Clogh & Moneenroe (Co. Kilkenny / North)
Clogh and Moneenroe, neighbouring villages in the heart of the Castlecomer Plateau, share strong ties and a common tradition as coalmining communities.
The area was long famed for its picturesque thatched cottages, of which Lacy’s pub is one of the very few remaining. (Photo by Jaqian)
Clogh / Clough takes its name from the C13th castle Clogh-ma-leithid.
St Patrick’s church (RC), a handsome white building at the top of a tree-lined avenue, was erected in 1826 and served for some years as the parish church for Castlecomer, since no Roman Catholic place of worship was permitted on the Wandesforde estate.
The Colliery church (CoI) was constructed in 1829 as a chapel of ease for St Mary’s Anglican parish church in Castlecomer. It was funded by Lady Ann Wandesforde, Dowager Countess of Ormonde.
Moneenroe (Monín rua – “little red bog”) claims to be the unofficial capital of North Kilkenny.
The church of the Sacred Heart (RC), a striking edifice, was consecrated in 1930 by the aptly named Dr Collier, Bishop of Ossory. It replaced the “old church” erected in 1800.
Moneenroe was home to Nicholas “Nixie” Boran, a militant communist agitator in the local coalmines, who despite serious hindrance from the State and the Roman Catholic church attended a Red International Congress in Moscow in 1929, and with other ITGWU members masterminded several partially successful strikes over the years.
Wandesforde House, built in 1824 as a school funded by Lady Ann Wandesforde, Dowager Countess of Ormonde, is now a comfortable B&B.
Castlecomer (Co. Kilkenny / North)
Castlecomer (Caisleán an Chumair – “The castle at the confluence of the rivers”) (pop. 2000), located in a wooded valley at the junction of the Rivers Dinin, Deen, Brocagh and Clohogue, is an exceptionally attractive town, reputedly modelled on Alsinore in Italy, and has been an important commercial and mining hub since the C17th.
Castlecomer centres around an attractive square lined with lime trees. It was in this square that Charles Stuart Parnell had quicklime thrown in his eyes by a fanatical bigot at a political rally in 1891, probably hastening his death.
Castlecomer was named for its Norman castle; the original 1171 wooden structure was destroyed by the local O’Brennan clan, but Strongbow‘s seneschal and heir, William Marshal, soon replaced it with a stone edifice, the remains of which can still be seen. His daughter Sibella was granted the manor in 1219, and William de Birmingham burned Castlecomer in 1328, but the O’Brennans controlled the area for several more centuries.
In 1637 Lord Deputy Thomas Wentworth, 1st Earl of Strafford, granted the 30,000-acre (120 km²) Castlecomer estate to his cousin, Yorkshireman Sir Christopher Wandesforde (1592 – 1640), Master of the Rolls and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland, who succeeded him briefly as Lord Deputy. His descendants were granted the titles of Baronet, Baron and Viscount Wandesforde of Castlecomer; they developed the important local anthracite coal mines, and built the town of stone and mortar.
The 5th Viscount, Sir John Wandesforde, was made Earl Wandesford in 1758 but died childless in 1784. His sister Lady Frances Susan Elizabeth Wandesforde (aka Lady Ann) had in 1769 married John Butler (1740 – 1795), who assumed the Wandesford name by Royal Licence and in 1791 was restored by the Irish House of Lords to his title of 17th Earl of Ormonde.
The tail end of the 1798 Rebellion saw Fr John Murphy, Myles Byrne and their remaining followers take but fail to hold the town; the fighting caused extensive damage and loss of life. A number of local miners rallied to the rebel cause, but subsequently deserted before the disastrous Battle of Kilcumley.
Charles Harward Butler Clarke Southwell Wandesforde (1781 – 1860) took a great interest in the running of the Estate and in the welfare of his tenants and attempted to reduce the role of middlemen by lowering rents and providing assistance during the Great Famine, when he helped many families to start new lives in America – on condition that they surrender their leases rather than pass them on to other family members.
By the mid-C20th the Castlecomer collieries included the Deerpark (the largest opencast coalmines in Ireland, opened in 1925), the Rock, the Jarrow, the Skehana and the Vera; the last was named after the eldest daughter of Capt Richard Henry Prior-Wandesforde (1870 – 1956), aka Captain Dick, who had sold land in Yorkshire to invest in improvements, including an aerial ropeway connecting the operations and (with British War Office subsidies) a local railway line for transporting both goods and passengers.
The Wandesforde employees, numbering up to 1000, lived with their families in purpose-built accommodation on site, in Clogh, Moneenroe and nearby townlands, or in Castlecomer itself (in a quaint terrace of houses built for them on Kilkenny St).
At peak production in the 1950’s, the pits were 700ft deep, with 11 miles of underground passages, and 300 tons of coal a day were carried to a depot at Kilkenny station by regular trains (later replaced by lorries). However, geological “wash-outs” made the mines commercially untenable, and the last Wandesforde colliery finally closed with one week’s notice to its remaining 300 workers in 1969.
St Mary’s church (CoI), erected c. 1630 by the first Sir Christopher Wandesforde on the site of a previous church dating from 1327, was destroyed along with much of the town during the 1798 Rebellion and rebuilt in the early C19th by Lady Ann Wandesforde, Dowager Countess of Ormonde, who also funded the restoration of other buildings.
Castlecomer House & Demesne / Discovery Park
Castlecomer House, originally built in 1638 for the first Sir Christopher Wandesforde, was burnt down in the fighting of 1798. It was replaced in 1802 by a beautiful Georgian residence with unusually large windows, home to Lady Ann Wandesforde, Dowager Countess of Ormonde, and later the Prior-Wandesforde family. The mansion was partially destroyed by mindless arsonists in the 1960s and knocked down in 1975.
The 180-acre Demesne was famous for its beautiful formal gardens, landscaped pleasure grounds, tennis courts, lakes, cascades, caves, follies, orchards and extensive woodlands.
Castlecomer Discovery Park is part of the former Demesne, with two restored artificial lakes (restocked for trout fishing) and 6km of paths / sculpture walks / nature trails winding through 30 ha /80 acres of mature forest and riverside woodlands abounding in wildlife.
The impressive Visitors’ Centre houses a remarkably interesting permanent exhibition on the history of coal mining in the area, including the 1864 discovery by miners of significant early amphibian fossils, plus the excellent Café Jarrow, with regular displays of work by local and national artists.
The Estate Yard features a variety of attractive Arts & Crafts workshops and boutiques.
The church of the Immaculate Conception (RC) is a neo-Gothic edifice designed by William Deane Butler and constructed between 1844 and 1852, a period that saw hundreds of local resorting to the Workhouse and dying of disease at the height of the Great Famine. Interesting features include the pinted ceiling and a very ornate sanctuary lamp.
The town’s 1798 Memorial seat is both unusual and attractive.
Mealy’s Auctioneers conducts sales of fine art, rare books and antique furniture.
Coan Bogs, declared a Natural Heritage Area in 2005, comprise two small areas of upland blanket bog located near Castlecomer in the townlands of Coan East and Smithstown. Bedrock geology for both areas is shale overlain locally by glacial till, and blanket bog vegetation is well developed.