Sunday, September 15, 2013

Knockanore in Cork or Waterford in Early Christian times

Knockanore in Cork or Waterford in Early Christian times

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien


In the decades, possibly centuries, before the Norman invasion of 1169 the land of Knockanore in west County Waterford was known as the land of Ofhearghusa. This land comprised the later medieval parishes of Tallow, Kilwatermoy, Kilcockan and Templemichael/Rincrew. The area is triangular in shaped being bounded on the north by the River Bride and on the east by the River Blackwater. The western side of this triangular area is undefined by a continuous natural feature but the Glenaboy River and the Tourig River partially define the border.

Ofhearghusa in Cork or Waterford

Since the establishment of the county boundary between the Counties of Cork and Waterford in the mid-sixteenth century the land of Ofhearghusa has been part of County Waterford. But in medieval times the district was part of County Cork. References from the mid-thirteenth century testify to this arrangement. Yet since 1111 the four parishes in the district have been part of the County Waterford based Diocese of Lismore.

In the period before the Norman invasion of 1169 was Ofhearghusa part of the Waterford kingdom known as Déisi Muman or was it part of one of the Cork kingdoms of Uí Liatháin or Uí Meic Caille? This article aims to put forward information relating to this question. There is much work still to do to establish a definite sequence to the events yet the distance in time from the events may leave some blurred parts to the story.

The nation of Ofhearghusa  

The person or family of Ofhearghusa is unknown but they must have been of sufficient standing for a large area to be named after them. It is unknown when the name was first applied to the Knockanore area. It was so named in the early years of the Norman Conquest but was clearly of pre-Norman origin.

The community of Ofhearghusa was not a single nation kingdom. There were at least four main subgroups within the land of Ofhearghusa. We see this in the number of parishes within the area. The formation of parishes in Ireland began to happen in the early years of the twelfth century and continued into the thirteenth century. The suggestion in other places is that parishes were based upon existing land ownership territories. The four parishes of Tallow, Kilwatermoy, Kilcockan and Templemichael/Rincrew would therefore possibly define four ancient divisions of the Ofhearghusa nation with each main family grouping getting their own parish.

The medieval parishes of West Waterford

Molana Abbey

The chief religious foundation in the Ofhearghusa district was Molana Abbey. The foundation of a Christian community on Dairinish (the oak island) was made by St. Molanfide in the sixth century.[1] St. Molanfide, also written as Mealanfaith (the Little {or dear} Tonsured Prophet) was said to be of the race of Ugaine Mor, monarch of Ireland.[2] Ugaine Mor was a pre-historic king who reign sometime between 634 BC and 246 BC depending on which source you prefer to read.[3]
St. Fachnan Mongach was abbot of Molana in the second half of the sixth century. He is said to have founded another Irish monastery at Rosscarbery in west Cork.[4] Rev. Canon Patrick Power disputes this foundation at Rosscarbery as a misreading of the texts.[5]

In the eight century a number of notable people are associated with Molana Abbey. In 725 the ‘Scribe of Munster’ Rubin Mac Connadh of Molana, died. He was one of the authors of the Collectio Hibernensis, one of the most widely read church documents in Western Europe between the eight and twelfth centuries. In 742 one most famous abbots of Molana, Fer Dá Crích, died.[6]

The lives of St. Declan and St. Carthage

Despite the existence of these important people and an old monastic site there is no mention of Molana Abbey in the Lives of St. Declan and St. Carthage, the two chief saints of the Déisi kingdom. The Life of St. Declan was possibly first written in the eight century.[7] The Life of St. Declan is not just a biography of the saint but has strong political undertones. The writer places St. Declan in the fifth century before St. Patrick to show the ancient lineage of the Déisi kingdom. Their meeting in south Tipperary also showed the Déisi control of that place. St. Declan is then shown meeting St. David in the sixth century so as to emphasise the close connection between the Déisi kingdom of Munster and the Déisi kingdom of south-west Wales. Later in the Life, St. Declan visits the Déisi of Brega to illustrate the connection between the two Déisi kingdoms.[8]

The popular story called ‘The Expulsion of the Déisi’ says that the Déisi people once lived in the Kingdom of Brega but were expelled following a marriage dispute and some bloodletting. The wandering Déisi travelled around the land of south Leinster before settling in south Tipperary. The expulsion story was written in the eight century, around the same time as the Life of St. Declan.[9]     

If we take it that Molana Abbey was founded in the sixth century and had well known personalities in the early eight century then surely it should have got a mention in the Life of St. Declan. The writer of the Life emphasised the political control and association the Déisi kingdom had with many far flung places but no talk of a place on an island near the mouth of the River Blackwater. If Molana and the land of Ofhearghusa had any connection with the Deisi kingdom of Waterford and South Tipperary before the eight century then it should have got a mention in the Life of St. Declan.  

Ardmore, Co. Waterford, the centre of St. Declan's monastery  

The other chief saint of the Deisi kingdom was the Kerry native, St. Carthage. He first founded a monastery in Offaly at Rahan which grew to become a large and well known monastery. Rahan was famous for its treatment for lepers. But St. Carthage had a dispute with the monastery of Durrow over a number of issues including the date of Easter which was a hot subject in the seventh century. St. Carthage was expelled from Offaly and wandered the centre of Ireland with his followers.

They visited the area around Cork Harbour where they founded some churches and cured the daughter of the King of Fermoy at Ballyhooly or Clondulane, just south of the River Blackwater. The later Diocese of Lismore took control of the land south of the River Blackwater and east of Cork Harbour when it was formed in 1111. The Life of St. Carthage was used to show that this area was religiously joined to the Déisi kingdom before the formation of the dioceses and thus should be part of the Lismore diocese.

As the oldest copy of the Life of St. Carthage that we have comes from the twelfth century. It is therefore difficult to tell if the story of Cork Harbour was in the original biography or if it was included in the twelfth century copy to boost the claim of Lismore to control much of east Cork. It was not unusual for Irish historians of the pre-Norman period to change a story or family genealogy to fit into the latest change in the political climate.     

We are told that St. Carthage had a follower called Mochua or Cronin who founded an abbey at Clashmore on the east side of the River Blackwater.[10] This shows us that St. Carthage and his followers kept to the Déisi side of the Blackwater and thus putting Ofhearghusa on the Cork side.

When Rev. Canon Patrick Power edited the two lives of St. Declan and St. Carthage in 1914 he remarked that the Life of St. Carthage (also called St. Mochuda) was “in all essentials a very sober historical narrative – accurate whenever we can test it, credible and harmonious on the whole”.[11] St. Carthage died in about 638.[12] Molana Abbey was in existence before St. Carthage came to the Déisi kingdom yet fails to get a mention.

The Cork kingdoms of Uí Liatháin and Uí Meic Caille

In the Early Christian period the land between Cork city and Youghal and north to the River Blackwater formed part of two kingdoms. The largest kingdom was Uí Liatháin with the smaller, and sometimes junior, kingdom of Uí Meic Caille.  

The regional kingdom of Uí Liatháin has records of its existence from 646 onwards. The area of Uí Liatháin comprised four cantreds of the later Anglo-Norman administration, namely, Imokilly, Barrymore, Uí Glassin (Youghal and the surrounding land of Inchiquin) and Ocurbletan.[13]

The kingdom of Uí Meic Caille (Imokilly) began to emerge from the darkness in 906 when kings of that kingdom are first recorded. The area of Uí Meic Caille extended from the Great Island of Cork Harbour eastwards to Kilcredan Head.[14]

Map of the Cork and Waterford kingdoms

Records of the Déisi in east Cork

The kingdoms of Déisi Muman and Uí Liatháin both had colonies in Wales or south-west England in the decades after the end of the Roman Empire. It is difficult to say if this possession of colonies overseas caused some rivalries and confrontation at home in Ireland. References are few to battles between the Déisi and the Uí Liatháin. Yet some interesting notations exist. In the martyrology of Donegal it is recorded under 28th November the death of the “three sons of Bochra” and that they were “of Archadh Raithin in Uí Meic Caille in Déisi Muman”.[15] The three sons were Laidhgenn, Cainneach, and Accobhran and Bochra was their mother.[16] No time period is given for when Bochra and her three sons were alive.

The Diocese of Lismore

The synod of Raithbreasail in 1111 established the diocesan boundaries. The diocese of Lismore comprised the present County of Waterford less Waterford city and the Barony of Gaultier which was the area of the Diocese of Waterford. On the north side the Diocese of Lismore took in those places in present-day south Tipperary which were part of the Déisi kingdom. This area included the land between the Knockmealdown Mountains and the Galtee Mountains, along with the towns of Cahir, Clonmel and Carrick-on-Suir and all the land around these places.

On the western side the Diocese of Lismore took in much of present-day east Cork. The boundary was between Cork Harbour and Mallow. Thus places like Youghal, Cloyne, Midleton, Fermoy and Killavullen were part of the Diocese of Lismore in the first half of the twelfth century. This situation would suggest that the Déisi kingdom held east Cork by some form of military or political overlordship.

The Déisi conquest of Ofhearghusa

At some as yet undetermined time between the eight century and the synod of Raithbreasail the Déisi kingdom expanded its borders for the first time since about 500 AD when it conquered the area of south Tipperary now part of the Diocese of Lismore. The Déisi occupied Ofhearghusa and annexed the district into the Déisi kingdom. Why the Déisi annexed Ofhearghusa and did not proceed with further military conquests into the Cork kingdoms with more annexation is unclear. Perhaps the surrender of Ofhearghusa by the Cork kingdoms was a buy off to prevent further conquest.

It is not known if Ofhearghusa was an independent kingdom before its occupation by the Déisi or a subdivision of the Uí Liatháin or Uí Meic Caille kingdoms. The emergence of Uí Meic Caille kingdom around 906 may be a response to the weakness of the Uí Liatháin kingdom and a reaction to the conquest of Ofhearghusa.

Another cause or response to the conquest of Ofhearghusa stems from the Viking raids. In one of the Viking raids up the River Blackwater we are told how they attacked Clashmore and Lismore and carried away goods and people. Rev. Patrick Power remarked on this raid how curious it was that the Vikings did not plunder Molana Abbey as they went upriver. Molana would be far wealthier than Clashmore and would be the first religious house the Vikings would meet on the river.[17]

A possible reason for not attacking Molana could be that the Cork kingdom of Uí Liatháin or that of Ofhearghusa were allies of the Vikings and gave help to the Viking raids on the Déisi monasteries. In reply to such collusion the Déisi could have conquered and annexed Ofhearghusa to prevent further raids by controlling both sides of the Blackwater.

Another possible source of Ofhearghusa conquest could have come from lost national pride among the Déisi. Before the Viking raids on Ireland the Déisi kingdom extended from the Suir Estuary in the east to the Blackwater in the west. In the ninth century the Vikings occupied and settled the area of Waterford city and the barony of Gaultier. The Vikings established the separate kingdom of Waterford in this previous Déisi area. This loss of Déisi territory was accepted with mixed emotions.

At about the same time the Vikings began to similarly occupy and settle the mouth of the River Blackwater. In 853 they occupied the area around present-day Youghal where they built a fortress and laid the foundations for a sea port.[18] If this occupation was left unchecked the Vikings could expand their area of control and establish a Viking kingdom at the mouth of the River Blackwater. This would cut off the Déisi heartland and chief centres, such as Lismore, from free access to the sea as they previously enjoyed.

Therefore in the year 866 Rechtabrat, King of the Déisi, led a combined army and naval fleet against the Vikings of Youghal. The Viking fleet was defeated in battle while the land army destroyed the fortress.[19] With this victory the Déisi would again control the mouth of the Blackwater and have free access to the sea. The occupation of Ofhearghusa may have been part of this military campaign.    

The Déisi and the O’Brien’s

In the first half of the twelfth century the O’Brien family of Dal Cais in modern day County Clare were the dominant political family in Munster. Most of the Munster kingdoms followed the O’Brien flag. In 1103 a Déisi force travelled with the great Munster army led by Muirchertach O’Brien into Ulster. Two royal heirs of the Ua Bric family of Déisi died along with countless others.[20]

In 1118 Diarmait O’Brien, King if Munster died and overnight the political landscape of Munster was changed. An army led by Turlough O’Connor, King of Connacht invaded the province and divided it into North Munster (Thomond) and South Munster (Desmond). The O’Brien nation was left to control Thomond while a new power, the MacCarthy nation, was to control Desmond. This division was to lessen the power of the Munster king and weaken the military capacity of the province with internal wars.

In 1121 Turlough O’Connor returned to Munster and plundered the province from Cashel to Tralee. Later that year he invaded the Déisi kingdom. He plundered the Déisi lands of south Tipperary before moving on to attack Lismore and west Waterford. On the Drum Hills, just north of Ardmore, the Déisi made a last stand and won.[21]

The rise of MacCarthy and decline of the Déisi  

Yet the victory was at terrible cost. The power of the Déisi kingdom was destroyed. The two royal families within the kingdom, Ua Bric and Ua Faoláin, competed against each other for the rest of the century for control of the kingdom. Their fighting further weakened the kingdom. At the same time the Cork kingdoms of Uí Liatháin and Uí Meic Caille became to grow in strength under the guidance of the MacCarthy kings of Desmond and Munster.

Sometime in the 1130s a new diocese was formed in east Cork, the Diocese of Cloyne. The Déisi had an uneasy relationship with the MacCarthy kings of Munster. In 1123 the Déisi and others overthrew Tadgh MacCarthy as King of Munster. His successor Cormac MacCarthy assumed power but was later deposed. Cormac spent his short retirement within the monastery of Lismore. Within months he was back as King of Munster. In the 1120s Cormac MacCarthy sponsored the construction of new churches at Lismore. But in the 1130s relations turned violent and Cormac had the heir to the Déisi throne ‘treacherously’ killed.[22] The MacCarthy fortress at Oileán Mail Anfaid in the heart of Ofhearghusa may have been constructed at that time.[23]

Romanesque doorway into the north transept of Lismore cathedral which Cormac may have seen

It was possibly during this hostile period that MacCarthy moved to form the new Diocese of Cloyne. This new diocese took the land of present-day east Cork which was formerly part of the Diocese of Lismore. Cloyne also got the land north of the River Blackwater and south of the Ballyhoura Mountains which was formerly part of the Diocese of Emly. Much of the land west of Mallow, in the present-day Barony of Duhallow, also became part of the new Diocese of Cloyne.[24]

The Déisi sphere of influence was therefore much reduced in east Cork yet not totally. It would seem natural that the River Blackwater should have formed the eastern boundary of the Diocese of Cloyne but it did not. This suggests that the Déisi kingdom had at some previous time established military control over the land of Ofhearghusa while it only held overlordship control over the County Cork kingdoms of Uí Liatháin and Uí Meic Caille (Imokilly) which two kingdoms became a central part of the Cloyne Diocese.

When the synod of Kells-Mellifont confirmed the existence of the new Diocese of Cloyne the land of Ofhearghusa was still under Déisi control and thus remained part of the Diocese of Lismore which it does to this day.

Déisi retired from Ofhearghusa

At some time over the following twenty years the political area of Uí Glassin (Youghal and its hinterland) broke away from the Uí Liatháin kingdom and allied itself with the Uí Meic Caille. Together they worked to build their power and extend their territories. The weakened Déisi kingdom provided an obvious target area for expansion.

At the start of the Norman invasion of Ireland in 1169/1170 the Déisi kingdom was one of the first Irish kingdoms to come under Norman control. When the Normans sacked Lismore in 1173 no Déisi army came to its rescue. The MacCarthy king of Desmond and the Ostmen of Cork made an unsuccessful effort to save the old monastic city.

In 1177 the Normans established their administration framework over much of County Waterford. The new County Waterford extended from Waterford city west to the Blackwater and then north of the Blackwater to west of Lismore at or near Mocollop.[25] The land belonging to the Bishop of Lismore around the town and between the Rivers Blackwater and Bride seem to have been excluded from the new district but was later included.

Evidence from the south Tipperary area of the former Déisi kingdom, in the last years of King John’s reign (1211-1212), shows that part of the kingdom as part of the new County Waterford.[26] Thus when the Normans were establishing the new County Waterford in 1177 Ofhearghusa was not judged to be part of the Déisi kingdom. Thus by 1177 Ofhearghusa was part of Uí Meic Caille or Uí Glassin. Therefore at some time between 1152 and 1177 the Déisi were driven out of Ofhearghusa and possibly for some years before 1169. 

For many years after the Norman invasion the kingdoms of present day County Cork kept independent of the new comers. In 1182 the Uí Mac Caille still had the ability to put an armed force in the battle field. Mac Tire, chief of the Uí Mac Caille and the king of Uí Glassin killed Miles de Cogan and Ralph Fitzstephen near Lismore.[27]

During the 1180s the Normans made advances into Cork. Prince John granted the land of Ofhearghusa to Gerald Fitz Maurice along with that of Uí Glassin.[28] This would suggest that Ofhearghusa became part of the Uí Glassin kingdom when the Déisi were expelled. About 1200 the medieval County of Cork was established and Ofhearghusa was part of the new county. In 1301 Ofhearghusa was counted as part of the cantred of Imokilly.[29]

By this story it would appear that the land of Ofhearghusa, which covered the four parishes of Tallow, Kilwatermoy, Kilcockan and Templemichael/Rincrew, was for much of the time between the fifth century and the mid-sixteenth century part of the kingdoms of Cork and of the medieval County of Cork. Between the eight century and the eleventh century it became part of the Déisi kingdom but was lost before the Norman invasion. Since the sixteenth century Ofhearghusa is very much part of the modern County Waterford.


End of post


[1] A. Gwynn & R.N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious House: Ireland (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1988), p. 187
[2] Rev. Patrick Power, ‘The abbey of Molana, Co. Waterford’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. LXII (1932), p. 142
[4] A. Gwynn & R.N. Hadcock, Medieval Religious House: Ireland (Irish Academic Press, Dublin, 1988), p. 187
[5] Rev. Patrick Power, ‘The abbey of Molana, Co. Waterford’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. LXII (1932), p. 143
[6] Rev. Patrick Power, ‘The abbey of Molana, Co. Waterford’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. LXII (1932), p. 143
[7] Rev. Patrick Power (ed.), Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore (Irish Text Society, London, Vol. XVI, 1914), p. xxv
[8] Rev. Patrick Power (ed.), Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, p. xvii
[9] Dáibhí O Cróinin, ‘Ireland, 400-800’, in A new history of Ireland, part 1: Prehistoric and Early Ireland, edited by Dáibhí O Cróinin (Oxford University Press, 2008)p. 194
[10] Rev. Patrick Power (ed.), Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, pp. 103, 184
[11] Rev. Patrick Power (ed.), Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, p. xxvi
[12] Sarah Sanderlin, ‘The monastery of Lismore A.D. 638-1111’, in Waterford History and Society, edited by William Nolan & Thomas P. Power (Geography Publications, Dublin, 1992), p. 31
[13] Paul MacCotter, Medieval Ireland: Territorial, Political and Economic Divisions (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2008), p. 156
[14] Paul MacCotter, Medieval Ireland: Territorial, Political and Economic Divisions, p. 156
[15] Rev. Patrick Power (ed.), Life of St. Declan of Ardmore and Life of St. Mochuda of Lismore, p. xxix
[16] Fr. Michael O’Clery, Martyrologium Dongallense, edited by James Todd & William Reeves (Dublin, 1864), p. 321
[17] Rev. Patrick Power, ‘The abbey of Molana, Co. Waterford’, in the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland, Vol. LXII (1932), p. 143
[18] Rev. Samuel Hayman, The hand-book of Youghal (Field, Youghal, 1973), p. 2
[19] Annals of the Four Masters, 864 which equates to 865 in the Annals of Ulster and 866 in real time
[20] Annals of the Four Masters, 1103; Annals of Loch Cé, 1103
[21] Séamus O hInnse (ed.), Miscellaneous Irish Annals, A.D. 1114-1437 (Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies, 1947), 1121
[22] Annals of the Four Masters, 1136; Miscellaneous Irish Annals, A.D. 1114-1437, 1136
[23] Paul MacCotter, Medieval Ireland: Territorial, Political and Economic Divisions, p. 161
[24] Paul MacCotter, Colman of Cloyne: A Study (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2004), pp. 109-110
[25] Patrick C. Power, History of Waterford City and County (de Paor Books, Dungarvan, 1998), p. 22
[26] C.A. Empey, ‘County Waterford: 1200-1300’, in Waterford History and Society, edited by William Nolan & Thomas P. Power (Geography Publications, Dublin, 1992), p. 133
[27] Giraldus Cambrensis, Expugntio Hibernica: the conquest of Ireland, edited by A.B. Scott & F.X. Martin (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978), p. 325, note 250, 337, note 341
[28] Paul MacCotter, ‘The Sub-infeudation and Descent of the Fitzstephen/Carew Moiety of Desmond (part II)’, in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society, volume 102, 1997, p. 95
[29] Paul MacCotter, Medieval Ireland: Territorial, Political and Economic Divisions, p. 156

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