A History of Bunclody

Compiled by Rory Murphy

BUNCLODY is a small town of some 2,000 inhabitants situated on the Wexford-Carlow border where the rivers Slaney and Clody meet in the valley below the Blackstairs mountains, The highest peak, Mount Leinster, 2,610 feet high, stands sentinel over the valley.

The Slaney has meandered the self same course to the sea at Wexford Harbour for at least 100,000 years; the landscape of the Slaney Valley having been carved out in the Munsterian ice age when the glaciers moving slowly across the country sculptured the landscape into the form in which it remains to-day. In more recent times, about 2,500 years ago, legend says that Hugh Slaini, lived beside the river. Whether the river took its name from him -or he from the river- is not defined. Hugh Slaini was King of the Fir Bolgs. The Book Of Leinster has it as follows:

"Slaine, whence his name? Not difficult to say. Slaine, King of the Fir Bolgs, and their Judge, by him was it's woods cleared from the riverbank. Afterwards, he died at Drum Fuar (i.e. Dinn Righ, near Old Leighlin) which is called Slaine's mound and he was buried there. Over him a mighty mound was raised, so the name of Slaine was given to that hill where he met his death in that chief abode".

At that time, Leinster was called GALLIAN, named after the Gallians, a branch of the Fir Bolgs

The Book Of Leinster goes on to say about the death of Hugh Slaine and the burning of Dinn Righ:

From the day he was slain this is true

Even Cobtach with his thirty kings

'Till the birth of Mary's Son

ls five hundred years ever pure.

It was from the time of Labraigh O'Lioinsig that Leinster got is present name. When Dinn Righ was burned and its inhabitants killed, Labraigh fled to France and remained 20 years before coming back to avenge the killing of his kinsfolk and the burning of his palaces or dwellings. He brought and army of Gauls with him and landed at Wexford. They were armed with spears which the Irish called "Laighean's". This word with the ending "ster" meaning a place, forms the word Laigeanster, after wards shortened to LEINSTER, the present name of the province. So whether the river was named from Hugh Slaine or he named from the river is not certain; but it is more likely that he took his name from the river

However, it is from the smaller river, the Clody, that Bunclody takes it's name. Clody or Clady was the word used by our ancient ancestors for a mountain river or stream with a stony river bed. On the way west from Bunclody to The Nine Stones and Mount Leinster the traveller will pass a junction, named on the map as "Corribut Gap". This is a corruption of the old Gaelic "Corrib Bui" -the fair haired Corrib, a tribe who inhabited the area, some 500 years after Hugh Slaine, at about the dawn of Christianity. North and east of Bunclody were two areas whose names have fallen into disuse and have been almost forgotten: Mean Corrib. (i.e. middle Corrib) and Levrock. This latter is translated in different ways, but it may be that the name derives from another tribe who inhabited the area in a more distant era, the Ui Barraiche and from whom the nearby townland of Barragh with its ancient church ruin and cemetery gets it's name. The Levrock was the south western extremity of the Coolattin Oak Woods which stretched from beyond Shillelagh in Co Wicklow to the banks of the Slaney. Drumderry, the "Ridge of the Oak" is a townland close to Bunclody, which still evokes the memory of that era. Maps compiled in the 1600 and 1700s carry the name "Leverock"; modern maps show Drumderry.

Beyond Corribut Gap, (Corrib Bui) and southwest, a good metalled road leads to the top of Mount Leinster. It is worth a walk to the summit. About one hundred metres west of the T.V. Transmitter mast is what looks like a heap of stones. This is a Cairn, or ancient burial mound. Close inspection will reveal the collapsed dolmen covering a burial chamber, reputed to be the burial place of Cu Corrib, a chief of the Corrib Tribe who was slain in single handed combat with Feidhlme Richtmar, King of Leinster in the ongoing feud over what became known as the "Borumha Tribute". This was a huge levy placed on the area for a treachery perpetrated by one of its nobles who married a chieftain's daughter, tired of her, and sought and obtained her sister's hand in a bigamous marriage. As fate would have it the two sisters met, the plot became exposed and the young ladies' father levied an enormous tribute on the perpetrators for the insult offered to him and his people through his daughters. It is said that St. Moling finally negotiated the end of this burdensome triennial levy, which became known as the "Borhuma Tribute". Tempaill na Bo, an old church ruin in St. Mullin's, on the Carlow Wexford border commemorates the event.

West and southwest of the river Slaney is the Duffry or Dubh Tire, an area totally covered in forest and thicket until the middle ages. The word is variously translated as "Black Country" or "Jungle".

The first written reference to Bunclody dates from 769 A.D. Annala Riacltha na hEireann contains a vague reference to a hermit living there. Tradition tells us that when, in the 4th century, the Hy Kinsella marched from their settlements on the Carlow-Laois border to open up new territory near Croghan Mountain in North Wexford, they marched down the Slaney Valley and encamped for some time at Bunclody where the Round O Rath is situated. Some 800 years later, O'Rourke of Breffni followed the same route when coming to attack Diarmuid MacMurrough at Ferns and visit retribution on him for kidnapping his wife Debhorgilla, from her Cavan home. The Round O Rath is pointed out as dating from the Hy Kinsella era, but there is no substantial proof of this tradition. Close beside the Round O is a spot known as St. Bruno, said to have been the site of a Carthusian Monastery. There is some substance to this legend and some historians have pointed out that the description neatly fits a place which old literature states that such a monastery existed.

The modern town took root in the early 1700s. The MacMurrough Kavanaghs had ruled a wide area and their castles were at Clonmullen, Carrigduff, Clonogan, Clohamon and Borrisamon. There were bridges across the rivers at Clohamon and at Clonegal, making them more important than Bunclody where no such facility existed. Additionally, the main road from Dublin passed to the east of the town, further denying it any strategic importance. When the Cromwellian forces drove the MacMurrough Kavanaghs from their lands, it was the turn of the Annesley's who, for some 60 years occupied the 12,000-acre estate, the gift of Charles II. The family had acquired so many estates in Wexford and in other counties that it was no surprise that they were not able to hold on to all of them. The Bunclody estate was one of the first to go. James Barry, Sovereign of Naas, became the new owner in 1719. He renamed it Newtown-Barry, the "Newtown" deriving from his wife's birthplace, Newtown, Co Meath and "Barry" to perpetuate his own family name. He gave the estate to his daughter Judith on her marriage to John Maxwell a Colonel in the Cavan Militia and a native of that county. The Maxwell-Barry families occupied and ran the estate for over 120 years and were primarily responsible for the development of the town and the estate.

They purchased the townland of Carhill from the adjoining Baltimore Estate and built there a splendid mansion, which they called Woodfield; a bridge across the river Slaney followed to make easy communication between their house and the greater portion of their lands. This gave the town an importance that had hitherto been denied to it. They laid out the town in its present fashion including the picturesque stream, which bisects the Main street. A line of Lime and Sycamore trees was planted beside the stream and a Mall set out alongside. This line of trees continued for one mile up Carrigduff and brought a new splendour to a basically beautiful area.

In 1776 they built the impressive Church of Ireland and embellished most of their work in local stone. The Church was built through the influence and good offices of Rev. Henry Maxwell, Bishop of Meath and his mother Judith Barry-Maxwell. The enterprise of the family created much employment and it became an important estate town amongst the many of its kind established in the wake of the settler plantations. By bringing underground ducts from the Mall stream, running water was provided to the houses on either side of the Main Street many decades before such service became the norm.

Before the town developed under the Maxwell-Barry family influence, most of the dwellings were down by the banks of the Clody. The main access to these houses was by Tully's Lane, which may still be seen alongside O'Connor's Drapery Store at the top end of Main St. Other entrances were by the present Post Office. by Lennon's Arch and by O'Connor's licensed premises. On the opposite side of the street were Dormer's Arch and Perrin's Arch, built at the end of the l8th century, all overcrowded as people came in search of work.

The old road connecting Bunclody with the south and New Ross ran on the western side of the present R.C. Church; Buffer's Alley ran in by Kavanagh's Supermarket to exit on Irish Street beside Moorhead's Garden Centre. Foundry Lane was opposite this exit and gave entrance to houses and the gardens on the east side of Irish St.; Ellis's Lane or Brewery Lane was parallel and just to the east; The present Chapel Lane, for many years closed off at the Irish Street end, was re-opened only after pressure on the landlord Col. Maxwell. (An issue in connection with this was raised in the House of Commons). The lane got its name from the presence of an old Chapel or Mass House which was, until the building of a new Church near the present F.C.J. Convent in 1826, the place of worship for the majority population of the town. All these Arches and Lanes were overcrowded with too many people dwelling in small cabins or tenements. The settlers and their cohorts naturally occupied the better houses and locations.

Extensive woodlands were planted to replace the great oak woods felled to make fuel for the ravenous smelting furnaces demanded by the industrial revolution in the United Kingdom. The oaks were cut and floated down river to Enniscorthy where the best specimens were made into ships timbers and barrel staves and the residue shipped out from Wexford Harbour, to fuel the smelters in the U.K, after traveling by "cot" down the tidal part of the river Slaney.

These new woodlands are still extant and provide some beautiful scenery and exquisite walks as one views the town on "shanks mare", the only way to really see it. The "Moss House" on the right bank of the river Slaney near the waterfall of Culapooka and the "Lady's Seat" on the pinnacle of the rock of Carhill are just two more of the relics from that age, most of them credited to the great taste of Lady Lucy Annesley who had come back to her paternal estates through her marriage to John Maxwell-Barry.

When the Maxwell-Barry family left Bunclody in the 1840s, the name of Newtownbarry had been firmly affixed to the town; the ordnance survey of the 1830's had confirmed as official many place names that bore no relationship to their old Irish originals. Nationalists continued the struggle for the restoration of the original names and decades of frustration ensued. Bunclody had its original name restored in 1952.

The estate, after some years in the hands of an English businessman or adventurer, Samuel Ashton, was purchased by the Hall Dare family who continued on in much the same tradition as had the Maxwell-Barry's.

Bunclody was the scene of one of the battles of the Insurrection of 1798. A plaque on the Slaney Bridge commemorates that sad event and is a memorial to those who fell there. The Insurgent forces under Rev. Mogue Kearns captured the town and held it briefly before it was retaken by the King's County Militia who were on their way to Wexford to help in quelling the disturbances that threatened to over throw official rule and law and order. About 40 houses were burned down and some 400-500 Insurgents lost their lives in the battle, which took place on June lst. of that sad year. A number of the Insurgents died on the Slaney bridge and were buried where they fell. Their remains were found in 1885 when the Slaney bridge was being widened. They were re-interred in the old cemetery on Chapel Road where a Celtic cross keeps their memory alive.

In 1831 there was a Tithe battle at Ryland Road when the local people gathered in protest against the sale of cattle, the property of Patrick Doyle, Tombrick, some four miles south of the town. The gale day for the Tithes was not until September lst. but the Tithe Proctor was over zealous and attempted to collect them in June, some three months prematurely. Fourteen people were killed and twenty-six were wounded when the yeomanry opened fire on the protesting people. The report of the inquest and the subsequent trial of Captain Graham were ordered to be published by the English House of Commons in 1832; they make sobering reading and are sad testimony of those unhappy times.

The Sisters of the Faithful Companions of Jesus came to Bunclody in 1861 on the invitation of the clergy. They quickly established themselves as an important teaching Order and for the past 130 years provided an excellent educational service in the area.

From 1800 to 1845 the Military Barracks was situated at the east side of the Slaney bridge with the Officers quarters some 100 metres beyond. The Post Office and the Police Barracks were at Ryland Road as was the dispensary. The Fever Hospital was located at Hospital Hill and for a short period during the Great Famine of 1846-7, a Cholera Hospital was situated at the Mill Lane close to the Church of Ireland grounds. A soup kitchen existed at Irish St. The famine did not claim many lives in the area; the cholera which attended it took the lives and sapped the energy of many .

According to the records left by Lt. Col. Valency, the road to Enniscorthy on the west side of the Slaney was built in the 1760's and continued northwards as the new road to Dublin. The "new line" to Kiltealy and New Ross was commenced about that time and completed in the early 1800's.