Turtle Bunbury

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In 2010, a metal detector unearthed three coins at Lisnavagh. The oldest was found by the Stable Path, minted in Canterbury and dated to the lengthy reign of Edward III (1327-1377). There were also two silver shilling pieces found by the Dutch bank which had been minted during the reign of Elizabeth I. The first was so badly clipped that it was not possible to tell the exact date but the second had an oblique side profile of the Queen's head and was either 1601 or 1602. Finds such as these bring the past to life as much as anything. Whose pockets were these coins once a-jangling in?



In the 12th century, Lisnavagh would appear to have been part of the lands east of the River Slaney which were granted to the Norman baron Theobald ‘Le Boteler’ Fitzwalter, ancestor of the Butlers, at the end of the 12th century. In 1192 Theobald was granted the manor of “Tulach Ua Felmada”, or Tullow, on the fertile banks of the Slaney.[i] This included an earthwork castle, built under the inspection of Hugh de Lacy, which he replaced with the castle sketched by Thomas Dineley in 1681. Theobald's other lands included Clonmore and Hacketstown; one wonders was he connected to the motte that seems to have stood at Tobinstown.


Theobald Fitzwalter was a contemporary of Raymond Le Gros, a half-brother to the FitzGeralds, who was hailed as the Achilles of the Anglo-Norman army. Raymond married Strongbow's sister Basilia. In honour of the marriage, Strongbow (aka Richard de Clare) granted Raymond the land of the Fotheret O'Nolans (now the barony of Forth in the parish of Grangeford), as well as the districts of Idrone [Odrone, including St Mullins, of which Raymond enfoeffed his nephew William de Carew], Glascarrig (near Cahore Point, County Wexford) and portions of the baronies of Rathvilly and Carlow. In 1181, Raymond is said to have built the oval motte and bailey at Castlemore, 2km north-west of Tullow on the R725 road to Carlow, just east of the River Aghalona. This is where he and Basilia apparently lived. (I think Orpen belived this castle was Rathsilan of the Fotheret O'Nolan). Raymond is reckoned to have died between 1189 and 1192. As he died without heirs, the lordship of Forth reverted to William Marshal [Strongbow's heir] after his death. His widow Basilia married Geoffrey FitzRobert, a loyal Marshal supporter and founder of the great priory at Kells, County Kilkenny.

I first visited the motte of Castlemore on a drizzly Sunday afternoon in February 2018 with Jemima, Bay and Dilly. All four of us managed to scamper up the steep, muddy, bramble-strewn northern slopes to the summit from where the clear day views must be remarkable. It must have been a sizable fortress in its heyday. Now, a zillion people drive past it daily without noticing. Five days later I returned to Castlemore with Tom Butler of Ballintemple and this time there were two more discoveries. Firstly, it transpires that the motte is deceptively high; the slopes on the south east side are unexpectedly high and steep. Secondly, having been forewarned of a reputed standing stone on the hill, I set Tom to keep watch ... and the clever chap found it, albeit on its side. We cleared away the brambles and there lay a rectangular slab, 6 or 7 feet long, but the greater excitement was the faint but definite outline of a sword on the granite stone, hilt and all. There is also apparently a suppedaneum (foot-rest) at the base but I missed it. All this lead me to the Journal of the County Kildare Archaeological Society, Volume XIII, No. 6 pp. 375-382 (1955) wherein I found an article by Major-General Sir Eustace F. Tickell called 'The Eustace Family of Castlemore & Newstown, County Carlow’, in which he wrote:

'Castlemore was one of the original Anglo-Norman castles built by Strongbow’s brother Raymond le Gros, assisted by that great castle-builder Hugh de Lacy. The original moat and bailey was strengthened with stonework in the late thirteenth century by Roger Bigod, but nothing now remains but the high moat at the north of the present townland. At the time of the rebuilding, a town called Fothered, the second largest in the county, grew up round the castle and the church just south-east of it. It had a mill and smithy and was governed by a provost and eighty burgesses. Nothing remains of the town or church, except the graveyard of Leamaneh just east of the moat. It was probably from here that came the tall stone carved with a cross found in a near-by field and erected on the moat in 1860.'

The coordinates are 52.809489,-6.772553; you might identify the location by four towering Scots Pines although a couple of those trees had evidently taken quite a pounding in recent storms.



Another influential player in the Lisnavagh neighbourhood in Norman times was Sir Haket or Hackett de Riddlesford, an Anglo-Norman knight, who was recorded as the owner of the townland of Ballyhacket, on the west side of the Slaney, in 1207. Ballyhackett lies adjacent to Rathmore and close to the Ballybit entrance to the Lisnavagh estate. Sir Walter probably worshipped at the church in Kinneagh [sic].

Sir Haket was probably a nephew of Sir Walter de Riddlesford, the first Master of the Knights Templar in Ireland and a close ally of both Strongbow and the castle-builder Hugh de Lacy. Walter was granted the lands around Bray (formerly Viking) and the manor of Castledermot and Kilkea (which extended all the way down to Ballyhackett). The rump of a motte on the Kilkea golf course probably represents the castle (built by de Lacy) where Sir Walter lived up until his death circa 1200. One of the main families whom Sir Walter is said to have displaced was the Mac Gormáin or O’Gormans, many of whom still live locally. His heir was another Sir Walter who died circa 1238, after which much of the Riddlesford lands fell to the husbands of his daughters. That said there were still a family called Hackett (Riddleford) in Ballyhackett in the 16th century, as well as Hackett’s Lake and the church at Kinneigh. The origin of Hacketstown’s name remains unknown as it does not appear to have been connected to the family of Sir Hachett de Riddlesford. There is an unsubstantiated suggestion that Sir Walter was also known as Paganus Hackett.[2]

In 1237, Sir Hackett effectively gave planning permission to his neighbour Henry Maunsell of Rathmore to build a new mill and millrace on the banks of the River Slaney on condition that the water did not go near his own arable land. By 1303, Rathmore belonged to Adam Maunsell who was now described as a tenant of the Butlers, indicating that the Butlers were the owners of Rathmore. This is not thought to be the same mill as the one erected by the Malones in the 18th century.

It would appear that by 1238 the border between Ballyhackett and Rathmore was also the border between two great Norman lordships, namely that of the Riddlesfords of Kilkea and of the Butler family.



By the late 13th century, the biggest tenant of the Butler family was John de Wogan, the Justiciar of Ireland from 1295 to 1313. Wogan not only leased the manor of Clonmore (including Hacketstown) from the Butlers, but also, through marriage, secured the Kilkea lordship (including Ballyhacket) which had once been the Riddlesfords. It is also to be noted that Wogan was one of the key figures in ousting the Knights Templar from Ireland, including their base at Killerig, in 1308-1310. A survey of 1303 shows that Tullow was a thriving medieval town, dominated by a fellow called Geoffrey the Tavern Keeper, with its own burgesses, tradesmen and craftsmen, as well as a market and a 100 Court. [1]



By the 16th and 17th century the lands at Lisnavagh may have been connected with the Nolans of Tullowphelim. In 1982, the late Canadian poet and author Alden Nowlan published an article entitled “Nowlan in Ireland: A poet's progress" which told of his journey to his ancestral homeland. Alden descended from John Nowlan, a hedgeschool master from Bunclody, whose son Patrick emigrated to Nova Scotia in the early 19th century.[3] In his story he noted how Patrick Nowlan's forbears had fled to Bunclody ‘after the English invaders seized the fertile lands around Tullow, where from time immemorial they had kept their almost sacred herds of white cattle.' This remark appears to have been based on conversations Alden had with people in the area. The family are said to have been based at Tullowphelim, named for Feidhlimidh "Reachtmar" (the ever good), High King of Tara in the 2nd century, whose son, Eochaidh Fionn Fothairt, is the recognized ancestor of the Carlow Nolans.

The last known Nolan chief was "Cahir O'Nolan" (1525-1592) of Ballykealey who, in his last years, together with Donal Spainneach (the Spaniard) Kavanagh, was in rebellion against English rule. His son Phelim was pardoned for being in rebellion in 1592 and in 1601. The Bruen family papers record that another Cahir O'Nolan and Murtagh Kavanagh forfeited land in 1641 as papists. At the time the seat of the Nolans was in Tullowphelim and after being dispossessed they seem to have established a new centre for themselves further to the southwest, their main territory extending from Kellistown and down to Tullowmagimma (Tinryland area). Their chief burial ground was henceforth in Templepeter townland and Raymond Le Gros' old castle on the Castlemore townland acted as a defence against any possible hostile Nolan incursions into their former territory of Tullowphelim. It is conceivable that their fofeited territory included the lands at Lisnavagh which, if you look under Thomas Bunbury of Kill, Stephen Nowlan was farming in the 18th century.



It is variously spelled Lisnevagh, Lisnevahe and Lios na bhFiodh. The Irish spelling of Lios na BhFea appeared on the brown tourist signs directing people to Lisnavagh Gardens in around 2001. This encourages the suggestion that Lisnavagh means 'a garden or enclosure of beech'. This is not an absolutely definite translation. We have no idea where this interpretaion camefrom and we can only assume that it is a realistic transcription based on sound research or knowledge. Apparently 'Fea' can mean “beech” or (more generically) simply “trees”. It depends how far back the name goes. Certainly some of the oldest trees at Lisnavagh are the beech trees around where we believe the old house was situated, or otherwise marked on the 1840 ordnance survey map? Beech trees generally don’t live longer than about 200 years, so it’s hard to know. [5]



Amongst the documents at Lisnavagh are an extract from an award made by James I, dated 3rd October 1618, in a dispute between the Earl of Ormonde and Lord Dingwall [aka Richard Preston?], in part affecting the title to the lands of Lisnavagh, Co. Carlow.

I believe this also details a grant of 1618 from the king to Patrick Barnwall of Shankill in Dublin county, Esq - Carlow and Wicklow counties. The tithes of the towns, villages, hamlets and lands of Rathville, Ballyvett, Walterston, Tobinston otherwise Ballytobin, Ballywilliam [Williamstown?], Knockoye, Lissenevy and Killranalagh otherwise Killranelogh; the small tithes, offerings, and all other duties belonging to the vicar excepted; parcel of the estate of David Sutton, late of Castletown, Kildrought in Kildare county, attainted. Total rent, ten pounds Irish. To hold for twenty one years from last Easter, for a fine of ten pounds English - 25th, July 15th. [The History and Antiquities of the County of Carlow, by John Ryan, p. 133] It is spelled Lisnevahe in the Calendar of Ormond Deeds.



The National Library holds a copy of various leases by the Earl of Ormonde of 1633: Ormonde leased 'the manor of Rathvillie' to R. Meredyth (1633), of 'Tobinstown and the site of the Abbey of Skan (Acaun?)' to H. Masterson on 20th March 1633 and 'the lands of Lisnevagh and Williamstown, Co. Carlow' to R. Cope [Robert?] on March 26th 1635. H. Masterson may well be the Henry Masterson of Co. Wexford referred to in some depositions taken after the 1641 Rebellion: (4)

Peter, 8th Earl of Ormonde, was given the Castle and town of Rathvilly (as well as Clonmore, Tullow, Powerstown, Kellistown, Leighlin and Arklow) as a reward for helping to suppress the rebellion of Silken Thomas.



I do not yet know who occupied the land immediately prior to the Bunburys. In 1641, the castles at Clonmore, Tullow, Raththvilly and Hacketsown were seized by the Confederates and held in the name of Piers Fitzgerald of Ballyshannon or Ballysonan, Co. Kildare. (It was at this time that Hackestown Castle, which was possibly built by the de Lacy’s, was destroyed). He was indicted and outlawed for high treason in 1643, and was a member of the Supreme Council of the Confederate Catholics which assembled at Kilkenny on the 10th January, 1647. A flavour of just how unpleasant it was to be alive in the mid-17th century can be found in this dreadful deposition by Ann Hill, extracted from an article in the 2011 edition of Carlovina 2011 by James P. Shannon entitled 'Hacketstown and the 1641 Rebellion - List of people detailing Property Lost / Damaged' relating to the 1641 Depositions at Trinity College Library.

'As she was coming to Dublin she was assaulted at Bordkillmore by Murtogh McEwn of Hacketstown and William of Killclouagh, commonly called William the Plaixsterer and nine or ten more who pulled off her back a child of about a year and trod it to death, stripped herself and her fower small children naked. And through the could they gott contracted by such vsage her other three children are since dead.'



In the 1659 survey conducted by Petty, the township of Lisnevagh was occupied by fourteen people – nine Catholics and five Protestants – and registered to John Korton, gent. He may also have had ownership of Williamstown (4), Tobinstown (14), Bonecery & Busherstowne (51) and Carnescough (20). In the Barony of Rathvilly there were 176 English and 719 Irish. Other settlers in the Barony include Jeffery Paule, Hugh Doyne, the Flenters, Francis Browne and Mr. Papworth.

Korton is assumed to be the same man, or a son of, the ‘John Kerton, Gentleman’, who was appointed "the first and modern portrieve" (Town Clerk or recorder) of Carlow town by the Royal Charter that King James I granted to Carlow on 29th September 1613. He was to head up twelve "good and honest men", or "the first and modern 12 free burgesses" (Councilors) who were named as John Bare, Esquire (Sergeant-at-Law), Sir Robert Jacob, Knight. Sir Adam Loftus, Anthony St Ledger, Peter Wright, William Greatrake, Nicholas Harman, John Bloomfield, John Ely, Robert Whiteacre, Robert Sutton and Richard Keating. The charter was ‘Granted to the inhabitants of Carlow by James the First, by the grace of God, of England, Scotland, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, and soforth "under our royal signet and sign manual, at our palace at Hampton Court in the tenth year of our reign of England, France, and Ireland, and of Scotland the forty-sixth year of our reign’. (With thanks to Michael Purcell).

Speed’s map of Leinster from 1670 indicates that the lands at Lisnavgh were owned by Edmond Butler, but I am unsure who this Edmond might have been. He does not seem to have been a brother or son of the 1st or 2nd Duke of Ormond. The original lease on Lisnavagh was granted by Richard Butler, Viscount of Tullogh and Earl of Arran (brother of Lord Ossory and uncle to the 2nd Duke) to Benjamin Bunbury of Killerick in 1676. The estate is bordered by the ringforts of Knocknagan and Tobinstown on the east, Rathmore to the north, Williamstown to the south and Rathvilly to the west. In the 4th century, these raths formed the epicentre of the Hy Kinsellagh's power base.

A map from 1685 shows that the Lisnavagh townland was by no means populated. Curiously the townland of Rathdaniel, just north of Rathmore, is sometimes spelled ‘Rathdonell', but the Rathdonnell of the title relates to the townland of that name in County Donegal.



Benjamin Bunbury assigned the Lisnavagh lease to his son, William Bunbury. On 21st December 1695 - the Winter Solstice - Benjamin also assigned the lease of his Tobinstown lands to William.

1/20 31 Aug. 1773 Abstract of the title of Thomas Bunbury Esq. to the lands of Lisnavagh, Tobinstown, Ballybitt, etc, in the county of Carlow.

'James Duke of Ormonde and his trustees being empowered by several acts of parliament to make fee farm grants, by deeds of leases and release, dated the 21st and 22nd February 1708, did grant ... unto William Bunbury Esq., deceased, the townland of Lisnavagh, containing 666 acres more or less, part of the manor of Rathvilly in the barony of Rathvilly and county of Carlow, to hold to the said William Bunbury his heirs and assignees forever ... - see this deed which was registered the 23rd November 1709.

By virtue of which conveyance the said William Bunbury became seized and held and enjoyed during his life and upon his decease the said lands became vested in fee in his eldest son, William Bunbury Esq., since deceased. That Charles, Lord Baron Weston in England and Earl of Arran in Ireland being seized in fee of the lands of Tobinstown in the said county of Carlow, containing 512 acres more or less, by deeds of lease and release dated the 23rd and 24th December 1723 ... did grant release and confirm unto William Pendred and Joseph Bunbury, executors of William Bunbury and guardians of his sons, William and Thomas Bunbury, all the said lands except the mill and lands thereto belonging to hold to them their heirs and assignees forever ... - see these deeds which were enrolled in Chancery and registered 18 March 1723.

That by other deeds of lease and release dated 20th and 21st June 1726 the said William Pendred and Joseph Bunbury ... did grant release and confirm unto William Bunbury and Thomas Bunbury the said lands ... by virtue of which deeds the said William and Thomas Bunbury became seized and tenants in common ... .




[1] Newport B. White (ed.) The Red Book of Ormond (Dublin: IMC, 1932), pp 2-7. For those who wonder whether Oliver Cromwell named the townland of Ballyoliver and Cromwell’s Fort in and around Rathvilly, it should be noted that Ballyoliver was also named on the 1303 survey. Neither Lisnavagh nor Tobinstown appear to be named on the 1303 survey but it is in Latin and either may arise with an impending translation of the work. .

[2] William Lynch, A view of the legal institutions, honorary hereditary offices, and feudal baronies, established in Ireland during the reign of Henry the Second: deduced from court rolls, inquisitions, and other original records (1930; Google eBook)

[3] The surviving letters written between John and Patrick subsequently formed the basis of an article written by Father Seamus de Val (anglicized James Wall). Thanks to Roger Nowlan.

[4] Hayes, D.3985 – 61. H. Masterson may well be the Henry Masterson of Co. Wexford referred to in the depositions taken after the 1641 Rebellion. Here is a list of Carlow people who signed depositions in 1641: click on the Name links to see the transcripts.:

The examination of Henry Masterson taken before me the 8th of { } 1642. This examat sayeth that his Cause of Leving of Dublin was to rep{air} to his howse, wher he left his wiffe and Childrin, and to Looke { } a quantetie of monies, that he Left in the Cvstody of a frind { } keept, with the intent to bring of wiffe Childrin and mony for t{heir?} mayntenance, and sayeth that the Councell of the Countie of wex{ford} that is to saye marcus Chevers of wexford Peirce Butler of { } Richard wading of BallyCogly william Esmond of Jhonestowne { } Esmond of Rathlonan John deverex of Depes Thomas Roc{ of} mallmonter walter Roche of Newcastle Phillip Hore of { } Anthony kevannagh of boaniredy Enn[eas] kevannagh of Ballyon{ } Nicholas french of wexford prest olliver Evstace of wex{ford} Richard Synnott of wexford prest, graunted a warrant to {Sir} morgan Kevannagh to apprehend this examinant, and to sease his personnall and reall estate, and sayeth that Sir morgan { } of Clonmollin Enny Kevanagh of bally[croly], Hugh Ballag{ } of Bollinredy Criffin mc Breane kevannagh of milshoge Ed{ } Knowles of Limbrick, with ther severall Companies Came to {this} examat howse of monyceed, and ther surprised his howse { } him selfe prissonner, seased vpon his goods that wear with{in } and vpon his Corne, and his reall estate, and Carried this ex{aminat and} his wiffe to wexford gayle, and sayeth that his Childrin w{ear} throwen out of doeres and foure of John Tres[tian?] Child{rin that} wear in keiping with this examinant, that they wear ready { } and sayeth that he was Comitted as a protestant six we{eks } gayle of wexford all the goods within his howse and his korne { } by Sir morgan kevannagh and the rest, his kowes sheep { } and garrones taken from hi in the begining of this incurrec{tion } Lucke Birne of killevany donnell Roe mc owne of Bally { } Anthony kevannagh of Skernagh divers others whose n{ames he} know not, and sayeth that he did peticion to the Counce{ll of} the Comtie of wexford, for the Libertie of the towne, and was credbly told ther was an act conceaved by the { }

Councell vpon this examats peticion to deprive him of his { } which this examat made an escap from wexford his fu{ } in { } that he was taken by Sir { }Henry Masterson late of Monyceed esquire aged fiftie three yeares or thereabouts Deposeth Concerning the foresaid John Doyle of Rocke gent vizt That the said John Doyle dwelt at the Rocke alias Carricke in the Countie of Wickloe in the Irish quarters the first yeare of the rebellyon without remoouing himselfe into the english quarters, as Sir Walsingham Cooke knight and other protestants dwelling nigh the said John, and as this deponent himselfe did: And further saith that the said John did in the first beginning of the rebellyon act and abet the same, by raysing a Companie of foote souldyers and seizing into his handes, and keeping possession of the Castle of Arkloe, which was about that time kept by one Anthony Poulton and others of the english sent thither by the Lord Esmond, who had some Interest therein And further saith That the said John Doyle did in the first yeare of the said rebellyon seize into his handes & dispose of to his owne vse a boate of the proper goodes <y> of an englishman (whose name the deponent knoweth not) a late inhabitant in Arklow that was then fled thence into the english quarters for preseruacion of his life: The Deponents cause of knowledge is for that about two yeares since the deponent being at Dublin and vpon some busines before the Commissioners for Administracion of Justice there did heare the said John acknowledge freely in the open court that he had raysed a Companie of souldyers & guarissoned with them in the said Castle in the first yeare of the rebellyon, which Castle he pretended he then kept for the Lord of Ormond & for that the said John was then & there sued for the said boate and confest his taking away thereof in manner aforesaid the further certaintie whereof the deponent was Informed by the then Inhabitants of Arklow and further saith not &c, Henry Maisterson

[5] The place names ‘Lios na bhFiodh’ and ‘Baile Uiiam’ are now Lisnevagh and Williamstown, (p. 252, Irish Historical Society, Dublin, published 1947, Hodges, Figgis & Co). Referred to as ‘Lisnevahe’ on p. 171 of The Calendar of Ormond Deeds, 1172-1603] by Ormonde, Irish Manuscripts Commission, published 1932 by the Stationery Office). There is also a theory that 'Lisnevagh' is an English mistranslation of 'Lios na Aoife', meaning Aoife's Fort. This last suggestion appeared in 'Place Names of County Carlow c1937' by the late Edward O'Toole of Rathvilly. However, in 2012, Dr. Colmán Etchingham stated that the "Lios na Aoife" etymology, as it stands, is grammatically impossible in Irish.

With thanks to Peter Bunbury, Dr. Colmán Etchingham, Michael Purcell, Roger Nowlan, William Bunbury, Peter Field and the Carlow Rootsweb.