HISTORY SNIPPETS - by Conor Murphy
Most people who have stood at the trigonometry point on the summit of Mount Leinster to behold the beauty of South Carlow were probably unaware that they were standing on the burial cairn of Cucorb, the King of Leinster. This king was slain in the battle of Cliach in Idrone by Feilimidh Reachtmhar, son of Tuathal Teachtmar, the High King of Ireland in the year 117 AD. He was lamented by his wife, the celebrated Meadhbh Leith-dherg in a beautiful poem preserved in the Book of Leinster in Trinity College. This poem was recited by Meadhbh over her husband’s grave as a funeral oration.
“My noble king, he spoke not falsehood
His success was certain in every danger
As black as a raven was his brow
As white was his skin as the lime”
Incidentally, the road from the 9 Stones to the summit of Mount Leinster, which was built in the early 1960s is the highest tarred road in Ireland
In May 1170, Raymond Le Gros, leading Strongbow’s advance force landed at Baginbun in Co Wexford with 10 knights and 100 archers. The O’Ryans of Idrone, realising that their lands were strategically important to any invading force joined forces with the O’Phelans of the Déise and the Vikings of Waterford to attack these Normans. The Normans in desperation stampeded their cattle into the invading Irish and then inflicted great casualties on them.
In the following year, the O’Ryans were involved in a conflict on their own territory with the main Norman army led by Strongbow who was travelling from Dublin to the relief of the besieged Robert Fitzstephen in Wexford town. Unfortunately for the O’Ryans, a monk named Nicholas singled out the Irish chieftain Dermot Ryan, killing him with an arrow through the eye and thus defeating the Irish. Strongbow is reputed to have executed his own 17 year old son for cowardice in this battle.
In the 14th century in an effort to curb the power of Art McMurrough, the King Richard II of England himself was forced to lead into Ireland one of the largest armies ever assembled. Crossing the Barrow at Leighlinbridge they marched through Borris as far south as Poulmounty before sweeping northwards after McMurrough, burning villages and sweeping off cattle in their path. McMurrough and his wife narrowly escaped capture, but were eventually forced to submit to Richard II at Ballygorry. The king happy with this submission, which Art had no intention of keeping, retired from Idrone and South Carlow declaring that it was
“Of all others, the most famous, fair and fertile, in woods, pastures, meadows, arable lands and rivers, the most beautiful, pleasant and delightful that one could find in all the land of our rebels in Ireland”.
The last public hanging to take place in Kilkenny involved Garrett Byrne of Ballyine House who along with James and Patrick Strange of Ullard were hanged in 1779 for the abduction of Catherine and Ann Kennedy from the Graignamanagh Assembly Rooms. This was the last hanging in Ireland for the crime of abduction, whereby Catholic Squireens of property, deprived by the Penal Laws of advancement in society sought to propel themselves up the social ladder by abducting young heiresses and forcing them to marry them. Garrett Byrne was buried in Kiltennel cemetery.
Borris House was attacked twice in 1798. The first attack was by local United Irishman on the 25th May and the 2nd attempt on 12th June was led by General Thomas Cloney from the insurgent camp at Lacken Hill outside New Ross in a bid to capture military supplies for a fresh attack on New Ross. Before the rebellion, Thomas Kavanagh of Borris House had placed the ancient crown and hunting horn of the Kings of Leinster in Trinity College for safekeeping. The horn was later returned to Borris House but the crown went missing and has never been located.
Joseph Plunkett's grandfather and Grace Gifford's mother were both born in Borris. Plunkett's grandfather, Patrick Cranny was born here in 1820. He set up his own shoemaking business in Dublin, eventually becoming bootmaker to the Lord Lieutenant. He later diversified into the building business where he built many of the houses on the fashionable streets of D4, becoming a very wealthy man in the process. Grace Gifford's mother, Isabella Burton was born in Borris on the 26th of September 1847 in the house where the late Jerry O'Neill had his veterinary practice. Her father Robert Nathaniel Burton was the local Church of Ireland Vicar and Chaplain to Lady Harriet Kavanagh of Borris House. He died of typhoid on Christmas Eve 1850 leaving a widow and nine children. The family moved to Dublin thereafter.
Did you know that Borris boasted its own brewery at one stage? A map of the village from the early 19th century in Borris House shows its location near the bottom of the street.
During the tithe agitation of the 1830s, Daniel O’Connell addressed a monster meeting at the Cross of Skeaugh below Clashganny, which ten thousand people are estimated to have attended while both Charles Stewart Parnell and Michael Davitt addressed meetings in the street of Borris during the Land War.
William Ferguson, who owned Clashganny House and Mill was a brother of Samuel Ferguson, described by WB Yeats as Ireland’s greatest poet. Ferguson was a regular visitor to the area, researching its history and antiquities and in a letter from Clashganny in 1834 to the distinguished antiquary George Petrie, he says
“The country looks beautiful and the scenery here is enchanting.”
The Upper Cottages in Borris, built in 1864 won a prize in the RDS for the best designed labourers cottages
Ballybrack House was the birthplace of Edmund Byrne who went on to become Archbishop of Dublin and thus the most powerful church figure in Ireland during the period when the Penal Laws were at their strictest. Many of his letters carried the address “e loco refugi nostrii”. It was he who consecrated the Church marked on the map in the townland of Kiltennel.
Probably the most progressive business in Borris in the early 20th century was the coach-building factory owned by Michael Millett. It certainly had its eye on a larger hinterland than most village concerns as its promotional booklet featured satisfied testimonials for its “Borris Sporting Car” from not only Ireland and England but from as far away as Buenos Aires. Michael Millett’s brother, Joe, was rated one of the finest Gaelic Footballers of his time and was a man who played a very active role in the struggle for independence from his swearing into the IRB in 1914.
On the night of January 1st 1941, the Shannon household in Knockroe was struck by a direct hit from A German Luftwaffe bomber which was jettisoning its bombs for the journey home after an aborted bombing mission over England. Mary Ellen, Kathleen and Bridget Shannon were killed instantly.
The tallest broadleaf tree in Ireland is in Borris House Demesne. It is a Black Italian Poplar and stands 44 metres tall.
One of the giants of Irish literature a century later, Frank O’ Connor wrote about this area. O’Connor in his classic book “Irish Miles” which details his cycling trips around the country spoke of the "pretty village of Borris, where the Georgian cottages have pointed arches to their doors, by way of obeisance to the Gothic gateway of the McMurrough Kavanagh estate which faces them”. Cycling down the road to Graiguenamanagh, he was greatly taken by the, “airy blue of the Blackstairs Mountains”.
TF O’Sullivan, a man who served as Irish ambassador in eleven foreign capitals, including Washington and Paris, and who was awarded the Légion d’Honneur by the French government, was no stranger to the Barrow valley of South Carlow. In his classic book “Goodly Barrow” he writes beautifully and lyrically of the history of Borris and St Mullins and says that,
“below Borris, the river flows through a rich and lovely landscape, with wooded defiles and distant views of blue mountains”.
Bill Doyle from Bog lane, Borris played Gaelic football for Ireland in the Tailteann Games in the 1920s while Jim Byrne from the forge in Ballymurphy won four All-Ireland Senior football titles in a row with Wexford from 1915-1918. He was the free-taker on this team and captain in the 1918 final. He went on the referee the All-Ireland Senior football finals of 1923 and 1930.
The GAA Club was founded in Borris on the 18th March 1888 and in the words of the GAA historian Rev. John Lalor:
The Club started early and went ahead quickly, having the advantage of good officers from the beginning. In 1911 the club possessed a fine lot of players who on their day out would give an anxious sixty minutes to any club team playing in Ireland at that time. In 1912 the majority of these players with others of their friends left for Australia on government tickets. The club after this rebuff lost heart and has not been seen to such advantage since. At all times there was a sporting element about their games.
The GAA fraternity in Borris in the early years of the twentieth century were fortunate enough to see some great seminal inter county championship matches on their very doorstep as Kealy’s field in the shadow of the viaduct was the venue for some stirring encounters.
The great Mooncoin hurling team many of whom would go on to win several All-Irelands represented Kilkenny to beat Wexford here in 1900.
The 1901 Leinster hurling semi-final between Kilkenny and Wexford played at Carlow was abandoned when darkness fell. The train ferrying the Wexford team to the venue had broken down near Borris. The unperturbed Wexford hurlers, accustomed no doubt to the more leisurely pace of that era simply adjourned to a nearby field to practice until a second engine arrived. The replay at Jones’ Road ( now Croke Park)was abandoned due to a pitch invasion and the matter was finally settled in Kealy’s field in the shadow of the viaduct in Borris where Wexford ran out easy winners on a scoreline of 7-6 to 1-7.
In 1910 the Borris team lost the county Senior football Final to Graiguecullen but success finally came their way in 1911 when they were victorious against none other than Knocksquire. The appointment of Rev. John Lalor the local curate as referee was obviously seen as a wise move in such a local derby.