Tuath O’Nuanain

Tuath O’Nuanain

John and Nora (nee Noonan) Nunan of Broadford have a map with the limits of the O’Nuanain tuath outlined on it by “a man from Dublin” sometime in the late 1900s. The outline encompasses an area ringed by the townlands of (clockwise from west) Knockearagh, Cahernagh, Gortnagark, Poulavare, Knockacraig, Woodfield, Coolaboy, Kells, Gardenfield West, Gardenfield East, Gardenfield South, Gorteens, Shronepooken, Kyle, Ballagharea, Mullaheera Bridge, Sheskin, Cromagloun, Keeltane, Knockaneglass East, Freemount, Glanycummane Lower, Glanycummane Upper, Muckenagh, Knockskehy, Ballynaguilla and Knockawillin.

The townlands reported to compose Muskreenownaine are encircled in red; the dotted line encircles lands otherwise indicated as part of the tuath (such as Rowls Noonan and Killcoora). A line of standing stones northeast of Meelin marks the southwestern border of the larger area.

This comprises Dromcolliher and Tullylease south-east to Freemount, between the rivers Deel to the north-east and Allow to the south-west. It is an area of about 25 square miles and forty-odd townlands. Within this area are 25 ringforts; 21 of them in County Limerick. Thirty-five fulacht fia, one moated site, a barrow, an ancient burial site, a castle (Castlelishen), an ancient monastery and two holy wells (Tullylease) are all in County Cork.

Notes accompanying the map state that: “6 gentlemen of the Nunans held between them the 8,292 acres [about 13 square miles] of the Civil parish of Tullylease (26 modern townlands) up to the 1640s. They lost all in the Cromwellian Plantation, although many Nunan families continued to hold large farms as tenants of the Cromwellian grantees.”

Christianity came to Tullylease late; St. Patrick reportedly turned away from proselytizing Munster at Ardagh near Abbyfeale, less than fifteen miles northwest of Broadford/Dromcolliher. The monastery of Tullylease was founded by St. Berechert (Beretchert, Berechtuine, Beiricheart, Berrihert, locally called St. Ben), the son of a Saxon prince who abandoned Lindisfarne (the island monastery founded by Aiden of Iona in 635) with the bishop Colmán, his royal father and two brothers (St. Gerald of Mayo and St. Balan of Temple Moyle) because, like the Irish, he disagreed with the Roman method for the dating of Easter prescribed by the Synod of Whitby in 664. After him Tullylease was known as Tulach Leis na Sachsan and Tuath Saxan. He was placed there by St. Brendan the Navigator, who consecrated the church and also crowned Aodh Caoimh as the first Christian king of Munster in between trips discovering America. Tullylease church was also known as the Church of St. Brendan.

It was usual then for the abbot of a monastery to be a member of a tuath’s royal family, and the abbey to be almost independent of any higher church authority. From the 8th century on, the Noonans of Tullylease and Castle Lishen were erenaghs (airchinnigh, hereditary headmen of the tuath, and monastic officials. They acted as “landlords” of lands given by the tuath to the monastery church, and then leased back from it, the rent supporting the monastery) of Saint Beretchert’s monastery in the townland of Knoctemple.

The ruins of the Tullylease church of St. Beretchert are a national historic site. Beretchert’s eighth-century inscribed cross slab gravestone there reads quicumque hunc titulu legerit orat pro Berechtuine; “Whomever reads this please pray for Berechert”. The incised cross is remarkably similar to an illustration in The Book of Lindisfarne. The Ardagh Chalice discovered just fifteen miles northwest of Tullylease also shares Lindisfarne stylization.