History Rosscarbery West Cork Ireland
Rosscarbery is the modern name of the old ecclesiastical city of Ros Ailithir, Headland (or Wood) of the Pilgrim. The name derives, according to the Geneologies of the Saints, from one Colman, the Pilgrim.
The area has been occupied from very early times, as is evidenced by the Neolithic remains (pred 2000 BC) such as Portal Dolmens. The area is very strong in Bronze Age remains, the most spectacular of which are the Stone Circles. There are also two Inscribed Stones in Burgatia. The number of Ring Forts and Holy Wells witnesses the Iron Age and transition from the Old to the New (Christian) God.
The town of Rosscarbery grew up around a monastery, which was established in the latter half of the sixth century by St. Fachtna. It is situated in one of the tuatha, or tribe lands, of the Corca Laighde. It appears that the Chief of the tribe gave to St. Fachtna, who was a member of the tribe, a portion of the tribe land for the foundation of his Monastery and School. The School of Ross became a celebrated seat of learning and attracted students from far and wide. The learning, classical and theological, cultivated in this school was that of the Western Roman World during the last period of its existence viz. the Seven Liberal Arts: Grammar (including Latin and Greek), Rhetoric, Dialetics, Arithmetic, Geometry, Music and Astrology.
There is still extant a metrical poem of 136 lines in old Irish, written by Airbertach Mac Croisse da Bhrian, Fear Leighinn, or Professor in the School of Ross. The poem is preserved in the Book of Leinster. It was probably composed before the year 970 A.D., the year in which Ross was destroyed by the Danes. It is a somewhat crude summary of the geography of the Ancient World.
From that great land to the River
Indus westward (is)
India great and proud:
From the north, from the Hindoo Coosh,
to the strait of Mare Rubrum
Known is its excellence on every side.
Its madnets and its diamonds,
Its pearls, its gold dust and its carbuncles
Its unicorns of fierce habits
Its soft and balmy breezes;
Its elephants of mightly strenth
Its two harvests in one year.
The poem served as a foundation to the pupils. This poem shows the extent and variety of the geographical knowledge communicated to the pupils of Rosscarbery during the 10th Century, the darkest of the Dark Ages.
St. Fachtna appears to have been the victim of attempted hi-jackings by founders of neighboring Diocese. He is mentioned as having had Brendan of Ardfert teaching in his school. St. Fachtna's life contains a number of references to Barra having 'kept Fachtna of Ros Ailithir' at his school in Cork, as though he had authority over him, just as the Bishops of Cork today claim authority over the Diocese of Ross. The association of Fachtna with Molana on the Blackwater appears to be based on a transcriptional error in one of the Martyrologies. In the Martyrology of Tallaght we have the list 'Fachtna Mac Mongan to Ros Ailithir: Mac Intsaeir, Episcopus at Abbas Darinsi Maelianfaid' but, in that of Donegal, there is just 'Fachtna Bishop and Abbot of Dairinish Molana'. So, Fachtna is our own.
The Annals of the Four Masters list Abbots of the monestery dying in 824, 839, 850 and 921. Although there is notice of a raid on Ross by the Norsemen of Dublin in 840 by the compiler of the unreliable 'Codagh Gaedhel re Gailibh', the first active reference to the monastery is in the Annals of Inisfallen which records that the Norse chief, Gofrey, son of Imar 'went by sea westwards and took the hostages of the South of Ireland by sea to Ros Ailithir' in 924. They further record in 990, the son of Imar, the Danish leader, left Waterford, and then followed the destruction of Ross of the Pilgrim by the foreigners, and the taking prisoner of teh Fear Leighinn, Mac Coise Dobráin who was later ransomed by Brian Boru at Inis Cathaigh.
The school finally disappeared as a result of these attacks.
The Four Masters record the death of a monastic bishop in 1085 and in 1102, Ros Ailithir was plundered by the Ui Echach to avenge the killing of Ua Donnchada. And somewhere in this period, a Benedictine Priory associated with St. James at Wurtzburg was founded.
Ross is not listed among the Diocese of the Synods of Rathbreasail or Kells but Pope Celestine appointed Daniel Bishop of Ross in 1197. Since then, the small diocese has been united with Cloyne or Cork with some periods of independence in the Roman Catholic jurisdiction. In the Church of Ireland, it has been united with Cork (since 1586) and Cloyne (off-and=on since the same date).
King John granted a charter to Ross between the years 1199 and 1216. Unfortunately, no copy of it exists. However, from the annual August Fair, still celebrated and the more frequent ones recorded by Guy's Directories of the last century, it is reasonable to assume that such rights were part of that incorporation.. The town became an important commercial and marketing centre. The fairs were held monthly and markets weekly. With the establishment of the creameries in the 1920's the markets began to decline and ended completely about 1950 when small scale poultry keeping died out. The old market house which stood in the centre of the square and was the centre of activity fell into disrepair and was demolished in 1958. About this time, too, marts were established and this brought the fairs to an end with the exception of the annual horse fair which is held on August 26th. The event is now a major tourist attraction as horses and ponies mingle with dealers of all kinds plying their wares on the streets.
Within the next few centuries, the castles of the area: Rathbarry (de Barry), Benduff (McCarthy), Downeen (O'Cowhig) would have been built. In the 17th Century, the fine Coppinger's Court was built. The Coppingers were an old Viking family who remained in the Cork area.
Hammer's reference in his Chronicles to a 'walled town' support the idea that Ross was a place of considerable importance.
In the Constitorial Acts of 1517, Ross is described as follows: "The city is situated in the middle of a fertile plain rich in cornfields. It is encompassed with a wall, has two gates and contains about 200 houses. In the centre of the town is the Cathedral. There are two entrances, one lateral, the other in the front. The floor is unpaved, the roof of wood, covered with slates. The interior presents the form of a latin Cross and in size corresponds to with the Church of St. Maria del Popolo in Rome. The Bishop's residence is about half a mile from the city and is pleasantly situated on the sea-shore." This document also lists the officers of the Diocese as Bishop, dean, archdeacon, chancellor, 12 cannons and 4 vicars.
In 1582 the English authorities appointed a Protestant bishop to the See of Ross. The Cathedral, which was erected in the 10th Century, was taken over by him and dedicated to Protestantism.
In 1541, the extent of Rosscarbery's monastic possessions was 'a church, a hall, a buttery, and a kitchen, and other houses, very ruinous and decayed, necessary for the farmer, none being superflous and worth 6s 8d. 60 acres, arable and pasture land worth 16s. The Villata 120 acres, arable and pasture occupied by divers tenants, paying 40s. In the country of a certain Irishman called O Swylyvan Barrye there is a rectory which was appropriated to the Priory worth 60s. Total of the extent 6. 2s. 8d.'
Elizabethan and Cromwellian families who settled in the district were the Frekes at Rathbarry, the Hungerfords at Cahermore, the Morris at Benduff, the Moors and the Coppingers, who built the beautiful 17th Century mansion at Rowry, which is known as Coppingers Court. The Frekes in the 18th Century were amongst the leading gentry in West Cork, and the leader of the family became Lord Carbery.
Bishop Lynch of Killala, in his History of the Irish Sees, written shortly after the Wars of 1640-50, tells that 'the Nave & Tower were levelled, the choir and two chapels remaining intact'. He goes on to describe the importance of St. Fachtna's festival (August 14th) 'so great was the concourse of pilgrims... that... traders used to come tither with their merchandize from all parts of the island'.
Richard Pococke, who toured the south-west of Ireland in 1758 visited Ross and describes it as pleasantly situated on a rising ground "on the harbour, which is a bad one; ships of 30 or 40 tons only can come up the harbour when the tyde is in and that not near the town". He also notes the Cathedral as modern and tells that about 8 years previously, while digging near the graveyeard, two caves were found. He also remarks on the flax growing and linen production. He tells an interesting story of Sir Walter Coppinger, builder of Coppinger's Court. Sir Walter ws a considerable person in the early 17th Century. He appears to have been a money-lender who acquired considerable estates by mortgage - and other less reputable means - and he surrendered his considerable estates to King James 1st and on regrant was given rights of Courts Leet & Baron (this could be the origin of the tradition mentioned by Donovan in his Sketches of Carbery that he had a yard-arm attached to his house as a gallows.) Pococke tells us that, early in the 17th century, Coppinger intended building a town here, based on the harbour at Millcove. Donovan tells us that this was scuppered by the 1641 Rebellion.
After the 'Parliamentary Wars' Ross lay dormant for about two and a half centuries. It next came before the national conciousness during the War of Independence, with the well documented raid on the RIC Barracks and on Kingstons of Burgatia House.
Rosscarbery in the Famine
Like the rest of Ireland, Ross suffered in the Great Famine of the 1840's. The Rev. John East, Rector of St. Michael's, Bath, in Somerset, came to Ireland in 1847 and recorded it in his book "Glimpses of Ireland in 1847":
It was my happiness to experience a most cordial welcome at Derry, the hospitable residence of the Rev. C.C. Townsend, Rector of Kilmacabea. The small town of Rosscarbery, beneath the hill on which the demesne of Derry stands, is rendered very picturesque to the eye by its ancient cathedral ruin, surrounded by trees and the frail memorials of the numerous dead that slumber in its unfenced cemetary. At this village I alighted from the coach, at the kind invitation of a member of the family of my host, who at once conducted me to her infant-school, and to the bread and meal shop, which was admirable managed. And its well arranged stores of biscuits and various kinds of meal, its lady-shopkeeper sitting in here recess to one side, its subordinate shop woman weighing and dealing out the wares of subsistence, the opened folding doors of the store, the outside barrier, with its masculine woman-guard, keeping the crowds of applicants at bay; the eager, the hungry, emaciated company pressing on for a supply, either at a reduced rate, or gratuitously, presented a scene for a painter, if even art and genius, with their wonted enthusiasm, could have quietly sat down to depict that scene. Nowhere did I witness plans more judiciously formed or more diligently pursued, for the relief of the present necessity, and for the permanent amelioration of the temporal and spiritual condition of a degraded, neglected, and benighted peasantry, than at Derry, and the localities of which ir formed at the merciful centre. The ingenuity and perseverance of Christian, intelligent charity were in active operation, to devise and cary out schemes of productive and particularly agricultural employment, of even a model character for the labouring classes. (A cluster of model cottages, with pretty flower gardens in their front, particularly attracted my notice and admiration, though I was told that, when the man who first laid out those gardens was questioned by a neighbor as to what he was doing he replied, in a tone of implying that he deemed it a sad waste of ground, and his own employment degrading 'Och! And I'm making gardens for posies!' The weekly increasing numbers of widows and their orphans, were especially cared for: and knitting, spinning, weaving &c., provided self-supporting occupation for nearly one hundred of that interesting and pitiable class. Soup kitchens were in full work, and relief committees were attended as the legitimate duties of a clergyman and a landed proprietor. Weekly and Sunday schools were affording a sound scriptual education to the considerable bodies of children, chiefly belonging to Roman Catholic parents, who, in spite of the occasional terror of the priests, were delighted to have the young ones instructed.
One large school of this kind I visited, held in the upper room of a plain farm house, in a wild region of the extensive parish under the care of my clerical friend and his faithful and laborious curate. I will not trust myself to speak of the admirable domestic economy and the home training of a lovely and numerous family which I witnessed. Here, as elsewhere, I found the partner of the minister's heart and home taking her full share in every scheme of good: and not a little was I interested with what I observed at the entrances to Mr. T's grounds. A company of poor were standing in the road outside the gate in quiet order. Within, at two or three yards' distance sat a venerable lady of the family, with a large basket in her right hand, and a volume in her left, from which she was impressively reading to the little congregation. It was the book of God, the New Testament. Her daily custom was, first to dispense in this manner a portion of the bread of life to those who were accustomed to 'a famine of the words of the Lord' and then bestow upon them some of the bread that perisheth.
(Regarding the Rev. Joseph Sheahan. P.P. Kilmacabea) Against such a pastor and such a family as that of Derry, and its dependencies, has the ire of Romish bigotry been kindled, while they were engaging in 'affording assistance of every kind to the poorest and most destitute, without condition, favour, partiality or distinction of any kind'. A wish in the form of a solemn public prayer, was uttered at the alter in the Roman Catholic chapel, by its officiating priest, that neither the rector, the curate nor the lay-assistant in making out the parish lists of poor ment needing employment on the public works, might be alive that day twelvemonth! Yet, this man was in the habit of meeting the chief object of his diabolical malignity at the board of the Relief Committee, accused the priest of this awful action, he had the effrontery, not to deny it, but to reply 'Oh! I did not name you'; while he had so plainly described and designated the parties, that every one present knew whom he meant: and this, he did not attempt to deny. The assumed ground of complaint against the Protestant rector was, that he had said, or procured to be said to the Roman Catholics, 'Come to church, send your children to school and you shall get soup, meal, work on the roads, &c.' - a charge so totally without foundation, flatly denied by the rector, its proof being publicly and in prent demanded of the priest, but not produced.
There follows an attack on Richard Whately, Protestant Archbishop of Dublin for pointing out that the Good Samaritan did not try to convert the object of his charity, so, the Church of Ireland clergy should not proselytise the famine vicitms. While Mr. East is our literary source for Rosscarbery during the famine, he was obviously a 'man with a mission'.
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