County Waterford, Ireland
|You are here: Home > Local Authorities > Lismore Town Council > A Brief History|
A Brief HistoryTweet
The following was broadcast by Julian C. Walton, as part of the town Twinning ceremony 31st October 2000
The town of Lismore in County Waterford, Ireland, is beautifully situated on the banks of the river Blackwater and at the foot of the Knockmealdown mountains. Though much of the town centre dates from the 19th Century, Lismore's historic roots go back over a thousand years earlier, to the foundation here in the year 636 of a monastery by St. Carthage (also known as St. Mochuda). According to legend, when the monastery was being built, Carthage was asked by a hermit woman what his monks were doing. When he told her that they were building a little fort, she replied: "It is
Celtic monasteries consisted of a number of small buildings, including several stone churches, within a fortified enclosure. This is probably what Lismore looked like during the next few centuries. Despite their humble appearance, it was monasteries such as these that kept the torch of civilisation aflame in western Europe after the collapse of the Roman Empire and the barbarian invasions. They were power-houses of prayer and learning. They produced works of art such as the Book of Kells that still astonish the world. Their missionaries spread the Gospel through vast areas of Europe. Lismore was one of the principal monasteries of the Irish church. From here in the 7th Century St. Cathaldus went forth to found a monastery at Taranto in southern Italy. In the 12th Century Lismore was at the forefront of a great movement to reform the Irish Church and bring it into line with continental Europe, a goal that was achieved by a former student of Lismore named Malachy who as Archbishop of Armagh was Primate of all Ireland and who after his death was the first Irish saint to be canonised.
Lismore was frequently plundered by Viking marauders, but it survived. Then in 1171 it was visited by King Henry II, who had come to Ireland to establish his authority over Norman barons and Irish chiefs alike. At Lismore he met with the bishop, who was also the Pope's representative in Ireland, and placed the Celtic church under Norman control. In 1185 his son Prince John built a castle outside the town. It's remains, consisting of a huge mound on which formerly stood a wooden tower, may still be seen. Within the town a stone castle was built by the bishops of Lismore. In 1590 the Protestant bishop sold it to Sir Walter Raleigh, the Elizabethan adventurer who had played a bloody role in surpressing rebellion in the south of Ireland. Thus, after nearly a thousand years, Lismore passed out of church control and into private ownership.
In 1602 Raleigh, who had fallen on hard times, sold Lismore to Richard Boyle, later the Earl of Cork, who became one of the richest and most powerful men in Ireland. Boyle made Lismore his home and rebuilt the old castle of the bishops on a grand scale. During the wars of the 1640's it was beseiged several times by the Irish who were determined to recover the lands taken from them under Queen Elizabeth. They finally captured it in 1645 and held it until the arrival of Cronwell. In 1753 it changed hands again, by marriage this time, when the Duke of Devonshire succeeded to the estates in Ireland
In the 19th Century the castle was lavishly rebuilt, much of the work being done by Sir Joseph Paxton, the great gardener-architect whose most famous creation was the Crystal Palace in London. Today with its massive towers poised dramatically over the Blackwater, it is surely one of the most impressive buildings in Ireland. In 1814 workmen discovered in a hidden chamber two reminders of Lismore's past mediaeval glory: the crozier( processional cross) of a 12th Century bishop and a 15th Century manuscript containing lives of the saints.
There is much else of historic interest to see in Lismore. St. Carthagh's Cathedral (Church of Ireland/Episcopalian) has an aura of peace and serenity. It has a graceful spire, and the interior has some Celtic tombstones and a unique 16th Century monument of the McGrath family.
The Roman Catholic parish church is a fine creation of the late 19th Century Irish architect Walter Doolin. The courthouse and many other fine old buildings owe their origin to the vision of the 18th and 19th Century Dukes of Devonshire. On a darker note, the old workhouse and the Famine graveyard are grim reminders of the most appalling period in Irish history.
Several famous people are associated with Lismore. The 17th Century philosopher-scientist Robert Boyle (of "Boyle's Law"), youngest son of the first Earl of Cork, was born at the castle in 1627. Dervla Murphy the travel writer is also a native of the town, where her father was the County Librarian. And Fred Astaire was a frequent visitor here, his sister Adele having married a son of the Duke of Devonshire.
Thackeray the victorian novelist loved Lismore and its surroundings, which he described as "some of the most beautiful rich country ever seen". With its long history, its castle and cathedral, pretty town, river and woodland walks, and backdrop of mountains, it is indeed an enchanting place. But why trust Thackeray - or me? Come and see for yourself!
Julian C. Walton. 31st October 2000
|Add | Edit|Direct Edit|