Mitchelstown (Co. Cork / Northeast)
Mitchelstown (Baile Mhistéala) (pop. 2,300) is a small country town in the valley between the Galtee Mountains, Ireland’s highest inland range, and the Knockmealdown Mountains. The River Gradog runs by the town into the River Funcheon, a tributary of the nearby River Blackwater. While notable for its elegant Georgian architecture and old-fashioned shopfronts, particularly on its main thoroughfare, Cork Street, Mitcheltown has long been most famous for its dairy and pork products.
The town traces its origins to the C8th, when Brigown Abbey, of which only an C11th ruin remains, was founded by Saint Fanahan / Finnchu, who is also associated with a local Holy Well.
The town itself was established in the early C13th by the Norman family of FitzDavid de Saint Michel, after whom it was named. In the C14th it became the chief residence of the 1st White Knight, Maurice FitzGibbon, who named the district Clongibbon. The family castle was captured by insurgents in the 1641 Rebellion, retaken by Crown forces, and surrendered to Lord Castlehaven‘s Confederacy army in 1645.
The 10th and last White Knight’s sole heiress, Margaret FitzGibbon, had married Sir William Fenton, and their daughter married Sir John King, ennobled by King Charles II as Baron Kingston of Boyle, Co. Roscommon; their descendants held various titles, most notably Earls of Kingston. The family dominated Michelstown for over two centuries.
They re-established the medieval village on a new site between 1760 and 1820. Like the Kingston demesne, it was primarily designed by John Webb (a former assistant of the great English landscape architect Lancelot “Capability” Brown), with two fine squares and streets named after family members (George, Robert, James, Edward and Thomas).
In 1797 the Kilworth Hotel was the scene of a spectacular scandal when Robert King (1754 – 1799), Viscount Kingsborough (soon to be 2nd Earl of Kingston) shot Colonel Henry FitzGerald, the illegitimate son of his wife’s brother, dead. FitzGerald, brought up as a member of the family, had seduced and abducted Kingsborough’s daughter, Mary, and then fought a duel with Kingsborough’s son, Robert Jr, in which neither party was injured; FitzGerald had shot himself non-fatally some days later. After Mary King had been restored to her family, FitzGerald had pursued her to Mitchelstown. At the time of the shooting he was struggling with Robert Jr, who had gone to the hotel with his father and broken down FitzGerald’s door. Robert Jr was subsequently tried for murder at Cork Assizes, while his father’s trial was held in the Irish House of Lords, during which a hooded executioner stood next to him holding an immense axe, painted black except for two inches of polished steel, at the level of his neck. No witnesses appeared for the prosecution, so both were acquitted.
Robert Jr (1773 – 1854) went on to become a General in the Napoleonic Wars. He had distinguished himself as a young officer fighting the French to capture the islands of Guadeloupe, St. Lucia and Martinique, and persuaded his elder brother, “Big George” (1771 – 1839), who had run away at the age of 20 with a young lady he met in Dublin’s St. Stephen’s Green to the West Indies, where they had three children, to come home and marry neighbouring Lord Mountcashell‘s daughter Helena.
Mitchelstown Castle (1825), the largest neo-Gothic house in Ireland, was designed by George Pain, and was famous for having more windows than Buckingham Palace; the Kingstons were supposedly obliged to seal one window to avoid accusations of lèse-majesté.
Both George, as 3rd Earl of Kingston, and Robert Jr, as 1st Viscount Lorton, sat in the British House of Lords as pro-Catholic Tories. Robert Jr’s son, Robert King (1804 – 1869), inherited both titles; his nephew, Col. Edward Robert King-Harman (1838 – 1888) was first a Home Rule MP for Sligo and later a Unionist MP for County Dublin.
On 9th September 1887, at Mitchelstown courthouse where William O’Brien MP of Land League fame was on trial for inciting non-payment of rent on the nearby Kingston lands, three estate tenants including rent strike campaigner John Mandeville were shot dead and others were wounded by police. This event became known as the Mitchelstown Massacre, and the phrase “Remember Mitchelstown!” was subsequently much bandied about in the British House of Commons when Irish affairs were under discussion.
During the Civil War, the castle was vandalised and burnt to the ground by Republican thugs (led by the future Fianna Fáil Minister for Agriculture, Sean Moylan), ostensibly to prevent its use by the Free State Army; after the fire it was demolished and the stone used to build Mount Mellary Abbey in the Comeragh Mountains.
Mitchelstown’s Agricultural Co-Op, founded in 1910, was for many years the leader in its field.
The Mitchelstown Castle estate wall is still in exceptionally good condition, and a Demesne Walk takes in the old Castle Gardens.
Kings Square (1761) is widely regarded as one of the finest Georgian squares in the country.
Kingston College, built and endowed in 1761 by James, 4th Baron Kingston, is a retirement home for Protestant gentlefolk. The College (i.e. ‘community’ – not an educational establishment) consists of thirty small terraced houses grouped around a large square, with a chapel in the centre. The setting is very attractive and the buildings are fine examples of Georgian architecture. (Photo – www.buildingsofireland.ie)
St. George’s church (CoI), built in 1823, was designed by the Pain Brothers. In the chancel there is a memorial to the Rev. Devereux Spratt (1620 – 1688), captured with other passengers en route to Bristol in 1641 by Barbary pirates to be sold as slaves in Algiers; although ransomed, he stayed on voluntarily as pastor to his countrymen, helping some to escape to the Balearics, until all were repatriated in 1647.
The churchyard contains the grave of Mary Travers, a longterm patient of Oscar Wilde‘s father, Sir Willam Wilde; she famously claimed to have been seduced by the doctor, and successfully sued Lady Wilde for libel for suggesting she was deranged, but was awarded only one farthing in damages. Sir William (widely known to have two illegitimate children) was nevertheless adversely affected by the scandal, partly because he declined to give evidence, and had to pay huge legal costs; he subsequently became a recluse, and his talented son moved to England.
The church of Mary Conceived Without Sin (RC) was built in 1980 to replace an older structure (1843) also designed by the Pain Brothers, of which the tower and spire still stand.
Mulberry Lane recalls a failed attempt by “Big George”, the 3rd Earl of Kingston, to establish a silk industry in Mitchelstown with the plantation of mulberry bushes for the silkworms to feed on; they all died.
Cork Street, Mitcheltown’s main thoroughfare, features several interesting premises. The Garda Station (1982) has a statue of Saint Farahan sculpted by Cliodna Cussen.
New Market Square is an attractive civic space in front of the old Market House; the square features a statue of John Mandeville.
Clongibbon House is an elegant hotel on New Market Square, particularly recommended for its food.
Mitchelstown’s Thursday Market has been held weekly since time immemorial. The town also hosts a Farmers’ Market on Saturday mornings and an annual Music Festival.
William Trevor was born in Mitchelstown in 1928.
Ballygiblin is a local townland. A number of emigrants from this area arrived in Ottawa in 1823, and named their new settlement in memory of their home. On 23rd April the following year fighting broke out between them and the established local Protestant community, and continued for two weeks. Several buildings were destroyed, and one Irishman was killed. Peace was restored through the efforts of a Col. FitzGibbon.
Mitchelstown is linked by the R665 to Clogheen on ByRoute 3, while Fermoy, also on ByRoute 3, can be reached either by a scenic stretch of the N8 or by pleasant back roads through the Kilworth Mountains.
Kildorrery (Co. Cork / Northeast)
Kildorrery (Cill Dairbhre – “Church of the Oaks”) is an attractive village built on an ancient hill-fort site with impressive views.
There are three Ring Forts in the area, and parts of a 200BC boundary known as The Black Ditch that is believed to have once stretched from the River Shannon to Youghal.
In the C7th Saint Mologga, Ireland’s answer to St John the Baptist, founded a church at nearby Aghacross and baptised pilgrims in the River Funcheon.
Brian Ború‘s elder brother, Mahon, king of Munster, was slain in 975 AD by Maolmuidh, chieftain of the O’Mahony clan and of Carbery, at the Pass of Redchair, in the north of the current parish.
Modern Kildorrery was built in the early C19th by Lord Kingston of Mitchelstown. When Lord Doneraile of the adjoining parish threatened to burn the village as “a nest of sedition“, Lord Kingston’s reply was: “If you burn Kildorrery today, I will burn Doneraile tomorrow.”
The graveyard of the nearby C18th Farahy church has a Famine Plot with a memorial stone dedicated to those who died during the Great Famine; the famous Anglo-Irish writer Elizabeth Bowen is also buried here. Her ancestral home, Bowencourt, designed by Isaac Rothery, was demolished by illiterate barbarians in 1960.
Kildorrery has seen people of several once exotic nationalities, mostly East European, settle locally in recent years.
Kilclooney Wood, about three miles northeast of Kildorrery, was the site of the Kilclooney Engagement of March 1867, in which a small group of IRB militants involved in the abortive Fenian Uprising of that year were trying to ford a stream when they were discovered by Crown soldiers led by Henry Edward Redmond RM (uncle of John Redmond, the future Home Rule Party leader). In the ensuing confrontation, one revolutionary leader was killed and two others taken prisoner; their subsequent death sentences were commuted to penal servitude in Western Australia.
Kildorrery is at the crossroads of the N73 and R512, and thus linked to both Fermoy and Mallow on ByRoute 3 and Kilmallock on ByRoute 5.