Dodging flying bullets in Ballincurrig.


Dodging the bullet – the sport of road bowling is common in East Cork. The village of Ballincurrig holds the most prestigious international competition in the country.

If you just happen to be driving along the road from Rathcormac to Midleton via Ballincurrig and Lisgoold tomorrow and next weekend (14th-16th October) please be VERY careful. You may have to dodge a flying bullet or two! And, no, these ‘bullets’ are not measly little thing expelled by an propellant from a firearm – we’re not talking a gangland or wild west scenario here. The ‘bullets’ are in fact cast iron cannonballs cast along the road by men and women to see who would walk away with the coveted title of King or Queen of the Roads.


In 1842 Daniel MacDonald painted one of the finest Irish sporting paintings depicting a road bowling match at Castle Mary near Cloyne. The match was held between two gentlemen – Abraham Morris of Dunkathel House (near Glanmire) and a member of the Longfield family of Castle Mary. The landscape is fanciful but the dolmen depicted in the background is thought to be the one in Castle Mary. The painting  was acquired in 1988 by the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.

Other countries may play genteel games of lawn bowling or boules, but the Irish sport of road bowling is akin to nine pin bowling, without the pins, using an actual cannonball and played on a public road. While out for a stroll today on the Gearagh road linking Ballinacurra to Ladysbridge, I noted some neat and precise lines drawn in chalk right across the road – the start and finish of a road bowling course. These lines reminded me that the annual King and Queen of the Roads contest was due to take place in Ballincurrig this month. Clearly some locals in Ballinacurra were hoping to make the grade with a local contest. At this point it should be noted that road bowling isn’t just a casual affair – it has rules, and is nationally regulated by Bol Cumann na hEireann (Irish Road Bowling Association).


Not for the faint-hearted. Even women enjoy casting cannonballs along winding Irish country roads. The Queen of the Roads competition celebrates this on 9th October and on 14th to 16th October. 

So what is road bowling? Take a stretch of road (it can be ‘straight’ – there’s an Irish oxymoron!- or winding) and mark out your start line and finish line. Then get the competitors to ‘cast’ or throw an iron ball (bullet) from one end of the course to the other. The winner is the one who gets over the finish line in the fewest throws. (This is why a winding road is so much more exciting than a straight road – if you could even find a straight country road in Ireland!) The missile is a cast iron ball of 3 inches (6.5 centimetres) in diameter weighing 26 ounces (794 grammes). Given the uneven surface on Irish country roads, the sport is much more technical than it might first appear – imagine a golfer setting up for a delicate putt into a hole but on a green with hidden undulations. Road bowling is entirely like this but is played on a hard road surface.


The bullets or bowls are actually cannonballs. And they do hurt if you don’t jump out of the way fast enough!

Road bowling is concentrated in Counties Cork and Armagh but also has pockets of followers in the counties of Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan and Waterford. More recently it has gained followers in the counties of Tyrone and Wexford.  However the game may not have been of Irish origin. Until the nineteenth century it was played in Scotland and the north of England too. Astonishingly it was also played in North America – but not because of Irish immigrant influence. The game may have originated with bored Dutch artillerymen in King William of Orange’s armies in the War of the Three Kings in 1689-1691. There is a similar game played today in the Netherlands (klootschieten) and in the neighbouring areas of North West Germany. So there will be an international dimension to the competition in Ballincurrig with Dutch and German competitors contesting the title with Irish competitors.


A real episcopal bullet from Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross!

Along with hurling, camogie (hurling for the ladies), Gaelic football and Irish handball, road bowling is one of the national sports in Ireland, albeit on a very local basis. There you have it. Dodging  ‘bullets’ will be the order of the day in Ballincurrig for the next two weekends.


Time, gentlemen, please! The last ‘Act of Union’ between Britain and Ireland.


Dunsink Observatory near Dublin was the official regulator of Irish time from 1880 until 1st October 1916 when Ireland was incorporated into the British time zone. This observatory was once the workplace of John Brinkley (1763 – 1835), Andrews Professor of Astronomy at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), first Royal Astronomer of Ireland, later President of the Royal Irish Academy and the last resident and independent Bishop of Cloyne in the Established Church (Church of Ireland).

You may have heard it remarked that ‘the Irish are always late.’ Certainly we don’t appear to aspire to Teutonic punctuality like the Germans, Austrians and Swiss – or the Scandinavians, for that matter. However, this assertion about the Irish is actually incorrect. In fact it may even be shown to be scientifically incorrect!

Indeed it is a serious calumny against us poor Irish to suggest that we cannot read a clock. It fits in the same category  with the observation of British (or more precisely, English) travellers to Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They often assumed that the natives were inherently lazy. This observation was frequently derived from seeing the grass lying unharvested for hay early on a summer’s morning. Or more likely from observing  in Ireland haymaking only started after 10.00 o’clock on a summer’s morning – a shocking example of sloth when the English farmer had already started the same task at least two hours earlier. It took the Welshman, E. Estyn Evans of Queen’s University Belfast to observe that the Irish farmers were very sensible to start their haymaking after 10.00 o’clock or even after 11.00 o’clock. You see, Evans observed that in England (especially the south and east of England) the weather was often warmer and drier than in Ireland, and, consequently, the grass in the hay meadows was frequently dry before 10.00 o’clock or even 9.00 o’clock.

However, Evans observed that in Ireland the grass was often wet with dew until about that time in the morning in Ireland (and even in parts of his native Wales as well as Scotland. and the north of England). There simply was no point in scything  damp grass to make hay – it actually has to be dry to make hay. In Ireland the sun may shine on a summer’s day but it is really the breeze that dries out the grass, cut or uncut. So the nineteenth century Irish farmer wasn’t being lazy – he just did the right thing for making hay. Start when the damp from the dew has burned or blown off and then cut the dry grass. If you’ve ever mown a wet lawn (!) you will understand the wisdom of the nineteenth century Irish farmer’s traditional haymaking custom of waiting until the grass was dry before cutting it. It wasn’t that the Irish were lazy but that the English observer frequently didn’t understand, or didn’t wish to understand Irish conditions.


Saving the hay in Listowel in 1920s Ireland. The term ‘saving the hay’ refers to the vagaries of the Irish weather – the grass had to be dry before being cut and it had to be left to dry out completely before being gathered into haystacks. The unpredictable Irish weather meant that the work was highly concentrated and extremely demanding in order to save the main winter fodder for the livestock from the unpredictable Irish weather.(National Geographic Society, Washington DC)

And so it was with time, or, more particularly, Irish  timekeeping. There is a delicious irony in the fact that just six months after the Easter Rising in April 1916, Britain imposed the last ‘Act of Union’ on Ireland. This wasn’t really a specific Irish security measure but had more to do with larger matters pertaining to the Great War.

In order to increase productivity in British War industries, the Westminster government introduced certain measures like mandated pub closing time and daylight saving time. The latter was designed to ensure that every hour of daylight in the long summer days in the latitude of Britain and Ireland would be put to productive use in the factories producing shells, bullets, guns, uniforms, and other war materiel. The new ‘daylight saving time’ was mandated to come into effect on 1st October 1916. However, the new law also affected Ireland by stealing its time, as Constance Markievicz (one of the 1916 rebels) claimed.


The clock on the Bristol Corn Exchange has two minute hands – the red hands show Greenwich Mean Time or London Time and the black hand shows Bristol Time, ten minutes later.

The Time (Ireland) Act of 1916 amended a legal situation dating to 1880 when Dublin Standard Time became the official time in Ireland. Until 1880 time in Ireland (and in Britain) was determined by the noonday sun (if it could be observed!) in each district in Ireland. Clearly, Cork is further west than Dublin so its time was later than Dublin time. Galway was further west again – so that was a few minutes later. Midleton had a public clock before 1750 so that was set to a time that was appropriate to the town until 1880. The arrival of the railways changed all that. The speed of the mainline trains was such that it became necessary to closely co-ordinate the times for departures and arrivals at the various termini and intermediate stations. This was particularly important for passengers aiming to catch a connecting train. The importance of keeping the railway regulated by a standard time is illustrated by Bristol’s Corn Exchange Clock which shows TWO time zones on its face – Bristol time and London (or Greenwich) time. Bristol, being further west than London, observed local noon ten minutes later than Greenwich.

From 1880, Dublin Standard Time was set at 25 minutes 21 seconds after Greenwich Mean Time. Dublin time was regulated by the Dunsink Observatory until 1st October 1916. Thus Ireland had its own national time zone for all thirty-two counties for a period of just thirty-six years until 1916. At 1.00 am on the morning of the 1st of October 1916, when Britian had to put its clocks back by one hour, Ireland only put its clocks back by 35 minutes to bring Irish time to an end. Thereafter, Ireland followed (and still follows) the British system of springing forward in March and falling back in October. The date of this change has moved to the last weekend in October. The reason for the change of time zone in Ireland was to facilitate the telegraphic communications between Dublin and London, especially between the Admiralty and Royal Navy’s facilities in Cork Harbour.

Haulbowline from Queenstown

The Royal Navy developed the island of Haulbowline in Cork Harbour as as vital naval station guarding the south-western approaches in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

So the irony of this year’s centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising is that it is followed by the less prominent commemoration of the last Act of (Chronological) Union just six months later. But, of course, the Irish rebellion goes on. If the Irish are about thirty minutes late for an appointment, they are not really late. You see we were never consulted about the change of time zone. We are still operating on Dublin Standard Time or Irish time that operated between 1880 and 1916! So we are really on time…’s actually the clock that’s wrong!  One unintended benefit of the move to British time is that Ireland enjoys particularly long periods of daylight on a summer’s evening – almost on a par with Scotland, which is situated much further north.

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, 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!



Life a hundred years ago – National Heritage Week 2016


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:

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 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:

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!


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!