In 1649 Cromwell landed in Ireland and for the next few years his army and followers created mayhem within the country, murdering and torturing people. Priests, Wolves, and Tories were called the three burdensome beasts, on whose heads were laid hefty rewards. Priests were top of Cromwell’s list. Penal laws were enacted and a priest’s head was worth five pounds or more in some cases. Wolves were also worth a sizeable amount of money in those days. Tories were those Irish landowners who were evicted from their estates by the incoming English and rather than be transplanted to Connaught, as ordered by Cromwell, some took to the wilds.
From these remote areas, such as the northern slopes of Slievenamon, Tories were hunted down by organised bands of English soldiers and shot on sight. A dead Tory was worth thirty pounds. Many of these deposed former landowners found refuge on the mountain amongst the woodland, which was abundant and dense then. Priests had to be very careful and if a person or household was caught harbouring them they would also be murdered and the house burned down. They said mass in very remote places and had to be ready to flee at a moments notice. Lookouts were positioned to give a warning if the soldiers were coming. A bounty existed of five or even ten pounds if the person was important enough, or a thorn in the establishment’s side. There was always the temptation for a poor person to give the priest away for the bounty. Schooling for Catholic children was also forbidden and what became known as hedge schools were conducted by brave teachers, as they were also liable to be killed if caught tutoring.
There is a huge conglomerate rock on Slievenamon (cloch an aifrinn) with an almost flat table-like top. This was used for these clandestine masses, although the service would not be conducted there on a regular basis as that would give the position away. Eventually, other obscure places were also used and word spread amongst the faithful as to where the mass was to be conducted on any given week.
Cloch an aifrinn
This huge rock is still known today as the Mass Rock. In the winter of 1651, a priest was about to start saying mass at the mass rock when a scout spotted three English soldiers on horseback approaching. He immediately jumped on his horse, pursued by the soldiers. The morning was misty and damp with poor visibility on the mountain. The priest was heading for the safety of the woodlands in Cloran, where he knew that the soldiers would not follow. They were fearful of the Tory’s enclave, where they had found sanctuary amongst the thick woodland and made it their home. However, fortune was not on the side of the priest on this occasion. His luck ran out when his horse stumbled and fell as he tried to jump the Clodiagh (the stream) at Gortnapisha. The priest fell into the deep gorge and hit his head off a stone in the stream. He died on this spot and it is known to this day as Poll a tSagairt.
Carraig Moclair was the scene of a brave and ill fated United Irishmen revolt in 1798. It is a well known landmark overlooking Kylathlea and is one of the many features which make this mountain so interesting. It overlooks the valley of Slievenamon and has splendid views of Cloneen village, Ballingarry in the distance and Mullinahone. On the opposite (southern) lies Grangemockler, and views towards Clonmel. Because of its position and height and the fact that it was densely wooded in years gone bye, Irish freedom fighters and English soldiers fought many a skirmish there. There was also a large skirmish at the nearby finger post during the war of independence, when a column of Tans and British soldiers were ambushed by local IRA units. This battle which lasted for hours is known as the Battle of Slievenamon. During this period many families housed and fed these brave men in the remote and sheltered areas around the mountain. Notable Irish nationalists such as Michael Collins, Eamon De-Valera, Ernie O’Malley and local IRA officers like Dan Breen and Tom Donovan found refuge in the hospitable homes in the area during this tumultuous period in Irish history.
It was on the lower reaches of Carraig Moclair in the years after the famine that an ordinary family were living quite comfortably and were considered well off.
They lived in a good solid stone house with a slated roof and glass in the windows, not being landowners; this sign of prosperity would have been rare at that time. In the summer, the setting sun would shine on the glass in the windows and turn the whole house to a golden colour, it could be seen from a great distance and was a splendid sight, The locals named the house Tig An Oir (the house of gold). It was aptly named, as the owner, in his younger years in Canada, worked in the gold mines there. He came back home to Ireland with very little money to show for his efforts in Canada, but after a couple of years he began to build this fine house.
The neighbours wondered where he was getting the resources, but unknown to them he was putting his knowledge of panning for gold to good use. His father always told him that there were gold deposits in the gravel bed of streams coming off Slievenamon. Foxy Sean, as he was known because of his unruly head of red hair and beard, started to pan the local streams and the gravel beds and soon found his father’s words to be true; there was gold amongst the gravel in the large pools in the stream. The volume of gold was not abundant but he kept panning away quietly away from prying eyes (the locals thought that he might have a poitin still hidden amongst the dense undergrowth close to the stream). The locals were also curious as what two well dressed gentlemen on horseback (well armed) were doing calling to J.G at least four times a year.
They did not know these were the gentlemen from the assay office in Dublin, who would remove the gold Sean had accumulated for that period and test its ingredients and quality. They would give him cash to the value on their return visit, and after a couple of years he had enough money to start building his house. A modern mineral survey and borehole analysis carried out a few years ago found traces of gold deposits in that area, local folklore also has it that J.G found much more gold than he could use and that he buried it in a stone container somewhere adjacent to the stream.
To the Gallows in Cloneen
Gortnapisha is a towns land approximately one mile from Cloneen on the lower slopes of Slievenamon, renowned for an event that happened there in 1821. Potato pickers and general workers from North Tipperary and Kerry were hired to work on a farm at Gortnapisha and this caused anger amongst some of the local workers who expected to be given the work. The locals set about rectifying the situation and set fire to and fired shots into the house with the result that seventeen people lost their lives. It is believed that a baby died in a barrel of water, after she was placed into it in a futile attempt to save her life. As a result of this crime, men were arrested and brought to trial and a couple of them were hung in 1829 on a makeshift gallows, between the upturned shafts of a horse’s cart in the square in Cloneen.
During the war of independence and ensuing civil war, many incidents occurred either on the mountain or in or around Cloneen. Soon after the shooting of Michael Collins in Beal na Bleath Cork, Eamon De Valera and his entourage marched down the street in Cloneen on his way to Kilkenny. Dinny Lacey’s flying column was billeted in a house in Cloneen village when local republican Denis ‘Dinny’ Sadlier was shot dead. He was hastily and temporarily buried on the mountain to prevent the black and tans from discovering his remains. Years later, in the 1940s, a Wexford oil rep’ named Deveraux was shot as an alleged ‘informer’ by republicans. His car was buried near the Clodiagh in Peafield to try and hide the evidence. The death penalty was handed down to St Johnstown man George Plant, the suspected perpetrator.
Because of the war that went on between the English soldiers and the Irish, plus famine conditions, large parts of the country were unpopulated and the Wolves multiplied in numbers causing havoc with the animals, killing goats and sheep and cattle. A price was put on their heads; Ireland was known to have the best wolf dogs in the world. Her hawks were equally lauded and were considered fit presents for a king. Many dogs and hawks were taken to Spain as presents for Spanish royalty by Irishmen leaving the country, but the English put a stop to this practice as the dogs were needed to hunt the wolves at home. It was a lucrative business hunting Wolves, Priests, and Tories, packs of dogs were a prised asset but expensive to maintain. As a result of the bounty on wolves (Canis lupis) the last wolf was reputed to have been killed in County Carlow circa 1720.
It was costly to feed packs of hounds as livestock that died were considered part of the human food chain, and not fed to dogs, also farms were not well stocked, as a result of the landowners being thrown off their lands and replaced by soldiers and people from England and Scotland, most with very little knowledge of farming. There seems to have been very little wildlife, except deer, which is referred to throughout the country by many place names called deer park, which were mostly walled enclosures, Kilbury has its own deer park where deer were kept for food (Venison) and sport, hunting with packs of dogs, this breed of deer was likely to be red deer. A notoriously famous pack of hounds were kennelled on the Kilbury Estate.
They earned their notoriety by killing and eating their owner when he went into the kennel one morning. It takes good deal of dead animal carcasses to feed a large pack of hounds and if not fed regularly as such is dangerous. The victim, William Cleere, was a planted settler and direct descendant of one of Cromwell’s favoured officers who at that time were the person in situ, there is a plaque on the stable wall today to commemorate Cleere’s demise.
Incidentally, Kilbury Estate in the shade of the mountain has a long, storied and troubled history of its own. The first Cumann of the Munster Land League was established here after a bitter and protracted eviction of the local Meagher family in the 1880’s (relatives of the Kilkenny/ Tullaroan hurler Lory Meagher). Mr Lysaght lost his life on the estate during the War of Independence. Although a symbol of unjust imperialism he was said to be held in high regard by his neighbours. Local accounts relay how the Black and Tans, converged on the village on the night he finally succumbed to his wounds. In a drunken rage, they were intent on burning Cloneen to the ground when the grieving Lady Lysaght, to her eternal credit, convinced them to spare the village from destruction.
Source: P. Clancy