As you pass under Barrow Bridge entering the River Barrow or (Ross River as we call it in Cheekpoint) there is an outcrop of rock that rises almost vertically from the river. Located on the left hand side, or port if we want to be suitably nautical, this Kilkenny based feature is known as the White Horse. It certainly catches the eye and imagination.
In recent years it has been a location over which buzzards soar. Their calls add to the magic of the spot. I have also seen a number of goats on it occasionally which must help to keep the furze and briars in check.
It’s unavoidable to think that the placename has some association with the colour of the stone. But there are other local origin stories that are intriguing. In the Duchas collection, there were two accounts related to the site. One went as follows. “… a man, who was very fond of hounds, jumped from the rock in pursuit of a fox and was killed. The burrow of the fox is to be seen there”. How that connects to a white horse I am not very sure, however – maybe the chap was on a horse at the time? That detail is not included however. Source
The other story in the collection is that of Crotty the Robber. “It is said that Crotty, the robber, while he was in the district jumped from the rock on his white steed, and on account of he being a robber there is supposed to be money hidden in the rock. It is from this white steed the rock derived its name. When he was trying to decoy his pursuers, he turned his horse’s shoes backward.” Source Maybe the goats I sometimes see have an ulterior motive?
Now another story comes from Cheekpoint via a wonderful collection of stories by the late Jim Doherty. Jim’s account tallies with Crotty above, but for Jim, the highwayman was Freeny (phonetically spelled Franey). In Jim’s account, Freeny was on the run after a hold-up. As he only robbed the rich and was generous to the less well off, he was well regarded amongst the ordinary folk. Being pursued, he turned the shoes backward on his white horse. He then rode off the cliff. I heard it said elsewhere that the horse managed to land on Great Island. I suppose if it was the winged Pegasus that might have been possible. Jim’s account is more sobering. They managed to hit the water and the horse swam to the Island and made good their escape. The pursuers on reaching the cliff saw the hoof marks moving away from the cliff and went back the way they came!
Having climbed up there recently from the river, I have to say both horse and man are to be commended if they actually did jump. It’s a heck of a drop.
Sean Malone writing in Sliabh Rua, A History of its People and Places, mentioned that the name in Irish is Garinbawn. I saw this also in a recent discovery I made, spelled Garrinbawn (see image below). The bawn I presume is Irish for white – but what is Garin or Garrin… indeed is it spelled correctly at all? I suppose the most logical assumption is that it connects with horse in some fashion that my limited knowledge of the own language hinders. Another thought however is a connection with Cheekpoint. Here we have the Gorryauls which is thought to combine Garden with height or high. Could it possibly be the White Garden? Pure speculation on my part. Anyway, the name was part of the instructions given to sea captains negotiating their way upriver to New Ross. It’s from the Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland, 1877, Part 1, by Staff commander Richard Hoskyn RN. Needless to say, the Barrow Bridge did not warrant a mention, as it would not be started until 1902.
I’m sure older names existed, and perhaps someone can shed some further light on the origins of the name. But for anyone who still passes on the River Barrow, the rock is a formidable feature, and easy to imagine its significance from a navigation point of view to previous river users.
I have two events in the pipeline for Heritage Week this year. The first will be a talk about the Portlairge, which will be held in Reginalds Tower, details to follow. The second is now online, and will be for Water Heritage Day. I will post about both events soon.