Rincrew Religious House, Co. Waterford
Niall C.E.J. O’Brien
Overlooking Youghal Harbour is a high promontory lying between the River Blackwater on the east and the River Tourig on the west called Rincrew. At the southern end of this high ground, with fine views of Youghal harbour and the sea beyond, is a mysterious ruin that has had historians in knots for centuries.
Location map for Rincrew, Templemichael and Molana on an island in the River Blackwater
The ruin consists of a long east-west building with at least four high and broad windows, two on the south side and two on the north side. A single window is on the east gable while the western end of the building is totally robbed of stones and is unrecognisable with the extensive plant growth. Historians have named this building a church because of its east-west orientation.
Plan of the site as drawn by Rev. Canon Patrick Power
Joining the church building at the north-east corner is a range of buildings aligned north-south divided into two ground floor chambers. The nearest chamber to the church is a two story structure with two doorways on its west wall and three window openings on its east wall. Further windows on the west wall can be seen through the foliage on the first floor with the suggestion of a chimney on the first floor. Over the ground floor is a vaulted ceiling aligned north-south.
The vaulted passage looking north towards the small chamber beyond the tree
This north-south chamber, called the refectory by historians, is 41 feet long by 17 feet 11 inches wide. At the northern end of the refectory is another chamber 30 feet 4 inches long by 13 feet 4 inches wide. This chamber comes off the refectory at one side. Because the second chamber is narrower than the refectory it allows a window in the refectory on the eastern end of its northern wall. This window is partially blocked by the vaulted ceiling of the refectory which suggests that the vault is a later addition. The sides of the vault are also not attached to the east and west walls of the refectory. Rather the vault fits in between the two walls which again points to a later insertion.
The junction of the vault with the previous vertical wall
The vault is similar in ways to the vaulted passage at the Augustinian Priory at Bridgetown, County Cork. In 1541 Molana Abbey held 50 acres in Rincrew. It is possible that when the mysterious religious community left Rincrew that Molana took over the site. Taking inspiration from the vaulted passage at Bridgetown the people at Rincrew inserted a vaulted passage into the existing building.
Covered passageway at Bridgetown priory.
The protected passage could then be used for lighting candles to be used in a procession into the church through a door at the southern end of the vaulted passage. This door is seen in the drawing by Grose but the door and its surrounding wall have since fallen down.
Drawing of Rincrew by Daniel Grose c.1800 looking from the south-east
The rest of the site is difficult to establish as much of the stone work is gone and the site is heavily overgrown. A platform of stones in the south-east corner may be from the collapsed south wall of the refectory. These stones could also be from a collapsed crossing tower and that the modern east wall of the church may only be the east wall of the nave. Much in the way of archaeological work is needed to help decipher out the site.
At various places in the stone work and aligned in various directions are at least seven straight through plug holes. These helped secure the scaffold for the construction of the high walls of the site. Later wooden beams through the plug holes could help support the roof of a cloister or some other structure. The plug holes suggest there were more buildings on the site than the two ranges that can be seen today.
The history of the ruin is just as mysterious as the stone work. Confusion abounds when attempting to research the history of Rincrew since the Knights Hospitaller and the Knights Templar are both credited with early ownership. One renowned authority who wrote four times on the place, twice credited the Hospitallers as owners and twice credited the rival Templars with ownership. To add more drama Raymond “le Gros” Fitzwilliam Fitzgerald is credited with founding Rincrew after seeing the strategic value of the site during the battle of Youghal Harbour in 1173. Later legend says that Raymond died at Rincrew and that he was taken up the River Blackwater to the Augustinian abbey of Molana. We have no evidence beyond folklore to substantiate this claim.
Even this story of Rincrew is slightly questionable. The Normans raided Lismore in 1173 because they were short of supplies and money for their troops. Some of the booty was taken to Waterford by the coast route while more was loaded onto 13 ships at the harbour of Lismore. While waiting there for an east wind, a fleet of 32 ships arrived from Cork led by the Ostmen of that town. A naval battle ensued around the present Youghal Harbour. The Normans won but only after a struggle. Raymond “le Gros” heard of the battle and came from Waterford by the coast route and made for Lismore where he did battle with McCarthy, Prince of Desmond.
The story as related by Giraldus Cambrensis says clearly that Raymond was not at Youghal Harbour during the battle and that when he later came along the coast route he may not even have gone that far west if he was heading for Lismore. He could have taken the coast road from Waterford to Dungarvan and then turned inland, up the present road to Cappoquin and onto Lismore. The leader of the Normans during the battle of 1173 was Adam de Hereford.
Niall Byrne, who made an extensive study of the military orders in the south-east of Ireland, followed the claim of Canon Patrick Power that Rincrew was a Preceptory house of the Knights Hospitallers, and a daughter house of Mourne Abbey near Mallow, County Cork.
Yet Charles McNeill, who edited the Register of Kilmainham which gives details of Hospitaller property in the fourteenth century, said there are no documents to say that Rhincrew ever belonged to the Hospitallers. An extensive survey of Knight Hospitaller properties in Ireland was made in 1212 and there is no mention of Rincrew.
But the Hospitaller rivals, the Knights Templar also have documents with no mention of Rincrew. In 1308 the Knights Templars in Ireland were arrested and their property seized. Yet no mention is made in the extensive documents on Templar property about Rincrew. It is possible that the survey for “Templar” Rincrew was lost. But we have a backup file to answer that suggestion. A papal bull in May 1312 ordered that all Templar property should be transferred to the Knights Hospitallers yet still no Rincrew mentioned. The records of the Knights Hospitaller in Ireland are available for the years 1320-1360 but they make no mention of Rincrew.
Thus we had four opportunities (1212, 1308, 1312 and 1320-1360) for Rincrew to be mentioned in medieval documents but no mention in any. Many medieval documents are lost but if Rincrew was, at a substantial period in its life, a religious house of the Knights Templar or the Knights Hospitaller then it should have shown up in some record. No such record survives.
The present ruins at Rincrew show two major phrases of construction so whoever had Rincrew was wealthy or came into money at two different times. It could also show the building activities of two different owners. Further research may solve this observation.
The final big survey of monastic property in medieval Ireland took place as part of the Reformation of Henry VIII. Once again Rincrew is absent from the documents. It does not feature in the extent of monastic possessions in 1539-40 and the building is likely to have been in ruins by then. At that time nearby Molana Abbey held 50 acres at Rincrew plus the tithes of the parish.
The secular owners of nearby Templemichael were the Fitzgerald family of Dromana. Templemichael became the latter name for the parish of Rincrew. Sometime before 1420 the third Earl of Ormond granted half the lordship of Inchiquin to his niece and unofficial spouse, Katherine of Desmond. About the same time Katherine also acquired the manor of Rhincrew. In 1443 she granted Rincrew to her nephew, Gerald Fitz James, afterwards lord of the Decies. The Fitzgerald family held Templemichael until 1750 when they sold it to Richard Dawson of Dublin.
Yet some religious establishment was at Rincrew. For much of the medieval period Rincrew gave its name to the surrounding parish which only later took the name of Templemichael. The east-west chamber is very church-like in its appearance to suggest strongly the existence of a religious house.
There is a possible candidate for the mystery religious community in a document from 1223. It says “Mandate to the Archbishop of Dublin, justiciary of Ireland, that if it appears by inquisition that King John was not seized of the fee of Uhachath, in the port of Lismore, when he committed the custody of the country of Desmond to Thomas Fitz Anthony, and that Thomas disseized the Abbot and monks of Tewkesbury thereof, after he had undertaken the custody, that then the justiciary cause the Abbot and monks to have seisin of the fee”.
Some people have suggested that this place called Uhachath is near Dungarvan but the overall direction of the document points to the Blackwater valley as a location. Uhachath is in the port of Lismore and that port can only be the River Blackwater between Lismore and Youghal. In that big stretch of river we can narrow down the search to that part in the county of Desmond. Most of the land on both sides of the Blackwater between Lismore and Youghal is in County Waterford but in medieval times the county boundary was different to today.
In medieval times that part of land south of the River Bride and east of the River Blackwater which today makes up the parishes of Tallow, Kilwatermoy, Kilkockin and Templemichael was in County Cork. Another name for County Cork was the County of Desmond. Therefore this place called Uhachath has to be on the River Blackwater and somewhere in the four parishes thus named. The port of Lismore location would suggest that Uhachath has to be in the parishes of Kilkockin or Templemichael as these border the River Blackwater. Could Uhachath be an old name for Rincrew?
Tewkesbury Abbey is therefore a good candidate for the mystery religious community at Rincrew as it had property in the area and at a time contemporary with the architecture of Rincrew.
In the valuation of parishes held about 1302 Rincrew was valued at £2 16 shillings 8 pence which is only just above the near baseline value of £2 for a standard parish. The Island parish, as Kilkockin was known as, was valued at £5 13s 4d as it included the abbey of Molana and so had a higher valuation. This information would suggest that the mystery religious community had left Rincrew by 1302 or had significantly reduced their activities there.
The view from Rincrew over Youghal Harbour and the open sea beyond
Further research is needed, possibly in Tewkesbury, to try to solve the mystery. An archaeological dig on the site could help establish dating evidence to try to better pin down a time frame. For the present Rincrew still guards its secret just as it guarded the mouth of the River Blackwater in medieval times. Much done, a lot more to do.
 Daniel Grose, The Antiquities of Ireland, edited by Roger Stalley (Irish Architectural Archive, Dublin, 1991), p. 54
 Niall Byrne, The Irish Crusade: A History of the Knights Hospitaller, the Knights Templar and the Knights of Malta in the South-East of Ireland (Linden, Dublin, 2007), pp. 120-1
 Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugnatio Hibernica: The conquest of Ireland, edited by A.B. Scott & F.X. Martin (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978), p. 137
 Niall Byrne, The Irish Crusade, p. 121
 Charles McNeill (ed.), Registrum de Kilmainham (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1932), p. vii
 Charles McNeill (ed.), Registrum de Kilmainham (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1932), pp. 139-41
 Niall Byrne, The Irish Crusade, pp. 204-7, 210
 Tom Nolan, ‘Listings of monastic possessions in Waterford c.1540, in Decies, No. 26, p. 48
 Kenneth Nicholls, ‘The development of Lordship in County Cork, 1300-1600’, in Patrick O’Flanagan & Cornelius G. Buttimer (ed.), Cork History and Society (Geography Publications, Dublin, 1993), p. 188, 209, note 228
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland (Kraus reprint, 1974), Vol. 5 (1302-1307), p. 306
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 1 (1171-1251), no. 1147
 H.S. Sweetman (ed.), Calendar of Documents relating to Ireland, Vol. 5 (1302-1307), pp. 305, 306