The following information was produced by Kilanerin-Ballyfad Community Development Association in order to give a brief introduction to the history of the Kilanerin area.
This history has developed through the Stone and Bronze ages, Celtic and early Christian times, Viking and Norman invasions, the Tudor conquest, Cromwellian Wars and Penal Laws, the 1798 Rebellion, the Famine, the Land Campaign, the War of Independence and Civil War, the Free State, the new Republic and European Union. The ongoing social, economic and environmental impact of the Celtic Tiger economy on the area will form the next chapter in this developing story.
The area has been inhabited for roughly the last 7,000 years and each successive group of settlers and inhabitants have left their mark on the physical landscape and social history of the area. The places we now live, the countryside around us, the people we meet and the language we speak have all been shaped and formed by this rich and complex heritage.
A comprehensive history of Kilanerin was published by a local group in 1986 and the story of Kilanerin-Ballyfad GAA was completed in 2005. A commemorative book on 1798 in the locality was written in 1998. Other publications on the wider area have been produced over the years and these have all been referred to in the compilation of this booklet.
If there is sufficient interest it is hoped to expand this booklet into a fuller history and build on the work done in the 1986 publication. All errors and omissions are the responsibility of the author.
Where do I Live?
The community includes the villages and districts of Kilanerin, Ballyfad, Ballythomas, Annagh and Hollyfort and extends approximately from Annagh and Croghan Mountain to the old N11. It covers the Catholic parish of Kilanerin, the half-parish of Ballyfad, and includes parts of the parishes of Gorey, Craanford, and Killaveny and Arklow. It also includes part of the Civil or Church of Ireland parishes of Inch, Kilcavan, Kilmakilloge, Kilnenor, Kilnahue and Kilpipe. For voting purposes it includes all or part of the electoral districts of Limerick, Ballynestragh and Wingfield, among others.
The local Catholic churches are at Kilanerin and Ballyfad, and Church of Ireland churches are situated at Hollyfort and Inch. There are National Schools at Ballyfad, Ballythomas and Kilanerin. Hollyfort and Inch had Church of Ireland primary schools until recently.
Our nearest neighbours are the villages and districts of Coolgreany, Castletown, the Rock, Monaseed, Craanford and Coolafancy.
Kilanerin is the spelling used by all locals but from time to time is also spelt Killinierin (the official Ordnance Survey version), Killenerin, Killinearin and numerous other variations. Coill an Iarainn, meaning ‘the Wood of the Iron’ (pronounced kyle-an-ear-on) is the original Irish name and this is how the name is still pronounced today. Kilanerin village is referred to by locals as ‘the Buffer’.
The countryside is divided into local areas called townlands and these are used for postal addresses. Some townlands, such as Borleigh, Limbrick, Pallas, are spelt differently locally to that shown on the Ordnance Survey maps (Borleagh, Limerick and Pallis).
Local surnames are also sometimes pronounced differently to how they are written and the correct use of first names, e.g. Pat, Paddy, Patrick, or Jim, Jimmy, James, etc is important as this often distinguishes different generations of the same family, or different families with the same surname.
We hope this clears up any confusion among recently arrived residents.
Rocks and Soils
The rocks that underlie the area were formed approximately 400 million years ago during the Ordovician period and consist mostly of thinly bedded or cleaved slate, formed by deposition of clay and silt sediments at the bottom of an ocean which existed where Wexford now is. This ocean was also ringed by active volcanoes and it is the stumps of these now dormant volcanoes which form the hills of Tara Hill and Arklow Rock today. The upland areas of Annagh and Croghan were formed by deeper, slow cooling igneous rocks such as granites.
These slow cooling rocks were also sometimes rich in mineral bearing fluids and these are responsible for the gold bearing veins that gave rise to the gold placer deposits found in gravels on the northern slopes of Croghan Mountain. These placer deposits gave rise to a gold rush in 1775-1795 with over 2,500 ounces of gold recovered before the works were taken over by the British government. Work is still going on today to try find the source of the gold or ‘mother lode’.
The soils of the area are mostly good arable soil containing the silt and clay derived from the breakdown of the shale rock formed millions of years ago. Another type of soil that occurs in the lower lying parts is marl. Marl is a heavy, clayey soil with poor drainage that was deposited during the last ice age (c. 20,000 years ago) by glaciers coming off the Irish Sea. It is part of the Irish Sea Till or Macamore soils that run from Arklow to Cahore. In the upland areas around Annagh and Croghan peat and peaty soils are found.
Stone & Bronze Age Remains
The first settlers are thought to have arrived in the area around 4000 B.C. They would have lived by hunting and fishing and most likely travelled inland from the coast up along river valleys such as the Bann and settled on high well drained openings in forest clearings. A possible megalithic tomb is recorded at Annagh Long.
The period from 2000 BC to 300 BC was marked by the introduction of copper and tin working and is known as the Bronze age. The north Wexford area appears to have experienced its first influx of settlers during this time possibly due to the nearby gold at Croghan and copper at Avoca. There are over 75 recorded archaeological sites in the area.
Bronze age burial sites are recorded at Annagh, Ballythomas, Barracurragh, Clonroe, Cummer, Loggan, Mullaun and Pallas. Standing Stones were noted at Annagh, Ballintlea, Barnland, Bolany, Connahill, Coolinteggart, Loggan and Tinnock. Fulachta Fiadha (cooking places) occur at Askinch, Bolany, Cummer and Laraheen.
Typical cist burial
The most notable discovery from this period was the gold Tubberduff Torc found at Aske (near the site of the new N11 roundabout at Tinnock) around 1863. It was made of solid gold and weighted 14 oz. It can be seen in the National Museum, Dublin.
Iron Age and Fionn MacCumhaill
The Iron Age in Ireland commenced around 300 BC but little direct evidence remains in the north Wexford Area apart from a possible crannog site at Clonsilla and a funerary mound at Loggan. The name Coill an Iarainn may originate from this period and iron ore was known to be found in the Ballynestragh area.
Early records state that the legendary hero Fionn MacCumhaill was granted land here in the second century AD and that the area was known as Formaol na bhFiann. Formaol or Fermoyle was the old name for Limbrick Hill and is referred to in old manuscripts. Fionn and his descendants are reputed to have ruled here until 283 AD.
During the first millennium A.D. the area around Kilanerin formed part of the Ui Chinnselaig (Kinsella) territory. The Ui Chinnselaig at this time controlled most of Wexford and other parts of Leinster. Croghan mountain is also known as Croghan Kinsella and the inauguration seat of the Kinsella chieftains is thought to have been the mound at Loggan (since removed during excavation for gravel). Remains of numerous residences or ringforts from this period occur throughout the area including Pallas, Mount Nebo, Carrig and Croghan.
Coming of Christianity
St Patrick is reputed to have landed at Arklow (then called Inbhear Dee) and travelled via Tara Hill to near Cahore during his time as a missionary in Ireland, but this is uncertain. He is supposed to have converted Crimthann, the king of Ui Chinnselaig, at Rathvilly, Carlow around 458 AD, after which Christianity became established in Co. Wexford. Numerous church sites (denoted by the prefix Kill-) date from this time such as Kilnenor, Kilnahue, Killaveany, Kilpipe, Kilcashel and also holy well sites such as Toberpatrick, near Ballythomas, and at Kilnenor.
The Vikings began to arrive in Ireland from the 9th Century and soon established or took control of coastal settlements. The Norse names they gave these settlements, Wicklow, Arklow and Wexford are still used today. The Norse kingdom of Dublin is thought to have extended as far south as the Inch river, near the present Toss Byrnes pub. Trade would have been carried on with the Viking inhabitants of Arklow but there is no record of any other settlement in the North Wexford area, apart possibly from Killahurler.
At the request of Dermot McMurrough, the Normans landed in Bannow Bay, south Wexford in 1167. Due to their superior military technology, ruthlessness and fighting ability they quickly took control of large parts of the country and established castles and fortified sites such as mottes and moated sites.
A number of these sites occur in the Kilanerin area with the best example being the motte at Pallas. Moated sites also occur at Pallas and possible sites have been identified at Coolnagloose and Craan.
The Esmonde family of Ballynestragh are directly descended from Geoffrey de Esmont, who was part of the first group of Normans who landed in Bannow in 1167. Although Catholics, they remained the predominant landlords in the Kilanerin area until the late 19 th century. The family has a long and interesting history and are linked by marriage to the Parliamentarian, Henry Grattan. Sir John Esmonde, 16 th Baronet, of Ballynestragh represented Wexford as a Fine Gael T.D. in Dáil Éireann until 1977.
Although the Normans gained a firm grip on south Wexford they did not retain control of north Wexford and Kilanerin remained part of Kavanagh-Kinsella territory until the mid-1500s. The area was still governed according to the old Gaelic customs and laws and was Irish speaking. However from around 1550 onwards the English under Elizabeth I made a concerted effort to establish control of this and other remaining Gaelic parts of Ireland.
After numerous campaigns, treaties, betrayals and rebellions the power of the Kavanagh chieftains was finally broken by the end of the Nine Years War in 1603. During these wars the Kavanaghs were supported by the O’Byrnes and O’Tooles of Wicklow and the O’Morchoes (Murphys). The defeat of these native tribes paved the way for the plantation of north Wexford between 1610 and 1618. During this time the lands of the native Irish were confiscated and granted to New English settlers and those Old English (Normans) who had remained loyal.
The lands around Kilanerin, amounting to 1500 acres and specifically the ‘estate of Lemanagh’ was granted to Sir Laurence Esmonde, who had been active in the wars against the Kavanagh and Kinsella clans. Sir Laurence built a castle at Limbrick, a corner tower of which can still be seen today at the rear of Mike Hughes’ farmyard at Castlelands. A large estate village or Irishtown, with a population of over 150 people extended from the castle to where the graveyard is today. Plantation castles or forts were also built at Forchester (Fort Chichester), at Newtown, near Coolgreany and at Wingfield.
There was much dissent among the native Irish over losing their lands as well as being forced to adopt new laws and customs. This dissent erupted in the rebellion of 1641 in which many of the new settlers were attacked and killed, and their houses and forts destroyed. This rebellion was finally crushed with great brutality and much loss of life by Oliver Cromwell. His tactics included burning of crops, forced movement and killing of civilians. After the Act of Settlement in 1652 only 8% of the land was owned by Catholics compared to 60% before.
On his way to Wexford town in 1649 Cromwell passed by Limbrick Castle, whose then owner, Sir Thomas Esmonde opposed Cromwell and the Roundheads in the English Civil War, but the castle was burnt and abandoned in advance of his arrival.
The final defeat of the Irish under King James at the battle of the Boyne in 1690 cleared the way for the establishment of the Protestant religion as the official state religion in Ireland and Catholics and their priests were subject to severe restrictions and persecution under the Penal Laws. A mass rock from this time was located on Coolinteggart Hill (the corner of the priest) overlooking Kilanerin. Only small chapels were allowed and it is thought that the original Ballyfad church dates from this period.
Small pockets of armed resistance continued throughout the 1700s. An account of a meeting of such a group in Ballyfad Wood in 1714 is given in Hores’ history of Wexford. The unjust treatment of the majority population throughout Ireland resulted in the formation of the United Irish Movement in the 1790s. An active branch of the United Irishmen was located in the Inch-Kilanerin-Monaseed area under the leadership of Anthony Perry, a liberal Protestant from Inch, Robert Graham, Corcannon, Miles Byrne, Ballylusk and others.
The movement continued to grow in the area is spite of the active discouragement of most Catholic and Protestant landlords, and the generally conservative Catholic clergy. The declaration of martial law in March 1798 and the widespread use of picketing, half-hanging, pitchcapping and summary execution by the English forces and loyalist militias culminated in the outbreak of rebellion in May 1798. Initial successes by the rebels resulted in the seizure of most of Wexford but the attempts to break out of the county at New Ross and Arklow were unsuccessful. The rebel forces camped on Limbrick Hill on the eve of the battle of Arklow and a firsthand account is given by Miles Byrne in his memoirs. Many of the dead from the battle of Arklow were buried in Kilcashel graveyard, near Wicklow Gap and in Kilnenor cemetery.
After the battle of Vinegar Hill on June 21st the rebels forces broke into smaller groups and retreated to the hilly areas around Croghan mountain and south Wicklow while others tried to reach their fellow United Irishmen in Antrim by travelling through Kilkenny, Kildare and Meath before being finally dispersed in north Dublin.
The Kilanerin-Ballyfad area was in the frontline of the 1798 rebellion with the area passing from government to rebel control and back again a number of times.
Reprisals and summary executions in the aftermath were common. The death toll in the relatively short period of the rebellion is estimated to be between 20-30,000, the majority of which would be in Wexford. The old chapel in Kilanerin was burnt a number of times during and after 1798 by the loyalist militia under the infamous Hunter Gowan who lived at Mount Nebo (now Mount St Benedict) in Hollyfort.
For years afterwards the name of Hunter Gowan sent a shiver down the spine when mentioned and numerous ghost stories were told of people walking home late at night hearing the sound horses’ hooves and the jangling of spurs in the distance, which was supposedly the ghost of Hunter Gowan still on the prowl for victims.
‘To hell or the Mount, the Hunter roared in Gorey, and as his hounds sniffed his charge and began to howl, his frothing horse stumbled at the bridge and mentor Satan bid him welcome.’
From ‘Looking through the Gates of Mount St Benedict’ by Phillip Casey, 1985.
Repeal, Famine, Land War
Some redress was achieved in 1830 with the repeal of the harshest of the penal laws. Catholics were allowed to vote and build churches. Up to this time, as the Ram landlords in Gorey had refused permission to build a church there, Gorey had been part of Kilanerin parish. A new church, St Michaels, was built in Gorey in 1839 under the patronage of the Esmonde family and the present church was built in Kilanerin in 1863, also supported by the Esmondes. The architect of Kilanerin church was Pugin the younger, son of the famous architect, Augustus Welby Pugin.
The potato blight and resulting famine struck Wexford along with other parts of Ireland in the period 1845-47. A workhouse was built in Gorey to assist the struggling population. The effect of the famine on Wexford can been from the fact that the population declined from over 200,000 in 1841 to under 180,000 in 1851. Landlords such as Fitzwilliam in the Shillelagh-Carnew area provided assisted passage to Canada for their impoverished tenants. The clearance of the old village at Limerick by the local landlord, Quinn of Borleigh, was carried out some time during the mid 1800’s.
From the 1880s to the turn of the century a sustained campaign for land reform was carried out by the Land League under Michael Davitt and the Irish Parliamentary party under Parnell. The Croghan evictions took place in 1887 during which a large number of tenants were evicted from the Brooke Estates in Ballyfad and Coolgreany. At this time also John Kinsella of Croghan was murdered by the Emergency men supporting the landlords.
The Land Wars finally came to an end in the early 1900s with passing of the various Land Acts which gave tenants the right to buy out their leases over a period of years. Most tenant farmers availed of this right and the landowning farmer class, many of whom were descended from the original native Irish, was created. The large estates owned by the landlords were broken up and a major change in the social structure of the countryside had occurred.
Michael Davitt (white coat) with Dean O’Neill PP Kilanerin (top hat) at eviction scene
First World War
The Great War took its toll on the Kilanerin area as everywhere else and a number of men from the Kilanerin-Ballyfad area were killed fighting for the freedom of small nations in France between 1914-18.
War of Independence and Civil War
Between 1918 and 1921 Ireland’s own fight for freedom took place took place across the country. The most notable incident in the Kilanerin area was the Inch ambush which took place at Manus’ Rocks on the old N11 in May 1921. An RIC patrol travelling from Coolgreany to Gorey was ambushed at Inch and an Auxillary soldier was killed and police sergeant wounded. The ambushers escaped back through Curragh Wood. There is a strong local memory of raids and harassment by the Black and Tans. Near the end of the Civil War, Ballynestragh House, the Esmonde residence, was burnt to the ground but was subsequently rebuilt.
The Free State, Republic and EU
Employment in the closed economy of the newly formed Free State was mainly in farming and agriculture related industries. Farming was labour intensive and used traditional manual methods. Life was difficult with high infant mortality rates and low life expectancy due to poor medical care and diseases such as TB and polio. Educational opportunities were limited and emigration widespread. The second World War gave rise to shortages and rationing but otherwise did not impact directly on the area.
Rural electrification in the 1950’s meant that labour saving appliances could be used and radio, telephone and eventually TV became more common. Major changes occurred in the late 1960’s/early 70’s as a result of EU membership. These changes involved increasing mechanisation with the tractor taking the place of the horse. Cars became more commonplace and the pony and trap and bicycle were gradually replaced by the car as the primary mode of transport. Standards of living rose and healthcare and sanitation was better. Opportunities for people improved with free post-primary education, school transport and more local industries.
The latest phase in the history of Kilanerin is the change that accompanies the booming economy of the late 90’s and early 00’s. Improved road access and rising house prices in the Dublin area gave rise to an influx of new residents. Farming is now highly mechanised and agricultural contractors can now do in hours what used to take farmers and groups of neighbours days of heavy working. Satellite dishes, mobile phones and the internet are common and travel abroad is frequent.
Language and Culture
Between 1550 and 1630 there was a school of Gaelic Poetry based in Pallas. The main families involved were the Keoghs and Dalys who were bards to the O’ Byrnes of Wicklow. Cearbhaill O’ Dalaigh (Daly) composed the love song ‘Eileen Aroon’, dedicated to the daughter of Sir Morgan Kavanagh of Clonmullen Castle.
North Wexford was largely Gaelic speaking until the mid 1700’s and the last Irish speakers did not die out until the mid 1800’s. This recent use of the Irish language is reflected in the number of Irish words such as slaum, screed, skelp, sceach, plamas, fooster, flathoolack, and gig that are still used in everyday speech. A list of over 70 such words that are still in use has been compiled.
Another feature of everyday language in north Wexford and other parts of rural Ireland is that forms of English pronunciation as introduced by the settlers in the 1600’s, and similar to that used by poets such as Shakespeare and Spenser, have remained largely unchanged. Pronunciations such as ‘mate’ for meat and ‘tay’ for tea are traditional pronunciations and as valid as their more recent and genteel forms of ‘meet’ and ‘tee’.
Behan , Matthew; “ Kilanerin ”, Emerald Press, 1986
Byrne , Miles; “Memoirs”, Irish University Press, 1972
Culleton , Edward; “Celtic and Early Christian Wexford: 400-1166 AD” , Four Courts Press, 1999
Culleton , Edward; “Early man in County Wexford: 5000-300 BC” , Mount Salus Press, 1984
Doyle , Peggy; “The Coolgreany Evictions 1887”, The Echo, Enniscorthy, 1986
Kinsella , Anna; “County Wexford in the famine years: 1845-1849” , Duffry Press, 1995
Kilanerin Local History Group , “Kilanerin” , Emerald Print, 1986
Kilanerin GAA Club; “Bloom where you are planted” , 2005.
Kavanagh , Art; “The Kavanaghs: Kings of Leinster” , Irish Family Names, 2003
Moore , Michael.J; “Archaeological Inventory of County Wexford” , The Stationary Press, 1996
Ó Lionáin , Fiachra; “Croghan to the sea: A local history of Castletown, Coolgreany and the surrounding areas” Courtney and Hogan Print, 2000
Ó Súilleabháin , Fionntán; “Towards the mountains of liberty” , 1998
Whelan , Kevin; “Wexford: History and Society”, Geography Publications, 1987