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Youghal - National heritage town

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Prehistoric
Man has occupied the Blackwater Valley for almost 9,000 years. The earliest evidence for human activity comes from the Early Mesolithic (middle stone-age) period during which fishermen, hunters and gatherers with no knowledge of farming settled along the Blackwater and its tributaries "to take advantage of the migratory runs of salmon and eel". After all this time archaeologists can still find the tiny stone arrowheads, scrapers and knives they left behind at Kilcummer Lower, Wallstown and at other sites along the rivers.

Most of the evidence for the existence of a pre-farming, hunter-gatherer society in the south-west of Ireland comes from the Blackwater Valley. Indeed if evidence is ever found that man occupied Ireland before the Mesolithic period, it is likely to come from here as the valley survived the ice-sheets which scoured the surface of the rest of the country during the last glaciation, which ended around 10,000 BC.

The First Farmers
The first farmers (Neolithic or late stone-age people) arrived in this area around 4,000 BC. The landscape into which they introduced agricultural techniques was an entirely forested wilderness. Clearings soon began to appear as knowledge of farming spread and the population grew.

Labbacallee
Labbacallee (near Kilworth) is perhaps the largest of wedge-tomb in Ireland and was built over 4,000 years ago towards the end of the Stone Age and the start of the Bronze Age. Three huge capstones (the largest being 7.8 meters long and weighing 10 tonnes or more) cover the tomb and the double walls are also flanked by massive outer walling. Inside are two burial chambers, separated by a dividing slab, one corner of which has been trimmed off, perhaps to allow the spirits of the dead to come and go.

"Labbacallee" translates as "the hag's bed", and when the tomb was excavated it was indeed found to contain the remains of a woman. But while her skeleton was carefully buried in the inner chamber of the tomb, her head was found outside!

Little is known about the earliest settlement of Youghal. Its geographical position, a piece of flat land at the mouth of a great river, together with an abundance of pottery clay, would make it an obvious base. Here one could fish river and sea, trade upriver and overseas.

Evidence in the form of a Mesolithic stone backed blade was found at Newport outside Youghal, while a mudstone axe was discovered near the old brickwork's. The Celtic culture arrived here 2,500 years ago and many fine fortified enclosures, raths, survive in the countryside around Youghal. The earliest settlement at Youghal was probably a rath, which is remembered by the very old road running around the town called Raheen Road. The name "Youghal" derives from the old Irish "Eochaill" - meaning "Yew wood". There is evidence of contact with Roman Britain in the period before the coming of Christianity but no evidence of Roman presence here.

Early Christian (5th Century)
The earliest evidence of Christianity in the Youghal area is two small religious foundations. In the western suburb of the town is the site of the Church of Coran and the founder's hermitage nearby. This foundation may have been associated with the important monastery at Ardmore (5th century - 7 miles to the east).

Molana, an island monastery three miles north of Youghal, founded in the early 6th century, became a great centre of learning and religious reform during the 7th - 10th centuries. Rath is a locally used place name and is suggestive of the presence of a settlement or homestead in a ring fort (fairy fort) in Youghal in Early Christian times.

Viking (9th century)
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 ( 18 miles upriver).

They established a settlement at Youghal from which to carry on their trade and it is recorded that in 864 the Deise clan from the neighbouring countryside destroyed the Norse fort at Youghal. A century later in 945 the Vikings were sufficiently settled to be involved in a major battle with their own kinsmen outside Youghal.

No traces of the Viking times have yet been uncovered, but a stone in the transept of St Mary's Collegiate Church bears the faint etched outline of a longboat.

Hostilities with these Norwegian and Danish settlers all but ceased after the Battle of Clontarf, in which the armies of the Irish, under the command of Brian Boru, defeated the Vikings. Youghal took on the mantle of a trading port and began to service the vast hinterland of East Cork and West Waterford.

12th Century
1169/1171 - Anglo Norman involvement in Ireland began in this period resulting in a failed invasion in 1171 in which they captured about half tile country but only fully subdued about one third. in 1173 a Norman raiding party under Strongbow had embarked their booty at Youghal for shipment to their stronghold at Waterford when they were surprised by the Irish fleet out of Cork including Gaelicised Vikings. A sea battle was waged at the harbour mouth with the Normans victorious.

In 1177 The area around Youghal was granted by Henry II to Robert Fitzstephen. The Normans rebuilt and extended the Viking fortifications of the town.

13th Century
Youghal quickly gained power and influence in both Ireland and Europe, second only in stature to Bristol as the busiest port in the British Isles. "Men-at-arms, traffickers and other adventurers" of that port colonised the town throughout the 13th century. In 1202 Youghal received its first charter from King John and in 1215, Robert Fitzstephen passed the lands on to his half-brother Maurice Fitzgerald - ancestor of the Earls of Desmond. These Anglo-Norman lords gradually adopted native Irish customs and intermarried with the Irish. There is a saying that "they became more Irish than the Irish themselves".

In 1220 St. Mary's Collegiate Church was built on the site of an earlier 11th c church. The church still stands and is one of the few remaining medieval churches continuous use as a place of worship. The church contains some very interesting tombs, effigies and monuments. Among them is the elaborately sculptured tomb of Richard Boyle (1566-1643).

The Franciscan Abbey was founded south of the town in 1224 during the lifetime of St. Francis - by tradition, the foundation house of the order in Ireland. The benefactor was Maurice Fitzgerald, Baron of Offaly, who was buried there in 1257. His grandson, Thomas Fitzmaurice, was the patron of the Dominican friary founded close to the North Gate. The ruins of the North Abbey can still be seen. Both Friaries were abandoned following the order of Henry VIII for the dissolution of monasteries.

In 1275 Edward I levied a tax for the building of stone walls to replace the Norman walls. and the Town Walls were built. Further charters were issued for the same purpose in 1358 , 1375, 1431, 1462, 1489, 1497,1584 and 1609.

14th Century
Such was the measure of esteem in which Youghal was held as a trading port and naval centre that it was the only town in Ireland required to send three ships to aid Edward I in his Scottish Campaign. However it ultimately provided 9 of the total of 27 ships from all of Ireland which took part in the campaign.

By 1350 Youghal was a fine walled town, trading with ports all over Europe. The town walls and its fosse on the west side, with at least 12 towers, surrounded the settlement, stretching up the hill behind the houses to prevent attack from the higher ground. Evidence of 13th/14th century houses were discovered during archaeological excavations at Chapel Lane and North Main Street.

In 1360 St John's priory was founded in the Main Street as a minor house to the Benedictine Priory in Waterford. Small portions of the building still survive including the door arch and a small window on the street front.

15th Century
By the 15th century, a small extension to the walls had been made to the south to create a 'base town' with an adjoining quay. The three main openings in the walls were the Watergate, which opened onto the quays, the North Gate, the principal landward entrance to the town and the Iron gate at the southern edge. The Iron gate was later called the Trinity Gate and is now the site of the Clock Gate. The southern - liberties - gate was the entrance to the Base Town (lower classes) which was separated from the Town Proper by the Clock Gate. The wall also had various sally ports and minor gates.

The Watergate
The Watergate was the only access to the quay from the town. This gate was one of the busiest places in Youghal. All traders, adventurers, soldiers, clergy and prisoners bound to and from the sea passed through here. In 1462 Youghal was created one of the Irish 'cinque ports', granting the town special trading privileges.

Pirates!
As the influence and wealth of the Town increased, the rich pickings attracted the attentions of Algerian Pirates. Throughout the 15th century, these corsairs raided up and down the coast of Cork and Kerry, looting towns and monasteries and taking slaves.

One pirate captain, who rejoiced in the name of Nut, commanded three heavily armed ships. He is reputed to have buried treasure on headlands along the coast and to have buried a male slave with each trove. (Youghal gardening tip - If you find a skeleton, keep digging)

In 1464 The College, at Emmet Place, was Ireland's first post-Norman University. It was founded by Thomas Fitzgerald, 7th Earl of Desmond. Pupils were aged 12-17 years, sons of the Hiberno-Norman gentry and perhaps the wealthier merchants of the town. St. Mary's became the Collegiate Church. The College being a monastic establishment, was dissolved under the order of Henry VIII but struggled on until acquired for use as a residence by Richard Boyle, First Earl of Cork.

Tyntes Castle, a 15th c fortified castle was built on the Main Street by the Walshes, a family of Norman descent. It is unusual to have a fortified dwelling inside the town walls. It is thought to have been a store for valuable goods, with living quarters overhead.
The tower passed into the ownership of Sir Robert Tynte in the 17th century. Tynte married the widow of the famous poet Spencer. The original windows can still be seen on the top floor. The lower windows have been altered.

16th Century
Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, the town rose and fell as civil war and rebellion tore the countryside apart. The power and possessions of the Earls of Desmond generated concern and envy in the English administration. The Earls constantly tested the limits of their power and independence from the English. The Earls were feudal lords who did not take kindly to interference by monarch and administration.. Inevitably, the situation led to open rebellion. In 1568 a rebellion led by James Fitzmaurice, cousin of the Earl of Desmond, was put down. A year later Fitzmaurice returned from the continent to lead another revolt and Gerrald Fitzgerald, the 14th Earl of Desmond, was drawn into the conflict. The town's defences had not been maintained properly, and Youghal soon fell to Desmond's army. The town was sacked and its fortifications broken.

The English, led by the Earl of Ormond, recaptured Youghal some weeks later. The English forces sent to quell the rebellion then had their turn at terrorising the town. 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. His vast estates of 300,000 acres, mostly in County Limerick, but also in north Kerry, north and east Cork and west Waterford were confiscated.

Elizabeth I then began to parcel out the confiscated lands to her faithful supporters and military officers, and thus began the Munster Plantation, in which lands were granted on condition of establishing colonies of English in order to quell rebellion and develop resources. As with the Laois/Offaly Plantation of 1556 and the later Ulster Plantation of 1607, the Englishmen granted the lands undertook to:

Bring in English tenants
Build defences
Cultivate the land in the English manner
Provide soldiers for defence

Sir Walter Raleigh
Raleigh came to Ireland as part of the army sent to put down the Desmond Rebellion. 42 ,000 acres extending from Youghal (The Inchiquin Seignory) were granted to the Queen's favourite, Sir Walter Raleigh. (Born 1552) Youghal was home to Raleigh for short periods during the 17 years in which he held the lands. His stately Elizabethan house, Myrtle Grove, built mid 16th century, was originally the residence of the Warden of the College of Youghal. Myrtle Grove is rare example of a 16th century house that has survived largely intact. Although the house was altered in the 16th,18th and 19th centuries, it retains its original character and contains some interior features which probably date back to the 1580s.

In 1585 The first potatoes in Ireland were planted in the gardens of Myrtle Grove. It is possible that the house also witnessed the beginning of tobacco smoking in Ireland. By 1588/1589 Raleigh was the Mayor of Youghal. At this time the poet, Spencer was a contemporary of Raleigh's and had been granted lands in North Cork. Spencer is said to have been inspired to write the "Faerie Queen" while looking out the window of Myrtle Grove.

17th century
Raleigh's fortunes were in decline in the 1590's. He had limited success in inducing English tenants to settle on his estates. His major activity had been the export of oak and yew. rebellion had once again ravaged the poorly-defended plantation. English settlement and its defence was the primary reason that lands were granted. He was also involved in the ill-fated colonies in Virginia and especially on Roanoke Island. These failures gave advantage to his enemies at court. In 1602 Raleigh eventually sold his Irish possessions to Sir Richard Boyle (the first Earl of Cork).

Raleigh sold his (failed) Irish estates to Boyle in 1602. He then displeased Elizabeth I by having a love affair with one of the Queen's Maids of Honour (unacceptable behaviour for one of this queen's favourites). He was thrown into the Tower of London but was released some time later when one of his ships brought back a huge treasure on a captured Spanish ship. Elizabeth died in 1603. Raleigh was framed as a member of a plot against the new ruler, James I, and was sentenced to life imprisonment. He was released after 13 years in the Tower. The condition was that he apply himself to obtaining gold in South America. In 1617, Raleigh was back in Youghal again, preparing his ill-fated expedition to the Orinoco River in search of gold. The expedition was not a success and he was executed on his return to England in 1618.

Sir Richard Boyle
Boyle (born 1566) had arrived in Ireland in 1588 with few possessions. He married wisely (to a very rich heiress) in 1595 and so had the resources to purchase the estates of Raleigh. Boyle recognised the suitability of Youghal area for the production of pig iron, for which there was great demand in England. A plentiful supply of timber for charcoal, rich iron ore deposits, water power and a fine port all combined to create a busy iron industry in the early 17th century. The Yew woods from which Youghal derived its name (Irish: Eochaill) were used to feed the ironworks of Richard Boyle during the 17th century. Boyle acquired (apparently by devious means) and converted the former College into a mansion for his own use.

He brought over settlers from England, mainly from the Bristol area. In 1616 he was elevated to Lord Boyle in recognition "of the introduction into maritime ports of our Province of Munster, and particularly in the neighbourhood of Youghal, a very excellent Colony, consisting of veteran soldiers and many other persons, brought by himself out of England."

Amongst the other reminders of Boyle's influence in Youghal are the Almshouses, which he endowed to house six old soldiers, who were to receive a pension of £5 per annum. This service was later extended to include widows. The six houses were built in 1610 and continued in use in their original form until the mid-19th century, when some alterations took place. They are now owned by Youghal Urban District Council and still serve a similar generous purpose. Boyle renovated the south transept of St. Mary's Collegiate Church, which had been damaged in the Desmond rebellion. He had an elaborate monument built depicting himself, his two wives, and some of his 15 children. His seventh son , Robert Boyle was a famous chemist (The Boyle of "Boyle's Law) whose work was the forerunner of the modern theory of chemical elements. Boyle died in 1643 and is buried in St.Mary's Collegiate Church.

A public clock was very important to the life of a medieval town. The first such clock was erected in 1612 on the Trinity Gate (Now the Clock Gate). Wealthy merchants would become entitled to privileges by paying for the clock parts.

From 1641-1650 The English Civil War provided opportunities for rebellion in Ireland. Boyle Senior remained a Royalist to his death. His son, however changed sides in timely maneuvers which saved his estates and the town of Youghal. In 1642, English reinforcements landed at Youghal, in spite of the Irish guns at Ferrypoint. In 1645, Admiral William Penn commanded two frigates which were part of an unsuccessful attempt to supply aid to the garrison. The Admiral was later granted land by Cromwell. Penn's son, also called William was born near Youghal and was founder of Pennsylvania in the United States.

Oliver Cromwell
In July 1649, Oliver Cromwell landed in Ireland in order to put down rebellion and ensure support for his war in England. Cromwell wintered in Youghal. The geographical location of the town offered Cromwell a strategic headquarters from which he could strike at any of the major towns of the south of Ireland. Cromwell departed Ireland from Youghal on May 29th, 1650. Tradition has it that he left via the Watergate, which was thereafter known locally as Cromwell's Arch.

At the end of the 17th century, Youghal had 33 registered vessels, while its main rivals of Cork and Kinsale had 24 and 22 respectively.

18th Century
Youghal emerged from the turbulent years of the 17th Century into a period of growth during the 18th century. Trade expanded, with quays and warehouses being built on reclaimed land between the medieval town and the river. Youghal's population grew from nearly 4000 in 1764 to over 10,000 by 1821. The Red House, a Queen Anne style house dating from 1703, was built by the Dutch architect Leuventhan for the Uniacke family. John Wesley opened the Wesley Chapel on Chapel Lane in 1756.

In 1777 the Clock Gate was built on the site of Trinity Castle, part of the town's fortifications. The old Trinity gate had separated the Base Town from the medieval town proper. The Clock Gate served the town as goal and public gallows until 1837. In 1787 a new storey was added to the Clock Gate Tower to cater for the rising number of people arrested as rebels. It was a grim building - prisoners were routinely tortured for information. Sometimes they were flogged and deported. Several members of the United Irishmen were publicly hanged from the windows. The Clock gate was a symbol of terror and tyranny for the countryside around.

In 1779 the Mall House, containing Assembly Rooms was built on a newly built promenade along the river front. It is now used as Youghal's Town Hall and in 1796 St. Mary's Catholic Church was built.

19th Century
The British Army maintained its presence in Youghal right up into the 20th century and the dawn of the Irish Republic but Youghal's importance as a trading port fell during the 19th century. However with the coming of the railroad Youghal was reborn as a seaside destination, and the most popular seaside resort on the south coast.

Youghal's local industries have always made the town more than just a busy port and a centre for tourism. Iron smelting, woollen manufacture, silver production, lacemaking, brickmaking, pottery, and carpet manufacture are just some of these industries over the centuries. Lacemaking, brickmaking and pottery were particularly important in the 19th century, while carpet manufacture was synonymous with Youghal in the mid-20th century.

20th Century
The advent of the new independent Irish State did not halt the decline of the town. Youghal had been an important garrison town for hundreds of years - but now the garrison had gone. In 1954 Youghal was chosen as the site for filming of  Moby Dick, not least because the town still loked like a 19th century port and had not developed at all in the previous 50 years.  

Shortly after however, the fortunes of Youghal had turned with the arrival of textile manufacture and particularly carpet making. Youghal Carpets Ltd. began operating in the town in March 1954 with just four employees. The fine quality of its wool carpets led to the company's expansion and over 3,600 workers were employed at its peak, including over 800 in Youghal itself. By the 1960s Youghal Carpets exported to many countries and had plants in Britain and on the continent. The company was an integral part of Youghal until 1984 when changes in the market led to the closure of the town's factory. Other industries flourish briefly in Youghal, including Murrays kitchens, but have since disappeared.

With the closure of the railway line in the mid 70's Youghal then lost much of its most valuable industry - tourism. Prior to that time Youghal was the most popular holiday spot for Corkonians. Changing holiday patterns and package tours to Spain reduced this trade to day trip and weekends only. Many of the B&B and Hotel that had for so long served these guests lost their trade and closed. For a while Youghal was in a desperate state.

But in the 1990's regeneration began. Tourism patterns are changing again, and self catering is the order of the day for family holidays. Youghal has been re-discovered and now boasts more self catering accommodation than any other resort on the south coast of Ireland. Tourist numbers are increasing and yet the town had no difficulty accommodating them.

 

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