Cheekpoint Castle

I recently confirmed something, that I had previously only suspected.  That there were two Motte and Bailey castles in the area of Cheekpoint dating to the Norman conquest.  One we know for certain was on the land of Phil Gough in Faithlegg.  The other however is a matter of conjecture on my part.

Firstly the confirmation.  It comes from no greater source that Canon Power of the Placenames of the Déise fame.  In this case however, it is a lesser know publication(1) that I came across in the county archives in Dungarvan.  The book was written as a support to national school teachers and in it he is definitive: “The timber crowned motes, or bretasches, were succeded in a short time by stone castles, but examples of the mote may still be seen at Cheekpoint, Faithlegg, Killure (near Tramore) Tybroghney, Feddins, Dungarvan, Pembrokestown, Ring, Lismore, Garryduff(near Youghal etc)” I’ve included the entire list, in case it might be useful to others.

The Mount Tower 1960s, note the small hill surrounding it
The difficulty this poses however is that I have never heard any folk memory of a castle in the village. To be honest I take this more seriously than the lack of evidence in any of the history books that have been written. Its not in the inventory of historic sites, there is no indication of such in the Down Survey map of the area, there is nothing that I can lay claim on that would back this up. But Canon Power is definitive. Where, however, was it most likely to be?
Maybe Dr Niall Byrne’s book on the Irish Crusades(2) gives a clue. In it he gives the following reference to Cheekpoint and its strategic importance.  “…in the winter of 1171-2 Henry II granted the lands of Faithleg (sic) to Ailward Juvenis…the first known royal grant in the Waterford area. Situated on the southern side of the junction of the three rivers…on the hill above the present Cheekpoint, this strategic location allowed the observation and inspection of all traffic entering or leaving these major waterways.”  Mr Byrne is now deceased, so unfortunately I cannot ask him for extra clarity or his opinion on this.
Now the automatic assumption is possibly that any castle or fort must have been on the Minaun. However, I disagree, and I dwell on the word Inspection. Surely any inspection of ships required a building or a position closer to the rivers?  Although we know that Passage would ultimately take on this duty, was there a suitable site at Cheekpoint that allowed for observation and inspection?

The tower in the 1950s from the river.

Further to this criteria, you might expect a Motte and Bailey site to be elevated.  The only such site I am aware of in the village is the present site of what we know locally as the Mount Tower.

The tower is on a small mound, certainly nothing compared to the Faithlegg site, but unlike the Faithlegg site, it has been used for other purposes.  According to local tradition the present building is a folly, attached to a previously sited Georgian house which was knocked in the 1950s. It was certainly a fine location for such a building, although its quite an elaborate build, including fireplaces on both floors and presumably an internal stairs.  I had speculated previously that it may have had a signalling purpose, something that as a theory has some merit, but as yet little by way of proof.  James Doherty has provided evidence(3) that the site was the location of a battery as early as the 1600’s and it was certainly a vantage point and had a military presence during the Napoleonic wars.

Although now surrounded by trees and undergrowth, this may give a sense of its
strategic value looking directly across at Great Island
The view from the door of the Mount Tower, looking NW,
including Cheekpoint and meeting of the Three Sisters
Another question that seems obvious, and again something I have long searched for, is some tie in between the village and the vikings. Simon Dowling has previously written a very interesting blog on the Faithlegg Motte. In it he mentions the following: “There is a reference that an Ostman by the name of Reginald Macgillemory had a stronghold in this area known as Renaudescastel in 1171. A record of a court case in 1311 [2] refers to this individual as a rich and powerful man in county Waterford, and places this stronghold on the opposite bank of the River Suir to Dunbrody, and therefore within the same region as Faithlegg. In 1311 the only remnants of Renaudescastle was an ‘old deserted moat’ …”  It certainly begs the question that perhaps the deserted motte was in fact at Cheekpoint, which accurately could be described as a location lying on the “opposite bank” to Dunbrody.

Is it possible then that the Mount Tower folly far from being, in design, a figment of someones imagination, was in fact an attempt to locate a symbolic recreation of a previous fort and/or castle? Its certainly possible. Sometimes all we can do in these situations is to pose a working hypothesis in the hope of either proving or disproving it. Until more facts come to light I believe it is the most logical site for such a building in the area. Its strategically relevant and useful, its located on an easily defended outcrop, the site is already elevated naturally and there is evidence of a mound, and the area has seen significant developments which may have altered or reduced the evidence. If anyone had extra information or theories I would be delighted to hear it either in the comments box or by my other social media options.

I’d like to thanks Joanne Rothwell, Waterford County Archivist who gave me so much of her time recently when checking materials for this story.  Also James Doherty for allowing me bend his ear and passing on information.

(1) Rev P.Power.  A Short History of County Waterford.  1933.   The Waterford News, Ltd.
(2) Byrne. N. The Irish Crusade.  2007.  Linden. Dublin
(3) McEnery, J.H. Fortress Ireland, The story of the Irish Coastal Forts and River Shannon Defense Line.  2006. Wordwell. Dublin

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