Piltown (Co. Kilkenny / South)
Piltown (Baile an Phoill), formerly aka Ballypoyle, is a picturesque village in the historic Barony of Iverk between the Walsh Hills and the Comeragh Mountains.
Piltown Bridge spans the River Pil, a tributary of the Suir that was for several centuries the frontier between the lands controlled by the FitzGeralds of Desmond and those dominated by the Butlers of Ormond. (Photo by tony27one)
The Battle of Piltown in 1462 was fought by these poweful families as Ireland’s contribution to the Wars of the Roses (1455-1488) between the Houses of York and Lancaster for England’s crown. Troops headed by the Yorkist 8th Earl of Desmond, Thomas FitzGerald, appointed Lord Deputy of Ireland by King Edward IV, defeated a force under Edmund MaRichard Butler of Paulstown, deputy principal governor of Ormond for his Lancastrian cousin in England, the de jure 6th Earl of Ormond, John Butler. Over 400 soldiers fell in combat, and the river ran red with blood.
Kildalton / Bessborough
The ancient parish of Killmodalla became the Kildalton estate, owned by the Anglo-Norman D’Alton / Daton / Dalton family.
Sir Edward Dalton fell victim to Oliver Cromwell’s Campaign of Confiscation and forfeited the lands to John Ponsonby, a Cromwellian army officer, who allowed him and his children to live on the estate. (According to folklore, Winifred Dalton fainted when she learned that John Ponsonby was engaged to marry another woman; she lost her wits, and was later found dead on her father’s grave, dressed in the white dress she had made for her wedding. She is said to haunt Lady’s Bridge and The White lady’s Tree on the old demesne).
Col. Ponsonby’s son Sir John Ponsonby named the estate for his second wife, the heiress Elizabeth “Bess” ffliott. Their son Col. William Ponsonby, a staunch Puritan, played a pivotal role in the relief of the siege of Londonderry in 1689; as a reward, he was created Baron Bessborough in 1721, and Viscount Duncannon the following year. His descendants became the Earls of Bessborough; although several were absentees, they gained a reputation as strict but relatively fair and humane landlords.
John William Ponsonby, Viscount Duncannon, a leading Whig (liberal) and supporter of Catholic Emancipation, was a very progressive and compassionate man who sought to improve the lot of his tenants.
He rebuilt Piltown as a “Model Village”, with a riverside quay, a courthouse and market-house, a boys’ school and a girls’ school housed in the one building, including a male agricultural section, a dispensary, a pound, flats for destitute widows and two forges.
He became 4th Earl of Bessborough in 1844. In 1846, as the full horror of the Great Famine was becoming apparent, he was appointed Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, and did his best to ensure that proper relief was given to the most needy. The Public Relief Works were one of his priorities, providing work for labourers so as they could afford to buy food for their families.
On the Bessborough estate he gave work to labourers let go by farmers who were finding it difficult to pay them, building miles of high wall around the demesne. None of his tenants starved. He died at the height of the disaster on 16th May 1847.
Frederick George Brabazon Ponsonby, 6th Earl chaired the Bessborough Commission enquiry into Irish landlord and tenant law, which concluded in 1881 that tenant farmers were exploited and supported the Land League‘s demands for “the three Fs” – Fair rent, Free sale and Fixity of tenure.
Vere Brabazon Ponsonby, 9th Earl of Bessborough, Governor General of Canada 1931- 1935 (the Hotel Bessborough in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan is named after him), relinquished his family’s Irish estates.
Kildalton House, formerly known as Bessborough House, was designed by Francis Bindon in 1745 for Brabazon Ponsonby, 1st Earl of Bessborough. Burnt down by Republican Irregulars in 1923, rebuilt by the 9th Earl and renamed in 1929, it was used for many years as an Oblate Fathers seminary, and now houses Ireland’s largest Agricultural and Horticultural College, run by Teagasc. (Photo by djdineen).
The Iverk Show, an agricultural fair held in the grounds of Kildalton House on the first Thursday of September since 1826, claims to be the longest running event of its kind in Ireland.
Piltown’s Main Street retains its old world character; the former Court House (now the Garda station) and RIC barracks (now a private residence) still stand, though the elegant Market House is long gone.
Anthony’s Inn, a long-established family run premises, was a welcome resting place for weary travellers when mail coaches plied their way regularly from Waterford and Clonmel; its annals record visits by Bianconi, Daniel O’Connell, Thomas Francis Meagher and GB Shaw. The building was comprehensively renovated in 2005.
Opposite the Inn there used to be a thriving boatyard, with barges on the River Suir transporting goods to Carrick and Waterford.
The Tower, an impressive octagonal “sham castle”, is an unfinished memorial to a Ponsoby scion who was thought to have been killed in Spain during the Napoleonic wars, but in fact returned home unscathed. The uppermost part is a water reservoir. (Photo by Sarah777).
Hatchet’s Well, a covered well constructed by a Lord Bessborough for tenants on his estate, is fed by the Bréagach, meaning “False”, as this stream dries up in hot weather.
St Paul’s church (CoI) was designed c.1870 by George Edmund Street (1824 – 1881), the English architect who designed the Royal Courts of Justice on London’s Strand and restored Dublin’s Christchurch Cathedral.
The church of the Assumption (RC) was completed in 1899.
Piltown also has an impressive belfry marooned in an old graveyard.
Belline House was built c.1775 for Peter Walsh, who sold it shortly after completion.
It was bought by Frederick Ponsonby, 3rd Earl of Bessborough, whose daughter Lady Caroline Lamb became estranged from her politician husband, Lord Melbourne (later UK Prime Minister) and emotionally disturbed as a result of her notorious affair with Lord Byron (who cruelly remarked that he was “being haunted by a skeleton!”); she is said to have been effectively incarcerated here for a time. The property was mainly occupied by successive Bessborough agents.
The splendid house is framed by two round pavilions with conical roofs, and there is also a beautiful Classical style rustic lodge on the grounds.
The estate is private, and all that can be seen from the road is one of the original two hexagonal Gate Houses, popularly known as The Inkbottle.
At Corbally Wood there is a Monument to Henry De La Poer Beresford, 3rd Marquess of Waterford, aka “the Mad Marquis” due to his vandalism, the first person to literally “paint the town red“, notoriously contemptuous of women and widely suspected of being the original Spring Heeled Jack. He was thrown from his horse while hunting here and broke his neck on 29th March 1859.
Piltown hit international newspaper headlines in November 2004, when the beheaded body of the Chief Justice of Malawi’s 25-year-old married daughter Paiche Unyolo was found locally, wrapped in bin-liner, her head was never recovered and the case remains unsolved.
Piltown is within easy reach of Carrick-on-Suir (Co. Tipperary) on ByRoute 3.
Tybroughney & Fiddown (Co. Kilkenny / South)
Tybroughney (Tobar Fhachtna – “Fachtna’s Well”) was long an important fording point on the the River Suir. A stone visible in the middle of the river at low tide marks the traditional meeting point of the boundaries of County Kilkenny, County Tipperary and County Waterford.
Tybroughney was the site of an early Christian monastic community, around which a village gradually developed, with monks’ huts, a church, graveyard, forge, perhaps a mill and farmland. Those who worked the land and gave service were generally the monks, many of them laymen. According to Canon Carrigan‘s History and Antiquities of Ossory, Vol. 4. (1905), Tybroughney in ancient times was “a town well inhabited and in high repute, particularly on the arrival of the English“, referring to the Anglo-Normans.
Acording to tradition, The Battle of Tybroughney was fought c.1185 between Dalcassians led by Dónal O’Brien, king of Limerick, and a Norman army under Prince John, resulting in great slaughter. Many human bones, sword shards etc. have been unearthed over the years.
Tybroughney castle, said to have been built on the orders of Prince John in 1185, but more likely of later origin, was a Butler stronghold for many centuries. It passed in 1653 from the Mountgarret Butlers to the Cromwellian army officer Sir Algernon May, and was later occupied by the Briscoes and then by the Rivers family. It has been home to several generations to the Dowley family, who open it to the public every Friday during the summer months.
The Tybroughney Stone is a curious early Christian carved pillar stone located in the graveyard of the ruined church nearby.
Fiddown (Fiodh Dúin), once a monastic settlement founded by Saint Mo Medog, is situated on the bank of one of the most romantic stretches of the River Suir.
The small C16th Church of Ireland edifice contains fragments from the C13th church of Killmodalla (aka Kildatun), a striking Ponsonby mausoleum modelled on the chancel of the old church, and several beautiful marble memorials designed by Kidwell and Sir William Atkinson to the Ponsonby and Briscoe families.
Oddly enough, there is another free-standing belfry in the nearby graveyard of Ardclone.
Fiddown, once a well known boat building centre famous for its annual regatta, is nowadays mainly noted for its bridge across the River Suir.
Fiddown is not far from Carrick-on-Suir on ByRoute 3, and is also close to Mooncoin and other outposts of Waterford City & Environs.