Ireland & Molana Abbey

Ireland and Molana Abbey

Molana Abbey is located at the confluence of the Glendine and Blackwater rivers adjacent to Ballinatray House.   Originally an island, in 1806 the then owner Grice Smyth created a land bridge from Ballinatray.  It is in the parish of Templemichael. The monastery was “originally founded by St. Molan fáidh (i.e. The Prophet) in the first quarter of the 6th Century.”   Canon Patrick Power offers an alternative spelling of this name, “Maelan Fáidh”   and tells us that the area is also known as Dairinish.  The Saint’s day is January 31st and Power informs us that:

“…of all the associations, historical or literary, of our Abbey probably the most important is its connection with a famous series of documents, the Collectio Hiberensis, which first appeared in Gaul in the eight century and which widely influenced the Church discipline of Europe for the next four hundred years.  One of the compilers of this renowned penitential was Rubin MacConnadh of Dairinis, ‘Scribe of Munster’ who died in 725…”

He attributes great important to the ruins as:

“they incorporate a nearly perfect pre-Invasion church.  They embrace the monastic church with nave and choir, the Chapter and other community rooms on the east side, the Refectory on the south and the Kitchen on the West.”

The monastery was ravaged several times by the Vikings and fell into inevitable decline before being resurrected by the Normans in the 12th Century.  Reputedly Raymond Le Gros, a sponsor of the abbey, is buried in its precincts, but a slab signifying his grave was placed there by Grice Smyth.  The Abbey included “the churches of Tallow, Kilwatermoy, Kilcockane and Templemichael” within its administrative custody.
The Abbey was dissolved by Henry VIII and granted to James 14th Earl of Desmond on December 21st 1550.  However, “some sort of community life continued to be maintained there for, at least, a quarter of a century longer.  This was made possible through connivance, or co-operation, of the…Earl of Desmond.”
Following the Desmond rebellion the abbey and its lands were reclaimed by the crown and “on 6th August, 1575 – for which a Fiant was formally issues on 24th November, 1577 – gave a lease of it for 21 years to John Thickpenny of Lismore…”  the details are fully included in the grant:

“The site of the Priory (sic) of Monalassa alias Molana, in an island in the sea nigh to Youghal, Co. Cork; land in Tamplemyghill alias Rinkroe, Kilnekannanaghe, Donmore, Diskertie, with the walls of a chapel, Canons of Aghmore and lands in Aghmore, same co.; two ruinous salmon and eel weirs on the river Ownmore (Blackwater); the rectories of Tamplemighill alias Rinkroo, etc., at an annual rent of £10, maintaining one English horseman.”

John Thickpenny was born in Devon at St. Mary Overy in 1525 and was the son of a Cornish merchant, Henry Fitzpen and Alice Pierce.  His father spent some time in Ireland but later returned and settled in Dorset.  In 1545 John married Ann Holton.  He was a significant sea merchant with a small fleet and in the 1560s received several grants from Elizabeth including that of Molana.  He died in 1583.   The Molana lands were surveyed in detail during the Thickpenny period and a detailed account of the property is provided in the deeds and leases held in the Lismore Papers held by the National Library of Ireland.  The following is just one example:
Town of Aghmore “There belongeth to the said Monastery the town of Aghmore in the fields where there are xlvi acres arable land every acre worth by the year 4d. and xxx acres mountain pasture worth by the year vs in the whole per annum
Total value xxs iid
 On the death of Thickpenny his widow sought the continuance of the lease on Molana and The Dominican Priory of Youghal but Sir Walter Raleigh sought the property, as it was adjacent to his own, and was granted it “under the Queen’s letter dated July 25th, 1587 – for which a Fiant was made out on 16th October, 1587.”  The abbey and its lands were later sub-leased by Raleigh to Harriot and finally fully consigned to him.  Interestingly Edmund Spenser uses the name Molanna to describe the river-nymph who betrays the natural mysteries of Diana’s nakedness to the curiosity of a Faun,  [Perhaps this is a reference to Scientific work of Harriot?]  Harriot apparently surveyed the Raleigh’s estate “beginning in 1589.  Nine years later he was still involved in working out the acreage of plots being leased on the estate.”   However records of this survey are not extant.  While Harriot spent considerable time in Ireland over the next six or seven years the periods are uncertain with the exception that we know he thus avoided “the plague that struck London in 1593”   As the monastery was in ruins and Harriot was employed by Raleigh it is very likely that he resided at Myrtle Grove in Youghal and considering his interest in botany and specifically his description of the potato it is quite likely that it was he rather than Raleigh that planted the first potato in Ireland.  It is also possible that the Brief and true report may have been written at Molana. 
While it is through his work for Raleigh in Ireland and his ownership of Molana Abbey and its additional church properties that Harriot has links to Waterford, this period was one of the most productive of his life.  His sojourn in Ireland is also important as it enabled him to escape many of the difficulties that struck England during this period.


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