The Youghal Bridge over the River Blackwater was originally built in 1832, prior to which the river had to be forded or crossed by ferry. The old bridge was of great strategic importance during the War of Independence, overlooked by a favourite IRA sniping point nicknamed “Chocolate Hill” by the British forces in reference to a hill of similar significance in Turkey, taken at great cost and later lost during the ill-fated 1915 Gallipoli campaign in WWI. The current bridge was built in 1963. (Photo by shanesupple)
Youghal Bridge is the southernmost point of of the Lower Blackwater Region, a tour of which is highly recommended.
Youghal (Co. Cork / Southeast)
Youghal (pron. “Yawl”)(Eochaill – yew woods) (pop. 10,000) is an interesting historic seaport on the estuary of the River Blackwater. Built on the edge of a steep riverbank, the town has a distinctive long and narrow layout. The town has a lengthy promenade and 8km of safe, sandy beach. The climate is milder here, with myrtles, nectarines and a few sub-tropical shrubs flourishing in the area. Amenities are well developed and good food and entertainment are plentiful in season
Youghal’s landmark Clock Gate / Tower, the town’s most emblematic edifice.
The Youghal area is known to have been inhabited since Neolithic times.
The earliest proof of Christianity in the Youghal area is the C5th AD church of Coran and the founder’s hermitage nearby. This foundation may have been associated with Saint Declan‘s important monastery at Ardmore (Co. Waterford).
The Vikings used Youghal as a base from which they could raid the wealthy monastic sites along the south coast – such as Ardmore – or those further up the Blackwater River – at Molana and Lismore. They established a settlement at Youghal from which to carry on their trade and it is recorded that in 864 AD the Deise clan from the neighbouring countryside destroyed the Norse fort at Youghal. A century later in 945 AD the Vikings were sufficiently settled to be involved in a major battle with their own kinsmen outside Youghal.
Following the Norman invasion, King Henry II granted Youghal and the surrounding area to Robert FitzStephen in 1177, and King John granted the town its charter of incorporation in 1202. In 1215, Robert Fitzstephen passed the lands on to his half-brother Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron of Ophaly and ancestor of the Earls of Kildare.
Throughout the C13th the town was, like Dublin, colonised by “men-at-arms, traffickers and other adventurers” from Bristol, and Youghal became one of the busiest ports in the country, even more important than Cork. However, about 40% of the town’s populace succumbed to the Black Death, from which it took many years to recover. In 1462 Youghal was declared one of Ireland’s ‘cinque ports’, granting the town special trading privileges.
As the influence and wealth of the town increased, the rich pickings attracted the attentions of Algerian corsairs in search of loot and slaves; one C15th pirate captain called Nut is reputed to have buried hoards of treasure, each with a male slave, on various headlands along the coast.
Youghal was the first town in the British Isles to elect a Jewish Mayor, William Annyas, in 1555.
On November 13th 1579 soldiers loyal to the rebel Gerald FitzGerald, 14th Earl of Desmond, sacked Youghal, massacred the town’s garrison, hanged the English officials and looted the townspeople’s houses. English troops led by the Earl of Ormond recaptured Youghal some weeks later. The Lord Mayor, Patrick Coppinger, was hanged from his own doorway for failing to maintain the strength of the town’s defences. In 1583 Desmond failed to retake the town.
Dominic Collins, born in Youghal in 1566, joined the Jesuits in Spain. He returned in 1601 with the Spanish army that briefly held Kinsale. He was captured and sent to Youghal to be executed, and was hanged on 31st October 1602.
Sir Walter Raleigh (1552 – 1618) came to Ireland as part of the army sent to put down the Desmond Rebellion. As Queen Elizabeth‘s favourite, he was granted the Seignory of Inchiquin with 42,000 acres outside Youghal, where he lived sporadically for 17 years. By 1588/1589 Raleigh was the Mayor of Youghal, but his fortunes were in decline. He had limited success in inducing English tenants to settle on his estates. Rebellion had once again ravaged the poorly-defended Plantation. In 1602 Raleigh sold his Irish possessions. He was back in Youghal in 1617, preparing his ill-fated expedition to the Orinoco River in search of gold. He was executed on his return to England in 1618.
Sir Richard Boyle (1566 – 1643), an English entrepreneur, had enough money to purchase Raleigh’s estate. He saw that Youghal had all the resources for a busy iron industry, and brought over settlers from England, mainly from the Bristol area. In 1616 he was ennobled as Baron Boyle of Youghal, going on to become Viscount Dungarvan and Earl of Cork, Lord High Treasurer of the Kingdom of Ireland (although simply known as The Great Earl of Cork), and occupied the office of Sheriff of Youghal from 1625 to 1626. He had numerous offspring who went on to various achievements; the most famous nowadays is his seventh and youngest son, Robert Boyle, who propounded “Boyle’s Law” and laid the groundwork for the modern theory of chemical elements.
During the Wars of the Three Kingdoms, English reinforcements landed at Youghal in 1642 in spite of the Kilkenny Confederacy guns at Ferrypoint. The Great Earl remained a Royalist to his death in 1643; however, his eldest son Richard Boyle, 2nd Earl of Cork, changed sides in a timely manoeuvre to save his estate and the town of Youghal. In 1645, Admiral William Penn commanded an unsuccessful attempt to supply aid to the garrison. The Admiral was later granted land by Oliver Cromwell, who overwintered in the town in1649/50 and made the Great Earl’s fourth son, Roger, Baron Boyle of Broghil, his Lord Lieutenant. The Boyle brothers were later reconciled with King Charles II, who made Richard Lord Treasurer of Ireland and Earl of Burlington, while Roger became Earl of Orrery and Lord President of Munster, and young Francis was made Viscount Shannon.
The C18th was a period of growth for Youghal. Trade expanded, with quays and warehouses being built on reclaimed land between the medieval town and the river, and the local population grew from nearly 4000 in 1764 to over 10,000 by 1821. The importance of the port declined during the C19th. The British Army maintained a presence in the town right up to the dawn of the Irish Free State.
Youghal was reborn as a textile manufacturing centre, and became the most popular seaside resort on the south coast in the mid-C20th.
Youghal’s medieval walls, first mentioned in a 1275 charter granted by King Edward I for their repair and extension, are among the best preserved in Ireland. The Water Gate was built in the C13th to provide access through the town walls to the docks. Also known as Cromwell’s Arch, it was from here that Oliver Cromwell left Ireland on 29th May 1650. Trinity Castle, part of the town’s fortifications, was replaced in 1777 by the Clock Gate, a gaol and public gallows that became a symbol of terror and tyranny for the town and surrounding countryside; prisoners were routinely tortured, flogged and deported or executed. Several members of the United Irishmen were publicly hanged from the windows in the aftermath of the 1798 Rebellion. The grim building was in continuous use until 1837.
Youghal Priory, founded for the Benedictine Order in 1185, is vestigially recalled by remnants incorporated into a much later building on Main Street. The Priory was used in 1649 as a headquarters by Oliver Cromwell, who inspected his troops on site every morning.
The South Abbey was endowed for the Franciscans in 1224, during the lifetime of Saint Francis, and was traditionally regarded as the foundation house of the order in Ireland. The founder was Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron of Ophaly. The site was built over by a convent designed by EW Pugin for the Presentation Sisters, nowadays Youghal International College, an English Language School for Spanish students.
The North Abbey was founded for the Dominicans in 1268 by Maurice FitzGerald’s grandson, Thomas FitzMaurice. Originally dedicated to the Holy Cross, its name was changed to the Priory of Our Lady of Graces / Thanks upon the discovery of a statue of the Madonna & Child c.1270, making Youghal a very profitable centre of Marian devotion until the Reformation. Some ruins of the Abbey can still be seen; the site is still used as a cemetery.
St. Mary’s Collegiate church
The Collegiate Church of St. Mary the Virgin (CoI), a National Monument, is widely regarded as the most beautiful church in Ireland.
Believed to have been founded by Saint Declan around 450 AD and rebuilt in the C12th and the C15th, it is one of the few pre-medieval places of worship in Ireland to have remained in continuous use to this day.
The massive adjoining tower was for defensive purposes, while the ancient churchyard, almost totally surrounded by the old town walls, is reputed to be multiply haunted.
The church’s main feature is the great Norman nave, illuminated by a beautiful rose window; it contains a medieval baptismal font with a wooden lid depicting a pelican and an old stone bearing the etched outline of a longboat from the Viking era.
The many interesting monuments include the tomb of Margaret, Countess of Desmond, a remarkable woman who danced with King Henry VII after the Battle of Bosworth, said to have outlived the Tudor dynasty and died at the age of 147 after falling from a cherry tree in the grounds of nearby Finnisk Castle, and the elaborate family tomb of “the Great Earl” of Cork, Richard Boyle, Ireland’s first “rags-to-riches” millionaire.
The magnificent church organ and relatively recently revived Clerks Choral provide regular concerts and recitals. St Mary’s also hosts performances of various sorts by visiting artists.
“The College“, originally founded in 1464 by Thomas FitzGerald, 7th Earl of Desmond, as a school for sons of the gentry and perhaps the wealthier merchants of the town. A papal Bull of Pope Innocent VIII in 1492 refers to the College as the “University of the City of Youghal”. It was later owned by Sir Thomas Norris and Sir Walter Raleigh, and became the residence (reputedly acquired by devious means) of Richard Boyle, who added the turret in 1641. In 1782, major works were carried out which rearranged the layout of much of the building. Today, the gardens are open to the public during daytime and the impressive town walls dominate the gardens from the higher ground, where splendid views can be enjoyed. Photo
Myrtle Grove, a rare example of an Irish C16th residence that has survived largely intact. Although the house was altered over the centuries, it retains its original character. (Photo by Mike Searle)
The stately Elizabethan edifice, said to have been built by Sir Thomas Norris, was originally the home of the Warden of the College of Youghal, and later belonged to Sir Walter Raleigh. It is believed that the first potatoes in Ireland or perhaps even Europe were planted in 1585 in the gardens, and the estate may also have witnessed the beginning of tobacco smoking in Ireland.
The poet Edmund Spencer, a contemporary of Raleigh’s who had been granted lands in North Cork, is said to have been inspired to write The Faerie Queen while looking out the window of Myrtle Grove.
The house is privately owned, but open to groups by prior arrangement.
Tynte’s Castle is a late C15th urban tower house built by the Norman descended Walsh family, who forfeited it to the Crown in 1584 for their involvement in the Desmond Rebellion. It was subsequently acquired by Sir Robert Tynte, an English merchant, who married Edmund Spencer‘s widow, Elizabeth Boyle, in 1612, and whose descendants owned the property until 1866.
The Almshouses were endowed in 1610 by Richard Boyle to house old soldiers, a facility later extended to their widows.
The Red House (1703) is an exceptionally attractive Queen Anne style house built by the Dutch architect Leuventhan for the Uniacke family.
The Methodist Chapel on Chapel Lane was opened by John Wesley in 1756.
The elegant Mall House was built in 1779 on the then newly constructed riverfront promenade, and is now used as Youghal’s Town Hall. The glass annex houses the Mall House Arts Centre.
St Mary’s parish church (RC), built in 1796, is the oldest church of its kind in the Diocese of Cloyne. Youghal has three other Roman Catholic churches, St Ita’s (1907), Our Lady of Lourdes (1939) and Holy Family church (1990).
Youghal Visitor & Heritage Centre, an attractively restored building on the quayside, features an entertaining audio-visual presentation of local life in centuries past. Walking tours of the town start here on summer mornings.
Fox Lane Folk Museum contains a vast collection of domestic gadgets and appliances used by past generations. Items range from an egg topper to a cucumber straightener, a moustache cup, a wasp trap, a hat iron and a wool winder.
Youghal has a popular Greyhound Racing Track.
Youghal’s annual Medieval Festival, held every August, is the highlight of s busy annual programme of events ranging from exhibitions and talks to gastronomic feasts and motorbike rallies.
Youghal is a good place for boat trips, ranging from 20-rower Canadian canoes up the River Blackwater to excursions out into Youghal Bay and along the coast to full-scale shark-fishing expeditions.
Other people associated with Youghal include novelist William Trevor, who spent some of his early years in the area, and featured the town in his short story Memories of Youghal; Hollywood director John Huston, who filmed part of Moby Dick there in 1956, with the town standing in for New Bedford (a pub in the town still bears the name of the movie); journalist Claud Cockburn and his wife Patricia, artist, conchologist and traveller, who lived in the town for many years, memorably describing it as “standing at a slight angle to the universe“.
The similarities between Youghal and Totnes in Devon, England have been remarked on.
Youghal is linked by road to Mount Uniake on ByRoute 2.