June 1845: Famine strikes the Blackstairs

28th of June 2015.

The 170th anniversary of the date on which the potato blight, which brought about the Great Famine in Ireland, was first noted in the Blackstairs region outside Bunclody. So stated Phelim Kavanagh, Bunclody in 1946, 100 years after the event when providing information to the National Folklore Commission. Most other accounts in the National Folklore Collection refer to the Autumn 1845 although these were collected in the area on either side of the Blackstairs ridge further south. It is the Bunclody accounts on the northeast side of the range which are presented here.

First identified by black spots appearing on the leaves, heavy rain that year was blamed in the region for washing “the black into the spud”. In order to secure seed for the following year, potatoes which appeared to be safe were buried under beds in cabins. Many who opened the store the following spring discovered that these had turned black in the meantime. Blight returned to the crop in subsequent years also. Seeds from new potato varieties were imported from France called “Beldrums” which were similar to the Shamrock variety in the hope that these would be resistant to the disease. One day a man was digging in his field outside Bunclody when a passer-by hailed him asking him if the potatoes were good. The farmer replied;

“They’re small and round,

and scarce in the ground,

And very hard for to find ’em.

And they’re bitter and wet,

and hard to eat,

and the divil himself wouldn’t boil ’em”

The account also describes people dying in the ditches watching the crop fail especially malnourished children. Many of these were buried in graves with no coffins. Another account records the suddenness of the blights arrival; “It all happened in one night, one night the farmers were all laughing and the next day they were sitting in the ditches crying”. Kilmyshall was noted in particular for taking the remains of the dead. One Bunclody man, Martin Murray had the job of carting them for burial. Soup kitchens and yellow meal stations, opened across the country in an attempt to cope with the hungry, were also opened in Bunclody. Porridge made from the yellow meal was known as “Skilly” in the region. During the summer months praiseach (cabbage) and turnips were also added to the mixture. As things grew more and more desperate, people began to raid fields of turnips so large farmers began to set traps in gardens and hired gunmen to protect their fields. When disease struck the population, Dormer’s Mills on Mill Lane in Bunclody was used as a cholera hospital. Emigration to America was a fate for others in the Bunclody region, where ships were taken from New Ross. It was mentioned that some landlords payed the fares however a number of accounts from the south of the range state that this never happened. A Deacon living in Kilbrannish in the uplands to the west of Bunclody gave twenty places on a ship to America to assist the poor in their escape to new lives. Relief schemes on which the poor in the area worked included the construction of Barker’s Bridge, the cutting of Bunker’s Hill for the Chapel Road and the construction of the road to New Ross. Stewards on these schemes were noted as being particularly savage. People were paid 4p a day for their labour on these schemes whether they worked hard or did nothing.

The information here is from just two of numerous accounts of the Famine in the Blackstairs region collected in the early twentieth century by the NFC from the children and grandchildren of those who witnessed the event. These both compliment and contradict one another on a number of issues but the general trend that can be gleaned is that the Famine struck the area with greater impact than is often traditionally perceived for the east and south-east, often overshadowed in the literature by worse conditions in the west.


National Folklore Collection, Manuscript Collection 1159, p. 216-221. Information collected by Séamus S. De Bhál, Bunclody from Phelim Kavanagh (75), Bunclody (born 1871) in 1946.

National Folklore Collection, Manuscript Collection 1159, p. 221-223. Information collected by Séamus S. De Bhál, Bunclody from Paddy Thorpe (75), Bunclody (born 1871) in 1946.

Bonfires in the Blackstairs


The summer solstice, the longest day of the year is just behind us. An important festival in the northern-European calendar, it was often overshadowed in Catholic Ireland by the feast of St. John the Baptist. Noted as being born 6 months before Jesus, the date of John’s birth was set as the 24th of June. Bonfires were lit across the country either on the day itself or “St. John’s Eve” (23rd June). Folklore collected by the Irish Folklore Commission refers to a number of gatherings on this night in the Blackstairs region.

Known as “Bonfire Day” in the St. Mullins region, locals young and old would gather on the green on the evening of the 24th of June As night fell, a pre-prepared bonfire was lit by the young people on top of the Norman motte (not advisable for anyone considering resurrecting the festival!) fueled with bushes, branches and in later years, rubber tyres. The origins of the tradition were unclear to the participants although it was noted as having died out by the time of collection (February 1973). No special traditions such as singing or dancing were noted by the informant although they may well have taken place as they are noted at every other festival in the region for which there is information. The tradition was also noted at the northern end of the range in the area around Myshall and Rossard. Burnt sticks were taken from the bonfire the following day and placed in crop fields to “keep away the blast”.

The Blackstairs ridgeline from the summit of Slievebawn

The Blackstairs ridgeline from the summit of Slievebawn

A more detailed account was gathered from the Ballygibbon region in Wexford. Since the potato digging and hay harvest was coming the following month, people were in a celebratory mood making St. John’s Eve and Day the perfect excuse. As well as Ballygibbon, bonfires were lit on St. John’s Eve at the Grange Crossroads, Gurraun, Rathduff, Killanne, Ballybawn, and Monamolin. Walter Furlong was noted as having lit the biggest fire every year on top of a lime kiln in Monamolin.  Inhabitants of the slopes of Blackstairs and White Mountain also lit bonfires beside their own dwellings where they were visible from the surrounding area resulting in contests every year to build the biggest fire. Branches and bushes were burnt just as at St. Mullins as well as tar and oil barrels. John Breen, a timber cutter, was noted as being paid for supplying fuel. The oldest resident of the locality lit the bonfire at 9pm and dancing began with music provided by a fiddler. Around 10pm the older members of the community went home leaving the younger people (who would not leave until the early hours of the morning) to carry on the celebrations. Singing was another custom and as the fire died down, people would jump over the embers. Ashes from the fire were scattered over crops the following day. The custom was noted as dying out in the late 19th/ early 20th Century, first the communal crossroads and village gatherings followed by the longer lasting Blackstairs fires. The custom was also noted as having been carried out in the Bunclody region although no further information was provided.

St. John’s Eve and Day celebrations were not isolated instances as the summer was filled with gatherings and festivals probably helped in part by the increased number of travelling labourers in the region for the harvests as noted in a number of folklore sources. A pattern was held at Kiltennel, Carlow on the second sunday in June and another at Clonygoose on the third Sunday. After St. John’s Festival, June 29th and the following Sunday saw a gathering known as “Fraughan Sunday” in Coonogue Woods, Carlow. A pattern held at St. Mullins on 25th of July was followed by a Lughnasa festival gathering at the Cooliagh Gap on the Blackstairs ridgeline on the last Sunday in July, details of which will follow in future posts.


Collected by P.T. O’Riain from John Long and his wife of Rossard, Carlow in June 1940. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 1063, p. 5.

Collected by Cáit Ní Bolgubhair from Mr. Myles Doyle, Ballygibbon, Wexford (85 years old) in August 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 959, p. 143-149.

Collected by C. Mac Niocláis in the Bunclody, Wexford region in August 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 959, p. 157.

Collected by John Moriarty, Glynn, St. Mullins, Carlow in the St. Mullins region in February 1973. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 1855, p. 128.

Collected by Tomas O Riain in the St. Mullins region, Carlow in December 1943. Irish Folklore Commission Main Manuscript Collection 890, p. 413-431.

Blackstairs at Bealtaine

“Man is weary waiting, waiting for May,

Waiting for pleasant rambles,

Through the fragrant hawthorn brambles” – Walter Furlong, September 1954

Today, May 01st, marks the feast of Bealtaine, the arrival of summer and a day steeped in folklore. Many different traditions and customs were practiced in the past on this day. In a superstitious world full of balances, May split the year in half between two feasts of Samhain (Halloween). Given the beliefs associated with Samhain and the arrival of winter, it is no surprise that Bealtaine held a similar position of importance and folklore which has been lost in the last century. The following is some information recorded in the National Folklore Collection held in UCD relating to the feast day in the Blackstairs Mountains region. It was collected in September 1954 by the full time collector J. G. Delaney from two sources; Mrs. Elizabeth Byrne, Rathnure, Wexford who was 87 at the time (born 1867) and Walter Furlong, Carrigeen, Wexford aged 83 (born 1871). Mr. Furlong, whose information is much more detailed, noted that the feast was very important in his youth. By the time of collection many of the traditions and customs associated with Bealtaine seem to have died out in this region so it is not as rich a resource as in other regions. Information was also collected by P.T. O’Riain from John Long (70) and his wife of Rossard, Carlow in June 1940 (born 1870), J. G. Delaney from Patrick Leary, Rathnure, Wexford (71) in August 1973 (born 1902) and E. Mac Niocláis in the Bunclody region, Carlow/ Wexford in June 1947.  For more folklore and history of the feast elsewhere in Ireland, you can check out other blogs such as Irish Archaeology or Vox Hiberionacum.

May 03rd saw the arrival of the hiring season for labourers in Wexford so the feast of Bealtaine gave young people the chance to celebrate and relax for a few days before the busy summer. Workers on the Carlow side didn’t seem to get any break however as the Borris Hiring Fair was held on May Day. Cattle and sheep were also bought and sold at these fairs.According to E. Mac Niocláis, a fair was also held in Bunclody on May Day which was known as “Ladies Fair”. Here young women would dress in their best in anticipation for a June wedding (see below) just as occurred in the “spotting fairs” in the West.

May Day traditions from across the country and in the Blackstairs show that it was considered ill advised to give or throw away butter, fire, dew from the fields and many other objects on this day as to part with such objects was to part with luck. This did not seem to transfer to money as rents had to be paid by May 01st.

Despite their proximity, the tradition of having people on the land on May Day contrasted greatly between two sources which noted it. Mrs. Byrne in Rathnure noted how neighbours were invited over by farmers to walk the land. Mr. Furlong in Carrigeen, stated that it was very unlucky to have people on the land on this day. He also warned that wells had to be watched on May Eve and Day for fear of the local fairy women who “were able to work some divilment”. Unwary farmers could have the top of the well skimmed by this woman. In doing so she took their butter for the year through the magic of transfer and no matter how much the milk was churned it would not form butter. He recalled how his father and Jim Kehoe of Tomenine, Wexford were in a pub in Aughtiegemore (sic.) on May Eve one year. As they were “walking home they saw an old woman sitting beside a well. “What are you doing there this time of night” says Jim. “This is a fine airy place” says she. “Airy as it is” says he “we’ll give you a bath” and he thrun (sic.) her in body and bones”. John Long recalled how his family fell foul of such magic when his family lost their butter to a fairy woman who took grass from their field. His mother walked into the cowhouse one May morning to find what looked like butter with milk dripping from it hanging on the piece of wood where the cows were tied up to be milked. She threw it in the fire out of suspicion but in the coming weeks no matter how much she churned, she could get no butter from the milk. She went to the parish priest who told her to put only salt and water into the churn and to place the Gospel of St. John underneath. She did this and got the butter back!

Both Mrs. Byrne and Mr. Furlong noted that there were no traditions of moving cattle or sheep to the upland grazing pastures on this day specifically as in other regions. The Bealtaine tradition of driving cattle between two bonfires to ward off illness or bad luck found in other parts of Ireland was something Mrs. Byrne noted as having no memory of in her childhood either. What Mr. Furlong did remember was that cattle were brought into the cowhouse and sheep into the farmyard where they were blessed with holy water called “cattle water” which was specially blessed for purpose by a priest in the days preceeding. This act protected them from illness and harm for the year. Bonfires in the Blackstairs were reserved for St. John’s Eve (23rd June) according to Mr. Furlong however they are recorded as having once occurred in the Bunclody region by E. Mac Niocláis, the tradition long dead by 1947.

Given that the month was considered magical and full of the supernatural there were many traditions associated with luck and prophesying some of which were recorded by Mr. Furlong. Farmers whose livelihood  depended on the weather, looked to the skies during this month as “A wet and windy May, fills the haggard with corn and hay”. May was the month people looked forward to and dreaded as it sealed the faith for some of those who might be sick at the time; “March will search, April will try and May will tell if you live or die” (“May kills and cures” recorded by E. Mac Niocláis. And for those who were considering tying the knot “Marry in May, rue the day” (no marriages in May also recorded by E. Mac Niocláis).

One of the few customs Mrs. Byrne did note was that a branch from a mountain ash was cut on May morning and placed over the cowhouse door for luck. She also recalled how fields were blessed and some farmers also had the priest bless their water. Farmers would also walk the land by walking diagonally across each field from one corner to another and then walking between the other two corners forming the shape of the cross in the field. Holy water was sprinkled with a feather as he did this. She noted that no prayers were said during this process but the farmer would bless himself as he entered each field. The blessing of the fields was done ten times a year on other feast days but Mrs. Byrne did not remember on which days the practice was carried out other than Bealtaine. Mr. Furlong stated that it was fairy butter that was placed at the cowhouse door on this day for luck.

Altars were set up in the house on this day devoted to The Virgin Mary as May was known as “Mary’s Month”. Children would pick primroses to be placed on the altar. A May Bush was also put up on this day by decorating a hawthorn with candles, ribbons, egg shells and flowers. Once evening fell the candles were lit and locals would gather together for music and dance. John Long stated that this hawthorn bush was cut and placed on a dung heap before being decorated. It was then carried around the fairs such as Borris by children who asked for money just as occurred on “Wren’s Day” (26th December). E. Mac Nioclais recorded how children would carry the May Bush from house to house collecting money in the Bunclody region. In the town itself every street had its own tree and holly formed an alternative for those who did not have access to a hawthorn tree.

And in a world full of superstition, what of the fairies? Mr. Furlong noted that as May saw the arrival of summer, poorer weather such as strong gusts of wind were considered the actions of “the good people” or fairies. He recounted how he was working one May day in a field with another man named only as Nick. Suddenly a north wind began to blow in from the Blackstairs Mountains above them which he referred to as a “hurl wind” which you could see plainly with the eye. “Here’s the shee-gee” says Nick. “What’s that” says I. “Never mind” says he “but stay away from it”. It was 30ft high and cone shaped with the point on top. The field they were working in had a gap in the middle of the hedge leading to a lane. The wind crossed the field and passed the gap but doubled back on itself and made its way out onto the lane. “If the divil is not in that” says Nick “he’s nowhere”.


National Folklore Collection Manuscript Collection 1063, p 7-8. Information collected by P.T. O’Riain from John Long (70) (born 1870) and his wife, Rossard, Carlow, June 1940.

National Folklore Collection Manuscript Collection 1097, p. 243-244. Information collected by E. Mac Niocláis in the Bunclody region, June 1947.

National Folklore Collection Manuscript Collection 1344, p. 178-179. Information collected by J. G. Delaney from Mrs. Elizabeth Byrne, Rathnure, 87 (born 1867), September 1954.

National Folklore Collection Manuscript Collection 1344, p. 262-263. Information collected by J. G. Delaney from Mr. Walter Furlong, Carrigeen, Wexford 83 (born 1871), September 1954.

National Folklore Collection Manuscript Collection 1796, p. 470-476. Information collected by J. G. Delaney from Patrick Leary, Rathnure, 71 (born 1902), August 1973.

St. Bridget’s Day in the Blackstairs

Today, St. Bridget’s Day/ Lá Fhéile Bríd or Imbolc, is traditionally the first day of spring although winters bite is still definitely in the air and snow lies on the mountains. Given the importance of the calender event, the day and night was steeped in custom and tradition in the past. The following information from the National Folklore Archive was mainly collected by Cáit Ní Bolgubhair, Rathnure, from the people of the village in the foot of the Blackstairs in June 1942 (as the Battle of Midway took place on the opposite side of the world) along with smaller accounts from Rossard and Bunclody:

A Novena was begun in the households of the locality on January 23rd in preparation for the day. By 1942 the day was only marked by a mass in honour of St. Bridget however; the oldest man in Rathnure at the time, Mr. William Graham (86 [born 1856/7]) had a number of stories about St. Bridget’s Day eve which were told to him by his father who died 50 years before [1892] aged 93 [born 1799]. According to Mr. Graham’s father, St. Bridget’s Day was celebrated in every household in the district. Just after sunset on the 31st of January, the man of the house went out and cut a bunch of rushes with a reaping hook and hid them outside the house until feast time that night [time unspecified]. When the feast time arrived he would go back out and collect the rushes and walk around the house clockwise – the direction of the sun. When he reached the open door, the family inside knelt and listened to his petition: “Go down on your knees, open your eyes, and let St. Bridget in”. The family would respond with “She is welcome, she is welcome”. He repeated his circuit, petition and response twice more. On the third circuit he entered the house, put the rushes under the table, said Grace and invited his family to dinner. After they ate, the rushes were put in the middle of the floor and the family sat around making crosses.

When the family went to bed, the man of the house collected a garment of clothing for each person in the house and hid them outside. This was done so that St. Bridget and her holy women would find warm wraps on their journey to visit all those who honoured her. The door of the house was also left open that night so they could come inside and warm themselves by the fire. (The version of this custom is slightly different to that recorded elsewhere in the country. See Pilgrimage in Medieval Ireland’s post for example)

The following day, St. Bridget’s Day, the crosses were blessed and hung in each room and outhouse. P.T, O’Riain noted that in the Rossard area, the garments that had been hung out the night before, were known as the Brat Bríd or St. Bridget’s Day ribbons and were used to cure any pains.

According to C. Mac Niocláis, Bunclody (Feb. 1942) the tradition of making Bridget’s crosses had died out at that stage also. The crosses that had formally been made were diamond shaped and made from straw with a grain of corn set in the middle. These were then hung from the rafters with a nail. When sowing of the crops started on the land, the grain was taken from the cross and placed in the first bucket of seed. The crosses were never removed and you could establish the age of a house by counting the number of crosses in the rafters.

Another old custom remembered in the Bunclody district at this time was that of the “Brídeóg”. These were made locally from a large turnip like a jack-o-lantern. The eyes, nose and mouth were blackened with soot or shoe polish. People would dress in old clothes and go from house to house asking for money “for the Brídeóg”.

The Birth of Spring

The Dandelion and the delicate anenome were believed to be Bridget’s flowers. The linnet was commonly known as “Bríd’s little bird” as it is one of the earliest spring songbirds. The year’s agricultural work was started on this day as the farmers turned the sod in preparation for sowing crops. It was believed that starting on this day would make the crops prosper. Fishing also started in the rivers, in Rathnure’s case, the River Boro, which continued until October.

A St. Bridget story told in the Rathnure locality

There are many stories and traditions associated with St, Bridget which most of us will remember from school or our families. The following was one such story told to the children in the locality at the time:

St. Bridget was a dairy maid in her youth to a druid who had 12 cows. When she made the butter, she split it into one large and twelve small parts in memory of Christ and the Twelve Apostles. She gave the large part to the poor or strangers as she believed Christ was in every beggar and wanderer. The druid found out and suprised her one day by demanding the butter he knew she had given away. She told him she would get it from the kitchen and went in alone and shut the door. She began the following prayer, “O my sovereign Lord, Thou who give increase in all things, bless O God of unbounded greatness, this storehouse with they right hand. My storehouse will be a storehouse of bright testimony; the storehouse which my king shall bless; a storehouse in which plenty shall abound. The son of Mary, my beloved one, will bless my storehouse; this is the glory of the whole universe, may that glory be ever multiplied and be given unto Him”. She carried the butter to the druid and there was so much that “if the hampers which all the men of Munster had possessed had been given to her she would fill them all”. The druid said to her “Both the butter and the kine [cow] are thine, thou shouldst be serving not me but the Lord”. She gave the cow to the poor and the druid and his wife were Bridget’s first converts.

Bridget – The Name

In the three accounts of St. Bridget’s Day all refer to the widespread use of the the name Bridget in the locality. Girls with that name were often nicknamed Bridgie (pronounced “Brudgie” in the Bunclody district)Breda, Bride or Bridie.


Information collected by C. Mac Niocláis, Bunclody (Feb. 1942). MS 907, p. 162-165.

Information collected by Cáit Ní Bolgubhair, Rathnure from children and people of the district (June 1942). MS 907, p. 166-181

Information collected by P.T. O’Riain from John Long & his wife from Rossard (Jan. 1940). MS 1063, p.5-7

Thanks and Happy New Year


Another New Year is upon us but before we hurtle into it I want to first say thanks to everyone for following this site. The wordpress stats were released recently and they put it into perspective by saying that:

“A San Francisco cable car holds 60 people. This blog was viewed about 2,200 times in 2014. If it were a cable car, it would take about 37 trips to carry that many people.”

So thank you for making those 37 trips possible and hopefully there will be even more this year!

IMG_4697Also a special thanks to Vox Hiberionacum and Greenside Up for being the top referring sites after facebook and twitter!

Feature Friday: 1798 Campfield


The Battle of Vinegar Hill, June 1798. Image: http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/e/e3/Vinhill.gif

“After the Battle of Vinegar Hill on the 21st of June 1798, the insurgents under the command of Fr. John Murphy camped in this field on the night of the 22nd of June 1798. That night plans were made to attack the garrison in Goresbridge” (Tomduff Field Commemorative Stone).

Following on from last week’s theme of the invisible past, this week’s post brings us to an unassuming site; a field on the slopes of Tomduff Hill where a contingent of rebels stayed for one night during the infamous month of June 1798.

The site is accessed today via a narrow country laneway and is signposted from the nearby crossroads. The field is sub-triangular in shape and under pasture. A large sign has been erected just outside marking the spot for visitors where you can stop and pull in. Just inside the gate an inscribed stone has been erected, donated by Tom and Josie Ryan, commemorating the event which gives a brief outline of the field’s history. Otherwise the field is just like any other on the slopes of the Blackstairs but instead it has an extraordinary history that has been preserved to this day in the letters, accounts and folklore of the period.


The Tomduff Campfield Stone. Image: Authors

Lead up to the Night

The 1798 rebellion led by the United Irishmen, was one of the bloodiest armed risings in Ireland and especially given its short time span. While the rebellion was crushed swiftly for the most part across the country, some of the rebel’s greatest successes were achieved in County Wexford. Following their victory at the Battle of Vinegar Hill, the insurgents here, led by the famous Fr. John Murphy of Boolavogue, pushed north into County Carlow to gather support and to attack English garrisons. The group reached the Scullogue Gap, a narrow lowland pass between the Mount Leinster spine to the north and the Blackstairs Spine to the South on the 22nd of June, the day after Vinegar Hill passing through the Blackstairs village of Killanne on their way. Two roads pass through the gap today a northern one closer to Knockroe Mountain and a southern one on the Blackstairs side. It was the northern one which was taken by the rebels as the southern road was not built until 1847 as part of a Board of Works relief scheme during the Great Famine.

After coming through the gap, some of the rebels swung north across the bogs to the east and north of Rathanna Village on the Carlow side of the ridgeline in an attempt to stop the Yeomanry stationed at Killedmond escaping north through the Crumlin Gap between Tomduff Hill and Knockscur although some did get away. It was while attacking Killedmond that the Wexford rebel’s first victim in Carlow was claimed, ex-Lieut. John Stone, a Rathanna village resident. He was 74 and despite having been long retired he spent much of his time at the Killedmond garrison. His death was regretted locally even by those who supported the United Irishmen as he was seen to be in control of the local yeomanry and had prevented them from ever getting out of hand (his nephew also Lt. Stone was among those listed as killed at the Battle of Kilcumey 4 days later on the 26th June in a return list of killed and wounded from Sir Charles Asgill to Viscount Castlereagh). Ex-Lt. Stone was later buried in Kiltennel graveyard just outside the church door.

Another person reported killed during the Rathanna and Killedmond attacks include a man named Daly who was killed by the English at his front door on the village street above the chapel on the road to the Scullogue Gap.  In the 1930’s, old men from around the village of Rathanna including James Meaney (then living in Ballynabearnagh/ Walshstown) reported having been told this by a Michael Kelly from Crannagh who was 10 in 1798 who said he witnessed the event and later a priest attending to Daly.

From Myles Byrne’s memoirs of that summer’s events (an 18 year old insurgent in 1798 who would go on to become Brigadier General of Napolean’s Irish Legion) we know that when the rebels attacked Killedmond they succeeded in driving the yeomanry out. Fr. Murphy ordered the barracks slate roof to be burst and the village burned. At this stage, tired and hungry, they made their way north to the Crumlin Gap where they stopped for a night in a field- later known as the Tomduff Campfield.

The Night of the 22nd of June


Myles Byrne. Image: http://goo.gl/XIQLlD

A letter from Sir Charles Asgill to Viscount Castlereagh after the rebels defeat describes how they camped at Killedmond and had 24 Yeomanry prisoners with them but does not describe where they had come from or the day’s events.

Amongst the rebels that night was a native of Glenglass, Co. Wexford, Thomas Doran. Here he met his future wife Mary Little of Spahill when she came with a group of other girls in the surrounding area to see the camp and the rebels arriving. At this time she was a Protestant. Doran would go on to fight at Castlecomer and Kilcumney and escape back to Wexford. He later returned to Carlow to find Mary who converted to Catholicism. They settled in Seskinnamadra and Mary lived to be 94.

The leaders of the insurgents surrounding Fr. Murphy made plans that night to attack the garrison of Goresbridge where they had heard a regular force of cavalry and infantry had been stationed to protect this vital River Barrow crossing. A victory here would not only be strategically important but would also offer a moral boost for a campaign which at this stage was beginning to wane across the country. Myles Byrne described the following morning briefly “we left our bivouac in right good spirits to attack this post”

The Aftermath


Sir Charles Asgill, Image: http://goo.gl/13gqwv

As the rebels approached Goresbridge on  the morning of the 23rd of June they were attacked by a Company of the 4th Dragoon Guards but succeeded in driving them back as far as their infantry lines held by the Wexford Militia who opened fire and wounded a few. Seeing the undettered advancing rebels the Militia’s commanding officer abandoned on horseback leaving them to face the insurgents alone. They were quickly surrounded and taken prisoner. Sir Asgill reported that at this stage the rebels numbered up to 5000 and as they moved north from town he followed in pursuit and chased them all day between Goresbridge and Shankill- a distance of four miles. This report and the fact that he made no mention of the defeat at Killedmond has led some to speculate about what else might he have left unreported.

Myles Byrne says they camped again that night but does not say where. Tradition holds that it was another field in Baunreagh near the village of Old Leighlin, Co. Carlow. After this they made their way as far as Kilcumney where their advance came to an end. In a letter sent on the night of the 26th of June to Viscount Castlereagh, Asgill reports how he ambushed the rebels at 6am with a swift victory, killing 1000 rebels compared with 7 English dead. He also seized arms, ammunition, ten cannon, two swivels, and cattle. The rebels were dispersed in many different directions. Some made it south through the Scullogue Gap again, in a fighting retreat while Father Murphy made it across County Carlow, staying in a number of houses before finally being recognised and captured in the town of Tullow, northeast Carlow.

While there is little to see today beyond the commemorative stone, this field nonetheless played a role in one of the most famous turn of events during the 1798 period in the southeast. Another example of how the most unassuming sites are filled with history, meaning and memory.


The Tomduff Campfield. Image: Author’s


This post, despite being one of my longer one’s is nevertheless a very short description of a series of events which are well documented in the area. For further information see the following;

National Folklore Archive MS.973 Pages 333-337. Information collected from Br. Luke, De La Salle Monastery, Muine Bheag at ’98 weekend on Colaside Garman, Gorey on Sun. 24th April 1938.

Byrne, M. 1863 Memoirs of Miles Byrne: Chef de Bataillon in the Service of France[,] Officer of the Legion of Honour, Knight of Saint-Louis, Etc, Volumes 1-2. Paris; Gustave Bossange et cie 25. Available online here

MacSuibhne, P. 1974 ’98 in Carlow. Self-published.

McHugh, R. (ed.) 1998 Voice of Rebellion: Carlow in 1798; The Autobiography of William Farrell. Dublin; Wolfhound Press.

Pakenham, T. 1969 The Year of Liberty: The Great Irish Rebellion of 1798. London; Hodder and Stoughton.

Some Websites




Feature Friday: Moated Site, Ballyogan, County Kilkenny


The Brandonhill Moated Site (KK033-037)


Ballygub New Moated Site (KK033-012)

Moated sites, which date to the 13th and 14th Centuries AD, were generally the fortified settlements of Anglo-Norman lords although they may also have been built by large tenant farmers, monastic sites (Barry 1987) or by a number of Gaelic Lords during this period also (O’Conor 2000, 100). They are defined as “a square, rectangular or occasionally circular area, sometimes raised above the ground, enclosed by a wide, often water-filled, fosse, with or without an outer bank and with a wide causewayed entrance” (see archaeology.ie classification list). In total there are 1,156 sites identified so far in Ireland (archaeology.ie). There are notable clusters in certain counties such as Tipperary, Wexford and Cork where 246, 179 and 138 have been identified respectively. There are 32 in County Carlow and 69 in County Kilkenny. Of these, three have been identified on the slopes of Brandon Hill in the Blackstairs Mountains, two on its southern slopes in the townlands of Ballygub New (KK033-012) and Brandonhill (KK029-03301) and the third on its eastern slopes in the townland of Ballyogan (KK033-037), the focus of today’s post.

Ballyogan Moated Site

Ballyogan Moated Site (KK029-033) located in Coillte forestry on the eastern slopes of Brandon Hill


Situated 202m above sea level, the site lies in a north-south alignment measuring 90m north-south and 69m east-west. The maximum height of the surviving bank is located at the south-eastern corner where it rises to 1.5m.

Ballyogan OSI

Outline of Ballyogan site visible in forestry in Ordance Survey orthophotography 2005

Modern state of preservation


View of site from south-west corner

The site has been surrounded by extremely dense mature forestry plantation some of which, despite the respect the planters afforded to the centre of the site, has begun to encroach through overhanging branches, seeds germinating and root damage. The internal surface at Ballyogan is extremely undulating. Stone is visible through the dense grass and bracken vegetation some of which is organised into rows as if forming the base of a structure although these are difficult to trace and heavily damaged, probably by the roots of the surrounding trees.


View along eastern bank and ditch (on right)


Opposite view of eastern bank and ditch


View along western ditch

An early description of the site is provided in the first volume of JRSAI which refers to these groups of stone as forming the outline of buildings:

“My investigats (sic.) I should premise have been entirely confined to the raths of a portion of the Barony of Ida, County Kilkenny. The first which caught my attention as possessing a featuring of singularity was a quadrangular fort situated on the eastern slope of Brandon Hill and which besides possessing the usual fosse and rampart, contained within the enclosed space foundations of buildings, laid out apparently in small cells, of which there were about half a dozen as nearly as I can recollect. These foundations were constructed of regular masonry, which I conceive to be of antiquity coeval with the earthen fortification which surrounded them” (Moore 1849-51, 22).

Reconstructing the Site

Moated Site artists

Artist’s impression of a moated site. Image: Colfer, W. 1996 “In search of the barricade and ditch at Ballyconner, Co. Wexford”. Archaeology Ireland 10 (2), 16.

This site may have been related to the important Anglo-Norman settlement at Graiguenamanagh on the course of the River Barrow to the east. They may have been built by Anglo-Norman lords who were granted small areas of land for crown services or as part of colonistaion further and further away from the major establishments.

Given it’s peripheral location on the mountain slopes, the major defences were likely constructed to protect the Anglo-Norman inhabitants from the native Irish. It was not only the earthworks and flooded moate that provided defense but the surrounding bank was probably topped with a wooden palisade. An account of the construction of Ballycannor, Co. Wexford in 1283-4 to the south of the site records how 660 wooden stakes were cut, sharpened and prepared for the top of the bank and how it took sixteen carpenters forty days to build the substantial gate structure and wooden defenses. This site is recorded as having a 341m perimeter and with the Ballyogan example measuring approx. 300m we can get some idea of the time taken to build the defenses. The entrance would have been protected by a large gate structure which was accessed either by an earthen ramp or drawbridge. With so much of the structure built of wood, these were not major defensive sites of safe havens from  largescale attacks, rather they were probably built as detterents to opportunistic or localised raids.

Before the forestry was planted in the 1980’s there were extensive views from this site across the Barrow Valley to the Blackstairs ridgeline on the opposite side. This included the Anglo-Norman village of Graiguenamanagh, Co. Kilkenny and the early medieval monastic site of Saint Mullins, Co. Carlow.


Barry, T. B. 1977 The medieval moated sites of southeastern Ireland; Counties Carlow, Kilkenny, Tipperary and Wexford. British Archaeological Reports 35.

Barry, T.B. 1987 The archaeology of Medieval Ireland. London; Routledge

Colfer, W. 1996 “In search of the barricade and ditch at Ballyconner, Co. Wexford”. Archaeology Ireland 10 (2), 16-19.

Moore, Rev. P. 1849-51 “Observations on raths”. Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquaries of Ireland 1, 22-26.

O’Conner, K. D. 2000 “The ethnicity of Irish moated sites”. Ruralia III Pamataky Archeologicke, Supplement 14. Prague