ByRoute 4.1 Co. Wicklow (W) // Co. Kilkenny
Tinahely (Co. Wicklow / Southwest)
Tinahely (Tigh na hÉille –“Ella’s house”) (pop. 1050), an old estate village in the Derry River valley, was destroyed in the 1798 Rebellion and rebuilt in the early C19th by the 4th Earl Fitzwilliam as a thriving market town. It has a range of facilities for visitors, including several good pubs / eateries and B&Bs.
The triangular Dwyer Square is dominated by the former market house, also used historically as the village school and now a public library.
The beautifully restored 1843 Courthouse now serves as an Arts Centre, with a regular programme of exhibitions, concerts, films, and drama productions.
Tinahely is unusual in that there is no church in the village itself.
St Kevin’s church (RC), 2 km to the east in the townland of Kilaveny, was erected in 1843 to replace the former church erected c.1700 in the adjacent townland of Whitefield, burned down on 11th November 1798 by Yeomen in reprisal for local activity during the 1798 Rebellion.
Kilcommon church (CoI), serving the old parish of Crosspatrick, has a tower dating from c.1790; the main building was enlarged in 1826.
The Tinahely Agricultural Show, which has taken place annually for over 70 years, is held in Fairwood Park on the first Monday in August, attracting many exhibitors and visitors to the area.
Tinahely is the hub of several looped walking trails and is also on the Wicklow Way route.
Tinahely is within easy reach of Aughrim on ByRoute 3.
Stranakelly, a tiny hamlet on the Wicklow Way, is the location of Tallon’s pub, better known as “the Dying Cow” from a story that, when raided by police late one night, the landlady argued that she wasn’t serving drink after hours but providing refreshments to neighbours who were helping her with a dying cow.
Tomnafinnoge & Coolattin Woods
Tomnafinnoge on the is believed to be the largest oak forest remaining in Ireland, and contains the island’s few cork oaks. The River Derry flowing through the woodland is braided in places into a series of streams with much marshy ground and an interesting mixture of wetland and woodland plants. It can be explored on the way-marked Tomnafinnoge Walk and the Tinahely Railway Trail, a path along the route of an old railway connecting Shillelagh and Tinahely.
Tomnafinnoge and Coolattin Woods are remnants of the great Leverarch oak forest that stretched between the Blackstairs to the Wicklow Mountains. It is said that over the years timber from these woods was used for major buildings such as St Patrick’s Cathedral and Trinity College, Dublin, Westminster Abbey, London, Kings College, Cambridge, and the Stadt House, Amsterdam. (Similar claims are made for forests all over Ireland).
The present oaks were planted within an existing coppiced wood in the mid-C18th when there were still extensive native woods in the locality so it provides an important link between the ancient forest and the woodland of today.
A large section of this forest was sold to a commercial timber company in the late 1970s. Although a lot of the trees were cut down, local outcry and organised opposition were responsible for an order being made which prevented the rest of this forest from being felled.
Shillelagh (Co. Wicklow / Southwest)
Shillelagh (from Síol Éalaigh – “descendants of Éalach”) is largely a C17th planned estate village with attractive terrace stone houses.
The handsome Courthouse features a distinctive clock tower.
Shilelagh church (CoI), founded in 1834, was rebuilt in 1888. Heavily funded by the Coolatin Estate, it stands on an elevated site and is set in a beautifully landscaped graveyard.
The church of the Immaculate Conception (RC) is a handsome steepled church overlooking the village, with several interesting gravestones in its grounds.
Shillelagh is surrounded by beautiful countryside, somewhat marred by the presence in the town of a firm that rents out all terrain quad bikes. Those found roaring across the landscape on these monstrosities should be shot on sight.
The shillelagh, a traditional walking stick / cudgel commonly wielded by drunken peasants in faction-fighting brawls at country fairs, apparently takes its name from the woods around the village, where the blackthorn (sloe) branches were of particularly good quality; however, the etymological authorities are far from unanimous about this. Claims that King Richard II so christened the “weighted fighting stick” are extremely dubious. (A bizarre American website fantasizing about it as an ancient Gaelic Roman Catholic martial arts weapon is http://johnwhurley.com)
Shillelagh is just off the Wicklow Way walking route.
Shillelagh is close to Kilquiggin on ByRoute 5.
The Coolattin Estate
The Coolattin Estate, aka the Rockingham Estate and later the FitzWilliam Estate, was based on 60,000 acres acquired by King Charles I‘s Lord Deputy of Ireland, Sir Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, between l633 and 1640. The remains of his hunting lodge are now known locally as Black Toms Cellar. It is said that the Earl acquired the nickname “Black Tom” as he was regularly seen in the area wearing black armour and riding a black horse; (there is a “Black Tom’s Tavern” in Tinahely).
His son extended the property, as did his descendants the Marquesses of Rockingham, one of whose daughters married the 3rd Earl FitzWilliam.
Coolattin House was designed by the leading Yorkshire architect John Carr for William Wentworth Fitzwilliam, 4th Earl Fitzwilliam, the first heir to the combined Wentworth/Fitzwilliam family fortune. It was originally called Malton House, presumably after the Earl of Malton, one of the titles held by his uncle, the British Prime Minister. The house was started around 1794 but before completion it was burned down in the 1798 Rebellion. Work resumed again in 1800 and the mansion was completed in 1807. It has undergone several major changes since then. (Photo by Jim Hoare)
By the mid-C19th the estate comprised 88,000 acres, covering one-fifth of the county of Wicklow, and was home to 20,000 tenants. The FitzWilliams were relatively enlightened landlords, who strongly favoured religious tolerance and Catholic Emancipation.
The 5th Earl FitzWilliam, Charles William Wentworth-FitzWilliam (1786 – 1857), an enigmatic figure, has been compared (somewhat improbably) to Oskar Schindler. In 1846, the second year of the Great Famine, when the entire Irish potato crop was destroyed and the economy collapsed, big landlords were hit hard, and large scale evictions known as “clearances” of “uneconomic” tenants were implemented to reduce costs and avoid bankruptcy. Many landlords simply turned out the tenants to fend for themselves. FitzWilliam instead arranged for his Land Agent Robert Chaloner to offer “assisted emigration” to “surplus” tenants. The “clearance” ran from 1847 to 1856 and in that time, 5,995 people left Coolattin for Canada.
In the autumn of 1903 an era came to an end with the transfer of most of the Coolattin estate to tenant ownership under the terms of the Land Acts. In the late 1940s the 8th Earl of Fitzwilliam was killed in a plane crash together with John F Kennedy‘s sister Kathleen. The remaining estate was broken up, and Fitzwilliam’s widow, Lady Juliet de Chair, sold the little that was left in 1977. The family donated the estate papers to the National Library in Dublin.
Coolattin Park was for many years the recreational playground for Wentworth Woodhouse, the dynastic seat in Yorkshire. The original sporting pursuits of deer hunting and hawking on horse back gave way over time to the establishment of a 9-hole golf course, a cricket ground, tennis courts, hockey and football pitches. Tenants and estate workers from the respective family houses would compete against each other at regular intervals.
Later, in the mid-C20th, the golf club members took over the maintenance of the course, registering with the GUI in 1962. When Coolattin Estate was advertised for sale in 1996, they were relieved to find out that the club was secure in law as a sporting facility, and were able to extend the course. The club headquarters is Coolattin House.
Coolattin Lodge (1840) was designed by Yorkshire architect William Dickie (who also made alterations to the main house) as a residence for the farm stewards. Together with its large courtyard of working buildings, the house was the hub of all activities relating to the upkeep of the vast estate. Up to the late 1950s, over 400 workers cycled out of the courtyard every evening.
Some of the original farm staff cottages in the courtyard – the Dairymaid’s, Groom’s and Saddler’s houses – have been refurbished and are available for holiday rental.
Carnew (Co. Wicklow / Southwest)
Carnew (Carn an Bhua – “Victory Mound”) (pop. 1300), the most southerly town in County Wicklow, is locally pronounced “Kurnoo”.
Carnew made its first appearance in historical records in 1247 as the Norman borough of “Carnebothe” with its own Royal Charter granted by King Henry III.
Carnew Castle, a copper engraved print in Francis Grose’s Antiquities of England & Wales, 1786. Reputed to have been built in 1578 by Sir Henry Harrington but commonly called the O’ Toole castle, the edifice retains enough Norman features to suggest a much earlier origin; it may well be that the medieval edifice was occupied by the Gaelic clan some time before its destruction by them or other unknown forces. It is privately owned.
A Welshman, Calcott Chambre, leased Carnew castle in 1619, and over the following two decades established a large iron smelting industry just outside the town. He encouraged Welsh families to settle in the area, and created one of the country’s largest deer parks, with a radius of about seven Irish miles.
During the 1641 Rebellion Chambre and about 160 settlers were besieged in the castle for 22 weeks, compelled to feed on carcasses that ‘had long lain in lime pits’, by a force of around 1,000 insurgents led by the Mastersons, Byrnes and Donal Kavanagh of Ballingate, who also ‘pulled down ye pulpits, burned ye seats and defaced and demolished the church of Carnowe’. When the besieged finally surrendered some of them were hanged, some were detained for service while the largest number, including Chambre, were accompanied by a convoy to Dublin. The castle was held by the Knockloe O’Byrnes until 1649, when it was taken by Sir Richard Talbot. Two years later the castle took a pounding from Cromwell‘s Roundheads under the command of Colonel Hewson during the course of which the roof was destroyed. In 1655 an edict was issued ordering all “inhabitants of Carne, Coolattin and Clohamon who had not shown good affection” to be banished, and their property shared amongst the Adventurers.
Protestant colonisers arrived during the second half of the C17th when the exploitation of the great oak forest of Shillelagh was at its peak; many were skilled specialists such as bellows makers, founders, finers and hammer men, who worked in the local ironworks, which used vast quantities of oak for the manufacture of charcoal to smelt iron ore shipped from Bristol.
The 1798 Rebellion
On the morning of 25th May the garrison in Carnew heard of the long feared outbreak of the insurgency in neighbouring Co. Kildare and of military losses in Ballymore-Eustace, Naas, and Prosperous. They immediately rounded up peasants suspected of rebel sympathies and incarcerated them in the castle dungeon. 41 prisoners, including 18 married men, were marched to the local handball alley and shot by firing squad as a warning to the local populace, an event remembered as the Carnew Massacre.
News of these summary executions, and of a similar slaughter at Dunlavin, spread throughout County Wicklow and across the border in Wexford, seeming to give substance to the rumours of extermination already prevalent.
On 4th June the government evacuated the town and four days later it was attacked and burned in a revenge raid by Wexford rebels, led by “the screeching general” Anthony Perry.
On 30th June rebel forces inflicted a heavy defeat on government cavalry at the Balyellis ambush. Crown losses numbered 49 but many more died as a result of injuries sustained in the battle. Casualties included 25 of the infamous Regiment of Ancient Britons.
Following the battle Carnew was once again attacked. The loyalists under the command of Captain Thomas Swan of Tombreane barricaded themselves in Blayney’s Malthouse (now David Quinn’s). The rebels failed in their efforts to either dislodge them or to set the building on fire, and incurred 19 casualties in their efforts to do so.
Carnew’s most infamous daughter, Bridget ‘Croppy Biddy’ Dolan, spent three months as a camp follower with the rebels. As a paid government informer, she helped to convict many of her former associates and relatives. Her most notable victim was Billy Byrne of Ballymanus who was hanged in Wicklow Jail in September 1799. On Bid’s evidence, at least nine Carnew men were transported to New South Wales in 1802. In later life Bid was compelled to eke out a living from the poor box in the town’s Protestant church. She was stoned every time she appeared in public, and kept two bulldogs for her protection. She died aged 50 in 1827, and is the only member of her family to be interred in Carnew’s CoI churchyard.
The early decades of the C19th saw the rebuilding of Carnew and Tinahely, heavily funded by the Coollattin Estate. Carnew castle was re-roofed and modernised for the arrival as rector in 1813 of a brother in law of Earl Fitzwilliam, Revd Ponsonby (later Bishop of Derry). His successor, Revd Henry Moore, who built the high castle wall, strongly opposed Earl Fitzwilliam and his agent Bob Challoner‘s efforts to provide an interdenominational school (now Carnew Enterprise Centre) as a means of healing old wounds. Following a Chancery Court ruling, Moore got his way and was allowed to build a Protestant school on the only site available to him, the corner of the churchyard. Fitzwilliam’s reaction was to evict the rector from the castle.
Sectarian strife was never far below the surface. During the latter part of the century there were prosecutions for the removal of a Union Jack from the churchyard on 12th July. In court discretion generally prevailed and the offenders were released with a warning.
All Saints church (CoI) was built c.1840 to replace the church built by the Nickson family c.1720 and burned down during the 1798 Rebellion. The clock tower and the spire which had been added to the old church in the early C19th were left standing next to the new building.
The church of Our Lady, Queen of the most Holy Rosary (RC) was built in 1954 to take over as parish church from nearby St Brigids church, Tomacork (1794).
Carnew, still widely regarded as a “Protestant enclave”, enjoys views from the main street westwards across the adjoining valley, creating the visual effect of a ‘gateway’ from north Co. Wexford to south Co. Wicklow and northeast Co. Carlow.
Carnew is linked by road to Monaseed and Craanford (Co. Wexford) on ByRoute 3.