Saturday, 28 January 2017

St. Senan and Inniscarra

In Cork, talk around the cottage fireside during the Christmas vacation inevitably turned to Inniscarra, as the waters released from the hydroelectric project there washed down into Cork City.

As you drive from Coachford to Cork City the road makes the acquaintance of the River Lee in a way that it hasn't in the upper reaches of the River. Just to the west of where the River Dripsey meets the Lee is the hill of Cronodymore, once known as Cronody of the sweet apples on account of the orchards that once were to be found there. Cronody is now better known as the origin of many classic greyhounds. Upon the hill are the remains of a large circular tower that appears to have been a dovecote built by Elizabeth Cross or Crosse (née Baldwin of Mount Pleasant) in the 18th cent.

Close by, now covered by the waters created by the Inniscarra dam was the reputed site of a monastery known as Innisleena founded by St. Senan in the 6th cent. as he returned from a trip to Continental Europe on his way back to Scattery Island in Clare. The site had been considerably altered by later building, when it was the subject of an archaeological survey that preceded the hydro-electric project. It would appear that all traces of St. Senan's monastery had disappeared except fragments of a later building and the graves of the Fitzgibbon family. Some notable carved stones were noted and perhaps the remains of a window and what was reputed to be a stone baptismal font. The rainwater which gathered in it was said by the people of thereabouts to have curative powers for warts on fingers if you used it for three mornings before you broke the midnight fast. When Inniscarra dam flooded the area, all trace of the Fitzgibbon family, including 'Fitzgibbon Bridge' were obliterated by the waters just as all trace of St. Senan had disappeared centuries before. His feast day is 8 March.

Also covered by the waters of Inniscarra were the remains of Castle Inch about a mile further east. What remained to be covered was merely the stump of the castle, stronghold of the Barretts, who were vassels of the MacCarthaigh family of whom I spoke before. Five progenitors of the Barretts of Cork came to Ireland with Strongbow in 1169. In the 13th cent. they are recorded to have held a castle at Glandore. In 1436 they bought a stronghold at Ballincollig. Ballyburden, Carrigrohane, and Kilfinnane were also in their possession at various points. The townland of Coomavarodig or 'Glen of the Barretts' near Baltimore is also a trace of their presence. However, the family's power came to an end when Colonel John Barrett was dispossessed of his lands in 1691 for having dared to raise a regiment in the cause of the Catholic King James II. From that time, Castle Inch was allowed to fall into ruin but even in the 1950s the footprint was sizable. Near the castle was a double holy well known as Sunday's Well and St. Mary's Well but their waters now mingle with those of the Inniscarra Reservoir.

From Inniscarra Reservoir the Lee passes through what is known as Inniscarra Gap between two hills, Scornagh to the west and Garravagh to the east, a spot favoured by fishermen for salmon and trout, and moved into its final stage before reaching the City along a syncline of limestone that reaches over the Youghal and is met by the River Bride. Here is the site of Inniscarra Anglican Church built in 1819 that reputedly marks the site of another monastery of St. Senan.

[First Published on the St. Conleth's Catholic Heritage Blog in March, 2010]

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