer on record, the river was so low I could wade across it without wetting my waist. we could see the outline of the man-made weirs and clearly humans had banked the east side, but left the west side sloping so that the water is easily accessible to the cattle grazing in the riverside fields amid the doc leaves and ragwort ... was this done in more recent times, perhaps by men working for Colonel Kane Bunbury, who owned this land for much of the 19th century and who was a celebrated cattle farmer? (With thanks to John Ryan).

There is also a fort at Moatabower just off the R726 by the turn-off for Rathmore and Rathvilly (see here) where, again, the Slaney flows just downhill to the east. (Grangewat is the south of that junction) It’s more like a motte, with steep slopes and thick walls, but I suspect it has been somewhat reduced in size by the evolution of the R726 itself, which has left it more crescent-shaped than circular. I made my debut visit in January 2018 when, in the wake of Hurricane Ophelia and Storms Brian and Eleanor, there were plenty of trees down, mingling with the thick briars and rabbit holes or possibly foxes dens. In fact, it seemed rather like a fox covert. Looking into one of the many wide holes, I could see some sizeable granite rocks suggesting that, perhaps, the walls beneath the earth are more solid than one might think. Moatabower stands in the townland of Straboe (from Srath Bó, meaning ' cow street') which also holds another fort beside the site of Templeboy Church. (With thanks to Paddy and Clare Halligan)

One of the best known early icons of these parts was Crimthann mac Énnai, king of Leinster, who reigned from circa 443 AD until 483 AD when he was was reputedly slain in battle by his own grandson, the usefully-named Eochaid the Slayer. Crimthann, who was from the Uí Cheinnselaig sept of the Laigin, apparently had his main residence where Rathvilly Moat stands today, 1km east of the village. While you can see nine different counties from its summit on a clear day, I’ve always felt the Rathvilly Moat would have been a relatively small royal residence but perhaps he felt small was beautiful? In any event, as Carlow-based writer David Halpin explains in his 2017 article "Who Killed the King? Was it Eochaid the Slayer? An Ancient Irish Murder Mystery”, one translation of ‘Rathvilly’ (Ráith Bilech) is ‘Ringfort of the Sacred Tree’ and, in terms of ancient sky-watching sacred types, one must bear in mind Rathvilly’s relative proximity to such landmarks as the afore-mentioned Haroldstown Dolmen, the passage grave on Baltinglass Hill (aligned with the summer solstice, or is it the equinox?) and the Castleruddery stone circle. Local lore holds that Crimthann was baptized by St. Patrick; an ancient holy well just above the village is named for the saint in honor of the occasion, while there is another St Patrick's Well on the Dereen, just east of the old church ruins in Acaun and Haroldstown. According to stories gathered for the Folklore Archive, the patron saint baptised Crimthann, his wife Mell and their infant son Cathi in 450AD in a sacred well in the vicinity of Highfield, 1/4 mile from Moate, so I'll need to check if that's the same one referred to earlier. The well water was drunk by the people in the belief that it cured earache, toothache, bad eyes and leg sores. On St Patrick's Day, people would visit the well and walk round it three times, saying three Hail Marys. The pattern day associated with the well was suppressed by the Catholic church because it inspired too much magical activity and 'pagan' merriment. When Crimthann was murdered, the blame fell on his grandson Eochaid Guinech (aka ’the Slayer’), son of his second daughter Ingren, and a member of the Uí Bairrche. However, the 'Tripartite Life of St. Patrick' claims it was actually Eochaid’s father, Oengus, who killed the king after Crimthann banished a tribe by name of The Sons of Mac Ercae, of which Oengus was leader. The jury is still out.

Heading on down the Slaney to Rathmore, this was apparently home of Colman, King of Hy Kinsellagh in the 6th century, and a great-grandson of King Crimthann. Colman’s mother was Mella, a sister of St. Kevin of Glendalough. The Bunbury family later built Rathmore House close to the rath. In 1598 the castles of Rathmore and Rathvilly were mentioned as two of the eight 'Principal Catherlagh Castles'. Five years later, the rectories, churches an chapels of Rathmore (with Straboe and Mocahon) were granted to John Eustace, gentleman. [In 1611, the manor, castle and water mill of Rathmore passed to Sir Christopher Cheevers of Macetown, Co. Meath - but was this Rathmore in County Kildare?] The late Dick Corrigan told me there was formerly a church on the hill opposite the gate lodge at Rathmore which was abandoned circa 1800. There was a burial ground nearby and human bones have been sighted there in recent times. In the lawn of Rathmore House there is a stone with a rectangular hollow which may once have been the socket for a holy cross.

In the summer of 365AD, a warrior named Enna, said to have been born in Rathvilly, commanded the Leinstermen in a bloody encounter with the highly experienced army of Ireland’s Ard Righ, Eochaidh Muighmheadhoin of the Hy Neils. The battle took place on Croghan Hill in the Bog of Allen. Eochaidh fielded 100 horse soldiers (all nobles) and 500 foot soldiers (mainly free class). Enna has 80 cavalry and 400 foot soldiers. To the sound of blaring trumpets and horns the two armies met. It was to be a decisive victory for Enna, completed by the capture of Eochaidh’s druid, Ceadnathach. The druid took one look at Enna and said: ‘Thou wouldst never conquer from this hill on which I am, if I were to live’. Quickly identifying the solution to this conundrum, Enna hurled his spear into the druid and let out a raucous cackle. With his dying breath, Ceadnathach cursed Enna and his ‘foul laugh’ and, the legend runs, ‘cinnsealach’ is Irish for ‘foul laugh’. There are inevitably other translations, with more likely names such as ‘authoritative chieftain’. (Enna’s eldest son Felimy was forefather of the Hy Felimy from which the parish of Tullowphelim (containing Tullow) is named).

Enna Kinsellagh seems to have lived a very long time, banishing Palladius, first Bishop of Ireland, circa 430. One report maintains that Enna was finally killed at the battle of Oagha in Co. Meath in 445, eighty years after the victory at Croghan Hill, but there does not seem to be such a place as Oagha. At any rate, sticking with the legends, Enna’s third son Crimthann Cass succeeded as King in 445 and ruled for forty years. Crimthan is famous for having been baptized in the waters of the Slaney by St Patrick at Rathvilly in 448. St Patrick arrived in the area about a year after he lit the seminal paschal fire on the Hill of Slane, with his nephew Iserminus on hand to help out. The two missionaries had steered clear of south-east Leinster until Enna’s death in 445. They then crossed down through the hills at Baltinglass, entered Carlow at Graney and followed the river right up to Rathmore where they crossed the Slaney. The Vicarage at Rathmore had St. Patrick for its patron but there is now no sign of church or cemetery; it was apparently on the slope rising up from the avenue and human bones were reputedly found there during a dig in recent times. Patrick then continued on to Tubberpatrick and crossed the Dereen at Acaun. There is a tradition that he was in a hurry at this stage but was unable to travel the ‘Red Bog of Carric’. He had to take to the hills and it was from here that he allegedly blessed Ireland and all in it with two exceptions, snakes and the Red Bog. And thence to Rathvilly where he met and baptized Crimthann and installed the King’s son Fiacra the Fair as first Bishop of Leinster. Crimthann was slain in 484 by his grandson Eochaidh Guinech but his descendents continued to rule for numerous generations and eventually became the MacMurroughs.

James Grogan proposed that the Red Bog of Carric is located on the eastern side of Clonmore, where there is a townland called Redbog and, immediately to the south of it, inCounty Wicklow, the townland of Carrick. This is just before you reach the hills heading up to Knockmatomcoyle and Stranakelly (where the inimitable Dying Cow pub (Tallon's) is discretely located along the Wicklow Way walking route). In Carrick, there is a mysterious, almost giant coffin shape, now crossed by a road.

A highly respected man who lived at Knockboy in the 1880s and who represented Rathvilly for many years on the Baltinglass Board of Guardians, stated that often on a summer's night he heard the music of a military band, or military music, begin faintly about Lisnavagh, get clearer and more distinct as it approached Knockboy, and then gradually die away as it approached the place where the battle was supposed to have been fought. This is supposed to have been King Art Mac Murroiugh's Band. (Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, 1927, p. 318)



Lisnavagh Names

How do these names connect to the Lisnavagh landscape? What is that strange square shape marked on the old Ordance Survey maps for Bowe's Grove? Am I halucinating the rim of a stone circle in the same wood? What is the double ditch that liesin the old Fox Covert to the west of Carr's Hill, not far from the Knocknagan rath? is it simply the work of a rural Victorian engineering project? Or the small underground stream that runs through the Rath Field below Oldfort, so close to the rath itself, and onwards into the Dereeen? Are the rocks piled into the corners of the field merely the debris of an agricualtural plough or were they once part of some richer past?

Every field, paddock, wood and grove at Lisnavagh has a name. Some of these are straightforward descriptions. The Lodge Field runs along the old avenue by the Gate Lodge. The Pump Field is where the water pump is located. Walter’s Paddock was named for my grandfather’s chauffeur Walter Wood who lived in an adjacent house. The Rath Field is named for a ringfort secreted in the hedges. Massy’s was named for my step-grandfather, Major Hugh Massy. There are others for which we no longer know the origin of their name - Troy’s Wood, Bowe’s Grove, Carr's Hill, Monavoth. And for others, we can guess. The Broom Park may have been where Colonel Kane Bunbury ventured out in his brougham, a mid-Victorian one-horse carriage. The Brick Pond Field must have been where bricks were made when they built the house, farm and walled garden in the 1840s. At the centre of the estate stands Whelan’s Bank, steep enough to surf down upon tin trays in snowy childhood days, which culminates in Whelan’s Bog where Andy Verney taught the great and the good the art of clay pigeon shooting. I don’t know who Whelan was. A tenant perhaps? A favoured employee?


Haroldstown Clearances, 1831-1835


In 1831, Abraham Brewster (1796-1874), an upcoming barrister, succeeded to the townland of Haroldstown on the death of his relative, Abraham Jones. He immediately had half the townland cleared of the 17 families, all Catholic, living there, including nine widows; seven of the widows were dead within a decade. In 1835, he took advantage of the death of Luke Harney, lessee of the other half of the townland, to clear it of a further 17 families. The total number of persons cleared from Haroldstown by these two appalling sweeps was 173. In 1841, Brewster was appointed Law Adviser to the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland (or a ‘secret adviser at Dublin Castle’, as O’Connell put it), prompting Daniel O’Connell to lambast him as the most 'truculent enemy of the Catholics and of Catholicity’ and the most 'avowed enemy of the rights of the Catholic people of Ireland at the bar.’ As to the evicted tenants, Mr O’Connell observed: 'Most of the poor creatures have remained nearly houseless to the present day—some sheltering themselves in temporary huts on the road side —some in the ruins of an old mill, where they have passed the winter in the deepest misery.’ One wonders was this the ruined mill at Acaun. Brewster went on to serve variously as Solicitor-General, Attorney-General and Lord Chancellor of Ireland, retiring when Disraeli’s government fell in 1868. He died at his residence, 26 Merrion Square South, Dublin, on 26 July 1874, and was buried at Tullow, County Carlow, on 30 July. By his marriage in 1819 with Mary Ann, daughter of Robert Gray of Upton House, County Carlow, he had issue one son, Colonel William Bagenal Brewster, and one daughter, Elizabeth Mary, wife of Mr. Henry French, both of whom died in the lifetime of their father. [I don’t know who succeeded to Haroldstown but Williamstown belonged to the Wolseley family by 1872. Bearing '1066 & All That' in mind, its funny that the two adjoining townlands should be named for William and Harold!] A nephew, Edward Brewster, became a lawyer and politician in New South Wales. Abraham's mother was Mary Bates, daughter of Thomas Bates.

A more detailed account of Brewster’s clearance follows here:

On Monday 18 October 1841, Daniel O’Connell addressed his fellow members of the Loyal National Repeal Association in a meeting at the Great Rooms of Dublin’s Corn Exchange in which he railed against the appointment of barrister Brewster as ‘secret adviser at the Castle.’ As published in the Dublin Monitor (19 October 1841), O’Connell stated: 'Now, Mr. Brewster, I admit, is a man thoroughly competent,by his legal knowledge, and his station in his profession,to be the legal advisor at the Castle : there is no doubt of that. Between him and me there is no enmity, and I am free of all personal animosity towards him. He never offended me; I have had no hostile intercourse with him of any kind. I deem him a consistent man, and according to his lights a conscientious man ; but this I know, that a more truculent enemy of the Catholics and of Catholicity does not live - a conscientious enemy if you please, but not the less determined on that account: on the contrary, the most formidable enemy of religious liberty is the conscientious bigot who thinks he is doing right when he inflicts injury, andinjures others in the name of the God of charity (hear). I do believe that there is not so avowed an enemy of the rights of the Catholic people of Ireland at the bar as Mr Brewster.’
O’Connell then told how the population of Carlow had bucked the general trend by decreasing between 1831 and 1841, on account of land clearances, before homing in on the townland of Haroldstown where the Rev. Mr Denis Lalor (sometimes Lawlor), then parish priest of Hackestown and Clonmore, had sent a letter about depopulation to Mr Vigors. The Rev. Lalor, who went on to become Vicar-General of the diocese and parish priest of Bagenalstown, wrote:

My dear Sir—
I send you, according to your wishes, a list of the individuals evicted from the lands of Haroldstown, in the parishes of Hacketstown and Clonmore.
The account, I believe, to be perfectly correct. I employed persons to draw it up, who were resident on, or in the immediate vicinity of the scene on which the cruel exhibitions took place, and for whose honesty and intelligence I can vouch.
Mr. Brewster succeeded to this property in 1831, on the death of his relative, Mr. Abraham Jones. The lease of about one-half of the townland, which depended on the life of that gentleman, expired at the same time; and the following Catholic families, the old inhabitants of the land, were immediately ejected:-? John Delany and family. 3; Widow M'Donald, ditto, 4 ; Widow Clarke, ditto, 7; Edward Delany, ditto, 7; Philip Byrne, ditto. 7; Widow Murphy, ditto, 4 Widow Wall and child, 2 ; John Dempsey and Delany, ditto, 7; Philip Byrne, ditto. 7; Widow Murphy, ditto, 4 Widow Wall and child, 2; John Dempsey and Kehoe, ditto, 6; Widow Kehoe, ditto, ; Peter Walsh, Ellen Carty, 1; Henry Kehoe and family, 6 ; Edward Kehoe, ditto, 6; Widow Kehoe, ditto, 4; Peter Walsh, ditto, 7; Widow Brazil and child, 2: Anne Doyle, 1; in all seventeen families, amounting to eighty individuals, were driven off these lands in 1831.
Since that period all but two of the ejected widows have died, under the united pressures of age and distress. To leave no room for cavil, it is right to observe that five of the above families were turned off by middleman, acting, however, as is asserted, under the orders of the head landlord.
In the year 1835 the lease of the remaining part of this townland expired by the death of Mr Luke Harney, when a repetition of the same scene took place by the ejectment of the following seventeen families:- John Harney and family, 11; Michael Harney, ditto, 8; Thomas Harney, ditto, 9; Widow Harney, ditto, 3; Sylvester Donohoe, ditto, 5 : Wm. Doyle, ditto, 7; Richard Doyle, ditto, 3; Widow Whelan, ditto, 6; Thomas Trainer, ditto, 4; Michael Byrne, ditto, 5; Patrick Murphy, ditto, 7; John Burke, ditto, 8; John Doyle, ditto, 3; Edward Doyle, ditto, 3: John Quigley, ditto, 6; Charles Watts, 1; Morgan Murphy, ditto, 4. Total, 93.”
It thus appears that 173 individuals have been turned off these lands since they came into the possession of Mr Brewster. Several of them have been twice ejected - turned out of that part of the townland, the lease of which expired in 1831, ?they took refuge among their neighbours on the other part, from which all have been ejected on the expiration of the second lease, in 1835. The whole of the land from which these Catholic families have been banished—the land of their birth—has been transferred to three Protestants of the names of Jones, Fenton, and Stewart, with the exception of about twenty-five acres which were given to Pierce Byrne, a Catholic. Of this man’s trimming politics you arc well aware. He has ever been the interested tool of the Tory party, and as such claims their favors, although a Catholic, equally with their Protestant neighbours.
Since the last expulsion the sufferings of the ejected have been great. Most of the poor creatures have remained nearly houseless to the present day—some sheltering themselves in temporary huts on the road side —some in the ruins of an old mill, where they have passed the winter in the deepest misery.
It is not for me to suggest the motives which may have actuated Mr. Brewster in turning so many fellow-Christians adrift —eheu quam multos! It may be said that in 1831 he wished to let his lands in large farms, but in 1835 this reason will not be available, as he evicted farmers at that time who held considerable tracts, and were well known to be industrious the popular candidates.
In my humble judgment, however, they were Catholics, and such as had not supported driven from the land of their fathers, whether the catastrophe is to brought about by the machinery of Malthusian consolidation, or that of Conservative vengeance.
Believe me to be, &c. &c.,
G. D. Lalor. P.P.

Daniel O’Connell maintained that Mr. Brewster was 'the only gentleman of the Irish bar that I ever heard was guilty of this practice’ and denounced Lord “Humbug” Elliot for appointing him, albeit acknowledging that Elliot had to comply with the appointment when several judges threatened to resign if he didn’t. The Rev. Lalor died on 10 February 1855, aged 64, and is buried in the Parish Church Bagenalstown.

Were their buildings destroyed by fire after they had been evicted, to prevent them resettling? I do not know who was looking after Lisnavagh at this time but surely they heard the wails of eviction. Tom Bunbury owned the land but he was an absentee at this time.

[Carlow Sentinel, June 1835. Haroldstown -- A Townland out of which Twenty nine families were lately ejected, for non-payment of rent due for years, paid by the tenantry into the pockets of agitators for electioneering purposes -- this is a loss to the Reverend demagogue of Fifty Pounds annually. PPP]

Armed with the above information, James Grogan set to work in August 2018 looking up the names on www.rootsireland.ie and Griffith's (1851/1852) to try to find possible children of the above, working back to 1831/1835 as 'one generation back.' He subsequently identified many of the Haroldstown families by looking at the births and marriage records for the three parishes of Rathvilly, Clonmore and Hacketstown, which between them had jurisdiction over the general Haroldstown / Acaun / Ballykilldfuff / Williamstown areas. He has not yet looked at any death records. As James observes, some of the following does not align perfectly and he urges readers to be clear that his conclusions are 'presumptive'. Nonetheless, it makes for an excellent addition to the tale.

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Above: James Grogan adds: "I couldn't find anything for Charles Watts but I wonder if it was supposed to have been Charles Oakes ( b. 23/1/1831), son of Charles Oakes and Mary Byrne, sp. Charles & Mary Demspy, who was listed for Acaun - his mother and sponsors have surnames seen elsewhere on the list. I have highllighted some entries in yellow and wonder if they are duplications. There was a Catherine Harney of Haroldstown that married Thomas Kelly on 11 Nov 1835 in Clonmore parish, but I couldn't find any certain Widow Harney candidates or the other Harney men mentioned. Unfortunately Catherine's father's name was not recorded. There was a Patrick Harney that married Esther Butler of Aghold in the Clonmore parish in Feb 1838 but it doesn't give either parents or where he lived. The Doyles, Dempseys, Byrnes and Kehoe/Keogh names are so prevalent over there it is not easy to home in on the ones mentioned."


Haroldstown Cemetery

Please also note that Emma McGrath has transcribed the names of those in Haroldstown Cemetery as an appendix in a book called 'One Hundred Years Too Soon - Hacketstown & 1798' by Robert Duffy (Hacketstown Area Community Council, 1998). The cemetery is further up on the left hand side of the road, about 200 yards before the junction to Clonmore. The family names of those interred within are Abbey, Byrne, Curran, Doyle, Hickey, Kearney, Kissanne, Murphy, Neil and Scott.


ADDRESS TO SIR JOHN R. WOLSELEY, BART (Carlow Post - Saturday 27 July 1872

Sir, WE, the undersigned, your Tenants in Williamstown, beg leave to express our unfeigned regret at the insult which has been so wantonly offered to you and your amiable Lady, by the sending to you of a Threatening Letter. We unite in looking upon the outrage with the utmost abhorrence, as we know you to be a Landlord who always considers the welfare of your Tenants, as far as it is in your power, and we truly sympathise with you and Lady Wolseley. Hoping that you and Lady Wolseley may long be spared to give us your confidence, as hitherto, We remain, Sir, Your obedient servants,


Mount Wolseley. Tullow, July 23, 1872.
Gentlemen, I beg to assure you I feel most grateful for the Address from my Williamstown Tenantry, and for the genuine and prompt expression of disapproval which it contains of the outrage to which I have been recently subjected. I feel highly honoured by your frank and outspoken testimony as to my connection with you as a Landlord, and trust no act of mine shall ever tend to weaken the happy relationship which has always existed between me and my Tenantry.
I also beg to thank you for your kind expressions of regard towards Lady Wolseley, and I remain, Gentlemen,
Yours, very sincerely,


With thanks to JJ Woods for kick-starting these thoughts, James Grogan for spurring me on, and also to the late Dick Corrigan, Paddy & Clare Halligan, Edwin & Norah Burgess, Sue Clement, Ken Williams, Michael Brennan, Andy Goss, Cathy Goss, William Dick, William Bunbury, Ben Rathdonnell, Jamie Cahalane, Eimear Ni Bhraonain (KCLR), Alan O'Reilly (Carlow Weather), Neal Boyle, Coílín O'Driscoll, Michael Purcell, Kathryn Roundtree, Sue Clement and others.