The origins of Faithlegg

It is reputed that one of the earliest of the parishes to be
founded under the Norman system was at Faithlegg.  The lands (some 4000 acres [including 199 at
Cheekpoint and 353 at Faithlegg]) were granted by Henry II to Aleward Juevinis.  Henry had landed at Passage East in 1171.  Aylward was a merchant from
Bristol who had apparently donated a number of ships towards Henry’s imposing
entrance to Waterford harbour.  Aylward
built a Motte and Baily to secure his position and it became the centre of Faithlegg Parish, which existed until amalgamated with Crooke & Killea in the mid 18th Century.

old gates to Faithlegg House 1969.  Brendan Grogan

The name has featured widely down the ages, probably because of its strategic importance and the presence of Aylward and latterly his Bolton and Power successors.  Frustratingly however, each time it featured it seems to have had either variations of its present name, or widely different names.

These are very helpfully gathered on the Logainm website for your perusal,  Initially it seems to have been spelled as Fathelig and this name has had several corruptions.  But it has also been called BalyFalyng, Whalyng and even Thatlegg.

In equal measure with the spelling, there seems to be as many variations with the origins of the name. For  example I came across this account many years back online.  As far as I can recall it comes from the Journal of the Waterford & South East Archaeological Society.  Full account here.  The excerpt below: 


Faithlegg.-In your January number, Miss
Hickson’s interesting 
paper on (( Danish Names in Waterford
and Cork” discusses 
the probable derivation of the name ‘(
Faithlegg.” I think she
rightly assigns it to be of Gaelic and
not Scandinavian origin. Dr.
Joyce ((‘ Place Names,” Vol. I., p. 494)  Fethard (Fioth-ard) signifies (I High-wood.” In the County
Donegal there is a wellknown 
mountain called (I Slieve-league,”
which signifies (( The 
Mountain of Slates.” Following these
two clues, we make Faithlegg 
(Fioth-league)–” The Wood of the
Slates.” Anyone who has
observed the geological stratum of the
wooded hill of Faithlegg 
will at once perceive that this name,
as Miss Hickson says of Gaelic 
place-names generally, gives a perfect
word picture of the physical
features of the place, the hill being
composed of layers of thick 
slates or flags. It is not necessary, I
think, to go further for an 
explanation of the name.

I think that this account is a bit wide of the mark.  From a desk you might think it makes sense, but knowing the geography of the area and the amount of pudding stone found on the summit, would challenge it.  The slate mentioned is found on the Northside, but down towards the river on the Glazing wood side.  I’d imagine it’s related to the quarrying that went on to build the marsh embankments, than anything older.

Pudding stone, old volcanic rock on the summit of the Minaun

Br Lawrence O’Toole (responsible for the creation of the secondary school in De La Salle College) in his  “The Faithlegg Story” agrees.  He goes on to consider that Minan Fheilinn may be an origin.  The Minaun obviously which he equates with height,  but who or what is Fheilinn.  A person perhaps?  Br O’Toole also considers that it might be a Gaelic term for Woodbine or Honeysuckle.  Woodbine does grow on the Minaun presently but I don’t think anyone would say that it grows to such an extent that you would name the area after it.  Perhaps in the past?

View from the Deerpark of Faithlegg and the river

Canon Power tends towards the woodbine theory, but interestingly he also thinks that the name may not be gaelic at all!  His Place Names of the Decies here.  So is it an old danish name or the tongue of some other tribe, who settled the area in the past and left a name to posterity.

None other that John ODonovan of the original ordnance survey, and noted Irish placename scholar was of a similar opinion.  But he felt that the anglicised spelling of the placename as he found it, was closest to the original meaning, whatever it was, as listed in the older documents that he had access to.

So for now we might leave it to Canon Power who noted that “The name…has long been a puzzle, which we can only hope future investigations may solve”

Coolbunnia

I was never great at school.  But one specific class I can remember as a highlight was a lesson one day on placenames.  I don’t recall if it was a planned session, or if it was an aside.  But Michael White who was principal at Faithlegg was talking about how important it was to appreciate the Irish language, when it came to an analysis of the origins of placenames.  He gave a brilliant example, Knock Boy or in Irish Cnoc Bui.  The cartographer obviously hearing the name spoken in Irish tongue, completely twisted a beautiful geographic description of Yellow Hill, to a totally irrelevant English language replacement.  I found the translation, of what in my minds eye was a hill festooned with in-flower gorse, and that heady coconut like smell on a hot day, an insult to those who had gone before.

The townland I was born and raised in is called Coolbunnia.  Its a strange enough name, and not one I have come across elsewhere.  For some reason our area doesn’t seem to fall neatly into so many of those obvious Irish placenames such as Rath, or Ard or Dun.  Mind you we do have a Kil.

Canon Power in his Place Names of the Decies decried the fact that during his studies that native Irish speakers were not to be found in our area.  No surprise in a Barony called Gaultier; land of the foreigner.  With so much settlement and trade, the pressure on a native tongue must have been pronounced down the years.

For the learnered priest then, Coolbunnia, despite the fact that he didn’t have a native speaker to pronounce it, suggested to him the “Ridge back of the stream”  The Stream I have always thought is that which flows from below Everetts, now Malachy and Michelle Doherty’s.  It flows down to the left of the road as you drive towards Faithlegg and flows under the road at the “bridge” and then down the Glen and to the Suir.  The stream rises in the fields below Malachy’s and in years gone by a well was oft used to quench your thirst, fed from the source.  The ridge in this context of course is the Whorthill which winds its way towards Passage high above the estuary.

According to Power it didn’t actually exist at the time of the Down Survey.  Then the entire area was known as Faithlegg.  So sometime in the past two hundred years we have had the two local townlands added, Coolbunnia and Cheekpoint.  The following map highlights the extent of it, spreading from Tom Sullivans to the ditch at Vic and Eileen Bibles and from there back to the River.

Of course Canon Power could be wrong. He spelled it Cúl Buinne.  But the Irish placenames site, Loganim considers it Cúil Boinne.  The Cúil in this case is considered a nook or a corner,  They also provide several other spellings including Couboyngne and Coolbunna and interestingly the name Coulboygun is dated to 1313.  Another interesting fact is that it’s the only Townland placename of its kind in the country.

I often wondered if I had picked up more Irish would I have had an advantage in deciphering placenames.  But for the last eight years I have sat beside a native Irish speaker in work and she has reminded me several times that such queries are the gift of specialist people, so many complexities and variations are involved.  So I can let go of that bit of guilt anyway.

Ballycanvan House and Townland

About forty years ago I went with Michael Duffin and his mother Catherine to have our hair cut by Mandy over in Woodlands Avenue.  We got the hair cut first and then we went off for a stroll while Catherine received the full attention.  Wandering along the avenue we followed a path down towards the river when we came across an old crumbling building,  I had two memories of it, first its ramshackled nature and second that I stood into cow slurry, that stunk to high heaven when we got back to Mandys and meant that Catherine had to lower the windows on the way home.

The house we had stumbled upon was the original seat of power, if you will pardon the pun of the Powers of Ballycanvan, a family directly related to the Powers of Curraghmore and thus direct descendants of the original Le Poer that landed as part of the Norman conquest.  The original tower house, similar no doubt to Ballymaclode castle directly across Ballycanvan Stream (which flows past Jack Meades pub) was later built on and added to.  The following is a brief historical run of the owners or occupiers at one time or another.

Ballymaclode castle on the city side of Ballycanvan stream

In 1537 there is a list of crimes held against one Thomas Power of Ballycanvan including many extortions of travellers, no doubt using to advantage his location.  In 1598 a stone chimenypiece was built with an inscription carved to Richard Power, 4th baron le Poer and Katherine Barry.  In 1697 a Captain William Harrison was leasing the property and this was continued by his son John Harrison.

It came into the Bolton family when Rev Hugh Bolton (1683-1758) acquired the property as Dean of Waterford.  He was succeed by Cornelius Bolton the Elder (1714-1774) who took over in 1758 and extended his ownership to the Mill Farm in 1765. It was here that Arthur Young, the travel writer and chronicler of industrial and agricultural development, visited when he came to East Waterford. We have also met the Mill Farm recently, and the works of Cornelius too.  A Georgian mansion was added to the castle at this point.

the old mill and Ballycanvan overlooking the Suir (Kings Channel)
Photo courtesy of Liam Hartley

Cornelius Bolton the younger, (1751-1829) sold the house to his younger brother Henry around 1792, no doubt to assist in the ongoing investment at Cheekpoint.  Henry however, leased it not long before he died, in 1805, to Samuel Roberts (1758-1834) son of honest John Roberts who did substantial work to the property.  On Henry’s death ownership went to his daughter Elizabeth, a fragile lady who had a nervous breakdown in 1807 and never recovered.

In 1818 Roberts dropped the lease and Thomas Meagher (1764-1837) took on the property.  The Meaghers remained at the property until 1829.  Subsequently the property was leased to Richard Morris and family until 1836.  The next family found on the property is George Kent (bc1786-1866), who made his money in the bacon trade, and was renting from 1848 to his death.

An early map highlighting the house and grounds

Elizabeth Bolton died in Devon in 1852 and Cornelius Bolton the youngers eldest son Cornelius Henry inherited the property.  This he sold in 1857 and it was apparently bought at that time by Patrick Power of Faithlegg House.

The Kent family seem to have continued to live on in the house for some time afterwards, but at some point in the subsequent decades structural problems were found in the building and it fell into disrepair.  What now remains is a sad reminder of a very busy and illustrious past.

The information contained in this piece comes via Mark Thomas in the following article for Abandoned Ireland; http://www.abandonedireland.com/Ballycanvan.html

Elections, Cheekpoint style

One of the enduring memories of elections in our house was my fathers quip “vote early, vote often”. Whether it was a local, national, EU, presidential or referendum, Bob would be wound up with the run in to the day and was positively buzzing when it came to the count.  A firm left of centre voter, he took a keen, vocal and biased interest in politics in general.

It was the general election of 1977 that I remember most vividly, I guess it must have been the first that I was old enough to understand.  Jack Lynch, then leader of Fianna Fail was fighting the election against Liam Cosgrove, then Taoiseach of Fine Geal and to this day I can remember Lynch’s poster plastered on most of the telegraph poles in the village.

But it was a sticker which we got, possibly at mass one Sunday morning, that really stands out.  It was the novelty value of course, it meant nothing in terms of party allegiance. Bob nearly had a caniption when he saw i, he saw it as an attempt to attract people with a gimmick, politics with no substance, and indeed his view is still debated today.  Fianna Fail won landslide victory, in part, on the basis of what they promised to give away (nothing new there then!).

All the elections in Cheekpoint were, and are, held in the National School, which was a cause of celebration too!  No school!

To get there people would have generally walked.  But there was also a political taxi; local party supporters that would call to your home and offer you a lift.  Of course the drive would be filled with advice, a leaflet and an offer of a lift home, or to the pub!  I remember Beardy Mick (Mick Sullivan) driving around with the car festooned with posters, speakers on top, urging people out to vote, offering a lift, and of course recommending the Labour party.

They say never talk about politics and religion.  It was good advice in an Ireland still racked with civil war politics, and even in some homes adults could barely live with each other in the run up and aftermath of elections.  My Grandfather – Andy Doherty (hops) had no such qualms however. Aunt Ellen lived with him in the village from where she ran the shop.  The shop was a counter inside the door behind which she kept the basics and plenty of sweets and ice cream.  The rest of the room was the living room, and Andy was often perched in his seat with the neighbours sitting around; Jim Doherty, Baby Burns, John Barry, Maryanne Cullen to name a few.

While Andy poured over the Irish Press and exclaimed loudly on what he found, excoriating everything from the local to the international, Ellen would try to act as moderator and the air was often blue with debate.  In fairness, there were strong feelings on all sides whether it was the “civil war politics” still being fought or the campaign waging in Northern Ireland, more often than not I left the shop more confused and unsure of where I should stand, than when I went in.

My father told me one time there was pandemonium in the school one election day.  It was the referendum on whether Ireland should join the EEC held in 1972. An older woman from the village had come in and taken her voting slip behind the booth when those present heard her loud exclamation.  She arrived back out damning and blasting, asking where in the name of God was de valera’s name? Although the returning officers tried to explain patiently that as de valera was president (and almost 90) he could not feature on the ballot, the woman would not be silenced. A crowd had gathered and there was an excited debate some trying to calm her down, others only adding to the woe.

Eventually, a young returning officer (according to my father a teacher in the school at the time) offered a solution, since the woman wanted to vote for de valera and his party was advocating in favour of joining the EEC, surely the woman could be advised that that would be showing allegiance to him.  Satisfied, she went back to the booth and exercised her constitutional prerogative.  I can’t imagine any personality in Irish politics having the same effect today.

Although I can’t say with any certainty that my father voted early, and can almost guarantee that he didn’t “vote often” I can say that he voted every time he was given the option.  It was important to him, and my mother and it rubbed off on me.  I don’t know which way he would have voted today, but I’m guessing he would have had strong opinions on both, and here’s another Bob telling it plainly and in a way my father would have appreciated.

Post boxes have stories to tell

Today marks one year of blogging about my community and giving a sense of just how rich this area is in terms of history, heritage and culture.  A theme that runs through the writing is how the ordinary becomes a little more, once you take the time to look more closely or ask some questions.  On Nationwide I mentioned how even the trees and rocks have stories to tell around here and through the weekly blog and daily facebook posts I try to illustrate that.  The blog today is a case in point.  It was the first I wrote, exactly one year ago today, but unlike most which now reach about 100 views per week, this made a modest 20+. 

Not sure that I ever paid much attention to post boxes until very recently.  They are functional and I guess once you know that a letter pushed through the slot gets collected and delivered by the Postman then you are probably satisfied with that.

But although we probably take them for granted a little curiosity can reveal some interesting history.  Now we have a couple of post boxes in the area and they all have some history attached.  Directly below is the Post Box from a wall at Cheekpoint Quay.  It’s in the wall directly in front of you as you walk up from the main quay, in a wall that was once part of the home of Denis Doherty RIP and family.



The curious thing is that it has the British crown on the top aside of which is marked VR. This VR cipher stands for Victoria Regina which signifies that it’s from the reign of Queen Victoria when Ireland was ruled from London.  Made of cast iron, the first of these “wall box” types were erected in 1857 in the UK. 

Another distinguishing feature, it was manufactured by WT Allen of London – many of the Irish boxes were made under licence by Irish foundries. Haven’t been able to accurately date this one but WT Allen started manufacturing in 1887. Victoria died in 1901 so our post box in Cheekpoint is  obviously in situ sometime between these dates. 

On a related point, I once quipped on a tour that the only real difference between today and when it was first erected was the colour, it would have been “pillar box red”.  I was challenged on this by a gentleman who correctly told me that the first post boxes were actually green, in an attempt to blend them into the background,  However on looking more closely at it, and in line with the dates of it’s likely origin the Cheekpoint box was most probably red initially, so in fact I was more than likely right!  The first boxes were trialed in 1853 and by 1859 were universally introduced not just in Britain but across the colonies also. While these were generally green in colour by 1874 a decision was taken that the boxes would be red in colour and it took a decade to achieve.  The reason for the change? – the Green colour was too effective a disguise and the British public complained at not being able to find them!  maybe An Post should take note…

There are two others locally, at Ben’s shop at the Crossroads and Faithlegg.  The latter post box is a later design than the wall box in the village. It carries the gaelic print of the Dept. of Post & Telegraphs which was formed in 1924. The first Irish boxes carried an “SE” Cipher to denote Saorstat Eireann. This box probably dates from between 1937 – 40. Its builder was the Jessop Davis Foundry of Enniscorthy whose name is found near the base. This foundry operated between 1890-1964.  You can find out more about the Irish postal service here.

So maybe the next time you post a letter you might take a moments pause to consider the receptacle you’re using? It’s a great way for children to learn a little history.  It’s an interesting fact to swap with another consumer of the service.  However, in my experience it’s probably best to keep well out of the way if Postman is coming to empty it…they do not tend to hang around!