The ancient parish of Doon lay in the Baronies of Owenybeg,
Coonagh and Kilnemanagh. Baronies were the ancient division of territory in
Ireland before the Norman Invasion. Each barony was ruled by a different Clan,
from which it usually derived its name.
The barony of Owney was divided into Owneytire and Owneybeg. Owneytire comprised land around the present parish of Newport, while Owneybeg took in Abington, Cappamore and North Doon. The name Owney is reputed to derive from a daughter of Eochlaidh, King of Munster in the 3rd Century A.D. This at first was part of the territory of Eli O'Carroll and was later ruled by the O'Donegan clan. In the twelfth century Turlough O'Brien, descendant of Brian Boru led a raid into this area, dislodged the O'Donegans and granted the lands of Owney to the O'Maolrians (O'Mulryans, who came from Carlow). These remained in possession of the lands until the Cromwellion Plantation. Hence, the popularity of the name "Ryan" in the area to the present day.
South Doon, Castletown and Pallasgreen were in the Barony of Coonagh. This land was ruled by the sept UI Chuanach. In the old manuscripts Doon is referred to as Dunogonach or Dun UiChuanach, meaning fortification in the land of Coonagh. The Barony of Kilnamanagh included what today is roughly the Tipperary part of the parish of Doon. Townslands such as Commanaline, Foildarg, Croghmorky and Glengar were in Kilnamanagh. The dominant family here being O'Dwyers, the most famous of whom was centuries later, an officer in Sarsfield's army, who with the flight of the Wild Geese became Commander in Chief of the Austrian army, a Count of the Austrian Empire and defended Belgrade against the Turks. He was John O'Dwyer, who is much better remembered as "Scan O'Duibhir a Ghleanna" in the famous Irish poem. It is suggested that this poem was written by that romantic figure Eamon A'Chnoic, who also fought with Sarsfield and was a relative of the O'Dwyers of Kilnamanagh.
The origin of the name Doon, or in Irish, Dun Bleisce has for long been a subject of speculation. The first part Dun means fortification and a glance at an Ordnance Survey map shows eight ring forts in the area. The early settlers needed to protect themselves against their enemies, both human and animal. They built dwellings enclosed in circular earthen mounds for protection called raths or as we call them today ring forts. The original ring fort from which the name Doon came can be seen, behind the Protestant Church, just outside the village. The 'Bleisce part is more difficult.
I have come across three possible explanations. The first one is that the name comes from a little stream, fleisc which flows through the village. However, more colourful explanations are that Bleisc was a swine herder for a local chieftain or the favourite, that Bleisc was "a woman of ill repute", a harlot whose "dun" was a favourite haunt of the red-coats. However, it is unlikely that the latter has much basis in truth.
Just four miles to the West of Doon, is the village of Cappamore. Unlike Doon this village is of relatively recent origin. An Cheapach Mhor means the large tillage plot, which is evidence of the land use in the last century. Today the land is almost totally under pasture. The village, in the townsland of Touragh stands roughly half way between the old centre of Tower Hill and the once thriving village of Bilboa. The village evolved in the early 1800's. The land, owned by an absentee landlord was sublet to thirty three tennants, who formed the nucleus around which the village began to grow. Samuel Lewis in "A History and Topography of Limerick City and County" tells of the village, around 1840, as having 711 inhabitants and "a spacious chapel in progress of erection".
A few miles further west is the village of Abington. Here on the banks of the Mulkear stood a great Cistercian Abbey, one of the most important abbeys in Munster: originally called Abbey Owney, it was founded in 1189 by Theobald Fitzwalter Butler. He was a nephew of Thomas A Beckett, Archbishop of Canterbury, who was executed by Henry II. It is said that in order to expiate the execution King John, son of Henry, feeling guilty, granted large possessions in Ormond to the Fitzwalter family. Theobald was granted the title "King's Butler in Ireland" and the family became known as the Butlers of Ormond. Their headquarters was Kilkenny Castle. It has been preserved to the present day and is a fine example of Norman castle.
Theobald brought monks from the Abbey of Savignac in Normandy France to Abington. The Abbot of Owney had the honour of being one of the Lord's Spiritual and as such had a seat in the House of Lords. One of the charges against, Deputy Lord Leonard Gray, who was executed in the reign of Henry VIII was that he forced the Abbot of Owney to pay £40 to preserve the Abbey from ruin. The Abbey flourished up to the time of the Reformation and from then on it went to ruin. In the 17th century the ruins of the Abbey and its land was granted to the Stepney family. The Stepney's demolished the Abbey and used the stone to build Abington House. W.R. Le Fanu who wrote "70 Years of Irish Life", a fine account of life in Ireland in the Nineteenth century was the son of the rector in Abington and lived here all his life.
Castletown is in the present parish of Doon, but in the past it stood as a parish in its own right. The parish took in the townslands of Carrigbeg, Carrig Mor, Coolbawn, Coolnamona and Moanduff. Castletown got its name from a castle, Coonagh Castle, built by Murrogh Mac Brien, a descendent of Brian Boru in 1318. The castle, on the banks of a stream, Abhainn a Pha, was built of limestone with a large keep and high tower. In the 17th century there was an important livery here where Cromwell's men paid £18 for hay for their horses in 1651. Shortly after this the MacBriens were transplanted to County Clare. The parish church stood a short distance from the castle. It is described in O'Donovan's survey 1840's as "40 feet in length and 20 feet high and 2 to 3 feet in thickness. The last gable contains a narrow window. The doorway is on the South side about 10 feet from the West Gable. The building was never divided into Nave and Choir. The West end fell before 1840. A small graveyard surrounds the church".
Also in the Barony of Coonagh is Pallasgreen, the palace of Griain, a sun goddess worshipped by the early celtic inhabitants. Cist graves found at Corelish show that the area was inhabited as early as the year 2,000 B.C. Much later we are told of the Battle of Sulchoi pass, near Pallas in 960. Mahon, son of Cenneidigh and his young brother Brian (later to be renowned as Brian Boru) led an Irish force that defeated the Danes. It is said that 2,000 Danes were put to the sword on this day. Lenihan in his "History of Limerick", however, links Sulchoi with the present area of Solohead, the scene of another famous incident in 1919. However, an event occurred in Pallasgreen, millions of years earlier still. The basalt rock which is found near Lynfield provides the evidence that a volcano errupted here long before the man first inhabited the area.
And so we conclude our little trip around our comer of East Limerick. Recounting the deeds of the past makes us aware of our heritage, inspires our spirits and enriches our lives. And so it is good that so much of our history lives on today in books and in records and in the ruins of the past.