Achadh Úr or Freshfield was a 5 th century foundation. From about 400 A. D.
onwards new lands were conquered and settled on the banks of the Nuenna
River by the Uí Duach clan from Muskerry, west Cork. They settled in north
Kilkenny and broke new ground giving us Achadh Úr, the Fresh Field later
mistranslated as Freshford. Much of north Kilkenny was later known as Ua
Duach or Odagh. The name is retained to this day in the Irish for Three Castles -
Bán Ua nDuach.
The growth of Freshford corresponds with the spread of Christianity. Around
100 years after its foundation Achadh Úr became the principal foundation of our
patron saint Lachtain. He too was a native of Muskerry, born c. 550 AD. After
study under Comhghall in Bangor, he was drawn to preach the gospel to his
kinsmen in Ossory at the end of the 6 th or early in the 7 th century.
Today the remains of the outer enclosure of the early Christian settlement
around the Nuenna river can be clearly seen from the air. This enclosure is now
the northern boundary of the site of St. Lachtain’s National School. The
presence here of the plant Alexander, which is associated with mediaeval sites,
means that Freshford may have one of the few “living relics” of an early
In time Lachtain returned to his own people. One of the churches associated
with him in Cork is Cill na Martra or Church of the Relics and refers to the
Shrine of St. Lachtain's Arm which was made for his relics but was confiscated
during the Reformation. It was brought back from England in 1884 and can be
seen today as part of the Treasures of Ireland exhibition at the National Museum
in Dublin. Lachtain died in 622 and his feastday is celebrated on 19 March.
Today the greatest claim to fame of this grand site is the Hiberno-Romanesque
church doorway on St. Lachtain’s Church of Ireland. It dates from c. 1150.
Cormac’s Chapel on the Rock of Cashel and Clonfert Cathedral are other
examples of this style of architecture. The porch over the doorway was added
when the church was rebuilt in 1730 but the doorway itself puts the site on a par
with many of the great ecclesiastical sites around Ireland.
However it is ironic that just as it acquired its iconic doorway and 12 th century
church, Achadh Ur's days were numbered. The Synod of Rathbrassil in 1111
defined the Irish dioceses as we more or less know them today and Achadh Úr
was subsumed into Ossory. Its status changed thereafter and the site declined
during the second millennium to what it is today.
As one door closed, another opened. Probably because of its high ecclesiastical
status, around 1250 Freshford was chosen by the bishop of Ossory, Hugh
Mapleton, for his seat in Upper Ossory, giving it the name Uppercourt. Some
later lay owners called it Upperwood.
Some of the bishops of Ossory left a mark on Uppercourt. Bishop Ledrede
resided here when he campaigned against Dame Alice Kyteler and her alleged
witchcraft in the 14 th century. Oliver Cantwell built a castle there in 1500. In
1553 the first Protestant Bishop of Ossory, John Bale, lived at Uppercourt but
later fled the parish and the country when his servants were attacked and five of
them murdered. Soon after Uppercourt came into lay ownership.
The lay history of Uppercourt involves confiscation following the Cromwellian
invasion; a connection with the “Prince of Swindlers”, John Sadlier, and a court
case about inheritance which ended up in the British House of Lords where it
was finally decided.
Sir William Morres built the present house about 1795. It was extended later by
another landlord, Thomas Eyre, before returning to local ownership when the
Maher Brothers bought it in 1918.
Uppercourt returned to ecclesiastical ownership in 1932 when the Mill Hill
Fathers opened it as St. Joseph’s College. They remained until 1982. Since then
various lay owners have occupied it. It is currently being renovated.
The MQC 622-2022.
The Millennial Quater Centennial, 1400 th anniversary, of the death of St.
Lachtain will be commemorated in 2022. It is hoped to celebrate this event in an
appropriate way with a religious, educational, cultural and social dimension. It
would be a great time for our exiles to return. Watch this space!