Parish of Portarlington
Source: Rev. M Comerford "Collections relating to the Dioceses of Kildare and Leighlin" Vol 2 (1883)
IN 1875, a portion of the very extensive parochial district known by this name, was detached, and formed into the newly constituted Parish of Emo. The present Parish of Portarlington comprises the old Parish of Clonehorke, and portions of those of Ley and Coolbanagher. The town of Portarlington is built partly in the King's County, and partly in the Queen's County, but chiefly in the latter. The Queen's County portion is situated in the Parish of Ley, and in the townland formerly known by the name of Coolatoodera, now called Cooltedery, derived, according to Dr. Joyce, from Cuil-a-tsudaire, "the corner of the tanner." It was founded in 1666, by Sir Henry Bennet, English Home Secretary to Charles II., to whom that King, on his restoration, made a grant of the extensive estates of O'Dempsey, Viscount Clanmaliere, forfeited in 1641. "It appears," writes Gale, (Corporate System of Ireland, p. 80,) "that a large district in which stands the present town of Portarlington, had been for many centuries, even before the arrival of Henry II. in Ireland, the estate of a native Irish family called O'Dempsey. This family, placed close to the original English settlements, had long cultivated the best understanding with the Government of the Pale, assisted it with men and arms in all warlike proceedings, and, giving up the connexions and usual alliances amongst the native tribes, seemed solely desirous of showing allegiance to the crown of England. The value of this to Government was long and sensibly felt, not so much from the power of the sept, or the extent of the district, as from their situation on the confines of other native tribes, the persevering and irreconcilable foes to English authority. Still, however, though at times suggested to the crown by different viceroys, it was not until the year 1631, that the head of this family was raised to the peerage, and this was done by a Patent, dated 22nd December, 1631, which describes Sir Terence Dempsey (then created Viscount Clanmaliere,) as among the more 'illustrious men of the kingdom, proudly descended, and chief of his name, who for amplitude of estates, splendour of birth, and fame for heroic valour, well deserved the highest titles of honour.' In ten years after, there occurred in Ireland, as fomented and hurried on principally through the means of Sir Charles Coote, Sir William Parsons, and other adventurers, the revolution or rebellion of 1641; and after nineteen years of civil wars and Cromwellian Government, King Charles II was invited back from the Continent to the throne of England. Orrery, (the adviser and stipendiary of Cromwell), Anglesey, and others, the deadly foes to royalty, anticipating this inevitable event, proffered their services in good time to the King, and so ingratiated themselves into favour with the crown by their assistance on this occasion. The Government of Ireland was handed over to such men, and instead of the Irish gentry reentering into possession of the estates (as was done towards the gentry in England) from which they had been expelled by regicides and armed fanatics, this Lord Orrery framed a statute which lawyers have since called the Act of Settlement, and thereby creating a court of claims, and devising such and so many strict proofs or qualifications to pass through this new ordeal before anti-Irish Commissioners, that the greater number of the ancient proprietors never recovered their lands, but the same were conferred either on courtiers and favourites, or confirmed to the Cromwellian soldiery. The effect, and probably the object, of this and the subsequent Act of Explanation was a general transfer in the landed interests of Ireland The estates of Lord Clanmaliere were found to be 'seized, sequestered, and set out,' by reason of Rebellion in 1641, and under the subtle provisions of these two statutes were withheld as a forfeiture, though the title was continued; we find Lord Clanmaliere in every way recognized by Parliament and Charles II. as a Peer during these very proceedings. Sir Henry Bennet, like all others about the King's person, had constant information as to such estates from the Irish executive; and Orrery (as a good preliminary step towards supplanting his colleague Ormond) suggested specially a grant of this estate to the Secretary, and thereby quickened his progress to Sir Henry's favour. After some difficulties, the grant passed to Sir Henry Bennet of all the O'Dempsy estates in the King's and Queen's Counties, and on the 14th of April, 1664, he was created Baron Arlington of Arlington in the County of Middlesex. To confirm the grant, a special clause was inserted in the Act of Explanation. He further petitioned the Council of Ireland in Feb. 1666, stating his intention to introduce English settlers upon the said lands, Protestantism etc.; and thus obtained a Charter, creating a Borough within part of the lands called Cooletoodera. So great was the anxiety of these new settlers to efface all ancient recollections in Ireland, that the Parliament of Orrery and Ormond enacted that the governor and council should be able to give new English names instead of the Irish names of places; and that after a time such new names should be the only ones known or allowed in the country. In accordance with this enactment the borough created in Cooletoodera, received the name of Port-Arlington, or Arlington's Fort. This borough, by charter, was to consist of one sovereign, two portreeves, and twelve burgesses, who might admit freemen as they thought fit, and the sovereign, etc., were obliged to take an oath to faithfully keep and hold the franchises to the utmost of their power, to do right, as well to the poor as to the rich, etc. ; they were empowered to return members to Parliament, and for the encouragement of the settlers and inhabitants, certain lands were expressly granted by the charter for the use of the said borough for ever. It only remains to be told that Lord Arlington soon after this, sold all his interest in the Clanmaliere estates to Sir Patrick Trant, who was an adherent to the cause of King James II.
On the defeat of that monarch, the estate of Sir P. Trant, in common with those of the other followers of the dethroned king, was confiscated. In 1696, William III., having created Rouvigny, one of the foreign officers who accompanied him into Ireland, Earl of Galway, and appointed him one of the Lords Justices of Ireland, bestowed on him, by letters patent, the large confiscations of Sir P. Trant, and Rouvigny portioned out the principal part of the estates, by leases of lives renewable for ever, chiefly amongst his Dutch and French followers. The lavish grants of the Irish estates made by King William, to his officers and others, caused great discontent with the English Parliament, where it was ultimately carried that all such lavish grants to favourites should be resumed and sold for the benefit of the public. For this purpose the statute, called the Act of Reassumption, was passed, whereby all such grants were made null and void, and the estates resumed to be sold. Under this Act, Lord Galway's interest in the estates was sold to a wealthy English trading company, and this company, some time after, again sold its right, on which occasion a portion of the estates of the O'Dempsys passed into the possession of the family of the present Earl of Portarlington. On the 4th Oct., 1784, the sovereign, bailiffs and burgesses made a lease to Lewis Huggins, of the lands originally appropriated for the use of the borough, in trust for the use of the Patron of the Borough, for 700 years, at the yearly rent of £60. By another deed, dated 25th Feb., 1802, the officers of the borough, in violation of their trust, sold to the patron the two tracts of common belonging to the borough, each of the corporate nominees, however, executing these deeds, had a conveyance from the grantee to himself individually, of a certain portion of the lands he joined in alienating illegally."
Cluain-da-dorc, "the meadow
of the two boars." A reference to the church of this district appears
in the Four Masters at the year 1389 :- " Maurice Mael O'Conor Faly,
was slain by one shot of an arrow at the Church of Cluain-da-dorc, by
one of the O'Kellys of Ley." MacGeoghegan gives this passage thus,
in the Annals of Clonmacnoise :- " A.D. 1389. Morishe the balde O'Conor
of Affalie, was killed with an arrow by one of the O'Keileys of Ley in
Clann-Maliere." The ruins of the old church may still be seen in
the townland still bearing the name of Cloneyhorke, about 21/2 miles distant
from Portarlington. It was dedicated to St. Columbanus, as we find by
the list of Dr. MacGeoghegan: "Ecclesia Parochialis Sti. Columbani,
de Cluiny horke." Judging from the foundations which are almost the
only portions remaining, this church measured about 40 feet in length,
by 18 in width. The graveyard is very small, and but little used; there
are tomb-stones bearing the names of Dunne and Dempsey, but none dating
further back than 1732.
Ley, or Leighe, was one of
the seven territories of which the ancient Offalia was composed.
From the entry in the Four Masters, at the year 1389, it appears that the O'Kellys, at that period, had still possession of at least some of their ancient territory. The castle of Ley was situated in this district. There is reference to the existence of a castle here as far back as January, 1203.
In the Patent Rolls, 5th John, M. 4, Cal. State Papers, Ireland, Sweetman, Vol. I., 195, we find, Jan. 15th, 1203, the king commanding Meyler FitzHenry, justiciary of Ireland, to cause to be delivered to William Marshall, Earl of Pembroke, his seneschal or messenger, the castles of Lega (Ley) and Geisil, with other lands of inheritance whereof G(erald) FitzMaurice was seized in his demesne as of fee at his death. Witness, Geoffy FitzPeter-(Badenstoke). A writer in the Dublin Penny Journal ascribes the erection of the castle, at present existing in ruins, to the year 1260: "Ley castle," he says, "was built about the year 1260, by the Anglo-Norman family De Vesey, in the usual style of the military architecture of the day, and was intended to protect the Pale on the North and North-West. It consisted of a quadrangular building of three storeys, flanked by round bastions, of which but one now remains. In the rear 'was the inner ballium, in which was a tennis-court and tilt-yard. The outer entrance, which is still in good preservation, consisted of a gate, defended by a portcullis; and the whole was surrounded by a bawn, in which cattle were secured during the night. The North side was protected by the Barrow, which supplied with water a wide ditch that extended round the other sides; and the mount on which the castle was situated, being thus formed into an island, obtained the name of Port-na-hinch, or the Castle of the Island." Ledwich says that this castle was built by one of the FitzGeralds, then Lords of Offaly. He gives the dimensions thus: the outer ballium, from East to West, is 410 feet; and from North to South, including the bawn, 350 feet. The inner ballium, from North to South, is 140 feet; and from East to West, 130 feet. (Grose's Antiq.)
In 1264, a war broke out between McWilliam Burke, Earl of Ulster, and Maurice FitzGerald, so that the greater part of Ireland was destroyed between them. The Lord Justice of Ireland (Richard de Rupella, or Capella), John Cogan, and Theobald Butler, were taken prisoners by Maurice FitzGerald in a consecrated church. (Four Masters.) Hanmer gives a more detailed account:
AD. 1284. The castle of Ley is taken by the chiefs of Offaly and burned. (Grace.) This happened, according to Pembridge, on the morrow of St. Barnabas, June 12th. It was repaired soon after, and taken possession of by De Vesey, then Lord Justice of Ireland.
A.D. 1294. Richard, Earl of Ulster, is taken by John FitzThomas, in the castle of Lega, that is Ley, and detained for some time, but he was set at liberty by the King's Parliament at Kilkenny, as a penalty, John lost his possessions. Pembridge says that he was taken, cito post festum S. Nicholai (Dec. 6), and detained in Ley Castle, ad festum S. Gregorii, Papae (March 12).
A.D. 1307. "The robbers that dwelt in the partes of Offalie raized the castell of Geischell, and in the vigill of the translation of Thomas Becket, being the sixt of Julie, they burnt the towne of Leie, and besieged the castell; but they were constreined to depart from thense shortlie after by John FitzThomas and Edmund Butler, that came to remove the seege." (Holinshed.) FitzGerald fully repaired the castle, and erected a church with a steeple and bells in the village.
A.D. 1315. Bruce, in his attempt
on the sovereignty of Ireland, came to Ley, on which occasion the castle
and church were destroyed.
A.D. 1346. The castles of Ley and Kilmehede were burned; inApril, by the Irish. Under the same date, it is recorded in Grace's Annals, that Darcy, Justiciary, and the Earl of Kildare, invade O'More, who had burned the castles of Ley and Kilmehede, and compelled him to submit, although he resisted obstinately.
A.D. 1452. The Earl of Ormond, Lord Justice of Ireland took the castle of Leix from the O'Dempsys, who permitted him to pass to Airem (marked Irry, on the old map of Leix and Ophaley, and placed near the Barrow), to rescue the son of MacFeorais, who was imprisoned there. (Four Masters.)
A.D. 1533. We find this castle in possession of the FitzGeralds, the head of which family was the celebrated Earl of Kildare, who was appointed to govern all Ireland, as all Ireland could not govern him. He furnished Ley castle with guns and ammunition out of the royal stores, in opposition to the express commands of the King. In 1534, it was reckoned one of the six best castles belonging to the Earl of Kildare
AD. 1598. This castle was taken by the Irish chieftain O'More, who, having established a garrison in it, marched with a considerable force against the Earl of Essex, whom he signally defeated in the celebrated engagement called the battle of the Pass of Plumes.
AD. 1642. The castle of Ley was occupied and garrisoned by the Confederate Catholics under Lord Castlehaven; some time after, however, they were driven out by Lord Lisle; in commemoration of which an ash tree was planted in the market-place, which, remarks Lewis, writing in 1836, is now rapidly going to decay. This tree flourished for 170 years, and attained to an immense size. Its girth is stated to have been 11 yards, and its shade, to have extended 60 feet in diameter. Having at length lost one of its principal branches, it went rapidly to decay; its hollow trunk having for some time served a poor woman for a cow-house and piggery, sank beneath the weight of years.
A.D. 1650. The castle was taken
by the Parliamentarian forces under Colonel Hewson, and finally dismantled;
the confused masses of towers and broken arches show the merciless havoc
then made. (Brewer.)
At this place, styled Tyrcogir in ancient records, are the remains of a church, surrounded by a still-used graveyard. It is entered as a Capel1a in Dr. MacGeoghegan's list. The church measured about 60 feet in length, by 20 in breadth; the east gable, in which there is a window, and also portions of the other walls, still remain. This building, which is not apparently one of great antiquity, is chiefly remarkable as the place wherein a Synod of the Province of Dublin was held, on the 29th of July, 1640, presided over by the Most Rev. Thomas Fleming, Archbishop of Dublin, and at which assisted David Rothe, Bishop of Ossory, Roche MacGeoghegan, Bishop of Kildare, and William Devereux, Vicar of Ferns. The enactments of this Synod may be seen in VoL. I., p. 33.
Outside the church, at the
east end, we find the graves of two priests, with the following inscriptions:
"Here lyeth the body of the Rev. Francis Bergin, who departed the
11th day of May, 1736, aged 63." The top portion of the other stone
is broken away and has disappeared; the rest of the inscription runs thus:-
" who was for the space of 6 years Parish Priest of the Parishes
of Lea and Coolbanagher. Departed, 6th of November, 1741, in the 41st
year of his age." Between these two graves is another, the stone
over which has an epitaph in raised Roman capitals:-
The O'Dempsys had a castle at Ballybrittas, - now called Old Ballybritt as, to distinguish it from the modern village of that name,- in this parish. Their title of Chief of Clanmaliere, for which afterwards the English rank of Viscount was substituted, is still preserved in the corrupted local name of Glenmaliere. The Earl of Ormonde, Commander of the Forces in Ireland, who was taken prisoner by Owny MacRory O'More, on the 10th of April, 1600, at Corranduff, eight miles from Kilkenny, on the borders of Idough, was detained in this castle. On the 12th of April, a letter was addressed to Cecil by the Lord Deputy Mountjoy, from which the following is an extract:- " My Lord of Ormonde in his taking received no hurt; but his hat, George, sword and dagger were taken from him, After he was taken, there fell strife among themselves, for one would have slain him, and others endeavoured to save him, and one was hurt that did defend him. They set him on a hackney, and that night carried him into Leix, six miles from the place where he was taken. The traitor Archer was his bed-fellow. Owny MacRory useth him well. All this I know by a letter from him to his lady wherein he prayeth her that no forces maybe drawn down where he is, for fear, as he saith of being killed. . . . They remove him every night from one cabin to another, and he is yet in the custody of the bonaghes, for Owny MacRory durst not trust him in the keeping of any Leinster man." His position is further described in a letter, dated 26th April, 1600, written by Sir Geoffry Fenton to Sir Robert Cecil - "The Earl of Ormonde continueth still in the castle of Gortencleagh, upon the debate-able ground between Ossory and Leix, where Owny himself is his keeper, who giveth him the favour to have his diet dressed by his own cooks and brought to the iron gate of the castle by his own men, but where Owny himself receiveth the diet and carryeth it up to the Earl, not suffering any of his lordship's own servants to come within the gate." A Declaration of the Irish messenger employed by Secretary Fenton to communicate with Ormonde, dated 9th May, 1600, states - "The Earl is very full of grief and melancholy, specially since they took him out of the castle, where it was some comfort to him to lie in a house covered. He is now in the woods of Leix, removed every three hours from one fastness to another." In a letter of 14th of May, Fenton gives the following details to Cecil - " Where in one of my late letters of the 5th of this month, I wrote that the Earl of Ormonde had sent to Sir Terence O'Dempsy to have the use of one of his castles for his lordship's more ease till his traitorous taker might consider further of his enlargement. Now this morning I have received advice that the Earl is come to Ballybrittas, the said O'Dempsy's castle, and there guarded by 20 of Owny's men, whom he trusteth most. They brought him thither by night, not suffering the bonnoughs to know of it, lest they might attempt to rescue him, and the more to abuse them, Owny caused a trusty friend of his own, of stature and resemblance like to the Earl, to put on the Earl's night gown, which he was wont to wear, and directed him in that fashion, to walk by the woodside, where the Earl useth to walk, whilst Owny and some 20 others nearest him in trust, put the Earl on horseback, and brought him to O'Dempsy's castle. This was the manner of their stealing of him thither, but what was their secret purpose will not as yet be disclosed, and I see by O'Dempsy's behaviour, in leaving his castle to Owny to be warded by his Kern, that O'Dempsy is apparently revolted, and therefore small hope to the Earl of good measure at his hands." Letter from Fenton to Cecil, 18th of May - "The Earl of Ormonde is at O'Dempsy's house, at more ease than before, for that he lodgeth in a castle, but as straightly guarded as ever he was. And yet I am of mind that out of that house will be wrought his liberty, either upon condition or by surprise." In a letter from Kilkenny to Queen Elizabeth, dated 16th of June, 1600, Ormonde gives the following account of his liberation "It may please your Sacred Majesty to be advertised that it pleased God of his goodness to deliver me, though weak and sick, from the most malicious, arrogant, and vile traitor of the world, Owny MacRory, forced to put into his hands certain hostages for payment of £3,000, if at any time hereafter I shall seek revenge against him or his; which manner of agreement, although it be very hard, could not be obtained before he saw me in that extremity and weakness, as I was like very shortly to have ended my life in his hands." (See Gilbert's National MSS. of Ireland.)
SUCCESSION OF PASTORS
JOHN DONNELLY, according to the Registry of 1704, was P.P. of Coolbanagher and Ley, and had been such for the preceding 29 years, he resided at Imoe, (Emo) in the Barony of Portnahinch, was then aged 53, was ordained in 1675, at Dundalk, by Dr. Plunkett, and his sureties were Daniel Byrne, of Timoge, Esq., and Martin Scurlog, of Raheenamanagh (near Mary-borough) Gent.
FRANCIS BERGIN appears to have been the P.P. next in succcession; he died, as his tombstone at Tierhogar testifies, on the 11th of May, 1736, aged 63.
The succeeding P.P. is also interred at Tierhogar; the top portion of the stone which marks his grave has been broken away, and, with it, his name has disappeared; it is stated, however, by one who remembers to have read the epitaph when entire, that the name of this priest was Fox. He was for six years P.P. of Ley and Coolbanagher, and died on the 6th of November, 1741, in the 41st year of his age.
JOHN WHELAN succeeded: he was Vicar-General. He died in 1775, aged 91, and is also interred at Tierhogar.
THOMAS DOWLING, Dean of Kildare, was the next P.P. He died 16th December, 1804, aged 65, and is buried in the cemetery attached to the chapel of Killinard.
JAMES MURRAY was the succeeding P.P. He died May 18th, 1823, aged 80, and was interred in Emo grave-yard.
JOHN DUNNE, also Dean of Kildare, and previously P.P. of Kilcock, succeeded. He died August 14th, 1832, aged 53, and was interred in the Chapel of Killinard, on the Gospel side of the altar.
TERENCE O'CONNELL, V.F., was the next P.P. He had previously been Administrator at Carlow and had zealously and successfully exerted himself in carrying into effect the last great project of J.K.L. - the erection of the Cathedral there. It was during Father O'Connells Pastorate that the fine Parish Church of Portarlington, and also these at Emo and Killinard were built, and the Presentation Convent at Portarlington and the Community of the Christian Brothers were established, - the latter of which he also endowed. He died March 7th, 1875, and was interred in the Parish Church. On the death of Fr. O'Connell the parish was divided.
THE REV. HUGH MAHON, the present respected P.P., receiving pastoral charge of the portion still retaining the name of the Parish of Portarlington.
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