This locality was selected for a residence by one of the ancient Kings of Ossory and was long continued by his successors long before the Anglo Norman invasion. According to Canon Carrigan, the royal residence was situated in the Moat; the Pigeon Park was famous for its Aonachs when the Irish Kings ruled. A settlement grew up around this area which was known as Baile and later became known as Bealach Gabhran or in English as Ballygawran and eventually simply Gowran. Some authorities say the word Gabhran signifies the place of steeds. It certainly was the scene of many royal and military gatherings. It is said that amongst the stipends the King of Cashel to the Kings of his territories there was an allowance of ten steeds, ten drinking horns, ten swords, ten shields, two rings and two chess boards to the King of Gabhran.
Sometime between 1162 and 1165 Dermot O Riain granted land to the Cistercian Order for their Abbey at Killenny. Amongst those present as witnesses were King Dermot Mac Murrough, St. Laurence O Toole Archbishop of Dublin, Felix O Dullany Abbot of the Cistercians in Ossory, later Bishop of Ossory, and many of the nobles of South Leinster. This Abbey was situated at a place now called Barrowmount about one mile from Goresbridge.
After the Anglo-Norman invasion, when Ossory was being divided among the followers of Strongbow, Gowran was given to Theobald FitzWalter, Chief Butler of Ireland and ancestor of the Ormond family. Theobald died in 1206 and sometime before that he granted a charter of incorporation to the free Burgesses of Ballygauran. The manor of Gowran continued to belong to the Ormonds until 1700.
In the year 1315, King Edward Bruce with his army took the town of Gowran. During a battle fought between Irish and the Anglo-Normans in 1415, Ballygauran was burned. King James 1st in 1608 made Gowran a parliamentary borough and gave the inhabitants a new grant of incorporation. Two members were elected to Parliament in 1613, and Gowran returned two members to the Irish Parliament down to the Act of Union in 1800. King James II in 1688 granted to the inhabitants of Gowran a charter incorporating them into a body Corporate and Politic consisting of one portreeve and eighteen Burgesses. In 1578, Thomas Dowyne had a grant “of the custody, master ship and oversight of the Magdalen of Leighlin and Ballygawran for relief of poor leprous people dwelling in these places”. The Magdalen or leper hospital of Ballygawran was situated 300 yards east of the old parish church just outside the town wall. About 1840 the ruins of the church were taken down and trees planted on the site. The exact spot occupied by the chapel is the angle formed by the road to Bagenalstown and Goresbridge. From its proximity to the Magdalen chapel and hospital, the East gate of the town was called the Magdalen Gate.
A great plague broke out in 1604 from which many of the Gowran people died.
Gowran Castle was besieged by the Cromwellian forces in 1650 under Colonel Hewson and was surrendered after a brief defence by Colonel Hammond. On its surrender, the commander and all the officers with one exception were shot. The chaplain, a Franciscan Friar named Father Hillary was hanged in a butcher’s shambles at Main Street and the castle burned.
The following is a copy of a letter written by Cromwell about Gowran, “We met near Gowran, a populous town where the enemy had a very strong castle under the command of Colonel Hammond, a Kentish man. I sent him a civil invitation to deliver up the Castle unto me, which he returned to me a very resolute answer and full of height. We planted our artillery, and before we had made a breach, the enemy beat a parley for a treaty, which I had offered so fairly to him, refused, but sent him in positive conditions that the soldiers should have their lives. The commissioned officers to be disposed of as thought fit which in the end was submitted to. The next day the Colonel, the Major and commissioned officers were shot to death, all but one who being a very earnest instrument to have the Castle delivered was pardoned. In the same Castle we took a Popish priest, a chaplain to this regiment, who was caused to be hanged. I trouble you with this rather because the regiment was Lord Ormond’s own regiment. In this castle was a good store of provisions for the army.”
According to tradition, the old town of Gowran extended from Gallows hill near Gowran railway station to Clover, Ballyshanmore and Castle view, so the ancient town that stood here was three miles in length.
- Catherine Drennan, ‘Gowran’, in: Old Kilkenny Review 1965