Rosscarbery (Co. Cork / Southwest)
Rosscarbery (Ros Ó gCairbre / Ros Ailithir – “Headland or Wood of the Pilgrim”) (pop. 900) is a peaceful place featuring decorated buildings with traditional shop fronts set around an attractive square.
The town overlooks a sandy inlet of the rugged coastline. It is approached by a causeway dividing the tranquil waters of an estuary fed by several streams. The lagoon, locally known as the Lake, is a wildlife sanctuary and is excellent for bird watching and fishing.
Nearby, quiet rural lanes meander through scenic countryside with superb views of land and sea. The area has witnessed unprecedented growth in recent times; the majority of new housing is holiday accommodation, which results in an annual summer swell in population.
The area was occupied from very early times, as evidenced by Neolithic dolmens, Bronze Age Stone Circles, Iron Age Ring Forts and Holy Wells in the vicinity.
In the C6th Saint Fachtna / Fachna founded a Cathedral and the monastic School of Ross, which became a major centre of learning, recognised far afield. It was later frequently attacked by the Danes and largely destroyed in 970 AD.
Only the Cathedral was rebuilt, and there are early C12th records of monastic bishops of Ross.
The Benedictine Priory of Saint Mary that replaced the earlier monastery in the late C12th probably extended over much of the hill upon which the town is built. Remains can be seen in the old Abbey graveyard.
The oldest music manuscripts in Vienna were written by Irish monks from Ross, probably sent to the Benedictine motherhouse in Wurtzburg (Menz) as novices to take their vows. Some young men who set out on this long journey never arrived, instead becoming undisciplined wanderers who caused scandal and brought the name of the Order into disrepute.
Incorporated by Charter granted by King John, the medieval walled town of Ross held important markets and fairs, of which the August Horse Fair still survives.
The old Cathedral was partially destroyed in 1583 and again in 1585. It was rebuilt in 1612 but suffered again in the 1641 Rebellion; it is said to have been turned into a slaughterhouse by the rebels led by MacCarthy of Beduff, who levelled it to the ground.
The district suffered during the Great Famine despite the best relief efforts of the Church of Ireland incumbent, who was cursed for proselytism by the local Roman Catholic priest.
Saint Fachtna’s Cathedral (CoI), built in 1653 and reconstructed about 150 years later, when the spire was added, incorporates fragments of the old building. The very fine oak panelling, carved pulpit and altar table were installed c.1885 by Dean Reeves, who also had a peal of tubular bells fitted in the tower. There are records of underground passages and chambers near the Cathedral, apparently leading to some caverns about 200 yards away.
The Church of Ireland diocese is now part of the United Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. The Roman Catholic diocese of Ross was united with that of Cork from the late C17th to the mid C19th and is currently again joined with that diocese in an ex aequo principaliter union formed in 1958.
Teampaillin Fachtna is the traditional site of celebrations held every 14th August, Saint Fachtna’s feast day (now the focal point of Rosscarbery’s annnual Family Festival). The ruin visible today is of C17th origin. There is a graveyard around the Teampaillin dating from the C18th. Saint Fachtna’s Well was famous for curing sore eyes; the sight of a frog in the water was supposed to bring extra blessings.
St Fachtna’s church (RC) was built in 1820 to replace a modest structure on Chapel Rock (Ardagh), later used as a Boys National School. The church campanile of finely chiselled masonry, built on the lines of the tower of Timoleague Abbey, was added in 1822.
Mount St Michael, Rosscarbery’s Convent of Mercy, is a very impressive sandstone building on the hillside overlooking the bay. It was founded by a group of nuns who came from Skibbereen in 1894, and still operates as a co-educational secondary school.
Rosscarbery Horse Fair has been held every year in the last week of August for longer than anybody can remember.
Rosscarbery was the birthplace of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, one of the leaders of the Fenian movement, and Tom Barry, regarded as one of the most important IRA leaders during The Troubles, when the IRA attacked the local RIC Barracks and the Kingston family of Burgatia House.
Burgatia today retains no visible signs of the once lovely mansion, named for the mythical Iberian tower from which King Hermon, ancestor of the Milesians, first descried Ireland. Standing Stones with well-preserved carvings (cup and ring marks) can be found close to the main road. On the hilltop is one of the largest Ring Forts in the area.
Callaheenacladdig (”The Old Witch of the Shore”), the largest and most prominent Dolmen in the area, is one of only two Portal Tombs in West Cork. While most Portal Tombs open to the South-West, this one opens to the North-East.
Benduff Castle / Castle Salem
Benduff Castle, aka the Black Crag, was built for the 8th Earl of Desmond‘s daughter Catherine FitzGerald in 1470, and passed on to Carbery’s ruling family on her marriage to The MacCarthy Reagh.
After the 1641 Rebellion , the MacCarthys were dispossessed and the castle fell into the hands of a Cromwellian army officer, a Quaker by the name of Apollo Morris, whose son William changed the castle’s name from Benduff to Salem, from the Hebrew word Shalom, meaning peace.
In 1682, Fortunatus Morris built an L-shaped farmhouse at right angles to and connected with the castle.
The 70ft-high castle itself, regarded as one of the best preserved in Ireland, must be entered through the house, a unique design. There is a spiral stone staircase and, on each floor, a privy with a channel connecting to the river that surrounds the castle. Moss holes, used before the modern convenience of toilet paper, are also to be seen in each privy.
The Castle has been owned for over a century by the Daly family, whose B&B accommodation facilities are highly rated by visitors (as are Mrs. Daly’s excellent scones!).
The old Quaker graveyard nearby is interesting. When a later William Morris died he had a tomb constructed over his grave. This offended the Quakers and they made no further burials there.
There is a pretty waterfall in the vicinity.
Coppinger’s Court, a beautiful ruined C17th Elizabethan.style mansion beside the River Rowry in Ballyvirine, was built in 1620 by the eccentric tyrant Sir Walter Coppinger, a Cork businessman of Viking ancestry. According to local lore it had a chimney for every month, a door for every week and a window for every year. Fearing attack from the dispossessed O’Driscoll Clan, Coppinger incorporated a gallows iat one gable wall. His intention was to make the river navegable and develop a commercial centre, but events intervened. The house was burned during the 1641 Rebellion. (Photo by Jacky Quirke)
Drombeg / Drumbeg Stone Circle, splendidly sited on a rock ledge overlooking the sea, is locally known as the Druid’s Altar (Photo by Patricia Rowan).
The first modern investigation was conducted by Henry Boyle Somerville in the early 1900s. 14 stones were visible, and the sockets for three more were found upon excavation in 1966, when the cremated remains of a young adolescent were discovered in a pot at the centre of the ring.
Dating from around 1500 BC, Drombeg’s 17 stones encircle a recumbent rock. On the horizon in the west there is a v-shaped hollow between two hills. At the Winter Solstice the sun sets into that hollow in alignment with the recumbent and portal stones of the circle.
Some stone huts and a causeway were located nearby. One of the huts had a fulacht fiadh / cooking pit dated to roughly 200 AD.
Bohonagh Stone Circle features some very large Standing Stones. Nine of the original 13 stones are still in place. The mound of earth in the centre had cremated bone in it, but there was no pot involved here. Bohonogh differs from Drombeg as the orientation is towards the setting sun at the equinoxes.
Nearby there is an impressive Boulder Burial site wih a c.20 ton capstone bearing cup marks.
Reanascreena (“The Ring of the Shrine”) is the name of another fine Stone Circle, comprising seven of the original 12 stones standing amongst tall reeds on the summit of a hill overlooking Reenascreana village.
Tralong Bay is a natural harbour with steep cliffs and diving pools fringed by rocky outcrops locally known as the Little Stags.