Freshford, Part II
The monastic site at Achadh Úr or Freshford declined in importance after the Synod of Rathbrassil in 1111 when it was subsumed into Ossory.
Fifty years later the arrival of the Normans changed the course of Irish history. As they marched through Leinster over the following twelve months they had a significant victory over Domhnall Mac Giolla Phádraig at the Pass of Achadh Úr. This event is known as the Battle of Clashacrow and is the subject of the final Ros Tapestry now nearing completion in Rothe House. 2020 marks the 850th anniversary of the battle.
With the Normans well established by the start of the 13th century, in 1245 King Henry III granted Geoffrey de Turville, the Bishop of Ossory, rights to a yearly fair in the manor at Achadh Úr. This was the first mention of Episcopal land in Freshford and in many ways this grant could be said to have influenced the development of Freshford village not just while it remained as church land but for the rest of the second millennium following the arrival of the landlords.
The first Episcopal palace was built around 1250 by Hugh Mapleton also Bishop of Ossory.
During the early decades of the fourteenth century Bishop Ledrede conducted his campaign against witchcraft in general and Dame Alice Kyteler in particular from Uppercourt.
The sixteenth century also saw turbulence. John Bale, a former English Carmelite friar, was installed as first Protestant Bishop of Ossory in 1553 and lived at Uppercourt for some months but he so displeased the locals that they rose up against him and slew five of his servants on the lawn. The description of the event tells us “they would have done the same to him had he not shut himself up in his castle behind bolts and bars!” He had to be rescued by a force of 100 horsemen and 300 footmen which came from Kilkenny. The following day he fled to the continent and never returned.
Uppercourt retained its place as the summer residence of the Bishops of Ossory for 300 years earning another title from modern day local historian the late Tom Waldron as the “Castelgandolfo of Ossory”.
Around 1570 Uppercourt came into lay ownership. The Shees, the same family which built the Alms House on Rose Inn Street, were the first lay owners but they forfeited under Oliver Cromwell.
The monument on the Green in the centre of the village dates from the 17th century and commemorates Lucas Shee and his wife Lady Ellen Butler.
The Morres family occupied Uppercourt in the 18th century and the present house dates from c. 1795. It was William Morres who restored the bridge on Old Bridge Street in 1788 following a severe flood the previous year. His initials, with those of his mother Juliana, are carved on a plaque on the bridge.
The 19th century brought its difficulties too as Uppercourt was the subject of a 12 year court battle to settle a will. The case was eventually appealed to the House of Lords at Westminster where it was settled.
Upperecourt was then sold as an encumbered estate in 1850 and was acquired by Thomas Eyre from Bath in England. There is a whiff of controversy regarding the purchase because of his association with the notorious John Sadlier, known as The Prince of Swindlers, who set up and lost the Tipperary Bank with echoes of the modern day loss of Anglo Irish Bank. However, in 1876 Thomas Eyre built the local schools and was a frequent benefactor of the Catholic Church though his actions as a landlord also caused occasional controversy. He died in 1902 and was succeeded by his cousin, Thomas Stanislaus Eyre, who remained in possession of Uppercourt until 1918 when it was sold to the Maher Brothers. Thus in the best Hollywood tradition, the local estate at last became the property of well to do locals who kept it for 14 years until they sold it to the Mill Fathers in 1932 when it became St. Joseph’s College. Uppercourt is currently undergoing reconstruction.
The Green in the centre of the village bears all the hallmarks of landlord development over the years. There is even a drawing of a Maypole at the centre of the Green on the Longfield map of 1828.
The village pump in the centre of the Green was a gift of Thomas Eyre in 1876.
The building which houses the present Community Centre was built around 1899 by the last member of another landlord family Miss Brown Clayton who recorded her upset on one occasion because her dictum that there was more nourishment in a bowl of porridge than in a bottle of Guinness was often ignored.
The horse chestnut trees around the Green have provided a spectacular backdrop to many public events which took place there since they were planted around 1914. From sporting celebrations to Maytime Festivals to the more recent Conker Festivals, they remind us that we have been blessed to have inherited such an amenity and that this generation needs to be careful and diligent in ensuring our heritage is passed on safely to the next generation.
- History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory, Vol II, Canon Carrigan, 1905
- Heritage Conservation Plan St. Lachtain’s Church, Freshford. The Heritage Council, 2004
- The Prince of Swindlers, James O’Shea, 1999.
- Kilkenny Newspaper Archive, Kilkenny Archaeological Society Library. Rothe House.
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