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Irish Heart, English Blood
The Making of Youghal
By Michael Twomey, Nathan Twomey
The History PressCopyright © 2014 Michael Twomey
All rights reserved.
The Norman Settlement and Construction of Youghal
In 1066, only fifty-two years after Brian Ború confronted the Irish Vikings, the Normans crossed the English Channel from France and defeated their Saxon cousins at the Battle of Hastings. The Normans would go on to dominate English culture and inevitably spread their considerably wide wings into Wales and eventually Ireland. While the Normans were establishing settled monarchies under the feudal system, Ireland remained an island of transient clans with varying degrees of influence, undermined by infighting and petty jealousies. Europeans such as the Anglo-Saxons and Normans had witnessed the ashes of the great Roman Empire; indeed, their ancestors fought the great legions toe to toe. They had been exposed to battle strategies, weaponry, construction, Roman law and social structure. The Irish chieftains and the Hiberno-Norse were removed from such powerful influences and had, technologically at least, fallen behind Europe's progress. While the Irish monks had brought Latin, literature and the concept of settling disputes through penance rather than revenge, this was an ecclesiastical development. They had also brought literacy to Britain in educating the northern English of Mercia and Northumberland.
Ireland's lack of political structure, military proficiency or a model of singular nationhood left it susceptible to invasion. However, it was not conquest or invasion that brought the Normans to Ireland initially. Under King Henry II and led by Richard de Clare (Strongbow) they were invited by Leinster's Diarmuid MacMurrough to assist in a political wrangle with his enemies, one of whom was Rory O'Connor. Prior to Strongbow's arrival, Rory O'Connor's son Turlough is recorded as taking a great army to the 'Youghal Road', possibly between Youghal and Lismore. O'Connor was trying to settle internal disputes with the McCarthys in the Kingdom of Desmond in south Munster following its creation in 1118. Such turmoil would prove an Achilles heel to the Irish upon the Normans' arrival and play a significant role in the development of medieval Youghal. Strongbow, as requested, assisted MacMurrough, married his daughter Aoife and became King of Leinster in 1171. It opened the door to the Anglo-Normans. King Henry II of England quickly recognised that Strongbow's rise to power might be a threat to his own and was concerned that the spoils gathered in Ireland should remain under the governance of the Kingdom of England. After all, there was tribute to be paid and land to be seized. Some Irish chieftains who resented Strongbow's influence supported the king's concerns about his ascendency to power in Leinster.
Like their Viking ancestors, the Normans settled on the established ports. The main areas to come under Norman influence were concentrated on the eastern and southern coasts initially. King Henry II would finance the expeditions, granting Irish lands to his lords, who would be successful in settling the new territories. The arrival of the Normans was hardly a wholesale military invasion and was driven by lords, barons and earls looking to take opportunities of gaining land in a technologically inferior country. Like the Vikings before them, the Normans found a country that was politically fractured, and so they had no cause to fear any national resistance. When Henry II's 400 ships landed at Crook, Waterford, on 18 October 1171, they found little objection to their arrival. Henry was met by Irish chiefs, including MacCormac MacCarthy, King of Cork and Desmond, of which Youghal was part. Also present was Malachy O'Phelan, Prince of the Decies, who would later fall foul of two of the most influential Norman Lords.
Battle of the Blackwater
Benevolent relations between the Irish and the Normans were blasted when knight of the realm, Raymund Le Gros, took Waterford from the Hiberno-Norse. This aggressive act marked a significant shift in the power play in Munster. The Desi or 'Deise' clan, now supporting its old enemies against a new common adversary, was dealt a further hammer blow in the winter of 1173. Raymund Le Gros and Strongbow, with their superior Norman forces, overran the county. They slaughtered the resisting Malachy O'Phelan, who stood in the way of their plundering treasures at Lismore. By February, the Norman raiders, travelling back to Dungarvan on the river Blackwater, under the command of Adam de Hereford, stalled in Youghal harbour to wait for favourable winds to continue with their booty along the coast. They were intercepted by thirty-two ships under the command of Gilbert, leader of the Cork Hiberno-Norse. A battle ensued. The Hiberno-Norse (Irish) fought with stones and axes while the Norman raiders fought with metal and bolts. It is thought that a Welsh adventurer took the responsibility of boarding Gilbert's ship, killing him with his sword. Victorious, the Normans continued on to Waterford. McCarthy, the King of Desmond, pursued the Norman fleet to Waterford but was also defeated. The repulsion of McCarthy and the securing of Waterford and the estuary of the river Blackwater allowed the Normans to establish a sound footing on the south coast and in the port of Youghal. It was the end of the Hiberno-Norse longphort and their culture and the beginning of the town of Youghal.
The new arrivals were as efficient in setting about acquiring land and establishing ownership as they were in taking it. Their building programme included castles, churches and walling in the towns. The feudal system ensured the political hierarchy would be shaped as it had been in Europe and Britain. The petty kingdoms, like that of Desmond in south Munster and, later, Ormond in east Munster would come under the control of the Norman lords. As was the practice across Europe, when a lord died he was buried in the church. Some of these churches, like St Mary's in Youghal, were rebuilt on the ancient Christian sites established by the monks. Being buried on these sacred grounds was a mark of the Norman lords' divinely appointed, historical lineage as Christian soldiers. They firmly believed their final resting place was the end of the ancestral line that went all the way back through the generations of princes and kings from the cold stones of Ireland to the hallowed halls of Rome and to the ancient sands of Jerusalem. Raymund Le Gros, who had played such a significant role in the Norman arrivals, was buried at Molana Abbey in 1185. Just before his death, he ordered the building of a preceptory (rest home) between Youghal and Glendine overlooking the bay. The house was for members of the Knights Templar, a branch of the crusaders, some of whom had travelled across Europe to the Middle East to defend Christianity and win back the city of Jerusalem from Islamic Turks.
A Norman Town
Youghal, as part of the Barony of Imokilly, came under the distribution of land ownership sanctioned by Henry II. One of the king's subjects, Lord Fitz-Stephen, was granted land that included the manor of Youghal. He gave it to his half-brother, Maurice Fitz-Gerald. In 1279, before a court in Cork, a final agreement was made between Maurice Fitz-Gerald and Thomas de Clare for the passing over of the town to Thomas' control. So began the family dynasty that would build and later destroy Youghal. The arrival of the Fitzgeralds marked the end of Gaelic nobility's power in the area.
The Normans brought English traffickers, soldiers and other tradespeople in from Bristol to populate what was quickly becoming the outline of a European-fashioned town. The days would be filled with the sights and sounds of carpentry and masonry. By 1220 the new masters began building on the foundations of St Mary's Church. The Normans also quickly fortified the town by constructing a technically more robust wall on the outline of the old Viking longphort. The town would be enclosed with fortified gates at the south and north ends. The South Gate would become the most famous landmark of Youghal. It was the site of the imposing Trinity Castle and, centuries later to the present day, the site of the Clock Gate. The main street, with several narrow side streets, was constructed along the pathways cut out during the creation of the Viking longphort. The walls consisted of battlements and towers manned by soldiers and marked out the town from the countryside, creating a busy urban centre. Running high into the hill behind the town, a yawning stretch of steep, descending land filled the space between the imposing towers and the main street below. Dwellers of the town were mainly official, military, religious, trades and mercantile folk as well as labouring residents. The dwellings in Youghal were of typical Norman design. Houses and shops fronted a long rectangular plot of land behind, on which residents could grow fruit and vegetables. The houses and shops were built side by side, facing the main street, and had thatched roofs. Businesses such as blacksmiths, bakers, jewellers, inns, guesthouses and butchers operated out of the houses. Though paving was often built on shop or business fronts the streets were earth and mud and more often than not uneven underfoot. Human waste was dumped on the street and animals wandered freely, though fences were erected to corral cattle, pigs and horses. Curfew was normally called in late evening when the town gates were locked and fires were extinguished. Significant notices, such as the opening and closing of markets, deaths, mass and meetings were announced by a bell or drum.
The town had a self-contained economy and relied heavily on imports and exports, mostly by sea. A lighthouse was erected on a hill on the outskirts of the town at the mouth of the harbour. The St Anne's nuns were later housed there and given the task of keeping the light ever present for ships and mariners entering the bay. Immediately outside the walls, peasant farmers lived in cramped wooden dwellings, toiling to make a life from market trade. Beyond, in the countryside, medieval villages consisted of clusters of animal pens and tiny houses. Some castles dominated these rural landscapes, like those at Mogeely, Killeagh and Barryscourt. The rural Norman lords collected rent from the farmers while families like the Fitzgeralds had the freedom of the use of houses in a number of towns across their lands.
The displaced Gaelic clans were resentful of their Norman masters, but as the decades passed the Normans became integrated into Irish life, often using a mix of Irish, English and French phrasing, wearing Irish traditional clothes and engaging in Irish traditions. Though this assimilation was a social and cultural inevitability, the class system they brought remained inflexible, causing bitterness for the Irish who found life outside the feudal system to be unforgiving. The McCarthy clan, once leaders of Desmond, now populated Kerry and the border of Cork. With great castles cutting into the naked Irish skyline, the Normans dominated large swathes of land, and Youghal, with its burgeoning port, was firmly in the control of the Fitzgerald dynasty. The neighbouring Norman dynasty of the Butlers, in the Kingdom of Ormond, whose land swept east of Waterford and north beyond Kilkenny and Tipperary, kept a close eye on Youghal's development.
Youghal established a network of trade from abroad but protecting imports was already a difficult task. The new prosperity meant Irish pirates found easy pickings along the southern coast. Youghal was trading with Gascony, as evidenced in the passage below, and its merchants were not best pleased to find their ships being pillaged. They also knew that the looters were destined for towns like Youghal to trade their ill-gotten gains.
Wern Durran, Raymond Arrolan and Arnold de Rupe state that they had loaded a ship with wines at Bordeaux, but that certain Irish malefactors attacked their ship, boarded it, killed everyone in it, and carried off the ship and the goods found in it. They ask that orders might be sent to Waterford, Cork and Youghal, and elsewhere in Ireland and in the king's realm where the malefactors can be found, to arrest them, and to restore their goods to the petitioners with their damages, informing these towns that if they do not do this, the Seneschal of Gascony will take compensation from the goods and merchandise of those towns in Gascony.
To improve legal structures in Youghal an inquisition, including a jury, was held in Inchiquin Castle, just outside the town in 1321. The agenda was to identify how much the land in the area and in 'Le Yoghel' was worth and who was the rightful next heir. From the beginning, the formal structure of land ownership, division, holding of deeds and setting rents would pass into law. Youghal would no longer be an agrarian backwater but a fully fledged town with legal structures.
The Fitzgerald Dynasty
For the next 400 years the Fitzgerald dynasty, taking the title 'Earls of Desmond', much to the chagrin of the McCarthys, continued to build infrastructure and solidify the political composition in Youghal. Over those four centuries the town would witness some of its darkest days while dissatisfaction and resentment remained amongst the native Irish who had witnessed a succession of superior opportunists reshape the kingdoms and change the landscape. Outside the walls of the town, those who owned the manors kept the native Irish as serfs, including the O'Cunnys, O'Kenachis and O'Molondonys. Not only did the serfs pay the lord but also the bishops in what were now the twin towers of governance: the Holy Roman Catholic Church and the Anglo-Norman lords. The monks, who had survived political and cultural strife as well as poverty and the weather, would come to lament the opulence in the houses of bishops. The bishops lived lives of privilege and were entitled to take sons and daughters for work, seize possessions at will, overwrite wills and collect rent. Thus the Catholic Church, with the finances of the Fitzgeralds, continued to grow in Youghal. On either side of the town two abbeys were built: in 1224 the Franciscan South Abbey was constructed and in 1268 the Dominican North Abbey dominated the land beyond the North Gate of the town.
Inside the walls, Youghal was a cosmopolitan centre of trade. Residents with names such as Reginald the Dane, Corgene, Jordan de Excetre, Silvester de Ercedekene and other European descendants showed its cosmopolitan nature. The first charter, undersigned by Edward I on 24 June 1275, reveals just how important Youghal was economically to the Crown and its development as a port. Money gathered from customs on goods such as timber, bark, salt, livestock, sheep, goat and rabbit skins, garlic, onions, soaps, wool, leather, wine, honey, cheese, butter, linen and canvas was to go to the repair of the town walls – a constant concern in terms of security.
The Black Death
No amount of security, money, military power or religious faith could prevent the traumatic demise of the town's population in one of Europe's greatest human tragedies in the summer of 1348. The Black Death is thought to have originated in China where it spread to European merchant ships trading in the East. On their return to Italy the highly contagious infection had already afflicted the sailors. Fleas infected rats and then the sailors who infected each other. The contagion swept through Italy and across Europe with devastating effect and bewildering speed, reaching Youghal in late 1348, early 1349. The plague turned the skin black and was most evident by boils the size of golf balls, situated in the groin and armpits, filled with pus and blood. Flu-like symptoms were experienced at the onset with a fever developing at its height. Sufferers vomited blood and found breathing difficult. In some cases the plague killed the carrier in three days. Because the plague was also an airborne disease, the simple exercise of breathing became a fatal action. Conditions in a wintry Youghal could not have helped stem the onrush of the killer plague. Impoverished or non-existent sanitation created a death-inducing environment, particularly in crowded dwellings at close proximity to one another. A port town like Youghal created an ideal setting for the plague to flourish. In fact, the port towns of Cork, Waterford and Youghal, where it is likely the plague was brought into Ireland from England and the Continent, suffered more than the open, rural areas to the north and west.
Excerpted from Irish Heart, English Blood by Michael Twomey, Nathan Twomey. Copyright © 2014 Michael Twomey. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
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Table of Contents
1. Le Yoghel,
2. From my Heart I am Sorry for that Folly,
3. The Mighty Hand of the Almightiest Power,
4. Killer Poets and Priestcraft,
5. Rise of the Nouveau Riche,
6. God's Providence is Mine Inheritance,
7. The Wicked and the Traitorous,
8. Ill-Affected Papists,
9. Blood on the Blackwater,
10. Death or Hell,
11. Social, Political and Religious Paranoia,