Youghal is a seaside resort town in County Cork, Ireland. Sitting on the estuary of the River Blackwater, in the past it was militarily and economically important. Being built on the edge of a steep riverbank, the town has a distinctive long and narrow layout. At the 2002 census the population was 6,597, but the population of its catchment area is about 10,000.
Since 2000 the town has experienced a strong decline in its former extensive industrial base, but there are plans for revitalisation taking advantage of the town's unique assets. As a historic walled seaport town on the coastline of east Cork, it has many historic buildings and monuments within its ancient town walls, and has been designated as an Irish Heritage Port by the Irish Tourist Board. It remains a popular tourist destination.
History and architecture
Youghal received its charter of incorporation in 1209, but the history of settlement on the site is much longer, with a Norse settlement being present in the 9th century, the Church of Coran in the town's western suburbs dating from the 5th century, and evidence of Neolithic habitation at nearby Newport.
Notable buildings in the town include Myrtle Grove and St Mary's Collegiate Church, thought to have been founded by St. Declan around 450. The church was rebuilt in Irish Romanesque style in about 750, and a great Norman nave was erected in about 1220. It is one of the few remaining medieval churches in Ireland to have remained in continuous use as a place of worship. The Vikings used Youghal as a base for their raids on monastic sites along the south coast of Ireland, and a stone in St Mary's Collegiate Church still bears the etched outline of a longboat. Since the 16th century it has been the place of worship of the Church of Ireland congregation of Youghal and its surrounding areas.
The town was badly damaged on 13 November 1579, during the Second Desmond Rebellion, when it was sacked by the forces of Gerald FitzGerald, 15th Earl of Desmond. Desmond had the town's garrison massacred, the English officials were hanged and his soldiers looted the townspeople. Even so the downtown area of Youghal is among the best-preserved in Ireland.
The first record of the walls is a charter of 1275, granted by King Edward I, for their repair and extension.
Clock Gate Tower – In 1777, the town's Clock Gate Tower was built on the site of Trinity Castle, part of the town's fortifications. It was used as a prison during the rebellion of 1798, and a pole lashed from the lower windows to the corner of the first house on South Main Street (now Luigi's) was used for hangings. Thomas Gallagher was one of those hanged for trying to seduce a soldier from allegiance to his regiment. Numerous forms of torture were conducted therein including thumb screws, pitch-cap, rack and flogging. The Clock Gate served the town as gaol and public gallows until 1837 when it was considered "defective in several of the accommodations essential to the health of prisoners". It then became a family home until 1959 when the last family left.
Tynte's Castle – is a late 15th-century urban tower house. It is almost the only fortified relic of feudalism now in Youghal. It was built by the Walsh family in 1602 and leased by the corporation to the Tynte family towards the end of the reign of King James I. It is shown in a map of Youghal dated 1663 as one of the defences of the town. The building was passed down through the Tynte family and is now the property of the McCarthy family.
Youghal was the first town in Ireland or Britain to have a Jewish mayor when William Annyas was elected to that position in 1555; and the town's small but significant Huguenot settlement provided a number of mayors such as Richard Paradise (1683), Edward Gillett (1721) and Joseph Labatte (1752)
The Benedictine Priory – In 1350, the monastery of St John the Evangelist was founded. It was an affiliated branch of the wealthy Benedictine Priory of St. John of Waterford. The main building is of amazing strength and appears to have been intended to combine a fortress with a religious retreat. Oliver Cromwell fixed his residence at the Priory of St. John’s on the main street in winter 1649.
Myrtle Grove – When Sir Walter Raleigh brought the first potatoes from Virginia to Ireland in 1585, he planted them at his home at Myrtle Grove, Youghal. For the following two years he was Mayor of the town. Queen Elizabeth I granted him of land in Youghal. He resided at Myrtle Grove where he entertained the poet Spenser, who is said to have written the "Fairie Queen". In the gardens are four yew trees said to have been planted by Sir Walter Raleigh himself. Sir Walter Raleigh made his final trip from Cork to the West Indies in 1617.
Youghal Lighthouse – In 1202, the Geraldine proprietors of the town built a lighthouse on the cliff at the west side of the mouth's harbour. The original tower was seven-and-a half metres tall and three metres in diameter. They also richly endowed a nunnery called the Chapel of St. Annes under the condition that the nuns should see that the light was regularly maintained. The nuns did so until the reformation in the 1530s, when the lighthouse and the convent were confiscated. The beacon was discontinued in about 1542. The current lighthouse, made from granite imported from Scotland, was designed by George Halpin and work began on its construction in 1848. It was not until February 1852 that the harbour light was first displayed. The lantern is above sea level.
Port and harbour
According to Geoffrey Keating, in late March 830 there was a "great convulsion of nature" in the province of Munster. This changed the flow of the River Blackwater moving its mouth from Whiting Bay and forming the harbour of Youghal. 1,010 people were lost by a fierce storm when the sea broke its banks. Soon afterwards in 853 a detachment from the Norman invasion built a fortress in Youghal and laid the foundation of a commercial seaport. In 1130, St Bernard writes of Lismore as the capital city of Munster and describes Youghal as the port of Lismore.
In 1353, the freeman of Youghal were allowed freedom in trade in different staples throughout England and Wales for wool, leather, woolfels and lead. In 1360 Writs signed by Almaricus de St Aland, Justiciary of Ireland, were directed to Sovereign and Bailiffs of Youghal, ordering them to prevent persons from going to foreign parts. In 1373 King Edward III commanded the Keeper of the port to press and detain ships in the port for the purposes of conveying James Le Botiller, Earl of Ormond, whenever the Earl may come to the port on the King’s services. In 1376 the same King granted the Mayor of Youghal privileges for services against rebels in Cork. In the same year the merchants and commons of Youghal complained to Edward about the dangers of having to go to Cork to pay customs, and succeeded in arranging a new customs system for paying in Youghal.
The Irish Parliament passed an Act concerning the imports, customs and mines in 1585 which made Youghal one of the privileged ports. Wine could then be discharged at Youghal, Cork, Waterford, Dublin, Limerick, Drogheda and Galway. Discharge at any other location, unless occasioned by stress of weather, meant forfeiting half to Queen Elizabeth I and half to the seizer. In early 1600 Youghal was elevated to the rank of 'staple town', receiving the exclusive rights to carry on the wool trade with Bristol, Liverpool, Chester and Milford. During the 17th century Youghal was one of Ireland's main ports, far more important than Cork Harbour which was described as 'a port near Youghal.' In 1603 King James I made a visit and was proclaimed on the quay in Youghal. In 1631 pirates of all nations swarmed the seas entering Youghal on several occasions. The most notorious of them was Nutt, who had three ships under his command. Legend tells that he would bury kegs of gold on Capel Island and sacrifice at each location a black slave whose spirit is watching over the hoard.
By 1640 tobacco, originally introduced by Walter Raleigh, had so fixed itself on the habits of the people, that it now formed one of the staples of trade at Youghal port. Cromwell (The Protector) having regained Dublin, Wexford and Waterford for the English rule, arrived in Youghal on 6 December 1649. After resting for the winter in Youghal, Cromwell and his army crossed the Blackwater at Mallow and went on to yield Kilkenny and Clonmel before returning to Youghal and later England where Charles II had arrived. 1683 and 1684 saw great sickness and death in Youghal. In 1689 by order of King James II colonisers with a 'zealous attachment to the Protestant religion' were rounded up and detained in castles in Youghal where they were held for twelve months before being released to flee back to England. Many of these were Cromwell’s men, now grey and feeble. Such acts led to calls for the demise of King James’ reign.
In 1695, having made an ingenious sundial, a schoolmaster was admitted as a freeman of Youghal. When Protestants of France were compelled to leave their own country by Louis XIV in 1697 many came to Ireland and settled in Youghal. They brought industry, intelligence and considerable wealth. By 1716 Youghal council began inserting covenants into leases of ground skirted by the waterside, binding the leases to build quays. Gradually great enclosures from the sea were made which doubled the area of the town. In 1727 the Irish were permitted to trade in the town as great scarcity and famine swept the country. There were riots in Youghal as people sought to prevent the export of corn to England and Northern Ireland. Great sickness and mortality continued through 1734. In 1736 and 1745 the town walls were extensively repaired and in 1745 the Sally-port was made anew.
Trade in Youghal varied greatly. In 1753 no corn, meal salt or flour was imported into Youghal from March to November of that year. In 1754 exports were 65 quarters of beans. 1755 saw exports of 214 quarters of barley, and 70 quarters of beans. Exports in 1756 were 450 quarters of Barley, 45 barrels of Oatmeal and imports were 6 barrels of beer. In 1757 exports were 495 quarters of Oats, 20 barrels of Oatmeal and imports were 11.25 barrels of beer. Works had commenced at this time on improving navigation of the Blackwater (1755) and a petition had been sent to Parliament to open roads from Lismore, Cappoquin and Clogheen to Youghal.
In 1762 a French privateer took six ships near the harbour of Youghal. The commander landed 24 passengers on the Island of Ballycotton and took the remainder with him as recruits for Colonel Owen's regiment. The Expedition cutter was sent in pursuit but did not come up with them. By 1780 the wool combining business was carried on with great spirit in Youghal where the Annals tell us "great fortunes were realised". Exports from Youghal were extensive in 1781 with more oats being exported than from any other port in Ireland. Nealson’s Quay was built and commenced the following year. Grattan Street was opened along the quay that had been embanked.
In 1833, nine ships and 440 colliers entered the harbour. In 1834, there were 250 fishing boats in the harbour employing 2500 men. Salmon was plentiful and was sold for 1½d per pound. After many years of discussion and feasibility testing, The Star Steamer commenced plying on the Blackwater in June 1843. It was hoped that opening the Blackwater would reduce trade costs with Lismore, Fermoy, Mitchelstown and Mallow. On an objection from the Duke of Devonshire - who owned the weir at Lismore - and some other gentlemen, the river was not opened beyond Lismore. The steamer ceased again in 1850 no progress beyond Lismore being made. The following year the Youghal Fisheries District had 574 registered vessels employing 2,786 men. This was a decrease of 112 boats and 532 men since 1845. From the 18th century onwards, Youghal suffered much the same fate as nearby Ardmore: as ships became larger, they were unable to get into Youghal Harbour because of a shallow sandbar at its mouth.
A cross-river passenger ferry did continue from Youghal to the opposite side of the harbour. The ferry capsized on 30 September 1876 and 14 people died. In 1882 a decision of the House of Lords established the claim of the Duke of Devonshire to exclusive fishery rights to the river Blackwater and Youghal Bay out to Capel Island. The Duke's claim was founded on a grant given to Sir Walter Raleigh by Elizabeth I, which he sold shortly afterward to the Boyle family.