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County Kilkenny Ireland History


Barony of Kells


The Gaelic sept of the O'Phelans are noted in the cantred of Erley (the western part of the modern barony of Kells) about the time the Cambro-Normans arrived in the 1170s. At this same time the territory of Callan (part of the early cantred of Kells) was home to the Ua Gloiairn (O'Gloiran, O'Gloerne) sept according to O'Heerin's Topographical Poem compiled in 1420.   Lewis' Topographical Dictionary of 1837 mentions that Callan was the ancient inheritance of the O'Glohernys and the O'Coillys or O'Callans(?).

In 1192 William Marshall succeeded Strongbow as Lord of Leinster and continued the process of land grants within the province. Most of central Ossory was shared among William's knights. Thomas FitzAnthony was given the cantred of Kells. John de Erlee (c. 1208), in succession from Baldwin de Hamptonsford, was given the cantred of Erley (Source: Kilkenny History and Society, 1990, Nolan and Whelan).

Canon William Carrigan (History and Antiquities of the Diocese of Ossory) mentions the Irish form of the name 'Kells' as Ceanannus (pronounced Kannanas, accent on the first syllable), by which it is still always called in the spoken Irish. Ceanannus, according to the scholar John O'Donovan, signifies head-fort or seat. After the Norman Invasion the name was corrupted to Kenlis, and later it was further corrupted into its present form, Kells. In 1358 (and likely when Thomas Fitz Anthony received it), the Barony of Kenlys, or Kells, was very small, being apparently confined to the eastern portion of the present Barony; while the western division constituted another Barony, known as the Barony of Derleye (i.e. D'Erleye, or de Erlee) or Erley.

Kells [village], which was formerly of considerable importance, was built by Geoffrey FitzRobert, one of Earl Strongbow's followers, for his English companions. FitzRobert also founded a priory in 1183 [or 1193?], which he filled with monks from Bodmin, in Cornwall; and his sons William and John gave charters to the inhabitants, constituting the place (Kenlis, Kells) a free borough. The town afterwards passed into the De Birmingham family, and was burnt by William De Birmingham in 1252, during a dispute with the St. Aubans (Tobins). Edward Bruce occupied it for a short time in 1316, and in 1327 it was again burnt by the De Birminghams. In the early part of the 14th century, the barony was granted to the Poers, and the town was fortified by Sir Eustace le Poer. Roger Mortimer, Earl of March, Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland, was slain near this place, in 1398, by the O'Brynes, whom he had pursued from their own country near Dublin. The priory, with some of its possessions, was granted at the dissolution to the Earl of Ormonde. (Source: A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland, 1837, Samuel Lewis)

Geoffrey FitzRobert, seneschal of William Marshall, was appointed to the barony of Kells in 1193. He became known as Baron of Kells sometime at or after the year 1204. In his confirmatory charter to Kells Abbey, issued somewhere between 1203 and 1211, Geoffrey says he founded the abbey "for the salvation of my own soul and the souls of my predecessor and successors; for the honor of God and the Blessed Virgin; for the spiritual welfare of my Lord, William Marshall" who advised the foundation and consented to it; and "at the desire and with consent of my wife Eva [de Birmingham]." (Source: Walsh 1170-1690, pp. 83-84,1905, J. C. Walsh)

Geoffrey FitzRobert died in 1211, being held hostage on behalf of his Lord [Marshall] at Hereford Castle in England. As a result some of Geoffrey's lands were seized. (Note: Geoffrey is often confused with Geoffrey de Mareis [Marisco] who was Justiciar of Ireland for various terms between 1215 and 1228.) The sons of Geoffrey included William and John, who were noted providing charters to the townspeople of Kells. After William died about 1234, he was succeeded in the lands at Kells by his brother, John FitzGeoffrey, who in 1243 is described as lord of Kells. In that year John granted to William Coterel and his heirs the land of Kilmenege (Kilmaganny, in Kells) in free socage. In the 1247 feodary John FitzGeoffrey held the 1 1/2 knights' fees in Kenles (Kells). In the 1317 partition of the "Share of Hugh le Despenser and Alianora his wife" these fees (of Kells and Dunnamaggan) were held by the heir of John son of Geoffrey.

The Register of Kells states that John FitzGeoffrey had two sons, William FitzJohn and Geoffrey FitzJohn. William, the elder, died at Dublin in custody of the Justiciar, sometime between 1250 and 1256, relinquishing his inheritance to his younger brother Geoffrey FitzJohn. Geoffrey FitzJohn in turn had a son named John who confirmed the gifts to Kells monastery of his ancestors by charter dated 1286. Another charter of his to Kells is dated 1292. John [FitzGeoffrey] died sometime around 1305, for that year the lands in Kells were held "of the heir of John, son of Geoffrey, lord of Kenles, under age and in custody of the Earl of Gloucester" (Cal. Just. Rolls, ii, 96). John FitzGeoffrey's heir was his son William [FitzJohn].

In 1308 William [FitzJohn] is quitted claim to Geoffrey Coterel of his rights in premises in Donimegan (Dunnamaggan in Kells), including the water courses and exits of the mill where formerly stood the mill of Nesta de Davy his grandmother (Ormond Deeds), who appears therefore to have been the wife of Geoffrey FitzJohn. In 1317 William, the heir of John, is cited holding the knights fees of Kells in the feodary recorded that year, which included Kenles and Donymegan (Dunnamaggin). The family presumably died out shortly after this, for Kells is soon found in the possession of the le Poers.

Circa 1340? (presumably before this time), according to the Ormond Deeds (Vol 1, Curtis, 1933), John fitz Geoffrey is mentioned as lord of Kells in a grant to William Coterel and his heirs for ever Kilmegene [Kilmoganny] in free socage. This grant included the mountain and wood, extending in length from the cave of Letter, and from Corbally up to the water of Gortneslie; and in breadth from Karreenemo [Garrandynas, part of the townland of Rossenara] up to the water that runs between Kilmegene and Avene [Rossenara, anciently known as Owny]; paying a mark of silver yearly. In a note by the historian Curtis he cites Lettercorbally appearing in ancient documents as an alias for Castlehale, now the townland of Rossenara demesne, in the parish of Kilmoganny.

John d'Erley, mentioned above, was Baron of Erley, which apparently included a portion of the present barony of Kells, in and near Earlstown. The Erley family held the barony, named after them, from the early 13th century to the latter half of the 14th. It apparently included the modern civil parishes of Earlstown, Mallardstown and Collaghmore (as well as parts of Killamery and possibly Tullahought). The title, Baron of Erley, was applied to this family, as well as to the Sweetmans, when the barony (or at least a good portion of it) was conveyed to them in the late 14th century (apparently before 1381 when John Sweetman was appointed one of the Keepers of the Peace in the County Kilkenny).

William de Sancto Albino (St Aubyn, later Tobin) was one of the early settlers around Kells in County Kilkenny, around 1200, where the placename Ballytobin locates his lands. William, who is described as Lord of Stamacharty (Stonecarthy, barony of Kells) gave that church to Kells c. 1200, and also the lands of Lomoch (Lamoge near Killamery), between 1202 and 1218. He witnessed Geoffrey FitzRobert's charter c. 1204-06 to the priory of Kells in Ossory, and also witnessed a charter of Eva de Bermingham c. 1205. Thomas de sancto Albino is recorded holding 1/2 knights fee in Killamery in 1247. By 1317 this fee was held by John son of David de St. Albino. In 1355 John de sco. Albyno is mentioned holding the 1/2 fee at Kyllamery.

William de Kenefig, from Kenefig near Porthcawl on the coast of mid Glamorgan, Wales, a burgess of Kells in County Kilkenny, was granted certain liberties in Kells at some point prior to 1211 by the earl marshal's seneschal in Leinster, Geoffrey fitz Robert. A William de Kenfeg appears in the feodary of 1317 holding 1/4 fee at Rathculbin, parish of Earlstown, modern barony of Shillelogher.

Thomas Tew (de Tuit or Tuite), an Anglo-Norman, was granted lands in Dunnamaggan parish by the Earl of Pembroke, possibly one of the Marshals. Ballintee and Tuitestown mark the presence of the name in this area.

William Maillard of Maylard (or Mallardstown) is cited in the 1247 feodary holding 1/4 knights fee. By 1317 this fee is noted to have been held by William le Whyte, and also by John son of David de sancto Albino & Richard Cheivr. In 1355 the 1/4 fee at Maylardestoun was held of the heir of Richard Chever.

By 1245 the male line of William Marshal (former Lord of Leinster) ended. The division of all of the Marshall the lands, including those in the liberty of Kilkenny, would eventually be split among the five daughters of William Marshal and Isabel de Clare. (Sources: various)

Richard de Clare, Earl of Gloucester and Hertford, was cited as Lord of Kilkenny in 1245, having succeeded to a fifth of Marshall's lands, including estates in Kilkenny, his wife being a daughter of William Marshall the younger. Richard died in 1262 leaving his son Gilbert (surnamed the Red) as successor. Gilbert de Clare died in 1295, leaving a young son also named Gilbert. In 1296 Ralph de Monthermer is cited as Lord of Kilkenny officially until 1307 when the young Gilbert de Clare succeeded. (Source: The Baronage of Ireland: Burke's Dormant and Extinct Peerages, 1883, Sir Bernard Burke)

Young Gilbert de Clare's premature death at the battle of Bannockburn in 1314 meant the end of the main male line of the de Clare family. The vast fortune of the de Clare's including in Kilkenny were divided among Gilbert's three sisters; Margaret, Elanor and Elizabeth. Margaret was married to Piers Gaveston, close attendant of Edward II; upon Gaveston's untimely death, Margaret was married to Hugh Audley. Eleanor, was married to Hugh le Despenser - who replaced Gaveston as Edward's favourite. Le Despenser was later beheaded with his father in 1326. Eleanor went on to marry William la Zouche. Elizabeth married no less than three times - John de Burgh first, then Theobald Lord Vernon, and finally Roger Damory. (Sources: various)

Houlyn (Howlin or Howling) served as lords of Kilree sometime after the Anglo-Norman invasion of the late 12th century. The name is said to derive from the patronymic Howel, and the surname Holden is most often applied today. The feodary of Carrickbyrne, across the Kilkenny border in County Wexford starts in 1247 with a Howel of Carrickbyrne holding 1/2 knight fee there. In the 1317 feodary Howel son of Stephen Howel is holding this fee. In 1361 there is a record of the Oliver Howel (son of Howel son of Stephen) who held the lordship of 'Lotheran' in co. Kilkenny. In 1371 Oliver Howel's grandson, Walter, apparently transferred his Kilkenny possessions to Geoffrey son of Nicholas Howell Walshe, a date which may indicate the period when the name Walsh was adopted by some of this family. In 1425 the 1/2 knight fee at Carrickbyrne is noted to have been held by the heir of Oliver Howel, perhaps Walter. In 1595 the land at Carrickbyrne [Courthoyle] was held by Walter Walsh(e), Lord of the Mountain, whose stronghold, Castlehowel (or Castlehale), was noted in the southern portion of the parish of Kilmoganny (Rossanarra, formerly Castlehale), barony of Kells.

In the early fourteenth century, the barony [of Kells] was granted to Eustace de Poher, who held large possessions in the Counties of Waterford, Tipperary, Carlow, Kildare, and also Connaught. He was succeeded by his son Arnold, second baron. (Source: An Historical Memoir of Poher, Poer, or Power, Gabriel O'c Redmond, 1891)

In 1329 Arnold le Poer is noted as absentee landlord of Kells, who dies while a prisoner in Dublin Castle. He had been excommunicated and jailed for his part in the famous witchcraft and heresy case of Alice Kyteller. His eldest son Eustace takes over as Baron of Kells. By 1346 when Eustace de Poer joins the Earl of Desmond in rebellion against the English King, he is captured at the siege of Castle Island, Co.Kerry, and he is hanged, drawn and quartered. The barony, now forfeit, is awarded to Walter de Bermingham in 1346. Sir Walter fitz Walter de Bermingham died 1361-62, according to Inquisitions post mortem, seized of the Manor of Kenlis (Kells), and his sister, Margaret, married to Robert de Preston, became next heir. The de Prestons were later Viscounts of Gormanston. [partial source: History and Antiquities of Kilkenny (County and City): by William Healy]

Among the chief tenants in the tenement of Kells about this time, as recorded in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds, included the Coterels. When Michael Coterel died in 1352, he held lands of Walter, son of Walter de Bermingam's manor of Kells. William son of Richard Coterel of Kells is cited among numerous deeds of the 1350's & 60's. Walter son of William Coterel, of Kells, as well as Patrick and Christopher, sons of Walter Coterel, occur in subsequent deeds.

Also during the 14th century the fitz Olivers were large tenants in Melagh, Carrigmokelagh and Laynagheston, an area which represented a good portion of the old barony of Erley in the civil parishes in and near Killamery and Tullahought. The fitz Olivers are well represented in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds, from Matthew fitz Oliver of 1314, to Richard fitz Oliver of the 1320's and 30's, to Walter fitz Oliver who quit-claim of the lands to the Bulters in 1374, to William fitz Oliver who was still leasing land there in 1435.

In 1374 Robert de Preston, knight, is cited accepting rents in the manor of Kells. In 1460 Sir Christopher Preston is cited as Lord of Kells. By 1550 the manor of Kells passed to Richard Butler, Viscount Mountgarret. (Source: A Brief History of Kells, Albert Smith, and other sources)

In the records of land ownership in the barony of Kells circa 1640, just prior to the Cromwellian land confiscations, the lions share was held by the Earl of Ormond and other Butler families, with other significant portions held by the Tobins and Rothes. The stronghold of the Walsh of the Mountain family was centered on their lands in Kilmoganny.

The principal Irish names and their number in the 1659 census, Barony of Kells, included: Brohy, 05 ; Butler, 23 ; Connor, 05 ; Connell, 05 ; Conway, 07 ; Carroll, 06 ; Fitzdavid, 06 ; Howling, 06 ; Kelly, 12 ; Keefe, 22 ; Millea, 07 ; Morphey, 09 ; Mogher, 17 ; Neile, 08 ; Purcell, 07 ; Power, 09 ; Phelan, 06 ; Quiddihy & Quiddily, 11 ; Ryan, 07 ; Rooth, 05 ; Shee & Shea, 61 ; Tobin, 08 ; Wall, 05 ; Walsh, 031. Total Irish in the barony, 1150 ; total English in the barony, 050.

Further reference:
Parishes and Townlands of Kells
Barony and Civil Parish Map of County Kilkenny


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