Turtle Bunbury

Writer and Historian

Random Quote
Random Date






image title

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 1669. 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. Sometimes, after heavy rains, the stream rises to the surface in the guise of a river and reminds me that our landscape is riddled with secrets. Close to the confluence of the stream and the Dereen 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, which appears to translate as 'laundry' or 'wash'. The monastery 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.

image title

Above: A soundless underground stream flows east from Oldfort for half a mile before tumbling into the River Dereen. Sometimes,
after heavy rains, the stream rises to the surface in the guise of a river and reminds me that our landscape is riddled with secrets.
The Tobinstown ringfort is just up to the right of where the water widens in this shot. The stream then swings left - or north -
across the Tobinstown Field and tumbles into a channel cut through the triangualar wood between the Forge Field and the Keeper's
Cottage. It runs unerground along the northern edge of the Forge Field and then emerges in the east belt, just before it runs through
a tunnel beneath the road, just south of the Laundry House, and powers onto the Dereen. Was it much wetter in the age when the
ringfort was built?


Haroldstown Dolmen


The River Dereen rises at Knockanana (between the Lug and Slievereagh, just east of Keadeen), in a bog behind my friend Martin Kelly's family 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. I have sometimes been tempted to bring my daughters on a kayak down the Dereen from Acaun but a friend who knows the river much better than I advises that it is not for a novice group as there are a lot of low trees and obstacles, making it quite dangerous. The river comes up fast during rainy weather and looks especially spectacular in full flood. An ottter was spotted on its banks in 2018.

During the course of its journey, the river flows beneath Acaun Bridge, near to the Haroldstown Dolmen. Standing on a ridge overlooking the Dereeen, the dolmen comprises a huge flat slab 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!?
[NB: I also saw an 1804 reference to Thomas Bunbury’s lands at Toberstown [sic]!]

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, beside the Haroldstown Dolmen. 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.

The Slíghe Chualann, one of the five great highways of ancient Ireland, ran from Dublin to Bray and then veered west to Kilteel, near Rathmore, County Kildare, where the Record of Monuments and Places suggests there was a prehistoric barrow on a hilltop within Kilteel Wood that functioned as an inauguration site. [The barrow is marked as a substantial enclosure on Alexander Taylor's map of 1783 and as a 'fort' on John Taylor's 1816 map.] According to Colm Ó Lochlainn's 'Roadways in ancient Ireland’ (1940), the authoritative source, the highway then became an ‘Itinerary coinciding with Slighe’ that continued south along the west side of the Wicklow Mountains from Ballymore Eustace via Dunlavin, Baltinglass and Rathvilly to Tullow, presumably following the River Slaney, which would bring it very close to Rathmore (Carlow), Knocknagan and several other royal residences. (One feels this must have been the original N81 and certainly Baltinglass was a prominent place in the Bronze Age with hill forts all around). It then cut across from Tullow to Din Righ / Old Leighlin in County Carlow, before continuing down the River Barrow by Old Ross towards Waterford. The road would have been especially busy during times of war with hostings of warriors and armies on the move, as well as the occasional cattle raid. Henry Morris seems to suggest it followed the line of the present-day N81 from Ballymore Eustace via Dunlavin, Baltinglass and Rathvilly to Tullow, [Morris, Henry. “The Slighe Cualann.” The Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, vol. 8, no. 1, 1938, pp. 113–129.]

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.


image title

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. The millrace is certainly man-made and the weir is clearly visible, but a bit reduced.
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. A bit up-stream, level with the churchyard, is
what we suspect to be an eel-weir, which shows when the water level is low, although it could simply be stepping stones.

image title


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!'

.image title


Rath Field Ringfort

The Lisnavagh estate is - or was - bordered by ringforts, including Knocknagan (now gone) 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!



Tobinstown, or 'Baile Tóibín’, means the townland or homestead of Tobin and apparently refers to the descendants of a Norman by name of William de St Aubyn, who arrived in the early 13th century and became Lord of Stamacharty (Stonecarthy, barony of Kells). The family were the subject of an article entitled “Tobin of Killaghy: The Line of Descent from 1514 to 1708” by Hubert Dayrell Gallwey, published in ‘The Irish Genealogist’ (5/2, Nov., 1975), pp. 190-193). He wrote: ‘The family appears in Ireland about 1204 under the name de St Aubin or, in Latin documents, de Sancto Albino. In following the records down the centuries, we see the form St Aubin becoming Taubin and finally Tobin or Tobyn. From the beginning, the main area of settlement of this family was south-east Tipperary, in what became the barony of Slieveardagh, with a small spill over into the barony of Kells, County Kilkenny. The leading family of the name was established at Killaghy, half a mile north west of the modern village of Mullinahone. Here they built the castle, had manorial rights and were known as Lords of Cumsy or Cumpshinagh.’

H. D. Gallwey adds that the first six generations of the family in Ireland are recorded in contemporary documents, as set out by E. St John Brooks in his ‘Knight's Fees in Counties Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny’ (page 252-254) so this would be a good book to track down for further information. The Kilkenny-based Franciscan writer John Clyn described the Tobins' as 'a turbulent sect more dreaded by the English than the native Irish’ in the 14th century. From about 1330, H. D. Gallwey says there is 'confusion about the family’ but they appear to have been at Mullinahone, Killamery, Ballaghtobin and Lyrath in County Kilkenny, while many members of the family were transported to Connaught in the 17th century.

Another name of note is Richard de Sancto Albino (Tobin) whose son Thomas claimed to hold the lordship and village of Balymakynwyn in 1270, with 80 (or 160?) acres of land and 30 acres of wood. It appears these lands were granted to Richard de Valle by Dionisia and Roesia, the daughters and heirs of Richard le Noreys. 250 years later, another Richard de Sancto Albino (Tobin) granted lands in Tipperary to Lord Ormonde’s long-serving lawyer, Foulk Comerford (ca 1520-ca 1586) in 1542. The grant was confirmed by James de Sancto Albino (Tobin) in 1543. In 1569/1570, Comerford was granted Tobin lands in Courtneboyle, near Callan.

As well as records below pertaining to Germaine, Toole, Walsh, the Lisnavagh Archives also contain leases from Thomas Bunbury on various parts of Tobinstown, dated 28 September 1801, to Daniel Kelly (6/23), Denis Kelly (6/24), Fergus Byrne (missing), James Byrne (6/25)

In Ambrose Leet’s 'Directory to the Market Towns, Villages, Gentlemen's Seats, and Other Noted Places in Ireland’ (1814) he has Philip Germon [aka Germaine] at Lisnevagh [sic] and Thomas Germon [sic] at Tobinstown.

Operations of the Poor Law. —The Carlow Sentinel has the following remarkable case: - “The townland of Tobinstown, in this county, is the property of Colonel Bunbury, upon which there is not even a single pauper. Adjoining the river Dereen, on the same townland, there are about three roods of land, partly rock, the property of John J. Bagot, Esq., upon which there are no less than 11 cabins, containing a population of about 60 persons. In spring, and during the autum, these poor people obtain employment from the neighboring gentry and farmers and, when out of employment, they are thrown on the workhouse for out-door relief. Now, although this small patch of land belongs to Mr. Bagot, who, we believe, receives very little rent from it, the burden of their support falls on Colonel Bunbury and the ratepayers of the neighborhood within the Carlow union, for the remainder of Mr. Bagot's property in another locality is situate within the Baltinglass union!! (Newry Examiner and Louth Advertiser - 7 February 1849)

In 2019, Carlow County Council purchased the old school building at Tobinstown Cross with a view to making the crossroads safer to traffic. The campaign to improve the junction was spearheaded by Brian O'Donoghue, a Fine Gael councillor from nearby Williamstown.

[NB: Tobinstown is sometimes spelled Tobenstown.]



image title

Above: An eel-weir, or stepping stones, across the River Dereen at Acaun. (Photo: William Dick)

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.

There's plenty of secrets locked away here. Taking it from the Haroldstown Bridge, with the dolmen field on the far side of the bridge, one encounters, in succession, a series of channels (one with with a small pedestrian bridge of granite pillars), a weir, an elevated mound, the outline of a rectanglular dwelling (a castle or for perhaps) and a graveyard, but there are cryptic rocks everywhere, much of it hidden in the bramble and furze. Liam Price, the County Wicklow judge, historian and president of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland (1949-1952) visited Acaun in 1945 and wrote about it as follows in this extract from 'The Liam Price Notebooks, Vol II, p 438’ by Christian Corlett and Mairead Weaver, editors (Duchas, 2002):

23rd June 1945: We crossed the river and looked at the ruins of the ‘monastery’ in Acaun [Co Carlow]. They really consist of a square moated fort (of the Ballyraine or Talbotstown type) with ruins of a small square tower towards the SE side. But on the S especially alterations have been made in the ground at and outside the moat, and it would be necessary to plan the whole thing carefully to see what it was. There is a graveyard to the N of it, overgrown with long grass and ferns: no remains overground in it except probably marking a church.

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.

Acuan was also recorded as Níochán in Irish by logainm.ie ; a 2020 update of the online Irish-English dictionary at focal.ie reveals that ‘níochán’ translates as ‘laundry’ or ‘wash’. This surely brings a new nomenclature to the nearby Laundry House. That said, my father maintains that the Laundry House is so-called simply because it was where all the laundry for the Big House was washed through until, he reckons, the 1940s. There was a large shed on site where the sheets were washed. I found it curious that such a shed was located quite distant from the river, although the Farmyard Stream does run down eastwards not far to the north of the site. (The stream was charmingly diverted to run through part of the Laundry Wood by the present owner of the Laundry House, circa 2018). And yet, as my father also observed, the stream would have been laced with the discharge of large volume of cattle and sheep from throughout the time the laundry was used, so who knows!? Where else did they get the water for the laundry from? Was there a well, or a tank of some kind? When William Dick, the present resident of the Laundry House, began investigatng the name in 2020, he was rather surprised by this interpretation from O’Reilly’s Irish-English Dictionary, with John O’Donovan’s Supplement (Dublin n.d., 1870):

Nightín: a mixture of dog dung, human urine and water, with which the poorer kind of the Irish peasantry use to wash their linen.

Professor Fergus Kelly, the author of 'Early Irish Farming' (Dublin 1997), gave his personal opinion in December 2020: 'I have had a good nose-around in relation to this mystery place-name. I think I would go for the Nigheachan (Níochán) "washing place" theory. Admittedly, there seem to be no other occurrences of this word being used as a place-name and nothing in Hogan's Onomasticon of early place-names. But the word nigheachan is well-attested, and certainly it would suit the shallow section of river shown in your photograph - ideal for washing one's garments. Furthermore, the earliest attestations [as per Liam O'Paircin's study, above] support this interpretation, e.g. Nichan, Nikan, etc. And in general, one attaches more credence to an earlier form. How to explain later spellings such as Acaun, Eckaun? Difficult! In my experience, many Irish place-names come out in very odd spellings when copied by scribes or officials who did not know Irish. The accidental omission of initial N- could explain these later spellings. I cannot see any explanation based on "ath" (long a!) in the meaning ford. I can see no connection with "each" (horse) or "achar" (time). So I vote for "washing place".'

[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?). Jamie Cahalane of the nearby Sawmill House observes: 'The word Nykan sounds distinctly un-Irish to my ears, particularly containing as it does the letter "y" which, along with the letters "v" and "w", is not in the old Irish language alphabet does. It has, to my ear, a more Scandanavian ring to it, like Howth, for example. As the river flows, it isn't a million miles from Waterfjord, Wexfjord or even Naas ... there are no double "a"s in the Irish language either.'

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.’ O'Donovan also referred to it as Áth Cána, which he translated as "Ford of The Tribute". It's also 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."'

Between 1883 and 1886, Michael Comerford, a Carlow-born antiquarian and parish priest of Monasterevan (and Coadjutor Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin from 1888 until his sudden death in 1895) published his three-volume work Collections relating to the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. His substantial chapter on the Parish of Rathvilly builds on Griffith’s Notes and likewise suggests that Acaun derives its name from athan, meaning “a little 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 (or St Maidoc) in around 530AD, which St Onchuo once visited? 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. Also of relevance, Griffiths Notes adds: ‘In the Townland of Knocklishinbeg [5-6km north-east of Acaun] are the ruins of an old Church, called in the Name Book Kilnavrithogue or Kilbracken, the graveyard attached to which is not now used nor are any graves visible. The inhabitants generally pronounce the first name Cill (Kyle) na Britóg; by some it is called Cill na bhFrithóg. The name Kilbracken is the one most commonly used by the people. The walls are forty-four feet long, twenty-three feet wide, and about to the height of three feet remain. They are four feet think and of large granite stones; within them are planted cabbage and deal plants. In the descriptive remarks relating to this place in the Name Book is pencilled: "A well in Tombay (Hacketstown Parish) said to have been connected with this place; said by some of the people that Keating's History of Ireland gives a particular account at this place." Those whom we consulted say they never heard this except from the Surveyors.’

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, or John de Valle) and Hugone le Blound were evidently key players at Acaun in 1303. I imagine de Valle was a kinsman of the de Valle family of Johnstown just east of Carlow. 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.

And how old was the molendini, the mill!? I love the notion that monks, or similar, were using a mill to crush wheat into flour on the banks of the Dereen and then converting that flour into bread. Isn't that the time-honoured process!?

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’. It is notable that he makes no reference to any monastery.

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.

image title

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.



image title

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.

image title

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).

Acaun is mentioned in the Griffith's surveyor's notes p. 144 (entry 464): ‘In Tobinstown Townland are situated the traces of the foundation of Acaun Church (pron. Éacán and Íocán); it appears to have been about twenty feet long. In the old graveyard attached is the upper part of a stone cross sunk in the ground. (The notes refer to a sketch by the surveyors that I would love to see). Also in the same Townland, and very near the above, are the ruins of what is called Acaun Monastery. Little of the walls remain. In the ruins of a square building here, measuring fifteen and a half feet by sixteen, is an arch perhaps of a doorway, but at present the earth is heaped up almost to its top. (There is another sketch of this). Its height above the level of the surrounding land would be about that of a doorway.

Michael Comerford proposed that the church was about 54 feet long by 18 wide and noted that the adjoining grave-yard held ‘the upper part of a stone cross sunk in the ground, and a rude stone vessel, probably a Baptismal font.’ His notes on Acaun Monastery replicated those of the Groffith’s surveyors.

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 20 March 1633. He may well be the Henry Masterson of Co. Wexford referred to in some depositions taken after the 1641 Rebellion.

In September 2019, Williamstown resident Christy Gahan told me a local tale that when the monks of Acaun were driven out during the Reformation, they came to Williamstown and hid a golden spear in the thatch of a house, as well as some other golden artefacts in the skeagh bushes of a small rath. The spear was apparently found many long years later. I know not if this is true. All we can say is that monks once lived at Acaun and then they did not.

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


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 a visit to Acaun in 2010, I espied 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; many have tumbled face-first into the earth. However, 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.

Also, ober 100 years ago, the "Journal of the Association for the Preservation of the Memorials of the Dead" (Vol VI, Issue 1904 -05 - 1906, Carlow, p. 430) included the following details on Acaun Churchyard by Lord Walter FitzGerald:

"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.



There has probably been some from of a bridge across the Dereen at Acaun since the time the dolmen was constructed. Certainly the monks would have required one. 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’. It is notable that he makes no reference to either the dolmen or the monastery. There is said to have been some form of government order passed around 1775, stating that all bridges must be a minimum width of 12 feet. Wise counsels - thank you James Grogan - have surmised that this was perhaps to allow two horse-drawn to pass, or for perhaps a military reasons such as a horse drawn cannon? In his book "Irish Stones Bridges: History and Heritage”, Peter O'Keefe states that the majority of Ireland's bridges were built between 1775 and the 1820s. According to the National Inventory of Architectural Heritage, maintained by the Dept. of Housing, Local Government and Heritage, Acaun Bridge was constructed in about 1800.

The bridge was renovated around 1875 and experienced these roadworks in 1903-1905.

ACAUN BRIDGE. RE-OPENING OF ROADWAY. NOTICE is hereby given that the Roadway over the above bridge on the road from Carlow to Hacketstown is open for traffic. E. T. QUILTON, County Surveyor, Carlow, 7th May, 1903 (Carlow Sentinel, 16 May 1903)

ACAUN - Mr Quilton, County Surveyor, brought under the notice of the Council the condition of Acaun bridge, at present undergoing repairs. He said he found it necessary to get the centre arch stripped and examined. He found it would not be safe to allow traffic to go over it in its present condition and consequently it would have to be stopped for three or four weeks. He would have notices to that effect put up. (Carlow Sentinel - Saturday 8 July 1905)

The central arch had to be reconstructed in 1925 when the County Engineer realised that the road deck was being supported underneath by rotting timbers. He felt it necessary to knock the section out and replace it with a concrete span and new parapets. A detailed look at those parapets indicates this was a standard perhaps modular design for many bridges in the area over similar spans. See here. That section of Acuan Bridge's wall was be replaced by a continual stone wall, circa 2016, along with other sections, as it had been knocked by so many cars and trucks that the concrete rail style became unsafe.

Other similar bridges:

https://goo.gl/maps/6pQZhYAf2M9uL3om8 (Knockloe Bridge on Tullow ro Shillelagh road)
https://goo.gl/maps/2Kuw8NNhxULj3iW4A (Rathglass Bridge on Tullow to Ardattin road)
https://goo.gl/maps/Hxt1dd5muHhM5rUk9 (Rathmore Bridge)
https://goo.gl/maps/MY8cZabiK8Mp7LZK7 (Burrin Street Bridge, Carlow)
https://goo.gl/maps/BkNvN5aiskY16s7B8 (Graiguecullen Bridge, Carlow)


Views from Oldfort

The eastwards view from our house embraces a series of mountains and hills from the lower Wicklow Mountains. By night, Hacketstown reveals itself, rising skywards, as the lights of street, car, bedroom and porch spread their glow.

I think I have identified a bundle of these as:

Keadeen (with the well-defined ‘beds' of Finn MacCool, his wife Sadhbh, and their dog, as well as the Glen of Imaal (O’Toole country) behind it, the Dwyer McAllister Cottage … can we see the cairn on its summit on a clear day? Sebastian Barry’s ‘Annie Dunne’ is based around that area.

Lugnaquilla, east of Keadeen, aka 'The Lug' (north-east through trees) with Slievemaan in front. Lugnaquilla is the highest mountain in Ireland outside of Kerry, as well as the source of the River Slaney. The Archival Records section of Logainm.ie gives us the name 'Logney O’Nill' in 1617 and ‘Loghnecully’ or ‘Lognecally' in Petty’s 1654 Survey It was spelled as Lugnaquilla on Jacob Nevill’s Map of County Wicklow of 1760. Barry Dalby suggests the name 'Log na Coille', meaning 'hollow of the wood, derives from the great gash / hollow of the ‘North Prison’ (a steep glacial corrie) viewed from the Glen of Imaal as the Imaal side was more heavily settled in older times. Liam Price had a theory that the townland of Barravore is a clue to an older name, simply Barr Mhór or the great height. As Barry says: 'This makes sense as, when viewed from any rise in north Carlow, the bulk and size of the slate capped, granite-rooted hill is obvious, even though it’s quite the distance away. For example, drive the Carlow to Bunclody road and where you cross the Nurney ridge, look north on any decent day and it’s very striking as a ‘great height’. The logs or hollows on it are not to be seen from a distance.’ In Edward King’s 'Munimenta Antiqua’ (1799) he records ‘a large Cromlech’ on the summit of 'Lug-naCullach’. In 1806, Mathew Sleater noted that ‘eagles have long dwelt’ in the Lug, and that there was ‘a Cromlech, or kneeling stone’ on its summit. In Wright's Guide to the County of Wicklow (1822 edition, page 94), he describes 'a large stone, resting upon small and low supporters, not unlike a druidical cromlech,’ which he calls Pierce’s Table. Barry adds: 'It’s most likely that the survey team associated with the OS primary triangulation of the 1830s destroyed what was there to build their cairn and marking pole etc. There’s an account of similar destruction/ reconstruction at Slieve Donard, Co.Down.’ The large stone summit cairn, topped by a triangulation pillar, stands today. That said, Alexander Strahan's Contemporary Review (1867, Volume 5, p. 369) suggests the table was ‘… upset, perhaps by some of the '98 yeomanry, who relieved in this way the monotony of desecrating old burying grounds and wrecking disused churches. They have the credit of pulling down the fine cromlech called Pierce's Table, which now forms the base of the sappers and miners cairn on the top of Lugnaquilla.’ However, given that there’s no record of it being trashed by Wright, King and Sleator, it was surely ‘upset' post-1822!?

[On a glorious, crystal clear Sunday morning in the spring of 2021, I climbed the Lug with my sister Sasha, her husband Tom, our friend Angus and a quartet of terriers. We started from Fenton’s pub, near a monument to Michael O’Dwyer, and it took about five hours to get to the summit and back. It’s a long trip, but surprisingly gentle and I was quite comfortable traversing the terrain in my Nike runners, sidestepping most of the boggy patches along the way. There are several fairly steep parts where talking to one another becomes trickier, but it’s really nothing overly dramatic. The views, on the other hand, are predictably sensational. The Glen of Imaal keeps growing to the west, with Keadeen, Brusssellstown, Baltinglass Hill, the Sugar Loaf (the Donard one) and such like around it. At one point we were able to identify Eagle Hill and the likely positioning of Lisnavagh. On the summit itself, I sat on the slab on what I suppose was once Pierce’s Table and beheld Poulaphouca (looking like a mighty Amazonian river rather than a manmade lake), the Hill of Allan, the Slieve Blooms, the ghost of Slievenamon, the Sugar Loaf (the Bray one) and the Irish Sea (hallucinating the outlines of Welsh mountains on the horizon). Angus was also able to show me where Glenmalure runs, right the way to Croghanmoira, the mountain I behold from my office. We practically skipped down the hill afterwards. A magical day.]

Croaghanmoira (664 metres, behind Aughavannagh, with its distinctive "pyramidal” profile and probably named ‘Moira’ for Francis Rawdon-Hastings, 1st Marquess of Hastings, the Earl of Moira, who owned the nearby lands of Greenan; I think Glenmalure (O’Byrne country) is to its north, and there be gold in them rivulets. His County Down house, Montalto, was caught in the middle of the battle of Ballynahinch in 1798. He died in 1824 Malta and has a rather fabulous tomb in Hastings Garden, Valetta. Not all of him is in Valetta. According to Wikipedia: 'He died aboard HMS Revenge and following his directions his right hand was cut off and buried with his wife when she died; this wish was complied with, and it now rests clasped with hers in the family vault at Loudoun Kirk.' Before I met her, Ally acquired a print called 'A Man of Importance' in a London bookshop I think … many years later, I deduced that it was himself. And now here I am looking at his mountain having narrowly missed him on my war tours to Ballynahinch and Valetta … Thomas Kemmis purchased the Ballinacor Estate, comprising Croghanmoira and lands in the area around Greenan, from Lord Moira in 1805. Will Goff advises that Balliancor covers approximately the East and South to Westerly side of Croghanmoira, the other half belonging to Coillte. He has been to the summit numerous times, always on motorbikes, and says there is a concrete triangulation point at the top with spectacular views. The best place to go to access the mountain is Mucklagh Bridge.

Askanagap - Bog of the Stumps, which may be blocked from our view by Ballycumber, where there was a deadly avalanche in 1867, the ruins of the Mulhall house stand yet.

Cushbawn Hill, with Aughrim and Mizen Head in a line behind it - Cushbawn could derive from ‘Caisleán’, as in castle, being the highest hill in the group here and apparently known as The Rock - the Race to the Rock is run annually.

Knockananna, where the Derreen rises.

Eagle Hill By night we can see the cross radiate its burnt orange halo across. For reasons that have become somewhat sketchier in recent years, the cross makes me think of Elvis. ('We learn from Eagle-hill, near Hacket's-town, Co. Carlow, that there is now living there, one Jane Reany, a Woman of upwards 100 Years of Age, she spins with Ease a Dozen and an half Yarn every Day, retains her Senses equal in the Year of her Age, and can see to read the smalleft Print without Spectacles.' Saunders's News-Letter - Friday 22 April 1774).


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 name ‘Ballybit’ is mentioned in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds (1328). The townland’s Irish name Baile Bheit suggests it belonged to a family called Bett or Bette. Baile Bheit Mór (648 acres) includes the Lodge Field and the Old Fox Covert at Lisnavagh, as well as, I think, Knocknegan). To the north, Baile Bheit Beag (119 acres) runs east between the northern run of the Lodge Field and the outskirts of Rathvilly. Our earliest record in the PRONI-indexed Lisnavagh Archives comes from 16 May 1741 with a lease from Viscount Allen to John Drought of Ballybitt [sic]. Next is a conveyance, dated 5 March 1744/45 from Viscountess Allen to Thomas Bunbury 'of the lands of Ballybitt and Tucomin, Co. Carlow.’ The Lisnavagh Archives includes a 'map and survey of the lands of Ballybitt and Tucomin containing 448 acres one perch, by Terence Lyons, August 9th 1746 ...', with the comment ‘Who I take to be a very bad surveyor and knows nothing of the matter, J.B.’ A map was made at this time by William Maple (connected to Lady Allan and General G Caulfield) but I am unsure where this map is now.

In 1773, Thomas Bunbury settled the lands of Ballybit (along with 'the whole lands of Tobinstown, the lands of Lisnavagh ...the tythes and glebes of Graney and the one sixth of Mortarstown' on his son, William Bunbury, following the latter’s marriage to Katherine Kane. The Lisnavagh Archives refer to a missing deed, dated 12 January 1775, relating to Ballybitt [sic] executed by William, pursuant to his father's will.

In 1796 Thomas Bunbury (son of the above William) advertised 463 acres of Ballybit (‘part of the estate’) to let, alongside 680 acres of Tobinstown. The Lisnavagh Archives refer to missing leases on parts of Ballybitt [sic], dated 28 September 1801, from Thomas Bunbury to Patrick Leary; to Mark Kehoe; to Thomas Elliott; to Timothy Gorman; to George and William Giltrap; to Francis Bryan and to Patrick Lowry. The above named George Giltrap was targeted in the wake of the 1798 Rebellion when his daughter, trying to avoid rape, was fatally wounded. George’s twenty-year-old son was killed in a similar attack. Clothes, a saddle and bridle were also stolen, for which he sought £3-17 compensation after the rising. Some of the Giltraps are buried at St Mary's, Rathvilly. Also of note, theer were Elliott's who lived around Tobinstown in my father's time and one worked at the Lisnavagh Sawmill. My father also recalls a Mr Leary who lived over the hill above Denny's Turn, east of Germaine's, on the western edge of Williamstown.

On the 1835 survey, the road runs from Tobinstown Cross passed Oldfort and the Tobinstown rath (the road appearing further south into the present-day Burgess farm on the 1835 survey than it is today) to Bunny Lane, past the Knocknagan Rath ... looking at this road on the 1840 map, it seems to be aimed at Rathmore. The Green Lane also appears quite prominent on the 1840 map.

Missing from the Lisnavagh Archives, but mentioned, is a lease dated 7 May 1815 from Thomas Bunbury on part of the lands of Ballybitt to William Hopkins for 3 lives at a rent of £117.17s.10d. The archives (7/11A) also include a draft surrender, dated 30 Nov. 1824, from William Hopkins to Thomas Bunbury of the lease of 7 May 1815 of part of Ballybitt, and refer to a (missing) lease, dated 1 Dec. 1824, from Thomas Bunbury to Abraham Hopkins of Ballybitt. Also of relevance is a (missing) counterpart lease, dated 15 Aug. 1857, from Colonel Kane Bunbury to William Hopkins of Ballybitt.

In November 1861, the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland reported on the discovery of a perfectly preserved reddish Bronze Age sepulchral urn on the Ballybit estate of Colonel Kane Bunbury. The 5-inch high Ballybit Urn was located under a granite boulder, weighing nearly 2 tons, approximately 4 inches under the surface. I am unsure where the Ballybit Urn was found but its hard not to take renewed interest in the large rocks at the Ballybit end of the Old Fox Covert and the adjoining Little Lodge Field where the horses graze. A microscopic examination of the interior found traces of ash encrusted on the bottom of the urn suggesting it was connected to a cremation. The urn was found by Thomas Eddy, known as ‘the Cornish Miner’, who had been employed by the builder Joseph F. Lynch to cleave stones at Ballybit. Mr Lynch presented the urn to Colonel Bunbury who in turn presented it to his estate manager, James Smyth, who, as it happens, was quite possibly the Colonel’s illegitimate son. When James Smyth died, he bequeathed the vessel to Carlow auctioneer Robert Bell who in turn gifted it to his brother-in-law Mr. Hobson who took it to New York. After his death, Mrs. Hobson brought it back to Ireland where the Rathvilly schoolmaster Edward O’Toole alerted the Irish-language poet Liam S. Gógan (1891–1979) of its existence. At thus time, Mr. Gógan was assistant keeper of antiquities in the National Museum of Ireland. According to Mr. O’Toole, ‘ he immediately waited on Mr. Bell’ and that ‘gentleman very kindly presented it to the National Museum [on 24th July 1928] where it now is known as the Ballybit Pot.’ The Ballybit Pot is now at the Carlow County Museum.

The back entrance to the Lisnavagh estate is one of the most identifiable parts of Ballybit today, albeit closed and somewhat forlorn today. In my childhood, the gate lodge was home to Aidan Murphy, who we used to visit from time to time. Our cousin Alan McClintock lived across the road in Ballybit House, later home to the Bolgers. During the 1980s and 1990s, I recall just two roadside cottages between the gate lodge and the turning down ‘Bunny Lane’ to the Gahan’s Garden Centre. These were possibly Victorian or Edwardian era contructs and they were both given away by my father circa 1970 - one to Jim Murphy (brother to Aidan), which later became home to another brother Bob Murphy; the other to Betty Scott. Bob and Betty both appear in the Vanishing Ireland books. The Murphy's sister Molly also built a house near Bob's. A bungalow came later, followed by the Kennedy home in the 1980s. Mrs Kennedy is a daughter of the late Dan Byrne who worked at Lisnavagh. Patsy Lawlor's house was built circa 1991. Ballybit Nursery was opened circa 1993 by Olive Treacy but has been closed since the Coronavirus epidemic began.

On Tuesday, 19th ult. (says the Carlow Sentinel), while Thomas Eddy, known in this country as "the Cornish Miner,” was engaged by Mr. Joseph F. Lynch, builder, cleaving stones at Ballybit, on the estate of Colonel Bunbury, he discovered, under a granite boulder, weighing nearly two tons, a Cinerary Urn, in a state of perfect preservation, about four feet from the surface. It resembles in shape the frustrum of a cone; accurate in its proportion. It stands on a flat stern, or base, two inches in width, presenting the appearance of an elegantly-formed bowl, with three projecting ribs upon the extreme surface. It is covered with curvineal and vertical scorings, displaying as a whole, a curious and elaborate specimen of ancient Celtic pottery older, if not cotemporaneous with the earliest discovered remains of Etruscan Art. It has no flange, like those discovered in 1853 at Ballon Hill, —engravings of which may be seen on reference to the Kilkenny Archaeological Society. It stands six inches in height,; its circumference at the top is 15 inches, but we have no evidence to show, when discovered, that its contents indicated the result of a process of cremation, although when the interior was examined with a microscope, it appears that some fine ashes were encrusted on the bottom of the Urn. It was formed of the best brick clay, moulded by the hand, and then properly baked; and it is now as sound and fresh in its appearance (without a flaw) as it was when it left the hands of the ancient Celtic potter—possibly two thousand years ago. It is intended by Mr. Lynch to present it to the landlord, Colonel Bunbury. In the neighbourhood of Ballybit—and on the same estate may be seen a Cromlech, of hexagonal form, rudely carved at the top. It was noticed, together with the Cromlech at Browne’s Hill, some sixty years since, by the celebrated Captain Grose, in the Antiquities, and is worthy of a visit. We cannot avoid stating that the students of primaeval antiquity should be thankful to such men as Eddy, for the careful preservation of such ancient remains of Celtic Art, as they tend to throw a light on the domestic history of the ancient inhabitants Ireland.
(The Dublin Builder of 1 December 1861)

The Rochdale Observer (10 Sept 1870) tells the story of a Major Carroll of Ballybet [sic] who lived with ‘his widowed daughter in a pretty cottage near Knocknagan.’



Knocknagan (sometimes spelled Knocknegan or Knocknagann) is not a townland name and does not feature on John O'Donovan's works on logainm.ie, the official placename register. It's likely Irish name would be Cnoc na Gann, meaning 'Hill of the Gann' but, as James Grogan observed, the Irish-English online dictionary shows 'gann' to mean ‘scarce’, or phrases/words similar, and yet this is a fertile land, with nothing scarce about it. Another possibility, writes James, is Cnoc na gCon, meaning Hill of the Hounds, but, as James observes ‘that would have more easily carried that more define pronunciation as Knocknagon, Knocknagawn or Knocknagun.’ James also wondered if the name might be a play on the surname Gahan (popular in the area, and pronounced locally without the 'h' as 'Gan', meaning the hill was Gahan's Hill or, developing an Irish language syntax of the spoken local pronunciation, the Hill of Gahan, i.e. Cnoc na Gann.) [Barry Griffin's excellent study of surname proliferation in Ireland from data in 1901 and 1911 census shows the extents of the Gahans.]

In 2021, James Grogan noted: ‘Curiously, the ringfort was not on the very top of that hill as just north of it was a spot height 435 marked by a triangle for the cartographer's triangulation station, to the east of John O'Gorman's house … The map show it was a earthwork oval-shaped creation, the rounder edge on the north, going through the present road and into the field opposite Mrs. O'Gorman's Knocknagann House. The other side seems to have the same alignment was her present day driveway.’

The Knocnknagan rath is no more although, as stated, its shape may survive in the curve of the avenue approaching the farmhouse. Directly north-west of the house, across what we call Bunny Lane, is a small, elevated, bramble-covered knoll in a field. This may also hark back to distant ages although it could feasibly be a construct of any century. This clump of trees has featured on all maps back to the 1835 survey and, even though all the ditches have been cleared, it continues to stand in the middle of the present field. Is it simply a fox covert or what's its significance? It seems to have a circular thing within a slightly roundy-rhomboid shape. 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.

In 1807, £13 5 shillings and ten pence was granted to Benjamin Bunbury, Thomas Elliott and John Donohue to repair 55 perches (267 metres) between Tobinstown bridge [ie: Knocknagan Bridge] and William McKenna’s house on the ‘lands of Ballybit.’ (Grand Jury presentments, Spring Assizes 1807). McKenna’s house appears to be on the site of the Ballybit Nurseries (which closed in 2021) and is the only building in that range from the Bridge on the 1829-42 maps.

[Griffith's lists Thomas Elliott as the sole lessor of the entire Ballykilduff Lower townland to four members of the Dempsey family. That townland lies immediately south of Acuan Bridge and holds the Haroldstown Dolmen.]

Ambrose Leet’s Directory to the Market Towns, Villages, Gentlemen's Seats, and Other Noted Places in Ireland (1814) states that Knocknagan was the residence of a Robert Shepard Esq. (See here). The Carlow Sentinel of Saturday 9 August 1834 carried the following notice:

Lessee of Thomas Bunbury a. Edward Nolan,
TO BE LET, for Six Months, pending the Equity of Redemption in this Case, All That and Those, that Part of the Lands of LISNEVAGH, called KNOCKNAGAN. and Part of TOBINSTOWN, containing 235 A. 1R. 20p., plantation measure, more or less, as late in the possession of JOHN NOWLAN, deceased, his Undertenants or Assignee, situate In the Barony of Rathvilly, and County of Carlow. Application (if by letter Post-paid) to ROBERT EUSTACE. Esq., Newstown, Tullow ; or Mr. WILLIAM ELLIOTT, Plaintiff's Attorney. Racroge, Carlow. The Tenant will be required to give security for payment of the Rent.

In the North West Passage of Lisnavagh hangs a framed 1835 map of 'part of the lands of Lisnavagh and Tobinstown called Knocknagan ..., held by Michael Germaine, the estate of Thomas Bunbury Esq. ..., [surveyed by] William Marshall, April 1835.' Knocknagan House is pictured on the map. The present Knocknagann House comprises two separate houses built over two different periods. The original older house was built to the rear of the present house (eastern side), a low, thatched dwelling with very low, almost impossible, doorways inside. I believe this was knocked in the 20th century to make way for the newer house, which replicates the design of the Bolger family home at Kilmagarvoge (where Thomas Bunbury of Kill once lived) on the Carlow side of McGraths' Cross.

In 1826, a year after his father John's death, Michael Germaine was listed with 63 acres in Lisnevagh in the Title Applotment Books. When did he take up Knocknagan? As Kaye Cole relates, this branch of the Germaine family had an especially sad time - Michael's wife Eliza (nee Hyland) died in 1841, followed by his sons John and Edward in 1842 and Michael himself, aged 47, in 1843. He was survived by 6-year-old Margaret (who may have married John McMahon of Lisnavagh) and 4-year-old Michael (who went to Australia and became known as Jack Hyland). See more on the Germaine family here.

By the 1850s, Knocknagan had been taken up by the Salter family who held land on adjoining plots in Tobinstown and Ballybit. Griffith's Valuations shows the adjoining plot 1 in Tobinstown and plot 7 in Lisnevagh as held then by Peter Salter. (The townland boundary between Lisnevagh [sic] and Tobinstown ran right through Knocknagan whatever settlement was there in ancient times was neither owned nor subsumed into one or the other.) Their kinsmen included the Hopkins, Burland, Keppel, Fennell and Jones families. Another related family of Hopkins owned most, if not all, of the townland of Tuckamine, now (2021) held by Michael Leonard.

John Salter of Ballybit narrowly avoided being murdered in Ballybit in 1841, as per this account published in the Carlow Sentinel and reprinted by the Statesman and Dublin Christian Record on 24 August 1841:

"Conspiracy to Assassinate a Respectable Protestant Farmer
On Monday evening last, while a man named Cummins, a herd, was inspecting his master’s (Mr. John Salter’s) cattle, on the lands of Ballybit, he was suddenly'pounced upon by two men from behind a ditch, and knocked down by a blow of a bludgeon. After beating him till he was almost in a state of insensibility, they then cut off' one of his cars with a sharp knife, while one of them deliberated whether he would run him through the body. He, however, commenced deliberately to sever the head from the body, and had actually made a large incision on the back of the neck, when the other rulhan prevented him, saying, never mind ; he has got enough for breahintf his oath, and putting his master on his guard.” These men, who were strangers, employed for the committal of this murderous outrage, then left the spot, and proceeded in the direction of Tullow, leaving their victim bleeding and insensible, within forty yards of his own house. On the following day the poor man, who is a Roman Catholic, was visited John Whelan, Esq., Rath, who took his depositions, and as yet have not learned whether any steps have been taken that would lead to the digeovery of the villains who committed this inhuman outrage on Cummins, of whose recovery we fear there are but slight hopes. This poor man’s crime was his fidelity to his Protestant master, who had been doomed to die by the O’Connellitcs a few days previous to the late election, a conspiracy having been entered into to assasinatc him, and from which he escaped through the merciful interposition of Providence. It appears that Mr. Salter visited the lands of Ballybit on particular days, it being a grazing farm in the care of Cummins, his herd, ami upon one of these days it was in contemplation to assassinate him, as the following facts fully prove:—A few days before the election, while poor Cummins was walking over the farm he discovered two men lying in wait inside a ditch, in a position which commanded the road by which Mr. Salter approached his farm. Immediately on the discovery they rushed upon Cummins with pistols, knocked him down, placed him on his knees, and swore him not only not to give the slightest intelligence to Mr. Salter what he had witnessed, but to use his best exertions to inveigle him into the angle in which they lay in wait. The poor man was no sooner permitted to escape than he despatched a special messenger, by a different route, to acquaint Mr. Salter with what had happened. The messenger met Mr. Salter on the road, riding towards the very spot where the hired murderers (supposed to be Kilkenny men), were waiting for their prey, when he turned back, and, through the providence of God, escaped the death intended for him by the Ribbonmen, or O’Connell Thugs. It was for this that Cummins’s life was attempted—for the "perjury” he committed bywarning his Protestant master to avoid the murderous bullet. Mr. Salter is a highly respectable tenant of Colonel Bruen. There is too much reason to apprehend that some of the priests are countenancing these atrocities. Down to Sunday last these orators were hurling their maledictions at the heads of all, whether male or female, who, even to the fourth generation, had the "misfortune" to be connected with those who voted against Mr. O’Connell. Black lists are read from the altars, and men are marked out for assassination publicly. Behold the result in the case of poor Cummins!
On the same night some of the O’Connellites put out the eye of a horse, the property of one of Colonel Bruen’s tenants, whose only crime was, that he voted for his landlord.
On Sunday last Mr. John Fenlon, a respectable Roman Catholic, was denounced from the altar by a priest in the neighbourhood of Newtownbarry, for voting for Colonel Bruen. This scion of Maynooth stated, "he had no rascal in the parish, but there was one in Myshall parish that no one should deal with, speak to, or to hold any communication with, either in buying or selling. He did not wish to mention his name, but they all knew he was a roadmaker.” He advised his children to be turned out of the school, and on next day the schoolmaster turned them home in accordance with the advice of this minister of peace, who thus prostituted his functions to gratify his political animosity against a respectable man."

Peter Salter (1830-1912) of Knocknagann [sic] was a son of John Salter and Sarah Keppel. He had a brother William and three sisters Alicia, Sarah and Jean. Peter Salter was at Knocknagan from as early as 1853 when he was married at Kilpipe, County Wexford, to Jane Lee, daughter of John Lee of Wexford. (Limerick Chronicle, 7 December 1853). They had four children - John Lee Salter (b. 1856), Sarah Alicia Salter (b. 1857), Elizabeth Anna Salter (b. 1861) and A.N. Other (died 1911). The Lisnavagh Archives refer to a missing lease, dated 1 Mar. 1854, from Colonel Kane Bunbury to Peter Salter of Ballybitt, and a missing counterpart lease between the same two men, dated 15 Aug. 1857, for part of Lisnavagh. Peter won Best Draught Mare at the County of Carlow Agricultural Show in Bagenalstown in September 1869, and he was also at Knocknagan when Slater’s Directory was published in 1894. Jane Salter died at Knocknagan House on 23 October 1883 ‘after a painful and lingering illness, which she bore with Christian patience’ aged 58. (Carlow Sentinel, 27 October 1883). John Lee Salter was a Conservative and George Hawkins told me he was 'put out of' his lands at Ballybit. In 1895, a case came before the Land Commission regarding matters between John Lee Salter and Lord Rathdonnell but I am unsure if that connects to this eviction!? (See here, page 54).

On 18 December 1913, Murphy Bros, Auctioneers, of Tullow, held an auction of ‘140 acres of prime grazing lands in suitable divisions’ on behalf of representatives of the late P. Salter ‘at Lisnavagh, Tobinstown and Ballybit’. John Lee Salter died at Knocknagann, unmarried on 16 April 1936. It is said that the last Salter to own the property was a second son with little interest in farming who spent much of his time in Dublin, but I am unsure of that was John Lee Salter ... In 1936, the Land Commission was contemplating the acquisition of 'the estate at present held by 'the representatives of the late John Salter, Tobinstown ... for division among local uneconomic holders and landless men’, including 'the resumption for local division of a holding of some 90 acres in the townland of Ballybit Big.’ They were also looking at the holdings of William Hopkins, Ballybit, at this time, again 'for division among local uneconomic holders and landless men.’

Peter's brother William Salter (1838-1910) of Ballybit married Wexford-born Elizabeth Burland (1847-1937) and was father to John William Salter (1868-1914) who married Elizabeth Fennell. Aged 62 at the time of the 1901 census, William's address is given as Knocknagan so was he in the main house? He was living with his wife Elizabeth and their only child, John William Salter, along with two servants, both Catholic, namely 70-year-old Michael Murray (cannot read) and 17-year-old Mary Brennan. ‘John Salter, Knocknagan’ is recorded at funeral of Thomas Griffith of Newtown House in 1908. William Slater died 'at Ballybit' on 10 December 1910, aged 72. By the time of the 1911 census, House 1, Ballybit Big, was home to John William Salter, a 43-year-old bachelor farmer, Church of Ireland, and his widowed mother, Elizabeth, now 60. John William Salter died in 1914 unmarried at the age of 46. His mother Elizabeth died at Knocknagann on 1 December 1937 and is almost certainly the elderly Mrs Salter of Knocknagann mentioned in the Schools Folklore Collection of 1938. Bartholomew Burland, a 58-year-old Wexford-born bachelor farmer (presumably a brother or cousin of Elizabeth), was staying with them the night the 1911 census was taken.

Peter's sister Alicia Salter (1831-1903) married William Hopkins (1834-1916), not to be confused with the jeweller.

Peter's next sister Jane Salter married Matthew Hopkins.

Peter's youngest sister Sarah Salter (b. 1842) was married at Rathvilly Church on 24 June 1869 by the Rev Quintin Dick Hume, to William Hopkins (1842-1905), eldest son of Thomas Hopkins, Esq. of Dublin. He was part of Hopkins and Hopkins Jewellers of O'Connell Street, Dublin, established 1787, the firm that made the Sam Maguire Cup. The Hopkins family lived at La Valle on the Upper Dargle Road, Bray. William Hopkins’ younger brother Miles Richard Hopkins was born near Tullow in about 1841 and was 70 at the time of the 1911 census, when living at 1 Brighton Terrace, Blackrock, Dublin, with his nieces Martha Hopkins (37) and Olive Hopkins (34). When he died on 20 November 1911, he left part of his library upon trust to Thomas Fitzpatrick, editor and proprietor of the “Leprecaun”, and Arthur Griffith, proprietor of “Sinn Fein”, upon trust to be applied to the 'Society of Irish Journalism and Reporters' as the two men say fit. (This from a statement by MRH’s his nephew John Fisher. (Freeman’s Journal, 20 May 1912; Dublin Daily Express, 10 July 1912). Such a society did not exist so it was applied instead to the Irish Journalists’ Association, founded 1909. [The firm was connected to Messrs W and R Hopkins, drapers, whose presmises at 81-82 Grafton Street, was destroyed by fire on 22 March 1861. William's partner is thought to have been his brother, Miles Robert Hopkins. 'W&R Hopkins' put in for a sizeable claim for damage from the 1916 Easter Rising (see here), and more can be read at https://timeline.ie/a-will-proved-a-century-ago-what-can-be-done-online/ Jane Disney Hopkins, daughter of William and Sarah (nee Salter) Hopkins married the Rev. Robert Brown (no ‘e’), who was living at Donabate, Co. Dublin, at the time of their wedding. The Hopkins were alson in Ballybit (see above) while members of the family are still living by Broughillstown north of Rathvilly.

image title

Above: Poem emailed to me in 2021. My father tells me that, just beyond the house that Edwin and Nora Burgess built circa 2017, "is a
fine country house where I recall going with my father and maybe others as a child to purchase a hunter. Following successful sale the
horse was called after the owner - Keogh or Kehoe.' On the Lisnavagh side of the country house is the cottage, much expanded, where
Atty Dowling lived. Atty may have been a brother of Michael. The cry my father recalls was from Tom Halligan (the Lisnavagh Blacksmith
and grandfather of Patrick, John & c): “Hand me the rasp, Bill!” and he was a Dowling.

In the 1940s, the Salters sold Knocknagan to P.A. Browne of Downings, where his brother JJ Browne lived, and which remains Browne territory to this day. Both men were big into athletics. Were they related to the above-named Rev. Robert Brown (no ‘e’)? Downings was straight across from lands rented by John Browne from Robert Clayton-Browne, suggesting the Brownes who held Downings were connected to the Clayton-Brownes. Running back in time, Thomas Bunbury took a lease on lands at Downings in 1739 from Mrs Elizabeth Browne of Ballymurphy. In 1852, Griffith's Valuations noted that Downings, which is geographically very close to Knocknagann and Ballybit, belonged to Frances Disney, one of just two Disneys recorded as land-holders in 1852 (the other being at Clonmelsh), suggesting a family connection to Jane Disney Hopkins, mentioned above.

P.A. Browne was a was a County Councillor during the 60's and bought the house and land from "the Bank" after the Salters ran into financial difficulty and the bank foreclosed during the 40's. I think that Bunny Lane was a private unbound road or driveway to Knocknagann House until he became a councillor, after which the Council had the road tarred. As the roadworks were paid for by public monies, the roadway was legally 'taken in charge' by the Council and became a public road way with full rights of access to the public. While doing these road works, a dozen skeletons were reputedly unearthed - whether they belonged to men executed in the War of Indepence or the 1798 Rebellion or something much older is unclear

(PA Browne was also a member of the Carlow Historical Society in 1951.) Philomena ‘Phil’ Browne, his widow, died on 11 May 1990. Their daughter Mary Browne married John A. O’Gorman, who became a solicitor in 1955, working with Thomas F Millett in Baltinglass until 1961 when he commenced practice on his own account at Tullow. John, who died in 2005, was appointed sheriff and County Registrar for County Carlow in 1966. His son John, who holds a degree in archaeology, is also a lawyer.




In his excellent compendium, 'Earthing the Myths' (Irish academic Press, 2020), Daragh Smyth writes: "There are about 200 ringforts (raths) or sites of ring forts in County Wicklow. They were homesteads enclosing farmsteads, generally between 80 and 165 feet in diameter, erected between the fifth and the 12th centuries A.D. They are the commonest monuments on our landscape and the ones most under threat. As their name suggests they are usually circular in shape.’

I'm unsure how many ringforts there might be in County Carlow. Many have been ploughed asunder, not least for the excellent, nutritious soil locked up in those earthen banks. That said, Daragh Smyth observes that the superstitions over the bad luck that might befall those who redden a ringfort have engineered a certain amount of respect, thus being a rare bit of good news for 'the historical continuum of our culture.’ Alas, almost nothing is known of the people who lived in such places.

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. One suspects the name is also connected to a lease, dated 28 Sep. 1801 (missing, but referred to in the Lisnavagh archives) from Thomas Bunbury to Sarah and John Kinshella 'of part of Lisnavagh.’ 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. The latter, which was made much more accessible by the OPW in 2019, is a seven-hectare hill-fort from about 900BC located less than 8km south of Lisnavagh. It appears to have been home to a substantial workshop for manufacturing exotic glass beads of translucent turquoise, as well as bracelets of jet and lignite, and other objects of amber, gold and stone. I presume the Hy Kinsealagh's remit also included the various raths at Knocknagan, Tobinstown, Haroldstown, Raheen and Lisnavagh (aka Oldfort), plus perhaps the ring barrows and enclosure at Ballykilduff, discovered in 2018, along with the aforementioned dolmen by Acaun Bridge of considerable significance.

As well as the ringfort beside Oldfort, I believe there is some form of enclosure or farmstead in the field / wood directly opposite the front gate to the Burgess farm at Tobinstown, 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. There is apparently another ringfort beside Fred Hunter's farm in Haroldstown, while the townland adjoining Haroldstown is named Raheen, meaning 'small rath.'

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).

image title

Above: Replica of an urn found on Ballon Hill.

image title

Above; The summit of Ballon Hill.

image title

Above: View from Ballon Hill, with Cloghan-na-marabhan,
the Stone of the Dead, on left of frame.

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 on the eastern side of Clonmore, where there is a townland called Redbog and, immediately to the south of it, in County 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 (5km north of Lisnavagh, beside Mount Lucas) , 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 Murrough's Band. (Béaloideas: The Journal of the Folklore of Ireland Society, 1927, p. 318)

Also of relevance is Ballon Hill, 18km south of Lisnavagh, the biggest Bronze Age burial site in County Carlow, and possibly the biggest in the country, where burning the dead in preparation for the Otherworld, or afterlife, seems to have been more inclusive than other parts of Ireland where cremation was reserved for the upper tiers of society. I visited Ballon Hill with our daughters on 29 September 2020. It’s not an especially high hill and the summit is inaccessible on account of barbed wire, which I guess keeps the grave robbers out although I share Molly Keane’s view that the only wire on a gentleman’s estate should be around his champagne corks. It’s primarily a granite hill and we came upon an especially bright and white quartzite rock. There were once large earthen walls here, known as the Walls of Troy, but local farmers - availing of the hill’s designation as a commons - carted all the earth away to use as manure on their farms and I gather no traces remain. Huge numbers of urns, pots and other fictile / cremation vessels have been found over the centuries. It sounds like plenty of them were broken open to see if they contained any gold, and then simply discarded. Others were destroyed by the miscellanies tree plantations on the hill. In 1853, for instance, James Graves said he met a man who had ’smashed four perfect urns in a day', as well as a quarry man who had broken eleven more urns while creating a quarry at the top of the hill. Pat Lalor, whose nephews Seosamh and Brendan built Oldfort for us, farms some of the land at Ballon Hill and showed me replicas of two urns. One was incredibly finely decorated with hoops, rings and, I think, a chevron pattern.
Needless to say, the girls were not wildly excited by urns or rocks, although they did enjoy clambering up the massive granite boulder of Cloghan-na-marabhan, the Stone of the Dead, from which wonderful views in multiple directions. It sounds like this may have been some sort of passage grave or dolmen, as it formerly had granite blocks at either end. Also, three skeletons were found here, huddled together, and more urns and charcoal. A rath on top of the hill, now virtually gone I think, also yielded bones and spear-heads as well as cist burials and pits. The most interesting grave found had three smooth sea-shore pebbles surrounding an urn of burned bones; laid out like a triangle, the pebbles were respectively white, black and green, presumably once worn as a charm or amulet. I may have this wrong but it seems the Lecky of Ballykealy who owned the land around here got over excited in the 1850s and dug a huge chunk of the hill up with shovels and crowbars, in pursuit of more clues, which renders understanding of the original landscape a little trickier.
Graves, James. “The Pagan Cemetery at Ballon Hill, County of Carlow.” Transactions of the Kilkenny Archaeological Society, vol. 2, no. 2, 1853, pp. 295–303. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25489840. Accessed 30 Sept. 2020.



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? [The hollow, ivy-strewn concrete block in the north-west corner of Bowe's Grove is a 1940s water tank!]

I love walking in the Old Fox Covert, the long belt of woodland that runs along the southside of Whelan's Bog between Carr's Hill (aka the Slap Dash) and the Lodge Field. It is full of carefully laid out, fern-bordered, earthen ditches and sunken fences, with a trackway that has been so well trodden by Emily, and by the hooves of deer and other creature perhaps, that you’d think it was a regularly used mass path. Plenty of ancient, thick trunked trees and a fine copse of conifers amidst it all - I can see the spires of those same trees from our bathroom at Oldfort. Elsewhere, ivy-strewn trees, saplings, holly bushes and a few hefty trees that have been growing since, perhaps, the 1920s or earlier. I follow the track, or I walk upon the ditches, wondering who built them all, and when. They culminate every now and then. At one such juncture, there is a major drainage work, probably mid-late Victorian, now a slight tumbled and schismed by roots, comprising of almost a hundred hand-shaped granite blocks and lintels. It stands guard at the entrance to two sizeable streams, one clear, one muddy, with a third smaller rivulet nearby. My father tells me the structure was designed so that cattle and sheep in the adjacent field could access the stream-water without wandering into the woods. The field itself belongs to the O’Gormans, or perhaps the Carsons, and has a horse grazing in a far corner, on the lower reaches of Knocknagan. I think Dad said they secured permission from Carson in the 1970s to dig the stream out a little in his land, to ensure the water flowed properly. When I walk along the edge of that marshy field, I see a string of granite boulders that seem to curl around the rising banks of the tawny grasses, the makings of a seamless loop that makes me think of timber fences, several metres high, and a community living within. In this field of hidden rings and the grazing horse, I see the past. I see lineage in those rocks, linear, circular, passaged, sacred, and I nod my head at the all-knowing streams running calmly below, at the all-knowing trees still in the breeze, at the all-knowing rooks cawing above.

The big, long embankment in the wood also feels like some sort of boundry between Lisnavagh and Knocknagan. It lies not far from where the Knocknagan rath once stood? Is this more than the legacy of a rural Victorian engineering project?

Or what of the small underground stream that rises somwhere near the eastern end of Bunny Line and runs through the Mad Field, the Rath Field and Tobisntown field, east of Oldfort, so close to the rath itself, gurgles up in a steam in the the wood by the Keeper's Cottage, by the Forge Field, flows underneath the Lisnavagh-Tobinstown road and onwards into the Dereeen? It bubbles up whenever the water table is high and I now call it the Old River. Are the rocks piled into the corners of the field merely the debris of ploughs and diggers, 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. I'm unsure why the Forge Field by Tobinstown Cross is so named. Massy’s was named for my step-grandfather, Major Hugh Massy; George Gahan found a hunting horn buried 3 feet down in a drain in Massy's when my father was a young man. There are others for which we no longer know the origin of their name - Troy’s Wood, Bowe’s Grove?

Monavoth appears with multiple spellings such as Monavode (1791), Monavoadthe (1839), Món a bhoth (1839), Móin a bhóid (1839). The Rev J Gahan used ‘Monavothe’ in 1839 wile the agent Charles Doyne went with Moanavoth. One translation from 1839 refers to it as 'bog of the fire'. Andy Verney found a granite mortar (without its pestle) in Monavoth.

The 1835 survey 'of part of the lands of Lisnevagh called Knocknagan or Cars Hill, in the County of Carlow, on the estate of Thomas Bunbury' (in the North West Passage of the Big House) shows the land at 115 acres, 3 roods and 21 perches, with Michael Germaine holding the land to its west, Lisnavagh to the north and Tobinstown to the south. The Tobinstown Field seems to have been held by J. Toole, while the fields between the Keeper’s Cottage and Bowe's Grove were held by T. Walsh. The latter adds another dimension to the story of the ruin known as the Milkmaid's Cottage on the east side of Bowe's Grove, although the structure is notably absent from the 1835 suvey, as well as the 1840 map and its 1875 successor. The archives have a single reference to a Walsh, namely a lease taken by Laurence Walsh on 'part of Lisnavagh and Tobinstown’ from Thomas Bunbury on 28 September 1801 (6/22)

The Lisnavagh Archives also includes three references pertaining to the Toole family:
(1) a (missing) lease and counterpart dated 28 September 1801 from Thomas Bunbury to John Toole of part of Lisnavagh.
(2) a tattered quit claim, dated 14 July 1813, to Bridget Toole of Lisnavagh. (7/6)
(3) a (missing) assignment, dated 9 Sep. 1818, from Lawrence Toole to John Toole of part of Lisnavagh.
John Toole, farmer, of Lisnevah [sic] recorded as a freeholder with house and lands at Lisnavagh on a list of registered voters for County Carlow lodged with the Clerk of the Peace in 1834. (Carlow Sentinel - Saturday 11 October 1834). Among other farmers listed in the Barony of Rathvilly were Andrew Byrne, Fergus Byrne and John Kelly, all at Tobinstown, as well as John Donohue and Michael Nowlan in Little Ballyoliver, and Edward Whelan at Knocklishin.

See also http://www.igp-web.com/Carlow/Lisnavagh_Archive_14.htm for details of lessees etc. The RC parish records for Rathvilly include a Michael Doyle, born on 18 October 1835, son of James Toole of Ticknock and his wife Margaret Duffy.

The 1835 map also shows a tree-lined avenue running along the west side of Oldfort (ie: along the hedge behind our chicken run) but it doesn't seem to lead anywhere in particlar, save to the Old River perhaps, but the river itself is unmakred!? The map also shows that the Hacketstown road was further south …

Carr's Hill may once have been Card's Hill, as a chap called Samuel Card rented land here in the 18th century. It is referred to as Car's Hill [sic] on the 1835 survey map in the North-West Passage at Lisnavagh showing 'part of the lands of Lisneevagh called Knocknagan or Cars Hill, in the County of Carlow, on the estate of Thomas Bunbury’, surveyed in April 1835 by William Marshal. James Grogan found a number of Car / Carr entries in the Rathvilly parish records around Ballyoliver, Knockevagh and Knocklishen, children of Martin Carr and Mary Dunne starting in 1820 in Ballyoliver (only over a fields away!) Were they there before Michael Germaine? Also of possible reference is a lease (4/24), dated 20 Dec. 1809, from Katharine Bunbury (nee Kane, widow of William Bunbury, MP, of Lisnavagh) to Richard Carr of premises in Swords.

In Ambrose Leet’s 'Directory to the Market Towns, Villages, Gentlemen's Seats, and Other Noted Places in Ireland’ (1814) he has Philip Germon [sic] at Lisnevagh [sic] and Thomas Germon [sic] at Tobinstown. [NB: Tobinstown is variously spelled as Tobbinstowne (1660), Tobinstowne (1839), Tobenstown and Tobbenstown.] As well as records below pertaining to Toole and Walsh, he archives also contain leases from Thomas Bunbury on various parts of Tobinstown, dated 28 September 1801, to Daniel Kelly (6/23), Denis Kelly (6/24), Fergus Byrne (missing), James Byrne (6/25)

And for others, we can guess. The Broom Park may have been where Colonel Kane Bunbury ventured out in his brougham [sic], 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 what my father once knew as Matt 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?


Ryan of Haroldstown

John Ryan, the early 19th century Carlow historian and sometime editor of the Carlow Standard, claimed that he descended from a branch of the Ryan family who lived at Haroldstown. Anthony Ryan who was, in 1700, "allowed, by the court of claims, an estate for lives of Haroldstown, barony of Rathvilly, containing 250 acres. This, wrote James Ryan, was 'the best proof of his loyalty to King William’s government.' Two members of the family were killed at the Boyne, fighting under the banners of William. David Ryan, Esq, of Haroldstown, married Miss Pole from the city of Dublin but their only child died young. His second wife was Miss Roche, a sister of Nicholas Roche of Coolmanagh, with whom he had John, David and Sarah. Mrs Roche survived him and was subsequently married to the Rev Richard Brough, curate of the parish of Rathvilly, a kinsman of the Broughs of the Carlow militia.

In about 1760, John Ryan, the eldest son, settled at Broghillstown, half a mile from Rathvilly; he possessed an estate of lives, renewable forever, of the lands of Tombay aka Tombeagh, near the confluence of the rivers Dereen and Douglas, and other lands, totalling 800 acres. About two years later, he sold these lands to a man named Pilsworth for £1500, whose daughter appears to have married (as his first wife) John’s brother, David Ryan of Baron Hill (who sought £238 compensation after the 1798 Rebellion). After Pilsworth’s death, the lands reverted to the Howard family, who held the fee. John Ryan’s wife was Mary Mulligan of Rathvilly. The Ryans intermarried with the Shepard family of Paulville and Tankardstown. Further details of all this, and the Ryan connection to Dunleckney, are in John Ryan’s History and Antiquities of the County of Carlow, p. 372-374. See also Thomas King, ‘John Ryan - Polemicist & Local Historian, Carloviana, Dec 1997, p. 71 to 73,

Haroldstown Clearances, 1831-1835

In 1837, Samuel Lewis's Topographical Dictionary of Ireland recorded Haroldstown as a parish of 2778 statute acres, set on limestone with ‘ improving’ agriculture, 'of which about 200 [acres] are bog, 1000 arable, and the remainder meadow and pasture.’ In 1831, Abraham Brewster (1796-1874), an upcoming barrister, succeeded to the townland of Haroldstown on the death of his relative, Abraham Jones. (Not qute sure how this tallies with the Ryan/ Pillsworth / Howard story above). 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.

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.

image titleimage title

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,



At its peak, I think the Lisnavagh estate extended down beyond the Moate to Mount Loftus and bordered the Fitzwilliam / Hume estate.


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.