A brief history of Medieval Ballincollig
by Paul MacCotter PhD.
The earliest records associate the Ballincollig area with the Uí Meicc Iair, a junior branch of the great Eóganacht federation which ruled Munster from the period of earliest record until the tenth century. The Uí Meicc Iair territory included the south bank of the Lee from Mahon west to Ovens and southwards to the hill-top ridge of the south Liberties. Later tradition recounts how Aed, king of Uí Meicc Iair, donated the land south of the Lee to Finbarr to build his first monastery in Cork. Whatever of this, there is some evidence to suggest that the Uí Meicc Iair were already an important dynasty in the Cork region by around AD 700. With the adoption of surnames in the tenth century the chief family of Uí Meicc Iair adopted the style Uí Selbaig and these contributed several abbots to the monastic city of Cork in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. Anglo-Norman records mention the place-name Tolochshalwy (= the hill of the Uí Sealbhaigh) in a context which makes it certain that this was the name of the hilly district which includes Waterfall, Ballynora and Rochfordstown. The surname is rare but survives in the forms Shelly and Shallow.
The arrival of the Normans brings more in the way of records. They began to colonize the Lee valley after 1185, led by the de Cogan family. The Cogans built great fortresses at Carrigrohane and Dundrinan (now Castlemore near Crookstown) and populated the eastern half of the valley with knights and lesser followers. In the Ballincollig area two new towns were formed, at Carrigrohane and at Ovens. That at Carrigrohane must have lain between the castle and St. Peters church, the descendant of the town church here. The town at Ovens presumably lay along both banks of the Bride. This was the scene of much fighting during the 14th and 15th centuries and its castle has long disappeared. The church of Ovens lay where the deconsecrated Church or Ireland parish church of Athnehowen is now located. These towns are likely to have been destroyed during the second half of the 14th century by Bubonic Plague and MacCarthy raids.
The Normans divided the territory of ‘Umecciar’ into three manors with corresponding parishes, Carrigrohane, Kilnaglory and Inishkenny (Ballynora-Waterfall). Carrigrohane was a Cogan demesne manor and must have included lands to the east, where the place names Ballygaggin (the Model Farm Road within the city) and Inchigaggin commemorate the family. Kilnaglory went to the Burdon family who give their name to Ballyburdon, while Inishkenny was held by the Ridelsford or Rochford family (hence Rochfordstown or Castle White near the Viaduct). Within these manors other lands were held by Terrys (Old Abbey or Ballymacadane), a cadet Cogan family (Maglin), Talbots and Taylors (Carrigrohane) and, as we shall see, Coles at Ballincollig.
The Cole family were one of the major Norman knightly families of the Lee Valley. They held extensive lands in parcels from Farnanes and Rooves in to Currahaly and just west of Ovens at Currabeg and Srelane. They also held lands north of the Lee in several places, and give their name to Coolacullig (Coachford), Ballincolly (Dublin Hill) and Ballincollig. The Coles are likely to have arrived here as part of the first settlement. One Henry Cole was certainly established here during the 1220s. The senior family lived at Currabeg near Ovens. William Cole was the head of this family in 1304 when his various estates are listed. Among these was the three ploughlands of Carrignahathmel and 120 acres of woodland at Fithonallys. William was merely overlord of these lands however, for, in 1307, we find reference to Peter Cole as a tenant of William Cole in the one and a half ploughlands of ‘Clonerdoun in Maghmakeer’. Peter had sub-let these lands to one Alexander Russell. Then, in 1317, we have another reference to the lands of this Peter Cole, where they are listed as ‘one messuage (homestead) and five ploughlands at Carrignahathmel, Monany, Maghmake and Fithanalys’. From these various references it is clear that this five ploughland holding, giving a modern acreage of perhaps 2,000 acres, refers to the Cole lands at Ballincollig. This is proved by the references to Maghmakeer and Maghmake, which certainly represent the Irish ‘Magh Uí Meic Iair’: the agricultural plain of the Uí Meicc Iair. We know from the decretal letter of 1199 that this plain is that of Ballincollig itself, stretching from Carrigrohane westwards to Coolroe. While none of these component placenames of the district of Maghmakeer survive today, it is very probable that Carrignahathmel represents the rock upon which Ballincollig castle itself is built. In the Cork area ‘carraig’ often represents not just any kind of ‘rock’ but the typical type of limestone outcrop rising out of the flat plain, most of which were fortified. Examples such as Carrigrohane, Carrigtwohill, Carrigmore (Beaumont Quarry) and Carrigaline spring to mind. Ballincollig castle itself sits on one such outcrop, especially distinct when viewed from the bypass road.
Carrignahathmel is of uncertain derivation. A guess would be Carraig na hAthmhaola, ‘rock of sorrows’, but this is on a par with Joyce’s guess that Ballincollig derives from Baile an Chullaig, ‘baile of wild pigs’. We know from its history that the correct derivation is Baile an Chollaig, ‘baile of the Cole family’. In its earlier meaning baile gives ‘estate’, ‘property’, and bailte were almost always called from either the owners of the property or some descriptive detail of the property. Generally one does not get bailte named from animals, especially wild ones. Joyce, of course, knew nothing of the local history of the Ballincollig area. It is best to leave the wild pigs to the rugby club and keep them out of history. Another one of these old names, Fithonalys, derives from fidh, ‘woodland’. One can speculate that this place-name may refer to the large wood which must once have occupied the area of the present barracks and powdermills complex along the river, some of which remains to the present day.
A little is known of the subsequent history of the Cole family here. In 1368 the mainline were complaining of having been recently evicted from their lands at Currabeg and Srelane by the Barretts, while the Carrignahathmel branch appear to have been left undisturbed. A century later, in 1468, Sir Robert Coll (as the name had become), sold the lands of Ballincollig and Mealacollig to the Barrett chief. The deed of this sale (now lost) appears to be the first time the place-name Ballincollig occurs in writing, having by then replaced the older names. Mealacollig (Meall a’ Chollaig = Cole’s rise) remained the name for the townland of Greenfield until its Carlton landlords changed it in the 1750s. It is likely that the townlands of Inismore and Coolroe were also part of the original Cole estate here. The surname Coll, though rare, can still be found in Co. Cork.
The remaining medieval history of Ballincollig may be summarized as follows. The Barretts were a Norman family whose main holdings originally lay around Glandore, with a secondary estate at Grenagh north of Blarney. The Gaelic Resurgence drove them from their west Cork lands in the early 1300s, and they appear to have settled densely on their remaining lands at Grenagh. From this time on they appear to have formed a lineage (or numerous ‘clan’) and caused increasing trouble for their neighbours as they sought to expand their territory to cater for their large numbers. From the early 1320s onwards the Norman settlements in the Lee Valley became the subject of increasing MacCarthy attacks. Between then and the 1360s the frontier between the MacCarthys and the Cogans and their tenants see-sawed back and forth as the Cogans, with government help, made a number of efforts to drive the McCarthys, and their followers, the O’Callaghans, O’Riordans, McEgans, etc., back westwards. In this process the Barretts saw an opportunity and accordingly supported the McCarthys against their fellow Normans. Following the last major government campaign against the Irish, in 1363, which resulted in the Lee valley as far west as Aglish and Coachford being re-conquered, the Barretts prevented the Cogans and their tenants returning and instead occupied the lands themselves or rented them out to some of the McCarthy septs (such as the Clandonnell around Dripsey). Helped by a marriage of the son of the Barret chief, Richard Oge, to Peter de Cogan’s daughter, around this time the Barretts seized Carrigrohane Castle and made it their headquarters. Here they survived a major McCarthy siege in 1420, although at this time they lost much of their western lands to the McCarthys (Aglish and Kilcrea). In 1436, however, the Cogan heir, Robert of Carrigaline, sold his paper title to his Lee Valley lands to the Fitzgerald Earl of Desmond, who soon after evicted the Barretts from Carrigrohane and garrisoned the castle and its 1,500 acre demesne (the modern townland of Carrigrohane, which included much of eastern Ballincollig town).
As a result the Barretts needed a new castle, hence the purchase of Ballincollig in 1468. Archaeological evidence suggests that the present castle can be no earlier than this purchase, and so was built by the Barretts. Another early castle here was Clogh MacUlick, ‘the castle of the sons of Ulick’. This was an Irish form of William and was a popular name among the Barretts. Indeed, it seems that ‘MacUlic’ may well have been the Irish form adopted by these Cork Barretts after their early ancestor, William Barrett, who lived during the 13th century. Cloghmaculick remained the name of this castle until purchased from the Barretts around 1606 by Sir Dominick Sarsfield, who renamed it Sarsfield’s Grange. It is now the townland of Grange and no trace of the castle remains. Another Barrett castle south of the river Lee was at Inch, about a mile west of Iniscarra Dam. The ruins of this were demolished during the construction of the hydro-electrical scheme here in 1957. The clan also had three castles north of the river, at Garrycloyne, north of Blarney (demolished in 1937), at Cloghphilip near Cloghroe, and at Castlemore near Mourneabbey, whose picturesque ruins can still be seen from the Dublin train as it draws in to Mallow. The chiefs of the family appear to have resided in two castles located towards either end of the lordship: Ballincollig and Castlemore.
These castles mark the winding shape of the Barrett lands here. Although the Barretts lost their lands from Ovens westwards during the 16th century to the McCarthys (Ovens, Currahaly, Killumny, Srelane) they still possessed a powerful lordship by 1600. This was shaped like a giant ‘S’, stretching from Mourneabbey southwards, through Grenagh, eastern Donoughmore, taking in all of Iniscarra and Carrigrohane Beg, and crossing the Lee to include the Ballincollig area southwards to Barretts Hill near Killeady which marked its southern borders. This reminds us of the townlands of Ballyburdon and Knockburdon, which commemorate the Burdon family, another Norman line, who remained here until Cromwell took their lands. These lands were originally the knights’ fee of Kilnaglory. Within this Barrett lordship there became established many junior lines of the family, as was the Irish way. South of the river we find branches established at Maglin, Curraheen, Ballingully and Ballyshoneen. North of the river in Iniscarra there were Barrett landowners at Coolyduff (Bunacummer), Ballyshoneen, Currabeha, Courticullinane (now in Ballyanly) and Carrigrohane Beg, and, further north, at Garrycloyne and Pluckanes (near Donoughmore). Most of these families lost their lands under the Cromwellian confiscations of the 1650s. During the 1580s the chieftainship of the Barretts was disputed between two lines of cousins, and a settlement was reached giving the bulk of the land and the castle of Castlemore to one line and Ballincollig castle and some surrounding townlands to the other line. The Ballincollig line sold the castle and their lands to Walter Coppinger, a Cork merchant, in 1639 while the other chief line continued to hold their lands, mostly located around Grenagh and Castlemore, until they in turn lost their lands to the Williamite confiscations of 1692. Both lines provided several patriots in the wars of the 17th century.
The area of this Barrett lordship was formed into the barony of Barretts by the English as part of their new administrative system, and Ballincollig remained part of this barony until the local government reforms of 1837 when it was included in the enlarged barony of Muskerry East. Historically, Ballincollig was never part of Muskerry and the name more properly relates to the area west of Ovens.