Cill Dairbhre ‘The Church of the Oaks’

Kildorrery is situated on a conical hill at the crossing of the N73 and the R512 roads. These roads were first opened in the early 18th century, the first being a road that linked Clonmel to Doneraile which was soon crossed with a road linking Kilmallock to Fermoy. The streets of Kildorrery were built along these roads pointing them north, south, east and west directions. The village we see today originated in the 1780’s when Robert the 2nd Earl of Kingston began a lifelong project of developing his 100,000 acre estate which involved demolishing whole villages and replacing them with wide urban streets with two storey houses for his tenants. It was at this time that the Earl also rebuilt Mitchelstown, Ballylanders and Ballyporeen. Kildorrery began as a market town nearly two hundred years earlier when in 1606, King James I granted a licence to Maurice Fitzgibbon, the White Knight of Oldcastletown to hold a fair on the eve of St. Bartholomew’s day (24th Aug)


Saint Molagawho lived in the 6th century founded churches in Aghacross and Labbamolaga.  These early ecclesiastic sites are of enormous interest to archaeologists because its association with the saint links them to the early Christian era in Ireland.  Many archaeological excavations have been carried out on these sites and have had remarkable revelations.  Saint Molaga’s ‘Betha’ (Life-story) was written in a church called ‘Tullagh Mien’ about 400 years after his death.  That church is believed now to have been near where Sraherla Church is today. 

Saint’s Bethas have often been dismissed by historians for being empty of historic fact and instead concentrating on myth and miracles associated with their subjects, but recent studies of Molaga’s Betha and comparisons’ found in Crichad an Chaoilli reveal more historic fact than previously agreed.  One such fact was the description of Molaga’s Thermon or Sanctuary which is bordered to the north by Labbamolaga Church where the Saint is said to be buried, and to the south by the river Funcheon where the ruin of the other church associated with the saint stands in Aghacross. 



Ringforts are the most widespread archaeological field monument in the Irish countryside.  There are over 30 Ringforts in the Parish of Kildorrery.  They are usually known by the name of ‘Rath’, ‘Lios’  or ‘Dún’ and form a part of many place names in Ireland.  Kildorrery was listed as ‘Lios an Cunic’ in a 12th century topographical manuscript called ‘Crichad an Chaoilli’ meaning ‘The Kingdom of Fermoy’.   This suggests that Kildorrery was then a fortified hill of strategic importance.  The Ringfort is a circular or roughly circular area enclosed by an earthen bank formed of material thrown up from a central fosse (or ditch) on it’s outside.  Generally the diameter of the enclosure is between 25 m and 50 m.  These sites are not “forts” in a strict military sense; many are overlooked by higher ground and the number of rings of defence may reflect on the status of the site or its occupier rather than constitute a strengthening of its defences.  This is confirmed in the Early Irish laws, which describe larger sites as the home of kings, with the less impressive sites with the lesser ranks of society.  Archaeological excavation has shown that the majority of Ringforts were enclosed farmsteads built in early Christian times.  Radiocarbon samples have fairly consistently provided a date range during the second half of the first millennium but this is in constant debate as some Archaeologists argue that these sites date back to the Iron Age and were abandoned, reoccupied and modified as required over the centuries.  The earthworks acted as a defence against natural predators like wolves as well as the local warfare and cattle raiding that was common at the time.

The Ringforts were gradually abandoned in the decades following the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century as the Normans introduced the building of stone castles and the Irish soon followed.

There is a cluster of the remains of 3 ringforts to the eastern end of the village which are still visible today.


‘Crichad an Chaoilli’ (The Kingdom of Fermoy) is a 15th century manuscript contained in the ‘Book of Lismore’.  It is a copy a 12th century topographical tract which describes the north east Cork area before the Norman invasion in 1169.  It is unique as it is the only tract of its kind in Ireland which not only describes the administrative units (but also lists the churches, burial grounds and the local Chiefs (Tuiseach na Túaithi) and other main Gaelic families who were soon to be ruled by the Norman conquerors.  It is likely that it was originally written for the benefit of taxation due to the detail of information it contains.   This information has now enabled historians and archaeologists to construct a map of the region in the pre-Norman era.

 The Kildorrery region of today is described as being divided into 3 ‘Túatha’ which are roughly similar to the modern day civil parishes of the area and they are in turn broken down into ‘Bailte’ which are similar to the townlands of today.  

The 3 Túatha listed are:

Túath Uí Chuscraid (Kildorrery, Aghacross and part of Templemolaga). 

Túath Uí Chuscraid Sléibe (Templemolaga, Derryvillane, parts of Marshallstown, Kilgullane and Mitchelstown). 

Túath Uí nDuinnin (Farahy, Rockmills and Carraigdownane)



The Black Ditch

An Claidh Dubh or the Black Ditch is an ancient linear earthwork running a distance of over 22kms from the Ballyhoura Mountains to the Nagle Mountains crossing the Blackwater valley in North East Cork.  Similar earthworks can be found in other parts of Ireland most notable the Black Pig’s Dyke which formed the border of the ancient Kingdom of Ulster.  These Ditches date back over 1,000 years and it is believed they were modelled on Ancient Roman Limes, their defensive boundaries such as Hadrian’s Wall between Scotland and England.  In 1998 an archaeological survey of the entire Ditch and a partial excavation revealed much more of what it looked like and what its purpose might have been. 

The earthworks consisted of an earthen bank with a ditch on either side with the bank varying in width from 4 to 9 meters and up to 1.8 meters in height.  It was topped by a thick thorny hedge and in some places a substantial timber palisade.  In places at the sides there were shallow trenches which would have filled with water.  Archaeologists also discovered that a 2 meter surfaced track ran parallel to the eastern side of the ditch.

This Ditch was described in an ancient manuscript called ‘Crichad an Chaoilli’ (the Ancient Kingdom of Fermoy) which forms part of the ‘Book of Lismore’ and is dated to before the Anglo-Norman invasion of the 12th century.  In this manuscript, as translated by Patrick Power in 1932, the Ditch is described as a dividing line of the local Kingdom, suggesting its construction would indicate a period of social unrest, territorial disputes, etc., but this structure was not massive enough to resist a full scale territorial invasion but would certainly have discouraged wandering livestock or casual ‘cattle rustling’.

The Claidh Dubh is by now mostly indistinguishable from the surrounding countryside and field boundaries but can be viewed from the roadside in places and from satellite images if you know what you are looking for.  The most remarkable fact about the Claidh Dubh today is that it forms part of the boundary between Kildorrery and neighboring parish of Shanballymore and several other townlands and parishes as it twists its way through the countryside.  This suggests that the local boundaries we know today are more ancient than we can imagine.



The Synod of Rathbreasail in 1111, saw Ireland move from a monastic system to the parish system which still familiar to us today.  The parish of Kildorrery today is an amalgamation of six of these medieval parishes.  These parishes still exist as civil parishes.  They are, Kildorrery, Farahy, Aghacross, Templemolaga, Carraigdownane and Saint Nathlash (Rockmills).   Each parish had its own church most of which are now ruins in the local graveyards with the exception of Saint Colman’s in Farahy, which was built on the site of an earlier church.   Rockmills was also built on the site of an earlier church, but was demolished in 1899 only 70 years after it was built and all that remains today is its steeple.    



An Sliabh Riabhach  Meaning: The Striped Mountains

 The Ballyhoura Mountains run east west for about 12 km along the county boundary between Cork and Limerick. Its highest point is Seefin Mountain, Suí Finn (528m). The name Suí Finn translates as the Seat of Fionn (Mac Cumhaill). It is so named because, according to tradition, Fionn mac Cumhaill and the Fianna stopped here in their travels around the country.

These hills now peacefully divide the neighboring counties of Cork and Limerick but over 1,000 years ago were the dividing line between the Provencal Kingdoms of Tuadmumu (North Munster) and Desmumu (South Munster) who were often at war with each other.

The Cross of Redchair, Bearna Deargh  marks the county boundary.  The road runs through what was once a well known area as it was there that Brian Boru’s brother ‘Mahon’ who was then King of Munster was slain by a Norseman, ’Maelmaud’.  Brian then became king of Munster and swore vengeance for his brother’s death.  Eventually Brian and his armies defeated the Norsemen and the Danes in 1014 at The Battle of Clontarf.

 Over 600 years later, in the mid 17th century the Cross of Redchair was remembered for a trick played on the Lord President St. Ledger by the rebel Lord Mountgarret, then one of the most wanted men in Ireland.  St. Ledger had amassed his troops to ambush Mountgarret and his insurgents on their way through the narrow pass.  Mountgarret calmly entered the pass, approached St. Ledger and produced to him a forged letter which he claimed was issued by the King offering him free passage throughout the country.  St. Ledger rather foolishly took the letter as being authentic, left Mountgarret through, disbanded his forces and retired for the evening.



The Anglo-Norman Fitzgibbon on Clan came to Ireland from Wales in the 14th century and quickly established themselves in the area owning lands which covered a large area extending across North Cork, South Limerick and Tipperary.  They built castles in Kilbehenny, Kilmallock, Mitchelstown, Ballyhea and in Oldcastletown, Kildorrery.  Most of their recorded history is one of war with their neighbours, at first the McCarthys of Desmond (a Gaelic Irish Family who they would subsequently marry into) and later the Lord Roche of Glanworth with whom they developed a murderous rivalry.

They lasted here for 12 generations until Sir Edmund Fitzgibbon (the last effective White Knight), who was said to be a treacherous, double-dealing, ‘stab you in the back’ sort of chap who regularly changed sides to suit his own needs.  He was related to the most wanted man in Ireland, the Earl of Desmond, who he turned over to the English Crown for a reward.  He died a day after his son in 1608 and it is believed they were poisoned by a member of their own family.  The last heir died as a boy three years later and their lands went to his eleven year old niece Margaret who was a ward of the Governor of Ireland and was promptly married off to his nephew (Sir William Fenton) placing the lands firmly in English hands.

 The Castle of Oldcastletown

The White Knight’s Castle of Oldcastletown was built in the 16th century by William Caoch (‘TheBlind’) Fitzgibbon who was the son of John Fitzgibbon the 5th White Knight and brother to Maurice Fitzgibbon the 6th White Knight.  It was built on a rock outcrop known as ‘Magner’s Rock’ which was the site of a former building which gave the name ‘Bally an tSean Caisleán’ to the District.  The building was once said a five storey tower house but was badly damaged by Cromwell’s sidekick Lord Broghill during his assault on it in 1650.  The next known occupants of the site were the ‘Fennels’ who built the more modern styled country house which is the ruin that you see today and they became known locally as the ‘Dogboys of the Bowen’s’.



When Sir William Fenton married Margaret Fitzgibbon they inherited the vast estate of The White Knights.  Their male heirs both died young and so the estate was inherited by their daughter Catherine who married John King and thus began a family story which lasted over 300 years which is brilliantly recalled the book ‘White Knights, Dark Earls – the rise and fall of an Anglo-Irish Dynasty’ by historian Bill Power.  John King had been an officer in Oliver Cromwell’s army and like many others were put into positions of power in Ireland after the Cromwellian conquest and subsequent plantation.

Robert King (1754-1799) became the 2nd Earl of Kingston when he married his cousin Lady Caroline Fitzgerald (1755-1823) who had inherited the 100,000 acre Kingston estate in Munster.  It is their legacy which is most visible today in the area as Robert inspired by their ‘Grand Tour of Europe’,  began building projects on his estate which saw the rebuilding of the villages and the development of much of the Mitchelstown that can be seen today including Kingston College and Market Square which are regarded as the finest examples of Georgian architecture to be seen in Ireland.  They were also insightful in that the hired the famous English agriculturalist Arthur Young to manage the estate lands and he introduced many projects like tree planting and the general improvement of farming practices.  

Their son George (1771-1839) became 3rd Earl of Kingston when he inherited the estate.  He is described as being a megalomaniac with grandiose ideas.  His first act on inheriting the estate was to pull down the 50 year old Georgian mansion his father had built and in its place build the largest neo-gothic house in Ireland known as Mitchelstown Castle.  The scale and grandeur of the project near bankrupt the estate but nothing stood in the way of ‘Big George’s’ extravagance.   The castle dominated the local landscape for the next 100 years before it was burnt down in the Civil War in 1922. 



The Bowens were originally Welsh.  The first Henry Bowen came to Ireland as a colonel in Cromwell’s army.  The story goes that he brought with him a pair of hawks, one of whom was killed by Cromwell.  To make amends Cromwell promised Bowen as much land as the hawk would fly over.  The hawk circled 800 acres of the finest land in County Cork and this was to become Bowen’s Court estate. Colonel Bowen set up home in a castle by the banks of the Farahy River. 

It was one of his descendants who built Bowen’s Court on the other side of the river in 1775: a beautiful Italianate mansion, with very large windows that as Elizabeth said ‘let in lots of light’.  Elizabeth Bowen inherited Bowen’s Court in 1930.  Apart from the war years, which she spent in London, her summers were always spent at Bowen’s Court and it was always full of visitors.  She loved to host dinner parties, to dance, to eat and to drink.  The Duhallow Hunt Ball was sometimes held in Bowen’s Court, when she would open all the windows so that the local people could enjoy the music. After her husband’s death in 1952 Elizabeth found it increasingly difficult to maintain the house and finally sold it 1959.  She told no-one of her plans.  When her relations heard about the sale they came straight to Kildorrery, with the intention of offering financial assistance, but it was too late.  Sadly the house was demolished by its new owner in 1960, simply a victim of the economic conditions of the time.  Had it survived another decade it would probably have become a visitor attraction as country houses became very popular with tourists and domestic visitors in the 1970s. All that remains today is the walls of the 2.5 acre garden.



 “Places are peopled with such people”

“Nothing can happen nowhere.  The locale of the happening always colours the happening and often to a degree shapes it.”

These two quotations from the writings of Elizabeth Bowen illustrate how she frequently examines the interaction of people and places and the influence each has on the other. All her books are to an extent, explorations of identity and belonging.  Perhaps her fascination with places is a consequence of her Anglo-Irish heritage and her self-confessed ambiguous identity.  She herself said that the only place she felt truly at home was in the middle of the Irish sea!  Kildorrery and Bowen’s Court were places that played a major part both in her life and in her writings.

Elizabeth Bowen was born in Dublin in 1899.  It is said that a jig was danced on the table at Bowen’s Court when news broke of her arrival.  When she was six weeks old she was brought to Bowen’s Court for the first time and placed in the nursery over the drawing-room, which was to remain her bedroom until she married.  Most of her early childhood summers were spent in Bowens Court.

Although privileged as an only child, her life was, non-the less, full of tragedy.  Her father was diagnosed with mental illness when Elizabeth was still quite young, and she and her mother were advised to live apart from him.  They lived at first in Dublin and then in England.  When she was in her early teens, her mother died of cancer and she was subsequently reared by a ‘succession of relatives’.  Elizabeth was twenty and living in London when she began to write.  Her first book of short stories was published in 1923.  In the same year she married Alan Cameron, a civil servant with the Dept. of Education.  Her novels include ‘The Hotel’, ‘The Last September’, ‘The House in Paris’, and ‘The Death of the Heart’.  The North Cork landscape and a thinly disguised Bowen’s Court is used as a background for her novel, ‘The Last September’.  Made into a film for her centenary in 1999, directed by Deborah Warner and starring Fiona Shaw, the setting is the ‘troubles’ of the 1920’s and  tells the story of an Anglo-Irish family living at ‘the big house’.  The family finds itself in a rather equivocal position - interest and tradition should bind them to the British but affection ties them to the now resistant people of the surrounding countryside.  Many paradoxes are presented.  Tennis parties and dances go on while ambushing and burnings occur.  Soldiers socialise with young women and enjoy themselves and shortly afterwards they patrol the countryside armed and ready for conflict.  Bowen cleverly explores the effects of this transitional period in Irish history on her own class.  While the Anglo-Irish attempt to hold on to the old order, fate and time hurdle them towards change.  A similar theme is found in ‘Bowen’s Court’ which was published in 1942.  Here she gives an account of her family history and again tackles the vexed subject of Anglo-Irish identity. Elizabeth is buried in Farahy churchyard with her husband, Alan Cameron, between the graves of her father and her aunt Sarah up at the top of the churchyard, facing the door of the church.  At the north-west corner is the Famine plot where the bodies were buried in an unmarked grave during the great famine.


For many centuries fairs were an important part of rural life as it provided local farmers with the opportunity to sell and trade their livestock and other produce.  The first fair held in Kildorrery was in 1606 when James 1 granted Maurice Fitzgibbon of Oldcastletown a licence to hold a fair on the 24th August the eve of St. Bartholomew’s Day.  By the 19th century Kildorrery was well established as a Fair village with cattle and horse fairs being held on the 1st of May, 27th of June, 3rd of September and the 27th of November.  Pig fairs were held on the first Wednesday of every month with a butter, fowl and general market every Wednesday. 

Kildorrery was particularly famous for its horse fairs in the early 19th century a time when horses played a huge role in everyday life as they provided transport, labour and of course as they do today, sport.  Kildorrery Horse Fair was described by an Irish contributor to a British Sporting Magazine in 1837 as being the best horse fair in Britain or Ireland with “plenty of amusement for the lovers of “fun and frolic”.  He also described one of the main events of the day being a Sweepstakes Horse Race with up to sixty riders in which “many a collar bone would be cracked in the desperate riding which can decide such an affair”. 

Faction fighting was also then a popular ‘sport’ and was part and parcel of a fair.  These fights were once common throughout Ireland in the 19th century and were contested between rival families or parishes, with up to 500 supporters on each side who carried blackthorn sticks as their weapon of choice.  Fairs in Kildorrery continued right up to the middle of the 20th century but would eventually make way for cattle and sheep marts, and horses were replaced by tractors on the farm.


The British authorities started keeping population records in 1800 and the local population declined at 10% per decade throughout the 19th century except from 1840-50 when it increased to 30% due to the Great Famine.  Population decline continued for 160 years until it started to gradually but steadily climb for the first time on record through the 1960s. 

By the late 19th century Kildorrery had a well established local economy based principally on agriculture and mainly on the dairy sector.  There were privately owned creameries in the area who bought milk from the Farmers and turned it into salted butter which was then transported to Cork where it was exported to Britain.  By 1875 the village was a hub of economic activity with 10 Grocers and 11 Vintners listed in Guy’s Directory and also several other businesses such as: Butchers, Coal Merchant, Flour and Meal Dealer, Bakers, Drapers, Blacksmiths, Leather Seller, Seed Seller, Cooper, Saddle Maker, Tailors, Dress Makers and Cobbler.  The village also had a Hotel, a part-time Bank and a Post Office with a telegraphy service.  No doubt these businesses were supplying the many farming families in the locality.  There were also 4 schools in the area, Scart, Graigue, Sraherla and Ballinguyroe.



In 1887 William Gates came from Guilford in England and established a creamery here in Kildorrery at the crossroads.  His three brothers also ran creameries in Surry and collectively the company was known as the West Surrey Central Dairy.  The creamery here in Kildorrery was quickly established as the economic and social hub of the area with the local dairy farmers delivering their milk daily and it remained so for the next seventy years.  William Gates quickly perfected the art of mechanically extracting cream from milk and his cream factory here was soon regarded as the leading example in the south of Ireland.  The cream that was collected here was transported to Ballyhooley train station from where it was moved by rail to Roslare, shipped across the Irish Sea and again moved by rail to Guilford.  The fresh cream products produced there were of such a high quality they soon found their way to onto the table of Buckingham Palace.

By 1900 the company was thriving and these enterprising brothers decided to invest in drying equipment to produce powder milk from the skimmed milk that was left over from the creaming process.   Soon orders were coming in from all over the U.K. for their new product but it was from the baking and catering trade mainly.  Within a few years a Doctor in Leicester who had began research into the benefits of feeding babies dried powder milk ordered a large quantity of powder and so began a new phase for this innovative company.  By the 1930s the company changed it’s name to Cow & Gate and has went on to become a world leader in baby nutrition.  The research and development of baby nutrition in the U.K. and USA led to a halving of the infant mortality rate in just 2 decades. 

When William Gates arrived in Ireland in 1887 even though he came to open a dairy creamery he was a qualified dentist, and he brought his dentistry equipment with him.  He offered a free service of extraction only from his home in the area.  He often came home from work to a queue of tortured souls waiting to have a tooth extracted.  He used to joke ‘I have spilt more Irish blood than any other Englishman in history’.  He later developed a more serious dental practice and opened branches in other local towns.  He was involved in the setting up of the Cork Dental school and hospital and was a member of the voluntary teaching staff.  He died in 1933 and is buried in Farahy Graveyard alongside the Bowen’s who he was a good friend of. 

By 1956 Cow & Gate had proposed to build a Factory in Kildorrery but it never happened and the factory was built in Mallow instead and when local farmers voted to join Mitchelstown Co-Op they sold the creamery to the Co-Op and so ended a 70 year Cow & Gate association with the village, but a new era began for the farmers of the area. 



Mitchelstown Co-Op was founded in 1919 by a local farmers who pooled their resources together to buy seeds directly from a wholesaler and thereby cut out the middle men who had for a long time profiteered out of farmers.  Within weeks of their first purchase the same farmers decided to set up a co-operative shop in the town and if this was a success they would build a creamery by re-investing the profits of the shop.  It was a resounding success and by 1925 they opened a creamery on the Clonmel Rd. The creamery a first had a daily intake of 22,000 litres of milk and it main product was butter.   Within a short few years the intake increased to 130,000 litres when they opened branches it several other villages in the area.  By 1932 Mitchelstown got a monopoly licence to produce processed cheese for the Irish market and their brands like ‘Calvita’ and ‘Galtee Cheese’ became household names throughout the country.  It is hard to believe what these farmers achieved considering just a few generations before them their ancestors had fought for such basic rights in the Land War.

The creamery here in Kildorrery was built and opened in 1956 when it took over from Cow & Gate and the dairy farmers brought their milk here every morning.  In 1978 it ceased to operate as a creamery and became a collection point only to provide a milk collection service for farmers who could not comply with the conditions for bulk tank collection.  The yard and store also stocked and sold all kinds of farm supplies from gates and feeders to seeds and fertilizers.  In 1990 Mitchelstown amalgamated with their Mallow counterparts Ballyclough Co-Op to form Dairygold, one of the largest dairy companies in Ireland.  The creameries and farm supply stores in the villages have all now closed but Dairygold continues to prosper and grow and the food produced in this fertile valley is exported to every corner of the globe and not just European markets but Asia and Africa too.