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Baile na Martra
Main Street Castlemartyr, Co Cork.
|Elevation||49 ft (15 m)|
|Time zone||WET (UTC+0)|
|• Summer (DST)||IST (WEST) (UTC-1)|
|Irish Grid Reference|
Castlemartyr (Irish: Baile na Martra, formerly anglicised as Ballymarter or Ballymartyr) is a village in east County Cork, Ireland. It is located 25 minutes east of Cork city, 10 km (6 mi) east of Midleton, 16 km (10 mi) west of Youghal and 6 km (4 mi) from the coast. About 500 people live in the village with a further 2,000 in its immediate hinterland.
It is situated on the busy N25 national primary road and has an expanding network of community and sporting organisations. Castlemartyr is a historical village with a range of sites of archaeological and socio-cultural interest, reflecting virtually every era in the country's history and pre-history.
Overview of the history of the village
Traces of an ancient civilisation, almost certainly Bronze Age, are to be found in the immediate vicinity of Castlemartyr. A group of six tumuli or mounds can still be seen across the areas of Ballindinis, Ballyvorisheen and Knockane. In addition to this is what tradition refers to as a “Tribal village”, and this is still discernible in the form of what are thought to be burial mounds in the townland of Clasharinka.
We can still see evidence of the early local tribes attempts to defend themselves and their livestock against marauders and the very real threat posed by wild animals. These defences were in the form of ring-forts or “raths” – which were circular earthworks used as dwellings and farmyards and located on raised ground so as to maximise their defences. Perhaps the best remaining examples of these early fortification/dwellings are to be found in the vicinity of the village at Mogeely, Kilrush, Couragh, Ballygibbon, Parknahyla, Rathaha, Kilbree, Ballybutler and Dromada More.
The Normans can be credited with the development of inland towns in Ireland, the Vikings having previously established towns in ports such as Dublin, Wexford, Waterford and Limerick. The early evidence for the existence of a town or “vill” in the vicinity of Castlemartyr is to be found in the Pipe Roll of Cloyne, a list of all lands held by the feudal Bishop of Cloyne and the valuations put on those lands. Ballyoughtera, now a ruin and graveyard, had likely originally been a monastic settlement which under Norman influence and through their settlement became the focal point for a “ville” or feudal village.
There had been two adjoining medieval parishes, Cahirultan and Ballyoughtera and both are known to have been in existence by 1300 at least, when Ballyoughtera was valued at 5 marks and Cahairultan at 3 marks. A reference dated 1364 records that “Richard Kerdyf holds the land of the whole Ville of Martyre”. A ville implied a nearby mill where tenant farmers could grind their corn, and a castle, providing those tenants with protection. In this case the castle was Castlemartyr Castle, which by the mid-15th century was in the possession of the Fitzgeralds or Geraldines.
Castlemartyr was known as “Leperstown” in ancient times because of the Leper House that is said to have existed near Ballyoughtera, itself said by Smith to have become a village of some note during the Middle Ages. Another historian, Lewis, states that Ballyoughtera Church was built in 1549, only to be destroyed in the Cromwellian wars of 1641/42. But there is evidence to suggest that the Church was already in ruins before 1641 (probably as early as 1615) and that it was built before 1539, with a Chancel being added on later, possibly to cope with an expanding population in and around the village.
In the Norman invasion of Ireland, the FitzGerald dynasty was granted lands in the barony of Imokilly. In 1575, the Cambro-Norman castle that they built, then called the castle of Ballymartyr, was attacked by Sir Henry Sidney, the Lord Deputy, who captured the castle. The Fitzgeralds of Imokilly were known to the local peasantry as the Madraí na Fola ("Dogs of Blood") due to the blood-thirsty disposition they displayed, both in gaining control of Imokilly and in their continued hold over the region. A common tradition in the locality is that during the 15th century a wild boar terrorized the area. The boar is believed to have had its lair in the vicinity of Knockane or “Cnoc na Chollag” (Hill of the Boar) and the animal is believed to have laid waste to the area between Knockane and Killamucky or “Choill na Mhuice” (the Wood of the Pig). It is said that the then chief offered a reward to anyone who could kill the boar and one of the FitzGeralds is reputed to have slain the animal single-handedly. The story goes that FitzGerald’s deed, was acknowledged and he was granted the surrounding lands and the family also incorporated the boar in their coat of arms.
Demise of the Fitzgeralds
During the Desmond Rebellion, the Fitzgeralds fought against the forces of Queen Elizabeth I in the region. The Fitzgeralds, together with the other southern lords of the Hiberno-Norman stock (who had become “more Irish and the Irish themselves”), formed the Geraldine League to oppose the Queen's plan to force Protestantism on the Irish people and her attempt to rout the native chiefs and replace them with English landlords. In 1581 the Earl of Ormond overran Imokilly; at Castlemartyr he captured the aged mother of ther seneschal,[clarification needed] John FitzEdmund, and hung her from the wall of the castle. FitzEdmund eventually submitted to the Earl, but he did not recover his lands. Instead, the property shared the fate of other properties after the Desmond Rebellion. It was confiscated and included in the grant of land between Lismore and Castlemartyr that were given to Sir Walter Raleigh. FitzEdmund himself was arrested in 1585 and died in Dublin Castle in the following year. In 1602, Raleigh's lands around Castlemartyr passed to Richard Boyle, the First Earl of Cork and ancestor to the Earls of Shannon.
By the early 17th century the FitzGeralds were a spent force. In the south-east corner of the old church in Ballyoughtera, the stone has a boar crest surrounded by triple incised circles and shallow cross carving which is also encircle. At the northern end of Ballyoughtera church ruin is the grave of another Richard Boyle, the 4th Earl of Shannon who died in 1868. This tomb bears the inscription, “A sorrowing wife placed this stone in memory of the best and most affectionate of husbands”.
Earls of Shannon
For the next two hundred years the history of Castlemartyr is closely linked with that branch of the Boyle family which have the title Earl of Shannon. In 1689 it was a centre of Protestant resistance against the rule of James II, but was swiftly defeated by Irish Army forces under Justin MacCarthy who also put down a larger rising at Bandon.
After Orrery's death in 1679, his title was passed on to his oldest son. Orrery's second son had four sons of his own, Roger, Henry, Charles and William, and it was this Henry who became a member of the Privy Council of Ireland, Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Lord Chief Justice of Ireland. He was elevated to the peerage in 1756 as Baron Castlemartyr, Viscount Boyle, Earl of Shannon. It was he who provided the land for the construction of a new church in the village (St. Anne's Church of Ireland) when an act of Parliament allowed for the dismantling of Ballyoughtera Church and the re-use of some of the stones on the new Church.
It was also Henry Boyle, 1st Earl of Shannon, who built the eastern portion of the present mansion house and who set about beautifying the estate between the years 1733 and 1764 and these improvement are mentioned in Smith’s “History of Cork”. On Henry's death in 1764 the estate went to his son, Richard, who like his father attained high political standing. It was Richard who carried out some of the major extensions to the mansion house and how introduced the practice of a more sophisticated form of animal husbandry and crop-rearing. It was also during this period that James “Capability” Brown landscaped the estate the planted woods. In addition to this it was Robert West, the famous stuccadore who added the delicate embellishment to the interior of the mansion house.
Not a single district in the country, remained unscathed from the ravages of the Great Famine. In Imogeela, baptismal figures (an indication of the number of births) prior to the famine indicate a young and expanding population with an average of 238 baptisms between the years 1836 and 1840. The decline, however, in the years immediately after the Famine are stark. By 1888, baptismal figures dropped to an average of 60 per annum, almost a quarter of what they once had been. Similarly, the effects of starvation and emigration in the area can be detected. In the years up to and including 1844 there were an average of 55 marriages per year in the parish. In the decade immediately after 1847 the figure had been halved and by the late 19th century, the figures had dropped still further to an all-time low of two weddings for the parish of Imogeela in the year 1888.
War of Independence
While much of Castlemartyr's recorded history explores the landlordist era in the locality. The War of Independence also affected the village and its legacy can still be seen in the village today. On 9 February 1920, Castlemartyr was disturbed by revolver fire during the capture of the local R.I.C. barracks. The barracks was a large strongly built building, situated on the main street more or less opposite the Roman Catholic church. At the time it housed a garrison of eight men, including Sergeants O'Brien and O'Sullivan. Earlier that the day, Diarmuid O'Hurley, the officer commanding Midleton Company, I.R.A., learned that two of the Castlemartyr R.I.C. men, Sergeant O'Brien and Constable Collins, were on duty at a fair in Midleton. As part of his plan to capture the barracks O'Hurley decided to capture them as they returned to Castlemartyr later in the evening. In doing so he would improve his chances of success by weakening the garrison there by seizing the two men. About 5 o'clock, O'Brien and Collins were cycling homewards at Churchtown, they were suddenly blocked by a farm cart pushed through a gateway by volunteers under Tadhg Manley. The R.I.C. men had to jump from their bikes to save themselves from colliding with the cart. Behind the cart were two of the volunteers, who rushed them with revolvers drawn. The unarmed policemen were bundled into a nearby farmyard where they were blindfolded and handcuffed. One of the volunteers rushed away to inform Diarmuid O'Hurley that O'Brien and Collins would be taking no part in the defence of the barrack. On his return he was left in charge of the two prisoners and his two colleagues moved off to Castlemartyr in the hope of arresting any R.I.C. men found patrolling there, further reducing the strength of the garrison.
Constable Hanrahan, was pounced upon by the two volunteers as he emerged from the barracks about 7 p.m., and held captive outside the town. It was then discovered that Constable Hassett was in his house in the town, and that yet another constable was on leave. This meant that five members of the garrison were accounted for. Communication with O'Hurley in Midleton was now difficult for the two volunteers, as they had to watch the barrack and, at the same time, hold Constable Hanrahan. Furthermore, at 8 o'clock, one of them had to cut the telephone line to Castlemartyr exchange. This was important, as Killeagh Aerodrome, with a strong military garrison, was less than three miles away. Meanwhile, the men of the Midleton Company detailed for the operation, having finished work for the day, set out about 7 p.m., headed by Diarmuid O'Hurley. On their way they picked up their two R.I.C. prisoners at Churchtown and advanced to Castlemartyr. Disappointed when they did not find their two comrades in the vicinity of the R.I.C. barrack, Diarmuid O'Hurley, thinking that something must have gone awry with the plans immediately knocked at the barrack door. Constable Lee, sensing danger slightly opened the door which had a running chain on the inside. He thrust his revolver through the opening and fired. O'Hurley got his own revolver through the opening also but it failed to fire, so he struck out at his opponent's head, injuring him with a blow of his revolver and, at the same time, snapping the chain with a powerful thrust of his foot. In a moment O'Hurley and his men were in the building. Sergeant O'Sullivan, realising the futility of resistance, surrendered, and the volunteers removed all the military equipment from the barracks and without further opposition. 
On the evening of 27 November 1920, Liam Heffernan, from Conna and employed as a chauffeur was shot dead in the village. Heffernan was a member of “B” Company, First Battalion, First Cork Brigade and the car he drove was often used to convey officers of the local IRA Battalion to various locations where units were trained and organised. He and four members of the Fourth Battalion were in a car parked by the bridge opposite a premises on the Main Street owned by Whites (now McGrath’s bar). The Battalion Vice Commandant had gone into Whites to transact some business. Heffernan waited in the car. Two passing RIC officers recognised Heffernan as he sat in the car reading a newspaper, and knowing him to be a member of the IRA, both officers approached the car and began to question the occupants. Almost immediately, the gunfire began. Although, not confirmed, onlookers claimed that one of the RIC officers had shot at the occupants in the car without warning. On hearing the shots outside, the IRA officer in Whites rushed out onto the street and succeeded in getting into the car while shooting at the police officers. In the exchange of fire, one police officer was killed and the other was also hit. Liam Heffernan, although seriously wounded, managed to start the car and drive it away. He swung the car sharply over the bridge and onto the Mogeely Road, but it had not gone far when it became obvious that the driver was dying. One of his companions took over the wheel and they eventually reached Conna, where the local doctor pronounced Heffernan dead. An inscribed stone monument to his memory was unveiled in Castlemartyr on 23 May 1971, a short distance from the place he was shot.
Rock 'n' Roll footnote
The village also played its part in the more recent rock 'n' roll history. While on tour in Ireland in January 1965, the Rolling Stones breezed into the village on their way to play the Savoy Theatre in Cork where they played one of their last gigs before embarking on their third tour of the U.S. (the one on which they wrote and recorded "Satisfaction"). While Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts took tea at Mrs. Farrell's eating house, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards and Brian Jones nipped across the street to Barry's Bar for slightly stronger refreshments before they set off for the city. The documentary "Charlie Is My Darling" directed by Peter Whitehead (limited release in 1966) depicts a very brief sequence of the band getting out of their car, an Austin Princess, by the Bridge, outside what was then Shaugnessy's premises, now the site of the village greengrocer.
- List of abbeys and priories in Ireland (County Cork)
- List of towns and villages in Ireland
- Market Houses in Ireland
- Castlemartyr (Parliament of Ireland constituency)
- Placenames Database of Ireland (see archival records)
- Profile of Castlemartyr from www.libraryireland.com
-  Lewis, "A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland", 1837.
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