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The history of Lismore

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Any visitor to Lismore is first struck by the spectacle of the castle, surely one of the most immpressive castles in the world. But Lismore's history stretches back well before the current castle.

The name Lismore comes from two words - Lis (Fort) and Mor (great) - derived from the round hill or great Irish fort to the east of the town. The two chief points of interest in Lismore are St. Carthages Cathedral and Lismore Castle. The Cathedral crowns the summit of a hill and is on all sides surrounded by foliage. The church yard is full of graves - here lie the bones of nobles, soldiers, traders of the high and humble born.

In 636 AD St. Carthage founded a monastery here. The town after its monastic foundation became a seat of learning and was known all over Europe. During the 9th century and beginning of the 10th century the town was repeatedly plunged by the Danes. In 978 the men of Ossory burnt the monastery. However in spite of being sacked more than once by the Vikings and other alien tribes, the monastery managed to retain its influence in Munster until the arrival of the Normans in 1172.

The Cathedral is a short walk from Lismore Castle which was built by Prince John of England in 1185. It is said to be one of the last fortresses erected by Prince John during his eight month stay in Ireland. When John became King he paid little heed to this remote corner of his dominions and permitted Lismore Castle to become an Episcopal residence for the local Bishop. It remained for four centuries the Episcopal residence. In 1589 the Bishop's Palace was leased with its lands to Sir Walter Raleigh for a rent of £12 a year by the then Bishop of Lismore Miler McGrath. He had been consecrated Bishop of Down and Connor by the Pope in 1567, became a Protestant in 1569, was made Bishop of his native Clogher in 1570 and a year later Archbishop of Cashel to which diocese he added Lismore and Waterford.

When Raleigh was in Ireland. He stayed not at Lismore but at Youghal. His estates in this part of Ireland extended to 42,000 acres but he sold them without regret as they were losing money owing to the ravages of the Elizabethan Wars.

Richard Boyle, later the great Earl of Cork purchased Sir Walter Raleigh's estates for £1,500 in 1602. They consisted mainly of forest land around Youghal, linked by the navigable River Blackwater. Boyle, who received his earldom in 1602, had a sensational career. He arrived in Ireland in 1588, aged 22 with £27 in his pocket, a diamond ring, a bracelet and the clothes he stood up in. By the time of his death in 1644, he had amassed enormous wealth. Of his seven daughters and seven sons, the most famous was Robert Boyle, the philosopher and father of modern chemistry, who was born in Lismore in 1626.

The first Earl's rise to fame and fortune was the result of his success in colonising his great estates and the establishment of schools, roads, and bridges to facilitate the proper development of industry and agriculture. He enlarged and embellished Lismore Castle, moving from Youghal in 1620 with his family to reside there. His books are among the Lismore manuscripts in the National Library, Dublin and his diaries are at Chatsworth. Together they give us the fullest account of any building of this date in Ireland.

In 1617, he had an elaborate tomb made with effigies of himself, his wife and children. This tomb can be seen in the church at Tourism and Heritage Centre in Lismore, in the main square.

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