Monday, November 10, 2014

Raymond le Gros and Molana Abbey

Raymond le Gros and Molana Abbey

Niall C.E.J. O’Brien

On a former island in the lower Blackwater River, opposite Ballynatray House, lies Molana Abbey. Founded in the sixth century by St. Molanfide, it was reformed in the early twelfth century into an Augustine Abbey. The abbey continued to exist until the Dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII in 1540-1541. After which it became a private home for a number of decades before left fall into ruin. In the early nineteenth century the fabric of the abbey was “restored” into the ruin we see today. As part of the works, the then owner, Gracie Smyth, had erected a tomb in the dining hall of the old abbey which he claimed was the tomb of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald, one of the first Norman invaders of Ireland in 1170. But was Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald actually buried at Molana?

The east end of the church in Molana Abbey

Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald

Raymond “le Gros” Fitzwilliam Fitzgerald was the son of William Fitzgerald of Carew and younger brother of Odo de Carew. He came to Ireland in 1170 and landed near Waterford where he fortified a promontory. After fighting off a combined Ostman and Irish army he advanced on Waterford where he played a leading role in its capture. Over the next few years Raymond was Richard de Clare “Strongbow”’s right hand man. The two fell out in 1172 when Strongbow refused to give his sister Basilea to Raymond as his wife and the constableship of Leinster.[1] Raymond then returned to Wales to his father’s castle of Carew.

In the spring of 1173 King Henry sent William Fitz Audelin over to Ireland as viceroy. Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was sent as his right-hand man.[2] While there the Irish rebelled, using the troubles of King Henry’s war against his sons as an opportunity. The troops of “Strongbow” refused to serve under Hervey de Montmorency (Strongbow’s uncle) and wanted their arrears of pay. Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was made commander of the troops and soon after raided the land of Uí Faoláin in Waterford and sacked Lismore to get the money needed.[3] After this the authority of the Normans was restored and Raymond asked for the hand of Basilea. Strongbow again refused and Raymond left for Wales with the excuse that his father, William Fitzgerald had died.

Hervey de Montmorency was again made constable of Leinster and head of the army. In 1174 while on an expedition to Cashel part of the Norman army was wiped out in Kilkenny. A general rebellion against the Normans then erupted and the Normans were pushed back to the ports. Richard de Clare summoned Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald to come to Ireland and led the relief troops with the promise of Basilea’s hand in marriage. Raymond landed in Wexford but would not advance before he had married Basilea. After the wedding Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald went off across Leinster and Munster to push back the Irish. On his approach to Dublin, Rory O Conor withdrew his forces west across the Shannon. After a series of victories Raymond Fitzgerald advanced on the O’Brien stronghold of Limerick and took the city in October 1175. Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was still in Limerick when he heard that Strongbow had died in May 1176.

After the death of Strongbow, Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was made royal governor of Ireland. His term of office was brief as William Fitz Audelin was again sent from England to be viceroy.[4] Over the next few years Raymond operated between Ireland and Wales. In 1182 he rescued his uncle Robert Fitzstephen in Cork.[5]

The subsequent history of Raymond is unknown. He was alive in 1185 when Prince John came to Ireland. When Gerald of Wales, a great admirer of Raymond, finished his book Expugnatio Hibernica in 1189 he did not record the death of Raymond. His widow Basilea married Geoffrey Fitzrobert between 1189 and 1201.[6] The burial place of Raymond “le Gros” is unknown although Molana Abbey and Christ Church, Waterford claim his resting place.

Lands of Raymond “le Gros” in County Cork

A document in the Carew papers at Lambeth Palace provides the earliest reference to Molana Abbey as the grave of Raymond “le Gros”.[7] Can we trust this document? This claim of Molana appears to be strengthened by folklore. This has it that Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald refounded Molana Abbey from a Irish monastery into a Continental abbey of Augustinians. The founder or re-founder of an abbey usually gets the honour of burial within that abbey. Many old Irish monasteries in the twelfth century changed over to the new Continental orders. This change also happened in other parts of Europe. For Irish monasteries the Augustinian Order was the most favoured. The actual date of changeover in these monasteries is unknown and the date of the Molana changeover is equally unknown. It could well be that Molana was already an Augustinian abbey before the Norman invasion.

Lands of Raymond “le Gros” in County Cork

If Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald did not re-found Molana in terms of its religious life could he be connected with Molana by donating property. During his life Raymond acquired lands in Wexford, Carlow and north-east Cork around Glanworth and Kilworth. Raymond left two illegitimate children, Walter and Richard but no legitimate children.[8] Thus some of his property passed to his sister Mabel and her husband Nicholas de Caunteton. From this couple the late Condons of Cork and Wexford descend - but no Molana.

We go backwards now to about 1182 when Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald succeeded to half the Kingdom of Cork which his uncle Robert Fitzstephen had earlier acquired. This property was given to Raymond’s illegitimate son, Richard de Carew. This Richard died in about 1205 as lord of Imokilly and half of Desmond. The family subsequently lost Imokilly but Richard’s great grandson, Maurice de Carew recovered it in 1307. His son Thomas de Carew quitclaimed Imokilly and Olethan to David de Barry in 1336 and gave the Desmond inheritance to Maurice Fitzthomas of Shanid, 1st Earl of Desmond, before 1329. Thomas de Carew then died without children.[9] 

The Cork lands of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald do not mention Molana Abbey.

The Carlow lands of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald

To find Molana we have to go back to Odo de Carew Fitzgerald, elder brother of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald. Odo de Carew married Margaret, a daughter of Richard Fitz Tancred, constable of Haverford and was living at St. Mary’s Abbey, Dublin in 1202.[10] Odo de Carew was succeeded by his son William de Carew to the Welsh lands of the family sometime before 1213. It is said the Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald enfeoffed his Carlow lands around Idrone to this William de Carew. When Raymond died without legitimate issue these lands reverted to Strongbow’s heiress, Isabel de Clare. From her William de Carew received a regrant of Idrone and held the place by 1202. Sometime before September 1213 William de Carew was dead and was succeeded by his son Richard de Carew, styled Lord of Carew Castle in Pembrokeshire. Richard de Carew was in turn succeeded by 1247 by his son, William de Carew.

In 1247, at the partition of the Marshal estates (heirs of Strongbow) William de Carew, lord of Carew, was recorded as holding 5 knight’s fees in Pembroke. By 1278 William de Carew was succeeded in Ireland and Walsh by his son, Nicholas de Carew in which year Nicholas travelled to Ireland. An inquest in 1306 found Nicholas de Carew holding 5 knight’s fees at Idrone. Nicholas de Carew died in 1311 and was succeeded by his son John de Carew.

Before his death Nicholas de Carew had arranged in 1295 for his son John de Carew to married Eleanor, daughter of William de Mohun. Eleanor de Mohun was about fourteen years old at the time having been born in August 1281. John de Carew died in 1324 leaving two sons, Nicholas and John.[11] But Nicholas de Carew junior didn’t enjoy his inheritance long as he also died in 1324. The family property then passed to John de Carew and he was succeeded in turn by his son Sir Nicholas Carew of Ottery Mohun in Devon. Sir Nicholas was succeeded by his son Sir Edmund Carew (1464-1513). It was this Sir Edmund who mortgaged Carew castle to Sir Rhys ap Thomas.[12]

Sir Peter Carew

Sir Edmund Carew was succeeded in his Devon lands by his son, Sir William Carew of Ottery Mohun. Sir William had a third son called Sir Peter Carew, born in 1514.[13]

Sir Peter Carew led a life of adventure that was not too far from that of his ancestor, Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald. He attended grammar school in Exeter, where he was a frequent truant. Afterwards he was sent to France in the service of a French knight but Carew demoted in 1526 for refusing to obey orders. He was saved by some friends on the way to the siege of Pavia and joined the company of a marquis when the knight died. This marquis soon after died in battle and Carew changed sides to fight with the Prince of Orange.

After the death of the Prince in 1530 Carew returned to England and served King Henry VIII. In the 1540s he fought against France in the wars of Henry VIII and was knighted in 1545. In that year Sir Petr Carew was elected a Member of Parliament. In 1549 he severely put down the religious rebellion in the south-west of England. At first he supported Queen Mary but before her reign was out he changed to support Princess Elizabeth. For this he spent some time in the Tower of London.[14]  

When Queen Elizabeth ascended the throne Sir Peter Carew was well placed to secure some benefits. Early in the 1560s Sir Peter Carew laid claimed to be the owner of the above mentioned Carlow lands by descent of Odo de Carew, and also of Coshbride and Desmond in Cork by a false descent from Robert Fitzstephen.[15] Sir Peter Carew was heavily encouraged in his claim by Sir Henry Sidney, Lord Deputy of Ireland. The government in the 1560s was trying to reduce the power of the two great southern lordships of Butler (Earl of Ormond) and Fitzgerald (Earl of Desmond). In December 1568 the government formally granted Idrone to Carew without any compensation or process of appeal for the two occupiers of the land, Sir Edmund Butler and the Kavanagh family.[16]

As part of the claim many documents were produced one of which claimed that Raymond “le Gros” was buried at Molana. This assertion would help Peter’s claim to Coshbride as a knight was usually buried in an abbey he founded or endowed with property. When Molana Abbey was dissolved in 1540 the only property it held was some land in the parishes of Kilcockan, Kilwatermoy and Templemichael in County Waterford along with some property in south Kerry and a church in south-east Limerick. None of these places were associated with Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald. For more on Molana abbey see the article on Molana abbey at =

The land of the three parishes, known collectively as Ofhearghusa, was granted in the 1180s by Prince John to Gerald Fitzmaurice Fitzgerald, 1st Baron Offaly. Before that the land was still held by the naïve Irish. From Gerald Fitzgerald the land passed through the generations to his great granddaughter, Julianne Fitzgerald, in 1275 and to her husband, Thomas de Clare. Thomas de Clare was succeeded by his son and grandson and in 1321 by his daughter, Margaret de Badlesmere. After the death of Margaret’s son, Giles de Badlesmere, the land of Ofhearghusa was divided among his four sisters and their English husbands. By about 1460 the 7th Earl of Desmond had acquired the four absentee estates and was lord of most of Ofhearghusa. When Sir Peter Carew filed his claim for Coshbride, the new name for Ofhearghusa, the land was held by Gerald Fitzgerald, 16th Earl of Desmond. As it turned out Sir Peter Carew was unsuccessful in claiming Coshbride.

The medieval cathedral at Waterford - now lost

In 1574 Sir Peter Carew returned to Ireland to secure other Cork lands. By 1575 he seemed to be on the verge of success in Cork as Lords Courcy and Barry Óge along with others were prepared to acknowledge Sir Peter as their lord in the area between Cork city and Kinsale. Sir Peter ordered a residence to be prepared at Cork and made his way there but while at Ross he died on 27th November 1575. He was taken to Waterford cathedral and buried on the south side of the chancel. His servant and biographer arranged the erection of a monument in Exeter cathedral.[17]

Waterford Christ Church and Raymond’s tomb

The burial of Sir Peter Carew in Waterford cathedral raises an interesting angle on where Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald is buried or supposed to be buried. The old medieval cathedral in Waterford was almost completely knocked down towards the end of the eighteenth century and a new Georgian style cathedral erected in its place. As Sir Peter Carew made so much of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald in his efforts to gain Irish lands once held be Raymond could folklore, without the aid of any medieval evidence in a now totally rebuilt cathedral, joined two and two and made the grave of Sir Peter Carew into the grave of Raymond himself.

If Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was indeed buried in the old Waterford cathedral would not observers of the cathedral before it was destroyed noted his tomb? So far as I have been able to find, no observer noted the tomb of Raymond. But would those observers know what to look for even if the tomb was there?

Strongbow’s tomb at Christ Church

The tomb of Raymond’s brother-in-law, Richard “Strongbow” de Clare is well famous in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin but the present tomb said to represent that of “Strongbow” is not twelfth century. The so-called tomb of “Strongbow” is a design more fitting to the 1330s than to 1176. Yet by Tudor times the tomb was ascribed by popular standing as that of “Strongbow”. Even the design on the knight’s shield was taken as that of de Clare but are in fact of an unknown member of the FitzOsbert family.[18] Thus in the days when tomb had few, if any, written inscriptions, it was possibly for people to give the wrong identification to a tomb.

The Raymond Tomb at Molana

Returning now to Molana Abbey, Co. Waterford and the tomb erected by Gracie Smyth in the early nineteenth century which he claimed marked the burial place of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald. Why would Gracie Smyth erect such a tomb? The Act of Union, joining the Parliaments of Britain and Ireland into one Parliament, had come into effect in 1801. The two countries were now truly one country. What better way to celebrate the antiquity of Ballynatray estate, home of Gracie Smyth, than to have the tomb of one of the people who made the process of one country possible in the 1170s. Indeed it could be said with reasonable correctness that Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald saved the Norman invasion of Ireland from collapse and total failure. Without his support among the troops and his key victories the whole invasion may have needed before it barely began. 

The supposed tomb of Raymond in Molana Abbey

Establishing connections to the past to support current political motives is a common occurrence in history. But did Gracie Smyth know that Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was indeed buried at Molana? The location of the tomb, in the dining hall of the old medieval abbey, would be a location well approved by Raymond with his nickname of “le Gros” – fat or big man – a person well fed.

Yet if Raymond was buried at Molana a more appropriate location for his tomb would be in the abbey church near the high altar. Such a place was often given to a person who founded or re-founded an abbey. The ruined walls of the abbey church clearly define the church but the floor of the church is so covered in earth, a few feet in height, that no medieval tomb is to be seen. If the earth was removed a tomb may appear but then again it may not. When Molana Abbey was a private home in the late sixteenth century in the possession of Thomas Harriot many changes were made to make the abbey into a private home. Having tombs in your main reception room would not look nice, especially when those tombs were of old Catholics in a very Protestant time.

What of the tomb in the dining hall? Could it be excavated? It could be excavated but if indeed there is a skeleton under the tomb how are to know the skeleton of a knight who died sometime around the late 1180s from any other skeleton? There may be metal objects found that could be said to be those of a knight yet the tomb of “Strongbow” is that of a knight but not “Strongbow”.

The wonder item of our day – DNA – could identify the skeleton as that of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald as it did with the skeleton in the Leicester car park was shown to be the late King Richard III. The DNA identification of Richard III was only possible because an unbroken line of female descent was found from Richard’s mother to the present day. Without this unbroken female line the DNA could not identify the skeleton as that of Richard III.

Finding an unbroken female line from fifteenth century royalty is one thing – trying to find such a line from a knight of the late twelfth century when we don’t even know when Raymond died is quite another task. As Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was a descendent of Princess Nesta, the mother of most of the chief Norman invaders, it may be possible to find an unbroken female line but only may be. Surviving medieval documents were not in the habit of recording female children, and their female children, only if those females ended up as heirs to a landed estate. But even then the male offspring of that female heir would more likely be the only recorded child, and the eldest male child at that.

Establishing such an unbroken female line would be a first step before any excavations at Molana or Waterford or at a third place in search of Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald could be even attempted. Without available DNA to prove the identity of any skeleton found then any skeleton found would be just another skeleton. Carbon 14 dating could get some date range for the skeleton but would not prove the identity of that skeleton.


In the end of this search for Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald we are no nearer to finding him than we were at the start. The claims of Waterford and Molana to hold the remains are equally valid and equally groundless at the same time. The possibly of somewhere in Pembrokeshire as the final resting place of Raymond is as strong as any Irish claim for we don’t even know when Raymond died.

In the final analyst, as they would say, why let fact get in the way of a good story. The real monument to Raymond “le Gros” Fitzgerald was that the Norman invasion succeeded and all of subsequent history happened as a result. Without him history would be very much different.


End of post


[1] John Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland (James Duffy, Dublin, 1865), p. 37
[2] Goddard Henry Orpen, Ireland under the Normans (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2005), vol. 1, pp. 325-6
[3] A.B. Scott & F.X. Martin (eds.), Expugnatio Hibernica, The Conquest of Ireland, by Giraldus Cambrensis (Royal Irish Academy, Dublin, 1978), pp. 135, 137
[4] John Gilbert, History of the Viceroys of Ireland (James Duffy, Dublin, 1865), pp. 41, 42
[5] Hugh Chisholm (ed.), The Encyclopaedia Britannica (Cambridge University Press, 1911), p. 445
[7] Richard Roche, The Norman invasion of Ireland (Anvil Books, Dublin, 1995), p. 241, note 3
[8] Goddard Henry Orpen, Ireland under the Normans (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2005), vol. 3, p. 150
[9] Kerry Journal, Series 2, Vol. 4, p. 46
[10] Goddard Henry Orpen, Ireland under the Normans, vol. 3, p. 154
[11] Sir H.C. Maxwell Lyte, A history of Dunster (St. Catherine Press, London, 1909), pp. 33, 556; Goddard Henry Orpen, Ireland under the Normans, vol. 3, p. 154
[12] Charles T. Martin, ‘Carew, Peter’, in the Dictionary of National Biography (63 vols. Smith, Elder & Co. Oxford, 1885-1900), vol. 9, pp. 49, 50
[13] Charles T. Martin, ‘Carew, Peter’, in the Dictionary of National Biography (63 vols. Smith, Elder & Co. Oxford, 1885-1900), vol. 9, p. 59
[14] accessed on 10th November 2014
[15] Eric St. John Brooks (ed.), Knight’s fees in Counties Wexford, Carlow and Kilkenny (Stationery Office, Dublin, 1950), p. 62
[16] David Edwards, The Ormond lordship in County Kilkenny, 1515-1642: The Rise and Fall of Butler Feudal Power (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2003), p. 194
[17] Charles T. Martin, ‘Carew, Peter’, in the Dictionary of National Biography (63 vols. Smith, Elder & Co. Oxford, 1885-1900), vol. 9, p. 60 
[18] John Hunt, Irish Medieval Figure Sculpture 1200-1600 (2 vols. Irish University Press, Dublin, 1974), vol. 1, p. 32

No comments:

Post a Comment