Newsletter September 2020

Dear Readers,

Welcome to another edition of our newsletter. Although the Society quieter with less news than usual, we have extra items of interest from different contributors, from the gory post-mortem in Graiguenamanagh to a song in Manx which features Kilkenny. Varied and confounding facts for all to enjoy.

If you have topics or news of interest to the readers of this newsletter please contact the PR Subcommittee by email to the following address:

Happy reading from Kilkenny Archaeological Society (KAS)
Newsletter is edited by Marie Kelly, Ann Tierney and Martin O’Faolain

Incident at Graiguenamanagh 1829

By Colm Walsh
Amongst the various stories relating to the Catholic church in Graiguenamanagh is the rather macabre story of the post-mortem that was carried out inside the church. This was the opening chapter of a duel between two men who represented two different values and outlooks. On one side was David (later Sir David) Burtchaell the head of a gentry family settled in the Graig area since the time of Cromwell, the local magistrate representing the establishment, and on the other side was the Rev. Martin Doyle, appointed Parish Priest of Graig in 1827 by his cousin James Doyle, Bishop of Kildare and Leighlin, representing the newly emerging  catholic influence.
Local folk memory records the events as having started with a fight between two young men, William Dunphy and John Murphy. Six weeks later young Murphy died and was buried in the graveyard beside the church. The Murphy family felt unhappy with the incident and called on the Magistrate, David Burtchaell, asking him for permission to disinter the body to have an inquest held on the cause of death as they believed the deceased to have died as a result of a blow on the head during the fight with Dunphy. A jury was empanelled and convened in the Court House.
For some reason the body was taken into the Roman Catholic chapel and the post-mortem was carried out there. Tradition relates that during the post-mortem the deceased head fell off the corpse and rolled around the floor. Accounts differ as to who gave permission to use the chapel. In various letters to the Dublin Castle administration, Burtchaell denied having had any part in the decision, laying the blame on the Catholics who had assisted with the disinterment.
As it happened, the parish priest Rev Martin Doyle was absent at the time and on his return, outraged at the desecration of the chapel he immediately informed the Bishop who in line with church rules regarding such sacrilege put the chapel under interdict stopping all worship there until the chapel was purified in accordance with certain rites. The Bishop wrote a strongly worded letter to the Chief Secretary of Ireland denouncing the act and blaming Burtchaell. Burtchaell responded angrily blaming Doyle the P.P. for not ascertaining the true facts. Relations between the two men deteriorated  with charge and counter charge. Doyle reported to the Bishop “My people are afraid to enter the chapel since the divils beheld the afouling spectacle in their hundreds  …  ” For some reason in the aftermath of the affair there was a coolness between the parishioners and the parish priest.
Fr. Martin Doyle continued his ministry in Graig during which he was involved in the Tithe War and in the confrontation with the Scripture Readers of the Irish Church Mission Society. He died 1861 and is buried in the south transept of the church.
David Burtchaell was knighted in 1833 and died in 1865. The Burtchaell family continued to live in Brandondale House until Sarah Burtchaell’s death in 1933.

All in the Name of Christ,. A Graiguenamanagh Tale. James T. Burtchaell, C.S.C. 2002
Graiguenamanagh, A Town and it’s People, John A. Joyce, 2000.
Diocesan Papers, Carlow.
Mr. Frank Clarke for copies of Official communications relating to above
Local Folklore.

The visit of King Edward and Queen Alexandra to Kilkenny 1904

By Ann Tierney, KAS President

In the KAS Archives at Rothe House is a letter (IE KAS Q049, Molly Wills Letter) which gives a first-hand account of a reception given in honour of King Edward and Queen Alexandra at the Picture Gallery, Kilkenny Castle on 30th April 1904 for 500 guests.

A copy of the letter, written by twenty-six year old Mary Constance ‘Molly’ Wills to Mrs Fawcette (otherwise unidentified), was presented to KAS in the 1980s by Mr Billy Smith of Newcastle, Co Wicklow, a relative of Molly Wills. A full transcript of the letter was published in the Journal of the Butler Society, vol 3 no 2 1988-1989.

Attanagh Rectory,   May 3.04.
My dear Mrs. Fawcette,
It may amuse you to hear how we got on on Saturday night & I wonder did Ada really imagine their Majesties speak to every Dick Tom & Harry that they may be in the room with? Well, we were dressed & ready at about 9 o’clock & packed into a brougham that is Ina & myself with her sister & two sisters-in-law a nice crush but that was nothing to what we went through afterwards. Our carriage was in a queue with a heap of others but they were so slow in moving that Mr. Power Mr. McElroy & Percy came to the window & advised us to walk through the court-yard which many others were doing & so save nearly 20 minutes. This we accordingly did & at last got in to the outer hall where the ladies went to one room & left their wraps & got tickets for them, & the gentlemen did the same in another, we then met in a big square hall with a big marble table in the middle on which I managed to get a seat, & the babel of voices for ¼ hour or so was like nothing I ever heard. At last the word was given & we trooped up the big stairs & the picture gallery where each party was announced & was met & greeted by Lady Ormonde & her daughter, we then passed on & got up by degrees to almost the top of the room; it’s very like a ball-room with a row of chairs on down each side & a band playing half way up & we talked to our friends & each other till everyone had arrived. Then there was a stir & everyone got in a line three or four deep down the gallery on each side, the band played the national anthem & the King & Queen entered & passed along between their subjects who humbly bowed as they passed, they doing likewise to both sides. They took their places at the very top about a dozen yards from us & we could hear the King talking though not what he said, he has a loud rather harsh voice but seemed delighted with himself & everyone else. The Queen looked so nice not too artificial & wore beautiful diamonds. About a dozen presentations were made among them the Dean & little Archdeacon & several ladies; their majesties chatted so affably just like ordinary mortals, some of those who were presented looked as if they were being led to the scaffold & held back almost visibly. You will read who they were in the paper very likely. Then after a while their majesties passed on & out again just as they came in & we all began to make a move to go down to supper which was served downstairs. My friend Ina McElroy was dead beat & as we got no supper (being too numerous) but a cup of coffee, we hurried home & some & went to bed……… .
Now good-bye with much love
Your affectionate

[Mary Constance Dudley married Rev Percy Wills of Attanagh in 1899. He was the son of the dramatist W.G. Wills (1828-1891) who was born at Blackwell Lodge, Kilmurry, Thomastown, Co Kilkenny. Percy and Molly had five daughters. Percy died in 1936 and is buried at Attanagh. Mary Constance Wills died in Dublin in 1952.
Printed above is the first half of the letter; the second half, describing the royals’ attendance at service in St Canice’s Cathedral the following day, has been omitted here for reasons of space. Letter transcription for KAS library by Amanda Pitcairn in 2017].

News from the Kilkenny Archaeological Society’s Curator

The ‘Catalpa Flag’  -RH88/6

By Amanda Pitcairn, Honary Curator.
KAS holds in its collection an enigmatic flag.  It is a flag of the United States of America with thirteen stripes and thirty-eight stars, and is attributed to the dramatic ‘Catalpa Rescue’. In 1874 John Devoy was resident in the United States when he received an appeal for rescue in a letter from a British prisoner, the Irishman James Wilson, one of twelve Fenians still serving sentences for ‘mutinous conduct’ in Western Australia.[1]
As a Fenian leader in America, Devoy bought an American whaling ship the Catalpa of New Bedford in Massachusetts.
The ship sailed for Western Australia under the captain George Smith Anthony.  Simultaneously, Fenians John Breslin and Thomas Desmond travelled to Australia in order to arrange the rescue from the landward end.
On Easter Monday, 17th April, 1876, having previously made contact with six prisoners who were working outside the prison, Breslin and Desmond drove past the work detail, and in a secluded part of the road, managed to collect the prisoners in two pony traps and then drove at breakneck speed to Rockingham, 20 miles south of Fremantle, where they boarded one of the whaling boats of the Catalpa.  The whaling boat pulled hard for the barque Catalpa, lying ten or twelve miles off shore, but were delayed by squally weather and forced to spend the night out at sea.[2]
By the time the whaling boat had put out to sea, the escape had been discovered and police cutters were launched from Fremantle and Bunbury in search of the escapees.  Governor Robinson of Perth sent the steamer Georgette to apprehend the prisoners.
The Georgette searched the area and discovered the Catalpa on the morning of 18th April. The captain of the Georgette was refused permission to board the Catalpa as she lay in international waters outside the Colony’s three-mile limit.  Having run out of coal the Georgettewas forced to return to Fremantle for fuel.
In the meantime, having narrowly missed capture by the Georgette and police cutters, the whaling boat finally reached the Catalpa and the prisoners were brought safely on board.
The following morning, the Georgette was again searching for the Catalpa, this time with a small cannon on board.  A standoff ensued and the Georgette threatened the Catalpa with blowing off her masts.  Captain Anthony pointed to the American flag flying over the Catalpa and declared that he was on the high seas, that his flag protected him, and that to fire on the Catalpa was tantamount to firing on the American flag.
The Georgette returned to Fremantle and the Catalpa sailed to New York where the Fenians were resoundingly welcomed.
In 1895 Captain Anthony addressed Clan na Gael at a gala dinner and presented them with the flag which flew above the Catalpa on the 19th April 1876.  It was accepted by John Devoy on behalf of Clan na Gael.  By a series of donations between 1895 and 1987, it seems that the flag now in the KAS collection was donated to the Society by Fr. Con Sherrin.
It is important to note that the National Museum of Ireland also holds an American Flag attributed to the Catalpa Rescue.  The NMI flag has 36 stars which was the official US flag from 1865 to 1867.  The flag held by KAS has 38 stars, the official flag from 1877 to 1890.  This clearly indicates that there is more work to be done in establishing the provenance of our flag.

[1]Richard Reid, A Noble Whale Ship and Commander -The Catalpa Rescue, April 1876, National Museum of Australia, at <>  [accessed 1st September, 2020]

[2]Ehistoryadmin, The Rescue of the Military Fenians from Australia, January 30th, 2016, at  <> [accessed 1st September, 2020]

The bark Catalpa of New Bedford 1876 by E.N. Russell, New Bedford Whaling Museum

A Manx reference to Kilkenny

By Dr. Proinsias Ó Drisceoil

In his  work Manx Ballads and Music (J&R Johnson, Douglas 1896), the editor, Arthur W Moore includes, with music, two verses of a song entitled, ‘Mraane Kilkenny’ (The Women of Kilkenny) (pgs.196, 212, 256).    Moore had taken the song orally from ‘Mr. William Cashen’ (pg. xxx) and from ‘Miss Mary Gawne, Peel’ (pg. xxxiv).    Moore remarks (pg. xxviii) that the piece ‘was evidently intended to be comic.’  The text may be incomplete.

It is possible that the song has no connection to the Irish county of the same name.  Versions of the place name, ‘Cill Chainnigh’ are are to be found, for instance, in Kintyre and South Uist.  More significantly, Moore states in a footnote (pg. xxviii) that ‘Kilkenny is the name of a farm in the parish of Braddan.’  Braddan is situated about a miles and a half from Douglas on the Isle of Man.

Manx is a Q Celtic Goedelic language, like Irish and Scottish Gaelic.  However, it does not share the orthography of the former languages; instead it derives its spelling from English and, to an extent, from Welsh.  Manx died out as a community language around the time of World War II, but is currently undergoing a revival which includes  the provision of excellent Manx-medium education.

Mraane Kilkenny

Ben aeg bwaagh va cheet veih Kilkenny
As va ish mairkagh cheet niar y veyr
As dy be cre’n aggle cheet narey’n Cabbyl
She jeel va jeant er y vainney geyre.

Ec keim ny lheinnagh va’n vanney deayrtit
Maggyn y chooley va chagglym nish
V’ad ooilley shuffal, cockal y gobbyr
Cha jinnagh nane  j’iu gieu jeh’n vainney
Agh daa muc stavit lesh colley beg.

[Bean óg mhealltach a bhí ag teacht ó Chill Chainnigh/ agus bhí sí ag marcaíocht anoir an bóthar/ agus pé brí cén eagla a tháinig ar an gcapall/ bhí an donas déanta ar an mbainne géar.

Ag céim an léana (an fhaiche) bhí an bainne doirte/ amach as an gcúil (as an gcúinne) bhí comhthionól anois/ bhíodar uile ag shufláil (ag tarraingt na gcos), ag cocáil (ag cur cúl) leis an obair/ ní dhéanfadh éinne acu an bainne a dhiúl/ ach dhá mhuc  a raibh stéibh á gceangal le collach beag.]

[A young attractive girl who was coming from Kilkenny/ and she riding eastwards on the road/ and whatever fright overcame the horse/ the sour milk was spilled.

At the step onto the lawn the milk was spilled/ a crowd now issued out from the corner/ all of them were shuffling, cocking (their noses) at the work (to be done)/ not one of the them would drink the milk/ except for two pigs staved to a small boar.]

Local History Talks

By Eamonn Kiely

Members of our Local History Group continue to record talks for broadcast on
Pat Shortall’s “Sunday Serendipity” radio programme. The show airs 11 – 12 Sunday mornings on Community Radio Kilkenny City (88.7 FM). Please note that these talks can also be listened to again online.

The most recent talks were –

5 July Spanish Flu Part 2 by Paddy Neary,
12 July Hubert Butler’s Family Fostering Part 1 by Nicky Maher
19 July Hubert Butler’s Family Fostering Part 2 by Nicky Maher
26 July Carrickshock and Hugginstown by Finnoula Lynch
2 Aug A Short History of Gowran by Paddy Neary
9 Aug Fields and Townslands in Bonnetstown Area by Paddy Neary
16 Aug Irish Surnames by Paddy Neary
23 Aug Herbs Medicinal by Anne Karoline Distel
30 Aug Tudor Gardens and Trees by Anne Karoline Distel
6 Sep The Flight of the Earls by Eamonn Kiely

Preserving Field Names
(should read Mile Bush)

By Anne-Karoline Distel, KAS Webmaster

Are we nearly there? Old placenames giving an answer
In the endevours to record fieldnames in Kilkenny, I was given an interesting fieldname by a member of the Harper family: It is Mile Bush and refers to a field adjoining a double bend on the Neworchard Road in the townsland of Brownstown. It seemed interesting, since it differed from the usual fieldnames like The Long Field, The Bog, The Road Field, The High Field etc. Some weeks later, I was given fieldnames around Cellarstown, but the informant also had names on bends on the Clara and Johnswell Road. Low and behold, both bends carry the name Mile Bush as well! Furthermore, the informant had a name on the lane connecting the two: Pococke’s Lane. It is named thus, because it leads from Cellarstown/ Kingsland to the old charterschool founded by Bishop Pococke. However, there are other names on it, as I learned from another resident of Cellarstown only today: Paul Lanigan’s Lane and Hannah Keeffe’s Boreen.
Searching through the digital version of O’Kelly’s Placenames on the KAS website revealed another Mile Bush in the townsland of Tinnaranny in the shape of a crossroads on the way to New Ross. It can also be found on the Ordnance Survey Cassini map.
A query on Facebook yielded another one at the Kilkenny/ Carlow border, also a crossroads. That one being a mile from Old Leighlin on the Carlow side.
A search on logainm yielded another Mile Bush in Co. Antrim and a townsland Lisnakirka or Milebush south of Castlebar.
I am convinced that there must be more in the county and the country, but without them being mapped, it is difficult for scholars to find them.

Mile Bush outside Rosbercon

Society Events

Ben Murtagh sketches the history, significances and many changes in the evolution of Kells, the largest enclosed Priory in the land

By Pat Nolan

KAS members were invited to make their own way to Kells and to join us at the upper car park at Kells Priory for a guided tour and a picnic, (beside the ancient church) at 3.00pm on Saturday July 18th.
The organising committee was delighted to secure the services of the wonderful archaeologist and author Mr. Ben Murtagh who very kindly readily agreed to talk to us in the priory. He sketched out the significance of the  priory in the context of its time and skilfully used the many remaining buildings and structures there to tell its long and absorbing story as it evolved over the generations since its foundation by Geoffrey FitzRobert in 1193. This Geoffrey was brother-in-law to Strongbow. History tells us the priory replaced an even  earlier church, dedicated to St. Mary and served as parish church to nearby Kells village.
During its first century and a half the priory was attacked and burned on no less than three occasions, firstly by Lord William de Bermingham in 1252, by the Scots army of Edward Bruce on Palm Sunday 1326, and finally by a second William de Bermingham just a year later in 1327. It seems likely then that the walls and fortifications date back to this period of unrest and frequent attacks.
Ben’s expertise and talents were once famously and fittingly described by the great John Bradley when he remarked “ Other archaeologists quote books, Ben reads walls and stones, to even better effect”. So it was to be as he kept us all enthralled by identifying the disparate elements and their original purpose and functions in the structures as he analysed  them for us.
Members brought their own picnic requirements and observed social distance regulations. The now familiar voluntary donations bucket was prominently displayed and again the generosity of the members and their affection for the society was not found wanting.

Some of our members with Saint Peter’s Church in the background.
With thanks to Mr. Harry Reid, Photographer

By Pat Nolan

Encouraged by the success of our recent visit to Kells, the ever enterprising Programme Committee was delighted to mount a similar event in Innisnag. It was the location selected – and for good reason – for the second of our picnic outings this summer, an addition to our programme of local outings, availing of the opportunity to have a safe, outdoor event within the county during this summer season.
Innisnag, might be easily overlooked as merely a cross roads a little before the village of Stoneyford on the “old road” to Waterford some 8/9 km from Kilkenny. The focal point (but very far from the only attraction) is the charming Saint Peter’s Church, itself dating from the early 1830’s. The church yard was clearly established many generations prior to the present building. For many noteworthy KAS members and individuals it is their last resting place; Hubert Butler, Esse Layton, Melo Lenox-Conyngham our own much loved, Winifred Long and many of the McCalmont Family.
Our host and guide for the day was Mr. Donie Sheridan who owns the popular hostelry just across the road – now sadly closed due to Covid 19- and who has spent many years and happy hours delving into the multiple layers of history to be observed at and near that church, bridge and cross roads. In fact as the afternoon progressed it became clear that his time and efforts have been put to very good effect and he has amassed a wonderful array of facts, stories, images and pictures which he intends to compile into a book. His work is so extensive and valuable that one hopes he can secure some professional help in editing and bringing all of his research into permanent print. It will make for fascinating reading when published.
After the success of Kells the bar was set very high in Innisnag but suffice to say albeit perhaps different in style, the Innisnag outing was in every sense equally a wonderful success. For that we must thank the knowledge, enthusiasm and kindness of Donie Sheridan, the richness of the canvas offered by to him by this location and especially the splendid summer weather that greeted us.