History of Monaleen Castletroy District By D. Stewart (1955)
In the year 968 Mahon O’Brien, a Limerick Chieftain, successfully defeated Ivar, Norse King of Limerick, in a terrible battle at Sologhead and a few years later Ivar and two of his sons were attacked and killed at Iniscathy. The remnants of the Norsemen then submitted to King Brian, brother of Mahon who had meanwhile himself been murdered, and with their submission, Norse domination of Limerick ended. From then on the city became the stronghold of the O’Briens
and the defeated Norsemen gradually came to accept the Christian faith.
The Christian Church began to get organised, and the first Bishop of Limerick, so far as reliable information goes, was Gila, as he was called by the Irish writers, or Gilbertus, as he signed himself. He became Bishop about the year 1106 or 1107 and immediately set about establishing a Diocesan Division and summoned a Synod at Rathbreasil, over which he presided. This Synod divided Ireland into twenty four Dioceses of nearly equal size and the boundaries of the Limerick Dioceses remain, to a great extent, the same to the present day.
The next important event was the reign of Donatus O’Brien. He founded the Chapter of St. Mary’s Cathedral about the year 1194, and under the Foundation Deed he gave ‘…. besides all the tithes of all lands which were in my possession of the day in which this Deed was executed and of all the lands which in future be given to laymen, and all the dues of Cotheann outside the city, and the Churches of St. Mary Magdalen and of St. Martin, with everything pertaining to them….’ for the sustenance of the Canons of the Cathedral.
Now Myler Fitzhenry’s Inquisition of 1201 establishes beyond doubt that this Church of St. Mary Magdalen was the Church of Kilmurry and this is the oldest authenticated landmark in the Parish, a landmark of over 700 years of Christianity. The 22nd day of July in each year is the anniversary of the dedication of the Church.
In the adjacent townland of Kilbane there would also appear to have been a Church but no particulars of it can be traced. There is, however, a holy well, dedicated to St. Mary Magdalen, which at one time was much visited by pilgrims for the cure of sore eyes and other complaints. How the well came to be there at all is accounted for by the following legend.
Some men were haymaking on the side of the hill, many, many years ago and when they went to their dinner they stuck the hay forks, which were really only branches of trees with forked ends, into the ground. When they came back, one man discovered that his hay fork had sprouted into a fine young ash tree, at the foot of which a crystal clear well sparkled in the sunlight. The stump of the ash tree still stands guard over the well, its rugged bark studded with medals and other mementoes nailed to it by pilgrims of bygone years. It is said that during the week of the famous Newcastle Races the well ran dry as a protest against the evil-doings at the Races. When Race Week was over, someone from Kilbane House always sprinkled holy water on the dried up bed of the well and the water would once more run fresh and clear.
The de Burgos were extensive landholders in the parish of Kilmurry and the benefice of St. Mary Magdalen was in their granting, which meant that they were free to appoint whosoever they liked to the Church. They were also founders of Athissel Monastery, near Golden in Tipperary, and authorised the Prior there to present the living of Kilmurry to whom he willed. The Bishops of Limerick sometimes disputed these nominations, and the thirteenth century history of the Parish is one of dispute and law suits, and it once went so far that in 1253 Pope Innocent IV interfered and commissioned the Bishop, Dean and Archdeacon of Cloyne, to try to dispute between the Bishop of
Limerick and the Prior of the community of Athissel.
For the next 100-150 years there was nothing of historical interest to record. Charles I of England ordered a regal visitation of Ireland, and the commission which sat in Limerick from 28th to the 30th July, 1615 reported that Kilmurry Church and chancel were in ruins. It was about this time that a new church was built in the glebe on the site of the old Church. It was also during the reign of Charles I that the cultivation of flax was introduced into Ireland by Sir Thomas Wentworth. There is ample evidence of its cultivation in this parish. Monaleen means ‘flag bog’ or the place where flax was steeped or ‘retted’. There was a flax mill on the banks of the Groody (now a small saw mill) and a field nearby is known as ‘the bleach’. It is also said that there is a crock of gold buried in the neighbourhood of the mill but I am not at all sure where!
The Civil Survey of Limerick, dated 2nd June 1654, gives the following description of the parish:- ‘The said parish of Kilmurrie is meared and bounded on the North with ye River of Shannon, and ye East with ye River of Mullkearnye, on the South with the River of Grudyn and on the West with the said River…’ and that is still the extent of the parish as we know it today.
The Groody was once quite an extensive river. At one time no less than five mills worked in about three miles of its stream, a mill at Scart, a paper mill employing 160 persons, a mill for dressing marble, employing 76 people, McAuliff’s Milk factory at Ballysimon and the flour mill at Singland. Marble from the quarry at Ballysimon went to beautify the great cathedral of St. John’s Newfoundland; it was used in the mantelpieces of most of the big houses in Limerick and more
recently for the base of the pillars in the new Augustinian Chapel. The quarry was first opened about 1800 but the owner was accidentally killed by being caught in the machinery. A notice in the ‘Limerick Chronicle’ in 1803 states:
‘To be let. Lands at Ballysimon, formerly called the Bishop’s Demesne (12 acres) with marble quarry recently opened, and half the river bounding same, between the old church and the ruin called the paper mill’.
When St. Patrick was at Donaghmore, the men of North Munster came down the Shannon in fleets of boats and sailed up the Groody. There the saint himself came to meet them and when he had preached to them he baptised them in the waters of the river.
In and around Ballysimon was a great apple-growing district and was famous for a brand of cider known as Krackagee. An advertisement in the ‘Limerick Chronicle’ 1802 announcing the auction of household effects at the World’s End, Castleconnel, included ‘some excellent Krackagee cyder, in Bottle’. Old maps of the district show well-planted orchards. Indeed the name still lingers, for that part of the road leading from Ballysimon to Newcastle is called the ‘Orchard Road’, and altho’ the apple trees are now all gone, the distinct perfume of ripe apples in the sun fills the air at certain
times of the year.
In the field near Ballysimon bridge lies a huge boulder known as ‘Matty Coffey’s Rock’. It was flung after a retreating enemy by some strong man in Caherconlish!
Incidentally, this part of the road from Ballysimon to Newcastle is part of the old rocky road to Dublin, which left Limerick by the Kilmallock Gate and kept to the high ground to avoid the swamps at Clino and Groody.
Before us now lie the fertile lands of Singland, the Land of the Holy Angel, ancient estates of the O’Coinins, a clan famed in song and story long before the Normans came to Ireland. Here on these plains it is said that last great battle for the deliverance of Ireland is to begin and end – a circumstance referred to by O’Donovan in his Notes on the Annals of the Four Masters.
Cromwell, Ireton, William III and de Ginkle had their camps and entrenchments here, and from time to time weapons and cannon balls have been found in the neighbourhood.
On the right is Newcastle Hill, crowned by a rugged castle, which will not fall until the handsomest man and woman in the world pass under it. This castle was an O’Brien stronghold and was once home of Jordan Roche, Mayor of Limerick in 1639. In 1656 when the first allotment of lands were made under the Cromwellian Settlement, the Roche family were evicted and left to starve. They eventually sent a petition to the authorities, which reads thus:-
‘The humble petition of Christina Roche, Austace Kate and John Roche the children of Alderman Jordan Roche, decd., shewith that Alderman Jordan Roche dyed seized of a vast real estate to the value of £2000 a year and likewise of a considerable personal estate, all of which develved and came to the publique. That your poor petitioners are in a sad and deplorable condition for want of sustinence, or mayntenance, and having nothing to live on, but what they earne by their needles and by washing and wringing, and they pray to be allowed something out of their father’s estate’.
At the Restoration, a Court of Claims in Dublin issued a Habere to the Coroner if Limerick to give immediate possession of these lands to one of Roche’s sons. This occasioned great rejoicing in Limerick and the Mayor with the city regalia went out with Mr. Roche and the Coroner. All went gaily till they came to the Groody Bridge, where the procession halted and the Coroner asked Mr. Roche to give him two fields near the castle for hid own use. Mr. Roche thought it would be an insult to his dignity to give the fields thus situated and refused, whereupon the Coroner flew into a terrible rage, said he had business to attend to elsewhere, and could not be persuaded to stay to give the
necessary permission to Mr. Roche to enter upon the lands. Thus Mr. Roche lost his title.
It is hard for us nor to imagine what the country was like during the Cromwellian Settlements. The soldiers who had been granted lands were discontented and refused to settle in their lots, and some of them were glad to sell out to their officers for the price of their fares back to England. One of the greatest grievances was that they were not allowed to marry Irish girls, under severe penalty. Another was that wolves had become so numerous as to be a great danger, in fact, the Governors of each district were directed to fix certain days for wolf-hunting, and a reward of £5 was offered for every head captured. In 1653 a Captain Piers was given lease of the lands of Dunboyne on condition that he maintained a pack of hounds for wolf-hunting with a ‘knowing huntsman’, two men and one boy, thus forming perhaps the first public park of hounds in Ireland.
Another cause for discontent was the increase of the Tories. These were natives who refused to transplant and were outlawed. There was £5 on the head of every Tory brought in – the same sum as we paid for the head of a wolf! Several versions of a nursery rhyme of the period are still extant:-
‘Johnny Dory, what is your story?
I went to the wood and shot a Tory.
I went to the wood and shot another:
Was it the same or was it his brother?
I hunted him in, I hunted him out,
Three times through the wood and about and about;
‘Till out of a bush I spied his head,
So I levelled my gun and shot him dead.’
During this period also Mahony Keogh or MacKeogh, who lived near Cloonlive, now known as Rivers, near Annacotty, lost his estates for his loyalty to King Charles I. The MacKeoghs were also owners of a handsome and well-fortified castle, the remains of which are still to be seen on the Banks of the Shannon, now known as Castletroy. They were a warlike tribe, very often in conflict with neighbouring chiefs. MacKeogh had a very beautiful daughter, whose hand was sought in marriage by a certain chieftain, but the young lady sent him about his business and would have nothing to do with him. Then one night he returned. It was a sultry summer night and the sentinels were dozing.
He and his men easily overcame them, then he rushed up the spiral staircase, grabbed the maiden, but before he and his band could make their escape, MacKeogh and his warriors rushed to the rescue. A grim hand-to-hand fight took place in the whispering beech-grove, then at last the thief lay dead, his head split open, but alas, MacKeogh’s lovely daughter was dead also, a spear thrust through her breast. It is said that even today, the night-faring fisherman sometimes hears her death shrieks ring out from the castle, as he wanders homeward past it.
A grandson of Mahony Keogh (Dr. John Keogh) was born at Rivers, and was a famous mathematical and Oriental scholar. An Inscription over the doorway in one of the Halls at Oxford testifies to his having solved a mathematical problem in which all others had failed. He is also reputed to have had a very large family, not less than twenty one!
Castletroy itself was severely battered by Cromwell’s cannon which he set up on Harty’s Hill, and after the last siege of Limerick it was dismantled and blown up, together with other castles which defended the passes to the city.
In Hogan’s ‘Lays & Legends of Thomond’ will be found the following verses:-
‘Lo! Grey Castletroy, by war, tide and time batter’d
Stands, like an old chief with his armour all shatter’d
As if musing, in gloomy and gaunt desolation,
On the red feudal days when Green Eire was a Nation.
There the warlike MacKeoghs, in their power, ruled and revell’d
And often in fight were their sounding spears levell’d.
‘Till Cromwell the fiend, with his tower-cleaving cannon
Ploughed their strong castle-walls on the brink of the Shannon.’
After passing Rivers, Annacotty next claims our interest. The name means ‘ford of the little boat’ or cot, a name still preserved by the Abbey fishermen in Limerick who call their boats ‘angling cots’.
In the year 1749 Joseph Sexton built his paper mill here, one of the biggest factories of its kind in Europe, employing some 700 people. In the same year he issued on paper manufactured in his own mills an advertisement stating that he had erected two paper mills within the Liberties and for perfecting manufacture he employed the best hands from England and elsewhere. He stated that he was willing to pay from1d. to 3d. per lb for rags. The mills continued working for many years through various owners, until 1861. At one time they turned out 30,000 reams of paper yearly.
A news item from the ‘Limerick Chronicle’ dated 13th September, 1800 states:-
‘Last night about the hour of one o’ clock the house of Joe Ryan, paper manufacturer at Annacotty was broken open and entered by six armed villains who robbed him of some cash and his arms. We are sorry to add they used him in a most cruel manner, by striking him severely on his head with the butt-end of a blunderbuss.’
Another factory at Annacotty was the chocolate factory belonging to Messrs Cleeves.
On September 10th, 1800 the Limerick Garrison was marched out to Annacotty and was inspected there by His Excellency Marquis Cornwallis. The garrison consisted of the Brigade of Flying Artillery, Mounted Riflemen, 1st Battalion 46th Foot, and the Clare Militia. His Excellency Expressed himself well pleased with their steadiness and discipline in manoeuvres, and detailed the 46th Foot for foreign service. Later that evening a Grand Ball was held in Castleconnell. Admission for ladies was 1/7½d, gentlemen 2/8½d and cards bore the footnote ‘N.V. There will be a supper at Enrights’.
Writing in 1839 Lewis reports a paper and an oil mill at Ballyclough, a paper mill at Annacotty, and a flour mill at Ballysimon. The principal seats in the district were Newcastle, the residence of M. O’Brien, Plassy, of Reuben Harvey, Milford, of T. Fitzgerald, Shannon View, of T. Kelly, Willow Bank of Capt. Hickey, Shannon Cottage of G. McKern, Killonan Cottage of H. Rose and Ballyclough, of P. Cudmore.
Now the water-wheel of these great factories of Annacotty stands silently watching the waters of the Mulcair tumble past, murmuring stories to the stones of the great big fish they met going up, and men lean on the bridge, scanning the water .
Another large Limerick family (the McKerns) owned a beautiful house named ‘Roselawn’, the garden sloping down to the banks of the Shannon. There was famous fishing in these waters, and boat loads of boys and girls would take the water armed with fishing tackle and musical instruments. Two of the McKern sisters had splendid voices and were known for their beauty as the ‘Red Rose’ and the ‘White Rose’ of Limerick. While their brothers and friends plied their rods, the ‘Roses’ sang arias from Handel to the salmon. On one occasion the ‘White Rose’ being asked to hold a rod for her brother while he attended to another, received a shock. Her mind was far away in the clouds, and when a fish took her fly she flung the rod with horror into the stream. The music remained in abeyance for some stormy moments while the furious brother rowed frantically to recover his rod and salmon.
A little below ‘Willow Bank’ is a field known as the ‘Camp Field’ which seems to have got its name from the fact that in June 1759 the First Battalion of the Royal Scots Regiments of Foot, and the 76th
Lord Forbes’, encamped in this out-of-the-way spot. The present Plassy House was built in 1860/63 by Mr. Richard Russell, on the site of an older house once occupied by Major Maunsell. He had a wonderful garden there and in 1802, when some rare plants were stolen from the hot houses, the ‘Limerick Chronicle’ printed the following appeal from Maunsell’s ex-gardener:-
‘Whereas I am suspected of being concerned in the thefts committed at Plassy for which I have lost my character and situation, I do hereby offer a reward of ten guineas to any person who will give the Mayor of Limerick such information as will lead to the conviction of the thieves who robbed the Hot houses, rabbit houses and plants as advertised by Thomas Maunsell Esq. The strictest secrecy will be observed – if required. John Callinan.‘
Further along the bank stands the ivy-clad ruin of Plassy Mills – once the most modern in the country and inferior to none. Major Maunsell built the mills and the eventually came into the hands of the Russell family. Embedded in front of the mills is one of the most historic stones in Limerick, and the following inscription:-
This stone was originally placed over the Mungret gate during the strengthening of the fortifications when the city was in the hands of the Confederate Catholics (1641-1651)
The Russell family also owned Milford House. They were merchants and ship owners. In the grounds of Plassy is a grove known as the ‘American Ground’ which got its name from the fact that the ballast of ships coming in from America was carted out from Limerick and dumped here to fill in a swamp.
The disturbances of ’98 and 1800 did not pass the parish without incident and there were many midnight raids and beating up of innocent people in the neighbourhood. In some cases even murder was resorted to. The widow Hayes who lived alone at Newcastle was barbarously murdered in her own house and her body dragged to a cow-house after she had been robbed of what little money she had. A subscription fund was opened to pay for any information leading to the murderers. Some
months later some twelve ruffians broke into the widow MacNamara’s house at Newcastle. Her son was dragged out of bed, his shirt turned over his head and he got several strokes of a whip across his naked body. Worse still, his mother was treated in like manner.
Even livestock was not safe from robbers and a grazing notice of the time states
‘Several fields of fresh grass for grazing at Newcastle, where watchmen attend the cattle by night and day‘.
1802 must have been about the last date Newcastle was occupied as a dwelling, all the furniture and effects being advertised for auction in November of that year.
Practically from any part of the parish the huge bulk of the reservoir or ‘tank’ can be seen. In 1825 an Act was passed for the supplying of the city and suburbs with water, and shortly afterwards two reservoirs were built, each to contain 600000 gallons, by the Water Works Company, at a cost of £43333.6.0.
Nearly at the foot of the reservoir is situated Castletroy Golf Links. This was once the site of Newcastle Race Course. The Races here attracted a great deal of attention, even in England. Hampton Russell, a strange character who wrote his diaries in a vault in St. John’s Churchyard (in which he had installed a little fireplace and every comfort) has left the following description of the races:-
‘They were a brilliant gathering, as along with the good running, there was a very large assembly of handsome carriages belonging to the gentry of the city and county of Limerick and the county of Clare, including many four in hand coaches. There was always present a military band, a large number of tents, and, to prevent faction fights, a troop of dragoons and a company of infantry, which added much to the gay appearance of the course. In the good old times referred to, the national dress of the women of the lower classes was very usually a scarlet cloth cloak, and a nice white cap, which was an additional attraction to the picturesque appearance of Newcastle Hill, where they were intermixed with the large crowd always assembled on it during the races.’
I am afraid that the ‘crowd on the hill’ did not always behave itself and earned for it a very bad reputation and name (Blackguard Hill), which has still stuck to this day.
There was a famous ballad about the Races at Newcastle, and a still more famous mare, but except for a few lines, the ballad has been lost:-
‘Kate Fisher was willing and able to go.
The jockey who rode her no justice did show.
When facing the leap, the reins were quite slack
And by his judgement the mare broke her back’.
Across from the Links, magnificently situated on top of a hill is the grey stone mass of Monaleen Church, its graceful Gothic form a landmark for many miles around. The present Church was built in 1873 by the Rev. Father Meehan, from the design of a Mr. Goldie. The builder was MR. Kavanagh of St. Mary’s Parish. A former church, of which no records can be found, stood close beside the schoolhouse, and part of the old wall is still standing at the bottom of the garden. Monaleen School was built some years before the Church, in the year 1846, and the schoolmaster’s house, strangely enough, was near the site of the present Church. The first schoolmaster was named Michael McCarthy, and with him lived his sister Mary. He was considered to be a very good teacher but a very cross man!
Down in Kilmurry a new church had been built, again on the former site. This new church had a spire and steeple, but on the night of 15th/16th December, 1812 a very heavy gale from the south-east did much damage and the church was nearly destroyed by lightning.
It is interesting to note the wages of the men who were employed on all these new buildings. Carpenters, masons and plasterers were paid 1/6d per day and labourers 6d.
There was one other church in the parish, which is now long forgotten and that is Derrygalvin in Ballysimon. It is first mentioned in 1291, its rectory being granted to John, Abbot of Wethnia, under the name of ‘The Church of the Blessed Virgin of Derrygeallywan’. In 1792 it was episcopally united to Kilmurry.
In Derrygalvin is the townland of Scart in which the dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Cashel meet.
When Dr. Daniel Kearney became Bishop to the See of Limerick, following the death of Dr. Conway in 1778, he chose to live in Ballysimon. He ruled his dioceses strictly and attacked abuses fearlessly. There is a story told of a man who refused to pay his labourers their daily wage and, when Dr. Kearney heard of this injustice, he disguised himself, got himself hired as a labourer to the man concerned, and when at the end of the day he was turned away without his wages he revealed himself and soundly berated his late employer. He also made a law for his dioceses, which I believe is still in force, namely, that any priest who seeks by lay influence to obtain a parish becomes suspended there and then, and renders himself incapable of obtaining that or any other parish.
Near to the burial ground is a holy well whose patron is Saint Simon. Those visiting the well must do so in silence and return home without speaking to anyone. Such wells have at all times been held in
veneration in Ireland by both pagans and Christians; and in most cases they preserve the very names of those noble missionaries who used the waters not only to supply the daily wants of the communities they had founded, but served also for the baptism of converts.
A well is sometimes met with containing one lone inhabitant, a single trout or salmon, and many wonderful legends are told about them. This custom is of old standing, for the Tripartite Life states, regarding the well of Aghagower in Mayo, that ‘Patrick left two salmon alive in the well’. The same custom prevailed in the Scottish Western Isles.
That is the story of Monaleen, the story of the once stately castles, the churches and mill buildings, but there are numerous small houses, some of them mere mud cabins, bordering our country lanes now but a tangle of briars and weeds. These were the once happy homes of the people who worked in the local mills and had the whole course of their lives altered by the famine which caused the migration of that stratum of society in Ireland on which the prosperity of the whole country rested, the people nearest the land. The centralisation of industries in the cities was the final blow to these country mills and the cause of still further emigration.