Thursday, 24 September 2020

The Cornerstone and its
legend are embedded in local
identity in Cappoquin

The corner of Castle Street and Main Street in Cappoquin, Co Waterford … the ‘Cornerstone’ is a keystone in local identity (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

Myth and legend play important roles in framing and shaping the identity of a community. It sometimes matters little whether the myths and legends are based in history or can be verified factually. Sharing them helps to identify people with place and place with people that others may find difficult to grasp and understand, let alone accept.

As children, we were challenged to sit on the ‘Cornerstone’ in Cappoquin, Co Waterford, with hints of the Faustian legend associated with it, assured that once seated on it we would always return to Cappoquin, we would always be part of the town. Perhaps it was supposed to be like throwing coins in the Trevi Fountain in Rome.

When I returned to Cappoquin during my two-week ‘Road Trip’ this summer, I wondered whether I should sit on it again.

The Cornerstone, on the corner of Castle Street and Main Street, is a boulder of sandstone that is dear to the heart of every person from Cappoquin and it has been a symbol of the town for generations.

Castle Street climbs uphill, linking the town all the way to the former entrance to Cappoquin Castle, which stood on the site of Cappoquin House, on the hillside above the town. Castle Street was once a central thoroughfare in the town and was probably part of the main street continuing out to Dungarvan.

The story around the stone involves the poet Tomás Bán Fitzgerald, who is said to have lived in Cappoquin Castle.

Following a curse laid on him by an enemy, it is said, Tomás Bán fell on hard times. To make matters worse, he was visited by the Hounds of Hell (mastini), who threatened his sanity and his life. These raving dogs made a pact with Tomás Bán that they would make him prosperous again if, in return, he would give them his first-born son.

Tomás Bán was unmarried at the time, and believed he was unlikely to marry in the future, and so thought he was likely to father any children. The deal, therefore, seemed a good one, and one-sided to the benefit of Tomás Bán.

The pact was made, Tomás Bán regained his prosperity, and he had the deal written on the cornerstone of the fireplace in Cappoquin Castle.

The Cornerstone on the east corner of Castle Street and Main Street in Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Years passed, and in time Tomás Bán forgot about the pact. In time, he met and married a French noblewoman, they fell in love and married, and she gave birth to a son they named Maurice.

Soon after the child’s birth, however, the hounds returned to claim their part of the bargain and to take away the young heir.

Tomás Bán refused, but soon after young Maurice Fitzgerald died mysteriously, and his mother died shortly after of a broken heart.

Alone and devastated, the grieving Tomás Bán Fitzgerald decided to leave Cappoquin and Ireland for ever. In anger, and before he left, he had the cornerstone on which the deal was inscribed removed from the fireplace and the castle, and it was rolled down the hill. There it stopped at the end of Castle Street.

But, in time, another, similar stone, appeared at the other side of the street, on the facing corner.

Is the story true?

The more important question for many people in Cappoquin over the generations seems to be, which is the true cornerstone?

Most people in Cappoquin say the original stone is the smaller stone to the right (east), beside the Blackwater House – a former pub built around 1850. But it is nicely balanced by the other, larger stone on the left-hand (west) corner as you look from the north side of the Square north up Castle Street towards Cappoquin House and the former site of Cappoquin Castle.

The alternative Cornerstone on the west corner of Castle Street and Main Street in Cappoquin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

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