Mountstuart church, Toor, County Waterford

The Catholic church at Mountstuart is one of the hidden secrets of County Waterford. 

It is situated on the slopes of the Drum Hills, ten kilometres south-west of Dungarvan and seven kilometres north-east of Clashmore. Approached from the crossroads at Toor (Tuar na bó báine, animal enclosure of the white cow), along an avenue of handsome beech trees, it is notable both for its peaceful location and for its quaint roofline, the small bell turret at the west end being balanced by a homely chimney to the east.[1] A diocesan history states that it was "erected shortly after 1826 by Lord Stuart of [recte, de] Decies for the accommodation of his mountain tenantry".[2] A liberal Protestant landlord, Henry Villiers Stuart of Dromana was elected MP for County Waterford at the general election of that year, thanks to the mobilisation of the tenant vote by Daniel O'Connell and the Catholic Association. The 23-year-old Villiers Stuart campaigned for Catholic Emancipation, the admission of Catholic MPs to the Westminster parliament. (Catholics were excluded by the requirement that MPs swear a ferociously Protestant oath.) The campaign and its shock outcome became a rehearsal for O'Connell's own success in the 1828 County Clare by-election, which compelled the Duke of Wellington's Tory government to back down and concede Catholic Emancipation. The 1826 election campaign severely damaged Villiers-Stuart's finances, and his parliamentary career lasted only five years. In 1839, he received an Irish peerage. He went through two marriage ceremonies with Theresia Pauline Ott, a Catholic from Austria, but doubts about their validity – Ms Ott was thought to be already married – prevented their son from inheriting the title when Lord Stuart de Decies died in 1874. I have been unable to trace the exact date of the construction of the Mountstuart church, but it seems to have been in existence by 1835. It was originally a chapel-of-ease (i.e. subordinate district church) of the Catholic parish of Aglish.[3] 

These photographs were taken on 9 May 2024.

For a list of Waterford material on www.gedmartin.net, see: https://www.gedmartin.net/martinalia-mainmenu-3/373-waterford-on-ged-martin-s-website.  

ENDNOTES 

[1] Description by the National Built Heritage Service at https://www.buildingsofireland.ie/buildings-search/building/22903501/saint-patricks-catholic-church-mountstuart-waterford. Place-name information from https://www.logainm.ie/en/49575 and https://www.logainm.ie/en/49577. 

[2] Parochial History of Waterford and Lismore … (Waterford, 1912), 4. In Ireland, 'mountain' and the related informal adjective 'mountainy' are used to describe rough upland country, and are not intended to convey an Alpine meaning. Mountstuart is about 160 metres (approximately 500 feet) above sea level. The summit of Carronadavderg, the highest local eminence (for want of a better word), is 301 metres, just short of a thousand feet. Much of the landscape is now forestry, which adds to the sense of seclusion. 

[3] https://www.historyofparliamentonline.org/volume/1820-1832/member/villiers-stuart-henry-1803-1874

The Slievegrine chapel Samuel Lewis, A Topographical Dictionary of Ireland... (2 vols, London, 1837), i, 21, listed three Roman Catholic chapels within the County Waterford parish of Aglish, one of them at "Slievegrine". (The others were at Aglish and 'Ballynamileach' [Ballinameela, near Whitechurch]. All three are still in use.) Slievegrine chapel had also been mentioned in Appendix to the First Report of the Commissioners of Public Instruction, Ireland,  British Parliamentary Papers, 1835, xiv [i], 14. In 1846, Lord Stuart de Decies was mobbed during a food riot at Clashmore: "thousands were congregated there, most of them Lord Stuart's tenants on Slieve Greine mountains. These wretched people who have held small patches of the mountain at a mere nominal rent, are quite paupers, and have lost their entire supply of food; at best they are not of the most orderly or quietly disposed." (Freeman's Journal [Dublin], 28 September 1846, quoting Cork Constitution, undated). See also W. Fraher et al. (ed. W. Whelan), Desperate Haven... (2nd ed., Dungarvan, 2020), 27, for Villiers Stuart's efforts to relieve distress on "Slievegrine mountain" in November  1846. Although not mentioned in P. Power, The Place-Names of Decies (London, 1907), it would seem that Slievegrine / Slieve Greine was an older name for the area around Mountstuart. Slievegrine / Slievegrine Hill is located several kilometres to the south-east by https://www.logainm.ie/en/1167179, but the earliest example cited dates from 1908, and may simply represent a local survival of a term formerly in wider use. Despite being a hero in the cause of Catholic Emancipation, in 1828 Henry Villiers Stuart was also locked in conflict with his tenants "on the mountain of Slievegrine", who resisted his attempts to fence waste ground that they regarded as common land.  Two of his rangers were "nearly murdered" in nearby Clashmore in April, and he was forced to return from London to deal with the crisis. If the chapel dates from that period, it may perhaps be regarded not so much as enlightened paternalism as an attempt at social control. (Carlow Morning Post, 10 April 1828). The chapel is mentioned in Griffith's Valuation (completed for Waterford in 1863). It had an annual rental value (probably notional) of £5.  

The Mountstuart townland name Canon Power (The Place-Names of Decies, 73) dismissed "Mt. Stuart" as "a modern name; no Irish". The earliest example that I have traced is a report of a meeting at Mountstuart of the Slievegrine Coursing Club in 1845 (Cork Examiner, 14 November 1845). (Mountstuart was hardly likely to hit the headlines. There was a population of 36 people in 1841 living in seven houses; this dropped to 16 people and four houses ten years later.) Henry Villiers Stuart had adopted his mother's maiden name on inheriting the Dromana estates from her. He had been born a Crichton-Stuart, a member of the family of the Marquess of Bute, whose family mansion on the Isle of Bute was called Mount Stuart. It is possible that he succeeded in changing the official name of the townland in his role of Lord-Lieutenant of County Waterford, to which position he was appointed in 1831. 'Mount-' placenames were often associated with the residence of a landed family, and it might be that he planned to build a shooting lodge there. Although Canon Power could offer no preceding Irish language name for Mountstuart, he did cite three subdivision names, a generous supply for a townland of just 196 acres. The first of these was Moín na gCaor, the bog of the berries. Logainm.ie (https://www.logainm.ie/en/11980) provides a similar example, Gleann na gCaor (the glen of the berries) near Fermoy, County Cork, which became anglicised to Glannagear. Slightly further away, a Moín na gCaor, near Enniscorthy in County Wexford (https://www.logainm.ie/en/52716), similarly mutated into Monagear (also Monageer). It is possible that Mountstuart was previously called (or would have evolved into) Monagear, but this can only be a speculation.