The Collegiate Church of Youghal

From the Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 44, April 27, 1833

Ruins of the Chancel of the Collegiate Church of Youghal, County of Cork.

These ruins derive as much interest from their association with the names of Boyle and Spencer's "Shepherd of the Ocean," the gallant, the accomplished, but unfortunate Raleigh, as from any architectural beauties which they now present, or probably ever possessed. The College of Youghal was founded in 1464, by Thomas Earl of Desmond. This foundation was afterwards confirmed by his son James, in 1472, and subsequently by his brother Maurice in 1496. The church is of prior date, but was rebuilt and beautified by the Earl of Desmond soon after the erection of the college, and repaired, at a later period, by the Earl of Cork.

The community of the college consisted at first of a warden, eight fellows, and eight singing men, who had a common table, together with other necessaries, and a yearly stipend allowed to them--the whole donation being originally worth £600 per annum. It was endowed with several parsonages and vicarages in different parts of the county of Cork. The foundation charter and the several appropriations were confirmed, at various periods, by the Bishops of Cloyne, Pope Julius, Pope Paul, and other Pontiffs. This church enjoyed its revenues and privileges for some time after the reformation; for, in the year 1587, Dr. Witherhead was collated to the wardenship by the then Bishop of Cork and Cloyne. He was succeeded by Nath: Baxter, who, finding his tenure precarious, and that this was likely to share the fate of other monastic institutions, privately authorised Godfrey Armitage, Edmund Harris, and William Parker, to dispose of the college revenues, who accordingly demised them and the college house to Sir Thomas Norris, then Lord President of Munster. Dr. Meredith Hanmer, the author of the Chronicle of Ireland, succeeded Baxter in the warden-ship, and renewed the lease made by his predecessor, by demising the college revenues, &c. to William Jones, in trust for Sir Walter Raleigh, reserving, however, the Parsonage of Carrigaline and the Rectory of Mallow.

About the year 1602, Sir George Carew took the college for the purpose of residing in it, and obtained a grant of the college and revenues from James the First. He afterwards sold his estate in it to Sir Richard Boyle who purchased Jones's interest, when he purchased the Raleigh estate. Sir James Fullerton, having obtained a patent for concealed church lands, laid claim to the property of this college. His title, or pretended title, was also purchased by the Earl of Cork, who contrived to obtain possession until the year 1634, when Sir William Reeves the then attorney-general, exhibited charges against him with respect to the mode in which he obtained possession of the college; all these, together with other charges of rapacity brought against him by Strafford, the Earl says he satisfactorily answered. Be that as it may, he was fined £15,000 by the award of Strafford, who prevailed upon him to refer the matter to his decision.

At this period, we have little evidence as to the mode in which the Earl of Cork obtained his princely estates in this kingdom, save his own and the equally suspicious testimony of his avowed enemies, We certainly have many still existing proofs of his zeal for the improvement of this country, in the towns which he founded, and the public works, such as bridges, schools, &c. which he erected or endowed. We have however, his own testimony that his private interests were not neglected, as we find him landing in Dublin in 1583, being then possessed of "£27 3s. in money, and two tokens which his mother had given him, viz. a diamond ring and a bracelet of gold, worth about £10; a taffety doublet, cut with and upon taffety; a pair of black breeches laced; a new Milan fustian suit, laced and cut upon taffety; two cloaks and competent linen, and necessaries, with his rapier and dagger." And, in 1641, we find his revenues amounting to £50, a day exclusive of demesnes, park, royalties, &c.

The Collegiate Church of Youghal was in its original state one of the finest specimens in Ireland of that style of pointed architecture, now generally known as "the decorated English style;" and its east window was considered to be the most beautiful of its kind in the island. The original form of the building was that of a cross, and consisted of chancel, nave, and transepts, to which was joined, on the north side of the church, a square belfry, about fifty feet high. The nave, which was adorned with side aisles formed by six pointed arches, is now used as the parish church. Its length, from east to west, is forty-five yards, and its breadth twenty-two. The chancel, which is twenty-nine feet wide, is unroofed and in ruins, as represented in the illustration. The beautiful window in this ruin, though "curtailed of its fair proportions," the bottom having been built up, is well deserving of admiration. It is divided into two distinct compartments, each of which consists of two slender mullions, surmounted by open tracery, and terminating in a trefoil ornament: These compartments or windows become one by the outside line of their arches uniting in a common point over the double massive mullion, which is thus made a centre; and this diamond-shaped space is occupied by a Catherine wheel. The transepts are now chiefly used as cemeteries. That to the south belongs to the Boyle family, being purchased for that purpose in 1606, from the Mayor and Corporation of Youghal, by the first earl of Cork, in the deed of which he is bound not to disturb the ancient burials in the place. It contains a fine monument of that nobleman, and several others of interest, which with those in the other parts of the church shall be noticed hereafter--for here repose the ashes of many of the mighty earls of Desmond--the seneschals of Imokilly--and other chiefs of the Fitzgeralds, and other noble families. 

But the monuments, chancel, and all, save the nave, are utterly neglected, and hastening fast to decay; and this circumstance is the more surprising when we reflect that it is the estate of the Duke of Devonshire, and in it stand the monuments of that family through which he derives his extensive Irish estates--estates on which the disadvantages of the proprietor's absence are less felt than, perhaps, on any other in Ireland.

The decay of this church is singular, as the pride of three noble houses, namely, Devonshire, Cork, and Shannon, may be supposed interested in its preservation.

As we have reserved the general history of Youghal for a distinct article, we shall merely add to the present notice of its Collegiate Church, that according to tradition, Cobbet's "accursed root,'' the potato, was first planted there, in the college garden, by Raleigh. This is not well authenticated, but we have some poetical authority for it, which says, that

"By Raleigh 'twas planted at Youghal so gay, 
And Munster potatoes are famed to this day--
Balmamona oro, 
A laughing red apple for me."