Topographies Part 2

Souterrain Topographies Chapter: Part 2


Viking warship, Oseberg burial ship. Viking ship museum, Oslo.

On the eve of the Norman Conquest of Ireland circa 1169, taking place along the south and south east coastlines, why did 30 Viking ships led by the son of Turgerius a leader of the Cork Viking Communities ( Cantred of the Ostmen), on behalf of the MacCarthaigh lords of Shandon (Sean Dún), sail out of the mouth of Cork Harbour to do battle with the Norman fleet led by Adam de Hereford? What navigational knowledge did these Vikings have? Where had they roamed before settling in their townships beside the marshlands of what would become Cork city? Why did one of the oldest medieval merchant families of Cork city the Skiddies (Scudamores) claim Scandinavian origins? Why did Cork become a port of the Hanseatic League? Why did another family the Goulds have a lios associated with them? Who was Agnes de Hereford of Cork the anchoress? How long had these Vikings been settled at Cork in their Danish and Norwegian settlements there?

In the year 914 AD a great fleet of Scandinavians devastated Munster with some settling in Cork i.e. the marshland which later became the heart of Cork city. It has long been suggested that souterrains were used, if not constructed, for the purpose of refuge in times of danger. It has also been suggested from Charles Smith to A.T. Lucas that one method used by raiders to capture the occupants of souterrains, most likely for a lucrative slave trade in Dublin or elsewhere, was that of smoking them out. As late as the  17th century [check] on the Island of Egg, Scotland such an event took place according to Sabine Baring-Gould. It may be a possibility that at least two County Cork souterrains provide evidence for such an activity i.e. that discovered at Peake townland in Aghabulloge parish and at Curraghcrowley townland in Ballymoney parish. According to folk tradition a viking raid at the monastery of Kinneigh took place in 916 AD it being located to the north of the Bandon River as as a consequence the monastery founded in the 6th century by St Mocomoge was destroyed; I suspect at Laravoolta townland (Laura buailte meaning smashed laura monastery). As a consequence a new monastery, the ruins of which with a late round tower, survived today in Sleenoge townland nearby. Curraghcrowley is situated in Ballymoney (Baile Manaig – village or homeplace or lay monks?) located at the south boundary of the parish of Kinneigh; Most likely access route being the Bandon River at the head of which may have been a Viking association with the Old Head promontory at Kinsale. On the River Lee, a settlement existed at Cork by the monastery which was associated with the early monastery of Senan at Inis Luinge west along the river in the Dripsey locality. Beside Inis Luinge (water meadow of the ships) was the confluence of the Dripsey River with the Lee at a place once known as Blackpool (Dubh Linn).

Going north along the Dripsey one comes to the location of the early monastic landscapes of Aghabulloge and that of the great monastery of Donoughmore (Domhnach Mór) of the Middle Ages. It is in Peake in Aghabulloge that a souterrain was discovered in the mid 18th century which strongly suggested that an attempt had made to smoke-out the occupants, unsuccessfully and resulting in many charred skeletons at the site. Whether or not an exaggerated report, the site has never been re-discovered or scientifically examined to my knowledge – a wooden comb in a box was found with the skeletons. On the southside of the River Lee in this locality lies Roovesmore a place once noted for fine timber for shipbuilding and it is a curiosity that the word rooves may refer to metal fittings once used in shipbuilding. Whether or not there was a Viking settlement near Aghabulloge or a Bagsecq as founder is a further source of curiosity. Was there a Baldar who settled after a time of raiding along the Bandon River at a ringfort and its farm land/estate (farran), at Carhoovauler (Baldar’s Carhoo), acquiring a ‘carhoo’ quarter of land for himself and extended family? Does the ringfort subsequently become remembered as a ‘Dane’s fort’ given that he has taken over an existing local chieftains’s farm and its residence?

Moving to the Rosscarbery area of the southern coastline historical references speak of King Brian Boru in 990 AD ransoming the lector of the Scripture school at Rosscarbery from Vikings settled at Limerick; a place from which a Viking names Ari, blown off course on his way to Iceland, would find himself somewhere to the west in ‘Greater Ireland’. In his raiding activities Gofraid, a Viking, in 924 AD brought hostages to Rosscarbery but why take them to a landscape dominated by a great monastery and scripture school? In the 866 AD a Dublin Viking name Bárid raided the lands of the Ciarraige people in North Kerry and searched local caves for captives and valuables as quoted in Lucas (1971-73, 171). In 987 AD Brian Ború commands that thieves and other lawless persons be banished from Irish monasteries. It is understood that the Vikings brought Gaelic slaves with them during their settlement of Iceland beginning in the later part of the 9th century AD, that Irish slaves advised a certain food to eat, that artificial ‘cave houses’ in Iceland were used up to the 20th century and that some ‘caves with inscribed crosses’ may have a heritage which is older than the Viking settlement  phase. In a land where the bedrock is hard stone and there is little boulder clay and few trees, where turf is an alternative building material for habitations, how would slaves from South Munster and elsewhere in Ireland adapt to the Nordic traditions of turf houses, houses blended into the slopes of the natural landscape,  only a simple doorway announcing their presence? How dissimilar were such houses from a tig faoi tallamh of their homeland either fully or partly excavated into a hill side? Longhouses had fireplaces. Small turf houses had none, relying on body heat to warm them and the slope of the ground above plus depth of sod to offset leaks and dampness inside. Is something similar being described at Burren townland by Timoleague Bay in the Irish Folklore Archive Schools Series of the 1930s? Was something similar at Connonagh near Rosscarbery? Might one have seen at Rosscarbery in Medieval times a scene somewhat similar to the 18th century illustration of Iceland’s first monastery, school and bishoprick site (11th century) beside the Dómkirkjan (domhnach church?) church at Skálholt;  doorways fronting turf houses blended into the slope of the land beneath the episcopal church. Skál referring to huts? Dóm referring to Domhnach i.e. Sunday place, and kirk referring to church?

Dómkirkjan (Domhnach Church?) and doorways of turf houses built into a slope at Skálholt, Iceland. Photo of 18th century illustration on noticeboard at site.

Might one have seen something similar in the area of Clonmult in East Cork with a domhnach, small monastery (lyra) and a kirk on a hillock (knockanekirka)?

Clonmult parish in East Cork and adjacent parishes. A setting for an early bishoprick?

Prior to Viking arrival it is understood that Gaelic missionaries/peregrini known as Papyr (Celtic monkshad been on the island of Iceland. One thinks of St. Brendan the Navigator and the tale of his Navigatio and of the Brendan Voyage (Severin 2005).  Perhaps one might also think of several reports of ‘souterrains’ along the North East coast of the USA in Connecticut ( A Connecticut Souterrain?,, 82, Jul-Aug 1992) and New England et alia. Why does the Connecticut ‘souterrain’ appears so similar to a beehive dome and passage souterrain (B1 class) from the Fermoy Kingdom in South Munster, a souterrain forms also found in the other Irish provinces? Where was Greater Ireland of the Landnámabók? Why would Ari need to be baptised before he could leave: Ari the viking from the settlement in County Limerick who was blown off course on his way to Iceland and instead landed in Greater Ireland? At the reputed grave site of St. Brendan the navigator, adjacent to the church door of Clonfert cathedral (Galway), why so many stone carved heads in triangle above the ancient doorway, why a mermaid carved in relief on a column inside? Were they lost to the west in a white martyrdom?  Why did Columbus provision at Galway before his great journey?

Transhumance farming had a long tradition in Ireland, a tradition of the booley and seasonal residences. The word Cuile if it has resonance with the transhumance of the Cuile of Sardinia and Byzantine monks, is also of note. In Irish the word Airghe was used for the huts of herdsmen (Dinneen). In Scotland a similar Gaelic word is used for a single or collection of huts connected with the summer habitations of herdsmen in high hilly pastures i.e. áirigh. A more common name for such habitations is sheiling said to derive from skjol in Old Norse and Skali meaning a hut. Robert MacFarlane in his book The Old Ways (Penguin 2012) gives an interesting account of his travels on the Isle of Lewis where he spent a night at a sheiling. On local advice he searched for the ‘beehive’ sheilings (pp.161-2) ‘The shillings were hummocks. It was the doorways that gave them away. There were two dome-roofed rock huts next to one another, almost completely turfed over, but with low linteled entrances at ground level, just large enough to admit me…vernacular architecture as camouflage…it was constructed of gneiss slabs that had neatly overlapped to create the corbelling. Turf had been laid on top to act as windbreak, insulation and mortar, a living roof that grew together and bound the gneiss in place’. One is reminded of Irish clocháns and suggestions of turf covering in their original state. One is also curious about Prof. Frank Mitchel’s interest in ‘photo souterrains’ on the island of Valencia off the coast of County Kerry.

In the mid 18th century during landscaping and construction activities at Castlefreke beside Rosscarbery a souterrain containing Anglo-Saxon coins was discovered. These are coins of the reign of King Eadmund (939 – 946AD) and King Aethelstan (924 – 939 AD) suggesting a date of deposition circa 950 AD. The Aethestan coins are from the mint of the Derby moneyer Megenfred. Was their source Danegeld as paid to Vikings by Anglo-Saxon king Aethelstan among others, or the purse of a merchant trader at the monastery? By the strand nearby (Little Island, Owenahincha) a substantial clay-tunnelled souterrain was found and it was surveyed by Dr. Eddy Fahy.  Going eastward along the bay the Galley Head peninsula revealed a two chambered souterrain at Dundeady townland. Dundeady derives from Dun Téide meaning the dún of ‘Gathering’, perhaps departure where Rosscarbery is derived from Ross Ailithir meaning the wooded headland of the Pilgrim.

At its Scripture School were once students from abroad; likely, some of noble birth from kingdoms abroad. Returning from the peninsula westward toward the site of the cathedral dedicated to St. Fachtna where  in the early 18th century another souterrain was discovered, one comes to the townlands of Burgatia and Bohonagh. There are reports of souterrain discoveries from both places Burgatia appears to mean Burg (a Saxon name for a merchant settlement/town and ‘tia’ meaning house, perhaps in this context referring to a monastic house). Beside it, Bohonagh appears to mean a place of cabins. In Burgatia is the holy well and oratory/chapel dedicated to St. Fachtna. It is said that this place, Teampall Fachtna, was where he began his monastery having arrived from that at Darinish beside Youghal – and bearing in mind that the original and primary meaning of the word ‘monastery’ was, simply, the cell of a single monk or hermit. In a lios, ringfort nearby, tradition holds, he preached to the faithful. But to return to the matter of Viking raiders and Gofraid bringing hostages to the monastery or its lands, what logic might make sense of this action unless they had a settlement close by and were tolerated as traders perhaps reluctantly by the local community until Brian Boru commanded their removal? For a period of ears between 914 and 987 AD did they come to settle near the monastic centre? Did they trade? Did Anglo-Saxon coins appear in connection with that trade and become deposited in a subterranean lodging place or anchorite cell for safe-keeping while nearby at Bohonagh a monk-priest kept a vase of chrism oil on a shelf within his underground lodging place? Where on the monastic farran (demesne) did such Vikings choose a suitable place to beach their shallow draft longships? One possibility in Tralong Bay just west of Rosscarbery Bay. In the 1550s AD Tralong was called Shepe Strond; is this a name of Norse origin and does it mean Ship Strand?

As early as 840 AD the monastery had been attacked by Danes. it is said that St. Brendan the Navigator once taught there and that its school was crowded by students from every land. In 868 AD Fergus the Anchorite died there. After the Norman conquest the monastery and its glory days faded into memory, ruins of its laura and domhnach gradually lost its Bishopric being absorbed by that of Ross Diocese. After centuries of time little left on the surface of the landscape but still resonant in the underground spaces of its cells and lodgings.

Rooves, Roovesmore and Vikings

The ‘more’ element of this townland name implies a partitioning at some point in time of a land area known at Rooves into a big part (more, mór) and a little part (beg, beag). has an early Rove Iraighe. What does the Iraithe mean? Does it mean a western part of the land area i.e. iar, or does it refer to something else? Could it be a poorly recorded version of a word related to iarainn meaning iron or to ironworking? If the work Roove is not an old fashioned version of the plural for the word roof, then does it refer to the roove washers once used by boat builders to secure rivets? Both the rivet and its roove required in significient quantities by boat builders, were of iron manufacture. If that word ‘roove’ is what dictated the land area name of Roovesmore and Roovesbeg, then does it imply the existence at one time of iron working related to boat building there. Such activity is something which had a very long tradition in the carpentry of shipwrights. In an 18th century local newspaper timber for sale at Roovesmore was advertised as of good quality for shipbuilding.

Were one to take the view that boat building was a local activity in Roovesmore, beside the River Lee, during Medieval times and later, then perhaps the existence close by on the river of an early monastery called Inis Luinge (ships island) was in some way related to it/ Inis Luinge is where according to tradition 50 scholars from mainland Europe arrived to join St Senan in the early years of Irish Christianity: St. Senan was of Inniscarra nearby, also bordering the river. Is a connection with St. Martin of Tours implied by Donoughmore’s Martin River? Martin of Tours founded monasticism at his cave monastery in Northern France, described by Sulpicius Severis. A long tradition of devotion to Martin exists in the folk Christian of Ireland. Was the influence of Martin a facet of the Christianity/Christianities among the 50 scholars who came to Inis  Luinge and its cave of scholars at Cronody? A few are said to have remained at Inis Luinge while the rest went onward, perhaps to found their own cells, cluains. If the disputed Olan the Egyptian and many others, similarly coming out of the Roman Empire’s superstate, went northwards fro Inis Luinge did they place their cells and cluains in the Aghabulloge, Kilshannig and Donoughmore areas adjacent to the Shournach, a tributary of the River Lee and follow a land corridor between the Boggeragh and Nagle Mountains northwards to the banks of the Blackwater River? As some scholars suggest, was it from Auxerre (France) they came exiting from a place where the Gironde flows into the Bay of Biscay, en route to Inis Luinge? Was Senan a ‘brother’ of Patrick (Losack  2011) and if so is a connection with Lerins and Cassian implied? Dripsey and the mouth of the Dripsey River, a northern tributary of the River Lee connected to the Martin River by Donoughmore (Domhnach Mór, a great Medieval monastery and demesne), are located on the northern side of the townland of Cronody where Inis Luinge monastery once existed.

Bolster translates the name as Cró na hOidhe – monastery of the scholars. Cró means a cave or shelter was used on the Mizen Peninsula. This promontory piece of land beside the River Lee had a stretch of water, a ‘pool’ connecting to the Dripsey River’s mouth which was called the Blackpool and which local history sees connected to tanning activity in post-Medieval times similar to the interpretation given to Blackpool in Cork city on the Kiln River a tributary of the River Lee. If, however, both places also have earlier associations, then are Black Pool placenames signifying origins similar to Dubh Linn (Dublin) and its Viking settlement. At Cork city, Viking settlement is suggested beside Blackpool, with another settlement on the southern ridge of the city beside a ‘pool’ at Cove St; beside where part of St. Finbarr’s Monastery, and round tower, stood. It appears that Brian Ború’s brother Mahon was murdered at Aghabulloge by the O’Mahonys in league with a Viking settlement on their lands and close to Donoughmore’s great monastery.

An unconfirmed statement that a Viking called Bagsecq, namesake perhaps of he who was a commander in the Viking army against Alfred of Wessex, founded a settlement near Aghabulloge in the 11th century. How verifiable is such information? If so, was this settlement associated with the death of King Mahon? What association, if any, might Brian Borús subsequent revenge on Aghabulloge have had in terms of the Peake souterrain discovery during the 1750s and the presence therein of so many skeletons, apparently burnt, with a wooden box and its comb beside them; so resonant of those in the display cases of the Viking Ship Museum in Oslo? Bagsecq of the Great Viking Army was said to have raided in the Irish Sea before joining up with it. Was a settlement founded at Aghabulloge out of the Cork city area settlements? It is interesting to note that after ransoming a lector from Rosscarbary Monastery at Limerick’s Viking settlement Brian decreed that Irish monasteries should disassociate from trade with Vikings (their burg settlements?).

At Rosscarbery there is Burgatia and nearby to the west is Tralong on the coaseline i.e. Trá Luinge or in earlier times Schlep Beach. Was there a pattern of Viking settlements arising beside monasteries, their ‘Black Pools’ being close by? Did Roovesmore once provide iron work and ship building timber for a Viking settlement beside the Blackpool of Dripsey on the Lee River? Did such a settlement exist on the demesne lands of the great monastery of Donoughmore, where the silver arm of St. Lachteen was once venerated: now at the national Museum of Ireland, Dublin.  A monastery so large and powerful that it went to war with that at Cork (ciry area) inn later Medieval times with great slaughter? Did occupants of the Viking settlement seek refuge in the Peake souterrain when Brian came only to be discovered, suffocated to death for mot coming out, or were the bodies of the dead placed in the souterrain by local monks subsequently and burned therein because many were not Christian? Is all of this essay fanciful speculation or is there some truth in it?

Temple townlands in Cork. From Teampall to Temple

They occur /survive in this form in 4 areas i.e. north of Cork Harbour, in proximity to Kinneigh, above Timoleague Bay, above Clonakilty Bay, beside or north of the Blackwater River, though this is not a comprehensive listing and there are probably others existing at sub-unit or district places within them which I have missed whether it be a Knocktemple, a Listemple, a Teampall Aghadoe at Dunisky, a Teampall Fachtna at Rosscarbery. Some scholars would see the introduction of the word Teampall (Temple) to the Corpus of Irish toponyms as being the outcome of the Norman Invasion in 1169 AD. In this context Bolster (1972, 109) would see Anglo-Norman land grantees spreading as far into the western landscape of Cork as Bandon, Inishannon, Kinsale and Rosscarbery. She goes on to say ‘But they never penetrated the extreme limits of the Diocese [Cork] which remained inIrish hands down to the 17th century’. This may explain why parish names with a ‘Kil’ element remain so prominent in West Cork especially on the peninsulas. However, the association of the word Teampall with founder saints of the Celtic Church in this Area, and elsewhere in Cork, raises the question that the existence of this word in the Irish landscape may be much older. Does the predominance of tunnelled souterrains in Ross Diocese, a souterrain form distinctive to this part of Ireland have something to do with the extreme limits mentioned above?

The word Teampall from Latin Templum was originally associated with Roman shrines and small temples attended to by a priest in pagan times. Upon comversion to Christianity and influence by Christian norma from the Roman clerical world rather than by those of monasticism might this be the origin of out Teampalls? As some hermitages and cells of early monasticism develop into monastic church sites influenced by Roman norms come into being does the concept of priest or monk-priest and his teampall (oratory) take form as a topographical entity? Does it become distinct from cill and cluain or change some or them into the places of priests administering to a community (civitates) as distinct from being hermitages?  Is this something which takes form in the 6th and 7th centuries, prior to Whitby, as early saints throughout the Cork landscape establish their foundations perhaps in parallel with earlier monastic and Christian community foundations already long in existence? Hibernian versus Roman viewpoints?  Was the more remote, wilder, more mountainous, more sea travel oriented South West more resistant to change than elsewhere, a resistance which continued into Norman and post-Norman times? I note – temple parishes in Cork mostly in some way close to coastal areas or large rivers i.e. Templebodan, Templebreedy, Templeomalus, Templenacarraige, Templeroan, Telmplerobin, Temple- Templeusque [Templebryan, TempleMartin, Temple Michael, Templeomalus, Templequinlan, Templetrine.] with only Temple Molaga in North Cork [check] not in close proximity to the coast. Though perhaps this picture is nothing more than ‘the luck of the draw’ as to which of perhaps a much larger number of Teampall sites became civil parish names rather than townland, sub-init or distinct place names. Are the Teampall names older than the Norman Conquest? Do they represent a clerical church rather than a monastic one? Do they represent a trend whereby some very early foundations in the monastic tradition become part of a clerical church while other resist and remain faithful, for a time, to their earlier traditions; something which as centuries pass leads to their eventual abandonment as the demesnes of large monastic estates within the Celtic or Norman traditions?

Rather than being Norman foundations using the work Temple, they are native monastic sites with oratories and souterrains, greek crosses and circular enclosures which have been absorbed because of their strategic territorial importance into the progress of the Norman expansion into West Cork during the early years of the conquest. Therefore and early Christian teampall site (Teampall Aghadoe) at Dunisky and another Teampall in an adjoining parish (Canovee) become part of the 12th century reforms of the Irish Church and within 22 years of the arrival of the Conquest Dunisky (Dunuisci) becomes listed in the Decretal letter of Pope Innocent III confirming these sites as Roman. At Canovee the teampall and its enclosure acquires a bawn as part of that church reform and military occupation of the site, and consequently the place name Bawn a teampal (Bawn an teampall). In such a process of confirming the Church reforms some early monastic sites are abandoned, left derelict i.e. Cluain maol (derelict cluain/monastic enclosure) Dunisky acquires two sub-units i.e. Dún Iseal (low lying dun i.e. a bawn) and Dún Uisci (high lying dun) where a large enclosing bank and ditch surround the church on a rock outcrop with a cliff on the south side. This two dún or two part Dún becomes a De Cogan settlement which is garrisoned, and on the western frontier of the expansion of the Conquest in Cork. It was the Teampall as a parish church for the settlement and places a graveyard in its enclosure beside the church, it exploits and modifies and perhaps extends/expands its souterrain. Its development is overseen by Milo de Cogan whose army unsuccessfully invaded Connaught in 1177AD and was driven back by a slash and burn, hide foods in souterrains and shelter local inhabitants in churches policy among the natives (Cambrensis Expugnatio). Meanwhile John de Coursey occupies and fortifies the Old head at Kinsale at Domhnach Mac Phadraigh.

In 1261 a Gaelic resurgence attacks Dunisky and burns out the settlement which is a timber castle structure common to the english Conquest since its Normandy origins about a century before i.e. a motte and bailey, a type of structure often located on a prominent ridge in a locality exploiting the natural advantages of such some of which later become masonry built fortresses of a form well known in english and continental castle building. In England, the great Normandy Lyra monastery there establishes daughter houses also known as Lyra within the English landscape and acquires wealth and taxes from them. Similarly in Ireland Lyra houses are established in Ireland as part of the Conquest. Bur in the 14th century an English King who also governs Anglo-Ireland decides to close down the Lyras in England and perhaps this in turn is extended to the Irish portion of his kingdom leaving abandoned (maoile) and derelict Lyra foundations, some perhaps continuing in local use as cilleen graveyards long after the ‘church’ has ceased to be used as a Lyra. Monastery/hermitage for community purposes. Was it in this manner that the Norman , Roman and reforming church overlaid or superimposed upon the native ‘Celtic” church and its long established foundations, pastoral geographies, estates and geographic networks and orientations; its mobilities and modalities of place and space? Is it from this that many abandoned parish churches and graveyards become or continue in use as Cilleens in the following centuries? Is it in this manner that the souterrain record, or some of it, becomes abandoned or absorbed within the Norman historical record?

Civil Parishes; Capsules of Medieval Timelines

Buttevant Civil Parish, Cork, provides an interesting example of how placenames for townlands may be indicative of how that land area was once used over a long Medieval millenium (500 – 1500 AD approx.) Unless lost due to an absence of fieldname or townland subdivision recording, the parish area i.e. the pre-Reformation parish land area, contained an Ard Phríora (high situated priory), a baile (hamlet), a bothar (road), a clash (long trench or boundary ditch), a farran (farm or outfarm), a grange (medieval monastery farm), a poul na reagha (hole/cave of the ‘reagha’), a rath, a spittal, a teampuill and a lios. It did not contain a dún, a garraí, a garrane, a gort, a caher, a dangan or a cuile. Why? What dictated the presence of certain name types and the absence of others? This type of civil parish unit assessment is of considerable interest when looking for a backdrop to souterrain distributions within a civil parish. the basis for some parishes having al large number of townlands e.g. 52 for Drishane, while others can be as low as one townland per parish is also worthy of consideration when it comes to defining the criteria which dictated their formations as administrative units in a post 12th century landscape. Which represented church precincts, castle focused communities, poor farmland versus fertile arable and grazing land? Which represented church demesne land and its functional divisions according to natural resources, or waste land given over to spiritual ‘deserts’, be they thorny or stoney, rough isolated and rugged or bog and lake land?

The souterrains and the types of structures therein were part of these working parish landscapes once. So what parish history contexts frame them? That it should be possible using these townland names and any others found in earlier sources such as estate maps fieldnames, folklore and Down Survey or Tithe Applotment Books, to at least partially reconstruct the Medieval social landscape and its workings (economic) and administrative using these placenames. Changes in name, meaning and language are indicative of social and administrative change and colonisation and secular estate building. But what remnants of monastic demesnes are in the names of Norman, Viking and pre-Viking eras? How can the progress of economic and social use of parish landscapes be read from surviving placenames in them?

How to make a Townland: sometimes becoming a Civil Parish

In my view some places such as the cell lands of a hermit or hermitage ‘monastery’ became townlands as we know them today. Monastic ‘cluains’ (spiritual meadow, hermitage) became townlands. Some such townlands acquired the name cluain while others became known as cells. The cluain and cell may have occupied only a portion of the land area which subsequently became the townland. Other land areas, contained in what would become the townland area, may or may not have determined what the townland came to be called when modern documentary records began. if we possessed a comprehensive record of townland sub-denominations and field/specific placenames it might be easier to understand why a specific name was chosen for any particular townland unit. Unfortunately, such a record does not exist as the townland was the smallest administrative land unit by the Ordnance Survey and Griffith Primary Valuation undertaken during the first half of the 19th century; in the course of which names, spellings and configurations were decided. Attempting to uncover earlier land names is very much an incomplete process where estate maps, Tithe Applotment Books, the Downe Survey and a host of other archival resources may or may not be of help. That the words Cill (anglicised Kill) and Cluain (anglicised Clon or Cloyne) describe a hermitage – which may overtime become a ‘monastery’, is evident from the story of Eithne, her cluain being also her cell, recorded in the Roche Manuscript contained in the Book of Fermoy (Todd 1868, p.480).

The presence of the word cell in a placename has usually been understood to imply a church; some scholarship in the past has tended to see this word as derived from Coille meaning a wood but given its predominant association with churches and early ecclesiastical sites it is more clearly defined as meaning cell from Latin Cella; in Gaelic it is pronounced cill and where there are several the work Cillíní is used. How should one visualise the cluain in which a cill is located?  Was it an enclosed area of land defined by a termon boundary? Was it a rath or a lios, perhaps already present when the hermit arrived which defined the enclosure for the cill? Or, was it both the cell and its enclosure, plus a crude oratory, perhaps an outdoor altar, and a baptism well, all in close proximity which defined the spiritual landscape of the cell? But, to define the daily needs and labours of a group of hermits or monks solely in terms of spiritual activity is not sufficient.

The practicalities of living and developing the landscape area of the Cell and its cluain were also critical to underpinning the spiritual life of the community associated with the hermit and perhaps subsequent, religious community. Therefore, how was the cluain land defined? Was it an area of farmed land (gardens, plough fields, fields of livestock grazing, woodland, etc.) to serve the needs of the community or was it solely the land or portions of land set aside for the spiritual precincts of the community? The cluain placename ofter occurs without any suffix designating a person or object. Was this because when the cluain became a townland there was no memory because of its age of who it had been associated with it? In other cases, such as Cloon-Kirgeen (in Kilmeen Parish) i.e. Kirgeen’s Cluain someone has been remembered, perhaps Ciara – with the ‘een’ suffix intended as an endearment. This particular cluain townland has a fine example of a clay-cut souterrain (Twohig 1976,28-31).

The Seanacluain at Ballyvourney, whether or not an enclosed area of land, is of particular interest. Though not frequent, examples of sean (meaning old) cluains occur as townland names. Why ‘old’? Does this imply the creation of a later, newer, cluain in the immediate locality. This townland lies beside the south bank of the Sullane River, a tributary of the River Lee; which also flows through Clondrohid (the Cluain of the Bridge). Seanacluain (Shanacloon) consists of 343 acres/139 hectares. A modern bridge lies at either end. It is in this townland that the grave of St. Abbán is located according to folklore. Close to the gravesite lies his holy well and four ogham inscribed slabs rested beside the grave. Pilgrimage to the grave took place as part of the Pattern Day at St. Gobnait’s holy well nearby. Tradition holds that this is Abbán’s last resting place and that Gobnait was his sister. She travelled to Abbán’s cell via Kilshannig (old cells) and then Clondrohid. It is interesting that Kilshannig Parish has a Kilgobnet townland. At Abbán’s cell she was given an area of land at the NW side adjacent to his cluain. In the course of time veneration of Abbán reduced as Gobnait’s cell became a Medieval parish church and thousands cam to pray at her holy well; and many still do so today. She was a saint of the beehives. Was it the case therefore that Abbán’s cluain became superceded by the cell and ‘cluain’ of Gobnait; that of Abbán becoming the Seanacluain? This story is set in the 6/7th centuries AD. On the northern side of the river is an area known as the Cillíní and in this locality a carved slab on a Greek cross in a wheel with a figure walking stick in hand. Some ask if this is an image of Abbán. Abbán tradition says founded several Christian communities across Munster including that at Kilcrumper/Clondalane in the Kingdom of the Fir Maige people. He is said to have been a nephew of Ibar of Begerin Island in Wexford Harbour. Ibar is said to have been trained in a druidic school but then received the ‘new teaching’ of Christ, perhaps from Martin of Tours. he is said to have travelled to Rome in his later years accompanied by Abbán. Abbán appears to have two name elements combined i.e. Ab or abba meaning abbot and Bán meaning white. If correct then does it translate as white of white-robed abbot. Some see the name Abbán as an alternative name for St Ailbe the chief patron saint of Munster. Does he rest here in the Kingdom of the Muscraige people?

There are two reports of souterrains for the Ballyvourney Parish and no reports of souterrains for the Seanacluain townland (Shanacloon). Not surveyed, the existence of a souterrain at Ballymakerry and at Gortyrahilly have been reported, that at Ballynakeery at the west side of a rinfgort and that at Gortyrahilly (Gort Uí Rathaille i.e. the Gort of the O’Rahillys), of which no details. was the latter an ubhall gort, a lubh gort (herb/vegetable garden), fíon gort (vineyard), féar gort (hayfield), blath gort (flower garden, Glaisean gort (woad plantation), fál gort (fenced field)or dlúth gort (a cloister garth), see Dineen (p.563).

In the creation of townlands, orchards (gort) became townlands. Dineen’s Dictionary specifically points to the association of the word ubhaill (meaning apple with the word ‘gort’). It is curious to ask if the word ‘gort’ was in way way associated with the word ‘garth’? Commonly used in the context of ‘cloister garth’ what is implied is a particular type of garden and yet the common Gaelic word for garden is garraí. Horn (1973) looked at the relationship of cloister garths to early ecclesiastical sites. If the buildings and precincts of an early monastery are earthen rather than masonry constructed and more haphazard in layout or form than later establishments, then was the gort a form of garden area and specifically one connected with fruit trees such as apples rather than root crops? Advances in archaeological scholarship in the Near East relating to the agriculture of the earliest monasteries there, may reveal new insights to interpret what was excavated by Sean P O Riordáin at Cush, Co. Limerick (O Riordáin, 1940) during the 1930s. It might also be on interest to compare this site with its souterrain containing ‘little ringforts’ which arc across one side of a ‘courtyard’ to the front of which was an area resembling an enclosed field; or garth perhaps. As to gorts as orchard lands, how might we come to know the full extent of such land use areas if later land apportioning activity and change in use resulted in parts of them being re-assigned to tother townland and parish localities as maps were drawn and boundaries redefined?

Other land unit forms which have had a strong influence on townland naming are Garraí (meaning gardens and depending on how loose a definition one gives to the word) and Gurrane/Garrane (meaning ploughland); and there are many others if one delves into this topic.

When a Townland or a very small number thereof become a Civil Parish)

It is curious that while most civil parishes have several or many townlands, occasionally a single townland (or along with two or three other townland units) become a small civil parish. it is also curious that in many such cases a specific architectural entity and its precincts may have dominated such townlands. Cork examples are:

  1. Dunisky (consisting, at one time, of an íseal (low-lying part) and an ‘uisci’ meaning high lying part; the latter being the site of a major rock-cut souterrain, beneath the ground, beside a small Medieval chapel and graveyard. The Decretal Letter of Pope Innocent III  dated 1199 AD spells Dunisky as Dunuisci with uisci meaning high place and not uisce meaning water. The topographical description of high and low lying parts to this townland (cum civil parish) when considered in the context of historical evidence for a Norman settlement there (possibly built by Milo De Cogan) seems to imply the existence of a Motte and Bailey type ‘conquest’ fortress i.e. in Gaelic terms a dún. As often seen for contemporary English timber castles (Higham and Barker, 1992) it was located on a ridge; with the River Lee to the north and the Buingea River at Warrenscourt to the south.The parish has 480 hectares or 1186 acres). It overlooks a wide plain stretching eastwards. Maps of its sub-denominations by the Cork cartographer Patrick Aher in the 1790s show the sharply stepped plan of a ‘laneway’ on the west side of the townland. In 1261 the forces of Finghín Mac Carthaigh over-ran the fortress and burnt it. In my view, whether or not an earlier souterrain at the site was enlarged and modified, the Dunisky souterrain functioned as a cellar and refuge for the Dún’s community. (McCarthy 2003, pp 15-30).
  1. Coole Abbey. Again a single townland but with 2 oratory chapels. It is located on the southern boundary of the large Civil Parish of /Clondalane (Cluain dá Lann) which means the cluain with two chapels (Lann). There is no souterrain on record for here. Coole Abbey is described locally as having had a Civitates at one time.
  1. Kilnamanagh meaning Cell of the Monks or lay monks. In this parish lies the townland of Brackcloon meaning speckled meadow but also a hermitage. It has an interesting three chambered rock-cut souterrain excavated by O Riordáin in the 1930s (O Riordáin 1934, pp. 78-80).

As townlands did these places retain their identities and central (if not total) areas when absorbed into the ‘Civil Parish’ system (at that time just Medieval parishes) in the 12th century AD thereby becoming fossilised overtime as townland units? If so, do these townland types represent distinct archaeological units for further enquiry and more in-depth investigation?

So, what were originally Gaelic defined, Christianised, settlement and agricultural land areas in the landscape are gradually given form ad shape in a taxable, legal and cartographic way with the progress of conquests, religious reforms, changes in settlement patterns, in worship patterns, and benefices overtime. Did the paradigm for understanding boundaries remain similar to Gaelic ways over this time period or did it change?

In attempting to arrive at a sense of the relationship of the Medieval topography of a Gaelic (secular and ecclesiastical society in South Munster, where the spatial meanings and understandings are reflective of the development of that society and its landscape from Early Medieval times as Christianisation took hold; a perusal of J.H. Andrews’ book Plantation Acres has much to offer in its first two chapters (Andrews 1985). Towards the end of the Desmond Wars in South Munster in 1584 commissioners were appointed to assess and distribute forfeited native Irish lands. In the field this work was beset by many difficulties as described by the writings of such persons as Arthur Robins one of the surveyors. Difficulties were experienced in collecting information, access to lands, getting local advice and truthful co-operation, establishing boundaries, understanding land uses and the nature of a topography of arable lands based on the ‘ploughland’ (garrane/gurrane). When one factors in other terms like ‘garraí (garden) lands and ‘gort’ lands to name a few, the overlay of a new topographical paradigm represented by an idealised seignory structure posted many unresolved difficulties.

To quote Andrews (1985, 32)  Ireland ‘… possessed a network of ancient divisions… confiscated ploughlands which needed to be mapped and contents measured. Once done the English colonists of the 16th century would be just as willing to accept the native territorial structure as their Norman predecessors seem to have been’ ;  older boundary descriptions such as those known by ‘eye-marks’ in Gaelic understanding and based on ancient topographical markers such as crosses or natural features, continuing and blending over time, perhaps being subsumed into words like ‘meared and bounded by’.

As well as their involvement with the Desmond Wars – which devastated a large portion of Munster’s population along with widespread famine and disease, the St. Legers were tasked with the suppression of monasteries by King Henry VIII (Bradshaw, 1974) and also with the disposal of their lands and vast estates which incorporated the social, cultural and topographical inheritance of Christian Ireland and its predecessors. As such estates were broken up and as described by the ecclesiastical commissioners ( White, 1943) buildings were ‘thrown down’ as of no use to the colonist ‘farmer’… the old land use structures and the lifestyles dependent upon them, from mundane to spiritual, were changed; this occurring on top of the devastation and wastage of the traditional land use and social settlement structures, their geographies of interaction and association. To quote Bradshaw (1974, 38) ‘The pattern of land ownership established in the late medieval period was collapsing’. Perhaps it is within this period of upheavals across South Munster that to some extent the loss of memory of the relationship between subterranean structures and the traditional land units (and their placenames) of which they were a functioning part became lost; though not totally in some more remote localities. Perhaps instances of such memory loss had also taken place with the 12th century church reforms and the overlay of a parish and diocesan system along with the Norman Conquest and its land use forms and settlements in those parts of South Munster where it was successful; unlike places such as Cork’s Dunisky were it was not.

A Metalworker in the Rath, a Cell, an Outfarm (Farran or tenant farm).

When some of the land function names are looked at collectively in a parish much can be gleaned in certain cases. Take the famous Garranes tri-vallate ringforts known as Lisnacaheragh (‘the lios of the Cahers’ with caher meaning a monastery enclosure or ‘city’ in the sense of a Civitates Community). Such a community needs a Cell for its founder and an farm/outfarm (farran) for its agriculture. It may also require the services of a smith and metalworker. Lisnacaharagh, according to the excavator of the site (O Riordáin 1942, pp. 77-150) may have been a royal site, Rath Raithlind, of the Eoghanacht people. Tradition connects the metalworker at this estate holding centred on the ringfort, with St. Finbarr; said to have been his father – where did he source his bog ore? The location of the ringfort is a Garrane land unit i.e. a ploughland area. Beside it lay a second smaller ringfort not excavated. when one looks at the names of the contiguous townlands to Garranes one finds a Cell land, an outfarm land (farran) as well as other land unit names with agricultural meaning; using Dineen’s Dictionary.

One wonders to what extent it is possible to reconstruct a small monastic farm landscape and its workings from such information be they by monastics or secular tenant. What did its status as a ‘royal residence’ mean in practical terms? To the north lies Kilmichael (Cell of Michael) a townland in a parish of the same name with several early ecclesiastical associations. One of these is the association of a person named Michael (ordination name perhaps) who went to Rome and was told by the Pope to return home and when his handbell without its dapper rang at a certain place he should build his cell there. This happened to him at a ringfort in Kilmichael townland and in time his cell became the site of its parish church.


The Retro-Conversion of Ancestors and Gods with the meaning of sainthood in Orthodox Christian terms : Fionncú sleeping with the Dead

What degree of truth might there be in Hubert Butler’s Book Ten Thousand Saints (2011) if one takes the view that ancestors of clans and tribes were automatically given notional sainthood as Christianity attempted to overlay pagan Irish clans and tribal societies by tuatha, higher kingdom and province? Making their ancestors Christian and their gods Christian was one means of conversions by way of inculturation as advised by Pope Gregory I. In doing so, by retro-conversion, perhaps sleeping in one’s cell in a graveyard (reilig) of clan or tribe ancestors, the community, its places of traditional worship, its ancestral heritage, the psychology of its religious behaviour could be absorbed into Christian particularly if this was done with the imprimator of clan and tribal kings and more so if a son or daughter had returned from pilgrimage to Rome or Antioch or Alexandria or Jerusalem.

Why does so much of Irish folk Christianity reference persons associated with local places and monuments rather than using the more established Roman saints excepting the great Martin of Tours? Aside from the Marian shrines at holy wells which appear to connect to a monument introduced in later times, why did the association and retention of local early saints remain so strong across time at holy wells and patterns and fairs and in other places across the rural landscapes of Ireland especially in the West? What earlier forgotten local saints might they have replaced in any? Was this because sainthood (the status of ) was understood differently in Irish folk Christianity? Was it understood in a manner more akin to sainthood in the Orthodox Christian sense rather than in the Roman sense of a canonised person? What does this mean? In the Orthodox sense a person who has lived an acknowledged Christian life – if I understand correctly, will after death have his or her washed bones placed in a reliquary box. Is this not what is represented on several Irish High Crosses. Perhaps in the same manner as a parish anchorite was seen as an anchor to heaven for a local Christian parish community, the bones of such a saint became a centuries long focus of veneration, ofter the local church being built over the Cell. Such a person was seen as having climbed the stairway to Heaven and thus could intercede with God on behalf of local people their petitions for help at chapels, wells and other associated places being brought to God for mercy and alleviation. How familiar even today is such religious belier at holy wells?

A little history comment on field fences

Some Historical Geographers will say that the field fences one sees on the 1st edition of the Ordnance Survey maps published 1845 approx. (Andrews) represent a phenomenon of enclosure activity which began in the 18th century and that prior to that the Munster landscape was less defined in terms of legally defined linearities. If true, then does the loss of ringfort density across the Munster landscape since that time, become reflected in the souterrain record as ‘souterrain found during the demolition of field fences’ or ‘souterrain discovered beside a field fence’? If so, then does such information say that portions of some ringfort banks – and ecclesiastical termons – were incorporated into field fences, during the 18th, 19th and subsequent centuries as farming practices became reformed, developed or subdivided due to primogeniture?

It is interesting to note comments in the writings of persons such as Arthur Young that land holdings in some places were worked primitively – as also said in Samuel Lewis 1837. What does this mean about 150 years after the Desmond Wars and subsequent settlement of confiscated lands? Can one project such statements by Lewis and Young back before the Desmond Wars? Was the land poorly managed economically prior to those dates? Or, was it the Dissolution of the Monasteries in the earlier part of that century which resulted in a devastated agricultural economy which had once been highly productive in a world of ecclesiastical domains? A world on unmapped farrans, garranes/gurranes, garraís and gorts. A world of the beacon toors or petty kingdoms, of cill sites, lyras, cluains, deserts, drishanes, domhnachs, lauras and láthrachs, of cahers, raths and lioses, of reilgs and much more which once constituted Munster’s early and later Medieval monasteries, their daughter houses and dependencies and tenant farmers on the outfarms of royal and monastery farms to supply the needs of monastery Teach Mór and regal ‘palais’ at towerhouse and dún or at petty chieftain on a tuatha Dermot’s Rath; his impressive ramparted lios with slave labourers in surrounding habitations, subterranean or otherwise, in their ‘bailes’ of basic habitation, to work the fields and cattle, their food store at the Dangan(stronghold). What forces of change move this infrastructure of a rural Ireland to one of surface habitation storage and abandonment of traditional alliances of cultural norms and behaviour? The most likely is a change in governance and implied, implemented alternative cultural norms.

What led to the naming of a townland: The lost percentage.

Below the towland level, what percentage of placename information has been lost? What characteristic was it which, among alternative choices, led to the official naming of a townland, or medieval parish? How much non-recorded topographical information is lost as a result of such choices?

  1. Was it vegetable gardens i.e. the Garraí (Garry)
  2. Was it the predominance of orchards i.e. the Gorts or Gurts?
  3. Was it the presence of plough fields for corn i.e. the Garranes or Gurranes?
  4. Was it the presence of a lios or rath? a hut, a cave?A Dangan or a Grianáin? A Dún? a Clash?
  5. Was it the name of a farmer (his family or clann under his control)? A Norman lord, his manor, castle, vollage and farming allotments, his people and their words?
  6. Was it a small monastery, a cluain either remaining small or growing into a big one? A Kill or a domhnach or portions of their farmlands?
  7. Was it a meeting place? a láithrach or a domhnach? A place of crosses (carrig na croghera?)and crossings? A place of gallows and crossings?
  8. Was it a distinctive landmark natural or manmade? a hamlet, a village, a castle or an isolated dwelling, a town?
  9. A river crossing and its activities? a haven, a pool, rapids, a ferry?
  10. Which field or sub-denomination name led to the naming of the townland area s later defined by the Down Survey and Ordnance Surveys? What placenaming rationales led to the naming of the original early Medieval and post 12th century Parishes
  11. Was it an industrial or artisan activity ? A place of ships or shipbuilding of salt making?
  12. Was it the memory of , a church of, or a shrine of an ecclesiastical person or a non-Christian deity?  a legendary person?
  13. Was it the seasonal colours of natural or agricultural plant cover? A woodland, a bog or farmland?
  14. Was it a geological colour or a place of lakes?
  15. Was it a mountain or a hill or a vista?

It is the townland names which survived, through being preserved in documentary sources, and the land unit definitions given to them by establishing official boundaries for them in later times, which have led to the naming of the souterrains found in these townlands. Lost informmation below the townland level may have been more precise in naming the specific field or subdenomination in which the souterrain is found as to its reason for being there and a rationale for its existence in the context of the surface activities which took place during its time of use or its expected use if ever required e.g. some masonry souterrains are in pristine condition when found as if built yesterday and awaiting their purpose. Where the townland name derives from a gort, or a garrane or a garraí was the souterrlain associated with habitation for those engaged in such surface activities? Was it a cellar or root cellar for cold storage of such crops beneath, or in association with a hut or lios? If two distinct architectural forms of souterrain are found in close proximity in a townland is one e.g. a drystone built subterranean room, a cellar the other a clay-cut souterrain of several cubicles linked by creepways a dwelling? Such a scenario may explain why some townlands may have seven or eight souterrains i.e. some dwellings, some agricultural cellars. In the latter case what agricultural produce might have been stored? Some interesting possibilities may lies in references to the gorts, the lubgorts, and the possibility that viticulture may have been practiced; something which in turn dictates a need for wine cellars. Something which resonates with the story of the Gascon in the Genealogies of the Corcú Laoidhe people of West Cork and South Kerry.

Fieldnames and subdenomination names are a major factor in reconstructing the heritage of local landscapes, their former geographical settings and relationships, the relationships between peoples lives, consciousness and experiences of the specific landscape and botanical/horticultural resources which a local place presents to them, In a sense it is the ‘pattern beneath the plough’ which tells their unique histories as much as the ruins upon the ground (Evans 1971).

The realisation of the scale of loss consequent upon the statutory definition of placename spelling in anglicised form at the time of the Ordnance Survey’s original survey, of a large amount of local historical information led to many efforts in the following century to try and gather such information to preserve it, for posterity.  The fruit of such work and associated ‘field’ surveying found a place to rest in essays about parish history in local and national antiquarian journals. It also influenced the founding aspirations for a department of Archaeology at University College Cork in the form of a field survey of the Archaeological, historical and placename remnants of the South Munster region; a department founded by Sir Bertram Windle president of the College, Professor of Anatomy and a historical anthropologist. His immediate successor was Rev. Patrick Canon Power, Archaeologist, and Bibliophile, Gaelic scholar and antiquarian whose monumental, lifetime work on the placenames (including history and archaeology) of County Waterford and East Cork have left an undiminished legacy. It is thanks to Power (Twohis 2013) that we have an understanding of such names as Tig Faoi Talaimh and Muchán (chimney) field names as names for souterrains. In turn Power’s students such as Sean P. O Riordáin and P.J. Hartnett, M.J. Bowman (Duhallow) and others went on to their M.A. theses field work by continuing Power’s example into some of the baronies beyond Cork city e.g. Hartnett in the Barony of East Muskerry, Bowman in Duhallow, O Riordáin in Kinalmeaky. Another student among those who studied under O’Riordain while Professor at Cork was M.J. O’Kelly whose barony fieldwork was undertaken for that known as Small County in Co. Limerick. M.J. O’Kelly would subsequently become professor at Cork and a doyen of Irish Archaeology in the 20th century; most famously for his excavations and reconstruction at Newgrange in County Meath.

Placename studied can be difficult to work with but much can be learned from Power’s insightful comments. With the rise of national and cultural consciousness of a Gaelic heritage being slowly dimmed across generational divides in rural Ireland, efforts were being made to record local names and local forms of names in the topographies of rural Ireland. The difficulties  were, and still are, may such as attempts to identify what the original form and pronunciation of local placenames was prior to phonetic anglicisation and recording of such names in written form in English and Latin documents; problems with what was pronounced, hear, spelled and incases perhaps musically or fancifully changed from the actual native meaning. Attempts at re-translation from such records back to Gaelic names may rediscover the original name in some cases but in others not so; Some of the native Gaelic words may not have been Gaelic in origin; a point noted by Power. They may be words or word elements derived from settlers during, before or after the Norman conquest; words from Latin Arabic Greek Old English, French etc. i.e. word of Mediterranean origin, works of Western European origin, of Nordic origin. Such words may not have translated well, phonetically, to English and likewise  from English back to the Gaelic pronunciations in which they were heard and recorded.

I am curious about such words as I come across them within the placenames of South Munster and their associated heritages. For example, Ballinacubby Kinsale is re-gaelicised in as Baile an Chobaigh but I have failed to find a meaning for Chobaigh either in Dineen’s or De Bhaldraithe’s dictionaries. Baile means a homeplace which could be a village, a community area, a parish or a specific home/residence. Goodbye in Irish (Gaelic) in Slán abhaile meaning ‘safe home’. Baile is also resonant of bailiucán meaning a gathering or collection; perhaps a place where something is collected together? If the work ‘cubby’ is non-gaelic being associated with a walled coastal town, then what other language might it derive from? jEtlymologically it is curious that in Old Flemish and Old English the word ‘cuby’ is used to designate a range of synonyms for a safe plalce, a hiding place, a secluded place. Such synonyms range from a cubyhole, to a storage niche, to a small room, an ante-room, a cell, a cave, an abode, a chamber etc. So, might Ballinacubby translate as the ‘gathering place of the caves’? If so, then the observation made by Vital in 1518 at Kinsale that native Irish in the locality lived underground, may ring true, and if his subsequent observations of similar circumstances at Castille in Northern Spain are considered, then over time such dwellings came to be used by town residents as storage places behind their street homes as the town was constructed. Are such ‘cave’ residences also remembered in placenames such as Carrig an tSeomra (Rock of the Room) and Carrig na Fuinneoga (Rock of the Windows) elsewhere in the County Cork countryside? Finally, in relation to an Old English origin for the word ‘cuby’ at Kinsale, it is interesting to bear in mind the townland of TiSaxon (Saxon House, perhaps in a monastic context) which is beside Ballinacubby; Ti Saxon parish abuts the west and north western areas of Kinsale’s parish town where Blind Gate once existed: perhaps also a lost graveyard.

In a monastic context perhaps there is something similar to be learned about Gillabbey on the southern side of the River lee at Cork city and North Abbey along the North Mall beside the Lee at Cork City. Gillabbey is notable as the site of the great Medieval Abbey of St. Finnbarr, patron saint of Cork city. It stretched to where St. Finnbarr’s Cathedral is today where its round tower stood up to the 17th century AD. On its western side (Donovan’s Road) graves were discovered during construction work associated with University College Cork in its early years. It is in the cliff face beneath where the Abbey once stood that the Cave of St. Finbarr was located according to tradition (Gilabbey Place) from which the abbey came to be known in Medieval times as De Antro Finbari i.e. the cave monastery of St. Finnbarr. Similarly, a monastery also occupied the base of the cliff at North Abbey in Medieval times and a ‘cave’ is  also traditionally associated with that area; At Gillabbey it is also interesting to note that when the old Cork Gaol, now on the grounds of University College Cork, was being demolished in the 1960’s a large ‘cave’ there was closed by an iron grid work and it was known as a holding cell for prisoners some hanged from the portal gates of the gaol (Gaol Walk, University College Cork).  One wonders to what extent the construction of towns obliterated earlier monastic cliff dwelling complexes? I’ve come across a vague reference to quarrying of the cliff face at Gillabbey stretching along the Lee to St. Finbarr’s Cathedral, Elizabeth Fort and stretching eastwards from there to Greenmount in the locality of Gallows Green and Crosses Green and the quarry of 18th century mason, architect and quarryman John Coltsman and a place of mass graves with resonances of great afflictions in earlier times.  If the quarrying of the cliff faces such as that of Coltsman the mason and quarryman of  18th century Cork or earlier works in the 13th, 14th centuries to construct town walls and stone houses or streets in them led to quarrying local cliff faces for easy carriage to building sites then would this also explain either the removal of cliff dwellings from earlier times, in conjunction with the evolution of cenobitic monasteries and surface dwellings for the poor, or the creation of them until in later times e.g. 17th or 18th centuries local authorities saw them as unsanitary and inaccessible localities for the control of law and order?

O’Sé (2016) states that the cliff at Gill Abbey was quarried after the stones of the abbey had been carried away for various purposes and that the cliff was quarried especially after the 1690 siege of Cork city up as far as University College Cork. They quote a French visitor in 1644 as saying that St; Finbarr’s Cave went far underground; very little of any indication remains today. Nearby was an ancient crossing place on the river Lee known as Bealach Chonglais. Going on evidence from other sites around South Munster having an early monastic settlement or hermitage or cell at the fording place of a river would not have been unusual. The Lee they take to have been the Sabrann but also note a rock of this name off Kinsale harbour where the Bandon River flows.

Were they the hovels of record? Places of famine, dire poverty, criminality, black market, places for lepers and plague victims, places close to graveyards, places outside the official town, the ‘Irish towns’?[Denizens of field and forest, of earth and field.] If so, and if their origin, was in the style and influence of the Mediterranean shores then was it the abandonment of ‘Cave’ monasteries, the semi-cenobitic, which led to monastic abandonment of such spaces leaving them to become residences for the poor, the non-citizen outside the urban ‘town’ places in which the monastic community could carry out the pastoral work of caring for the poor, the aged and the sick? If so did this continue up to and beyond the suppression of the monasteries after 1541 so shortly after Duke Ferninand’s visit in 1518 to Kinsale? In searching for clues to give some substance to such a theory, a history of the Carmelite order in Kinsale written by S.M. Hession (Hession, 2010) is of considerable interest. He states that circa ‘1334 Robert Fitzrichard Balrain, a Norman Knight somehow became acquainted with the Carmelite Hermits who had fled Mount Carmel in the Holy Land during the Saracen Invasion. Balrain had built St. Mary’s Abbey in Kinsale and offered it along with 29 acres of land in the Liscahan area of ‘the town to the Carmelite Hermits who would attend to the pastoral care of the people … The hermits were closely associated with the local Leprosia (leper hospital).’  This occurred prior to the building of the town walls in 1380 when the hermits were absorbed into the ‘Friar movement’. It is of considerable interest that the medieval history of the Camelites knows as  the Book of the First Monks describes their use of caves, among other habitational forms, for their cells at Mount Carmel in Isreal. It may be asked if they did something similar upon their arrival at Kinsale and if their style of monasticism at that time was semi-cenobitic rather than cenobitic i.e. more in the style of the Laura cave monasteries of the East and their farrans. As a consequence of the Suppression of monasteries Act 1541 the abbey and lands were sold on to merchants with the friars moving to a place beside the Rock and the ‘Holy Corner’ it came to be known. In the Catholic Walk area of the town they were given a new site in 1670 among the shelters of the poor placed there by Cromwell’s forces in 1656 but in 1698 they were banished from the town, vacated their masshouse and ‘reverted to living in open caves, woods and lodgings in the homes of …locals…across the district’. the above historical information is taken from Hession’s History, online at

A Kinsale woman tells of the Lough Derg Purgatory in Donegal

The Kinsale [1517] account of the pilgrimage to Lough Derg is one of only four by native Irish pilgrims and the only one given by a woman (Morgan 2015, 37)

She had undertaken the pilgrimage when she was a girl, in other words anywhere between thirty and fifty years earlier, but remembered it vividly. She was there with other young people, perhaps to do pre-marital penance, though, given her somewhat blasé attitude, it was more like a teenage rite of passage. Remission of sins for those undertaking the rites was available at certain times of the year. She remembered and was able to recite the instructions and warnings that the abbot in charge had given to the pilgrims. Nevertheless they were all anxious to ‘go into the Cave, where the Glorious friend of God, St Patrick made his penance’.

As a result they had to fast on bread and water for twelve days confessing each day and on the three days before entering the cave they took communion. Finally they were led in procession by the abbot and the monks to the door of the cave which was  behind the choir, underneath the altar of the church. There they had to stay for a full twenty-four hours. The cave was two-chambered, with a stream dividing an upper front chamber from a lower, smaller one behind. (Was it an A2 class site?). She was inside with about twelve people but she thought there was room for about twenty in the cave. She had hoped to see marvellous visions but saw nothing at all. Some of her fellow pilgrims had allegedly seen ‘hideous and frightening things’, though Vital was disappointed when he heard from her that these were nightmares which they had experienced while asleep.

A Hapsburg visit to Ireland in 1518.

As a result of a storm Archduke Ferdinand, who subsequently succeeded his brother Charles as Emperor in 1558, was forced to land in Kinsale. He and his delegation spent four days in the town and its vicinity.Written in French by a royal servant called Laurent Vital. Archduke Ferdinand, the VIP visitor to Kinsale in 1518, is known to history as the Emperor Ferdinand I (1558-64), the founder of Austria, the defender of central Europe against the Turks (Morgan 2015, 13-17)

The old townsman also told Vital that not only were the country-people wild and warlike but that they were cave-dwellers who lived underground to survive the fierce winter winds. This latter may have been a case of telling the visitor what he wanted to hear as it had been one of the points that Chiericati had already related in 1517. The Burgundian Chronicler Jean Froissart, described the Irish as living ‘in holes dug under trees, or in bushes and thickets, like wild animals’.

The majority of the Irish population did live in primitive conditions but mostly in wattle huts and shelters. This may have been a reference to ancient souterrains. However, there is only one example of possible underground habitation in Munster at Dunisky near Macroom and that was most likely an emergency refuge from raiding in wartime, which was more normally used for storage. Also sounding very much like the famous state of Ireland tract of 1515, the Kinsale man complained that there was no justice in his part of Ireland except what could be had by main force as the competing local lords pillaged each other at will violent raids the wild Irish were wont to undertake against the town of Kinsale were now a thing of the past (ibid 27).

One place in Ireland that Vital knew to ask about was St Patrick’s Purgatory, which he referred to as Le Trou Sainct-Patrice and may be variously rendered as St Patrick’s pit, hole or cave. This cave on Station island on Lough Derg in County Donegal was associated with St Patrick, who had allegedly used the apparitions of the afterlife to be seen within to facilitate the conversion of recalcitrant Irish. However it had really come into its own from the twelfth century onwards as the concept of purgatory and need for forgiveness of sins became the top priority for the church and the faithful. As a result it became a place of pilgrimage, including for rich and intrepid pilgrims from far afield (ibid 35).

Looking at placenames in and near Kinsale town, Abbey-lands is preserved in both in Clontead and Ringcurran Parishes. Ringurran on the east side of the town also has some farrans and a Spital-land. From a souterrain at Dunderrow townland in Dunderrow parish two medieval tiles were discovered used to blaock a creepway. Were these from Tech Saxan which burned down in 1177 Also in this year the church of Tech Saxan was burned by lightening (Annals of Tigernach).

There are however very few souterrains on record for these parishes. In his extremely informative work on Cliff- Castles and Cave Dwellings of Europe (1911) Rev. Sabine Baring-Gould makes some interesting references which might facilitate a greater understanding of the Kinsale information above. He describes (p.57 et seq) two Irish women, shell-fish gatherers who lived in a cave near Cornwall’s Whitsend Bay both of whom were Irish widows ‘born and married’ in Ireland. On page 59 he speaks of a cave hermitage at Dale Abbey, Derbyshire in which a local workman was born and bred. On page 58 he states ‘ In Nottingham sanitary authorities have removed troglodyte tenants. But at Kinver in Staffordshire at Holy Austin’s Rock … honeycombed with habitations … cool in summer, warm in winter … hideous chimneys, some houses have stables and store rooms excavated out of rock’. In the case of the Dale Abbey hermitage cave one is reminded of Rotha Mary Clay’s publication on Hermits and Hermitages in England (Clay 2014).

The tradition of cave dwelling both as residence of the poor, the common folk and of religious persons in one which stretches across the shores of Europes Mediterranean lands and on into the Levant and African coastlines of this sea area. In the region between Alicante and Valencia in Spain the Triolet Brothers (Jerome and Laurent at have recorded such dwellings described as Cluzeaux other examples occur in Andalusia and on the Atlantic coast of Northern Spain at Castille on the southern shores of the Bay of Biscay, to the north of which are the souterrains of Brittany. Within the Mediterranean Sea Malta has a significant souterrain heritage with Judeo-Christain souterrains (Becker 2009) and in Southern Italy on the western side  close to the Adriatic Sea and Albania cliff and cave dwellings are found at Matera in Puglia (Dell’Aquila, 2010 and Caracciolo. 2014) a ciry ‘dug out of the rock’, in which there are significant religious murals and chapels as well as dwellings. It is also of interest that it is in this region that the distinctive clochán-like drystone built houses and villages of Trulli dwelliings are located e.g. Alberobello (Giorgi 1989).

The history of this region of Italy has much to say about early Christianity both before and during the Middle Ages, about ports such as Otranto and monks of many form of Christianity as well as Judaism arriving from the East. Its round domed churches make one think of such structures in Egypt and St. Anthony. It is curious that it also has both rock-cut dwellings and drystone built circular housing reminiscent of the mud built villages of Roman Syria Maritima and Sighir in the Chalcis Desert beyond, of Antioch where Christians first received that name. In between lie the shores of Anatolia where subterranea wonders abound and Greece where the Mount Athos peninsula continues its ancient tradition on Christianity. Is it unlikely that in bringing religion from such lands they not also brought some architectural traditions?

This history of subterranean structures along the Mediterranean shorelines, as well as its history of domed surface structures, is a history of the poor and of the vernacular rather than the monumental or aristocratic or mercantile. Perhaps it is a history of the ‘people of God’ (Céile Dé anglicised as Culdee) and of ‘cities of God’; cities which are dispersed rural entities of habitation rather than clustered and stacked, street-bound and walled entities of architectural and urban planning; organic rather than planned.

To return to South Munster what other influences might have caused the abandonment of subterranean or cliff dwellings and have made evidence for them so absent from historical and archaeological records? In conjunction with Cromwellian banishment, the suppression of the monasteries in 1541, there was also an act passed in 1536 which is described as the earliest English Poor Law which extended to Irish colonies. This was the Act of Punishment of Sturdy Vagabonds and Beggars whereby the poor of the parish were to be put to work funded by the parish poor-box.

Long term colonisation of a peasantry lead to longterm poverty and destitution and whether living in mud-walled cabins as cottagers, in less salubrious hovels or ‘ on the road’, the nature of life and cultural traditions of the poor can be quite different and less well noted than those of the higher social levels. Perhaps something of the experience of such conditions across the centuries can be gleaned from observations made in later times such as those made in regard to the Great Irish Famine of the 1840s, and also in the pamphlet of Fanny Parnell, sister of Charles Stuart Parnell entitled The Hovels of Ireland (Thomas Kelly, New York, 1880) where among others reference is made to Barrahourin and Sheheenarinka near Cork city wretched and broken-hearted people, high mountainous land holdings of little soil cover and the need to break rock to carve out a living. Did the absence of a cliff or subterranean tradition of living, at this point in time, make their circumstances, in a colder climate, different from those in Mediterranean lands?

Figgis (1918) described how ‘people lived in stricken hovels and ate the blood of cattle and sorrel boiled together’. Caesar Otway (1841, 318) relates the following in his North County Mayo sketches

We unearthed Borrowsky: unearthed I say because he lived in a hovel a great measure constructed underground.

It is difficult to imagine in modern times, a version of Cork city which is focused upon a large Early Medieval monastery, its precincts and round tower, stretching from Crosses Green to where the Victorian campus of University College Cork stands; as it is also difficult to imagine another monastery on the opposite side of the River Lee stretching from Mount Desert and Sunday’s Well to Shandon, with the Marshlands of the river’s channels the Place of a Norman walled town, the cliffs on either side having been quarried, at least, as early at the 17th century: a cliff castle at Carrigrohane and a cliff fort at Barrack Street, the hamlet called La Faythe by the road of the crosses, the Lepper Lands and the Spital Lands north and south. Not seen in the period from the 7th century to the 12th, from the perspective of a walled town what was the perspective from a large monastic settlement at Gill Abbey; what prospect or vista was to be had? One might ask a similar question about a stretch of the river from the lake-lands of Inchigeelagh to Gougane, and its souterrain cluster.


Souterrains in the Norman Age and after

Three medieval knights

The Annals of Tigernach contains the following entries for the year 1177:

‘Miles Cogan was banished by Hugo from Dublin to Cork. His Connaught 1177 raid is also described here i.e. Normans come in burning all before them. But, Ruaidhrí O Conchobhair, as they advanced had the people of Connaught flee into the ‘fastnesses’ with their cattle and property, leaving Tuam burned as well as the cells at Beneóin and Medóin. They got as far as Tuam but then had to retreat as the Gaelic armies of Connaught and Munster pursued them’.

If Milo went to Cork in 1177 and a church at Dunisky is recorded in existence for 1199 AD, does this mean that the settlement there was constructed as a motte and bailey on the western boundary of De Cogan’s ‘sword land’ within this 22 year period? If so, did it last up to 1261 AD when it was burned out and was this the end of the settlement? I’m presuming that the Dunusci of the 1199 AD Decretal Letter of Pope Innocent III refers to Dunisky in Cork. Was the ‘usci’ name element a scribal error for ‘usli’ referring to the high dun (motte) above the Dún Íseal (low lying dún or bailey)?

In the Tithe Applotment Books Dunisky parish is described as having two townlands i.e. Dunisky (Dunusci as in 1199 AD or Dunusli ?) and Dun Íseal. In the 19th century the Ordnance Survey of Ireland made them one. Did the sale of churchlands over the centuries see what was once the full area of the Motte and Bailey reduced to a smaller churchland holding where the chapel (now beneath the later mausoleum platform) and souterrain still exist? Where its graveyard once existed above portion of the souterrain? Or was the bailey area always in secular hands? Was the bank and ditch, still evident at this part of the site, that which separated the bailey from the motte? What historical rationale, and outcome, is represented by indicating church land from non-church land in Patrick Aher’s maps of the 1790s AD.

Re-interpreting Dunisky as not solely a souterrain of Norman origin.

Survey drawing of the Dunisky Souterrain by J.P. McCarthy

Dunisky need not necessary been built by the deCogan settlers, it could have been part of  the native tradition of souterrains beneath churches as noted in Lucas (1971-73). The souterrain could have been smaller originally, then enlarged and modified by the deCogan settlement if the site of the church there – recorded in the 1199 A.D. letter of Pope Innocent III, already had an ecclesiastical presence from earlier times e.g. if the local name for the church site Teampuill Aghadoe refers to an association with the early diocese of Aghadoe further west in Co.Kerry. If one accepts the size and features of the Dunisky souterrain to be more in the Souterrain Refuge traditions of Normandy, this does not necessarily mean that Dunisky is of  Norman origin in its overall design. King Henry II of England, according to the chronicler Cambrensis frequented the court of Rouen and Milo DeCogan to whom Henry II gave the lands of Dunisky had personal connections with that court also. But this does not mean that Gaelic Munster of that time was either isolated or less connected with the European mainland and its peoples at this time.

Gaelic Ireland previous to and at this point in time had had long standing associations with the Kingdom of Francia and as such what reason is there to suppose that design influences from there had not already influenced the creation of souterrains beneath Irish church sites and their intended functions. In the 11th century AD conversely, to what extent might Irish monastic souterrains have influenced monastic foundations abroad? To quote from a post dated September 8th, 2014 ’St. Mary’s Abbey in Rosscarbery the only known daughter-house of the famous ‘Schottenklöster’, Irish Benedictine monasteries founded in the 11th century in Bavaria and Austria. The monks from Rosscarbery went from St James’ in Regensburg, which was to become the mother-house of some twelve monasteries, as far away as Kiev and Vienna.’ 

One is reminded of the ‘earth caves’ of Russian monasteries which were not abandoned until ordered to do so in the 18th century. One is reminded of the initial cells dug at Anthony’s cave monastery at Kieve and St. Hilarion’s cave there. And one if reminded of souterrains at Frederikshavn in Denmark such as in the vicinity of a church with medieval elements at Flade ; sites such as Løgten Mark

(øgten_Mark) and its aspects of similarity with a class C1 souterrain in Cork – though with just one cell and a passage.

Is it possible that Geraldus Cambrensis writing his Expugnatio Hibernica and referring to Milo deCogan’s army’s march into the province of Connaught in 1177 AD – which speaks of the native population being advised by their chieftains to bury goods and crops underground, burn what is left standing in the fields, and instructing nobles and others to resort to the churches for safety, is referring to souterrains and if so what types of souterrains e.g. cellars for crop storage as well as church souterrains suitable as temporary refuges? As these nobles seek sanctuary in the churches or their precincts does Cambrensis imply the existence of a native tradition of souterrain refuges? If so had an existing souterrain refuge beneath the church been absorbed into the motte and bailey fortress of Dunisky or was it created as a feature of this Norman fortress? It is also of interest that a dry-stone built souterrain has also been recorded for the lands of Dunisky. This souterrain which has 4-5 cubicles is a very different structure from the rock tunnelled souterrain beneath the church. Is it pre-Norman or part of the agricultural activities of the Norman settlement? This remains an open question.

The small civil parish which is Dunisky is bounded on its western side by the parish of  the parishes of Kilmichael and Macloneigh (maige cluain…..). It is embedded, one might say, within the north east side of Kilmurry parish and on its north side lies the parish of Aghinagh where the Coolgarrif souterrain was discovered. It is situated north east of Kinneigh Parish with its Desertserges and west of Aglish Parish with its Desertmore close by. It lies on a ridge overlooking the southern bank of the River Lee . I’m of the view that this townland as a parish in itself was once the site of a deCogan ‘castle’ in early Norman times i.e. that most of the townland was  a motte-and-bailey timber structure, with a settlement, sited on the ridge, bounded on its western side by a defence ditch which would in later times become a zigzag laneway shown by a Patrick Aher estate map in the late 18th century and still visible from the air in patterns in that field.  Ruins of the little church small were still visible when visited during the first edition survey work for the Ordnance Survey in the 1840s, and the site and one time graveyard are still known in the locality as Teampall Aghadoe. If my assumption that Teampall sites are earlier than the Norman Conquest and connected with early Medieval times. then perhaps the occurrence of Dunisky (Dunusci) in the 1199 AD Decretal letter of Pope Innocent III is just confirming that that church site has transferred to Norman control. If so, the church site and graveyard may be much older. The souterrain which has its original entrance either at or beside the south wall of the church’s location in very large compared with any of the other big souterrains in the clay tunnelled tradition for this part of Cork and westward. So, is it a modified, enlarged souterrain resulting from the presence of a Norman settlement above?

Conjectural sketch showing a motte and bailey castle at Dunisky.

Alternatively the naming of that portion of Dunisky townland which has the souterrain and the site of its Medieval church has something to do with a pilgrimage of two days and two nights made in the year 1177 by Milo deCogan and Robert Fitzstephen to the monastery of Aghadoe by Killarney.  DeCogan and Fitzstephen were among the initial Norman lords to receive lands in Ireland. Both received and conquered lands given to them in the Cork area.

The Annals of Innisfallen (as quoted by Brash 1875, page103 from John Windele’s notes) state that in 1177 AD Cork was taken by the Norman knights Milo deCogan and Robert Fitzstephen, after which both went on to a pilgrimage to Aghadoe where they remain for two days and nights, and then return to Cork. Aghadoe was a County Kerry ancient monastery and bishopric. Is this why the church site (now the 19th century mausoleum tower site) at Dunisky is locally called Teampaill Aghadoe?

Did deCogan name the chapel at his Dunisky’s timber castle as a result of his pilgrimage to Kerry? Does this imply that the Dunisky settlement dates to 1177? It was also in 1177 that Milo took his army into Connaught and as described by Cambrensis (Expugnatio Hibernica) the native inhabitants hid food (and presumably themselves) underground in ‘earth’ houses before burning their crops and churches. Earth houses was used as a translation of ‘ypogeis subterraneis’ prior to Scott and Martin’s translation.

The Castle’s Bailey lands, a tale of a zigzag laneway.

Detail from Patrick Aher’s late 18th century survey of Dunisky townland. Cork Archives Institute, U137

The site of the medieval church at Dunisky lies beneath an earthen platform which since the 19th century has had a large mausoleum tower situated upon it. In area the church was a small structure, more a chapel than a church. The area in which the church and its one time graveyard were located is bounded on the west side by the remnants of a large ditch. The southern side of the site is an area of steeply sloping cliff. The rock cut souterrain lies between  the cliff and the earthen platform and it is reasonable to assume that the original entrance to the souterrain was connected with a wall of the church/chapel.  The type of castle used during the Norman conquest was known as a Motte and Bailey which consisted of a motte i.e. a raised mound, or natural outcrop, palisaded and with a ditch perhaps, upon which the leader of a garrison occupied a timber tower which may or may not have become in later times a stone built structure. Located beneath the motte was a fortified area of land known as a bailey. This area of land contained the garrison and could also have held a settlement or acted as a refuge for one under siege. Where was the bailey at Dunisky? I have heard said locally when enquiring about a historical reference to a deCogan castle at Dunisky, one burned out in 1261 AD, that the ‘castle’ was once located on land to the west side beyond the church area. Shown on Cork cartographer Patrick Aher’s estate maps for Dunisky in the 1790s there is a strange looking laneway which zigzags across a field a short distance west of the church site. Aher shows it as lying between the roadway and cliff. It each angle bend in the laneway a cabin is shown. Was this laneway an angled defensive ditch originally and if so was it the western boundary of the bailey? There appears to be no land surface explanation for the zigzag pattern of the laneway. At times aerial photographs of the field appear to show parts of the zigzag beneath the soil surface.

The nature of Motte and Bailey castles and their siting in the English landscape has been studied in depth by Robert Higham and Philip Barker (1992). Consideration of Dunisky in  this context may prove fruitful particularly if scientifically studied – including comparative analysis.  Was the souterrain a refuge for a Norman settlement at Dunisky? Where did the settlers come from? Was the townland that area of land which held the settlement and its agricultural land? Was this the reason why the area of the townland was a medieval parish in its own right also? Do the Gaelic subunits names, as in the 19th century Tithe Applotment Books, described as Dún Íseal (low lying dún) and Dunisky (a corruption of dún usli or uasal? meaning high lying dún?) refer to the structural elements of a motte and bailey timber castle? As a western frontier outpost of the early Norman conquest of Cork what type of castle would deCogan have chosen to build other than a motte and bailey adapted to the chosen site’s topography? If deCogan had family associations with Normandy would he have chosen to create (or adapted) a souterrain to act as a refuge for the settlement (or its principal members) in the style of Normandy’s rmedieval refuge souterrains? His king Henry II had spent time in Normandy. deCogan was familiar with the use of underground refuges as a consequence of his Connaught raid. In spite of having a refuge souterrain what was the local outcome of the burning of the castle by Finghin MacCarthaigh’s forces in 1261 AD?

Dunisky and Curraghcrowley : Norman versus Native?

Dunisky Rock Tunnelled Souterrain, County Cork

Are there more souterrains in Cork which are similar to Dunisky? If the Dunisky souterrain existed prior to the Norman Conquest of Ireland was it similar to the rock tunnelled souterrain at Curraghcrowley (Somerville 1930, 1-15, available online via Digital JCHAS at located 21 kilometres south of Dunisky and peripheral at the North East to the great Celtic monastery of Kinneigh, as is Curraghcrowley to the South East of the monastery? Dunisky has a total of 7 chambers currently accessible which Curraghcrowley has a total of 5 chambers. However, if Chamber 4 at Dunisky, from which the original entrance to the site runs, was a cellar behind which the souterrain was situated via a small aperture at floor level in the South West corner easily concealed then was the souterrain itself intended as a 6 chamber site? Are there more chambers at Dunisky as yet unexplored? From one side of Chamber 1 at Dunisky a tunnel runs out from a little creepway which is too small in diameter for an adult to pass through. It leads beneath what was once a graveyard at the site. Are there further chambers?

In a comparison between Curraghcrowley and Dunisky chamber dimensions is another issue as is the precision and character of tunnelling work present. Is Dunisky in the style of Normandy and is Curraghcrowley in the style of native Irish souterrains of the tunnelled variety? Was there a Flemish association with the Dunisky castle/settlement connected with the Fleet of the Flemings? Did other Norman frontier settlements in Cork also have rock tunnelled souterrains? Have these not been discovered as yet given that Dunisky was unknown up to the 1920s and was a chance discovery by a boy hunting rabbits with a ferret? Because they are rock tunnelled is this why they have not been found? Do they remain concealed behind cellars? There are examples of souterrains connected to cellars in France and apparently in places in Germany with church connections…were these once within Francia? Dunisky poses many interesting questions for further research.


The topography of a souterrain landscape in South Munster can be viewed through many different lenses. There are many histories which contextualise the story.

Did the 5th century and the arrival of Patrick bring reforms reflected in the works of Benedict of Nursia to earlier Christianity in South Munster? Did Whitby of the 7th century bring reforms from Anglo-Saxon Britain and beyond? Were the Eorosele and Eoroscraef of the Old English poem the Wife’s Lament (Battles 1994) earth cells (‘sele’ as cell)?

How Gaelic or how European was Gaelic society at the common social level from the Iron Age to the 12th Century AD? What changed and ended the world view of Gaelic Christianity? Loss of eastern influence? A slow decline in relations between the east and the western parts of the empire?  The impact of the Viking age. Monasteries trading with Viking and their sea ports, ports and Gaelic ships and trade before that, to which Brian Ború said no! A return to heathendom after Viking raids and settlement? Its removal and expansion again. How many hermitages had survived? What new ones such as lyras were created? What brought about a revival, a renewal (Warren1985) of the early Desert Fathers and Mothers tradition and how was it expressed?

The 12th century brought church reforms (Ó Corráin 2017). It brought about the creation of parishes (subsequently known as civil parishes), as dioceses were created in old tribal landscapes with their Celtic church attributes – including ancient bishopricks and paruchiae), settlement re-orientations took place, the Rathbrasail Synod and other synods occurred.  What was the depth and degree of impact and what were the geographical issues of impact from the lands of Waterford to the rougher landscapes of the South West?

With the Suppression/Dissolution of the Monasteries beginning in the early 16th century, and the arrival of the Protestant Reformation what were the dynamics of the disposal of monastery/hermitage assets and lands. Did monastic townscapes such Cloyne and the Burgatia of Rosscarbery gradually fade out of existence or had they already vanished? Did the cross road of four, once great Gaelic, roads at Cloyne become overlaid by the streetscape of a new town? When Anthony St. Leger brought the suppression campaign on behalf of Henry VIII from 1540 AD onwards what paradigm shifts in local social geographies began to unfold (Bradshaw 1974)? How impactful were these events across lands (and their traditional working) which remained in Gaelic lordships and thus provided perhaps a degree of continuance from earlier times? How impactful were they as forfeited lands of the suppressed monasteries and dispossessed chieftains were over time divided into new manors, increased sheep grazing pastures replaced ploughlands and diverse open fieldstrips of crops, as common land became absorbed into demesne land, as Gaelic cottagers and labourers left the land abandoning their traditional habitations, as enclosure and clearance of land areas created new land unit identities assigned new names or anglicised variants of the traditional Gaelic ones, as the land areas of old place-name identities were subsumed – only their ringforts and souterrains being the most common survivals, vestiges of that vernacular culture’s approach to living and land working ? How impactful were the ravages of the Desmond Wars of the late 16th century on landscape and population as the 17th century opened its gateway to new conquests and settlements across the territory, as commercial corporate entities bought large tracts of land, as soldiers were granted land for services rendered? How impactful were Henry’s reporting commissioners (White 1945)? How impactful were the lawyers of King’s Inns, Dublin (founded under Henry VIII)? How impactful were the courts on the subsequent history of land conveyancing (Curtis Clayton 2008); the nib of a scrivener’s quill upon a parchment? The weave of an old heraldic tapestry, torn from the wall of an old castle hall, undone, its threads rewoven, becoming a patchwork quilt, something of seams both old and new.

The 17th century brought the end of Gaeldom and the beginnings of antiquarian enquiries.  Knowledge of a subsurface history of souterrains did not fade away totally. Instead it became part of a cultural dichotomy between the knowledge of urban living and rural living, between two different cultural languages of forgetfulness, memory, understanding and reasoning.

To the urbanite, literate, print culture based, amateur antiquarians of the 18th and 19th centuries how foreign a landscape was the traditional Kingdom of Desmond? How absent were the rudiments of ethnographic, anthropological and archaeological thinking in their  attempts to gather and interpret the social, physical and economic remnants of a traditional Gealic society – what remained of it, of its social and cultural history, its heritage, after the turbulence of Norman conquest, 12th century Church reforms, the 16th century dissolution of great monastic corporations, the dispersal of their large landholdings and of the social landscapes of their estates, its social order and traditional domiciles from rich to very poor? 

Sketch of a hovel in Munster. Illustrated London News 1848.

To what extent did the social world of subsurface occupancy become unknown to those solely consciousness of the surface history of the landscape? What of the tenants and labouring poor of the monastic estates in the aftermath of Suppression and Dissolution and the sales of monastery lands? Did the purchasers clear such tenants from their traditional abodes (bothán, tig faoi talamh or cabin) in favour of making their newly acquired lands more economically productive within a new economic paradigm of social order and cultural orientation? Were the dispossessed (Ó Tuama 1985) and displaced destined for a multi-generational life on the road, Shelta spoken to the crackle of caravan wheels, or settled in newly constructed hamlets and villages? How did the middle classes and upper classes regard the hovels of the very poor in remote valleys along faint trails and trackways, a ‘Hidden Ireland’ (Corkery 1925) beyond the geographies of their networks of travel and communication, their highways and byways? How vast a gap of social and cultural awareness was there between Caesar Otway and Burrowsky – the man who lived in a burrow, in a hovel before the eve of the Great Irish Famine?