White Horse

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.

White Horse

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

A goat keeping an eye from above
A much clearer photo of a goat on the White Horse via Brendan Grogan

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?

White Horse Rock on the Richards & Scales map in 1764. This is looking downriver with the site on the right of the map. Courtesy of Seán Ó Briain

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!

Locating the White Horse on a map

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. 

Great Island, Co Wexford, as seen from the top of the White Horse

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.

Excerpt from Sailing Directions for the Coast of Ireland, 1877, Part 1. Staff Commander Richard Hoskyn RN
Pete Goulding kindly sent this along, from the OSI historic series – Garraunbaun Rock which Pete thought had some thoughts on thinking white trees might be close to the original. Seán also sent on a link to the name on the logainm site showing the name in three different counties but not ours alas – Seáns comment below.

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.

Mark Power made this video with me two years back looking at some local river placenames which we hoped might lead to a few commissions from the tourism sector. Hopefully, it might still. But to see the White Horse check out from about 2 minutes in

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.

17 Replies to “White Horse”

  1. Andrew.
    You mentioned Buzzards above the cliff. It the 1980s and 1990s there were Peregrine falcons nesting there. Their nests were constantly destroyed by Pigoen fanciers from Waterford, who claimed they were taking birds over the city! Hard to believe, but that’s the story I was told back in the day.

    1. Disappointed to hear that Brian. What beautiful birds, I think the sight of these birds soaring overhead makes the world a richer place.

  2. This is a great post, thanks Andrew. Did not know of White Horse (or even of Ross River) and I love the stories attached to place names

    1. Thank you. When the river was a more regular place of work for fishermen and boatmen such marks and placenames were essential navigational and fishing aids. I’m afraid much of it will only exist in recordings and books in the future Clare as the modern boat user has little need of such information as they motor past. Hopefully, I will be proven wrong about that.

  3. Lovely stuff as always Andrew. As per facebook, the name most likely comes from the colour of the grass in the area. White grassy grove – An Garrán Bán. The English translation is interesting though, as I can’t see how White Grove would translate to White Horse. Who knows how these names get created, it’s often the result of a non-Irish speaker hearing an Irish word and trying their best to translate it.

    1. Thanks Seán, and thanks for the map reference which I will include. I remember this very point about non-Irish speakers hearing an Irish word and trying to translate it from primary school. Michael White was our teacher in Faithlegg NS and he gave the example of knockboy – Cnoc Bui which was the Yellow Hill (due to the furze in bloom on it). Always jarred on me after that, what a miserable name compared to the original – not that there is much of the yellow hill now due to housing, but that’s a different story

      1. Absolutely Andrew. A good example would be Cill vs Coill (Church vs Wood). They both can sound phonetically similar to a non-Irish speaker, and that’s evident in the many English-language placenames that spell them both the same – “Kil”.

        For example – Kilkenny (Cill Chainnigh) and Kilbeg (Coill Bheag). Church of Cainnech and Little Wood.

  4. Brilliant as usual Andrew. I’ve often wondered what the cliff was called while looking out the bay window from Angie’s house. I’ve had the binoculars on it countless times and have seen buzzards soar around it. Will have to kayak over there next time I’m back and have a look for hidden lucre.

    1. Bring the combat gear if you are heading up onto it Freddie…I was shredded near the top with briars 🙂
      Hopefully we get to hook up when you get across. Take care A

  5. Great reading Andrew,One of a few rare sightings of a peregrine that I saw was at the white horse about 10 years ago while I was on the river,She was hot on the heels of a wood pigeon going downstream the disappeared over snow hill wood,I was amazed to hear of a goat on the rock ,do you know is there a resident herd there or anything of their history

    1. Beautiful birds to see John, you could only marvel at their flight.
      As to the goats, I only saw the one last year when I was up and none this year as yet John. A few years back when with family we thought we counted three. Apparently, it’s someone local who keeps a few goats and brings them over to graze on it. Its nothing like the Bilberry or Passage herds in any case.

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