Author : R.B.S. McCormick and Fourth Year Geography Students.
Published by : Gorey Vocational School, The Avenue Gorey.

The History of Courtown

The name Courtown can be traced back to 1278 when Andrew Avenal had a lease of the Manor of Curtun in Kinelahun (Kiltennel). This property previously belonged to Christiania de Marisco but had been transferred to the Crown. The Manor of Courtown formed portion of MacDamores territory. In 1291 in the reign of Edward the First it is referred to as follows: "Curton in the county of Wexford, part of the dowery of Queen Eleanor, now in the King's hands from the feast of St. Andrew the Apostle."

In the year 1312 (Edward 11) it is recorded that Maurice MacMurrough held the Manor of Courteton as tenant at will of the King. In 1314 there was a grant "to our most beloved and faithful brother Thomas de Brotherton our town of Courton in the country of Wexford with belongings to hold during pleasure at the same rate as Maurice MacMurrough held it."

On the 17th February in the ninth year of his reign James 1 Granted unto Sir Edward Fisher, Knt., 
"the townslands etc. known by the names of Kildermott, Ballymaheys, with the hamlets thereof… and all other lands tenements and hereitaments lying within the meers, bounds etc., of the said towns, being in the territory called appurtenances, lying in the territory called Kinsheleh, containing by estimation 1,500 acres;

Also the river of Owenbarra, and the fishing thereof; also the mountain of Torchill, as also the advowson, donation and right of patronage of the rectory and village of Kiltinnill, all the said lands etc. lying in the country of Wexford, to hold to the said Sir Edward Fisher his heirs and assigns for ever; rendering yearly to His Majesty and his successors £8 sterling; which said lands were by the said patent created into a manor by the manor of Chichester." Fisher was granted a new patent in the fifteenth year of the reign of James 1. The manor then became the Manor of Fishertown. Later this became Fisher's Prospect and then Prospect. When Sir Edward Fisher died in 1631 the lands passed to Edward Chichester who had married Fisher's daughter. In the Civil Survey of Co. Wexford it is recorded that Edward Fisher held 200 acres of arable land and meadow in Kilbride and Courtowne. There was a stone house in repair on the property. These lands passed to James Stopford in 1711. His son was created baron of Courtown in 1758 and Viscount Stopford Earl of Courtown in 1762.

Arthur young who visited the area in July 1776 was very impressed with the standard of agriculture on the Courtown Estate. It was here that he saw the first field of turnips in Ireland but not another turnip in the country. He was also impressed by the strand at Courtown and wrote the following "gallop on the strand; it is a fine beautiful sand for miles. The paddys were swimming their horses in the sea to cure the mange or keep them in health." He was surprised at the large numbers attending the Mass House.

"The Echo" March 17th 1905 contained a piece on this Mass House. Originally it seems there was a mud chapel on the Baile-na-Traigh This second chapel which was also building was put up which existed until the present church was erected. It is believed that the name Riverchapel originated with the early mud chapel of 1703 beside the Ounavarra.

In 1798 Courtown House was looted by both sides. This house, unlike others in the neighbourhood was not destroyed. The Earl of Courtown visited the farms on his estate records taken were not large. The average size was about 30 acres. Of course this included quite a few smallholdings of about five acres. Families were large, averaging between 8 and 9 persons. All farmers kept pigs, cows and horses. Bullicks were kept by very few. Sheep were kept by one farmer in three. All grew potatoes. A feature of farming in this area was the growing of beans and vetches.

Remarks concerning the farmer himself are of interest. Writing of a farmer in Ballinglyn the Earl noted, "this man met with a very severe loss in the sale of his butter at Carlow. He left it with a merchant in the hope of a rise in the cwt., and a day or two after the merchant broke and he lost all. He was in arrears and struggling to recover. This will I fear be felt very severely by him."

Of another man in Ballngln he wrote "there seems to be a great desire in this tenant to improve and make his place neat and comfortable. I was sorry the Farming Society's premium for neat farm houses did not extend to farms of this size (25 acres).

"Concerning a man in Ballycale (20 acres) we find "This man met with a very severe loss last summer by the death of three milch cows. I recommended for a compensation."

Finally concerning a farm in Ballymoney (37 acres) "This man is too well known as a wretched farmer to need its being recorded against him. It would be a good riddance if he could be induced to quit for he never will be better than he is.

The Devon Commission of 1844 to inquire into the occupation of land in Ireland took the following statement from Dennis Murphy, a ploughman of Ardemine.

1. Where do you reside? - In the parish of Ardemine, three miles south of Gorey, in the county of Wexford.

2. What is your occupation? - A labourer.

3. Do you hold any land? - We hold some land, about seven acres or thereaway - my brothers' part and my mothers, and me the eldest.

4. How many are there holding those seven acres? - Five of us and my mother.

5. Are your brothers all labourers? - Yes, they are when they can get it to do, but they are fishermen as well; but the fishing has been very bad these few years past, and the land is very high.

6. Do you hold the land under a middleman? - Yes; but I work with another man, the headman that owns the estate.

7. Are you married? - Yes, lately, about four months ago.

8. How many of your brothers are married? - Ne'er a one of them.

9. Do you support yourself principally by labour or fishing? - Both, but the fishing has been very bad these last four years.

10. What kind of fishing is it? - Herring fishing at the season of the year and any other kind of fish there is down there.

11. What rent do you pay for the seven acres and the house? - We have the sea bank right over the sea; we have four acres, it is outside four acres, and we pay £4 for it. We have another field that is near two acres and we pay £3 for that; and we have another field about an acre and a half and we pay 55s. An acre; and another acre we took lately at £4; and for the house we live in, we built it ourselves and pay 40s. for the ground it is upon. There are two upon the same townland that hold at the same rate.

12. Do you happen to know what the middle landlord pays for that land? - I think I do, I think it is 30s.

13. What rate of wages do you get for your labour? - I am a ploughman and a general man; I get 1s. a day, and the rest of the men get 10d. He is a very good man, and if every man in the country was like him the country would be better; and he is a very good landlord, Mr. Richard's; I never hear of any of the tenants complain of him.

14. What rate of wages do your brothers get? - They do not do much labour; they have a share in a boat and they do a good deal in coasting from this to Dublin for shopkeepers and our farmers and the tradesmen between Dublin and Wexford; but other people that have not the means are very poor and very badly off; you would be astonished to go into the houseses and see the state they live in.

15. What is the usual rate of wages to them? - There is 10d. a day and 8d. a day, and diet yourself too, or you will get 6d. a day and your diet, or 5d. a day and your diet; and man who gets 6d. a day in winter only gets two meals a day.

16. Do you know how much your rent comes to altogether in a year? - About £21 this year it comes to.

17. How do you cultivate it? - Potatoes and oats, and this barren bank we graze it, we could not till it, it hangs over the sea on a hanging brow.

18. How many cows have you? - We had three cows this year, but we had to send them out to grass.

19. How much potatoes have you? - Very near two acres.

20. How do you make manure for the two acres? - The manure of the cattle, and the sand, and the sea wrack, if it comes upon the strand we gather it.

21. How much oats do you have? - Not over an acre of oats and some meadow; I have one acre under meadow and early potatoes - that land we took last.

22. Do you make the rent of the land out of the land itself? - By dad if we made what would support us out of the land we would not look bad. There is the three cows to give a bit of hay to - we fodder the cattle; about five weeks we had the cattle all out at once.

23. What did you pay for the cattle you had out? - Ten shillings a head per month.

24. How many months did you graze them? - We had them out a month.

25. Have you any shed for your cows in winter? - We had until this winter, and we had to throw it down; we had not house-room enough, and we were in a hobble in getting room to build a cow-house, having so much land.

26. How do you make the rent? - When we are driven to it for the rent we raise some of it out of the poor bank, and the boys' earning fetches a bit of money at the sea business and everything they can get to do. We live upon the land and endeavour to pay the rent out of the labour.

27. Do you live cheaper by the land, paying the rent you do, than if you bought your provisions? - If the crop hit with us we should do better, but if the crop did not hit we should do better to buy our food. But the land is out of the way, dear, paying for the house beside the land.

28. Do you make much butter? - I do not think we make over four firkins out of three cows and supporting the family; they have not made three yet.

29. What weight is a firkin? - About five stones or five stones and a half.

30. Do the farmers let con-acre or quarter ground in that neighbourhood? - Yes.

31. At what rate? - From 30s. To £3; with manure it is 50s. Or £3 for the quarter. The man that takes it at £2 and 30s. He must do all the work himself; he may get some manure but not a great deal; he will be turned out upon stubble ground or marl ground, but get no manure.

32. It is better for the labourer to give £3 for a quarter of ground than buy his provisions? - That depends on the crop. If you have thirty barrels of twenty-four stones upon the quarter it is better to pay £3 for it.

33. Do you often get that? - No, not often; fifteen barrels or twenty is the most common rule. If they have a middling good crop out of the quarter we have them at 2s. 6d. A barrel, putting in the see and labour ourselves. The poor are very badly off down there these years past. There is no labour and the fishing has failed. I know families of people that would not use anything in the day but a sup of milk.

34. Are you paid your shilling a day in money? - Yes.

35. Are there many labourers there that can earn as much as you? - No other men in the employment but the gardener.

36. Are there many people in your neighbourhood in the same class with yourself who maintain themselves partly by labour and partly by the produce of the land? - Yes, they do.

37. Is there much land held from the head landlord or at his rent, or is it almost all taken from the middle landlord? - There is not much taken from the middle landlord, but from the head landlord small farms from fifty acres down to six.

38. Supposing a man wanted to take six or eight acres from the head landlord in your district, about what rent would he pay in general? - No more than about 25s. or from that to 20s. when it is set by the head landlord, and 40s. sometimes I have known.

39. Do the landlords give any assistance towards a house for instance? - Yes, some of them give slates and timber.

40. Did you get any help for your house? - No, we did not.

41. Have you anything to suggest that you think would be of use in amending the condition of the labouring classes? - I do not know any thing barring draining the land, and sewering it, and bettering the cultivation of the land, and helping the poor people to work.

42. Has there been much draining done in your neighbourhood? - No, not by the farmers, only by the gentlemen.

Lacy, writing in 1863 reported as follows on Courtown: "Courtown Harbour is greatly frequented by bathers in the summer season and cars are constantly plying between it and Gorey, some of them of very large size capable of carrying 40 to 50 at a time. These cars which have been recently introduced in the town are of considerable length and consist of 3 or more tiers of seats which rise above each other on each side of the vehicle like seats in the gallery of the theatre. They run backward and froward at intervals of 2 housrs and as the price is only 4d they are generally crowded with passengers".

When Arthur Young visited Courtown in 1776, the harbour and town were not in existence.

Work on the Harbour was in progress in 1825. The first stone of the lock was laid in 1828. It was expected that the harbour could be completed in two years. Funds were obtained in the form of a £6,000 Government Loan and over £3,000 from private subscriptions. Great hopes of the prosperity the harbour would bring were held locally.

From the start there were financial problems. Funds ran out and work was suspended in 1830. In 1834 a further loan of £8,300 was approved and the original loan of £6,000 was cancelled. In 1837 the time for completing the harbour was extended to the following year. A further loan of £2,500 was approved in 1837.

In 1847 an iron screw pile pier was completed. This was built on to the end of one of the stone piers so that ships, which could not enter the harbour because of the sand bar, might tie up. It was not a success and was swept away in a January storm in 1869.

The sand bar at the entrance was a constant problem. Various methods for dealing with it were devised. In 1859 a steam dredge was under consideration. In the same year a lighter was purchased. The sluice gates in the lock were originally designed to keep the entrance clear. These were enlarged in 1865 by James Pierce of Folly Mills Iron Works, Wexford. In 1861 a scheme to make a cut in the south pier was considered in order to clear sand from the pier. This idea was abandoned because a huge bank of gravel was thrown up against it by a storm the following year. Further loans, for repairs, were obtained from 1872 to 1904 totaling about £6,000.

These loans were obtained by Lord Courtown mainly on the security of his lands.

Altogether the harbour cost over £25,000 to build.

During the years up to 1900 the income from the harbour just covered the running expenses. These included amongst other things the harbour masters' salary, the wages of the night watchman, the captain and crew of the dredger. Typical income and expenditure was as follows: -
1862 - Dues/storage - £238. Expenses £238. With this kind of balance sheet loans could not be paid off.

Even though the harbour was of little use to shipping due to the blocking of its entrance, yet it fulfilled a useful purpose for many years in connection with the importation of coal and 2 cargoes of salt were brought ashore, totaling 6855 tons. Coal was off loaded into lighters from ships standing out in the bay. It was then discharged into the coalyards around the basin.

The harbour proved very useful to local boat owners. In 1852 there were at least 20 sailboats and yawls using the harbour. Boats came from Ballymoney, Paulshone, Courtown and Poulduff. Most had simple names such as Ann, George and Mermaid. Others of a more sophisticated nature were Iron Duke, Bogabolic, Water Witch. Each owner was required to pay an annual rent of a cast (3) of Herrings for the privilege of spreading nets on the Burrow. In 1852 it was noted that "not one but all paid freely". There was a charge of one shilling for each occasion a boat used the harbour up to a maximum of £1 per annum. However this charge was abandoned due to the difficulty of collecting.

Courtown had been famous for its beaches long before the harbour came into being. However the harbour really put it on the map. In the nineteenth century it became a fashionable watering place which was very popular with people from Dublin and the Midlands. In 1860 a notice was put up reserving the beach on the north side of the North Pier as a bathing place for females. No men or boys over twelve were allowed on it. There are some who remember a certain Mrs. Noctors bathing huts. Mrs. Noctor kept a keen eye out for intruding men.

In July 1904 the Harbour was handed over to the Wexford County Council. In the past year (1973) there has been an increase in the number of fishing boats operating from the harbour. The old problem of selling the herring catch no longer exists. It is collected and dispatched to the Continent. There is an increase in the number of pleasure boats in the basin. Possibly the future of the harbour will be as a marina.


To the south of Ballymoney, just north of Ardamine,
There lies a quaint old haven where I lost this heart of mine.
Its my dear old Courtown Harbour, little jewel way down by the sea,
The pride of Wexford County, you are all the world to me.
With a hundred thousand welcomes sure you greet the great and the small,
My dear old Courtown Harbour I love you best of all.

When you take the road from Gorey that leads down to the sea, 
You are on the way to dreamland to a spot ever dear to me,
Its my dear old Courtown Harbour, little jewel way down by the sea,
The pride of Wexford County, you are all the world to me.
With a hundred thousand welcomes sure you greet the great and the small,
My dear old Courtown Harbour I love you best of all.


I think if I lay dying in some land
Where Ireland is no more than just a name,
My soul would travel back to find that strand
From whence it came.

I'd see the harbour in the evening light,
The old men staring at some distant ship,
The fishing boats they fasten left and right
Beside the slip.

The sea-wrack lying on the wind-swept shore,
The grey thorn bushes growing in the sand,
Our Wexford coast from Arklow to Cahore - 
My native land.

The little houses climbing up the hill
Sea dasies growing in the sandy grass,
The tethered goats that wait large -eyed and still
To watch you pass.

The women at the well with dripping pails,
Their men colloguing by the harbour wall,
The coils of rope, the nets, the old brown sails,
I'd know them all.

And then the Angelus - I'd surely see
The swaying bell against a golden sky,
Would let me die.
W.M. Letts

A SERMON (Riverchapel)

The fish have left the coast a while ago,
Bad luck it is that's in it, faith! That's so,
For there's little you can win
When you scarcely see a fin,
An' when food is dear to buy and wages low.

'Tis when his Reverence says to us this day:
"Need yous wonder that the fish are gone away?
' Twas the sights they saw on shore
That had scared them more and more,
And so, hadn't they a right to swim away?

"Twas the couples that were gaming on the sands,
Linking arms they were, maybe, or squeezin' hands,
Now, there's not a herring sprat,
That could stand the like o' that - 
So they're seeking for more Christianable lands.

"But let yous mend your manners now," says he;
"Let the lads all walk together decently,
Let the girls not be so bold,
An' maybe, before you're old,
The fish will travel back across the sea."
W.M. Letts.


The morning of the ninth of June as I carelessly did stray,
Down to Courtown Harbour by chance I took my way.
As I walked along along the strand where billows loud did roar,
A crowd of persons did collect convenient to the shore.

With eager steps I did approach, expecting something new,
When a plaintive voice did reach my ears: "Alas what will I do?
I fear the Glenrose she is lost, and buried in the waves,
And that the stout, undaunted crew have met their watery graves."

I then addressed a female who seemed to be in grief,
I bade her rise her spirits: that soon she'd find relief.
"How many persons were aboard?" I unto her did say:
"How long have they been absent, or when they put to sea."

Six souls, she said, were all aboard, five of them were the crew:
A youth who went for pleasure poor lad, he perished too.
They prepared for the summer fishin' in that season of the year:
Last night they sailed from Courtown strand, from friends that loved them dear.

They sailed out to the fishing ground, and some time spent in prayer;
And as experienced fishermen, their nets they shot with care.
As soon as they received a take, they then prepared to haul,
And as I'm told they were capsized, all by a sudden squall.

"Hard-hearted man," she then replied, "How could you pass them by,
When aloud to you for help they called: you heard their drowning cry.
Why did you not your boat bring to, their precious lives to save?
For pity they besought of you to snatch them from the waves.

To see those men condemned to death, it was a dismal sight,
While one poor man upon an oar for his life did boldly fight.
And you, hard-hearted Arklowmen, why did you pass them by?
Aloud to you for help they called: you heard their drowning cry.

Their names for to make mention, I would be well inclined,
But fear some friend I might offend by calling them to mind.
But now before I will conclude there's one request I'll crave,
To pray for the poor souls of those who met a watery grave.


The Poulshone Fishermen

On the Twenty- third of April in the year of sixty-three
I crave you'll owe attention, come listen unto me 
It's of a cruel disaster I'm willing to make known
Concerning four brave seamen bold, all native of Poulshone
As I rived out one evening down by a river clear
I overheard a mournful cry to which did I draw near;
It was a maid bewailing the loss of two young men;
She wrung her hands and tore her hair, saying , My true love is gone.
I addressed this maid with patience and asked her soft and kind
What was the cause of all her woe or what disturbed her mind ;
With deep and great sensation she did to me exclaim,
Young Willie he is drownded , O'Leary is his name.
I being from Courtown Harbour I heard the people say,
Those four young men they did embark and quickly put to sea;
The wind did blow from the North-East, its wishes to obtain:
Our boat being small, well rigged withal, the land we could not gain.
We tried our best endeavours but exertion proved in vain;
A sudden squall capsized our yawl all on the raging main.
Then in our great extremity a boat it rowed us by
McClancy being the skipper's name, all danger did defy.
He saved two of our precious lives and they brought us safe ashore
But young Earle and O'Leary were never seen no more.
With hasty steps I did advance, to Salt House I drew near;
It was there I met Brian Leary and he in deep despair;
With mournful sobs and dismal cries he unto me did say,
I'm destitute of comfort until my dying day.
It's for the widow Ear'le sure she nearly lost her mind;
Oppressed with grief, without relief, no comfort can she find;
Oppressed with grief, without relief, she says, I am undone;
They robbed me of my heart's dlight, my one and only son
I'll watch the briny water and I'll watch both night and day
Until their bodies they do rise and float upon the sea
Until their bodies they do rise for the waves to carry them home
To their friends and kind relations for to place them in their tomb.