The Black Death at Faithlegg

There was once a village at Faithlegg. It stood on the left hand side of the road, past the church, heading for Waterford city. Locally it has always been said that the village was wiped out when the black death swept the country and such was the fear attached to the plague that the Aylward family could get no one to enter the houses and so they crumbled into the earth. Could that be true?
Accessed from
Public domain 

Faithlegg village lay on both sides of a road which stretched between the then Faithlegg castle, originally a Motte and Baily and old Faithlegg church.  Its development was linked to the settled period following the Norman invasion, when the lands of the area were granted to a Bristol merchant named Aylward (circa 1171/2). Initially the Motte & Baily was a secure area from where the new Norman manorial system was organised. Within the walls knights, administrators and trusted peasants worked the lands.  From within, all rules were passed, justice exacted and taxes paid.  Eventually, as the times became less troubled for the invaders, other developments such as churches and mills were created and families could move beyond the bailey into the wider community.   

Model of the Motte & Baily with Keep atop, accessed via Google Images
The Black Death or Bubonic plague was believed to be carried by infected rats and their fleas. It spread like wildfire across the European continent in 1348/9 killing an estimated 50% of the population. Bristol was then the second largest city in England and a major point of trade with Ireland. It is claimed that it was the first city in England to experience the plague, via incoming ships. No surprise then that it would eventually hop across the Irish sea. Because of their trading links ports like Waterford and New Ross were direct conduits for the plague and suffered a high mortality rate, as did all coastal regions. Villages such as Faithlegg must have been quickly overrun.

Ironically, the native Irish who lived in more dispersed homes, had a better chance of survival. A Kilkenny based friar (John Clyn) gave a contemporary account; “Plague stripped villages, cities, castles and towns of their inhabitants so thoroughly that there was scarcely anyone left alive in them. The pestilence was so contagious that those who touched the dead or the sick were immediately affected themselves and died, so that the penitent and confessor were carried together to the grave”[1]

Clyn also recorded that such was the terror it created and the scale of death in affected areas, that at times the normal observances for the dead was overlooked. Were the Faithlegg dead left where they died in their homes? Surely not.*

Community notice board

But was the plague the reason the village vanished, or was it even a factor? Following the Cromwellian invasion the manorial rule of the Aylwards was replaced. A new landlord, Captain William Bolton, would oversee a different system. Those of his like rented out portions of ground from which taxes were collected. Land use changed as cattle became a valuable commodity and cattle fairs increased. “The older parish centres are now evocative ruins, occasionally sentinelled by a graceful round tower, a thriving graveyard and an ivy rich ruin…The stripping of the medieval churches, the displacement of the old landowning elite and their dependants, and the new commercialised, pastoralist-orientated agriculture, all truncated older village roots, and culminated in their shrivelling away” [2]

The remains of the street? behind the present day Lodge opposite the rear entrance to Faithlegg graveyard
Very little written evidence of the plague was recorded.  Having ravaged and terrorised the population its little wonder those that remained had no energy or will to write it down, it was perhaps enough just to have survived.  It is probable that no information of the demise of Faithlegg will ever emerge, and the folk memory passed on by people like my grandmother is all the evidence we will ever have. That and the remaining archaeological evidence beneath the grass on Phil Goughs land. Thanks to modern technology such remains are becoming increasingly accessible, such as this fascinating blog post from Simon Dowling with excellent aerial views of the site.

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Thanks to John O’Sullivan, Damien McLellan and Jim Doherty

[2] Ed; Aalen FHA et al.  Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape. 1997.  Cork University Press, Cork       pp185-86

*According to Michael O’Sullivan on the Waterford History Group, the graveyard of St Catherines Priory ( Courthouse now on the site) was the burial place of city victims of the black death and subsequent epidemics.

History Ireland had a very interesting article on the Black Death in Ireland written by Maria Kelly

Modern theories are also evolving, some of which suggest the poor denigrated rat and his flea may not have been the cause at all.