Kilcolman Settlement at Kilcolman

Trade and Travel: Roads

Both England and Ireland were more easily navigable by river than by road in the Tudor period, and Munster was no exception.  Munster did have a road network, a “not especially bad” one (Hadfield 198).  According to one modern calculation, it was normal for officials such as Spenser to travel at 12-19 miles per day by road in Munster and up to 29 miles/day on occasion; the European average was approximately 25 miles/day (McCormack 35-6; cited in Hadfield 487).

Spenser would certainly have known how to ride a horse; such experience may have informed his opening image of the Red Crosse Knight “pricking on the plain” and curbing his steed in The Faerie Queene I.i.1 (Hadfield 209-10).

Kilcolman Castle stood at a useful crossroads for the region.  Nearby towns included Mallow, the seat of the Provincial President (occupied by the Norris family), only a few miles away.  The impressively walled medieval town of Kilmallock lay fifteen miles to the north, en route to Limerick.  According to Andrew Hadfield,

Close to the towns of Buttevant and Mallow, [Kilcolman] would have been a convenient site for someone who had to travel north to Limerick; south to Cork; and across country north-east to the midland fortresses [and/or towns] of Clonmel, Kilkenny, and Carlow, on the route to Dublin.  Spenser would indeed have had to travel frequently—as part of an armed convoy—along the established routes in the wide valleys between the Ballyhoura and Mullaghareirk mountains to Limerick; and between the Galtee and Knockmealdown mountains to the midlands. (198)

Travel by night must have been miserable.  The historian and New English propagandist John Hooker relates a story wherein Walter Raleigh, as a young captain fighting in the Desmond rebellion, ambushes and captures the rebellious David, Lord Roche in his castle twenty miles north of Cork city.  Raleigh hauls Roche (and his wife) by night to Cork to prison:

But the night fell out to be verie tempestuous and foule, and therewith so darke, that no man could see hand or foot, nor yet discerne one another; and the waies also were so fowle, so full of balks, hillocks, pits, and rocks, that the souldiors thereby were maruelllouslie troubled and incombred, some stumbled among the stones, some plunged into holes, and some by their often fals were not onelie hurt, but also lost their armour, and were maruellouslie spoiled: and besides that, they were among and in the middle of the enemies, who laie in sundrie ambushes, thinking verelie to haue intercepted them, and to haue set vpon them: but the darke night which was cumbersome to themselues, was a shadow to shrowd them from their enimies.  And in the end, though with much trouble, they came to Corke in safetie, sauing one soldier named Iohn Phelium, who by his often falling and stumbling among the stones and rocks, did so hurt one of his feet, that he could neuer recouer the same, but did in the end consume and rot awaie.  (Hooker 6.444)

Roads could be dangerous places to travel during the day as well.  Hadfield (198) notes that “Densely forested areas, in particular on the sides of the Ballyhouras and Galtees and in the Vale of Aherlow, would have been carefully avoided by the English settlers, who tried to clear away as much forest land as they could.“ In the View (164-5), Spenser’s spokesman Irenius advocates greatly enhancing security on roads as a means of better controlling territory and preventing robberies.  Irenius suggests planting fortifications and bridges along the routeways and clearing them of trees for many yards on each side, so as to provide safety to travelers.

In his wedding poem, Spenser refers to the dawn in mythical terms that remind us of a great road network in the sky:  he describes the celestial “siluer coche” of the “Rosy Morne long since left Tithones bed” (“Epithalamion” 75-6).  (The real bride was, like Aurora in the myth, much younger than the groom.)  Spenser’s invocation to the ”Nymphes of Mulla” (“Epithalamion” 56) suggests that his bride awoke on her wedding morning near the Awbeg river in north Cork, i.e., at Kilcolman or nearby. We do not, however, know how the mortal couple, poet and bride, got to church once they left their beds. After the ceremony, Edmund and Elizabeth returned to Kilcolman the same day or evening (lines 241 ff.).

The town of Youghal, where Spenser may have been married, was sixty miles away from Kilcolman (Hadfield 209).  If so, we cannot therefore take literally the idea, implied by “Epithalamion,” that the groom and bride made the trip from Kilcolman to their wedding church on the coast and back again in a day (a sequence of 24 hours marked by the 24 stanzas of the poem).  They may have travelled by boat, although that would have been a long journey as well, half of it (the return) upstream (Rivers).  An alternative scenario is that they got married near Kilcolman. 

One problem with this idea is the mention of “roring Organs“ during the ceremony (“Epithalamion” 218):  Protestant churches in Youghal and Cork were wealthy enough to have had organs, but did anywhere in north Cork or southern Limerick have one?  Perhaps Kilmallock? Spenser got married at midsummer, when days are longest, and Kilmallock, fifteen miles away, could conceivably have been reached from Kilcolman by early afternoon for a ceremony, and then returned from at evening. Kilmallock’s Protestant church (St Peter and St Paul’s) employed professional choristers in the late sixteenth century (Seoighe). Is it possible that they had a small organ to accompany their singing, and that they used it during Spenser’s ceremony?


Andrew Hadfield, Edmund Spenser:  A Life (Oxford:  Oxford UP, 2012).

John Hooker, “The Supplie of this Irish Chronicle, continued from the death of King Henrie the Eight, 1546, vntill this present yeare 1586” (1586).  Holinshed’s Chronicles of England, Scotland, and Ireland.  6 vols. (London:  1808), 6.321-461.

Anthony M. McCormack, Earldom of Desmond 1463-1583: The Decline and Crisis of a Feudal Lordship (Dublin:  Four Courts Press, 2005).

Andrew McRae, Literature and Domestic Travel in Early Modern England (Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 2009).

John Patrick Montaño, The Roots of English Colonialism in Ireland (Cambridge:  Cambridge UP, 2011): 250-55, 262.

Mainchin Seoighe, The Story of Kilmallock. 2nd ed. (Kilmallock: Killmallock Historical Society, 2012): 46-7, 103.