I often cycle down the coast to Annestown then up to Dunhill castle where the Anne Valley walk begins. There are views to the sea and the Comeragh mountains from the long, free wheeling hill to the coast while the narrow grey road that meanders north to the castle is, in contrast, sheltered from the wind and fringed by water meadows on one side and the gorse bobbled rise of the western side of the valley on the other. Ducks and swans paddle about on the water which, on a sunny day, is a deep silky blue against luminous green banks cross hatched with ochre reeds. You may see one of the local herons ponderously flapping down the river from its nest, following the lazily snaking watercourse looking for a good spot to stalk. Last week I saw a buzzard, which are becoming more common here, circling above while wrens, sparrows and finches swooped and twittered among the branches like feathery dropped stitches in a tapestry of gold and blue and green.
Dunhill castle, or the ivy covered ruins of it, sits on a rocky outcrop above the Anne River which meanders down to the sea at Annestown, a focal point in a gentle landscape. The entrance to the new and beautifully maintained Anne Valley Walk, a pedestrian path which continues on further up the river, is at its foot. The name Dunhill comes from the gaelic, Dun Aill, meaning fort on a rock. The castle, which was more than likely predated by a Celtic fort, was built during the golden era of castle building inaugurated by King John in the 13th century. Additions in the 15th century are also still visible. It was a seat of the Power family. The Powers-or le Paor or de Paors-meaning ‘the poor’ possibly in relation to some vow of poverty (Name Origins, 2017) perhaps connected to the First Crusade, came over with the Norman invasion. Robert le Paor was awarded much of the land that is County Waterford by Henry II in 1175 on the back of a papal bull which was said to have been obtained by false pretences. The Power land in effect ran from the Tramore/Waterford meridian in the east to the Comeragh Mountains in the west. The Power name is still dominant in these parts. Many of my neighbours are called Power. Tyrone Power, the movie star of the golden era of Hollywood was a Waterford Power.
The Power family’s raucous history has all the legendary elements that would be the downfall of the Irish:the fighting and the drinking. There are two stories of the Powers with which I am some way familiar which capture I think the nature of our history. The first is a matter of historical record.
In 1368 the Powers joined forces with the O’Driscolls of West Cork, some 120 miles away to launch the first of over a century worth of attacks on Waterford city, a mere 10 miles to the east. It is an Irish historical truth that life would be far too boring if you weren’t at war with your neighbours. Waterford city was bloodied, no match for the galleys of the O’Driscoll’s, but untaken. In 1461, Waterford defeated the same alliance but in 1537 all hell broke loose when a Waterford ship full of wine was taken by the O’Driscolls in Baltimore, West Cork. The outraged people of Waterford sent a small force to get the ship back and then launched a larger invasion which decimated the O’Driscolls after which, according to Canon Power’s history, they were not heard of again, at least in a war-like connection. To this day three galleys adorn Waterford’s coat of arms in celebration of the victory (Power, 1933).
The second story is a legend attached to the fall of the castle to Cromwells’ troops in 1649 though it has the ring of an Irish truth to it. The lady of the castle, variously named as Lady Power, Lady Gyles and Countess Giles, was in charge of the defences while her husband John Power was helping defend another stronghold at Kilmeaden. The defence was succeeding when a gunner asked for refreshments for his tired men. Lady Power supposedly supplied buttermilk instead of the usual beer. This could have been because of low supplies, religious conviction or a desire to keep the men sharp, no one knows for sure, but this substitution upset the gunner so much that he surrendered the castle to the invaders in a huff. He was immediately hung by Cromwell as a traitor (Walsh, 2016). The moral of these stories perhaps might be…
… don’t mess with our beer.
These days Waterford is bustling city while the Anne Valley lies still under the arc of sky, its rhythm dictated by the slow flap of the heron and the spiral of the buzzard. The only drama now is the kestrel diving on an unfortunate mouse or a fish flickering briefly before a long slide down the grey gullet. But if you stop for a minute the wind might bring the tramp of soldiers feet, the clatter of hooves, the clash and crash of steel on steel and the drift of smoke as our fighting ancestors launch themselves, still, into joyful mayhem, faces shining as brightly as Cuchculain’s did when he jumped into the light.
This original illustration of Dunhill Castle and other watercolours are available on my Etsy shop. Please feel free to browse.
References & Further Reading
For further reading you could do a lot worse than Canon Power (naturally) famous history as well as his other writings. Fergus Walshs’ (another Waterford name) piece on Dunhill Castle is also a good read.
Discover Ireland (2017), Dunhill Castle, [online], available at http://www.discoverireland.ie/Arts-Culture-Heritage/dunhill-castle/71130 [accessed 14/04/2017].
Name Origin Research, (2017), Last name: Power, [online], available at http://www.surnamedb.com/Surname/Power [accessed 14/04/2017].
Power, P., (1933) A Short History of County Waterford, online, available at http://snap.waterfordcoco.ie/collections/ebooks/95153/95153.pdf [accessed 14/04/2017].
Walsh, F., (2016), Fearsome Past: The History of Dunhill Castle, [online], available at http://www.theirishplace.com/948/fearsome-past-the-history-of-dunhill-castle/ [accessed 14/04/2017].
Walton, J., (2000), The Power Surname, [online], available at http://www.lynskey.com/projects/new%20zealand/Information/Power%20Surname.htm [accessed 15/04/2017].