The ‘Hurricane’ of 1903 – Midleton’s ‘9/11’

 

St John the Baptist Church Midleton

The elegant spire of St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, completed in 1825 to the design of Richard Pain. The top of this spire collapsed onto the roof of the church during the storm on the evening of 10th September 1903 and narrowly missed some workmen. The spire has since been repaired. (Horgan Brothers Collection, Cork County Library)

The dramatic and horrific images of the attack on the World Trade Center in New York on September 11th 2001 are forever etched in the minds of anyone who witnessed those events either in person or on television. The scale, method, and nature of the attack, and the loss of life was, and still is, traumatic for so many. Apart from the image of the hijacked airliners striking the twin towers of the WTC, the other image that stays in the mind is of the collapse of the vast towers in a shower of dust and smoke, pulverising those who never had a chance to escape, including many members of the New York emergency service. .

Without wishing to trivialize New York’s trauma, it’s worth pointing out that Midleton, yes, little Midleton, woke up to the aftermath of its own version of ‘9/11’……a century earlier. Thankfully there was no loss of life. The storm that burst over Midleton in September 1903 was reported in The Cork Examiner newspaper on Friday, September 11th, 1903.

MIDLETON

CHURCH STEEPLE DAMAGED

Midleton, Thursday

One of the most violent storms experienced within the memory of the oldest inhabitant swept over Midleton and district this evening. It commenced at about 4 o’clock, and increased with such severity that about an hour after it assumed the character, the wind blowing from the north-west. Pedestrianism in the streets was almost a matter of impossibility, and vehicular traffic was for the time suspended. Some of the strongest trees were torn up from their roots, and the public roads were rendered in numerous parts of the district actually impassable. A large part of the public road near Killeagh was blocked with trees,  and the mail car from Youghal to Midleton had, in consequence, to come another route, via Mogeely. Telegraphic communication was suspended own to the fact that the wire got broken or twisted by the force of the gale, and the falling on them of heavy trees, and though a good effort was made to repair the damage, the work was abortive, with the result that communication with Cork, Dublin and London, was out of the question. The intensity of the storm might be realised from the fact that about six feet of the finely formed steeple of the Protestant church at Midleton was swept on to the roof of the church and penetrated it to the interior., the gap in the roof being plainly visible from outside the windows. Some men who were working inside had a narrow escape. One of the graves was torn up, portion of the coffin in it being visible. The roofs of houses were in many instances broken. Some sheds were altogether unroofed, including one at Bailick and Midleton, and along the streets are scattered slates and other debris, hurled from the housetops. All kinds of agricultural work had to be suspended, very serious damage having been done to the corn crop not yet cut down.

‘Pedestrianism’ – now there’s a new word to enjoy!

A number of points are clear from the account. First, it wasn’t just Midleton that suffered – even as far as Killeagh there was damage. Much of this was the disruption of the telegraph system. This posed a danger to the railway service linking Cork to Youghal via Midleton, because the signalmen and stations at Carrigtwohill , Midleton, Mogeely, Killeagh and Youghal couldn’t issue hazard warnings ahead. Furthermore the Royal Irish Constabulary at Midleton, Castlemartyr, Killeagh and Youghal were unable to send  or receive reports. The mail car was either an early motor van or horse-drawn van and it had to be diverted from Killeagh to Mogeely around Ballyquirke townland to get to Castlemartyr and Midleton. Shades of the flooding that cut the present N25 (also called Euroroute 1) linking Castlemartyr to Killeagh winter of 2015/2016.  On that occasion the heavy traffic also had to be diverted onto the narrow road linking Mogeely and Killeagh to allow trucks to continue to Rosslare ferry port. One blessing was that Midleton and the surrounding villages didn’t have any electricity at the time, and only Midleton and Ballinacurra had coal gas laid on.

The second point is that the storm actually began about 4.00 pm on Thursday 10th September, just before people went home for their supper. No doubt people fled the open streets and took shelter when the storm struck, but flying slates (also experienced in Midelton in 2009/10 and in 2010/11) are deadly to exposed pedestrians and to window glass!

The loss of the tip of the spire of St John the Baptist’s Church in Midleton must have been a real surprise. This was the only spire in Midleton at the time since the much larger spire of Holy Rosary Church had yet to be constructed.  The spire of St John’s had stood since 1825 but it seems that the slender tip of Richard Pain’s elegant design, made of solid stone, may have required some internal metal reinforcement by then. Midleton has faced many a fierce gale since 1903 but never again has the repaired spire of St John the Baptist’s Church fallen. The repair was clearly well done at the time.

St John's Midleton

Seemingly unchanged, but actually the spire was repaired without any outward alteration after the storm of 1903.

Finally, the anxiety about the corn crop (that is wheat and barley, not maize) was understandable. The Midleton distillery consumed a lot of the local barley, as did JH Bennett’s malting company in Ballinacurra (they supplied the malt for the Guinness brewery in St James’s Gate, Dublin). In addition, the Hallinan family’s Avoncore Mills on Mill road was another major consumer of the local grain crop. These three firms were also big local employers, hence the anxiety about the corn.

The Cork Examiner of Saturday, 12th September 1903, also reported on the damage caused by the same storm over much of Ireland and the United Kingdom. So Midleton didn’t suffer alone. That year saw ten hurricanes sweep into the West Indies and the south-eastern United States, five of them in September alone, however the ‘hurricane that struck Midleton, Ireland and Great Britain wasn’t actually a true hurricane. Furthermore a very severe storm had struck in February of that year, although Midleton seems to have got off lightly on that occasion. One wonders if that storm had weakened the spire that fell in September.

There is one memorial to the storm of 1903 in Midleton – the undamaged stone that had fallen from the church spire was later recycled as the pedestal of a sundial erected in St John the Baptist’s churchyard, just metres from where it fell. It was erected after 1923 inemory of Henry Penrose-Fitzgerald, of the Grange, Midleton and  agent to Lord Midleton.

One final thing to note. ‘Pedestrianism’ – a new word to enjoy!

Heritage Week 2016 – another success!

 

Midleton in early 1900s

Main Street, Midleton, around 1900.

Heritage Week 2016 has now ended but it started a day late as usual in Midleton. On Sunday 21st August some fifteen to eighteen people joined my early 20th century Midleton walking tour of the town. They were brave souls to ignore the Met Eireann weather warning and venture forth. (Youghal’s Medieval Festival was postponed for a week!)  In fact we only had a few showers of misty rain, some breezes and a grey threatening sky overhead, but we were actually fine! Given that I spoke about some of the bad weather in the period 1896 to 1918, the dull day was appropriate.

On Thursday evening, 25th August, Cal McCarthy spoke in Midleton Library about Spike Island in Cork Harbour as a prison in the 19th century . He was supported by the director of the Spike Island heritage site, Tom O’Neill, who encouraged us all to visit before the season closed at the end of October. We had an audience of about twenty for that event.

Saturday 27th saw my lecture in the same venue on ‘Living in Midleton a Hundred Years Ago’. Given that was a lovely day outside, and the last Saturday before the schools reopened,  we had a final audience of about twenty, which was a very welcome number.

Some twelve  people (and Mollie the Jack Russell!) joined the second walking tour on Sunday 28th August in glorious end of summer sunshine and heat. It was a bit difficult to talk about the great storm of 1903 in Midleton in that sort of weather!

I hope everybody learned something new and got a better understanding of Midleton’s (and Spike Island’s) history during the week!

Heritage_Week_2016_GREEN-2

 

Life a hundred years ago – National Heritage Week 2016

Heritage_Week_2016_GREEN-2.jpg

National Heritage Week 2016 will start on Saturday 20th August and run until Sunday 28th August. The theme this year is to celebrate a hundred years of heritage, but this can also mean celebrating life a hundred years ago. One might imagine that it would be entirely devoted to commemorating the 1916 Rising but the options are actually much broader than that.

There are a number of events in the East Cork area, including Cloyne, Castlemartyr and Youghal. Naturally Midleton will celebrate Heritage Week 2016 with FIVE events – two walking tours, two lectures and an intriguing musical recital. The events are free so do go along,. You will never know what you might learn!

Charles Street Midleton

Charles Street, now Connolly Street, Midleton, at the beginning of the twentieth century. In the background is the spire of St John the Baptist’s Church. The Potato Market was located in the yard behind the archway on the right. The granary building on the right was built to serve the former brewery which was only identified as a result of last year’s Heritage Week tour of the town! (Lawrence Collection, NLI)

Midleton Events for Heritage Week 2016 are:

Sunday 21 August, at 2.00 pm: Walking through Midleton in 1916. Meet at Midleton Library for this Walking Tour.

Thursday 28th August, at 7.30 pm: Too beautiful for Thieves and Pick-pockets. A free public lecture about Spike Island by Cal McCarthy. Venue: Midleton Library.

Saturday 27th August, at 12.00 noon. Living in Midleton a hundred years ago. A free public lecture about daily life in Midleton at the beginning of the twentieth century, given by Tony Harpur. Venue: Midleton Library.

Saturday 27th August, at 1.00 pm: What the Wild Geese heard – popular music from the 17th and 18th centuries. A FREE recital by the Hibernian Muse Early Music Ensemble. Venue: St John the Baptist’s Church..

Sunday 28th August, at 2.00 pm. Walking through Midleton in 1916. Meet at Midleton Library for this Walking Tour.

Other events in the Midleton area:-

Castlemartyr: Saturday 20th August, at 8.00 pm: John Saul, Horticulturist, from Castlemartyr to the White House. A public lecture by Conor Neligan, County Heritage Officer. Venue: Castlemartyr National School.

Cloyne: Saturday 20th August, 11.00 am to 4.30 pm: Discover Cloyne Cathedral. Including tours and guided visits. Venue: Cloyne Cathedral, Cloyne.

For further events in East Cork and elsewhere please consult:http://www.heritageweek.ie/whats-on

Bringing the Imokilly Fitzgeralds back ‘home’ to Kerry.

Dingle Peninsula

The spectacular coastal scenery of the Dingle Peninsula, in County Kerry.

Last month (22nd July to 24th July) I took a trip to Ballyferriter in on the Dingle Peninsula in County Kerry to deliver a paper at a conference. The title of the conference was ‘The Fitzgeralds and the Earls of Desmond.’  The conference was opened on Friday evening by Sir Adrian Fitzgerald, Knight of Kerry. The first paper by Gerald O’Carroll considered the historiography of the Earls of Desmond. This was followed by Donal O’Cathain’s paper on the Gaelic sources about Gerald, the poet third Earl of Desmond (1335-1398). Sadly, the medieval Gaelic Irish sources are too often overlooked because too many scholars of medieval Ireland do not read Irish.

rahinnane-castle

Rahinnane Castle is built inside a ringwork or earthwork castle built y the twelfth century Anglo-Norman invaders. The ringwork itself may have been developed from an earlier Irish rath or fortified farmstead.

My own paper was delivered first thing on Saturday morning. A discussion on the descendants of Sir Maurice FitzRichard Fitzgerald, 2nd Knight of Kerry, in Imokilly might seem  heavy going for Saturday morning but I suspect that it came as a shock because few if any of the audience realized the profound influence the Kerry Ftizgeralds had on that little corner of south-east Cork. Joe Lennon then followed with a discussion of the Irish Fiants of the Tudor sovereigns as a source, particularly for the pardons given out after the Second Desmond Rebellion. He also revealed new information on the murder of the last Earl of Desmond at the end of the rebellion.

Joan Maguire then introduced the conference to the exciting Dingle/Corca Dhuibhne Interactive History Timeline. This can be downloaded here: http://www.dinglehistory.com/

This was followed by the launch of a poster for schools and interested groups: ‘The Geraldines and the History of Munster.’ The title is a little misleading because the poster refers to European historical events as well.

Gallarus Castle

Gallarus Castle is a later medieval tower house, probably missing its top floor. It is located just yards from the famous, and much older, Gallarus Oratory.

Saturday afternoon was spent touring three of the tower houses once held by the Knights of Kerry on the Dingle Peninsula. These were Gallarus, Rahinnane and Minard Castles. That evening a concert of traditional Irish music was laid on at the Blasket Centre. The music was played by a French family who love Irish music – it was hard to believe they were not Irish musicians!

All in all, it was a lovely weekend spent enjoyed good papers, interesting company, gorgeous scenery, fabulous food and lovely music. Oh, and the weather was great too, capped by the most spectacular sunset on Saturday night!

Minard Castle

Minard Castle perched on its knoll overlooking its storm beach and Dingle Bay. In the far distance to the right, across the bay, can be seen the mountains of the Iveragh Peninsula – where the Ring of Kerry touring route is located.

 

 

 

 

A passion for hurling…even beyond the grave!

belgrove_and_east_ferry

An early 19th century print depicting Belgrove (on the left) and East Ferry (on the right) with the ‘Ballinacurra River’ in between. The view is towards the north in the direction of Midletong. Sadly Belgrove House on Great Island is now gone. The church-like building on the East Ferry side is still extant. It is a former chapel but is now a private house called Church Cottage.

Next weekend will see the first of the semi-finals of the All Ireland Hurling Championships when Kilkenny will play Waterford (7th August) and the following weekend will see Tipperary play Galway (14th August) to decide the teams playing the final on Sunday 4th September. It’s worth recalling that hurling is a game so ancient that it plays a role in some of our earliest legends – the Ulster Cycle, especially the tales linked to the hero  Setanta who killed a nobleman’s ferocious guard dog by striking a ball into the dog’s throat with his hurley. The furious nobleman, Culann, demanded compensation from the youth. Unable to pay the demanded compensation for killing the valuable dog, Setanta agreed to become the man’s guard hound – hence he is better known as Cuchulainn (hound of Culann).

The game was played throughout the medieval period and into the early modern period. The Crown attempted to ban the game as alien to ‘English’ custom. As with the prohibition on football, the law had no effect.

In East Cork, hurling is more popular, and arguably more important, than Gaelic football. One indication of this passion for hurling can be found in a tale recorded in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1945. The tale suggests that hurling wasn’t simply a passion for the living – in this part of the country even the dead played the game!

The setting for this tale is East Ferry and the channel that links Ballinacurra to the Lower Basin of Cork Harbour, the so-called Ballinacurra River. This channel also separates the barony of Imokilly from Great Island (Barrymore barony), where Cobh (formerly Queenstown) is situated. From the early 1600s a ferry was licensed to convey passengers, livestock and carts from Great Island to Imokilly and vice versa. It seems likely that this ferry was actually in existence from very early days. The route was part of the early medieval bothar na naomh (road of the saints) which linked the monastery of Cork to Cloyne, and then on to Lismore (and Cashel). This makes sense because it mostly followed high ground and was therefore less vulnerable to flooding during heavy rain.

The late nineteenth and early twentieth century ferry was operated by a windlass system – a cable attached to each side of the channel was wound around a windlass on board the flat-bottomed ferry. Simply by turning the windlass the ferryman could take the vessel from one side to the other and back again.  Presumably the earlier ferry was operated by oars or a  punting pole.

In the medieval period there were two parishes on Great Island – Clonmel in the western half of the island and Templerobin in the eastern half of the island. These still survive as ‘civil parishes’ on the Ordnance Survey maps and on the official documents into the twentieth century. On the other side of the Ballinacurra River lies the parish of Rath or Garranekinnefeake. Locals also know this as East Ferry  – for obvious reasons. Today there is a small quay and a pub at East Ferry. It is not certain if this pub replaces a much earlier hostelry – but it shouldn’t surprise us if this were the case.

Traditionally, hurling was played between the young men of rival or neighbouring parishes. Teams were often enormous and the playing field could be extensive indeed. This is where the story tellers take up the whole drama.

East Ferry

The ‘Ballinacurra River’ separating East Ferry from Great Island today.

Late one night when it was dark, the ferryman at East Ferry shore heard a voice hailing him from the Great Island shore. Naturally presuming that he had a fare to transport to the Imokilly shore, the ferryman conveyed his vessel to the other shore. On arrival, he discovered that there was absolutely nobody about. He called out, but there was no response.Although upset that he wouldn’t earn a fare, the ferryman decided to stay on the Great Island until he got a fare.

Settling down in his greatcoat to keep warm, he dozed off. But awoke suddenly when he heard a faint noise from the Imokilly shore.  Oddly it sounded as if a large number of people on the high ground overlooking East Ferry were shouting and cheering. However, he couldn’t see anything in the darkness, and he wasn’t hailed, so he stayed where he was. Some time later there came a hail from the East Ferry shore. Naturally, the ferryman went across to earn his keep. But, again there was nobody there waiting for the ferry. Deciding to stay on his own side of the channel, the ferryman was about to settle down when some voices could be heard from the Great Island shore. Feeling somewhat abashed , he presumed that he had misheard and that the calm waters had projected voices a long way, the ferryman returned to Great Island…..only to find the shore empty as before.

Looking around to see if somebody had just made a fool of him the ferryman discovered some coins placed on a stone near the shore. On counting the coins the ferryman was astonished to discover that the sum deposited on the stone was exactly the fare sufficient to pay him for conveying a large party of passengers across the channel and back again. The long, cold, quiet  night passed in weary exhaustion. The next morning the ferryman, feeling foolish, told his replacement what had happened during the night. The other ferryman was appalled and asked some searching questions.. ‘You took the dead men of Ballymore across to Rath to play a game of hurling against the dead of that parish!’ The noise he had heard coming from the top of the hill overlooking East Ferry was the ghostly audience cheering on the two teams! Apparently it had happened before, and there was no evidence of any harm being done to the ferryman……as long as he did his job, for which he had been paid the correct fare! It is not know if the ferryman quit his post that day….or continued to ferry the ghostly hurling teams to their matches.

It is curious that this tale explains how the ghosts crossed the water – apparently they cannot cross water, to the ferry proved very useful for their night-time hurling matches. Compare this with the Classical legend of Charon, the ferryman who conveyed the souls of the  Greek and Roman dead across the mythical river Styx into Hades. Coins were placed on the eyes of the corpse to pay Charon’s fare for conveying their souls to Hades. In East Ferry, it was the ghostly hurlers who paid the ferryman! And all for the enjoyment of a game of hurling!

The Bloody Hounds – a public lecture on the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly

The latest public lecture in Midleton Library will be a survey of the history of the Fitzgeralds of Imokilly from 1177 to the early 20th century.

It will cover the early Fitzgeralds in Imokilly to the 1280s, the intervention of the 4th Earl of Desmond in the 1300s, and arrival of Sir Maurice Fitzgerald. Knight of Kerry, before 1400 followed by the arrival of his sons in the decades following. The Seneschals of Imokilly have a starring role as does the Elizabethan loyalist Dean of Cloyne, Sir John FitzEdmund Fitzgerald of Ballymaloe. The lecture will then follow the fortunes of the Fitzgeralds of Ballycrenane and of Corkbeg – the latter being the last of the Fitzgeralds descended from Sir Maurice to have kept their estates in the area.

The lecture will take place on Saturday 28th May at 12.00 noon.

It’s free and all are welcome!

 

Tony Poster