GORTNAHOE – GLENGOOLE PARISH
1600 to 1900 by Dr Willie Nolan
The jubilee of Glengoole-New Birmingham National School seemed to offer an opportunity to write something concerning the establishment of the old school as part of the national school’s system in the 1830s and to trace teachers, managers and the building through the nineteenth century. However such a piece would say little about the village, the adjoining townlands from which the school drew its pupils and the wider Catholic parish of Gortnahoe -Glengoole which provided the management framework for the school. It was therefore decided to write a broader introductory article which would provide a background for the booklet and highlight the rich heritage of the district. Since the Catholic parish is comprised of the older medieval parishes of Buolick, Kilcooley and Fennor these are used to organise material about the parish from the 1600s which forms the first part of this article.
As one approaches the village the signpost proclaims the legend Gleann an Ghuail and underneath the name New Birmingham. The second part of this article traces the connection between the two names and charts the building of New Birmingham by Sir Vere Hunt Bart. in the early nineteenth century. It affords the chance to introduce his friend the parish priest, Michael Meighan, and to examine how priest and landlord came together in difficult times to plan for future generations. In the third section of this article we continue Fr. Meighan’s story and outline his role in the introduction of the national school’s system which is the direct precursor of the new school whose jubilee we now celebrate. Finally some mid-nineteenth century documents are utilised to highlight aspects of the wider parish.
Glengoole and its hinterland is a suitable venue for exemplifying the history of Ireland whether this be political or cultural. Located between the key centres of Cashel and Kilkenny where much of the story of Ireland was forged it has its own rich storehouse. Recent research by Richard Clutterbuck from the adjoining parish of Ballingarry has revealed a diverse archaeological heritage. Derryvella and Kilcooley were monastic centres within the Celtic church connected with neighbouring Doirenaflan through toghers across the bog. Stone circles on the hillsides, ringforts on dry sites mark earlier systems but it was the O’Briens of Thomond who gave us the jewel of the parish’s archaeology-the Cistercian monastery or monasterium de arvi campo dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary around 1182. Throughout the medieval period it was Kilkenny and the Butlers of Ormond rather than the O’Briens who gave shape and substance to the place. The old parish centres of Kilcooley, Buolick and Fennor all have associations with this family or their cadet branches. The earlier records of Glengoole locate it within the vast estate of the Butlers. From the early fifteenth century when the place begins to appear on documents it is always the Cantwells either by themseles or in association with other Anlgo-Norman families who are returned as tenants. Glengoole is written in various ways in the early records: in 1401 it was Glangole; 1508 Glengowell; 1534 Glawngoyle and in the 1650s asGlangale. The name which is obviously Irish has been translated as the glen of the coal and there is coal in the high ground but the fertility of the glen is derived from the fact that it is on the limestone. My friend Donal Gillespie in the placenames division of the Ordnance Survey tells me that their studies indicate that the translation is correct but I still have doubts. Would not the name Gleann Guaille the glen of the mountain shoulder be as appropriate? There are references to ‘pitts’ in the seventeenth century surveys and one is called ‘Clasgoile’ but we do not know if these refer to coalpits, charcoal pits or even the black stone turf of the bogpits which was a name used for turf banks. We don’t know where the Cantwells lived at Glengoole. Possibly it would have been close to the church at Ballinalacken and perhaps there was an older building on the site where Sherbourne Lodge was built.
Seventeenth century parish
Our first comprehensive account of landowners, land quality, townlands and settlement in what is today the Catholic parish of Gortnahoe-Glengoole comes from two major surveys in the middle of the seventeenth century. These surveys known as the Civil Survey and Down Survey, respectively, were commissioned by the victorious Cromwellian administration to facilitate the redistribution of land confiscated from Catholic proprietors. The earlier of the surveys was the Civil Survey which was conducted on the jury system: the commission for Slieveardagh was issued on 20 October 1654. In relation to Glengoole-Gortnahoe, which is in Slieveardagh barony, the jury met at Fethard and produced a detailed inventory of the parish and its geography. It is indeed a paradox that the jurors whose names have come down to us belonged to the old Catholic and Anglo-Norman families whose lands they were identifying for confiscation. In the Slieveardagh jury we find names such as Meagher, Comerford, Dalton, Tobin, Fanning, Butler. The Civil Survey returns are more comprehensive and they formed the basis of the subsequent Down Survey which was a mapped as distinct from a descriptive record. These are the earliest maps and they show for the first time, that we are aware, of the location of property and places within the parish. It is in old pre-reformation parishes of Buolick with its church centre around motte and bailey, tower house and bawn, Fennor its church and castle on the dry ridge above the bog and Kilcooley its church the great monastery that we discover the early structures within which peoples lives were organised. The Down Survey was established to complement the Civil Survey and to identify the lands forfeited through alleged participation in the Confederate Wars. In the tables which follow the information recorded in the Civil Survey is summarised.
Civil Survey 1654
Parish Acres Profitable Unprofitable Value
Kilcooley 4,478 4,350 128 £199
Buolick 3,231 3,011 220 £120
Fennor 3,460 3,030 430 £165
Kilcooley was divided into nine denominations including Glengoole, Kilcooley, Graiga -heesa, Grange, Lisduff, Garransilly, Ballynunty, Lickfinn and part of Poynstown. The parish, as it is today, was divided in east and west divisions separated by the parish of Buolick. The major settlements were at Kilcooley ‘great decayed abbey and mill with many cabbins’; Grange ‘a castle wanting repair with some cabbins’ and a ‘seat of a mill’ at Lickfin. There is no reference to anything at Glengoole. We get the impression of an unenclosed landscape with some type of boundaries between the townland. This is true for example of Glengoole returned as 1,000 acres with 600 arable and 400 pasture in shared ownership between Thomas Cantwell and the Earl of Ormond. The surveyors returned the pasture here, obviously the Bog of Ely to the north and the hills to the south, as held in common without partition and the arable lands as being so intermingled so it could not be distinctly bounded. Cattle roamed the hillside and bog probably with some mark distinguishing them and the tillage plots were scattered throughout the arable and not in the regular blocks occupied by farmers today. The highest valued estate was that of Kilcooley at £60 followed by Glengoole at £49 but if we compare average land values per acre the top two townlands were the relatively small Graigaheesa and Garransilly.
Ownership of Kilcooley parish had changed dramatically a century earlier when the estate of the Cistercians was granted to the Earl of Ormond at the reformation: subsequently it was sold to Hierom (Jerome) Alexander in 1636 and this was to mark the origins of the Barker and later Ponsonby Barker connection with the parish. Since land ownership and land quality is such a central element in the history of the parish it is summarised here for Kilcooley and later for the other parishes.
Townland Value Area Land Type Owners in 1641
Glengoole £49 1,000 600 arable 400 pasture Earl of Ormond, Thomas Cantwell
Kilcooley £60 1,200 600 arable, 400 pasture, 100 mountain pasture, 100 red bog, Hierom Alexander
Graigaheesia £10 13 120 arable, 10 pasture “ “
Grange Kilcooley £24 800 300 arable, 200 pasture, 300 mountain pasture “ “
Lisduff £10 230 200 arable, 20 pasture, 10 red bog Piers Lord Ikerrin
Garransillagh £6 100 60 arable, 40 pasture Pierce Butler of Callan
Ballynunty £10 300 100 arable, 200 pasture Piers Lord Ikerrin
Poynstown (part of) £10 300 200 arable, 100 pasture Pierce Cantwell
Lickfinn £20 418 200 arable, 200 pasture, 18 red bog Earl of Ormond
Buolick, the central strip of what is now the Catholic parish of Gortnahoe-Glengoole has most impressive medieval remains in its motte and bailey, its church, tower house and evidence of a large bawn and street patterns within are now only exposed in aerial photographs. The Civil Survey divided the Buolick manor into three divisions: Mellison 1,000 acres valued at £40; Buolick 1,200 acres valued at £40 and Clonamicklon 1,031 acres valued at £50. Each of these estates had central settlements: at Buolick the survey referred to a good castle with some cabins wanting repair; Mellison castle was described as waste with only the walls of an old castle standing; Clonamicklon appears to heve been in better shape with a good castle, slate house with a large bawn and some houses abroad. Land quality in each of the estates was variable suggesting that when they were laid they had proportions of arable, pasture of both bog and mountain and in some instances of turbary red bog included. The impression we get from the maps of the Down Survey is of the central settlements located along the dry limestone belt and empty spaces of bog and hill worked from the agricultural villages associated with the lowlands.
Townland Value Area Land Type Owners in 1641
Buolick £40 1,200 700 arable, 100 mountain pasture, 200 boggy pasture, 200 turbary red bog Earl of Ormond
Mellison £40 1,000 400 arable, 600 mountain pasture Pierce Croke
Clonamicklon £50 1,031 400 arable, 11 meadow, 600 mountain pasture, 20 red bog Piers Lord Ikerrin
The core area of this parish was around its church site but like Kilcooley it stepped across Buolick to include the townland of Clonoura and part of Poynstown. We have no idea how these parishes originated or how they appear to be so extremely fragmented in this district. They definitely existed prior to 1600 and must relate to arrangements made in medieval times. Fennor had eight divisions, Clonoura valued at £20 had no settlement recorded and a relatively large proportion of red bog (200 acres); Poynstown valued at £20 also had a little castle wanting repair and a thatched house; Fennor the centre of the parish had a good castle and a valuation of £30; Inchirourke valued at £20 was described as waste; Graigpaudeen was in a similar situation; Rathbeg was valued at £15 and also waste; Garryclogh had the lower valuation of £10 and no settlement; Urard valued at £30 was waste without settlement.
Townland Value Area Land Type Owners in 1641
Clonoura £20 500 250 arable, 50 pasture, 200 red bog John Cantwell, Pierce Butler of Callan
Poynstown £20 500 250 arable, 200 pasture, 50 bog Pierce Cantwell
Fennor £30 520 400 arable, 120 pasture Pierce Butler of Fennor a minor grandchild to Lord Ikerrin
Inchirourke £20 500 300 arable, 100 pasture, 100 red bog
Graiguepaudee-n £60 410 350 arable, 60 pasture “
Rathbeg £15 300 200 arable, 80 pasture, 20 heathy pasture James Earl of Ormond
Garryclogh £10 130 115 arable, 5 pasture, 10 red bog James Earl of Ormond
Urard £30 540 400 arable, 120 pasture, 20 bog Piers Butler of Callan
Ownership from Civil Survey
Earl of Ormond 2,548 acres 23 per cent of district
Hierom Alexander 2,130 “ 19 “
Piers Lord Ikerrin 1,561 “ 14 “
Piers Butler of Fennor 1,490 “ 13 “
Pierce Croke 1,000 “ 9 “
Piers Butler of Callan 890 “ 8 “
Pierce Cantwell 800 “ 7 “
Thomas Cantwell 500 “ 4 “
John Cantwell 250 “ 2 “
Total Butler lands 4,489 “ 58 “
Apart from Hierom Alexander who had purchased the lands of the sequestered Cistercian monastery of Kilcooley from the Earl of Ormond its grantee at the dissolution of the monasteries, ownership of the parish was dominated by the Sean Gaill or Old Foreigners families of Butler, Cantwell and Croke. Of these the Butlers of Ormond with their central seat at Kilkenny less than 20 miles to the north east and their cadet branches based at Lismolin and Callan held some 60 per cent of parish land between them. Willie Smyth has estimated that the Earl and Countess of Ormond had some 85,000 acres of County Tipperary in 1641 and that the total acreage held by the various branches of the family in the county was close to 200,000 acres. James Butler, earl of Ormond, who owned Glengoole in association with Thomas Cantwell, was a confirmed Protestant and supporter of the Royalist or King’s party in the war against Cromwell. His alliance with the Catholic party during the late 1640s was an uneasy on and the intervention of the papal envoy, Cardinal Rinuccini, certainly didn’t help matters. The defeat of Ormond’s army at the Battle of Rathmines on 2 April 1649 marked the beginning of the end for both Catholic and Royalist forces and Cromwell subsequently took all the Butler towns in Tipperary and Kilkenny. The victorious Commonwealth government passed the Act for the Settling of Ireland on 12 April 1652 and began surveying what it had won. Although transplantation either to Connaught or beyond the seas was the decreed lot of all those who had taken arms against the Cromwellians and Ormond as commander-in-chief was specifically named in the legislation it was by no means a clearcut process. Glengoole’s part-owner went into exile in France where he remained until the restoration in 1660 when he was re-granted his lands in Tipperary and Kilkenny; became the Duke of Ormonde in 1662 and was appointed to the highest political post in Ireland that of lord lieutenant. It is not clear what happened to the lesser landowners in the parish. Lord Ikerrin received decrees for land in the baronies of Burren and Corcomroe in county Clare; the barony of Longford in County Galway and Tirawley in County Mayo amounting in all to 20,000 acres (his Tipperary estate consisted of some 26,700 acres mainly in Lismolin and Clonamicklon). A Pierce Cantwell is also listed among the transplanters to Connaught as receiving lands (266 acres) in Tirawley, Mayo but unfortunately we cannot be certain that he is the same Pierce who owned Poynstown in 1641. Most of the transplanted Tipperary landowners came from the south east, mid-west and far north of the county; it is unclear how many actually transplanted to Connaught and some remained in Tipperary waiting the turn of political events. An estimate for the adjoining County of Kilkenny puts the figure transplanted as around 70 landowners with their retainers.
Parish landowners who lost out were the Cantwells and Crokes. At the restoration, Ormonde was to use his key political influence to shelter his kinsmen but the new monarchy were unwilling to dispossess the Cromwellians totally. The new landowning regime in Gortnahoe-Glengoole in the 1670s as recorded in the Book of Survey and Distribution was greatly influenced by the political power and patronage of James Butler, now Duke of Ormonde. In Buolick parish the Duke retained Buolick and Viscount Ikerrin now shared Clonamicklon with Samuel Browne. Piers Croke of Mellison lost out and his lands were divided between John Bird, Samuel Browne and a William ? with Ikerrin also having an interest. The biggest loser in Kilcooley parish was Thomas Cantwell whose share in Glengoole went to Jeffrey Fanning; Piers Cantwell’s part of Poynstown went to the Duke of Ormonde and the dukes brother-in-law, George Mathews of Thurles shared Lisduff with Viscount Ikerrin. Two Cromwellians, Daniel Gahan subsequently of Coolquill and Eliah Greene, shared Ballynonty with Ikerrin. In Fennor it was the Cantwells who again were devastated. John Cantwell lost his share of Clonoura which went to John Hickes; Piers Cantwell’s part of Poynstown went to Charles Dunsterville. Apart from losing some of Inchirourke and Fennor to a William Turvin, Lord Ikerrin managed presumably through his family connection with Ormonde to retain most of his lands.
The second Duke of Ormonde participated mainly in imperial politics and would have little interest in his Glengoole properties. Suspected of Stuart leanings by King George 1 who became king in 1714 he was exiled to France and his vast estates devolved to his brother Charles Earl of Arran. The dismemberment of the Ormond lands in Slieveardagh had commenced in the early eighteenth century. Both the first and second dukes lived beyond their vast means. Buolick was sold in 1703 to Josias Haydocke an apothecary resident in Kilkenny. He never settled here and what was a once vibrant parish centre and estate core would in time become a deserted shell with only its ruins proclaiming an important past. Lickfinn and Tulloquane were sold to John Langley of Ballynunty and nearby Killenaule was disposed of to the Pennefeathers. Lord Ikerrin’s family remained as local landowners until the Land Acts: sometime in the eighteenth century the castle and house at Clonamicklon was allowed to fall into ruin at the expiration of the Cooke lease. Perhaps it was at this time that the Hunts purchased Glengoole.
The evidence from a census taken in 1659 which lists the numbers of English and Irish inhabitants as well as the principal landowners suggests that the impact of the Cromwellian settlement in the parish was at the level of landowner and that the tenant population remained overwhelmingly Irish. Fennor’s population of 116 was 103 Irish as against 13 English; Buolick had 115 Irish and 11 English; Kilcooley had 130 Irish and 5 English so the total for Gortnahoe-Glengoole was 387: 29 English and 358 Irish. Significantly the names of the principal landowners had all changed. There are no Cantwells, Crokes or Butlers listed. Instead William Begett at Urard; John Pennefeather at Clonamicklon, Nicholas Bond at Glengoole and Nicholas Ragett at Graigaheesa held sway. Kilcooley town with 93 people all Irish was the biggest settlement followed by nearby Clonamicklon (59); Buolick (38); Graiguepadeen (34); Mellison and Rathbeg both 29 and Glengoole had 22. It was still a district dominated by the old medieval centres with their churches and tower houses but a new dynamic was in motion which was to shape a different geography.
The Vere Hunt connection with Glengoole
The search for the origins of the Hunt family connection with Glengoole brings us to the English seat of the family at Gosfield in Essex where in 1573 Henry Hunt or Hunte married Jane Vere, the youngest daughter of Aubrey De Vere, who was the second son of John Earl of Oxford. Burke’s history of the landed gentry of Ireland published in 1912 asserts that is was John Hunt, born in 1582 to this couple, who became the founder of the Irish branch of the family and was referred to in 1650 as Colonel John Hunt. It is doubtful, however, if it was this Hunt who participated in the Cromwellian wars as he would have been 68 years of age at the time and it is probably his son, Vere Hunt, who in 1649 was described as residing in Ballygoohan, County Limerick. This Vere Hunt held public office under the commonwealth government and died at Curragh Chase, barony of Kenry, County Limerick in 1681, leaving two sons Henry and John. It was the latter, John, who appears to have acquired the Glengoole lands probably in the early eighteenth century. He married firstly the daughter of Rev John Hicks, rector of Kilcooly and by his will proven in 1737 left the Glengoole and Curragh properties to his eldest son Rev Vere Hunt. His son, also Vere Hunt, married firstly Catherine Chadwick, a member of the Chadwick of Ballinard, Tipperary family with whom he received a dowry of £1,200 and on her death married secondly Anne Browne, daughter of Edmund Browne of New Grove, County Clare. By her he had two sons Vere (the founder of New Birmingham) and John Fitzmaurice (Hunt), and a daughter, Jane, who married John Hamilton Lane of Lanespark, County Tipperary. Vere born 1761, apparently at Curragh Chase the family seat, lived the conventional life of a member of a landed family though his interest in the theatre and literature was to mark him apart from his contemporaries and bear greater fruit with his descendants. In 1783 (Limerick Evening Post, 13 Aug. 1818) he was appointed to a majority in the Fencibles raised at the close of the American Wars and a year later married Elinor daughter of Lord Glenworth, the Protestant bishop of Limerick. His new political connection no doubt helped him to be elevated to a baronetcy on 14 December 1784 when he became Sir Vere Hunt, Bart. Subsequently he became High Sheriff of County Limerick and was commissioned at the opening of the French wars to raise two levies in succession. Sir Vere at this stage of his life was very much a loyal supporter of King and Empire working his way up through the military ladder. A sojourn in Southampton where he was appointed to a colonency in the 135th regiment ‘at the time’, the newspaper states, ‘when the British Empire was involved in greatest peril’. Back in Limerick he participated in parliamentary politics and demonstrating his strong network among the ascendancy he was elected as MP for the Borough of Askeaton in1797. His parliamentary career was shortlived as the Borough of Askeaton was disenfranchised at the Union and Vere Hunt compensated for voting for the measure. He never again was involved in high politics, indeed his difficulties in securing payment for his military activities as well as compensation for supporting the Union and significantly the failure of the Dublin administration to support his New Birmingham venture turned him into a kind of Anglo-Irish nationalist.
Sir Vere’s Hunt’s Glengoole experiences are discussed more fully later but here it is necessary to detail the Hunt connection with New Birmingham-Glengoole for the remainder of the nineteenth century. Sir Vere Hunt died 11 August 1818 at Curragh Chase and was buried two days later on 13 August at Askeaton. His only son Aubrey who was born 28 August 1788 succeeded him. Aubrey, conscious of links with the grander De Vere family of Oxford, assumed the surname De Vere in lieu of Hunt on 15 March 1832. He appears to have had little involvement with his Glengoole property leaving its management to his agents who included Vere Lane his cousin who lived in Sherbourne Lodge in the 1840s. Although the founder of New Birmingham Sir Vere Hunt had undoubted literary ability which we shall later note in respect of his diary it was his son Aubrey and more particularly his grandson Aubrey De Vere who gave the family its place in Anglo-Irish literature. Perhaps disenchanted by the failure of his father’s venture in Tipperary. Aubrey devoted his time to rebuilding the house at Curragh Chase and to his literary works. Vere’s son moved in rather exalted literary company. He was educated at Harrow with Lord Byron and also had as a school companion Sir Robert Peel who was Prime Minister during the early years of the the Great Famine. Married in 1807 to Mary, daughter of Stephen Edward Rice of Mount Trenchard, County Limerick, he had five sons and three daughters. His third son, another Aubrey, born in 1814, became an important literary critic and poet and though living out his long life as a bachelor in Curragh Chase maintained close contact through visits and correspondence with the leading figures of English literature including, Wordsworth, Tennyson and Carlyle. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1851. Aubrey De Vere provides in his published correspondence ample testimony of the ravages of the Famine in his district of Limerick and he carried much of his grandfather’s spirit producing an important analysis of Irish politics in 1848 entitled English misrule and Irish misdeeds. In his poetic works such as Inisfail published in 1801 he tried to make sense of Ireland drawing on the rich imaginative landscape of Celtic Ireland. He saw clearly the need for land and church reform and supported disestablishment of the Anglican church and Irish land legislation. He died in 1902.
Sir Aubrey De Vere died 7 July 1846 and was succeeded by his brother Vere Edmund the third Bart. He died in 1850 and was succeeded by his brother Sir Stephen Edmund De Vere. In May 1898 Sir Stephen and Aubrey, then aged 86 and 88 respectively, conveyed their life estates to their nephew Major Aubrey Stephen O’Brien, a descendant in the female line of the De Veres of Curragh Chase, and belonging to the O’Brien family of Inchiquin. By royal licence dated 9 April 1899 he assumed the name of De Vere in lieu of O’Brien. There was in the barony of Slieveardagh, therefore, two significant places which also connected the De Vere (Hunts) and the O’Briens of Inchiquin. In 1802-17 Sir Vere Hunt Bart had devoted his life to the making of New Birmingham under the hill; in 1848 William Smith O’Brien of the Inchiquin family directed the siege of the Widow McCormack’s house at Farrenroy in what was subsequently to be known as the Young Ireland Rebellion of 1848 and to earn honourable mention in the Proclamation of Easter Week 1916. New Birmingham lies just 4 miles north of Farrenrory in the Tipperary countryside.
Sir Vere Hunt Bart. and his new town of New Birmingham
We now turn to the core issue of explaining how the town of New Birmingham was developed in the early decades of the 1800s on Vere Hunt’s estate in Glengoole. Fortunately detailed accounts of the process involved survive in the Vere Hunt diaries and letters from the earliest reference to the venture in 1801 to Vere Hunt’s death in August 1818 when the project had largely failed. It is an extraordinary story of one man’s attempt to create the physical structures of a town, to attract the government to establish public services and to lure developers and tenants to come to live there. We must remember that the evidence come primarily from Vere Hunt himself so that he is likely to exaggerate both his achievements and problems. However, it is rare to have such data and it throws considerable light on the constant lobbying of state officials both in Dublin and London and the management of estate agents and refractory tenants. There are detailed accounts of relationships between,for example, Vere Hunt and the parish priest, Fr Meighan which give a different and possibly unique example of landlord-priest collusion in the development of a town. Much of Vere Hunt’s papers were destroyed in a fire that gutted Curragh Chase in 1946. Fortunately the diaries and letter books referring to New Birmingham were at the time of the fire in the possession of Limerick County Librarian and survive in the Limerick City Library and in microfilm in the National Library.
Vere Hunt was 40 years of age retired from parliamentary politics since voting for the Union,’a measure which my honour was bound to and my soul revolted at’, when he issued a prospectus for the new town of New Birmingham on 10 December 1801. One might well ask why did he not concentrate his energies on his home estate of Curragh Chase or be content with developing the agricultural potential of the Glengoole property. The naming of his new venture suggests the answer. Underneath the Slieveardagh hills were as yet uncharted coal seams which were beginning to be exploited by landlords such as Barker of Kilcooly, Langley of Coalbrook and Going of Ballyphillip. His Glengoole property took in the northern edge of the coalfield and he was obviously optimistic about its future. Furthermore the Curragh Chase estate may have been legally tied up as regards its future use whereas it seems that Vere Hunt had total control over Glengoole. Doubtless from his travels in England he would have been aware of the relationship between urban development and the exploitation of coal and as if to convince possible investors that his pioneering venture in a landlocked place would succeed he gave to it the name of Birmingham in England’s Black Country which hadn’t been hindered in its development by its inland location.
Vere Hunt’s prospectus has survived in the papers of his neighbours the Barkers to whom the former estate of the Cistercians had devolved from its owner in the 1640s, Jerome Alexander. It would have made more sense for the Barkers whose property was much larger than Vere Hunts to plan a new town but they had expended large amounts on their residence and the ornamentation of a sizeable demesne. Vere Hunt had three kinds of complementary buildings in mind for his new town. Firstly there were to be streets of substantial slated houses to attract masons, carpenters and slaters who would then help to build the remainder. Indeed these skilled workers were to be induced to New Birmingham by having rent-free houses until a total of fifty was built. A town had to have public services to give it status and access to government funds and ongoing expenditure so that a military barracks, a police barracks and a post-office were prerequisites; much of Vere Hunt’s time and energy was to be consumed in constant lobbying of government for these elements. Above all he required upgraded transport facilities to get his coal to the larger towns. His selected site had we must presume tolerable access in an east to west line from Urlingford to Killenaule, but to the south where the coal lay was the steep edge of the Slieveardagh hills and northwards the formidable Bog of Ely. He hoped to eventually persuade both government and the Tipperary Grand Jury to have the Dublin-Cork mail coach road diverted by New Birmingham and then, conscious of the role of inland waterways in Birmingham in England,to convince the directors of the canal companies to have a new line of canal constructed to his new town. All of these developments required labour and to supply this venue Hunt was to provide sites for 200 cabins around the Catholic chapel- a kind of Irishtown Although very much a liberal in his attitude to the majority Catholic population Vere Hunt was in the early stages of his plans thinking strictly along traditional plantation lines which regarded segregation along religious and ethnic lines as a central tenet in town development.
Like all prospective developers Vere Hunt didn’t wish to commit personal monies to the building of his town. Hoping that his expected compensation for the loss of his parliamentary seat at Askeaton and back payment for his military duties would provide finance and imbued with the speculator’s confidence that a rising tide would lift all boats he must have been convinced that once begun the momentum would carry him through. Later in the diary there is reference to loans outstanding to Nicholas Mahon,Dublin banker and confidante of Daniel O’Connell.We get some inkling of Vere Hunt’s philosophy of development in a letter written by him to Dublin government officials on 8 May 1802, which has survived in the State Papers in the National Archives, Dublin. It is worth quoting in full here:
I have the honour to communicate to you for the information of the lord lieutenant, that I have commenced the building of a town on my estate in the county Tipperary according to the plan which will be herewith delivered and which I request you will do me the honour to lay before His Excellency. It is intended to be principally inhabited by English manufacturers who it is presumed, considering the particular local advantages of the place, may be easily encouraged to settle there, provided the establishment is sanctioned by government. The situation is unquestionably the most favourable in the kingdom, it is in the centre of the richest and most favourable part of it, midway between the capitals of Dublin and Cork and abounding with every convenience to induce settlers of all descriptions to give it a preference. The works which have been commenced with spirit are at present in very great forwardness, and my efforts shall be redoubled on the slightest assurance of meeting progressive support from government which his Excellency may be pleased from time to time to consider the undertaking entitled to, as one of a public benefit.
Unless it has the appearance of being so sanctioned and countenanced, I fear that it cannot be carried on to that extent as to make it a national object, neither would sufficient stability be attached thereto to create that confidence and those ideas of security which at present it may be necessary to impress on the English mind.
Having already supported the Union in my situation as a member of parliament and being the first person who has stepped forward to embark property in endeavouring to convince the people of the benefits which may arise from this, may I hope render me not unworthy of the countenance of government on this occasion and as I am determined never to submit any matter to His Excellency or to ask any favour on the subject, which may not be fully considered a public benefit, I trust I will not be the less likely to meet his support.
Vere Hunt was endeavouring to convince the political establishment that his new town was conceived as much as a public benefit than a speculative venture. He was acutely aware of the necessity of government approval and investment and we notice the especially apt phrase ‘to create that confidence and those ideas of security which at present it may be necessary to impress on the English mind’. It was after all only two years since the bitter conflict of 1798 had convulsed the southeast of Ireland right to the outskirts of Dublin.
It appears that building work commenced around this time as his diary indicates a number of appointments including a Captain Robinson who lived at Sherbourne Lodge as his agent and Mr Ringwood as ‘measurer of works in the town’ at a salary of 30 guineas per annum. From the outset he took an active part in the project organising the supply of timber from one of Carrick-on-Suir’s timber merchants, Mr O’Donnell. At this stage want of money forced Vere Hunt to visit London to sort out his military back payment and to involve himself in another speculation through the purchase of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel. Writing in 1897 his grandson,Aubrey De Vere, recounted a family tradition that ‘ Once when walking in a London street he(Vere Hunt),he passed a room where an auction was going on,and, attracted by the noise,entered it. The property set up for auction was the Island of Lundy in the Bristol Channel. He knew nothing whatsoever about it, but when the auctioneer proclaimed that it had never paid either tax or tithe,that it acknowledged neither King nor Parliament nor law civil or ecclesiastcal, and that its proprietor was pope and emperor at once in his own scanty domain, he made a bid and the island was knocked down to him’.Although Aubrey De Vere maintained that his grandfather paid for Lundy Island through the sale of rabbits and planted a small Irish colony there it seems that Vere Hunt had hoped to persuade the government to use the island as a staging post for soldiers bound for Ireland. Apparently over extending his already straitened finances he was imprisoned in the debtor’s prison in London for most of 1803. It was obviously not a very strict regime as he continued to canvas war office officials for the establishment of a militia clothing manufacture and even offered to build a military barracks at ten per cent under the usual charges at New Birmingham. The war office responded negatively telling him that there were no plans to build a barracks in that part of the country. We find him back in New Birmingham in summer of 1805 when he commenced enclosing a field around the chapel and measuring out ground for building. It was at this time that he first met ‘Meehan the new priest’ who spoke to him about an addition to the chapel for which Vere Hunt agreed to subscribe 20 guineas. This implies that he then had no plans for constructing a new chapel and it was as his friendship with Fr Meighan developed that the idea progressed. There were many propositions floated concerning businesses for New Birmingham and Vere Hunt offered the most liberal terms to all prospective clients. His neighbour Charles Langley busily developing his collieries at Coalbrook proposed that he and his partner Colonel Bagwell would establish coal and mercantile concerns in the new town if given liberal terms. Vere Hunt offered the market place and market concerns at Langley’s own valuation for a year. Nothing apparently came of this and many other proposals indeed it is not until 1813 that the diary and letterbooks return to New Birmingham. In April Meighan calls ‘again’ concerning the chapel and it is the new building that he talks of. Vere Hunt was most impressed with the condition of both buildings and people in Limerick Street and agreed to lay out £100 on the chapel which was to be repaid by the collection of subscriptions by the priest from the parishoners.
Returning to Limerick in late April he was forced to leave his carriage and walk through the Slough at Derryvella ‘as it was impossible for horses’. Fortunately he met the surgeon-general at Cashel who told him that he had visited the proposed barrack site at Longfordpass and had declared it unhealthly as a site because of its boggy location. This was good news for Vere Hunt as he could use this inside information on his proposed visit to Dublin where he intended to press the government for his barracks and post-office. His Dublin days were divided between theatre-going, visiting his many Tipperary and Limerick acquaintances, purchasing books and generally displaying interest in museums, schools and manufactories. By the end of May 1813 he had finalised the matter of the post-office but again at a price, agreeing with Mr Lees, secretary to the post office, ‘to find a postmaster for and run free of expense for a year unless the produce warrants the payment by the postmaster general’. Then armed with the information concerning Longfordpass’s unsuitability he called on Sir Edward Littlehales. The official denied any plan to build a barracks anywherein Slieveardagh until confronted with the surgeon general’s remarks. Littlehales then told Vere Hunt to write to him giving details of his plans and he would forward his letter to the Duke of Richmond. It was indeed a tortuous business. Back again in the Castle on 2 June 1813 he was informed by an official that the government had now no intention of building a barracks in that district. His anger was vented in the diary entry of 4 June revealing growing disenchantment with the Dublin administration:
The king’s birthday. A levee at the Castle, attended as usual by pimps, parasites, hangers-on, aide-de-camps, state officers, expectant clergymen, hungry lawyers, spies, informers and the various descriptions of characters that constitute the herd of which this motley, petty,degraded and pretended court of this poor fallen country is made up. Alas, poor Ireland.
Returning from Dublin he was glad to stop off at Pastorville where he gave Fr Meighan a dozen of Dublin herrings which he had purchased at Monastereven and Vere Hunt himself dined on another dozen and some Glengoole eels. Large amounts of food washed down by copious libations were the order of the day but the conviviality of Pastorville was forgotten when he reached New Birmingham:
Find everything wrong. Joe Hunt’s cows on my lawn, the entire of it ploughed with un-rung swine, geese dragging the remnants for grass and ducks repasting on the worms. The town filthy, dung heaps in every quarter and turf ricks made in the street.
Shortly after Vere Hunt was embarrassed to hear that Fr Meighan intended to apply to Sir William Barker of Kilcooley for the window of the Cistercian monastery (presumably the magnificent traceried east window) for the chapel and he managed to persuade him not to proceed as he regarded it as an improper request. Later that month we find him again at Pastorville dining with the parish priest, his sister who was probably the priest’s housekeeper and Fr Carew whom Vere Hunt describes as his co-adjutor ‘lately come from Portugal or Spain’. Such social occasions were used by the priest to detail progress on his chapel and Vere Hunt records many visits to the site to observe the work in company with Fr Meighan and James Kenna the master mason.
Whereas the post-office and military barracks were the gift of the Dublin administration Vere Hunt had to obtain the sanction of local government in the county – the Grand Jury – for his Bridewell. The Grand Jury meetings in Clonmel coincided with the assizes where major criminal cases were reserved for judges on circuit. Here also the local development issues such as roads and bridges were discussed and contracts assigned. Vere Hunt’s original plan for the New Birmingham Bridewell was not acceptable to the Grand Jury and he was forced to modify the plan:
Got a presentment for a footpath from Cootes (Sherbourne) to the town at 3d a perch. Find that I am to encounter much opposition to my Bridewell, on the grounds of the sum I put in is too great and the scale too expansive. It is after much argument on the subject, agreed to grant it on a lesser plan and I am empowered to prepare one at £200 expense or thereabouts.
Vere Hunt was as ever a busy observer of the county town: he was appointed as part of a visiting party to examine the new jail and lunatic asylum to both of which he gives ample accounts in his diary: he also visited Fennessey’s nurseries and brought away new plants for his garden at Curragh. Grand Jury week attracted those who were looking for work from the landed gentry, particularly surveyors and geologists.
At the Grand Jury room the entire day. Crown business only going on. The unfortunate Mick Lahy came to me as usual in a happy state of intoxication, and my clerk, Michael Shanahan from New Birmingham, also came to me. The former looking for the survey of the county and money to drink. The former I would not injure my character by recommending him, the latter I would not lessen my purse by granting to so unfortunate a miscreant. Pat Lahy, another surveyor, solicits me on the same subject and as I consider him steady and deserving, I promise him my vote and support, he promising to give his unfortunate relation employment in the work if he gets it.
Vere Hunt didn’t feel the time was appropriate to employ Daniel Busby, whom he describes as a mineralogist, who promised to make new discoveries of coal on his estate. It was an extraordinary layered society. Anxious to alleviate the isolation of New Birmingham Vere Hunt had himself appointed supervisor without salary of eight miles of road from beyond Garryclough to the four roads of Lanespark and from the town to Littleton church. The daily mundane activities of the Grand Jury were enlivened by the more convivial events of the night. Vere Hunt was never at ease in these crowded assemblies and referred to the ‘motley crew of giggling misses, stale and watchful matrons, rank and envious old maids, militia ensigns, young attorneys and upstart bucks and buckeens’ who attended the Assizes ball.
It was a society built on patronage. His New Birmingham tenantry and associates lobbied Vere Hunt, whereas he in turn solicited favours from the greater county gentry. Sometimes his New Birmingham tenantry were disappointed in his efforts. On 9 August 1813 he records that one of his New Birmingham labourers, Edmund Sullivan was condemned to death at the assizes for housebreaking and robbery. Sullivan petitioned Vere Hunt to plead for him with the Attorney General, Judge Bushe, who offered to respite the execution on condition that Sullivan would inform on his accomplices. Sullivan unwilling to carry the brand of informer couldn’t comply and his execution was set for 7 September. Unable to accept that their landlord was powerless, John Sullivan travelled from New Birmingham to Curragh Chase on 3 September to make a last desperate plea for Vere Hunt’s intercession for his brother’s life. But there was nothing he could do to avert the sentence of the Assizes and the diary records on 7 September 1813 that ‘this day Edmund Sullivan of New Birmingham was hanged at Clonmel jail’. His body was brought home to be waked and then buried in Ballinalacken graveyard.
His New Birmingham days judging from diary entries were full of drama and intrigue. He had come promising so many things and he was the focus of every demand. Fr Meighan anxious to get the chapel roofed, but without money which the parishioners were slow to subscribe, sent a messenger to Vere Hunt in September that they would secure him for payment of £300 if he would roof it. Vere Hunt declined and then on 19 September 1813 Gleeson the stonecutter turned up at Curragh Chase claiming that Meighan and the parishioners were ‘determined to build the chapel out of Glengoole’. Was this an attempt to force Vere Hunt to come forward with money or risk losing what was the most significant building in his new town. Back in New Birmingham he meets Meighan who refutes Gleeson’s claim.
As was his practice Vere Hunt endeavoured to achieve consensus by calling together what my be termed representatives of the Catholic community – in this instance Fr Meighan, Garret Cormick and James Mulally- and they agreed that Vere Hunt would roof the chapel – the parish to raise £350 for this purpose and if that was not sufficient he would solicit subscriptions. Although it can be claimed in retrospect that Vere Hunt was merely being pragmatic in his support of the chapel venture, his relationship with the parish priest and the general attitude displayed towards Catholicism in the diary demonstrates a consistent respect. Indeed there is little evidence that Vere Hunt was in the conventional sense a religious man. He never appears to have attended church services when in Glengoole nor at Curragh Chase and he consistently deplored the various church taxes such as the tithe imposed on property.
New Birmingham wasn’t all work. He socialised with his in-laws the Lanes of Lanespark and his diary of 13 October 1813 suggests that the landlord class were not averse to a session of Irish music:
Set out for Lanespark at five. Found the house new papered, painted, furnished and in every respect in good condition. Dinner excellent and served in gentlemanlike style, good wines and punch. Bob Lane of Johnstown and his brothers William, Vere and Harry Lane the company. Kerns Fitzpatrick, the famous piper there with his gig and servant.
As compensation for voting for the Act of Union, Vere Hunt was offered through Lord Limerick, his brother-in-law, £500 a year until a place of the same value (not a sinecure) should be given to him. Initially Vere Hunt had claimed that the money should be paid from the beginning of 1799 but the government held firm that the starting date was 1800. Eventually on 20 July 1803 he was to accept an offer of the weighmastership of Cork a post which carried no duties but a salary of £600 a year and renounced all claims to any arrears on the earlier offer. This sinecure obviously helped to finance his ambitious building programme but its duration was in doubt and he was forced to travel to Dublin in October 1813 to ascertain the position on the change of government. While in Dublin he had the notice of the races at New Birmingham inserted in the Sporting Calendar and found to his disappointment that he had to reluctantly meet all the first years charges of his post-office but paid ‘fearing its loss would damage me worse’. Fr Meighan wrote asking him to purchase two pairs of candlesticks and there is a wonderful description of a dinner at Nicholas Mahon’s house in Ballybough, then in the northern outskirts of the city, in the company of Daniel O’Connell, Denys Scully a fellow Tipperary landlord and a number of Catholic bishops.
Vere Hunt was optimistic concerning the prospects of his colliery in 1814 but had little to say about his town. Without a military barracks, its Bridewell and Catholic chapel unfinished, no great success in attracting English manufacturers and little done to alleviate the isolation because of poor roads or to secure the longed for canal connection. But he continued. On the 24 October 1814 the diary records that ‘Shanahan takes the corner lot of Limerick Street into the street from Ladyman’s corner to the chapel and which I this day denominate Wellington Place’. Streets and grand names had but little substance and no great increase in his rental. In April 1815 Neville and Lahy were employed laying out the street opposite the chapel and arranging a line of gardens half-an-acre each from the town towards Pointerre. He was also busy in his role as Justice of the Peace hearing over 80 cases in one muggy April day in 1815. Then he decides to build a female charity school from the receipts of court fines and begins the foundation the next day – the limestone building blocks coming from a newly opened quarry. This may be the first reference to what is now (2000) known as the ‘old school’ – the only institutional building now extant of Vere Hunt’s new town. It is striking how many transient people came and went to and from New Birmingham – the foundations of his new school were laid by the soldiers of the 42nd regiment who on 10 April celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Toulouse in which many of their compeers were killed:
Six soldiers at the school. They broke up early, being the anniversary of the Battle of Toulouse fought last year in which they lost half their regiment, the 42nd, and this evening they spent in conviviality and out of reach of cannon ball.
The 42nd regiment departed on 22 April 1815 and were replaced by the 94th Scots Regiment whose officer was billeted with Fergus Langley and the men in the town ‘the barracks not being provided with straw’. This is the first reference to an actual barracks in New Birmingham but it is apparent that it refers not to a conventional barracks but to rented accommodation.
If not particularly successful in an economic sense life at New Birmingham was never dull and Vere Hunt was a participant rather than a distant spectator. The downturn which the termination of the military campaign on the continent was to bring for Irish produce was presaged by the fair of Thursday 18 April 1815:
Fine day and New Birmingham fair. Many pigs and few stocks of any other kind at it. No pig buyers and pigs in no demand. Bought five small ones at £4.1.0. for the purpose of having on a reasonable rate, twenty hams and gams for Currah and the rest for New Birmingham. A cheap bargain if a computation was made. No masons at work and all the other tradesmen and labourers idle and merrymaking at the fair.
Although not averse to the odd drink Vere Hunt’s puritan streak could occasionally surface as it did on 29 April 1815:
This night Messrs Shanahan, Edmund Huer and Tim Enraght think proper to attend a drinking club at Harringtons and sleep out, which I discover by the barking of the dogs when the scoundrels attempted to get in at two o’clock, but I would not allow a door to open for the vagabonds.
The next day he recorded Fr Meighan’s extreme action in face of either the unwillingness or inability of his parishioners to subscribe to the chapel fund. Perhaps they thought it too grand a scheme pushed by their landlord and parish priest:
No mass. Dr Meighan having withdrawn his sacerdotal rites until the tardy subscribers to the chapel come forth with punctuality to discharge their engagements and with liberality to carry on the work with spirit.
He gamely battled on securing in late October from the trustees of linen manufacture in Ireland 30 wheels and three reels made by Joseph Switzer of Poynstown for his charity school. At the same time he wrote to Robert Cantwell timber merchant at Carrick-on-Suir asking if he would be willing to supply timber on credit to be paid when the presentment money would be forthcoming at the following Spring Assizes:
I request you will acquaint me by return of post whether according to the credits you give a power to receive £134 the amount of a presentment granted last assizes for an addition to the jail of New Birmingham will be acceptable to you for timber to the amount of it to be drawn from time to time as wanting. If so you will enclose the form of assigning the right of such to you and I shall send it to you by Mr Neville when he shall go to mark out the timber.
The building is in considerable progress and will be ready for roofing in a few days and as I hope it will be finished before Christmas there will be no risk in its not being accounted for at the spring assizes.
Constrained by the lack of progress and want of money he was obliged to spend Christmas 1815 in New Birmingham distant from the domestic comforts of Curragh Chase. Conscious always of responsibilities towards the less well off among his tenants he bought a sheep from Billy Hunt and a quarter of beef from Shea of Killenaule to enable him to give a ‘bit of meat tomorrow to some poor people and followers’. On Christmas Day 1815:
The doctor and Mrs O’Connor and the officer Ensign West of the Fermanagh were my Christmas guests to a capital sirloin and plump pudding, a boiled leg of mutton and a rice pudding. Punch in plenty in both parlour and kitchen, but alas, the days of wine are over. Barn brack and tea in the evening.
Before departing for Curragh he sent his clerk Shanahan around to the tenants to tell them that he would take their pigs in lieu of rent and to advise them to give in their guns or bayonets as they could be transported if they had weapons in his absence. Part of his problem was the difficulty of getting money from tenants who were happier paying their rents through labour. Indeed some of them such as Coppinger on the hill ‘who never thinks of paying rent except by work’ refused to give a pig at 8 shillings above the market price. But it had been a difficult year: he had been removed from the Commission of the Peace, presumably for refusing to implement the Insurrection Act, but he believed that he had kept the neighbourhood quiet and saved his ‘poor neighbours’ from transportation by keeping them in obedience to the laws without tyranny or cruelty. We can leave the summary of 1815 to the characteristic style of Vere Hunt who always perceived the irony of life:
Sunday 31st December 1815 – last day of old year and which to me was a year of trouble, vexation and uneasiness. God almighty send the next year and succeeding ones more smooth. I experienced every want of money my tenants being unable to pay their rents in consequence of the general fall of every article, wheat from 3/- now 1/3d- oats 2/- now 6d – beef 8d now 2d. -pork £3 a hundred now 18/-. It is however some consolation to one that others are suffering equal priorities in consequence of the fall of times and that Bonaparte himself has experienced a greater downfall, hurled from an Imperial throne to an insular incarceration.
One of the most engaging features of Vere Hunt’s New Birmingham days is his constant interaction – not always temperate- with the many officials he employed from time to time to manage his affairs. By early 1816 Thomas Lahy was his key man and in that position was asked (7 January, 1810) to write to John Neville architect of the chapel, dismissing him from Vere Hunt’s employment. Although the letter is Lahy’s the sentiments are vintage Vere Hunt as evident in this selected extract:
From your total neglect of his colliery concerns the conduct of which was the principal object which you engaged to oversee. From your similar neglect to his interest in the brick concern as well as in others he only wonders why his good nature induced him to have continued you so long in his employment. Your continually drinking at improper hours and with the most improper people has also been passed over by him from time to time in the hope for the good of your family you may become corrigible from his daily advice to you. But the disgraceful and degraded situation to which you reduced yourself by your proceedings on Monday night in a Whiskey House and which caused you to be waked as a public spectacle in the Guard House of the town, precludes him from considering you in his service from that hour. You will therefore give in you accounts to that day which will be accordingly arranged and finally settled, but if you think proper to delay it and that Sir Vere Hunt should leave New Birmingham you must admit that all and every consequent loss must be imputable to you.
Neville was not without his own troubles. On 23 January Vere Hunt recorded: ‘Neville’s child this day buried at Ballinalacken Church and as many in attendance as if it was the funeral of a grown person. So much for the predilection of the Irish to idleness when any pretext can be made for it’. Vere Hunt would certainly not have described himself as English but his use of the word Irish here suggests a certain ambiguity concerning his identity and we cannot forget that he was the landlord. His health was now failing and he was anxious to go home to Curragh Chase where the domestic comforts appear to have been more amicable than his New Birmingham situation. For him it was a tough journey in the depths of winter. Up at 7 a.m. he travelled to Tipperary town where he stayed the night; leaving the town the next day at 8 a.m. he arrived in Bruff at 11.30 where he breakfasted on cold roast beef, eggs, toast, bread and butter and tea. He was home in Curragh Chase before midwinter darkness set in at 4 p.m. Curragh Chase was, so the diary informs us, neglected in his absence with his sheep flock decimated and the nursery in terrible order. His wine cellar was depleted due to exorbitant taxes placed as part of the anti-French policy and he was tormented by a host of agents of church and state clamouring for payment of tax and tithe. Deprived of wine he resorted to the local brew and after entertaining some local notables on 27 March 1816 he retired at evening to his closest where ‘I imperceptibly drank putteen and grog until I was as drunk as David’s son and as mad as a March hare’. Still his mind was on his Tipperary town, arranging to have Curragh Chase timber sent to encourage cabin building around the chapel and trees for planting in the chapel yard. His New Birmingham tenants often made the long journey to petition their landlord.
On 26 May 1816 Michael Walsh arrived from New Birmingham to Curragh Chase bringing a letter from his brother ‘the bloated priest, who before he got into Holy Orders worked for me at New Birmingham, but now, fatted at stations of confession and rural wedding dinners, with offering and presents extorted from parishioners of geese, ducks, chickens as well as occasional donations of putteen’. Vere Hunt as much as he liked and socialised with Fr Meighan was hostile to the younger less deferential priests and especially in this instance as Walsh wanted him to restore cattle distrained and sold and complained of high rents. ‘The object of his reverend brother’, Vere Hunt wrote, ‘was to interest me, or to influence me, or more properly speaking to dictate to me and command me to grant these requests and to make by a sacrifice of my property, his family comfortable’. Such interference with the absolute rights of property was anathema to him and he ‘did not even answer the upstart’s letter’. Indeed it was to be almost another 100 years before landlord ownership was terminated but cracks were already appearing in a social accord based on the seventeenth century land confiscations.
In order to meet the many demands for money on his diminishing resources Vere Hunt sold off all the surplus timber at Curragh; he had to sell three Devon cattle for £28 remarking that the cow which he had purchased in Devonshire to begin the breed had cost him £30 some years previously. Sadly he had to inform the revenue people in Kilkenny that some of his houses in New Birmingham including the hotel and the one adjoining were untenanted in July 1816 and in the same month Quaker Jacob arrived from Clonmel to ask for payment for chapel roofing amounting to £200. There were incessant demands on his New Birmingham agents to produce more money and he appears to have been somewhat suspicious over their accounting procedures. He now wanted separate ledgers for tillage, grazing, meadow, bog and potato ground and details of daily rather than monthly sales for the produce of the colliery. Ever attentive to detail he knew every spot on the estate and every tenant also. He was told in March 1817 that the wheels and reels provided by the Linen Board for his Female Charity School were being used outside the school. Bartholomew Molloy and Patrick McDonnell were appointed in charge of the collieries in early 1817 but a month later Molloy was charged with neglect and mismanagement. Information received at Curragh Chase – and there was a constant flow of intelligence – forced Vere Hunt to have Thomas Lahy go through the colliery and estate accounts, and Lahy wrote firmly to Molloy:
He [Vere Hunt] has fully heard of your transactions in respect of Nowlan’s pit and of the great quantity of culm that has been sold from it and of which no account has been given. He has also heard that you have engaged in a carring speculation which he will not allow.
The battle for Vere Hunt was almost over. By March 1817 he had to write again to John Lane, Treasurer of the County Tipperary for monies due (£165.6.1) for road presentments completed two years previously stating that because of ill health for the ‘last six months’ he was unable to travel to Clonmel for the assizes. It was not the best of times for a man who gambled on the coal of Slieveardagh and at times it seems that Slieveardagh produce was helping maintain the establishment at Curragh Chase – not the first or last time that money made in the periphery was spent at the centre. Although the diary and letters imply that Vere Hunt and his wife, to whom he always refers to as Lady Hunt, lived rather independent lives there are glimpses now and again of the two of them working together at Curagh Chase garden but she never appears to have bothered with his New Birmingham venture. His grandson Aubrey remarked that though Curragh Chase was his chief residence Vere Hunt lived much elsewhere which presumably must refer to New Birmingham. She was sometimes on his mind; on 6 August 1817 he asked Pat McDonnell to have the tenants collect bog berries (whorts) for Lady Hunt. They were to be picked on a dry day, bottled and well corked, drained and kept in a cool place until ready to bring to Curragh Chase.
Vere Hunt was unsparing of his own relations and his bitterest words were reserved for Billy Hunt of Glengoole – tenant of the demesne and Derryvella bog ‘reserving the sedge’. He was constantly in arrears and Vere Hunt used every stratagem to bring him to book. There was also intimations in the diary of alleged misdemeanours by Billy Hunt against some female connections of Vere. Billy Hunt belonged to a Catholic branch of the family. Vere’s letter of 18 August 1817 to his friend Charles Langley, describes a kind of local folk hero who defied his landlord relative. ‘He’, Vere Hunt wrote, ‘is an outlaw coming as I understand into New Birmingham at night armed with pistols and threatening defiance to sheriffs, magistrates and the whole civil power’. He estimated that he was owed some £200 in arrears from his cousin and distrained his cattle but he (Billy) ‘mustered a party and took them off and sold them’. He then ‘publicly walked the streets of New Birmingham with a gun loaded in his hand and a brace of pistols in his belt bidding defiance to any writ’. Arrested eventually by Stapleton the local constable, Billy Hunt was committed to the Bridewell and was to be conveyed for trial to Clonmel when strange to tell, he having previously purloined the sheriff’s order whether by collusion or stealing it out of Stapleton’s pocket when asleep and on the horses being brought to convey him he asked for the order and Stapleton not of course having it. He again rescued himself forced his way out of the Bridewell and marched to his own house wafted by the cheers of his associates and adherents and all the women and children of the town.
We have no idea of what transpired eventually between Langley and Billy Hunt but it does suggest the problems which beset Vere Hunt’s management of the Glengoole property after the early heady days of building were over. His other tenants were hardly likely to be forthcoming with rent when they saw the success of Billy Hunt, his relative, in frustrating the landlord’s demands. Vere’s diary now becomes very patchy and there are few references to Glengoole. His obituary of 13 August 1818 in the Limerick Evening Post asserts that he was taken ill on his way home to Curragh Chase from the Summer Assizes in Clonmel after eating cherries at his dinner in Tipperary town. The paper referred to the fact that ‘the town of New Birmingham in the County of Tipperary owes its advancement to his attentions and the rich coalmines in that neighbourhood, now so productive, were it not for him would be as yet unexplored’. But Vere Hunt’s major speculations, the proposed development of a new town in Slieveardagh and his speculative purchase of Lundy Island in the Bristol Channel did not succeed as he might have hoped. The rental of New Birmingham for 1817 has 35 names and a total rent of £119.11.3. The tenants belong to six streets: four in Donnybrook including the builder of the chapel, James Kenna; 15 in Limerick Street including William Fitzgerald publican, John Headen pound superintendent and William Whelan nailer; 12 in Patrick Street including John Neville chapel architect and Joe Hunt postmaster; two in Vere Street; one on Hill Road and one on Aubrey Street. The Bog Commission map of 1814 shows a central square bisected by the proposed Littleton road. Patrick Leahy’s map of 1824 , which showed the proposed extension of the Grand Canal to Killenaule, does not emphasise the square but shows the chapel and a street [Back Lane] in line with it and then the main street as it is today and another street divided by the Littleton road north of it.
In 1815 one of the numerous travellers who were to write accounts of Ireland in the nineteenth century published the Irish Tourist. The author, A. Atkinson, was particularly interested in improvements and landlord seats in the course of his journey, visited Kilcooley Abbey in summer 1814 where he was impressed by the mansion house, the lake and the thousands of trees planted by Sir William Barker. He also noted the magnificent east window of the ruined abbey, which could be seen from the drawing room through a vista in the plantations. From Kilcooley he drove to Coalbrook, the seat and estate of Charles Langley, where he discovered that 150 workers were employed in the landlord’s coalmines with a newly erected steam engine pumping water. Langley told the visitor that the produce was estimated at £10,000 per annum with half of this being profit. Although Vere Hunt was in New Birmingham at this time Mr Atkinson didn’t visit him referring in passing to the ‘deserted village of New Birmingham’ and describing in detail the newly developed village of Littleton under the patronage of Mr Grady, rector of Ballybeg. Writing in 1831 for the proposed, but never published, Statistical Survey of County Tipperary, Charles Cooke remarked that ‘besides coal these mines produce clay strata well adapted for bricks and culinary utensils, they also produce iron stone well adapted to the iron furnace for both which purposes the town of New Birmingham was built about twenty eight years ago in the year 1805 by the late Sir Vere Hunt, but his speculation has long since being abandoned’. It was Vere Hunt’s misfortune that his new town was developed in the wake of bitter political and military conflict in Ireland. Furthermore the economic recession which followed the end of the boom wartime economy in 1815 was devastating for his prospects. His estate at its southern extremity carried the outcrop of the anthracite seams but it was the estates of Langley, Going and Barker, which had the core coal area. His was a brave venture and Glengoole/ New Birmingham is one of the best documented new town developments in Ireland.