These pages describe ByRoute 9 between Borris-in-Ossory (Co. Laois / Southwest) and Knock near Killimer (Co. Clare / South) on ByRoute 1.
Knock & Corbally (Co. Tipperary / North)
Knock and Corbally are small rural communities separated by the Timoney Hills and Timoney Bog.
A small Society of Friends graveyard enclosed by a high stone wall near the new Knock Post Office is all that remains of a local C18th Quaker settlement. Some have remarked that the number of infant burials seems disproportionate. Most of the relevant families reluctantly joined the local Church of Ireland congregation after their meetinghouse was closed in the early C19th.
The Timoney Stones are a scattering of about 300 Standing Stones spread over a wide area of fields and woodland; 16 of them on a steep slope form a huge Stone Circle called Cullaun Rath, while the rest occur singly, in pairs, threes (tall, short, slab) and in four-poster structures, with no apparent allignments. It is thought that there may originally have been many more stones; their purpose is unknown. The site, compared by some to Carnac in France, has had its authenticity questioned, as it hardly features at all in local folklore. (Photo by ryaner on the excellent www.themodernantiquarian.com)
Roscrea (Co. Tipperary / North)
Roscrea (Ros Cré – “Wood of Cré”) (pop. 6000), a historic crossroads town on the River Moneen, is notable for its handsome Georgian and Victorian buildings, wide main street (suitable for flocks and herds) and Market Square. There are several good pubs, eateries and accomodation facilities in both the town and the surrounding district.
Ros Cré monastery was founded in 610 AD by Saint Cronan mac Odrain , who posthumously became the patron saint of the entire region of Eile / Ely. His foundation grew into a prestigious centre of learning.
The Book of Dimma, a beautifully illustrated C8thcopy of the Gospels and a Missa Infirorum, enclosed in a shrine of bronze with silver plates ornamented with Celtic interlacing, is amongst its treasures of Ros Cré monastery now preserved in Trinity College, Dublin.
The Aonoch Éile, the annual Ely Fair held at Ros Cré, was for a long time one of the great yearly tribal gatherings of Munster.
The Battle of Ros Cré in 942 AD saw the settlement attacked by Vikings from Limerick, whose leader Omphile was slain by the defenders as they routed their assailants.
Ros Cré”s episcopal See, roughly coextensive with the territory of Éile Ui Chearbhaill / Ely O’Carroll, was merged, demerged and remerged with the Diocese of Killaloe at various Synods during the C12th.
A thoroughfare divides the site of the original monastic settlement.
Roscrea’s C12th Round Tower is the most prominent surviving part of Ros Cré monastery still in situ. The first floor window has an incised picture of a three-masted sailing ship, surprising for such a landlocked location. Originally 26.5m tall, the tower lost its upper storeys and conical roof to canonfire in 1798.
St. Cronan’s Cathedral, an early C12th edifice, probably built by the local bishop in an attempt to resist the initial merger, was largely demolished in 1812, leaving only a fine sandstone Romanesque gable, comparable toCormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel, but now very badly weathered from pollution and age.
Roscrea Castle & Damer House
The Roscrea / Royal / Ormonde Castle complex in the centre of Roscrea. (Photo by Zombie Master)
The Castle was built c.1280 to replace an earlier motte and bailey erected c.1213 by the assembled King’s Council and Army, a forerunner of the Irish Parliament. It was granted in 1315 to Sir Edmund Butler, Earl of Carrick and Justiciar of Ireland, father of James, 1st Earl of Ormond, whose descendants extended and strengthened the fortifications and retained possesion until shortly after the the Williamite War, when it fell into disuse until used as an army barracks in the C19th.
Largely restored at the end of the last century, the castle is now a tourist attraction, with rooms furnished in various period styles, while its Great Hall hosts exhibitions, concerts, recitals and lectures arranged by the Roscrea Heritage Society.
The West Tower has been renamed Hamilton Tower in honour of Anthony/ Antoine Hamilton, the Roscrea-born nephew of James, 1st Duke of Ormonde, who served as a Jacobite army officer and Governor of Limerick, but is most famous as a classical French author of various satirical stories, poems and songs, and especially as the “ghost” writer of Mémoirs du Comte de Gramont, the “autobiography” of Philibert, aristocratic husband of his sister Elizabeth “la Belle Hamilton”; published in 1713, the book is widely regarded as a masterpiece of style and witty portraiture.
Damer House, built c.1725 within the castle yard, is a classic pre-Palladian town house with Queen Anne style features, notably a hand-carved pine staircase. Originally a private residence, it was used over the years as part of the military barracks, a preparatory school, a sanatorium and a technical school.
Threatened with demolition by the local authority in the late 1960s, the mansion was saved by the Old Roscrea Society and the Irish Georgian Society, who handed it over to the fledgling Roscrea Heritage Society in 1980.
The Heritage Annex, originally a C19th military edifice, houses a local history museum.
The main garden in the Castle grounds has a pretty fountain and has been replanted in a rather stiff formal style, while a smaller garden reflects medieval horticultural concerns (culinary and medicinal herbs etc.).
Roscrea Heritage Trail, a self-guided walk with an illustrated brochure, starts outside Damer House.
The Black Mills / Manor Mills, a restored C19th industrial complex, is now used by the OPW to conserve and exhibit important artefacts from Roscrea’s monastic history, notably the Roscrea High Cross and the Roscrea Pillar Stone. There is also an interesting oak sculpture of Saint Cronan by local artist Werner Groll, who has erected several other figurative works locally.
St Cronan’s parish church (CoI), built in 1812, incorporates stones from the ancient monastic complex, the gates of which form the entrance to the churchyard. The church interior is attractively proportioned, with a gallery on three sides, interesting stained glass windows, including one by Child, and a pulpit and prayer desk by Orpen commemorating parishioners killed in WWI.
The Damer Court / Grants Hotel, a late C18th townhouse on Castle St., long used as a Bianconi coaching inn, was for many years THE place to stay in Roscrea, and although rather ineptly modernised, still has a reasonably good restaurant and a bar popular with both locals and visitors.
St Cronan’s parish church (RC), imposingly overlooking the town, was constructed in 1855. Designed by Bentley, it is widely regarded as one of the finest churches built in the period after the Great Famine. Interior details include a carved Caen stone baptismal font and four Earley studios stained glass windows.
The Victorian church stands on the site of a Franciscan Friary founded in 1490 by Ferganayn, The O’Carroll, Lord of Ely O’Carroll (one of the last Gaelic chieftains to wield power in the midlands); part of the medieval wall was incorporated into the new church.
Part of the graveyard higher up the hill commands fine views of Roscrea.
Mount St Joseph’s Abbey was originally Mount Heaton, an architecturally hybrid country house bought from the powerful Hutchinson family by Count Arthur Moore and donated in 1878 to Cistercian monks from Mount Melleray (Co. Waterford). The first abbot, Dom Camillus Beardwood, was a brother of WH Beardwood, an architect who spent his entire life in Dublin building churches designed by others. He left the Gothic front of Mount Heaton intact (a policy not followed by his successors) and built the new abbey church (1881) with a splendidly austere cloister. The rather lovely grounds encompass a delightful waterfall and a large boarding school for boys (established 1905), while the old building is now a guesthouse for contemplative visitors.
Sean Ross / Corville (Corbally) & MonaInch
Sean Ros (“Old woods”) was the “wood on the edge of an inaccessible swamp” (a “bog lake” known as Lough Cré) chosen c.554 AD by Saint Cronan mac Odrain as the site of his first monastic foundation, evidently conceived in the ascetic eremitical tradition of the Desert Fathers.
The “bog island” visible today is graced with the ruins of a medieval church that clearly underwent several phases of rebuilding up to the C15th.
Sean Ross Abbey was the new name given to Corville House in 1930, when it was purchased by a Roman Catholic order of nuns who turned it into a grim institution where unwed mothers had their newborn babies removed and put up for adoption abroad; it is now a centre for mentally discapacitated people.
The splendid C18th mansion was originally the family residence of Henry Prittie MP, created Baron Dunalley in 1800, and later home to two prominent Knights Hospitaller of Malta and Papal Counts, John O’Byrne and his son Patrick (a Gaelic League pioneer, Republican activist and envoy to the Vatican).
In addition to the medieval church ruins, the parkland demesne includes a lovely walled garden dating from 1776, an interesting icehouse and three graveyards (one used for “illegitimate” children born on the property during the C20th).
MonaIncha (Photo by brien h)
Monaincha (“bog island”) was included in medieval lists of the Wonders of the World as Insula Viventium (“the Island of the Living”), where no creature could ever die; it was occupied (and marketed) from the C12th by Augustinian canons, who banished terminally ill pilgrims “ashore” to maintain the island’s fame unsullied.
It is the site of a ruined Romanesque church, a distinctive High Cross carved with images of horsemen and a graveyard, widely believed to be haunted.
Many of the graves are of members of the Birch family who owned MonaIncha, nearby Birchgrove House, and a local distillery, and drained the lake / marsh to create Birch’s Bog, long a source of turf for local fireplaces.
Monaincha House (1842), a working farmhouse, is owned by Tom and Carmel Moore, who also run their home as a high-end B&B / Guesthouse, while their daughter has turned the former coach house into a Health Spa & Fitness Centre.
Fancroft Mill House & Gardens lie north of Roscrea on the Tipperary / Offaly border. The beautiful Georgian house was restored by Angela Jupe in the unostentatious tradition of its original Quaker owners, whose old Mill is still in good condition. Landscaped grounds feature a lovely walled garden with a stone tower, an interesting glasshouse and a lake.
The Roscrea Brooch is a beautiful ornament dating from c.900 AD, fashioned of cast silver, gold filagree and amber; it is now in the NMI.
George Thomas (1756 – 1802)
George Thomas, born in Roscrea, joined the Royal Navy as a boy at Youghal and reached the rank of quartermaster before deserting at Madras in 1781.
He made his way to Delhi, where he took service under Begum Samru of Sardhana, who liked him a lot and made him her Grand Vizier and Commander of her army. When he tried to marry her adopted daughter he fell out of favour, supplanted by a Neopolitan adventurer called Levassoo.
Fleeing with his personal cavalry, he was eventually hired by a Mahratta chieftain, Appu Khandi Rao. In 1798 he captured the vast province of Hariana (‘The Green Land’), where he installed himself as Rajah in the capital, Hansi.
He fought an initially successful campaign against the Sikh chiefs, becoming for a time the virtual dictator of the entire Punjab, but was finally defeated by Sindhia’s army under General Pierre Cuillier-Perron, who allowed him to leave with full honours of war, the booty he had accumulated and a safe passage to the neutral territory of the East India Company.
He was returning to Ireland in August 1802 when he died from a fever on his way down the River Ganges, and is buried at Bahrampur.
(Parts of Hariana are nowadays being turned into vast suburbs of New Delhi, with amongst the highest real estate prices in Asia).
William O’Brien from Roscrea, educated at St Flannan’s College, Ennis, emigrated to South Africa, where he qualified as an accountant and conveyancer, was elected to Parliament in 1918, served as private secretary to General Smuts, became a Senator in 1938, was awarded an OBE and declared a Freeman of Pietermaritzburgh, and lived to 100.