By Irish standards Bandon is a new town. Just four centuries old, it was established as an urban centre for the Munster Plantation. The inheritance of this is a strong diversity of religions and the beautiful churches in which people worshiped. Bandon sees itself as the gateway to West Cork. And certainly it is that. However, it is much more. It is its churches, its 17th century street plan, its river and its people. If you still want to experience more, there is a golf course in the shadow of a Georgian mansion and the hotel where Irish Revolutionary Michael Collins ate his last meal before being killed.
A Brief History of Bandon
Most urban settlements In Ireland began during the medieval period. By contrast, Bandon was established as part of the Munster Plantation at the start of the 17th century. Before the town existed its location was already important as a fording point. The two main Clans in the area were the O’Mahonys and the McCarthys. Two small settlements existed – Ballymodan to the South and Coolfada to the North. It was the O’Mahony clan that built the first bridge across the river in the 14th century.
After the defeat of the Desmond Rebellion by English forces, Elizabeth I granted 14,000 acres on the south side of the river to Phane Beecher on September 13th 1588, at a yearly rent of £66.13.4 and with a number of conditions attached. Amongst the stipulations were that it was to be peopled by English Protestants loyal to the Crown, farm and dress were to be in the English fashion and a place of worship was to be built. Most of the demands were complied with. The building of Kilbrogan Church/Christ Church commenced around 1610.
Richard Boyle was appointed Privy Councillor for Ireland in 1613. That same year he bought the lease for the town. At that time Bandon was under constant attack from the conquered natives. As a result, in 1620 Richard Boyle began the construction of a wall around its perimeter. The wall took approximately five years to build and enclosed an area of 27 acres. Most of the walls were nine feet thick and varied in height from thirty to fifty feet. There were six round towers with additional defence provided by cannon. The river openings were protected by iron flood gates and fences. The gates were built within an archway capable of allowing the tallest cart-load to pass through. They were of an imposing kind with beautiful architectural portals and strengthened with portcullises. The bridge was built of stone and consisted of six arches. Within the walls Boyle built 250 houses. There were also three urban tower houses. So proud was Boyle of his accomplishment that in he remarked “my town of Bandon-Bridge is more encompass than Londonderry… my walls are stronger and thicker and higher”.
The main town was entirely Protestant (enforced by an early by-law) but suburbs containing Irish households were to appear near the southern part of the town even before the walls were finished. By 1623 the suburb in Cloghmacsimon townland had acquired the self-explanatory name of Irishtown. Things did not stay so geographically definite for long. The ‘census’ of 1659 recorded a population of 846 at Bandon Bridge, 542 English and 304 Irish. The Irish were presumably Catholics, a proof that Boyle’s ban on ‘popish recusants’ was less effective than had been claimed.
The plentiful supply of water from the River Bandon and its tributaries provided a basis for the growth of many industrial pursuits. Among the workers recorded in the early seventeenth-century were bakers, blacksmiths, butchers, carpenters, chandlers, cloth workers, comb-makers, coopers, curriers, cutlers, dyers, felt makers, glaziers, glovers, masons, metalmen, pewtermen, shoemakers, strainers, tailors, tanners, turners and weavers.
Trade was evidently the mainstay of the town and it was no accident that the most prominently sited secular buildings were the market houses. Bandon’s industry and trade were dependent on the prosperity of agriculture in the surrounding countryside. The three prominent merchants were also major landholders and in addition many tenants combined their other occupations with part-time farming.
Bandon was one of the best defended settlements in Munster before the 1641 Catholic Rebellion and with its new walls and gatehouses, its own militia and a substantial garrison it was to prove more than a match for its assailants. However, the effects of the rebellion were disastrous for Bandon. Sealed off from the sea, its hinterland devastated and the town flooded with refugees, it could no longer effectively function as a trading centre. Although it never fell to the Irish and their allies, it became an enclave in what remained essentially a no man’s land until the arrival of Cromwell.
By the 1680s Bandon had recovered economically. Towards the end of that decade, in 1688, it received a new charter. Unfortunately for the town that prosperity was relatively short lived. The Jacobite rebellion and military campaigns of the next two years had adverse consequences on the town. The town walls and their associated fortifications were said to have been destroyed by the Jacobite forces in 1689. Given the level of survival today, demolition was clearly not complete.
No new streets of major public buildings were added to Bandon’s existing stock in the first half of the eighteenth century but to judge from the variety of occupations, the functional structure of the town was becoming more complex. Numerous tanyards appeared. Associated with the tanning trade was a group of industries that included button makers, coopers, heel makers, shoemakers, skinners and tailors. Next to tanning in importance were trades connected with cloth making such as cord wainers, glovers and weavers.
For further information on the town’s history contact:
Bandon Walled Town Committee
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