The Lady's Island in 1833 (County Wexford)

From The Dublin Penny Journal, Volume 1, Number 30, January 19, 1833

The above cut is a faithful representation of the "Lady's Island," or as it is called in ecclesiastical record, "St. Mary of the Island," in the barony of Forth, County Wexford. The parish of the same name is an impropriate cure in the diocess of Ferns, in extent not exceeding 380 acres. It pays church cess to the rector of the union of Killinick.

There are few parts of Ireland in which there are so many monuments of the English invasion of 1170, and still fewer, so indistinctly described. This may perhaps be owing to its being the settlement of the first colony from Britain, generally known by the name of the Anglo-Saxon, using a dialect nearly as much differing from the English language of that day as the then English does from the present. The colonists were strangers who had some time previous settled in South Wales, in the present district of Pembrokeshire, and by consent of the chief of their district Richard de Clare, generally called "Strongbow" (from his great skill in the exercise of the bow,) settled in two conthreds of land lying to the south of the town of Wexford, now known as the Baronies of "Forth and Bargy," and granted to them by Dermot Mc Murchad, the then King of Leinster. Fortifying their new homes, they lived in a state of total non-intercourse with all others, a custom which until within the last forty or fifty years has been a striking characteristic of their descendants, who, until then (and in some degree even still) retained their peculiar dialect. (Vide Vallancey's Collectanea.)

The first object of the new settlers was to preserve their new inheritance, themselves, and vassals, from the many and sudden attacks of the native Irish, most of whom abandoned--but were not driven out of--their homes--for all who wished to remain and live under the laws of the colonists were allowed to do so, and had the equal benefit of the same laws. The descendants of some of these Aborigines, as they may be called, are still, after the lapse of almost seven centuries, to be found in these baronies.

In proportion to the means of each colonist he became a chief or vassal. In order to obtain that portion of land to constitute a chief's, or knight's fee, the person should be able to erect a fortalice, or castle of lime and stone, to which in case of danger either to the chief or his vassals, all repaired for mutual safety. As these chiefs' families increased in numbers and opulence, from the management of the hitherto neglected lands, subdivisions took place and new castles were erected. Owing to one of these divisions, the castle, the subject of the present memoir, was commenced in the year of our Lord 1237, by Rodolph, son of Milo de Lamporte, (hodie Lambert) whose castle was situate on the sea shore, where is now the present man sion of Mc Nunn of St. Margarets.

The site chosen was the neck of a peninsula of about thirty acres in the lake formerly called "Lough Tay," now of Lady's Island. In the centre of the isthmus was erected the castle or keep, sixty one feet high and forty by thirty square, with a large arched and fortified gateway on the west. Strong walls, twenty feet high, extended to the water on each side, a distance of fifty yards, and had each a turret of three stories. The entire is composed of coarse compact granite (brought from an island up the lake) strongly cemented, but possesses no architectural beauty. As usual in similar buildings of that and subsequent centuries, it had no stone bawn or dwelling house, as erections for such purposes though of inferior materials were made sufficiently safe by the outer works. All these have left but simple marks of their existence. At a distance of sixty yards, and immediately in front of the gateway, is a square tower thirty feet high and fifteen square, in all probability erected at some later day, the quoins, &c. being all blue limestone, of which there is not a single particle to be found in the larger building. For ten feet the entire is solid, and the door only accessible by eight rude irregularly projecting stone steps. Tradition says that instead of the present causeway, a draw-bridge joined the island with the adjoining land, which is very probable.

There are several traditions regarding hostile attacks on this castle, but none agree as to the particular time. It is certain, however, that immediately after the arrival of Cromwell, whose army consisting of upwards of nine thousand men, landed in the south bay (Roselare) of Wexford, and himself slept in the castle of Ballybrenan, then possessed by the family of Synnott, the founder, it was deemed necessary to send a small force of gunsmen to summon the castle of Lady's Island. It being found that musquetry alone was likely to be of no avail, two small pieces of cannon were sent, and the castle being summoned to surrender, did so without further opposition, and without conditions. This was on the 4th October, 1649. The prisoners were made to join the ranks of Cromwell and march to the siege of Wexford. Such parts of the fortification as could be reduced to ashes were immediately consumed, and a convent of Friars, of the order of St. Augustine, founded about two hundred years previous, and protected by the fortification, was plundered, and the fraternity refusing to bear arms against their country, put to the sword. This place being dedicated to the Virgin Mary was then, and until lately, a celebrated place of pilgrimage, and even at this day (1833) persons resort to it from the counties of Waterford, Kilkenny, Carlow, Wicklow, &c. The success of Cromwell's army at Wexford is well known, as the capture of the capital decided the fate of the country. The Anglo-Saxon lords became strangers in their homes, the vassals of some non-commissioned officer and in some instances, of privates in the Cromwellian army. From that period this castle, and all the other castles of the country, have been gradually crumbling to ruin, and some have entirely disappeared, for many of the present day seem to delight in possessing a spirit of Vandalism--to make the ruinous still more ruinous.

This peninsula and part of the land adjoining are said to have been formerly possessed by the Danes. There still remains a large mound of earth enclosing about seventy acres, near which are found urns of red clay, unbaked, containing human bones. Some of these urns are ornamented with rude devices, of which at some future day we shall give drawings and other particulars, as also of some iron instruments of war.

The present village of Lady's Island contains a Roman Catholic chapel, a school-house and eight or ten tolerably comfortable cottages. The lake abounds with a variety of wildfowl, and was formerly much frequented by a species of bittern called here the "proud stork." A curious fact respecting the manner in which this bird was accustomed to build its nest, is related by the Rev. Mr. Eastwood, in his account of the adjoining parish of Tacumshane, published in Shaw Mason's Parochial Survey, vol. 3. There is a weed or grass growing at the bottom of the lake, which she took into her bill, twisting it from the depth; and when she had spun sufficient rope to raise her over the surface, she constructed her floating nest, laid two eggs and brought out her young. But the sea having latterly found a passage into the lake, and the tide having risen above the length of the subaqueous grass, the storks were compelled, however reluctantly, to abandon it altogether.