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De la Poer (Power) of County Waterford

Alan II (c. 900–952), aka Alain de Poher, was Count of Vannes, Poher and Nantes, and Duke of Brittany from 938 to his death. He was the grandson of King Alan the Great by Alan’s daughter and her husband Mathuedoï I, Count of Poher. He expelled the Vikings/Norsemen from Brittany after an occupation that lasted from 907 to about 939.

Tracking the history of the de la Poer or Power dynasty, reputedly from Brittany, who became prominent in Ireland in the medieval period (despite some hefty criminals in the clan) and fetched up as Earls of Tyrone, a title that passed by marriage to the Beresford family of Curraghmore, now headed up by the Marquess of Waterford.

 

*****

 

‘You should study the Peerage … it is the best thing in fiction the English have ever done’ .
Lord Illingworth in A Woman of No Importance, Act 3, by Oscar Wilde.

 

Poher of Brittany

 

The origins of the family are open to question. As the late Nigel de la Poer, Vice President and Fellow of the Power Clan Society put it, the truth has ” become encrusted with myth and legend” over the course of time. [1] The accepted history declares them to be descended from the people of Le Poher, one of the ancient territorial divisions of Brittany in France. These Bretons appear to have been Celts who settled in Brittany after they were driven from their homes in England by Saxons in the 7th century AD.

Le Poher was a prosperous region, run by the Counts of Poher and the Dukes of Brittany, descendants of such characters as Comorre I, Count of Poher (who died in 554AD), his fifth wife, Saint Trifine and their son Saint Tremeur. In fact, the Poher family may even be descended from the celebrated Merovingian dynasty. [2]

In 911, Rollo, also known as Hrulf Ganger (Hrolf the Walker), sailed into Rouen in his longship. According to family historian Warren Power, the Carolingian monarch Charles the Simple then “offered Hrulf’s crew all the land above where they landed, provided they become Christians and protected the coastline.” Mr. Power suggests that by 923 a number of Norman families had also moved to Brittany and become neighbours of the Bretons. In 938, Alain de Poher, grandson of Arnaud, became Duke of Brittany. One of his descendants was another Alain Poher, sometime President of France.

As the late Nigel de la Poer pointed out, who can blame latter day Poers for choosing to be descended from such an illustrious house. The Breton families had a natural affiliation with the Celtic way of life, and continue to do so to this day. A thousand years ago, it made their transition into Scottish, Welsh, and Irish society that little bit easier. However, as the eminent historian Ken Nichols asserts, the Celts were famous for their “vast sexual proclivities” and so the number of those claiming to be of the family of Poer is likely to have expanded at a tremendous pace during the early days of the “Norman” invasion of the British Isles.

When William, Duke of Normandy, came in pursuit of recruits for his invasion of England in 1066, all the Normans in the district of Poher are said to have accepted the call to arms, as did their Breton neighbours who had hopes of retrieving their seized lands from the Saxons. William the Conqueror duly referred to their Company as “de la POHER”. According to Mr. Power, one of the Norman knights of that company, Le Sire de Poer, is mentioned in the Falaise Roll and the Battle Abbey Roll. Other Norman families who reputedly came to England, Scotland and Ireland from Brittany include the Royal House of Stuart in Scotland and the Butlers of Ireland.

 

Poers in Ireland

 

It is not known whether any members of the Poer family were with the initial Cambro-Norman army that arrived in Ireland in 1169 and 1170. Raised by Richard de Clare (aka Strongbow), Robert FitzStephen and Maurice FitzGerald, the army chiefly hailed from his Welsh estates in Pembrokeshire and South Glamorgan.

Ken Nichols maintains that the Poers, from whom the present family of Lord Waterford descend, originated in Pembrokeshire. It thus seems reasonable to suppose that the family were in some way associated with Ireland from the time of Strongbow onwards. But perhaps it would make more sense to try and establish where the Poers might have come from before they arrived in Pembrokeshire.

The Poers of Devonshire

 

An illustration of Richard de Clare, 2nd Earl of Pembroke (Strongbow) from Giraldus Cambrensis’ ‘Expugnatio Hibernica’ (Conquest of Ireland”, 1189).

In 1177, Henry II returned to Ireland to curtail the growing ambitions of the Normans who had settled in Ireland, his large army is said to have included four Poer brothers from Devonshire – Sir Robert, Sir Roger, Simon and William. Philip, a fifth brother, stayed at home with his father, Bartholomew de Poer, who was said to be the Sheriff of Devon. Robert and Roger world prove important players in Norman Ireland.

Robert le Poer of Devonshire was appointed custos or guardian of Waterford after that city’s subjugation in the opening months of the Anglo-Norman invasion of Ireland. However, Ken Nichols says he is “absolutely certain” that this Robert, though connected to Waterford City, had nothing to do with the latter day de la Poers of Waterford. Indeed, despite being granted all the land “between Waterford and the waters of Lismore and Ossory“, Robert le Poer ultimately went on to settle in Dunshaughlin, County Meath. The 12th century Welsh spin-doctor Giraldus Cambrensis (of the Norman House of Fitzgerald) had little time for Robert, writing him off as “dishonourable and so lacking in activity“. Perhaps this helped subsequent generations of the Poer family to remove Robert from the list of possible forbears.

Roger le Poer, also of Devonshire and said to be Robert’s brother, may have been ancestor of the Poers of Powerswood, now  Shankhill or Paulstown in County Kilkenny. Giraldus Cambrensis liked Roger very much, describing him as “a beardless youth, fair and tall” and later as “the youngest, bravest and handsomest of all the Anglo-Norman knights“. In another major outburst of medieval flattery the Fitzgerald historian wrote:

It might be said without offence that there was not a man who did more valiant acts than Roger le Poer who, although he were young and beardless, yet showed himself a lusty, valiant and courageous gentleman, and who grew into such credit that he had the government of the country about Leighlin and also in Ossory“.[3]

Ken Nichols maintained that the Poers of Curraghmore were probably not descended from this chivalrous soul. He says he is “certain that they [the Curraghmore Poers] came from Pembrokeshire and were not connected with the Poers from Devonshire“.

 

Henry Le Poer, Baron of Dunhill

 

The de la Poers of Waterford simply cannot be certain about their ancestry until the reign of King John at the close of the 13th century when we find mention of a Henry fitz Philip le Poer of Dunhill. Before he succeeded his crusading brother Richard the Lionheart and became king of England, John was Lord of Ireland. In this capacity he visited Ireland on several occasions, commissioning, for instance, the construction of the castle at Limerick and, I believe, the bridge at Curraghmore.

John granted the vast tract of land to Henry le Poer encompassing the whole of east Waterford, around Tramore, and the barony of Dunhill. Such a massive grant was not unusual for the Royal House of Plantagenet. As both Lord of Ireland and King of England, John was often granting lands to his nearest and dearest, regularly gifting the same land to two different people.

Henry fitz Philip le Poer was most likely of Anglo-Welsh origin, the son of Philip le Poer of St. Laurence in Pembrokeshire. A charter written by Henry refers to his feudal tenants as being “all my men, French, English, Welsh and Irish“. He would not have mentioned the Welsh contingent unless he was familiar with the Welsh borders. His descendants, known as the Barons of Dunhill, lasted in the direct bloodline down to about 1360. But even by 1300 there were several other branches of the Poer lineage in operation in Ireland.

 

Sir Eustace le Poer (d. 1311)

 

Sir Eustace la Poer (d. 1311) is one of the key figures in the family annals. A younger son who made good, he was loyal to King Edward I (Longshanks) and the Plantagenet cause during an era of unprecedented aggression between the authorities in London and their enemies in the hinterlands of Scotland (Robert the Bruce, William “Braveheart” Wallace), Wales (the Llewelyns), Ireland (the MacMurroughs) and France.

Sir Eustace seems to have had a sound grasp of the potential, if unscrupulous, rewards of marriage, securing the hand of at least two wealthy widows. The first had been married to Peter de Barry. The second was the widow of Pierce de Bermingham, a full on rogue and brutal murderer. Ken Nichols reckons Sir Eustace might have been a moneylender, which was a sound but illegal way of making one’s fortunes in medieval times. Until the 17th century, Christian thought maintained that it was a sin to take interest on money. Apparently, Muslims still hold this philosophy today. Jews did not follow suit, which is why many Jewish families were involved with banking.

 

Strange Tongues

 

When I met Ken Nichols in about 2001, I asked if he could tell me a few tidbits  about the Poers of this era. He reckoned the upper echelons would have spoken Norman French. Those who came from Wales would have spoken Welsh also, and there would also have been many English speakers. In Ireland, Anglo-French vocabulary gradually disappeared during the 13th and 14th centuries to be replaced by Irish and English.

There was a large colony of Belgians in Pembrokeshire who spoke Fleming. Many of these would also have come to Ireland with the Normans and probably mingled with the Poers. (Hence, the common usage of Fleming as a surname in Ireland to this day). The dialects of all those in Ireland were influenced by Flemish.

 

Sleeping Quarters

 

In terms of sleeping arrangements, by the 12th – 14th centuries, the Poer family would have lived in fairly substantial clay-walled houses, not unlike 19th century farmhouses. The upper classes would have lived in bigger buildings within an enclosure, surrounded by subsidiary wooden buildings. Many of the early castles were basically timber structures atop earthen works, like the various Norman mottes scattered across the land. Gradually these would have been replaced by stone; the original tower house of Curraghmore is probably late 15th century.

 

Makin le Poer

 

Edward I (Longshanks) for whom Sir Eustace Poer served.

Matthew le Poer – known as Makin – was the direct forbear of the Poer family that now live in Curraghmore. I know nothing about this man, but he was head of the family during the reign of King Edward I (Longshanks). Being head of the family meant one was supposed to maintain a degree of control over one’s kinsmen. Makin doesn’t seem to have cared tuppence for this concept.

A short glance through the various volumes of the Calendar of the Justiciar Rolls of Ireland for the reign of Edward I reveals that the Le Poers were an unruly clan. There are more than a hundred references to family members being brought before the courts on charges of “divers harms“, as the author pouts it, including robbery, kidnap, muggings and general thuggery. One is charged with “feloniously carrying off the wife” of another man, although she herself is later charged with having consented to this abduction.

In terms of family members with the best names, the winner, hands down, is Tankard de la Poer and I would dearly love to see this name resurrected in the 21st century. Among other de la Poer names that came before the courts: Adam. Andrew. Arnold. Baldwin. Benedict. Clement. Durant. Eustace. Martilla. Geoffrey. George. Godfred. Griffin. Hugh. John. Laurence. Maurice. Meilier. Michael. Oliver. Tito. Raymond. Robert. Roger. Stephen. Susanna. Tankard. Walter. William.

 

Crime Bosses of Waterford

 

My professional verdict is that the Le Poers were medieval gangsters. In those days they were simply known as “idlemen“, the implication being that without TVs, rock n’ roll or footy, there was sod all else to do. There is no reference to any of them taking up a career in the clergy until the late 15th century when, seeing the profits that could be made from handing out forgiveness to wealthy Catholics, they started pouring into the monasteries, priories and abbeys of the Suir Valley. (That said, many of them never actually took religious orders; they just pretended they had and started stocking up on the cash).

One or two, like Sir Eustace Poer, did fight for the King, most probably in his wars against Robert the Bruce, which culminated with the invasion of Ireland by Edward the Bruce’s Scottish army in 1315. But, in fairness, they were probably hard at work in their homeland trying to prevent their own properties being destroyed and looted by rival medieval gangs. By 1300 there was a very big criminal element emerging among the Poers. The Baron Dunhill is granted permission to blind any of his family who are not amenable to the law [English law at this stage; Roman Law would not arrive until English power collapsed after 1360] or starve them to the death. The head of the family was given power over all who held his name. It was a common way of the English feudal system to try and instigate law and order. It was a way of controlling these idle men. Everybody is answerable to the lord. “There is no violence as such“, chuckles Ken Nichols. “One merely casts troublemakers into the dungeons and closes the lid“.

 

Tough Times

It can’t have been easy trying to live in the 13th and 14th centuries. Mortality rates among children and teenagers were extremely high what with plagues, famines, warfare, gum disease, abscesses in the jaw bones and all that Black Death malarky. You basically get born and it’s downhill all the way. But, if you did survive your younger years, then there was a good chance you could live for ages. There are references to people who lived for “five score years or thereabouts” but then again, the Bible maintains Noah lived to be seven hundred and fifty-six.

Ken Nichols says medieval people were a lot cleaner than their 17th and 18th century descendants. They believed in washing themselves and took baths all the time. Perhaps the change in habits is attributable to the Little Ice Age that engulfed the British Isles from about 1660 onwards, making the rivers and oceans far too cold for anyone to consider washing their goolies in. But there was also something weird going on which began with the Spanish Inquisition. As far as I can understand, if you washed all the time, then you could be mistaken for a Muslim.

 

Wild Johnnie & Richard Mor

 

Makin le Poer’s third son, John, is better known as “Wild Johnnie” (or Seoinin na Buile) and sired Richard Mor (Richard the Great), Chief Sergeant of Waterford in 1350 and Sheriff from 1367 until 1368. The Poer family at this time were in regular conflict with the citizens of Waterford and it is interesting that, following the death of the last Baron Dunhill in 1360, it was Richard Mor who assumed the chieftaincy of the clan.

Wild Johnnie’s brother Theobald served as Sheriff of Waterford from circa 1317 until 1323. In February 1318, he was amerced for not producing a book containing a list of offenders before the king’s lieutenant, Roger Mortimer. Theobald’s wife Eleanor was a widow of Walter de la Roche of Ballyhooley, County Cork.

 

David the Red & MacDavy Rothe

 

After Richard Mor’s death in 1376, the chieftaincy passed to his grandson David Rothe (David the Red). In December 1388, David and his father-in-law, Nicholas le Poer, were among those appointed to negotiate with a branch of the Power family who were in open rebellion against the King.

David’s son, Nicholas Power, known as MacDavy Rothe (ie: The Red Haired Son of David), served as Sheriff of Waterford from 1425 until his death in 1445, during which time he converted Waterford into a local lordship. One contemporary records him as “the most hospitable of the Anglo-Normans of Munster“.

More than 200 years after the Normans first came to Ireland, the authorities in London and Dublin were profoundly worried by the consistent trend of the Anglo-Norman families in Ireland to adopt Gaelic traditions. The original settlers had married into native Irish families and produced sons and grandsons that were, in many ways, “more Irish than the Irish themselves“. The Powers were no exception. In Waterford, they had made the Shrievalty of that county a hereditary right. Sheriffs were supposed to be elected but from 1425 onwards the Powers held absolute control.

 

Richard the Bad, Sheriff of Waterford (d. 1483)

 

Upon the death of MacDavy Rothe in 1445, he was succeeded as both chief of the clan and as Sheriff of Waterford by his son Richard, “the first notable – or notorious – member of the Curraghmore line“. Richard retained the office of Sheriff, but the citizens of Waterford distrusted his ethics. In 1476, there was an unsuccessful attempt to have removed as per this eloquent statute of the Irish Parliament:

Whereas Richard Power is sheriff of the County of Waterford,, and has been so for more than 20 years past, and he, out of his insatiate malice, as an enemy of God and a rebel to the King, has by himself and his people, and other rebels, made assault on the mayor, bailiffs and commons of Waterford, both by sea and land, murdering and slaying divers of the citizens, and spoiling and robbing them of their goods, has put many of them to fine and ransom, and not only the citizens but also foreigners resorting to the city for trade, as English, French, Spaniards, Portugals, Britains and Flemings, to the utter destruction of the said city; and as in all countries round about the said city there is no rule or government but murder and spoiling, robbery and a universal rebellion; therefore it is enacted that the mayor and common council of Waterford for the time being shall from henceforth have the full election of a sheriff of the county of Waterford for ever annually, and that said Richard Power shall from this time be entirely divested of the said office”.

Richard married Elena, a daughter of Sir Edmond MacRichard Butler and granddaughter of the 3rd Earl of Ormonde. He died in October 1483 and was buried at Mothal in a table tomb that can still be seen within a fenced enclosure to this say. Nigel de la Poer records how a man named Hugh Ryan of Carrick told him this tomb had been used for hiding rifles during the Irish Civil War of 1922.

 

Sir Piers Power (d. 1521)

 

Upon his death in October 1483, Richard the Bad was succeeded as Sheriff of Waterford by his eldest surviving son, Sir Piers Power of Curraghmore. Sir Piers further cemented the family’s influence with a strategic marriage to the House of Fitzgerald. His first wife, Katherine, was a daughter of Sir Gerald Fitzgerald, Lord of the Decies. His second wife was another Fitzgerald of the House of Kildare. Sir Piers was very much his father’s son. The Presentments of the Juries of the County Waterford,  talks of Sir Piers ruling, like his father before him, “at their pleasures by extort power oppressing the King’s subjects“. Sir Piers seems to have taken the family “privilege” to the Shrievalty of Waterford for granted, assuming it on his father’s death and holding it by force until 1510.

 

Sir Richard Power, 1st Baron Le Poer & Coroghmore (d. 1538)

 

Sir Richard Power’s father-in-law, ‘Black Tom’ Butler, 10th Earl of Ormond (1531-1614) in three-quarter armour holding a wheelock pistol, with his coat of arms at upper left.

On the death of Sir Piers on 2 August 1521, he was succeeded by his eldest son, Sir Richard Power, later 1st Baron le Poer and Coroghmore [sic]. Sir Richard acquired the lands at Curraghmore from another branch of the Power family. Ken Nichols reckons the first tower house at Curraghmore was built in the 15th century, probably by Richard the Bad, with wings added two centuries later. Ken directed me to a picture of the house at Curraghmore dating to 1720. He reckons the area would have been primarily pastureland and tillage with much of it under timber during the 15th and 16th centuries.

In 1499, in his father’s absence, Sir Richard served as Sheriff of Waterford. In 1526, five years after his father’s death, he married Lady Katherine Butler, a daughter of Piers, 8th Earl of Ormonde, and aunt of ‘Black Tom’ Butler, Queen Elizabeth’s childhood sweetheart.

The Butler marriage occurred at a fortuitous time for Power family fortunes. English influence in Ireland had been in decline for several decades and the rival Houses of Butler and Fitzgerald effectively ran the country. The Powers of Curraghmore were intimately connected, by marriage, with both.

Following the break with Rome in 1529, Henry VIII appointed a new Lord Deputy to Ireland, the Machiavellian genius Anthony St. Ledger. St. Ledger’s policy was to win back the support of wayward Irish and Norman families by offering substantial gifts of land, titles and monies in return for swearing an oath of loyalty to the King who would, hereafter, also be known as “King of Ireland”.

The Earl of Ormonde was anxious that his own heirs benefit from this dubious patronage. In June 1535, he wrote to the King advocating that his son-in-law, Sir Richard Power, “should be enabled to be a baron of parliament with some profits in the county of Waterford“. On 13 September 1536, Lord Chancellor Audley wrote that he had created two patents for new barons in Ireland – for Richard Power and Thomas Eustace.

In 1538 a civil war broke out over the succession to the Earldom of Desmond. Baron Le Poer was inevitably entangled in the conflict, fighting in support of the Crown’s candidate. On 10 November 1538 he was slain by “the traitor Owen O’Callaghan“. He was succeeded by his eldest son Piers.

 

Sir Piers the Warrior, 2nd Baron (1526-1545)

 

Piers was born in 1526 and succeeded on his father’s death at the age of twelve. As an 18-year-old, he served as a Captain General of the Irish kerne (or lightly armed foot soldiers) of King Henry VIII’s army at the Siege of Boulogne in 1544. An English army, commanded by Edward Seymour, had crossed to France that June. Boulogne was captured in September, but English success was thwarted later in the month when the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, formerly England’s ally, made peace with the French at Crespy and effectively abandoned the English.

Piers Power was knighted for his efforts but died on 10 October 1545, probably from wounds received at Boulogne. His remains were shipped back to Ireland, and buried at Mothal Abbey. On 5 January 1545 Sir William Wyse wrote that Lady Katherine Butler and her brother, “Black Tom”, the Earl of Ormonde, were planning a memorial for the young soldier at “Mothell beside Curraghmore where they intend in an obseque for Lord Power’s soul, where much devotion of meat and drink is prepared there, where much devotion of meat and drink is prepared there. The poor people are like to say “Requiescant in pace” but the more they cry the more the sorrow increaseth“.

Sir Piers was succeeded as 3rd Baron by his younger brother John of whom more anon. Sir Piers’s youngest brother Thomas Power of Coolfin married Joan Tobin, a lady who would later emerge as the wife of Edmund Fitzgibbon, the White Knight. Thomas Power was called the Lord of the Compshinnagh and died on 10 October 1564, exactly 9 years to the day after his brother Piers. His grandchildren would marry into such prestigious houses as O’Brien (Lord Inchiquin) and Butler (Viscount Mountgarret).

Piers’ sisters also married into the cream of Irish aristocracy – Katherine married Sir Nicholas Devereux, Ellice wed Sir Thomas Fitzgerald of Conna (by whom she was mother of James fitzThomas, self-styled 14th Earl of Desmond); Margaret married William Bourke of Ballyloggan, Co. Tipperary, lord of Costure, and then married his brother, Walter Bourke of Cappagh, lord of Muskerryquirk; Ellen married Teig MacBrien of Ballytrasna, Co. Limerick.

Piers also had two elder illegitimate brothers via the 1st Baron  – Nicholas and Edmund. The latter was Commendatory Friar of St. Katherine’s in Waterford and Abbot of Mothal.

 

Lady Katherine Power

 

After the murder of Sir Richard Power in 1538, the administration of the Power family affairs in Waterford should technically have been taken up by his son and heir, Piers. However, with Piers so deeply embroiled in the King’s foreign wars, the rule of the country was effectively placed in the hands of Piers’ widowed mother, Lady Katherine Power, aunt of Black Tom Butler, 10th Earl of Ormonde, who was perhaps the most influential man in Ireland at this time.

Lady Katherine does not seem to have endeared herself greatly to the commoners of County Waterford. In 1537 they appealed to the Royal Commission, accusing “Dame Katherine Butler” of regularly flaunting her position to extort money from them. She later married James Fitzgerald, 13th Earl of Desmond and died on 17 March 1552.

 

John “Mor” Power of Curraghmore (d. 1592)

 

Derrick’s depiction of Sir Henry Sidney leaving Dublin Castle.

After Sir Piers’s premature death in 1545, he was succeeded as 3rd Baron by his younger brother, John “Mor” Power. John Mor married his cousin, Alice Fitzgerald, third daughter of James Fitzgerald, 13th Earl of Desmond. To add to the confusion, John Mor’s mother Lady Katherine Power was married to the 13th Earl. Alice’s brother Gerald Fitzgerald was the last Earl of Desmond.

After Alice’s death, John Mor married Ellen, a daughter of Teig MacCorma oge MacCarthy, Lord of Muskerry and widow of James, Lord Buttevant.

John Mor spent most of the 1560s fighting on behalf of Queen Elizabeth against the rebels in Munster under the command of his uncle, Black Tom Butler. Among those fighting alongside him were a young Sir Walter Raleigh and Sir William Stanley. In 1576, Sir Henry Sidney, the flamboyant Lord Deputy of Ireland and father of the poet Sir Philip Sidney, stayed with John Mor at Curraghmore. He seems to have been much impressed by John Mor’s set-up.

The night after I departed from Waterford I lodged at Curraghmore, the house that the Lord Power is baron of. The Poerne country is one of the best ordered countries in the English Pale, through the suppression of coyne and livery. The people are both willing and able to bear any reasonable subsidy towards the finding and entertaining of soldiers and civil ministers of the laws; and the lord of the country, though possessing far less territory than his neighbour (ie: Sir James Fitzgerald of the Decies, John Mor’s cousin) lives in show far more honourably and plentifully than he or any other in that province“.

A strategic marriage took place in 1585 implying that John Mor’s status in Ireland was one of great importance. His daughter Margaret Power was married to James fitzThomas FitzGerald, the “Súgán” Earl of Desmond, a pretender to the title.  During the Desmond Wars, the Sugan Earl commanded the Munster rebels. He would later re-emerge as a leader during the Nine Years War against the English. On 29 May 1601 the Sugan Earl was tracked down and betrayed by his own kinsman, Edmund Fitzgibbon, the White Knight, while hiding in the Mitchelstown Caves. He was taken prisoner, handed over to the English and died soon afterwards in the Tower of London.

John Mor died in 1592 and was succeeded by his son Richard Power, 4th Baron Le Poer and Curraghmore.

 

The 4th Baron & the White Knight

 

Queen Elizabeth, from a portrait I saw at Hever Castle. She granted Richard Power lands worth £50 per annum.

Upon his death in 1592, John Mor was succeeded as 4th Baron by his son Richard Power. Richard had been seriously wounded while fighting with the Desmond rebels in the 1580s. In 1588, the year of the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth rewarded him with the grant of lands worth £50 per annum. He married Katherine Barry, daughter and sole heiress of the 3rd Viscount Buttevant.

The family’s penchant for inter-breeding duly continued when Richard’s son John married Helen Barry, a daughter of the 5th Viscount Buttevant. This John Power was killed in a skirmish with Edmund Fitzgibbon, the White Knight, who had married John’s widowed great-aunt Joan Power (nee Tobin). His death seems to have been an accident.

The White Knight is said to have given his men a “strict charge” that “if Lord Power should fall into [their] hands” he was to be treated “with all mercy and humanity” and kept “in safe custody until further orders” were issued. As it happened, John Power attacked the White Knight’s army with such force that one of his enemies was compelled to beat him from his horse with a pole-awe whereupon the young man was “trampled to death in the heat of that engagement”.

The White Knight was the chief of the ClanGibbon, or FitzGibbons, the senior line of the cadet branch of the great Geraldine house which included the Earls of Desmond and Kildare. The FitzGibbon territory, called the White Knight’s Country, included some of the most fertile lands of southern Ireland, extending from Mitchelstown in the east to Kilmallock in the west. The White Knights had taken possession of Mitchelstown after 1340 when the original Norman owners, the FitzDavids de St Michel, died out.

Two years after his death in 1569, John Oge, the 10th White Knight, was the subject of a posthumous conviction for high treason and his lands had been forfeited to the Crown. His son, Edmund FitzGibbon conspired to regain them and, in 1576, his tactical loyalty to the English was repaid when most of his father’s domain was restored to him on a 21-year lease. It was not particularly unusual for a feudal lord like Edmund to have been at war with his neighbours and relatives. However, his persistent seizure of neighbouring lands eventually put him out of favour with the Crown and, on 1 March 1583, a powerful army led by Sir Henry Walsingham arrived at Mitchelstown and laid siege to FitzGibbon’s castle.

Edmund was a product of the Elizabethan Age and knew full well that his best bet was to change sides whenever he was in trouble. At the close of the Nine Years War, he personally commanded the force that captured his kinsman, James, the Súgán Earl of Desmond, and delivered him to the English where he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. Edmund FitzGibbon died on 23 April 1608, the day after his son and heir. Legend has it they were both poisoned by a member of the family. His grandson, Maurice Oge, the last White Knight, died aged 14 in 1611 and the FitzGibbon lands fell to an English settler family, the Fentons.

 

John Power, 5th Baron Le Poer & Curragmore

 

During the 17th century there was a massive transfer of land ownership from the native Catholic Irish to English and Scottish Protestant settlers. This plantation had been precipitated by the final collapse of the Gaelic Resistance at Kinsale in 1601 and the Flight of the Earls in 1607. At the start of the 17th century, 90% of the lands in Ireland were owned by Catholic Irish. By the close of that century, the figure may have been as low as 14%.

The new owners were for the most part settlers, such as Cromwellian soldiers and officers and “adventurers“. It is likely that the Power family did not approve of this new wave of invaders. Like most Anglo-Norman families they would have considered themselves Roman Catholic and favoured the old bible. Anxious to convert such subjects to the Protestant faith, James I ordered the 4th Baron Le Poer to send his grandson and heir, John Power, to England for his education.

John’s father, also John Power, had been killed in a skirmish with the White Knight some years earlier. John duly spent his teenage years at Lambeth, living with the Archbishop of Canterbury, but in the end he “relapsed” to his Catholic faith. All this tossing and turning of religious faith seems to have played havoc with John’s mind and he became “disordered in his wits in later life” at about the time of the birth of his son, Richard, in 1630.

 

Kinbrough Pypho

 

At this time, the strong hand of the Power clan was, again, a woman. Kinbrough Pypho, named for the Saxon Saint Kinbrough, was John’s formidable mother-in-law. He had married her heiress daughter Ruth in St Mary’s Abbey in Dublin. In 1642, she wrote to the Lord Justices of Ireland explaining that Lord Le Poer had “these past twelve years been visited with impediments [lunacy]” which had “disabled him from intermeddling with his own estate“. She implored the Justices to ensure that, during the inevitable horrors of the oncoming Confederate Wars, they dispatch a force to protect Lord Power and his young children from “molesting or impoverishing“.

The family were heavily embroiled in the political turmoil that befell Ireland during the Confederate Wars. The 5th Baron’s sister Ellen Power was married to the 8th Viscount Roche of Fermoy, a charismatic soldier who was hanged in 1652 by the British Commonwealth regime on a trumped-up charge of murder.

The 5th Baron’s aunt Katherine (who married Piers Power, second son of the 4th Baron) was a daughter of the 11th Earl of Ormonde, the lead the Irish Confederacy in opposition to Oliver Cromwell and the Republicans. His cousin Piers Power (son of Piers and Katherine) was attainted for participating in the 1641 Rising.

Despite this, Kinbrough Pypho’s letter to the Lord Justices seems to have had the desired effect when Oliver Cromwell arrived in Ireland in 1649. He issued a writ on 20 September 1649 decreeing that Lord Power and his family be “taken into his special protection”. The war had bankrupted the family but, in 1654, they were awarded a grant of 20 shillings a week to see them through the bad times. In Petty’s 1654 Survey, Curraghmore is described as home to “a fayre Castle and a goodly stone house upon the land, there is also an Orchard and Meadow upon the same and stands by the side of a fine wood“. It concludes by memorably mentioning “the River Clodagh running within a musket shot“.

There was a brief attempt to have them transplanted to Connaught – a fate which befell many other landowners who fought against Cromwell – but they were saved when several leading soldiers declared that Lord Powers’ son and heir, Richard Power, had actively supported the English Commonwealth during the Confederate Wars, arresting several felons and providing invaluable intelligence to the army. The family were classed as recusants but there was no forfeiture of land and Richard, who duly succeeded as the 6th Baron Le Power & Corroghmore, would go on to become the 1st Earl of Tyrone and the 1st Viscount Decies.

Richard Power, 1st Earl of Tyrone

 

Born in 1630, Richard Power was the eldest son of John Power, 5th Baron Le Poer & Curraghmore, and his wife, Ruth (née Pypho). His father had been declared insane when Richard was still a boy and thus he was raised by his staunchly Protestant grandmother, Kinbrough Pypho, and by his cousins, the Annesleys. But his three sisters and younger brother all wed Catholics and he himself became a Catholic in later life. His eldest son and heir, John Power, was also a Catholic but died without issue early. But his second son, James Power, the 3rd Earl of Tyrone, was a Protestant who received a famous letter from King Billy commending him for his efforts at the Boyne.

During the Confederate Wars (1642-1649), Richard saved the family from certain ruin by his apparent support of the Cromwellian army. He can only have been a teenager at this time but, given his father’s premature insanity, it seems likely that his formidable mother had groomed him to the task of survival.

In 1654, Richard Power married Dorothy Annesley, daughter of the 1st Earl of Annesley.

After the Restoration of the Royal House of Stuart to the throne of England in 1660, Richard was appointed Governor of both Waterford City and Waterford County (March 1661). He also represented County Waterford in the Irish House of Parliament from 1661 to 1665 and served as a Colonel of Foot in 1670.

In April 1672 he received a grant, later vacated, of “the Decies“, which had come into the Crown’s possession on the death without male heir of John Fitzgerald of Dromana. (For further details on this, see below under his son John Power, 2nd Earl of Tyrone). On 9 October 1672 Charles II conferred upon him the Earldom of Tyrone and, in 1673, elevated his young son John to the peerage as Viscount Decis. He sat on Charles II’s Privy Council from 1667 to 1679 but was then implicated in the “Popish Plot” and forced to resign.

The Popish Plot was a fraudulent conspiracy created by leading Protestants in the King’s Council seeking to rid the higher ranks of men sympathetic to the Roman Catholic cause. The plot hinged on an invasion of England by Catholic French troops of the ‘Sun King’ Louis XIV. The Blessed Saint Oliver Plunkett was among those executed on the back of this fictitious plot. In 1681, the Earl of Tyrone was brought before the House of Commons, charged with high treason and imprisoned in Westminster gatehouse. In 1684, a huge £30,000 bail settlement ensured his release from prison, along with other Roman Catholic peers.

James II, a fervent Catholic, evidently approved of the Catholic Earl of Tyrone and, in 1686, appointed him to the Irish Privy Council. The Earl sat on the Patriot Parliament held in 1689. During the Williamite Wars, he served as a colonel of infantry and, in September 1690, he was among those who negotiated the terms of the Surrender of Cork to Colonel Churchill, later Duke of Marlborough. Arrested along with Donough MacCarthy, Earl of Clancarty, and other high-ranking Jacobites, he was charged with “high treason in levying war against their majesties [William and Mary] and adhering to their enemies“.

Richard Power, 1st Earl of Tyrone was imprisoned in the Tower of London where he died, aged 63, on 14 October 1690. His body was buried at Farnborough in Hampshire, burial place of his father-in-law, Arthur, Earl of Anglessy. He was succeeded by his son 25-year-old son John, Viscount Decies.

 

The Wool Boom of Carrick

 

James Butler, the 1st Duke of Ormonde.

During the reign of King Charles II, James Butler, 1st Duke of Ormonde, a cousin of the Poers, was the most powerful man in Ireland. He had been one of the commanding officers in the Confederate Army amassed to defend Ireland against the onslaught of Cromwell’s parliamentary thugs. During the 1650s he had joined Charles II in exile in Paris. Here he had been greatly impressed by the style and panache of the French court that would come to its head with the creation of Versailles later in the century.

Following the restoration of the monarchy, Ormonde was created a duke and appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland. In 1670 he established the woollen manufacture business near Black Tom Butler’s Elizabethan castle in Carrick-on-Suir. This must have had a profound effect on the de la Poer family then resident in Curraghmore.

By the close of the 18th century, upwards of 3000 people were employed in the making of woollen fabrics (known as ratteens), of which about 6000 were made every year. A good trade was also developed along the River Suir, between Clonmel and Waterford, after the Irish parliament subsidized the deepening of the river channel enabling water traffic to come to and fro. Clonmel was a major centre for the export of corn and other provisions; Waterford had a lucrative trade in beef, butter, tallow and hides. The prosperity of Carrick-on-Suir and the surrounding countryside declined in the early 19th century.

John Power, 2nd Earl of Tyrone (1665- 1693)

 

Gilbert Sheldon, Archbishop of Canterbury, who presided at the wedding of the seven-year-old John Power to Catherine Fitzgerald of Dromana..

John Power was the son and heir of Richard, 1st Earl of Tyrone, by his wife, Ruth Pypho. Born in 1665, the year of the Great Plague, he was just 7 years old when his thrifty father engineered a marriage that would, albeit briefly, substantially increase the size of the Power family’s landholding in Ireland. In May 1673, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Gilbert Sheldon, oversaw the marriage of young John to his first cousin, the orphaned heiress Catherine Fitzgerald of Dromana. Catherine was a ward of the 1st Earl of Tyrone at this point and, as Nigel de la Poer noted, it had clearly been his hope “to annex the vast territory called the Decies to the Curraghmore estate“. John was in fact known as Viscount Decies from 1673 until his father’s death in 1690.

However, Catherine seems to have been a determined young lady and was not remotely interested in John Power. She managed to have the marriage declared null and void and, in March 1676, after which she wed the Hon. Edward Villiers, son and heir of George, 4th Viscount Grandison. In the legal proceedings that followed, the 1st Earl was forced to abandon his claim on the title deeds of Dromana.

John Power, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, is the man to whom the famous Curraghmore Ghost Story is attributed. Nigel de la Poer told it as well as anybody.

“When discussing religious doubts with a Miss. Hamilton, they agreed that the first to die should appear to the survivor and declare what was the true religion. The lady, who had married Sir Tristam Beresford, 3rd Bart, was startled one night by the apparition of the earl, who informed her of his death (14 October 1693) and that “the revealed religion is the only one by which we can be saved”, and predicted her remarriage, the number of her children etc… and her death in childbirth at the age of 47. She, being incredulous of the reality of the vision, allowed him to touch her wrist, though warned that it would be irreparably scarred. The apparition did so and “for evermore that lady wore a riband on her wrist”. She died on 23rd February 1712 on her 47th birthday which, from a mistake about the year of her birth, she thought she had passed”.

John died aged just 28 on 14 October 1693, exactly 3 years to the day after his father’s death.

James Power, 3rd Earl of Tyrone (1667-1704)

 

James Power was the younger brother of John Power, 2nd Earl of Tyrone and second son of Richard Power, 1st Earl, by his wife Ruth Pypho. He was born during the reign of Charles II, in whose administration his father had been a significant player. During the Williamite Wars, James fought for James II but, after the fall of Waterford on 21 July 1690, he insisted he had only fought for the Jacobites because he had been “forced by the severity of his father“. His submission to King William ensured that he was neither outlawed nor indicted. Following the premature death of his brother John, aged 28, on 14 October 1693, exactly 3 years to the day after his father’s death, James succeeded as 3rd Earl of Tyrone. The previous Christmas he had wed Anne Rickard, eldest daughter and co-heir of Andrew Rickard of Dangan Spidoge, County Kilkenny, by his wife Anne Hooke, daughter and heiress of Rev Thomas Hooke DD.

His reputation may still have been in some doubt at this point as he was, after all, still a Jacobite veteran. However, in 1697 he received a Pardon under the Great Seal and he served as Governor of Waterford from 1697 until his death in 1704.

In 1700, the 3rd Earl commissioned the construction of the present house at Curraghmore on the site of the original castle. It is rather astonishing to think that less than 50 years earlier, his family had been living off a Cromwellian subsidy of just 20 shillings a week.

In his will, the 3rd Earl called for the construction of a free school “in imitation of the school at Eton in England“. One wonders if this influenced his descendant, Commissioner Beresford, co-founder of Saint Columba’s College in Dublin.

 

Colonel John Power

 

Edmund de la Poer’s signature.

The bookplate of Edmund De La Poer of Gurteen, with the family war cry.

The 3rd Earl had no sons and so on his premature death in August 1704, both the Viscounty and Earldom expired. The titles then devolved upon his cousin Colonel John Power but as this man had been outlawed and attainted for his support of the Jacobites, they were deemed extinct. Colonel Power nevertheless styled himself Baron Le Power and Coroghmore after the 3rd Earl’s death. He had served as Mayor of Limerick during the siege of the city by King William’s army and was duly attainted in 1688. He later returned to England where Queen Anne gave him some financial assistance. He was allegedly murdered by one of his own servants during a visit to Paris in August 1725.

John’s younger brother Henry Power was baptised on 17 April 1699. He later went to England where he petitioned unsuccessfully to be recognised as heir to the Earl of Tyrone’s estates after his brother’s murder. He sat on King George I’s Gentleman privy Chamber in 1726 but by 1733 he had gone insane and he died unmarried on 5 May 1742. After his death, the Barony passed to distant cousins, the Barony not being assumed until 1920 when Major John William Rivallon de la Poer of Gurteen, County Waterford petitioned the Crown for recognition as Baron Le Power and Corroghmore. In 1922, the House of Lords Committee for Privileges agreed that were it not for the attainder Major de la Poer would indeed be the rightful holder of the title. For more on De la Poer of Gurteen, see here.

 

Catherine Power, Lady Beresford

 

Catherine Power was the only child of James Power, 3rd Earl of Tyrone, by his wife, Anne (née Rickard). Her father left the entirety of the Power lands and possessions to her on his death in August 1704. He also specified that should she die without issue, his trustees were to erect and maintain a convenient building “in or near the College of Dublin which shall be called Powers Hall.

However, Catherine did not die without issue. She married Sir Marcus Beresford, only son and heir of Sir Tristram Beresford. story. In 1720 Sir Marcus was created Baron Beresford and Viscount Tyrone. In 1746, Marcus was created Earl of Tyrone. It was the third time the Earldom of Tyrone had been created. Their son George Beresford was created Marquess of Waterford in 1789. The story of the Beresfords is told here.

 

Tyrone Power, Dead at 44, Twice

Tyrone Power (1913-1958), best known for his swashbuckling performances such as Zorro, was something of a George Clooney prototype.

 

The celebrated stage actor Tyrone Power (1797-1841) was born near Kilmacthomas, County Waterford. on 2 November 1797. Raised in Wales, he made his name on the London stage taking on comic Irish begorragh parts. By the 1830s, was packing out houses all the way to America, where he is said to have purchased the land that would later be occupied by Madison Square Garden, New York. On St. Patrick’s Day 1841 he was returning across the Atlantic from a property searching expedition to Texas when the ship, The President, the largest steamer then afloat, was caught in a gale and all aboard were lost.

He was a great-grandfather of the Ohio-born film actor Tyrone Power (1913-1958), pictured, best known for his swashbuckling performances such as Zorro. Curiously the younger Tyrone Power was also destined to die at 44 following a heart attack in Madrid.
*****

This history was originally presented to Samantha Beresford and Alice Beresford in 2001 as a light account of the family.

 

Endnotes

 

[1] There are multiple theories as to where the name came from. “The origin of this terrible jumble is simply the desire of a family as old as the conquest of Ireland to repudiate their purely personal surname and to claim for it a territorial origin”. The concept here is that the name Power or Poer quite simply meant “the poor man”, which was either a derogatory name given by others or an approving nod to family members taking the vow of poverty. Canon W. H. Jones, the vicar of Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, claimed in a pamphlet published in 1855 that the name derived from the Latin “puer”, in the sense of “knight” or “cadet” of a gentle family. Also put forward was that the name derived from the old French word Pohier, meaning either a native of Poix in Picardy, (around Amiens), a province in northern France, or simply “herald”.

[2] In the genealogies of the “Prieure de Sion” documents, for instance, there is mention of Arnaud, Count of Poher, who sometime between 894 and 896 intermarried with the Plantard family – the direct descendants, supposedly, of Dagobert II.

[3] Remarks From Oliver Meert (Jan 2014)
Dear Sir,
It is funny that the only heiress of Sir Roger POER, lord of Power-Hayes (Devon) was Cecilia married to William DUKE.
Before that marriage around 1450, there was already a Thomas DUKE who ravishes before 1356 Cecilia, wife of Robert POER (liv. Power-Hayes).
Thomas DUKE was a nephew of Thomas DUKE born as Thomas DUX or “de HERTOGHE” in Brussels around 1315/20 and spoke Flemish …
Before the start of the campaigns in Northern-France of King Edward III, Thomas, Clayton and William DUKE were the most important money lenders.
Kind regards from Brussels.
O. Meert.