Faithlegg's Vanished Village

Have you ever heard the story of the Faithlegg village that vanished.  The account I heard as a child had it that a village once stood beyond the church, containing several homes on either side of an old road known as the street and leading to the site of the Norman castle in Goff's field.  Legend had it that the village had been wiped out when the black death swept the country and such was the fear attached to the plague that the lord of the manor at the time could get no one to enter the houses and so they fell into disrepair. 

The Black Death or Bubonic plague was carried by the ticks on rats, and it spread like wildfire across the continent in 1348/9.  Bristol was the second largest city in England and the major point of connection between Waterford and Ireland.  Some sources say that it was the first city in England to endure the plague via it's busy seaport.  No surprise then that it would quickly hop across the Irish sea.   Villages such as Faithlegg were in the direct firing line and once it arrived it would have been as deadly as anywhere else.  The account of a Kilkenny monk at the time described it in Ireland thus; "Plague stripped villages, cities, castles and towns of their inhabitants so thoroughly that there was scarcely anyone left alive in them. The pestilence was so contagious that those who touched the dead or the sick were immediately affected themselves and died, so that the penitent and confessor were carried together to the grave." accessed from http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/middle_ages/black_01.shtml

As said the village led from the Church to the Castle at Faithlegg, originally a Motte and Baily.  The land of Faithlegg was the first grant of land made in Waterford by Henry II in 1172 according to Niall Byrne in The Irish Crusade.  At some point the grantee, a merchant named Aylward from Bristol, established a Motte and Baily as a means of defence against the native Deise.  Apparently the ships that carried Henry to Ireland (he landed at Crooke, two miles away) carried a number of prefabricated Keeps to secure their advantage in the country (along with the tools to build the motte), perhaps one found it's way to Faithlegg?

Model of the Motte & Baily with Keep atop, accessed via Google Images
The Motte & Baily was a secure area from where the new Norman manorial system was organised.  Within the walls knights, administrators and trusted peasants worked the lands and waited and tended on the lord of the manor.  From within, all rules were passed, justice exacted and taxes paid.  Eventually other developments would come such as churches and mills and as the land became more settled protection was less important.  So over time the Norman square tower would evolve.  A street spread from the castle to Faithlegg Church, along which houses were built. The image below gives a sense of how uniform the design appears to have been.
p184 Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape
apologies for the quality
Over Christmas I came across an interesting section in Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape about villages and how these developed and in some cases disappeared which struck me as very apt in relation to Faithlegg, and made me wonder was it a less gory end that the village came to.

When the Norman system was overrun during the Cromwellian invasion and the rule of the Aylwards was replaced by Captain William Bolton, a new system would some into play.  Gone would be the manorial system, now the landlord rented out portions of ground from which taxes were collected.  Cattle became a valuable commodity, cattle fairs increased and land use changed.  "The older parish centres are now evocative ruins, occasionally sentinelled by a graceful round tower, a thriving graveyard and an ivy rich ruin...The stripping of the medieval churches, the displacement of the old landowning elite and their dependants, and the new commercialised, pastoralist-orientated agriculture, all truncated older village roots, and culminated in their shrivelling away" pp185-86


the remains of the street?
the upper wall of the church in line with the street?
Interestingly the book refers to at least 100 deserted villages alone in Tipperary, and so I wonder was the story of the Black death accurate at all.  Speaking with Damien McLellan during the week, he wondered could the two accounts be aligned. in that as a consequence of close living conditions and the spread of disease, was the new system born out of a concern of a similar plague descending.

Either way, the village vanished whether through misfortune or social engineering, or a mix of both but the remains are still to be seen.  This very interesting blog post from Simon Dowling has some excellent aerial views to provide a sense of the site.


Thanks to conversations with John Sullian, Jim Doherty and Damien McLellan which helped me in writing this piece. 
Ed; Aalen FHA et al.  Atlas of the Irish Rural Landscape. 1997.  Cork University Press, Cork
Byrne.N. The Irish Crusade. 2007. Linden Publishing. Dublin

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