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November 27, 2006

The Knights Hospitallers at Tully

An article from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's new book, CHURCH OF THE OAK, on the foundation of the Black Abbey at Tully.

The Knights Hospitallers and the foundation of

The Black Abbey at Tully

Mario Corrigan

According to Lewis’s Topographical Dictionary the civil parish in 1837 comprised 1600 statute acres (as rated for the county cess) and some 4,800 acres of bog adjoining the Curragh, with some 20 different townships or places paying tithes to the Bishop. In the sixteenth century, as well as the immediate demesne lands of Tully, there were rectories at Tully, Doneany, Rathbride and Calverston, as well as lands in Moortown, Friarstown, Brallistown and other areas even further afield. The extent of these holdings can generally be attributed to the granting of lands at Tully to the Knights Hospitallers, or Knights of the Order of St. John of Jerusalem, in the 13th century. The name, however, ‘Tully,’ which has many variations, comes from the Gaelic ‘Tullach’ meaning ‘hill’ or ‘rising ground’ and some historians suggest that this may have been the site of an even older Irish monastery called ‘Tulach Fobhair’ (discounted by Thomas O’Connor in the Ordnance Survey letters). It is the Hospitallers, however, who built the Black Abbey.

The Hospitallers

            The Crusades saw the rise of the Military Orders of the Knights Templars and the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem. The earliest known reference to the Order of Knights Hospitallers occurs in 1113, when the papal privilege of Pope Paschal II was addressed to – Gerard establisher and commander of the Jerusalem hospice, though it was surely in operation prior to this date. Initially the function of the newly formed brotherhood, a purely peaceful one, was to provide for the pilgrims to the Holy Land. This hospitality earned generous donations of land and money in Europe particularly from grateful pilgrims on their return to their homes. Eventually the Order evolved into those brothers or brethren who fought, mounted Knights, and the lay brethren who cared for the sick and performed religious duties. The Hospitallers wore a black cloak with a white cross to distinguish them from the Templars who wore a white cloak with a red cross. In 1259 the pope approved the adoption of the rectangular Jerusalem Cross to be worn on the Knights battle-dress (over their armour) while at other times, as they carried out their primary duties, the 8 pointed cross, signifying the eight beatitudes, would be worn. The Order grew remarkably in strength and were in possession of at least 7 strongholds including the formidable Crac de Chevaliers. With the fall of Jerusalem in 1187 their position radically changed and finally with the fall of Acre in 1291 they were driven from the Holy Land.

            From here they went to Cyprus but in the early 14th century they concentrated their forces on Rhodes and established their headquarters there in 1310. Here they built of an extensive fleet and helped escort pilgrims by sea to the Holy Land. Indeed, from 1309-1522 they were known as the Knights of Rhodes. The Order was greatly enriched by the suppression of the Templars by papal decree in 1312 (Holinshead dates it to 1308). Throughout the 14th and 15th centuries the Hospitallers continued to defend Rhodes from the Muslim advance, particularly after the fall of Constantinople in 1453, and famously triumphed in the sieges of Rhodes in 1460 and 1480. It was a time also of administrative change and the Order was divided into eight langues or tongues. They were forced to withdraw from Rhodes after the siege of 1522. In 1530 Charles V granted them the island of Malta and throughout the 16th and 17th centuries they remained a crusading force taking part in the capture of Tunis in 1535, Great Siege of Malta May – September 1565, the battle of Lepanto in 1571, the attack on Algiers in 1644 and the defence of Oran in 1707. Now known as the Knights of Malta, they were to remain there until 1798 when the island was surrendered to Napoleon.

Hospitallers in England

The Order was established in England around 1144 and the Grand Priory was established at Clerkenwell. The Order spread to establish some 37 precertories with some 120 Knights and various other brothers and sergeants. English Knights of the Order did go to the Crusades and some even took part in the last great siege of Rhodes in 1522. The Order was suppressed in England by Henry VIII in early 1540 and while a few knights were executed as martyrs, others left for Malta. In 1557 the Order was re-established by Queen Mary but afterwards suppressed by Queen Elizabeth. Titular priors continued to be appointed by the Grand Master of the Order.

Hospitallers in Ireland

            The Knights Hospitallers were introduced to Ireland with the Norman invasion. They were first established at Wexford around 1172 and the Grand Priory at Kilmainham was established in Dublin around 1174 by Strongbow, Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke. In 1212 Pope Innocent III confirmed some 129 properties acquired by the Order in Ireland. While they spread rapidly in terms of increasing property the membership of the Order was more circumscribed than the monastic and mendicant orders because of its very nature and recruitment base. Postulant knights had to have proofs of nobility, pay a large fee, maintain himself and 2 horses, travel on call and when they died all their property and possessions was to be bequeathed to the Order. There may have only ever been 30-40 or so actual Knights of the Order if we consider that they established in the region of 17-19 preceptories (figures vary).

             In Ireland as elsewhere the brethren had to maintain their primary duty to provide hospitality to pilgrims and travellers, but because of the troublesome nature of the country in the wake of the Norman invasion the preceptories very often acted as military outposts on the borders of the Anglo-Norman territories such as at Killybeggs and Kilteel in Co. Kildare.

            The last Prior of Kilmainham was Sir John Rawson, appointed in 1511. With the advent of the suppression of the monasteries and religious houses Rawson began (1538) to let Hospitaller territories at low rents on long leases with pension obligations (for the brethren). The beneficiaries were invariably members of his own family, political allies and some of the senior Knights of the Order. Rawson negotiated the surrender of Kilmainham and the properties of the Order in 1540. He was eventually raised to the Peerage as Viscount Clontarf, with the lands of the preceptory of Clontarf and a substantial pension. The voluntary nature of the handover was given special significance in the act for the suppression of Kilmainham and other houses in 1542. In reality this was the end of the Order in Ireland although titular priors were appointed right up to the mid 19th century.

Hospitallers in County Kildare

             The Kinights Hospitallers established three preceptories in County Kildare – at Killybegs, near Prosperous; Kilteel or Kilheale, near Rathmore and at Tully, near Kildare. These can be found amongst the 6 or sites identified as eventual sites of preceptories in the properties confirmed by the Pope in 1212. Killybegs and Kilteel particularly were founded on the borders of Anglo-Norman territory and as such were as much military outposts as they were hospices for travellers. Kilteel at least was an important juncture protecting the Pale from the O’Tooles and O’Byrnes of Wicklow. It was founded around 1220 by Maurice FitzGerald, 2nd Baron of Offaly, and was essentially a fortified stronghold which could also fulfil the primary role of the Order by providing hospitality. It was leased to Thomas Alen, brother of the Lord Chancellor, for £17 in 1540. Killybegs was leased to Gerald Sutton and passed into the possession of David and Edward Sutton his executors. The other great Kildare preceptory of the Order County Kildare was that of Tully, near Kildare Town.

Hospitallers at Tully.

            There is no date for the foundation of the Hospitaller Preceptory at Tully and there is some doubt as to who the founder was. After the Norman invasion Kildare Town was part of Strongbow’s (Richard de Clare, Earl of Pembroke) holdings and after his death in 1176 it passed to William Marshall who married his daughter and heiress Isabella in 1189 (Strongbow’s immediate successor was Gilbert, a minor, who died around 1185). Marshall received a new grant of Leinster in 1208 and died in 1219, so if Tully was one of the 129 properties (property meaning a chapel and some surrounding lands with possibly other buildings) confirmed in 1212 by Pope Innocent III then the initial grant of Tully was given to the Hospitallers either by Strongbow or William Marshall, and pre-dates 1212.

            With the death of the last of the male line of the Marshall family in 1245, the lordship of Leinster was divided amongst 5 heiresses. Kildare (county) was the share of Sybil Marshall, wife of William de Ferrers but by the time of the division of the inheritance Sybil was dead and her share was to be divided amongst her 7 daughters. The castle and manor of Kildare however remained the possession of Margaret, Countess of Lincoln, widow of Walter Marshall as part of her dowry for the next twenty years. Margaret died around 1270 when the liberty of Kildare (and the castle and manor of Kildare Town) came into the possession of Agnes de Vesci (a daughter of Sybil de Ferrers). On her death it passed to her son William de Vescy who came to Ireland in November 1290 as Justiciar (1290-1294). He surrendered it to the Crown in 1297 and had it returned for life but he died that same year and it reverted to the Crown.

            In terms of the preceptory at Tully since we do not know the date of the actual establishment then it is difficult to say with any certainty who is responsible for its foundation. There is almost no reference to Tully from the time of the papal confirmation of 1212 until October 1290, at which time it appears that Geoffry de Siwaldeby was Master of Tully. This pre-dates the arrival of de Vescy and also suggests it was in existence for a time previous to that date.

            There is very little in any of the histories on Kildare Town for the period from 1247-1270 and yet Maurice FitzGerald is accredited, in different sources, with the establishment of Grey Abbey and the Preceptory at Tully. Surely the endowment could only come from the lord of the manor and in the examination of the matter of the dowry of de Vescy’s wife, Isabella, in 1297 the manor of Tholy (Tully) was clearly part of de Vescy property and presumably before that it was held by the Marshall family. Therefore it is reasonable to assume that the property was not FitzGerald’s to give.

            What escapes us is the actual date for the foundation of the preceptory. As we have seen a chapel and some land etc. at Tully was confirmed by Pope Innocent III to the Hospitallers in 1212. This was shortly after the arrival of William Marshall in Ireland around 1207 but in fact may even have been granted by Strongbow. The problem remains that the actual preceptory is not mentioned until the 1290’s. Kildare was an important religious and political centre and a strategic outpost against the O’Connor Falighe and the O’Dempseys of Glanmalire. A preceptory of Knights Hospitallers would have been an important part of the defensive mechanism employed within the County. There is a similar dearth of information of the other houses but Kilteel is presumed to have been founded by Maurice FitzGerald around 1220 and it seems likely that Tully is of similar date. Even if the lands were already in the hands of the Hospitallers by the time of his succession to the lordship of Leinster in 1189, surely Marshall would have made maximum use of the Order as a military presence on the edge of the county town considering he was soon to re-develop and fortify the earlier castle of Kildare, established by Strongbow. As a Crsuader to the Holy Land he would have been well acquainted not only with the hospitality of the Order but their usefulness as a military force in a besieged land. This might suggest a date for the establishment of the Preceptory of the Knights Hospitallers at Tully prior to his death in 1219.

An article from the Grey Abbey Conservation Project's new book, CHURCH OF THE OAK, on the foundation of the Black Abbey at Tully.

Posted by mariocorrigan at November 27, 2006 09:30 PM