Evidence of human activity-over 8,000 years ago-has been discovered at Lefanta near Cappoquin.A discovery at Kilgreany Cave west of Dungarvan dates back to the Neolithic period.The people who inhabited Co.Waterford were known as Desi.
St.Declan of Ardmore played a major role in the introduction of Christianity to West Waterford.He was born at Dromroe in the parish of Cappoquin.St.Carthage founded the monastic settlement of Lismore.There are numerous holy wells dating from the early Christian period.A holy well at Lismore rises on the feast day of St.Carthage-May 15th-and then disappears within 24 hours.Other well known holy wells occur at Toor mountain and at Ardmore. Both are associated with St.Declan.Eye ailments have been cured at Toor.A disciple of St.Carthage-called Molana-founded a little monastery on an island called Dair Inis on the Blackwater north of Youghal.
The Vikings arrived in the nineth century. They established a settlement at Helvick.They attacked and burned Lismore on several occasions.
The Normans landed at Wexford in 1169.They quickly gained a foothold in West Waterford.Evidence of their conquest is widespread.A motte and bailey was established at the Roundhill one mile east of Lismore.Lismore Castle was built in 1185.Other castles in the Blackwater valley include Mocollop(in ruins),Tourin, Norrisland Castle (in ruins) and Old Strancally.In Dungarvan the Normans constructed a motte and bailey at Gallowshill and a castle at the entrance to the bay.Raymond Le Gros is buried at Molana Abbey on Dair Inis on the River Blackwater.Norman names such as Barry,Fitzgerald,Power,Roche and Prendergast are common in this area.
In the 16th and 17th centuries land ownership was transformed.English settlers were granted huge tracts of fertile land under the Plantation of Munster and the Cromwellian Plantation.When the Desmond rebellion was crushed in 1583 Sir Walter Raleigh received a large grant of land from Lismore and Cappoquin to Youghal.He later sold this to Richard Boyle.Boyle introduced major economic developments in Lismore,Cappoquin and Tallow.A thriving iron industry developed at Tallow and Cappoquin.Robert Boyle-the father of modern Chemistry-was born at Lismore.He was son of Richard Boyle.
The dispossed Catholics in Ulster rebelled in 1641.This rebellion spread into West Waterford.The rebellion was crushed by the forces of the British Parliament.Oliver Cromwell arrived in 1849.The introduction of Protestant settlers added a sectarian dimension to the land issue. Under the Cromwellian Plantation some Catholic landowners were transported to the West Indies.Others were sent to Connacht.Landowners in the Dungarvan area were forced to settle in Co.Roscommon.
The influence of English settlers is seen in some of the placenames:Sapperton,Headborough,Snugborough and Janeville(near Tallow) Marston(near Ballyduff) Woodstock and Lefanta(near Cappoquin).Many "Big Houses"such as Dromana and Tourin were built by landlords.These are architectural gems.Under the Act Of Union in 1800 the Irish Parliament was abolished.No Catholic could sit in Parliament.In 1826 Henry Villiers Stuart of Dromana-a Protestant landlord-stood for election on a pro Catholic Emancipation platform.He was duly elected.Catholic Emancipation followed.
In 1849 an attack was launched on the police barracks at Cappoquin.It ended in failure.This was part of the Young Ireland rebellion. Famine ravaged this area in 1845,1846 and 1847.Emigration became a way of life.This lasted until the 1990s.The U.K and U.S.A. were major destinations.There is evidence of emigration prior to the Famine.Newfoundland was a favourite destination especially for people from Ring.However the marriage register for the Roman Catholic Basilica of St.Johns(1793-1803) includes names from Stradbally,Kilrossanty,Lismore Fourmilewater,Tallow and Cappoquin.Many Irish emigrants would have caught a glimpse of Cape St.Marys(seen below) on their way to Newfoundland.
There is some evidence of Fenian activity in the Cappoquin and Tallow areas in the 1860s.In 1867 a ship called the Erins Hope was seized at Helvick.This was carrying weapons sent by American Fenians.In 1878 the Waterford-Dungarvan-Lismore railway was opened.
The Land League was active in this area.The Land Acts in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought an end to landlordism.
Many young men from Dungarvan,Lismore,Cappoquin and Tallow joined the British army and fought in the First World War.The casualty rate was high.During the War of Independence the I.R.A was well organised in this area.It took part in ambushes and attacks on police barracks.A major engagement between Crown forces and the I.R.A took place at the Burgery outside Dungarvan.The Treaty was signed in 1921.The I.R.A split into pro and anti Treaty factions.The Civil War left major wounds in West Waterford.It has influenced politics down to the present day.Both F.G and F.F political parties were spawned by the Treaty split.They still dominate the political landscape and are centre parties.
In summary the people of West Waterford are a mix of Pre-Celt,Celtic, Viking,Norman and later British settlers.Over 90% of the population is Roman Catholic and voters are largely conservative
(Photograph of Mt.Melleray Abbey:Geraldine McGrath-Lismore.) ©
(Photograph of Cape St Marys:Darlene Walsh-Fatima Academy High School.) ©