Rockett’s Castle & Russian House on the River Suir. (Photo – Irish Waterways)
Rockett’s Castle, situated on a site referred to in an 1199 grant by King John to Sir Elias Fitz Norman, was built in 1212 by a family named Rockett. A legendary descendant known as “Rockett the Pirate” captured an English ship and used her to prey on English ships only, dividing the booty among poor folks until he was captured, hanged and beheaded on the West Yellow Road. His head was placed on a spike over Waterford city gate. Sir Algernon May was granted the land around Rockett’s Castle in 1666, and he gave the name Mayfield to the area. The estate is now used for recreational fishing and shooting.
Portlaw (Co. Waterford / North)
Portlaw (Port Cládach / Port Lách) in the Suir Valley was built c.1830 by the Quaker Malcolmson family as a Model Village for the workers of their cotton-spinning mills, which prospered until the end of the American Civil War in 1865.
Mayfield House, the Malcomson family’s principal residence, was designed by William Tinsley c.1840, incorporating a Georgian House erected a hundred years previously.
The hand / starfish-shaped Model Village was laid out by John Skipton Mulvany, who was also the architect of the schoolhouse / courthouse and several large-scale private residences that the Malcomsons erected nearby, including Woodlock House (aka Portlaw House and now a retirement home called Saint Joseph’s Convent), Clodiagh House, and Milford / Millfort House (which had an extraordinary Copper Lodge in the garden), plus the Gate Lodge of the Curraghmore Estate.
Many of the houses built for the Malcolmson’s workers still have their distinctive round roofs, which were covered with tarred calico. The calico was produced at the mill and the tar was a byproduct of the firm’s gas works, the town being one of the first with gas public lighting. These roofs were later copied in Belfast and on the Ruhr.
The Malcolmsons provided subsidised shops, a hospital, a non-sectarian school, a Provident Society, a Tontine Club, a Philharmonic Society and a Literary Society. The Portlaw planned town influenced the design of Bessbrook in County Armagh, which in turn influenced George Cadbury’s plans for Bournville and Titus Salt’s model village of Saltaire.
The Malcolmsons’ firm collapsed in 1877, and its successor, the Portlaw Spinning Company, failed in 1897. By 1910 the town was desolate, but in 1934 Irish Tanners Ltd built a tannery that, at one stage, was the largest in Europe, employing 600 people. The tannery was closed in 1985, and Portlaw is nowadays primarily a commuter satellite of Waterford City.
The Portlaw Canal, parallel to the River Clodagh, was constructed by the Malcomsons to supply raw materials to their mills and send processed cotton down the River Suir to Waterford Harbour. The English families of specialised factory workers lived in houses on Green Island, for a time known as “English Town” and “Little London“.
Holy Trinity church (CoI) was designed by William Tinsley and completed in 1851.
St Patrick’s parish church (RC), an impressive hilltop edifice, was designed in 1858 by JJ MacCarthy.
Curraghmore, home to the Marquesses of Waterford / Earls of Tyrone, has been in the family’s possession since the late C12th. The beautiful Gardens are regularly open to the public, the House only occasionally.
The entrance Hall and 3-tier Tower, dominated by the La Poer family crest, St. Hubert’s Stag, were not part of the original Norman castle, but a Tower House thought to have been erected in the C15th. The semi-Georgian main block was added in the mid-C18th.
Two substantial ranges of outbuildings were designed by the great Waterford architect John Roberts (1712 – 1796), enclosing an impressive courtyard, which has no equal in Ireland. The interior of the house was completely reordered by James Wyatt (1747 – 1813), and includes decorative schemes by eminent contemporary craftsmen, notably the exceptionally fine plasterwork. An extensive C19th renovation programme included the encasing of the disparate elements of the main block in a cohesive stylistic identity by Samuel Ussher Roberts (1827 – 1900), a descendent of John Roberts.
The 3,500-acre wooded demesne, all that is left of the pre-Land Act 1893 property of 66,000 acres, is enclosed by an almost unbroken 10-mile stone wall. The estate incorporates part of a primeval forest and a stretch of the River Clodagh, largely hidden in a deep valley and spanned by a multi-arched bridge named for King John, who reputedly used it in 1205.
The Shell House was personally decorated with seashells from all over the world over a period of seven years by the family heiress Catherine Power, Baroness de La Poer, who in 1717 married Sir Marcus Beresford, 1st Earl of Tyrone; their eldest son, George de la Poer Beresford, became the 1st Marquess of Waterford.
The 65ft Round Tower on a hill overlooking the house, erected in 1785, commemorates the 1st Marquess‘s beloved 13-year-old eldest son, killed while jumping his horse over palings, plus “a niece and a friend“, believed to have been the boy’s French tutor, who died shortly after the incident.
Clonegam church (CoI), a charming little edifice built in 1841 to replace a medieval structure, has an atmospheric churchyard containing the Le Poer / Beresford mausoleum and a catacomb burial site in which several members of the Malcomson family are interred.
Clonegam school was burned down during the Civil War.
Kilbunny church, dedicated to Saint Munna / Munnu, was founded on a site previously used for pagan worship and reconstructed in the C11th; over 200 monks used to live and pray here. Legend has it that Brian Boru once attended Mass here, and that a pot of gold buried in the graveyard is guarded by fairies. The ruin features a splendid example of a Hiberno – Romanesque doorway. The patron is commemorated by an incised slab bearing his effigy in full pontificals with a Latin legend in full Roman capitals.
Portlaw is within easy reach of Waterford City & Environs, and also of Mothel and Clonea on ByRoute 3.
Kilclooney Wood, formerly part of the Curraghmore estate, is a mainly coniferous Coillte plantation, with pleasant forest / lakeside walks and a picnic site.