12/ 12/ 2000




by Julian C. Walton, M.A., F.I.G.R.S.

Among the Norman invaders was Sir Robert le Poer, marshal to king Henry 11. In 1177 the king summoned a council at Oxford, where he granted to his chief followers large tracts of land in Ireland. To Sir Robert he gave the city of Waterford and the land to the west, as far as the river of Lismore, and also the territory of Ossory (mostly in County Kilkenny). Sir Robert was the first of the Waterford Peers or Powers. His surname, meaning 'the poor man', may have been the result of his taking a vow of holy poverty rather just being impecunious. In the last century, when poverty was considered a stigma, the head of the main Power family changed his name to de Polier de la Poer and made a valiant but unconvincing attempt to trace his descent from the fifth-century counts of a district in Brittany called Polier.

By the middle of the 13th century there were several important branches of the Powers in east Waterford, the chief of whom were the Barons of Donoyle (Dunhill, from the Irish Dun Aill meaning 'fort of the rock'). Their stronghold was near the seaside village of Annestown at Dunhill Castle, whose ruins may still be seen dramatically poised on a high cliff over a little river valley. The barons were powerful feudal lords over whom the Dublin government had little control. They greatly resented the growing wealth of the citizens of Waterford, against whom they fought some very bloody battles.

Another branch of the Powers built Granagh Castle, an imposing stronghold on the north bank of the Suir upriver of Waterford. Here lived the mighty Arnold le Poer, whose power was broken when he became involved with Alice Kyteler the Kilkenny witch and died in prison in 1328. His son Eustace took part in a rebellion of the earls of Desmond and was executed by the Lord Deputy. Granagh Castle was then granted to the Butlers of Ormond.

By the end of the Middle Ages most of east Waterford was owned or controlled by Power families who spoke Irish, had many Irish customs, and behaved much like any Gaelic sept. The region was known as An Paorach Powers' Country. Their leaders were the Powers of Curraalimore who were created barons in 1535 and earls of Tyrone in 1673. The line came to an end when the third earl died without male issue in 1704, and the vast Curraghmore estate passed to his daughter Katherine. She married Sir Marcus Beresford and their son was created Marquess of Waterford in 1789. The present marquess is the eighth and still lives at Curraghmore; the front part of the family mansion is the tower of the old Power castle.

Most of the other Power landowners, including the Dunhill family, were deprived of their estates by Cromwell. Of the 79 dispossessed landowners of County Waterford, no fewer than 19 were Powers. However, Beidh la eile ag an Paorach - 'the Powers will have another day' and since that time the Powers of Waterford have distinguished themselves in many parts of the world and in many walks of life. The best known has probably been Tyrone Power (1797-1841), actor and dramatist and great-grandfather of the film star of the same name.

This Surname History is reproduced with the kind permission of Irish Roots Magazine in which it was first published as part of the feature article, Surnames of County Waterford, in Issue 1, 1992.

Published by: Belgrave Publications
Year written: 1992
Copyright owned by: Belgrave Publications