BEFORE THERE WAS MATT THE MILLER’S TAVERN 

THERE WAS MATT THE MILLER.

Kilkenny, the medieval capital of Ireland, stands in the shade of the majestic Kilkenny Castle. In years gone by all castles had their own mills, which were served by local peasants, who would turn their crops in to their landlord in lieu of rent. In Kilkenny, these crops were delivered daily to a young miller named Matt who ran the Mill at its present site of John’s Bridge.

Now young Matt was an enterprising lad. He kept the best of the barley to one side and developed his own home brew. As the years went by so Matt’s brew grew stronger and more popular and he opened his own tavern in the mill.

Now at this time, condemned men were led to the gallows below Greensbridge and their last stop was said to be Matt’s tavern.

Folklore says that Kilkenny’s most infamous thieves and rogues had their last request granted of fresh fish from the adjoining River Nore, a loaf of home-made soda bread and a jug of Matt’s ale.

As the story goes, twice a year the ghost of Matt is seen in the cellar bar of Matt The Millers, just to be sure the finest of brews are still being served to the condemned rogues and thieves of Kilkenny.

Jack in The Box and Spike Island Cobh Co Cork

Did you ever wonder where the name Jack In The Box comes from?

 

On a recent visit to Spike Island I heard the interesting story of James Grey, who had been sentenced to a number of years imprisonment for stealing items of value from trains and ships.

James grey was a Manchester born thief who would become infamous as the criminal 'Jack In The Box'. Grey constructed a large wooden box with clever levers and hinges that meant it could be opened from the inside. He would climb inside his trunk, have a friend mail it to accomplices in Cork, Belfast and Liverpool, and while the box was en route he would climb out and pillage the carriage!

He stole jewellery, fine clothing and anything of value he could fit into his trunk before climbing back inside and on to his accomplices, leaving the mystified train staff to try and deduce how the goods were taken. His crafty thefts went unsolved for years, until a rent collector who had read in the Times about a reward for some fine shawls that were stolen from the Dublin to Cork train, visited Grey's lodgings and noticed those very same shawls draped across the chair he sat on! The house was searched and police found his clever rigged trunk and so in 1856, James Grey was arrested and sentenced to 4 years in Prison. He returned to Cork in a very different box, this time to serve his sentence at Spike Island, then the largest prison in Ireland and Britain and most probably the world. So the story goes, Jack InThe Box was a clever thief who got complacent and paid the price.

James Grey (Jack in the Box)

Spike Island Cobh Co Cork

Of the many awards Adi Roche has received, the most recent was from the Belarusian Ambassador Sergei Aleinik on behalf of his Government.  The Ambassador bestowed a Certificate of Distinction on the Irish humanitarian, for her outstanding role in rehabilitating so many children through the charity ‘Adi Roche’s Chernobyl Children International’.

Belarus is a country ravaged by the effects of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster of 1986.  Adi Roche from Clonmel in Tipperary and now living in Cork became involved and so began her life’s work.  The Chernobyl Children’s Project International was established in 1991 and has delivered over €105 million in aid to the area’s most affected by the Chernobyl nuclear disaster.  The CCPI has brought over 25,000 children to Ireland on rest and recuperation trips, and some for life saving surgery.

Jim is a former Kilkenny person of the year and a member of O'Loughlin Gaels GAA club. He took with him a number of volunteers including classmate Eamon Morrissey and his brother Frank who himself has a long association with Belarus.  This trip was an opportunity to meet up with Vacillie, a twenty eight year old young man with a heart of gold, who has been coming to Kilkenny to stay with Frank, his wife Eileen and family every year for the last seven years. 

April 2018:

On April 19th, Jim Kavanagh from the outskirts of Kilkenny city, made the 3,000km journey to Belarus by truck.  This was his 63rd humanitarian trip to Belarus where he delivered a huge truck load of aid. The truck was packed full of nappies, clothes, toiletries and toys when it left the city.

Throughout the trip Frank and Eamon helped with deliveries and with bringing aid locally to orphanages and Homes of Hope.  They then drove a van that was used locally back to Kilkenny covering thousands of kilometres and travelling through numerous countries including Poland, Germany, Holland and the UK. As a society we congratulate and commend Frank and Eileen, including our classmate Eamon and all volunteers for their un-selfish, caring and ongoing commitment to the CCPI and to Vacillie who is now a lasting member of the Morrissey family.

 

Jim Kavanagh with volunteers including Eamon & Frank Morrissey

Adi Roche & Ambassador Sergei Aleinik

Frank & Vacillie

Volunteer helpers sorting nappies for delivery

There are many ways you can help with Chernobyl Children Project International. The CCPI welcomes all efforts and contributions. In Kilkenny, Hennessy’s Sports in Newpark Shopping Centre (Proprietor Frank Morrissey) will accept all quality children’s clothes, nappies and toys etc. 

Frank & Helpers

Our Own Robin Hood.

H

Kilkenny’s real life ‘Robin Hood’ – James Freney

 

Our City and county may be small compared to the rest of Ireland, but it has produced some of the finest and most interesting characters over the centuries.  One such person was the notorious Kilkenny Highwayman, ‘Captain’ James Freney our very own Robin Hood.  Freney plagued the highways and countryside of Kilkenny and surrounding counties in the 1740s demanding money and valuables and threatening his victims.   However as long as his victims co-operated, he responded in kind.  Whenever they pleaded a special case he would return some of their money.  In this and in other ways, he remained ever the gentleman, even helping the poor.  This is the story of his life.

 

The Freney’s of Inistioge were a respectable family who had been wealthy and powerful in the region since the 13th century, having their seat at Ballyreddy Castle. Unfortunately during the 1650s they lost their lands and were reduced in status. James Freney Sr was a servant working at the home of one Joseph Robbins at Ballyduff in Thomastown, who worked his way up to become steward of the estate.  In 1718 he married Robbins's housemaid, Alice Phelan, and their son James was born the following year at Alice's father's home at Inistioge.

 

Mrs. Robbins was fond of the young James and paid for his education.  When her husband Joseph died, their son George inherited the estate and he employed James as a trainee butler. However James, who was now 16, was fond of gambling, dancing, hurling and cockfighting and had little interest in his work. 

 

In 1742 he moved to Waterford where he met and married a young lady by the name of Anne McSorley, the daughter of shopkeepers.  He used his own savings and his wife’s small dowry to open a public house.  This provoked opposition because he was not a freeman of the city.  And because of his confession of religion, he could not conduct a business without paying a special duty, which he refused to do.  Soon the local men of commerce drove him out of business and the couple moved back to Thomastown.

 

Back in Thomastown, his old employer George Robbins hired him as a groom but he was soon in debt and owing his creditors a huge sum of money which he could not pay.  He then met John Reddy, a member of the Kellymount gang of robbers and his career as a highwayman and robber began.

 

From Ballyduff he led a hectic life with his gang, robbing around south Kilkenny and Wexford. No tax collector could ply his trade, no great house could rest easy and no coach could travel the roads for several counties around with fear of a visit from Freney. Tradition tells that he worked in Ballyduff by day, but when guests arrived, he stole away to their houses to rob them. He would then be back in time to help them mount their horses in the morning.  He managed to settle some old scores and remained a general vexation to the authorities for some time.

 

In 1745, Freney contracted smallpox and lost the sight of one eye. However, it did not diminish his shooting skills.  There is an old gun known as the ‘Blunderbuss’ a wonderful piece of craftsmanship, on display today in Rothe House Museum.  The engraving on the butt of this gun shows the insignia of Lord Waterford, and it is believed that Freney stole the gun from him during a raid.

 

As his notoriety grew, he travelled to Cork to lie low and from there he went to England where he posed for a time as a merchant in Bath and Bristol before returning to Ireland.  In January 1748 he was proclaimed an outlaw with a £100 reward offered for his capture.  He was given until August to surrender or suffer the charge of high treason.

 

Freney eventually surrendered in April 1749 having negotiated a pardon for himself through Councillor Robbins, his old employer's brother.  A deal was brokered with the chief justice where he was allowed to emigrate.  It is believed this deal was procured because the authorities feared executing him would make him a folk hero and lead to further disturbances.  However it also meant betraying his companions and as a result the rest of the Kellymount gang went to the gallows.

 

It is not known where or how long he was abroad, if at all, but James Freney must have still had influential friends as in 1776 he was employed as a Supernumerary Tidewaiter (a kind of Customs Official), at New Ross Port. He held this post until his death in December 1788.  Unlike other rapparees and highwaymen of the eighteenth century, he died in his bed and was buried in Inistioge, in an unmarked grave.  Some of his hoard is reputed to be buried on Brandon Hill, near Graiguenamanagh and to this day remains undiscovered!

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