The Fr Mathew Tower Glounthaune – a monument or test of sobriety?

Fr Mathew Tower near Glounthaune from the Illustrated London News 1846.

Fr Mathew Tower near Glounthaune as depicted on its opening day in the Illustrated London News, 1846.

When Fr Theobald Mathew persuade about half the adult population of Ireland to give up alcohol the crime statistics changed dramatically – the incidence of serious crime dropped so swiftly that the number of death sentences passed in the courts dropped by 80%, an astonishing feat in an age when capital punishment was extremely common. The police reported that even faction fights were becoming scarce!

Now most visitors to Cork would have (hopefully) noted the statue of the good Capuchin presiding over the northern end of St Patrick’s Street, as if Fr Mathew was looking back towards his family home in Tipperary. But how many are aware of the other monument in Cork to this man – a monument erected in his lifetime?  Oddly enough, a lot of people in East Cork are totally unaware of its existence!

Fr Mathew Tower looking forlorn and derelict in 1983.

Fr Mathew Tower looking forlorn and derelict in 1983.

This monument is the Fr Mathew Tower in Glounthaune.  In fact it’s nearer to Dunkettle than to Glounthaune village, but it IS in the parish of Glounthaune.  It is a three storey round tower with large gothic-style windows erected on what is now Tower Hill a mile or so west of Glounthaune.

The tower was erected by one of Fr Mathew’s admirers in 1846. Mr William O’Connor owned the demesne of Mountpatrick and wished to signify his appreciation of Theobald Mathew’s temperance campaign by building this tower as a folly in his garden. It also made a useful navigational marker for vessels heading up the Lee to Cork. Mr O’Connor built it during the first year of the Irish Famine and opened it to the admiration of a large crowd in the summer of 1846, just as the second round of potato blight took hold.It is worth noting that Mr O’Connor had five hundred quartem loaves baked at Mr Casey’s bakery in Cork and distributed to the poor the day after the tower was opened with fireworks and a grand dinner for invited guests.

Fr Mathew Tower restored and incorporated into a discreet modern house.

Fr Mathew Tower restored and incorporated into a discreet modern house.

For a time the Fr Mathew Tower was a popular attraction, but later it became totally private until eventually with the destruction of the Mountpatrick demesne, the tower gradually became derelict. Happily, in recent years it has been superbly restored and incorporated into a modern house that is now up for sale. Once the tower was decorated with marble busts of the Roman Catholic Bishop of Cork and of Fr Mathew himself, while the parapet was decorated with figures of the virtues,  I haven’t been up to the top, but I am sure the view is splendid.

One thing bothers me….was it really just a monument to Fr Mathew or was it a test of sobriety. I imagine that the spiral staircase inside was a very good test of whether or not one was sober on arrival – if you didn’t fall down it might be safely presumed that you were sober!.

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