Caisleán an Chomair
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Castlecomer is a former coal mining town in County Kilkenny, Ireland, located in the province of Leinster. The town is positioned at the meeting of N78 and R694 roads about 16 km (9.9 mi) roads north of Kilkenny city in the southeast of the island of Ireland.
As of the 2011 census, by the Central Statistics Office, Castlecomer town's population was 2,299. This saw a decrease of 4.5% from the 2006 figure of 2,407 persons. The Castlecomer rural area has a population of 8,484.
Castlecomer rural area has an area of 23,417 hectares. The town is part of the Castlecomer Plateau. The upland plateau area that surrounds it forms a discrete area. It is bounded on the east by the River Barrow, the west by the River Nore and dissected in the centre by the River Dinnin. The name Castlecomer comes from the Irish ‘Caislean an Chumair’, which means ‘the Castle at the confluence of the Waters’, the "waters" referring to the rivers Deen, Brocagh and Cloghogue while the "castle" refers to the castle built by the Normans in 1171 on the mound opposite the gates to "Castlecomer Demesne".
- 1 Historical Background
- 2 Present Day
- 3 Transport Links
- 4 Governance
- 5 Coal-mining heritage
- 6 Manufacturing
- 7 Tourism
- 8 Twinning
- 9 Education
- 10 Sport and Recreation
- 11 Other Community Groups
- 12 Eating Out
- 13 Public Houses
- 14 Religion
- 15 Agriculture
- 16 Scientific Discoveries: Geology and Fossils
- 17 Notable people
- 18 See also
- 19 References
- 20 Further reading
- 21 External links
The earliest record of a settlement at Castlecomer dates from circa 1200 when William Marshal, 1st Earl of Pembroke erected a motte and castle east of the existing bridge. The ruins of an ancient Norman Castle exist close to where the Rivers Dinin, Brokagh and Cloghogue meet. Until the 16th century, Castlecomer or comer as it is locally called was the home of the O’Braonáins. In 1635 Thomas Wentworth, earl of Strafford planted an area in Co.Kilkenny with six hundred Yorkshire men. Christopher Wandesforde was granted an area round the present town of Castlecomer. Castlecomer and the surrounding area was owned by the Wandesforde's until the present century. The town was laid out in the 17th century by Christopher Wandesford who also established Castlecomer Demesne. The town developed from wealth generated from the mining resources of the immediate area. The town acted as a principal market town for North Kilkenny and as an ‘estate village’ for the Castlecomer Demesne of the coal mine owners; the Wandesforde family.
Castlecomer House, the family home of the Wandesfordes, was located on the opposite side of the N78 road. The original house was built in 1638 and was burned down by rebels during the Battle of Castlecomer in 1798. The second house was built in 1802 by Lady Anne Ormonde upon the site of the older residence. This house was on a far grander scale than the original Wandesforde Manor at Kirklington, and was testament to the success of the Wandesforde enterprise in Ireland. The house itself was described as being castellated in its features, which are built to resemble a fortified castle. This may have come about due to the destruction of the previous house, so making it a more imposing building. It is reputated to have had 365 windows one for each day of the year. The entrance and lodge to the manor and house itself can still be seen today, and reminds us of what an impressive site the house would have once been. A sweeping avenue with a bridge over the river (formerly part of a moat protecting the house), continuing on to the house with its castellated porch way, gothic style windows and the family coat of arms adorning the outside. The house had fallen into disrepair by the mid 1970s, and was no longer occupied by the Wandesforde family. The bulk of the building was demolished in 1975. Nothing now remains of the house.
Castlecomer provides the normal services of a market town, including banking, post office, supermarkets, credit union, professional services and smaller shops. The town is essentially a cross-roads development whose main feature is the magnificent broad and tree-lined High Street (also known as Market St., Bridge St., Main St. or the Square). The town square has Georgian houses surrounded by the Lime trees. The secondary public space of importance is Market Square where the Courthouse is located and where much dereliction exists. Development has been restricted to the east of the town by the Dinin River, the eastern bank of which is the location of Castlecomer Golf Club and Sawney’s Woods which is subject to a Tree Preservation Order. The town has a large number of very high quality buildings, some dating from the 1640s and others from the 18th and 19th Centuries. A number of buildings of high architectural quality are listed for preservation. The conservation of these buildings, including particularly their details such as timber sash windows, slate roofs, railings, and shop-fronts is of importance.
Castlecomer is on the National Primary Route (N78) and has string road networks readily connecting it to Kilkenny, Carlow, Portlaoise and Athy and further afield through the motorway network to Dublin (M9 and M7) and Waterford (M9).
The Castlecomer Bridge, locally known as 'the Dublin bridge' or 'the Big bridge', dates from 1763 and spans the River Dinin (Deen). It was built to designs prepared by George Smith and is a five-arch rubble limestone Classical-style road bridge (Reg. No. 12301001). It is one of a number of bridges rebuilt by Smith following the "Great Flood" of 1763 (others include Green's Bridge, Graiguenamanagh Bridge and Inistioge Bridge). Robust details exhibiting high quality stone masonry enhance the Classical, almost Palladian quality of the composition. Marking a crossing over the Dinin (Deen) River the bridge forms an appealing landmark on the road leading into the town from the east.
Currently, Castlecomer is on the Dublin to Clonmel Bus Éireann route 7 and the JJ Kavanagh and Sons Clonmel to Dublin Airport route 717. Buggy Coaches operates a frequent bus service to Kilkenny city and also a once a day (two on Saturdays; none Sundays) service to Carlow.
In the past Castlecomer had a busy railway line. Castlecomer railway station opened on 21 February 1921 with a passenger service between Castlecomer and Kilkenny. Funding for the Castlecomer line came from Captain Richard Henry (R.H.) Prior-Wandesforde and a War Office Grant, which was given to ease post war unemployment. It closed for passenger traffic on 26 January 1931 and closed completely on 1 January 1963. This was largely due to the decline of coal mining in the area.
This station was the terminus of the last ever proper branch line to be built in Ireland, when the Great Southern & Western Railway opened a line just north of Kilkenny on the Portlaoise via Abbeyleix line to the coal mining town of Castlecomer in 1922. The branch lost its passenger service only 10 years after opening, however it remained open for coal and general goods until January 1963, closing along with the Portlaoise to Kilkenny line. The corrugated iron station building and single platform at Castlecomer Station are now long gone, the site now occupied by the 'Railway Garage'. The trackbed of the coal mine extension from the station to the coal mines outside Castlecomer town is now a footpath. Many of the concrete piers which carried the railway across the Dinin River are still in situ just south of Dysart crossing, visible from the adjacent N78 road. You can also still see the left-side concrete bridge abutment at the Cloghogue Bridge, Chatsworth Street. This bridge spanned either side of the two roads here (R694/R426) with a centre pillar support.
Now the closest train stations are MacDonagh Station/Kilkenny Railway Station, then Carlow, Athy and Portlaoise and Train Stations.
For elections to Dáil Éireann, Castlecomer is part of the Carlow–Kilkenny constituency which returns 5 TDs. The local government is Kilkenny County Council. Castlecomer and its rural area forms an Electoral District which includes Attanagh, Ballyragget, Castlecomer, Clogh, Clogharinka, Moneenroe, Mothell and Muckalee. The persons elected to council in the Local Elections include Maurice Shortall (Labour Party (Ireland)), John Brennan (Fine Gael) and Catherine Connery (Fine Gael).
An Garda Síochána have a Garda Station located on the Kilkenny Road. Opening hours are Monday-Thursday 10am-1pm and 6pm-7pm; Friday 10am-1pm and 7pm-8pm; Saturday 10am-1pm and Sunday 10am-11am. This is twenty-four hours across the week. Outside of these hours, calls are diverted to Kilkenny Garda Station.
Castlecomer Fire Station is located on the Kilkenny Road. Castlecomer's fire service began in the 1940s when Kilkenny County Council supplied a fire service in the late 1940s with the trailer pump based at Pat Hetherington's shed in Market Sq now Cunninghams Green Grocer. The Original Mining Company trailer pump, was given to Castlecomer Fire Service and was based in the mining office yard (Avalon Inn). Later in 1954, a newer fire station was built in Love Lane. In late 2009, construction began on a new state-of-the-art fire station on the Kilkenny Road and this opened officially in May 2010. It houses a Class B Fire Water Tender/Ladder appliance, call-sign, KK12A1 (07-KK-5211) and serves Castlecomer and much of North-East Kilkenny.
Mineral resources include deposits of anthracite coal, shale and fireclay and have been exploited for several hundred years, the most significant of which (coalmining) having had a major impact on the development of the town. Up until the late 1960s, coal mining was the key economic activity in Castlecomer and the surrounding areas. Mining in Castlecomer began in the mid 17th Century with the extraction of iron ore. Huge areas of oak woodland were cleared to feed the smelting furnaces. coal deposits were found beneath the shale and these were to form the basis of the coal mining industry in the area which lasted for over 300 years. In the mid 17th century, Christopher Wandesforde, from Yorkshire was invited to Ireland by the Lord Lieutenant and granted a large estate in Castlecomer which included the Castlecomer coalfield. The Wandesforde family were responsible for the opening up of a number of coal seams (The Old Three Foot Seam, The Jarrow Seam and The Skehana Seam). The Leinster Coalfield is centred on Castlecomer and extends into counties Laois and Carlow. The coal seams were often quite narrow but the coal itself was very high quality anthracite with a low sulphur content. Castlecomer coal was sold within a twenty mile radius of the colleries and the coal was transported by horse and cart. Over time, several important plant and animal fossils have been discovered amongst the shale quarries of Castlecomer. Coal-mining ceased in 1969.
Later brick production using shale deposits from the local landscape was a key activity and employer with the Roadstone company Ormonde Brick Ltd. who were a leading producer of fired-clay facing bricks in Ireland. The textile industry was also vibrant in the town. Towards the end of the Celtic Tiger era, the textile industry moved abroad and also the brick making factory ceased production. Present day manufacturing companies in the town include Intosport Ireland and Steel and Roofing Systems.
Following the decline of coal-mining and also the large manufacturing plants, Castlecomer has seen its economic activity transition further into the services sector. Today, tourism and related services have now become a viable option for the town. Castlecomer’s wooded setting and fine architecture are its principal attractions with Castlecomer Discovery Park and the annual Wellie Race offering a variety of nature, arts, culture and heritage attractions for visitors to the town. Dunmore Cave, a limestone cave particularly well known for its rich archæological discoveries and for being the site of a Viking massacre in 928, is nearby and Kilkenny city is also less than 20 km away.
Castlecomer Discovery Park
Following years of planning, preparation and hard-work, a non-profit community enterprise was firmly established in the town and in June 2007, Castlecomer Discovery Park opened to the public. Set in the former grounds of the 18th century Wandesforde Estate, it comprises 80 acres of stunning natural woodland and lakes and began as a community project to rejuvenate the town of Castlecomer following the closure of the coal mines in 1969.
This relatively ‘young’ park opened to the public in 2007 with the launch of the 'Footprints in Coal' Exhibition, Visitor Centre and Design Craft studios. The Visitor Centre is located in what was originally the farm yard and kitchen gardens of the estate. The stables and many of the farm buildings have been restored and now house the craft units and the education facilities. The original walled garden is now home to a small herd of Fallow and Sika Deer and a flock of Jacob Sheep. Castlecomer Discovery Park continues to evolve and is actively developing a range of exciting recreational, cultural and educational activities for visitors of all ages. Launched in 2012 were additional attractions and activities including a Tree Top Adventure Walk, a ‘Leap of Faith’ experience and a Climbing Wall. Castlecomer Discovery Park provides a comprehensive Education Programme for Primary and Secondary level students who visit the park in numbers throughout the year. They also run seasonal events for all the family with big events happening at Easter, Halloween and Christmas time. The Discovery Park also operates a Leave No Trace policy. Further developments are ongoing in the park to develop it further.
On New Year's Day, the annual Castlecomer Wellie Race takes place. Originally started in 1978 the Powley (an area in the hills surrounding Castlecomer) men decided, while playing cards, on St Stephen's day to run off the Christmas excess by having a race over a cross country circuit, uniquely wearing a pair of wellingtons. Later in 1981, the first Castlecomer Wellie Race took place over a 5 km cross-country circuit around Kiltown on New Years Day. All race participants must wear appropriate foot attire - wellies. From here the event blossomed and the following year 1982 saw the first float parade. The event continues in that traditional to the present day with a 'Race Personality' opening proceedings of the float parade followed by the wellie race itself. Race Perosnalities over the 33+ years have included local former Olympic boxer Mick Dowling, Mícheál Ó Muircheartaigh, Ronan Collins, Jimmy Magee, Michael Carruth, and Jim Bolger (racehorse trainer). Tommy Walsh (Tullaroan hurler) will be the 2014 Race Personality. The annual event is used to raise funds for a wide range of local, national and international charities.
Castlecomer is twinned with Penvénan in the Côtes-d'Armor department of Brittany in northwestern France. In September 1999 a delegation including the Mayor Fernand le Duc visited Castlecomer and it was agreed to formally twin Castlecomer with Penvénan. In April 2000 the Twinning Charter was signed in Penvénan and in Castlecomer in April 2001. Schools students and community groups from both towns have visited each other over the years for tourism, sport, art, culture and education trips.
Castlecomer has three primary level schools. The Presentation Convent Primary School was built in 1965. Until 2011, the school had a Presentation sister as principal. It has 6 full-time teachers and additional support staff. The school holds four Green Flags (Litter and Waste, Energy, Water, Travel) and are working towards a fifth for Biodiversity. The Boy's National School (built in 1939) is a 4 teacher school and caters for boys from second to sixth class. Wandesforde National School is a three teacher school, under Church of Ireland management. It holds a Green Flag for Litter and Waste and is working towards a second for Energy.
Castlecomer has one second level school, Castlecomer Community School. This came into existence in May 1987 following an amalgamation of the Presentation Secondary School and the Vocational School. It offers Junior Certificate, Leaving Certificate, Leaving Certificate Applied, Leaving Certificate Vocational Programme and Transition Year. It holds a Green Flag for litter and waste. The school has successful GAA, Athletics and Basketball teams. Castlecomer Community School also offers courses within its College of Further Education scheme. Courses include FETAC Level 5 in Childcare, with special needs and FETAC Level 5 in Business with Computers.
Opened in 1999, Castlecomer Library is located on Kilkenny Street, opposite the Church of the Immaculate Conception. The Library has a large print and audio stock along with printing, scanning and photocopying service. It has on-street parking, wheelchair accessibility, hearing aid loop system and other assistive technologies for those with visual impairment and reading difficulties. It also runs adult literacy and word-aid literacy courses throughout the year. Opening days are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.
Sport and Recreation
Erin's Own GAA is the local Gaelic Athletic Association club. It was founded in 1885. The club colours are blue and white. Erin’s Own fielded teams in 11 different grades of hurling from Under 6 right up to senior and in 7 grades of football in 2012. With a membership of over 300 adults and almost 150 youths the club is in the enviable position of having two properties, the first – The Prince Grounds- which is in the town and the second -Canon Kearns Park- which is just on the outskirts of the town, towards Kilkenny.
Deen Celtic A.F.C. is the local soccer club in Castlecomer and was formed in 1984. The club colours are red and black. Soccer in Castlecomer goes back to the early 1950s when the first team was formed, the club names have changed over the years but Deen Celtic is the most recent name and longest established club in the town. The installation of a floodlit All Weather pitch in 1999 has proved to be a great success and the development of new dressing rooms in 2008 has resulted in the club's Prince Grounds being acknowledged as one of the best in the county.
Deenside Wheelers is the local cycling club. This club is an affiliated member of Cycling Ireland the Governing body of all Cycling in Ireland. They cater for cyclist of all ages for both male and female incorporating all levels of cyclist.
Castlecomer also has an 18-hole golf course, designed by Pat Ruddy. It is a Par 72, 6,180m links course.
Castlecomer Athletics Club and Castlecomer Basketball Club have been running in the town for many years also.
Castlecomer Community Hall' also hosts a range of sport, recreation, drama and other events throughout the year. The Deenside Players pantomime society organise an annual pantomime in early February and past shows have included Sleeping Beauty, Oklahoma, Shrek and Cinderella. The 2014 show will be Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs and will run from Tuesday 4 Feb - Sunday 9 Feb 2014.
Other Community Groups
Other Community Groups include a Tidy Towns Committee, a Twinning Committee, an Active Retirement Group, a Community Enterprise Group and others.
Castlecomer has a number of eating establishments including:
- The Jarrow Cafe at Castlecomer Discovery Park,
- The Lime Tree Bistro (The Square),
- The Munch Box (The Square),
- Jason's Chinese (The Square),
- Market Kitchen Cafe/Deli (Chatsworth Street)
- Cafe 1 (Kilkenny Street), and Roma Traditional Fish and Chips (Kilkenny Street).
At its peak, Castlecomer had over 9 public houses. Today it has four:
- Shortall's Bar and Lounge, The Square
- Dillon's, The Square
- The Vaults, Kilkenny Street
- Bollards Bar and Lounge, Barrack Street
The Church of the Immaculate Conception is the Roman Catholic church on Kilkenny Street. For more than two centuries this site has been a place of worship. A simple thatched chapel stood here in the 1750s and was replace some forty years later by the Church of the Holy Cross which served the people until the present church was built. The foundation stone for the present Gothic style church was laid on 16 August 1844 by Father Joseph Butler P.P. and was completed in 1852 during the ministry of his successor Father Edward Alyward P.P.. The church, designed by William Deane Butler, Dublin, was dedicated to the honour of Our Lady under the name ‘ Church of the Immaculate Conception’. Greatly admired features of the Church include: The matching altar, ambo and chair, The painted ceiling, the stained glass windows, the Stations of the Cross and the very ornate sanctuary lamp.
St. Mary's Church is the Protestant church on the Dublin Road. It stands on the site of the ancient parish Church of the Holy Cross in Castlecomer. In 1374 Alexander, Bishop of Ossory, confirmed the Church of Castlecomer to the Prior and Canons of Saint John’s Abbey, Kilkenny. In the early 15th century, the Revd Walter Comys was excommunicated by the Bishop of Ossory in 1428 when he held on to the church and refused to hand it over to William Stakboll, Prior of Saint John’s Abbey. When Saint John’s Abbey was suppressed at the Reformation in 1540 and its possessions, including the Rectory of Castlecomer, were granted to the Corporation of Kilkenny. There are monuments to Wandesford, Butler and Price families throughout the church.
Agriculture employs 100 people. The Castlecomer district has 60 farms. These range between 10 and 100 hectares with a total of 2003 hectares being farmed. There are 4451 cattle and 768 sheep, and farming is done with grassland machines, tillage machines, tractors, winter feeding and milking equipment. Specialist farms include beef production, dairy and mixed grazing linestock.
Scientific Discoveries: Geology and Fossils
The Leinster Coalfield is hosted by an outlier (younger rocks surrounded by stratigraphically underlying older rocks) of Upper Carboniferous sandstones, siltstones and shales that sit on the surrounding Lower Carboniferous limestones. These rock types formed over 300 Million years ago and form the bedrock of Castlecomer and surrounding areas. The area's geological history has facilitated a successful coal-mining and brick-production industry. "Footprints in Coal" is a permanent interactive multimedia exhibition in the town which tells the complete story of the Castlecomer Coal deposits from the formation of the coal in the enormous swamp forests of the Carboniferous Period to the mines which operated until 1969. The exhibition uses fossils, mining artefacts, models, audio-visual and life-sized reconstructions of Carboniferous plants and animals to illustrate the story.
The Castlecomer coal mines have provided some fascinating fossils over the years of exploration with most of the animal fossils found in the Castlecomer coal were amphibians. The National Museum of Ireland and Trinity College, Dublin have some very rare amphibians from the Jarrow Colliery, and replicas can be viewed at the Castlecomer Discovery Park Exhibition.
William Booking Brownrigg was a scholar who had heard about the plant fossils in Castlecomer and came to examine them. He found something much more significant than expected - the remains of ancient amphibians. He started to write about them and persuaded the Geological Survey of Ireland to pay for their illustration. Edward Percival Wright was a professor of Geology at Trinity College Dublin. He heard about the amphibian finds in Clogh and came to study them himself. After studying the amphibians, he realised their importance and arranged for further excavation of the mine, which yielded more fossils. Wright then contacted Thomas Henry Huxley to come and examine the fossils and together they published a paper on them in 1867. Huxley described at least ten genre of amphibian fossils in Castlecomer, five of which were previously unknown. These were an exceptional assemblage of Upper Carboniferous fossil amphibians discovered in coal measures at Jarrow Colliery, Castlecomer. Texts from Wright and Huxley inlcude:
- (1866) On a collection of fossils from the Jarrow Colliery, Kilkenny Geological Magazine, v. 3, p. 165–171.
- (1867) On a Collection of Fossil Vertebrata from the Jarrow Colliery County Kilkenny Ireland. Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy Vol. 24 – Science.
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|Wikimedia Commons has media related to Castlecomer.|
- Castlecomer Discovery Park website with history of town
- http://www.wellierace.com Castlecomer Wellie Race official site