Early Irish Associations with Cardiff

In the year after the death of St. Thomas Becket, in 1171, Henry II passed through Cardiff and South Wales on the way to Ireland, and performed a pilgrimage to St. David’s, offering there vestments and money. He received from the accommodating bishops, the recent scandal notwithstanding, their hospitalities. In a formidable fleet of transports, he reached Waterford at the head of 5,000 men-at-arms. Many of the transports were fitted out at the small coast towns of Glamorgan. The next year, the king returned from Ireland, visited St. David’s on 17th April, 1172 and returned to Cardiff six days later. He stayed the night at the Castle, heard Mass at St. Piran’s* chapel on the following morning, it being Easter Day.
In connection with this conquest of Ireland, the late John Hobson Matthews has made the following observation: “The surnames Cogan, Barry, Kenefick, Sully and Carey, still more or less common in Ireland, perpetuate the memory of Normans who went forth from this region (Glamorgan) to the conquest of Ireland. Many persons of those names have come from Ireland [in the last century] to settle in the country just west of Cardiff, and have been astonished to find themselves thus identified with the district.” Clark remarks too: “The family of Wallensis, or le Walsh, whose name speaks their foreign origin, were early settlers at Llandough by Cowbridge, where they built the Castle, and lie buried in the church there.” One is mentioned in a document dated 1249: Adam le Walsh, Lord of Llandough. Some of that name found their way to Ireland with the Normans. the name Walsh can therefore claim local association.
There is a royal order, dated 19th May, 1216, made by King John respecting the wines and chattels of the men of Dublin and Drogheda in a ship of Cardiff, arrested at Pembroke. The goods are to be delivered up to the Irishmen without delay—the order describing them as ‘probi homines,’ honest men.
We pass over the long connection of Margam Abbey, from 1228 to the Dissolution of the Monasteries, with four of the Cistercian Abbeys in the South of Ireland. Of this we hope to treat on a future occasion.

[Editor’s note: In the book, Margam Abbey by A.L.Evans we find the following:

a) “Abbot John de Goldclive of Margam was empowered by the General Chapter at Citeaux to reform two Irish abbeys belonging to the order. Maig Abbey in County Limerick was affiliated to the abbey in 1227, and its daughter-house of Holy Cross, County Tipperary, also became subject to Margam in the following year. The reform of these abbeys was, apparently, long overdue as they had sunk into dire poverty and had suffered from grave indiscipline. These affiliations, which necessitated periodic visitations to the abbeys by the Margam monks, clearly indicate that Abbot John and his convent enjoyed an unrivalled position among Welsh Cistercian houses.” (page 70)
b) “In addition to his normal duties, Abbot Thomas was responsible for the reform of the Cistercian order in Wales, and also for the welfare of the four Irish monasteries of Maig, Holy Cross, ‘Kyrie Eleison’ in Munster, and ‘Chorus St. Benedicti’, County Cork, which were subject to his jurisdiction in 1445.” (page 88)]

Cardiff and Llandaff must have been lively places in 1596. Members and adherents of the families of Mathew, Baudrip and Bassett on the one hand, and those of Lewis and Herbert and their retainers on the other, all fully armed, had a real faction fight. Bands of troops were mustered, it seems, at St. Lythan’s to be sent to Ireland for her Majesty’s service. There was “training and receiving of soldiers” and “furnishing all things for their present despatch.” This arming and mustering of trained bands afforded an occasion to some of them for a renewal of dormant hostility between the rival factions, first at Llandaff and then in Cardiff.
The name Mathew of Llandaff reminds us here of this famous Irish family which originally sprung from the neighbourhood of Cardiff. A Captain George Mathew, son of Edward Mathew of Radyr (now a suburb of Cardiff - Ed.), and progenitor of of the Mathews of Thurles, Thomastown and Annfield, went to Ireland in 1610. He married the widow of Viscount Thurles—one of the Butlers—heir to the Earldom of Ormonde and Ossory. He died at Thurles in 1673, aged 86. His daughter Frances became a Poor Clare. Captain George Mathew had two sons, Theobald and George. He also had several brothers. One went to Ireland with him: Edmund Mathew. This Edmund may have been the gentleman mixed up in the aforesaid riots. In 1602 Edmund was under suspicion: “especiall care be had to put downe Edmond Mathews esquier for casting any Ordnance at his ffurnace neere Cardiff in Wales because from that place very easilie they may be caried into Spayne.” Besides Captain George and Edmund there were three other brothers who remained here.: Anthony, William and David. All three seem to have been Catholics. It is said that one of these brothers of George Mathew was Mayor of Cardiff. This must have been the William Mathew of 1614, or what is more probable, of 1644, and not David as J.H.P. says in a valuable note in Catholic Records (Miscellanea III, page 60). In passing we may note that George Mathew of Radyr and Thurles had a son Theobald Mathew. A descendant bearing his name was the famous Fr. Mathew, the Apostle of Temperance.
In the last list of recusants of 1715, George Mathew Junr. of Thurles, Co. Tipperary had estate at Llandaff worth 96-6-6 per annum.
It is thus an interesting fact that one of the last of the old Catholic families of Glamorgan, who had been such benefactors to the Cathedral and City of Llandaff, found a refuge in penal days in Co. Tipperary.
During the Parliamentary struggles we have two incidents of Irish interest. One is an act of frightful barbarity committed by the Parliamentarian fleet off the S.Wales coast somewhere in the Severn Sea. The “fact” is related by both Royalist and Parliamentarian newspapers. The Parliamentarians were about to capture Carmarthen, their fleet co-operating. It was the 23rd April, 1644. Admiral Swanley, and that fierce anti-Catholic, Captain Moulton (this was the man who about this time captured and maltreated a priest, Fr. Thomas Vaughan, so brutally that he died soon after in Cardiff), seized a ship bound for Bristol. There were nearly 150 men on board. Of these, 70 men and two women were inhumanly thrown overboard under the name Papists and rebels. In a Parliament paper of the same time the above Royalist account is confirmed with approval. It is stated “that such Irish rebels as he took in a ship intended for Wales he made water rats of, and cast them into the sea”!
Cardiff, soon after this crime fell into Parliamentary hands, being the only place of importance in the County to do so. Swansea had refused to surrender to the insolent demand of Captain Moulton.
Colonel Charles Gerard, a Catholic, landed about this time from somewhere in the West of England, at the Black Rock near Chepstow, and at the head of a troop of horse, Irish and Catholic, drove “a strong garrison out of Cardiff.” He made a sensational campaign after this first sweeping success. No doubt, the frightful savage act we have just related must have stirred the Irish troops who were with him. They may have been only too eager to avenge Swanley’s “water rats”. There was certainly war to the knife and the Parliamentarians were practically swept off the map of South Wales for the time being.
Charles I came to Cardiff in the closing days of July, 1645. It was from Cardiff that he dated his fateful letter to the Earl of Glamorgan (son of the Marquis of Worcester) empowering him to treat with Irish Catholics (Cardiff Records, vol. iv, p. 149).
On 28th June, 1689, the chapter of Llandaff contributed 5 to their Majesties’ Brief for the relief of Irish Protestants.
It will interest our readers to know that there was a continuous trade between Cardiff and Irish ports at the end of the 17th and during the 18th centuries. This fact will account for Irish names found in Cardiff Customs records and in the Parochial Registers of St. John’s Church. There is this very early entry in the Registers: “1674. John, the sonne of John Hughes of Ireland dyer by Welthen Morgan his wife, was baptised in St. John’s Church by Mr. Wm. Evans, Minister of Cardiffe.” (Cardiff Records, vol. iii, p. 432). In 1686, July and August, three obviously Irish ships entered Cardiff: “July 23. John Hayes enters the John of Ross” with a cargo of French salt. The same day “Laurence Hoare enters the Francis of Wexford.” He took on board at Wexford a cargo of 8,000 barrels, 8,000 hogsheads, 1,000 firkins, 4 ton of Irish iron, 308 yards of Irish ffreeze, 100 goat skins in the haire, 200 sheepes pelts etc.” On the 12th August “Patrick Cloak enters the Mary of Wexford.” The cargo was similar to that of the Francis of Wexford.
The London authorities watched very carefully over the little Irish trade that Cardiff had. In the Cardiff Customs order book there are these notes: 24 Sep. 1689. Masters of ships bound for Ireland are not to go into any port in that Kingdom but what shall be under their majesties’ obedience (Cardiff Records, vol. ii, p. 370). 19 Nov. 1689. Ships are directed to Carrickfergus, as the ships and army of the King have moved there from Carlingford. An order is made that more strict care is to be used in visiting suspected vessels arriving from Ireland.
The Committee of Affairs for Ireland at Whitehall in March 1689 heard that “severall shipps have sayled out of port and others are waitinge for an opportunity to doe the same from Bristoll and ports adjacent contrary to the said order.” This order is like that given above under date 24 Sept. 1689. In March 1690, a special order was again sent enforcing this supervision (ib. p. 370-371). In this year there is another special order to prevent the escape of Jacobite refugees. The result is noticeable. there is no trace of any Irish boats for 30 years after this time. The following order from the “Order Book” of the Cardiff Customs is particularly interesting. It is dated Oct. 12th, 1710. “There being certaine advice yt ma0ny Priests, Irish Officers, and other, Popish and disaffected Persons come continually over from Holland and other places… we give strict orders to our Officers yt they take great notice of all persons yt come ashoar from those parts and send exact accot. of their Professions, business and Places of Abode.”
Owing to the Jacobite risings in 1715 and 1745, there were orders about Papists in the town and country which were sent to “P’ventive Officers”. A Mr. Brian, by the way, was Comptroller of Cardiff port in 1731 (ib. p. 380).
In the year 1716, James Hudgson enters the ship Delight of Lancaster “with 40 tons of Soapers’ waste from Dublin.” In 1724, 20 Jan., a boat “from Corke in Ireland” owned by James Wise was driven in by stress of weather, and want of provisions. She was bound for France and carried tallow and raw hides. She landed some of the tallow. About this time there was a great increase of trade with continental ports, but after 1730 it ceased. It was then that Irish trade became very active. One can say that for forty years (1728 - 1767) every ship that cleared from Cardiff port went to one or other Irish port. Dublin was the chief port of call; but Waterford and Cork also had a good trade. One or two ships went to Drogheda, Ballycastle, Newry and “Kingsale”. Oak bark was practically the only cargo. Occasionally cider (in hogsheads and in bottles), British beer (free of duty), and timber were also included. There is one instance of tin plates, and iron plates. Another of British steel, “ffliches” of British bacon, cheese and hoops. There was only one cargo of coal (for Newry) and one of “chalders” culm (for Drogheda). There are a few Irish names among the Masters: Patrick Magawly of Bally Castle, and Patrick Roe of Drogheda.
There is a story of some Irish soap smuggled into Cardiff in 1748. The customs officers got the information from Thomas Jones when he “was in drink and we have not been able to get him to us when sober to get him to go before the magistrate…” The information states that this Irish soap was landed “at the Gall Gate (Golate) being brot up… out of a tile boat at Penarth.” The vessel also had empty hogsheads of cider on board. In 1752 in some old accounts (Cardiff Records, vol. iii, p. 469) we read of a vacancy, possibly of an unoccupied inn: “Richard the Irishman 2s.” We do not know where it was situated in Cardiff – very likely near the quay.
With such close connections between Cardiff and Irish ports, it will not be surprising to find Irish names in the Parochial registers of the period. It must be noted that there was no register of births in the 18th century and children were baptised at the Parish Church so as to secure some registration. We know of one or two entries in St. John’s register, of children who were afterwards baptised by the itinerant priest from Bristol. Two definitely Irish entries in St. John’s baptismal register are: “1749 Jas s. of James Obrjan (O’Brien) seaman bapt.— 1762 Wm. s. of Terance Magrath bapt.” Willie Magrath lived only two years. He was buried at Llandaff. James Bryen (he must be the child just named) got married in St. Johns on Sep. 6, 1784. He wrote his name in his own hand: Brien.
What we have said about registration of births, can also be said of marriages. Catholics up to 1838 had to go before the parson, he being the authorised public authority. Thanks to the kindness of the present Vicar of Cardiff, Very Rev. M. Jones Powell, D.D., he has allowed us to peruse and take notes from the old St. John’s registers. Two young Irishmen were married in Cardiff in the last decade of the 18th cent. On August 14th, 1793, Patrick Halpin of Michaens, Dublin, was married by licence to Mary Steele of the parish of St. John’s Cardiff. They both signed the register; and Isaiah Verity and Ann Verity mercers of High Street, Cardiff were witnesses. The Veritys, curiously enough, had ten children, and had them baptised in two lots at St. John’s—four in 1780, and six in 1791. Why this unusual procedure? Were they Catholics? The other little romance took place by licence on 15th July, 1798, when “James Darmody of the City of Waterford in the Kingdom of Ireland” married Ann Thomas of the town of Cardiff, a minor, with the consent of her parents. In the burial register we find the following: Mary Doyle, 30 Jan 1792; John McCan, 25 April 1799; Patrick Donovan, 16 Sep. 1803. In the baptismal register there are these two obviously Irish entries: 6 Jan 1798—Michael son of John Barry, “a baker, of Cork in Ireland,” and of Mary his wife. 18 Aug 1799—Mary Ann d. of John Kelly, Sergeant of Marines, and Catherine his wife.
Before concluding these notes, let us make one or two quotations which will possibly explain the presence of the Irish in Cardiff late in the 18th century. The first is from a M.S. in the Cardiff library: the Bird Diaries: “1798, 28 Aug: About 3 o’clock in the afternoon, the people passing the street were heard to say: ‘The Scullions are coming,’ meaning the Iniskillings, and soon after 20 of them arrived.” They must have remained for some time for one of them got into trouble for robbery. “Spring Calendar 1801, John Quin, a private in the ‘Iniskillen’ Dragoons, violently robbed James Morgan, of Cardiff, labourer, at night on Cardiff Bridge, and stole from him two half-crowns and five shillings.” (Cardiff Records).
In 1793, the improvement of travelling by mail-coach was rapidly proceeding. The days of pack-horses was going. The system of macadamised coach-roads was inaugurated. No wonder then we read of the following in an old Cardiff Directory of 1796: “The Mail Coach comes to the Angel Inn, Cardiff, every evening about 8 o’clock from London, Bath, Bristol and other places; sets off for London every morning about 5 o’clock. The Irish Mail from Waterford is conveyed by the above coach, which meets the packet at Hubberstone, on Milford Haven, and takes up passengers, letters and parcels at the different towns west of Cardiff, where it arrives every morning half an hour before it sets off for London.” London to Cardiff by coach took, we are told, 24 or 25 hours. This link with Ireland will explain perhaps how Irish men of means may have passed occasionally through Cardiff at the end of the eighteenth century.
These few notes have been put together to show that even before the 19th century, the Irishman was well known in the little town of Cardiff. Whilst there was no Irish colony till the twenties of the nineteenth century, it is, we think, quite apparent from what has been written that the association has been long and continuous through the last two or three hundred years. The or0igin and growth of the Irish colony in Cardiff in the 19th century will, we hope, be studied on its own. It came much later than that of Bristol, a great port for Ireland, where in 1778 and 1779, a large body of Irish settled; or of Swansea, where about 1800, a colony of Irish had come over with copper ore from the mines in Southern Ireland to work at the Swansea furnaces.

By ‘J.M.C.’, in a 1922 edition of the St. Peter’s Magazine, Cardiff.

Reprinted in The Green Dragon No 6, Spring, 1998.