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A Historical Look at Templeorum District, South Kilkenny.




           From The Marrying of Brigit and Christ in the Parish of Templeorum (Granagh) 2000, © Mary O'Shea

Glenbower Wood.  

Glenbower is a sub-division of the townland of Garryduff. It adjoins the townlands of Kilmanahin, Oldcourt and Mullinbeg. The wood of Glenbower was originally planted by the Earl of Bessborough in the 18th century. Landlords were given government grants to plant deciduous woods on their estates. Glenbower became the property of the Irish Free State in the 1930s. After having been burnt down during the Irish Civil War of 1922-23, it was replanted with conifers.

Thicketed in legend and lore, it is a place of mystery and a place of pre-Christian significance. On the river called the Glenbower river, which flows through the wood, is a waterfall, which is the source of an interesting legend. A legend which illustrates vividly the fusion of the old Celtic or pagan religion with the new Christianity.

A snake like serpent is said to have inhabited the waterfall. The legend of St. Patrick visiting here with his donkey tells how he slayed the snake with his crozier. Red stones in the river, which are really red sandstone, are said to mark the spot where Patrick's donkey cut his knee while crossing the river. The stones are stained with the donkey's blood. Again it is highly unlikely that St. Patrick himself ever visited Glenbower or anywhere in the parish of Templeorum. This point of literal truth is not the issue. Here we have a legend of deep significance, one which echoes St. Patrick's banishing of the snakes from Ireland. This is a local version of the widely known legend. It symbolises the defeat of so called paganism by Christianity. In other words the conquest of good over a perceived evil as the wider well known legend of the snakes symbolises. Of course there is no evidence to suggest that snakes existed in Ireland then if ever. Again this factual truth is not relevant here. The crozier represents the might of the new Christianity, as it does in the legend relating to the overthrowing of the dolmen at Kilionerry.

The Celtic sacred waters of wells and waterfalls are associated with the three archetypes of light  the sun, the eye and consciousness. Consciousness is not physical vision alone, it is the inner eye or how we take in what we see physically and how we become aware of its significance. Celtic rivers have their own indwelling deities. Certain waterfalls were said to have healing properties, especially for sprains and muscle pains - hence the symbolism of the donkey cutting his knee on the stones in the waterfall. The donkey is an important animal in Christianity, he carries the cross of Jesus on his back. It was on a donkey that Christ rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday to shouts of joy and jubilation before his betrayal and crucifixion on Good Friday.

The crossing of the river is not merely a physical journey or the crossing from one side to the other. Its significance reaches much deeper. Christianity as a belief and as a spirituality is often described as being a journey, the metaphor of journey is a well trotted out one by now. The Celts too believed that life was a journey. At its deeper level what is meant by journey in the two beliefs and in their coming together in Celtic Christianity, is the journey inwards, walked in a circular route, back to the light from which each of us came, to the light of Christ or of the soul, to which each of us returns. St. Patrick in the legend is crossing over from one belief to another, namely from pre-Christianity to Christianity. In essence the journey of the soul.

Lore tells of the Banshee combing her hair in Glenbower wood, near the waterfall. The Banshee whose origins are not clear, might be a guardian angel of certain families as she is associated with certain surnames. Her screeching fortells an impending death in the family. A comb seen on a window-sill in the morning that was not put there by a human belongs to the Banshee. This is a sign of somone's death, especially if left on a bedroom window-sill.

In Glenbower wood, adjoining the townlands of Oldcourt and Kilmanahin, there is a stone shorter in height than that of a regular standing stone. This stone according to tradition marks the spot called the 'mass-hollow' or mass-pit. In this writer's opinion it is pre-Christian in origin, possibly the remains of a place of worship. What was destroyed in the original planting of the wood can never  be known? There is a similar type stone though less distinctive at the Mullinbeg end of the wood not far from the river either. Glenbower is the meeting point of a maze of roads mentioned earlier. Could these stones mark stopping-places on a journey? Are they some kind of sign-posts?

Ancient trackways were said to be laid down by the feet of angels trodding on them, trackways before Christianity were trodden on by fairies and were sacred to the fairies. Christianity replaced the fairies with angels. The well known prohibition of not interfering with a masspath, such as ploughing it, might have had its origin in their sacred fairy and angel association. There is so much we cannot and do not know. It is this elusive quality which makes a visit to Glenbower wood such a treasure.  

Bessborough House.


From Parish of Templeorum, a Historical Miscellany, (Granagh) 1999, © MaryO'Shea

Piltown Land League.

The "Munster Express" of 1880 carries an account of a large Land League meeting held in the village of Piltown on December 19th 1880. Templeorum and Owning  had their own branches. Rev. Shortal C.C. Piltown headed the Piltown branch of the Land League, with 103 members. Rev. Doyle C.C. Owning had 94 members and Rev. Murphy Templeorum had 71 members. A great number of them had subscribed from 2s 6d to £1 each. The total amount was to go towards the expense of the Parnell Defence fund and partly towards the expense of the public meeting to be held on December 19th. On the Friday before the Land League meeting in Owning, Lord Bessborough offered to grant a reduction of  10% to all tenants paying before January 1st 1881. The tenants set no value on this reduction. Bum-bailiff Clearly had been visiting the northern district of the estate warning  tenants to pay, for those afraid to go to the estate office to lodge money (Belline House), they could lodge at a bank. It was proposed to card this bailiff but the Land League did not want violence.

It is rumoured that an official connected with the earl's office will be boycotted within a fortnight. He is suspected to be unfriendly towards the tenants and at present is always attended by Lord Bessborough's groom while travelling about. The mass meeting on Sunday December 19th aimed to form a branch of the Land League on the Iverk estate. Between 5 and 6,000 people attended, there were large contingents from Carrick, Mullinavat, Portlaw and Waterford. Portlaw marched in procession with the Carrick-on-Suir Brass Band, headed by 80 persons, led by Mr. J.D. Power. Some 60 horsemen from Kilmacthomas district headed by Mr. D. Gleeson were there. The Thomas Meagher Brass Band from Waterford played at intervals around the village. Mr. E. Blackmore on whom the whole responsibility of the meeting rested carried out all the arrangements of the day. The Moroccan contingent was very large with banners and appropriate mottoes. Rev. Maher C.C. Windgap presided

Amongst those present on the platform were E. Leamy M.P. for Waterford, Major Gorman, Rev. Shortal, Rev. Nearly Mooncoin, Rev. Doyle Owning, Messrs. T. Bowers Graigavine, J. Nolan, W. Sheehy Mullinavat, Martin Walsh Waterford, J.D. Power Tinhalla, E. O'Brien Three Bridges, E. Lonergran Waterford, J.P. Kennedy Waterford, L. Larkin, D. Gleeson,  E. Moloney Kilmachthomas, John Ryan Waterford, E. Blackmore Piltown, R. Power Waterford, W.G. Fisher Waterford, James Brophy, John Hearn Moondhiga, T. Sheehy, P. Walsh Springfield, T. Casey Waterford, T. Duggan Carrick-on-Suir, J. O'Connell Carrick-on-Suir, Joseph Hearn, E. Walsh P.L.G. and M. Treacy P.L.G.

The speakers were chairman Rev. Maher C.C. Windgap, Major Gorman, Rev. Shortal Piltown, Mr. E. Leamy M.P., Mr. T. Power jnr. Graigavine, he was vice Chairman of Carrick-on-Suir Land League and E. Blackmore also spoke

Rev. Shortal delivered a lengthy address to the crowd in which he condemned the landlord system for making paupers of Irishmen who had to seek a livelihood in foreign shores or die broken hearted by the wayside or in the workhouse. Ireland he said did not want charity, it wanted industry, but they could not have it when tenant farmers were burdened with heavy rents. Was it not time the tide of emigration that has so depopulated this country should stop? He responded to accusations that priests who attended Land League meetings were inciting people to violence by vehemently denying the charge on behalf of the priests of Ireland. It was the priest's place to be at the head of the people, it was their duty to relieve them of their temporal wants and necessities. He urged the people to be united in their fight for justice. He believed that the present Government (of Gladstone) was very willing to do everything in its power for Ireland and therefore he urged the people not to use any violence. Loud cheering accompanied and followed his address.

Economically things were bad in the late 1870s and 1880s. The year 1879 because of bad harvest weather, especially in the west of Ireland, threatened to be a repeat of the Famine of the 1840s. Cattle and grain prices were down.

James Brophy of Oldcourt did lose his farm because of Land League activity during this period. On the whole, on the Bessbrough estate, conditions were not dire and the amount of trouble was not significant during this period. Farmers  under the leadership and inspiration of Parnell and Davitt were beginning to demand the repeal of the inefficient landlord system. They wanted more control over their livelihoods, the three F's - fixture of tenure, fair rent and free sale were the central aims of the Land War of 1880-82. The fall of Parnell resulting from the citing of  him by Kitty O'Shea's husband as correspondent in a file for divorce, led to a split which led to the collapse of the movement. However in 1904 farmers finally gained the right to take out loans enabling them to buy their land, they paid annuities as repayment, at last were not answerable to the land agent of the landlord. 

From A History of Piltown Co-Operative and Its Branches, (Granagh) 2001, © Mary O'Shea

A  Look   the Rural Hinterland of  Piltown Creamery in 1901.

The 19th century Bessborough estate village of Piltown straddles four townlands. These are Belline and Rogerstown, Banagher, Ardclone and Kildalton. In the year 2000, the geographical situation has not changed as the modern village straddles the same four townlands. This chapter looks at the social structure and population of the rural hinterland of the village of Piltown at the beginning of the 20th century, a year after the formation of Piltown Co-operative Agricultural and Dairy Society Limited. In many ways what is here contained, reflects the social structure of the rural Ireland of the time, and especially that of south county Kilkenny. A townland in the upland district, that of Raheen, in the Mullenbeg catchment area is examined.


Piltown Creamery


The sheets containing the rural entity of the townland of Banagher appear to be missing from the microfilm, maybe they are also missing from the original forms. For instance cattle figure sheets for 1901 are missing. The larger portion of the townland is occupied by the village of Piltown itself. Also the Census enumerators has placed most of the village of Piltown in the Belline and Rogerstown townland. So in 1901 the Banagher portion of the village contains two families living into two separate houses. Both are second class houses with slate roofs and stone walls, leased from Viscount Duncannon or Earl of Bessborough. Eliza Doherty, lodge-keeper, with daughter Mary and son Fred inhabit one house. The second house, which is another lodge, is inhabited by Mary Anne O'Halloran and daughter Ellen aged two.

Belline and Rogerstown.

Moving to the rural entity of the townland of Belline and Rogerstown, on the northern and western outskirts of the village of Piltown,  there are 17 houses, 16 of whom are inhabited by a population of 61 people, 10 of whom are Church of Ireland. All the houses are stone walled and slated, the number of out-offices numbering from 1,6,3 to 14 and 15. Belline House is included here, and so is the large farm house of what is now Lal Kiely's attached to the Belline House demesne.The number of rooms in each dwelling house vary from 2, 4 to 6. All 2nd class houses, with the exception of Belline House, the Bessbrough Land Agent's residence, which is a 1st class house. It is a Neo-Classical Georgian house.

James Hurley, a shoemaker.

Captain W. Penrose, resident of Belline House.

Joseph Purcell.

Mary Landy.

James Mansfield,  a blacksmith family from county Waterford.

James Kirwan.

Thomas Walsh.

Edward Duggan.

Butter Churn

James Duggan.

John Malone.

Mary Newman.

Bridget Butler.James Flynn. 

Bridget Downes.

Patrick Maher.

Rural Entity of Ardclone.

The rural entity of the townland of Ardclone, to the west of the village of Piltown, contained in 1901, 11 houses, all inhabited and 53 people. The names of the heads of households are as follows:

Catherine Daniel, railway gatekeeper.

Thomas Shea aged 34, farmer, not married, who lives with his sister Theresa aged 25 who is described as a housekeeper. In the house with the family are Michael Phelan aged 19, an unmarried farm servant and Bridget Phelan, aged 17, an unmarried female servant, or to use the colloquial expression, a 'servant girl.' The above Thomas Shea was a committee man of Piltown creamery. He and his household are representative of the typical medium size farm family of  rural south Kilkenny and of the post-Famine Ireland of  the beginning of the 20th century. The type of farming practised on his 42 acre farm was mixed farming, the milking of cows, the rearing of calves to yearling or year and a half stage, to be sold at the fairs at Carrick or Waterford, to the graziers and fatteners in county Meath, the growing of tillage crops such as oats, wheat, barley, potatoes, cabbage, swedes, maybe mangols, with which to feed cattle, horses and humans. Definitely one horse if not two were kept as work horses. Though aged 34 he is not yet married, and this  is in line with the social structure and mores of class which he represents. 

The trend in the post-Famine Ireland was that of  later marriage.  For instance his wife's fortune or dowry would in large measure give a dowry to his sister Theresa to enable her to marry into another farmer. Or else she remained unmarried and worked at home until her death. Or she might have  entered religious lif  but she would  do so before the age of 25. The servants, Michael Phelan and Bridget may not never marry either. They might continue to live and work on the Shea farm for the rest of their lives. When too old to work, if very infirm, with no one to look after them, these servants often died in the work house. Again, something that was very typical of this type of family, it produced a diocesan priest, Fr. Richard O'Shea. An old saying from Mooncoin, which defines the south Kilkenny medium size farming family in social terms, goes as follows: "A bull for the cows, three churns in the yard and a priest in the family." These being the pillars of success and social status in the radically altered landscape of post-Famine Ireland.

Thomas Lanigan.

John Brown, farmer, with wife and five children, one daughter Margaret is a lady's companion. Interestingly, both husband and wife and three of the children can speak both Irish and English. The parents are native Irish speakers, the children may been involved in the Gaelic League, which was then active in Piltown. In 1901 the spoken language, Gaelic or Irish, is still known by a relatively small number of people, born in the 1830s and 1840s, native speakers, the majority of whom are working class, and a smaller number are farmers.

William Delahunty.

Thomas Dillion.

Edward Walsh.

Willam Delahunty.

John Walsh, mill worker.

Margaret Conway.

Mary Daniel.

John Norris, carpenter.

All the above are farmers, except where otherwise indicated. 

Rural Entity of Kildalton.

The rural part of the townland of Kildalton, to the east and south of the village of Piltown, in 1901, has 19 houses and 68 people. The Bessborough demesne, occupies 797 out of the 799 statute acres in the townland of Kildalton. Here follows the names of heads of households:

Bartholmew O'Keefe, Royal Patoons, on pension.    

Edmond Grace, labourer.

James Scully, general labourer and lodge-keeper.

Patrick Carroll, agricultural labourer.

James Shea, shepard.

Robert Laurie, Presbyterian, born in Scotland, under steward.

Richard Holden, horse trainer.

Michael Mitchel, land steward, born in Scotland, Presbyterian.

Maura Manning, fowl rearer.

Stephen Knox, farm labourer.

Jessica Forrest, domestic servant, housekeeper, born in Scotland. In this household with her there are 8 other servants, all of whom, except one, are Church of Ireland denomination. They are as follows - Margaret Faithweather, laundry maid, born in Scotland, Ellen Swain, laundry maid, born in England, Mary Lucas, laundry maid, born in England, Rose Brooks, housemaid, born in England, Millie Jameson, stillroom maid, born in Scotland, Maud Thoroughgood, housemaind, born in London, Annie Davies, housemaid, born in South Wales, and Maura O'Neill, Roman Catholic, housemaind, born in county Kilkenny.

These here under are the servant staff living in the servants' quarters of Bessborough House. None of them are married.

James Pedder, Church of Ireland, domestic servant, born in London.

Thomas Mara, stableman, not married, living with his sister, born in county Kilkenny.

Willaim Cleary, general labourer, born in Kilkenny.

John George Weston, gardener/domestic, born in England, Church of Ireland.

Michael Shadbolt, gardener/domestic, Church of Ireland, born in England. In the same household there are three other servants - James Prendergast, Roman Catholic, gardener/domestic, born in county Tipperary, Robert Smart, Church of Ireland, gardener/domestic, born incounty Meath, and Samuel Slatin, Church of Ireland, gardener/servant, born in county Longford.

Fenton Maguire, Park Ranger, born in county Leitrim.

Abraham May, dairy manager, born in county Kilkenny.

Raheen - a townland in an upland District of the Walsh Mountain.

Looking at Raheen, one of the townlands in the catchmen area of the Mullinbeg branch of Piltown creamery in 1901, we see the profile of a rural community in one of the Walsh Mountain, upland districts, into which the co-operative movement as represented by the local creamery reached. Raheen has 15 houses and 88 people, all except three are living in what is classified as 2nd class houses, of the two, one family lives in a 3rd class house, the second lives in a 1st class house. In the main these are slated traditional type farmhouses, originally  one storey high, with thatched roof, which were risen to two storey height with slated roof in the 19th century. The original thatched, clay walled houses, probably date from the late 1600s. John Ryan, formerly of Kilmogue, told this writer that his one storey, previously thatched farmhouse at Kilmogue, was built in 1690, as this number was discovered etched on a stone at the front of the house, during renovations, years ago. For instance John Daniels senior of Raheen, now aged 96, told this writer that he remembers in his childhood, McCarthy's farmhouse as having a thatched roof.

A 1st class farmhouse is defined in the 1901 Census as a one or two storey house, with slated roof, walls built of stones, mixed with lime and sand, containing four rooms and six windows. In 1901 there are six thatched farmhouses in the townland of Raheen.

These are the farmhouse of Bridget Brown, classified as 3rd class, with stone walls, two rooms and two windows. Richard Fitzpatrick, stone walls, with three rooms and five windows.

Michael Fitzpatrick with stone walls, two rooms and three windows.

Denis McCarthy with stone walls, three rooms and three windows.

Thomas Walsh, stone walls, with three rooms and two windows.

John Holden with stone walls, two rooms and two windows.

The single storey thatched farmhouse, generally, had one or two bedrooms at ground level, and a low loft which was accessed by means of a wooden ladder at upper level. Whereas the larger, two storey farmhouse contained within it, one bedroom or none at downstairs or ground level, and a stairs leading to three or two bedrooms at top level. Each house with three or four rooms in total, had a parlour, modern day name is sitting-room, to the left as you entered the porch, the kitchen with its open fire and stairway leading to upper storey to the right of the porch. Some houses had another room known as a dairy leading off the kitchen along with dining room or downstairs bedroom. Household butter was made and stored in this dairy room before co-op creameries came into being. Sometimes the dairy was an out-house, attached to the dwelling house.

The following are the names of the heads of  households or families in the townland of Raheen in 1901:

Bridget Brown, farmhouse derelict now, farm owned by Daniel's of Raheen.

Richard Fitzpatrick, farmhouse derelict, farm now owned by Michael Kinsella, Dowling.

Michael Fitzpatrick, farmhouse house now in other ownership, farm sold in lots in 1986, to Michael Kinsella of Dowling and to Michael Miklis, a German national.

Anastatia Morris, farmhouse derelict, farm exchanged through Land Commission in the 1940s for farm at Kildalton.

Bridget Power, farmhouse unoccupied, farm now  owned by the Daniel's of Raheen.

James Murphy, house in other ownership, fields in different ownership.

Ambrose Daniel, farmhouse still occupied and farm owned by same family.

John Daniel, the western end of joined farmhouse, vacant, both houses and farms owned by John Daniels of Raheen.

Denis McCarthy, farmhouse unoccupied, farm now owned by Pat Walsh of Kilmurry and John Daniels of Raheen.

Michael Power, farmhouse unoccupied, farm now owned by Daniel's of Raheen.

Thomas Walsh, farm and house of the Walsh business family of Templeorum, farm remains in the family, as an outside farm, dwelling is unoccupied.

John Cleary, cottage long gone.

Patrick Ryan, cottage at side of road, now rented out.

Mary Phelan, the farm of relations, the Fitzgeralds, land leased, house occupied.

Margaret Shea, farm of this writer, still occupied by the O'Shea family, land leased.

John Holden, blacksmith with two small fields. The house is semi-derelict, land is owned by Paddy Cullen of Jamestown.


Folklore in the Templeorum, Owning and Piltown, Districts of South County Kilkenny.



A Definition of Folklore.

"Lore or legend is not simply a collection of amusing and fabulous stories handed down orally from one generation to the next, rather it is  a way of explaining the processes of natures and the mystery of existences by ancient, largely illiterate peoples before the advent of science. A  mythological world picture was common to all ancient cultures across the globe, with variations of different myths occurring across different cultures. For example before Christianity came to Norway, people believed that lightening and thunder happened when the god Thor rode across the sky in a chariot drawn by two goats, swinging his hammer." (From The Marrying of Brigit and Christ in the Parish of Templeorum, Introduction (Granagh) 2000, p. 2, by Mary O'Shea.)

Folklore comes within the ambit of lore, myth and legend. In the Gaelic tradition as distinct from the Greek myths, none of it was written down, until the coming of Christianity to Ireland in a more organised way, in the 5th century, with the return of Patrick to Ireland as a missionary. In the centuries which followed, these myths, legends and beliefs, were Christianized. The great mythological sagas such as the Táin Bó Culáige, the story of the contest for possession of the  Brown Bull of Cooley, was committed to manuscript in the post Christian era. In many cases, in the committing of these ancient stories to paper, by the Christian monks, a liberal amount of revisionism was applied to the original story. At its most simple, folklore can be defined as body of stories illustrating the way of life and beliefs of  a people at a given period, in place and time, coming to encompass their culture. The folklore of the Templeorum, Owning and Piltown, districts of south county Kilkenny is both a reflection of its own specific way of life and beliefs and those of the wider Gaelic/Celtic tradition.

As a local historian in my historical research and in my growing up in the south county Kilkenny, I came by many stories. A collection of my folklore stories is deposited in the Department of Folklore at University College Dublin. The manuscripts of the National Schools Collection collected by the Folklore Commission in the 1930s is also there and contains material from the schools in my area. The material on this site is drawn from both my own collection and the latter 1930s Folklore Commission Collection, which I accessed on microfilm at the county library in Kilkenny city. In what comprises folklore - myths, legends, superstitions, beliefs and practices, there is flowing through some recurring motifs or themes. Both on a local level and a wider level, the magical numbers 3, 5, 7, and nine recur, the animal world, magical horses, cows, pigs , bulls, and the black hound, the red haired woman at the well, the banshee, her comb, sightings of fairies, sometimes hurling in raths late at night, the witch like woman who can appear in the guise of a rabbit who steals butter or cream on the eve of 1st of May and the headless  funeral coaches, seen late at night. Lore and legend is not a  set of actual factual truths, if you fail to see beyond this and miss the symbolism, you have missed everything. The symbolism is the wheel on which it turns and spins out to the wider world of recognition. Symbolism is inherent in all early peoples and their cultures. In relaying the selection of stories chosen for inclusion in this site, I attempt to give a short explanation as to what may be the symbolism underlying each story.



By Mary O’Shea

Published in Christmas Supplement, Munster Express, December 2005.

As with many counties throughout the country, the county of Kilkenny is rich in lore and legend. The Folklore Commission in the 1930s collected many of them from National School pupils throughout the country, and the Kilkenny scholar John O’Donovan spent his life in the mid 19th century collecting lore. We have the O’Donovan Ordnance Survey Letters for each county. He also contributed to the Journal of the Royal Society of Antiquities  of Ireland, then published in Kilkenny.

Apart from human ghosts in the form of the banshee for instance, animals feature frequently in lore and legend. Ancient peoples lived in intimate connection with the natural world around them and depended on it to sustain them through their lives. The early Irish saints in their closeness to nature, had animals as companions, St. Ciaran, for instance is a good example, as a fox and a badger were his helpmates. There is the well known Legend of St. Ciaran, in which his sister who was living with him was devoured by a wolf and he in his great distress knitted back the bones and buried her as a human corpse.


Saint Kieran's well, Kilkieran

 St. Kieran's well.Certain animals symbolise an unlucky or even evil influence, the snake/serpent is an almost universal symbol of temptation, of the Devil. Particularly in the Judea/Christian tradition. For instance in south Kilkenny, St. Patrick is said to have banished with his crozier a serpent who lived in the river running through the wood of Glenbower, near Owning. At the waterfall, the red stones are stained by the blood of St. Patrick’s donkey as he cut a knee crossing the river. It is on a donkey that Jesus Christ,  that the founder of Christianity rode in triumph into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. The donkey is said to have the outline of the Cross on his back from this association with Christ. The donkey symbolises goodness, a good omen.

Cattle and horses are the subjects of sagas and myths, not only confined to the Celtic canon of legend but feature in the legends of other cultures across the globe.  In occurrence the cow and the bull, take predominance. For instance St. Brigit was reared on the milk of a red eared cow. In the Ulster Cycle sagas a collection of Irish epic prose stories, belonging to a group called the Tåin, or the Cattle Raid of Cooley, feature the brown Brown Bull, the Donn and the White Bull of Cooley. It is a story of cattle rustling, political strife between Ulster and Connaught, and the ambition of Queen Meabh to subdue Ulster and have the Brown Bull of Cooley. This ancient saga was written down in the 12th century by Christian scribes and was given a Christian interpretation, with a liberal dappling of revisionism.

Moving to the Near East, Indians personified all aspects of nature and spirituality in the form of their numerous deities. The best loved deity of Krishna the cowherd, eight incarnation of Vishnu. He lives as child in the forest surrounded by childhood friends, by cows and by peacocks. He dances with his lover, the divine Radha, and together they share perfect spiritual love. Followers of Krishna offer him their unconditional devotion as the one Supreme God. The cow is sacred in India.

In outer Mongola, among the Khalkha tribe, there is a belief that their origin is  due to the love of a shamanic nature spirit and a cow. The first Khalka was born from a cow and raised on her creamy milk, and left to the tribe a natural inclination towards cattle rearing and nomadic life. The married women of this tribe wear their hair parted in the middle, combed outwards, and stiffened with mutton fat, in the form of  a long pair of horns. Their dresses are notable for the high projections that they wear on their shoulders, resembling the shoulder blades of cattle.

In the Irish context,  these stories were handed down orally, as the ancient Irish committed nothing to paper, so it was in the early Christian era and especially, in the 12th century that most of these sagas and legends were written down, and given the Christian slant, imbued with a Christian moral instruction. Here under are stories from south county Kilkennny


Coffin Stone, Ballyhennebry

 An Unclean Beast.

In the parish of Kilcolumb, barony of Ida, there is an elevation called Con-bhuidhe, which got its name from the following legend. It comes from the Tripartite Life of St. Patrick. St. Patrick travelled through the plains of Ossory, on his conversion and to see what progress his predecessor St. Ciaran had made. He came to a remarkable hill, then called Cnoc-na-radharc, - hill of the sights or views, and he resolved to build a church there. Patrick set about the work, and collected a number of labourers and others to help him. While the work was progressing, a woman who lived in the adjacent village of Ballincrea, sent St. Patrick a present of an animal cooked in a dish for his dinner. After he viewed the animal for some time, he formed the view that it was an unclean beast, and, moreover, as he had found some of the inhabitants of the area ill-instructed in Christianity, and others stubborn pagans, he concluded that the present was sent to insult him. So he laid down the dish upon a large stone, he knelt down upon the same stone, and prayed to God to restore life to whatever animal had been cooked. A yellow hound sprang from the dish and ran in the direction of the conflux of the Three Waters. St. Patrick ordered the workmen to kill it, and they followed the hound with spades, pick-axes, shovels, and  crow-bars. A mile away they overtook it and killed it. They buried it on the side of the road, and over its grave sprang a white-thorn, called “The Little Thorn of the Hound.”  All the stones from a one mile distant of this white-thorn show the track of the hound’s feet, and one stone contains a hollow which is said to be the impression of St. Patrick’s knee. This hollow is filled with water and is regarded as being sacred.


High Cross, Ahenny.

Magical Horses.

In a place called Tinnahoe, there is a small lake, out of which horses of a black colour, were seen to emerge. These are enchanted horses, and a man versed in the art of catching these beautiful animals, caught a mare. She remained with him until she had seven foals. As the man who had her, used the halter with which he caught for common purposes and scolded the animal herself, called her ugly names and mentioned the name of the devil, he lost her. As soon as she heard the name of the evil one she neighed seven times, broke loose from his grasp, and ran towards the lake, followed by her seven foals. Mac Oda, the owner, saw the mare and her foals plunge into the water according to their age.

There is a field, a hilly one, in the townland of Raheen, in which magical white horses were seen. A group of  young lads were crossing this field after stealing apples in an orchard a mile away, when out of nowhere, a herd of white horses began to chance after them. They ran with fright and lost their apples in the rush away from these horses. Only when they had crossed the stream in the bog, leading into the Mountain Grove wood, did the horses disappear into thin air. The field is said to a haunted one.

Horses pull headless coaches and hearses late at night. Sightings of these are quite common in lore stories. A field called “The Mass Path” field is the location of many sightings of such coaches, late at night, in the townland of Raheen.

Hound Sightings.

The hound, be he either yellow or black features in many stories. In the townland of Raheen, again, he crosses a Mass path and old roadway, at the spot where an old mansion house or colloquially called “Shireley’s Castle,” stands. A man is believed to have been murdered here by his brother, tumbled out of a boat in a field in the front of the castle, where there was an artificial lake. Several people encountered this strange hound, bearing his white teeth. On one occasion this hound tried to block the path of a man going over to Templeorum village to call the priest to a dying person. And on another occasion the hound halted in front of a passer-by, bearing his white teeth and exclaiming: Mo Cailin Deas Crua na mbó. My beautiful young girl who is milks the cows.

A group of men who had been playing cards late into the night in Miltown, were chased from the vicinity of Muckalee graveyard all the way to Mullinbeg by a more than one black hound.

Rabbit Omen.

A woman living in a small house in Potstown, up Owning hill, near O’Neill’s mill, was said to be a witch. One morning on the 1st of May, she came into the cowhouse of a neighbour and was caught stealing cream. She escaped by changing herself into the form of a rabbit. This woman is said to have stolen cream and butter from many farmers. Even though she had only one cow herself and a few hens, she was never short of milk, butter or eggs, all year round.

 Note: These two stories are taken from my own collection and from the 1930s Folklore Commission Collection from pupils of the National Schools of Templeorum, Owning and Piltown. In both these stories, some of the common motifs occur. In the first story, above, we have the magical white horses of the Otherworld, white horses feature in Tír na óng, the Land of Everlasting youth, from which Fionn returns and is changed into an old man, all grey hairs and wrinkles. The hound appears, this mythical canine may symbolise the Hound of Cuchaláinn. Sometimes this hound is associated with a tragic death, such as that of a murder. The struggle between Saint Patrick and the unclean beast shows us the influence of Christianity, the unclean beast can be interpreted as symbolising the "pagan" or pre-Christian world of beliefs and obviously, Saint Patrick symbolises Christianity, the "true God" and his and its struggle with the pre-Christian beliefs of early Christian Ireland. In the story of the seven bishops in a basket, we have a similar theme, and there is the echo of Moses' basket in the Old Testament. The wolf is the demon beast in relation to Saint Ciaran. The magical number 7 is prominent in the bishops' story. The woman  who turns into a rabbit on May Eve to harm steal people's cream and butter and to make their cows dry is part of the canon of superstitions associated with 1st May, Bealtine, in the old "Celtic" calandar. The "Celtic" or "pagan" pre-Christian year was divided thus:


Seven Bishops In A Basket.

Mary O'Shea

Taken from The Marrying of Brigit and Christ in the Parish of Templeorum, (Granagh) 2000.

The lore collected from the national schools of Templeorum, Harristown, Garrygaug, Tobernabrone, and Piltown in 1938 by the Folklore Commission, is on microfilm at Kilkenny library. It is needless to say a fascinating collection of material collected by the pupils from the grandparents and old neighbours. In compiling this booklet this writer read them.


Former National School, Templeorum, now Parish Hall.

A man lived with his wife on the hill near Kilkieran. He emigrated for a time, when he returned home he discovered that he had seven sons. Infuriated he put them into a basket, to carry them to the Lingaun river, where he intended to drown them. On his way he met a priest who asked him what had he in the basket. He replied: "pups." The priest lifted the cover and saw the infants, he admonished the man,  took the infants away, he reared and educated them. Each of the seven infants became a bishop. These seven infants were said to have been born at the one birth.

On their way back from Rome, while walking by Granny Castle, the Countess Granny sees them, she orders her servant to kill them so as to get any gold chalices being carried with them. Her servant chases them as far as Lismatigue, a townland adjoining Harristown, some seven or eight miles from Granny. They are murdered at a place called The Ford of the Heads, near the moat at Lismatigue. Near the moat also are the remains of an old church and graveyard. They are said to have been buried at Kilkieran and or at Ahenny, underneath the High Crosses which sprang up overnight over their graves. In the district of Mullinavat, there is a place called Bishops' Mountain, where it is said three bishops were murdered and three stones sprang up overnight over their graves. These stones are likely to be three standing stones which are the remains of a stone circle, a place of Celtic worship. Different versions of similar type legends occur in more than one district. The springing up of stones miraculously or magically overnight over graves might be something of pre-Christian significance associated with important personages such as Celtic priests and transferred in early Christian times to Catholic bishops.


Long Stone, Garryduff Crossroads.

This is a story or legend carrying more than one symbol. Behind the legend is the story of a man who returned home from abroad to find that his wife had committed adultery, having maybe twins not seven infants as this would have been biologically impossible without fertility pills and he decided to take revenge by drowning the innocent infants. The intervention of the priest represents the intervention of Christ who represents Christianity which abhors revenge and looks after the innocent. We note that number seven is a Celtic magic number, this being an ancient Irish legend.

There is an Old Testament Biblical element in the presence of the basket. Moses immediately springs to mind, a Jew who is a universal symbol of liberation and leadership. He led the Jews out of slavery in Egypt, the venerated images being the burning bush, the parted sea, the dry rock  bursting with water and manna.

Rameses II (reign 1279-1213 BC), was threatened by the growth of the Israelite population and so he ordered the killing of all new born males by throwing them into the Nile river. Moses' mother kept her baby hidden for three months in a basket and then set him adrift. The story of the baby in the basket is a favourite among Hebrew scholars and it is part of an ancient type of legend handed down from one generation to another. Pharoh's daughter, an Egyptian, adopts the child in the basket and calls him Moses. The name is connected to a Hebrew verb indicating that she drew him from water. It should be noted that Jesus or Christ was in danger of being beheaded as a first born male infant by a jealous and power-hungry ruler of the time, Herod.

The numbers three and seven feature in the Book of Job in the Old Testament, Job has three daughters, three comforters, and seven sons. In the mythology and in the literature of many cultures these two numbers occur frequently, not least in the East and Near East. Their occurrence is not fully explainable. 

 In 1814 workmen engaged in repairs at Lismore Castle County Waterford, came across a walled up passage where there was hidden a wooden box, wherein was a crozier and an old vellum manuscript, the remains of the so called Book of Lismore. This book contains lives of saints written in Irish with a good dollop of legend thrown in for good measure. A mixture of the factual and the imaginative, again heavily symbolic. Brigit is one of the saints featured. Among the personages who came to visit her during her lifetime were the seven bishops who were on the hill east of Leinster. Brigit ordered a certain man of her household to go and catch fish for the guests. The man in the attempt to catch a seal was dragged over the sea to the shore of Britain, the seal made its way back.  British fishermen gave a boat to Brigit's fisherman when he told them of his difficulty. When he crossed the sea he found his seal on the shore of the sea of Leinster and took it back to Brigit. It was accounted one of Brigit's miracles and the fishermen of Britain sang her praises widely.

The basket of Moses is also a symbol of fecundity or plenty. Many legends have within them a universal element, the story of the seven bishops is a rich blend of the Celtic, the early Christian and the Jewish. It is this wider resonance and symbolism which gives it its real force. We can also see that lawlessness and robbery are not just a feature of modernity or modern day living.

Samháin, the time of the dead, the dying of the old year and the beginning of the new on 1st of November. Christianity Christianises it into All Souls, the 1st of February, Imbólog, very much associated with saint Brigit, whose person incorporates in one, the pre-Christian goddess of fertility, of the arts, of poetry and of metal work, and the Christian nun, saint, whose feast day is marked on 1st February by among other things, the making of Brigit's Cross, made of twisted wreaths in the shape of a crucifix, it marks the beginning of Spring and re-growth, Beáltine, 1st of May, when May bushes were erected, consisting of  hawthorns or sceachts, decorated with eggs shells and ribbons, marking the beginning of summer, and on 1st August the great harvest festival of Lúghnasa, honouring the old God, Lugh, the god of light and fecundity. May was Christianised to the month of the Blessed Virgin, indeed, the Virgin Mary and Brigit are closely linked in early Christianity and the month of August is the month of the Assumption on the 15th of the month, marking the reception of the Blessed Virgin, mother of Christ into heaven, welcomed by her son.

A story.

A long time ago there lived a sportsman who hunted every day. This day as he went out with his horse to hunt he said to his friends and servants that he would beat the Devil today. As he was riding along a gentleman rode in front of him with his horse. In the evening he invited him to tea. When they had finished they played a game of cards. As they were playing one of the cards fell and this gentleman went to pick it up. As he was about to pick it up he saw the "epub" of a hound and people say that the Devil has one "epub". They sent for a priest to drive out the Devil. When the priest arrived at the house he drove the Devil through the slates of the house. Whilist the Devil was flying through the slates he tumbled down a great number of slates. The next day a mass was said. They went to put up the slates but as they put them up they were falling down. At last he had to put a sheath of glass on top of the house. The house is still to be seen in Kilkenny.

Written by Mary Joe O'Shea, Raheen a pupil of Templeorum N.S., collected from her father Thomas O'Shea.

Weather Lore.

A watery sun donates rain. When the sun is red in the sky in the morning it is a sign of bad weather. Red in the evening is a sign of good weather. A mackerel sky is a sign of wet weather. A circle around the moon is sign of rain. A cloudy sky denotes rain. Rainbow in the morning is a sign of rain. Rainbow in the night is a sign of good weather. "Rainbow in the morning is a sailor's warning. Rainbow in the night is a shepard's delight." When a pinkish flame comes from he fire it is a sign of rain. When the swallows fly low it denotes good weather. When the curlew screams it foretells bad weather.

Written by Patrick Culleton of Ashtown, pupil of Templeorum N.S. It does not say from whom he collected the material, presumably his parents or old neighbours.

Local Cures.

People sought cures in many deserted places long ago. A doctor was very seldom sent for or required as the people cured their ailments with herbs. Many of the medical remedies used at present were not known by the old people.

A person whose surname was Walsh or Cahill, his blood was employed to cure wild fire. The blood of a black cat was used also for this disease. To heal a cut a cobweb was applied, after which the cut was soon healed. For warts many cures were employed, the slime of a snail being the commonest, after which the snail was hung on a hawthorn bush and left to wither. When the snail withered the wart withered also. A frog was sometimes used to cure toothache. A burned alder stick was used to heal ringworm.

Many people visited holy wells to cure sore eyes. Some applied the water to their eyes while others drank it.

Written by Nancy Moran of Kilmogue, collected from her father Edward Moran.

Note: The above two stories, with others, were published in Parish of Templeorum, a Historical Miscellany, (Granagh) 1999, by Mary O'Shea. The stories are written down as they were spoken orally, as I do with the stories in my own collection, in order to preserve the waof telling, the colloquial expression and dialect. So excuse the sometimes improper English and grammar.

More Stories Collected in the 1930s.

Local Cures.

Bowers of Cloncunny can cure any kind of disease. Mansel Bowers has cures and collects herbs for the diseases. To cure a pain in the back, he boils ground ivy. Patrick Oakey, Clonmore, can cure warts. Using an alder stick, he cuts as many holes in it as there are warts on the person. He then bruises them. The warts will go away. He also says some prayers. Patrick Cahill could cure wildfire. He ties a cord tightly around the top of the finger and pricks it. Then he rubs the blood on the wildfire. There is  a man named Eaton Bowers that can cure dropsy. old tea will cure sore eyes. White paper would stop blood. Patrick Walsh Mooncoin stops blood, or bleeding. Mrs. Walsh Fiddown could cure yellow jaundice. St. Patrick's leaf will cure a cut.

My Home District.

I live in the townland of Raheen in the parish of Templeorum and the Barony of Iverk. Raheen comes from the Irish word ráithin. It means the little rath. There are twelve families in Raheen. Their surnames are - Larkins, Daniels, Browns, Powers, Walshs, Fitzgeralds, Murphys, Fitspatricks and O'Sheas. The population is forty people. There are four old people in the townland and their surnames are Mrs. Damiels whose age is 94, Mr. Daniels who is 72. There is a ruin of an old house in Raheen. Holden was the man's name that lived in it. There are a few hills in Raheen and a river which divides Raheen from Ballygown.

From Mary Joe O'Shea, Raheen, Piltown, County Kilkenny. Collected from her father Tom O'Shea.

Raheen Dolmen, south view

Funny Stories.

There lived in Harristown a boy who was very poor. One day as he was coming home from school he went to a smith's forge for shelter from the rain. Whilst the boy was inside the smith was making shoes. On the fire was a red hot iron. The smith told the boy he would give him a shilling of he would lick it. The boy taking the shilling licked it and walked out with it. When the smith saw what the boy had done, he became  very angry and told the boy to come back with it. But the boy never returned..

In olden times people used to get up early to go to the fairs. One morning very early a man was going to a fair. he met a funeral. The last in the crowd was his sister who had been buried four months before. She had not much clothes on her. He asked her why she had not much clothes on her. She told him that the person to whom he gave her clothes, pawned them. He was to go and get them and get a mass said for her. So he did and never saw her again.

From Sean Carroll, Brenor, Piltown, County Killkenny. Collected from his father, John Carroll.

Note: In every district in the country, there were certain people who had old cures for various animal and human ailments, handed down to them from generation to generation, going back in time. How deeply the seeker believed in the cure determined its success or failure. The story featuring the smith echoes back to the sacred nature of smith in ancient Ireland. Forge water was said to have curative powers. The smith was a member of the priviliged aés dána class in ancient times, along with poets, brehons, druids, priests and wheel-rights. The carrying out of a dying person's wishes and the respect shown to the dead is a theme of the last story above.


Flavin Forge, Templeorm, early 1990s, now apartments


Stories from website author's own Collection.


Haunted Muckalee.

Muckalee church remains and graveyard is a circular site situated between the townlands of Miltown and Garrygaug. The site is early Christian, whose patron saint is Saint Canice. A family named Reddy lived near the graveyard. They had to block the window of their house which faced the graveyard as lat at night a light could be seen. Often a funeral was held late at night and headless coaches leading a funeral late at night wee also observed.

A Curse on Kilmogue.

The townland of Kilmogue is named after Saint Mogue, who was abbot of Ferns and patron of the early Christian small church and monastery at Kilmogue. The remains of church and graveyard fence were taken down in the 18th century and remains left in Grant's, now O'Shea's haggard. There was a hermit monk's cell in a rath, nearby.

Two monks in the Middle Ages were walking from Kilmogue to Jerpoint Abbey, by an old roadway which went from Kilmogue, through Lismatigue and came out at Castlemorris or Aghavillar, to Knocktoper and to Thomastown, when they were waylaid and robbed. Hence a curse fell on Kilmgue.

Sightings of Two Dead Sisters.

A named Anty Higgins of Templeorum townland, a place named High Street, was closing her door one night when she saw two sisters of a her neighbour, Frank Walsh, walk up the road together. Nothing unusual in that you might say, except they were dead with some years in America. It was not unusual to hear of sightings of dead people who died in America back in their native place after dying. Old people could tell you several such stories.

The Banshee's Comb.

I never heard the Banshee myself. She is supposed to follow certain families. A baby died in agony a mile from our home, in a house on the side of the road. My father told us that just after it died, an unmerciful keen was heard outside. Sometimes cats bawling late at night sounded like her. A dog keening late at night is a sign that someone from the house or related to the house is about to died or that someone far away, even in another country, who once came from the house, has died.

My father told me that a week after his mother dying in 1917, they found a strange comb outside her bedroom window, downstairs, in the morning. Everyone was certain that no one in the house had put it there. The Banshee came during the night and put it there. It wasn't like any of the combs used by ordinary people.


Rath or ring-fort Curraghmore.

The Leg of a Cock.

Superstitions played a central role in the lives of rural people down to the 1950s/1960s, even, in some areas. Many a family had vicious rows over spells etc, especially around 1sy May. We were digging out spuds one time and we found eggs on a drill. Our father was fearful. It was probably a bird to happened to lay them there. If a person could be blamed he would not be regarded highly afterwards by us.

A woman from Ashtown, which is bordering Kilmogue, visited another woman in Kilmogue. She brought a currant cake in a bag which was customary. They had a great chat. The visitor killed a cock for food a few days before, however, one of his legs found its way, somehow, into the bag with the currant bread. When the visitor was gone, the woman of the house looked to see what she had brought and was livid to find a dead cock's leg in the bag. She thought that she was deliberately bringing her bad luck by leaving it behind. They fell out over it. The Civil War was nothing to the row that took place.

Note: Lights late at night in graveyards and mysterious late night funerals are commonly found in the folklore repertoire. The dead and their place of rest was surrounded by all kinds of superstitions and mysticism. If a soul was not at rest for some reason, maybe buried in a place not of their wishes, they came come back to haunt the people. Respecting a dying person's wishes was regarded as a must and sacred duty. Otherwise haunting and bad luck would follow. The Banshee is a mysterious  otherworld creature, described as being heard without been seen, more often than the other way around. She is said to follow certain Gaelic families with the prefix O or Mac before their surnames. After the displacement of the Gaelic lords by the English and the Flight of the Earls in 1607, she is sometimes seen as a protector and lamenter for lost Irish. She might be an otherworld pre-Christian goddess, who has changed and come down to us as the Banshee, the foreteller of a death in a  family. The Banshee's comb is a familiar motif found in stories relating to her. It is an object not to be touched by human hands. It, too, may foretell an imminent death in the family. The cock, in folklore, has flying about him many superstitions. His crowing early in the morning can signify a bad omen if heard too often in the one week. In the story of Christ's betrayal and denied by Peter three times, the cock crows three times as Christ predicted he would when Peter was about to deny him. Potatoes in Ireland are known as spuds.


Land League  Piltown Creamery  Belline  Ardclone  Kildalton  Raheen  Muckalee  Comb  Rabbit  Hound  Seven Bishops

Folklore  Magical Horses

















© Copyright MaryO'Shea, 2006



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