The Midleton Railway Petition of 1844

courthouse-midleton

the Rev Francis Jones, Rector of Midleton, chose Midleton Courthouse as the venue for the meeting of 6th January 1845 to discuss the building of a railway. The meeting was called in response to a petition drafted and signed in December 1844. The petition was made to Francis Jones in his capacity as the last Sovereign of Midleton.

In 2015, some 340,000 passenger journeys were made on the Cork to Midleton railway service. This is an astonishing number given that the population of East Cork is nowhere near that figure. And, it should be recalled that this line only reopened in 2009, having been closed to regular passenger services since 1963. In the first six months of 2016, some 260,000 passenger journeys were already recorded on the line. When you consider that this line now has more daily services than a century ago, it shows the wisdom of reopening the local commuter lines to take the strain from the overcrowded road network around Cork.

This enthusiasm for idea of building a railway began in 1844. In December of that year the Rector of Midleton published a public notice in The Cork Examiner newspaper (now the Irish Examiner). The Rector, the Rev. Mr Francis Jones, didn’t actually publish the notice in his capacity as Rector, but as the last Sovereign of Midleton – four years after the Corporation of Midleton had been abolished. However, Jones was still addressed as Sovereign (or mayor) of Midleton until his death – since there was no Corporation to vote in a replacement and the reform had failed to abolish the office! The notice that Jones published is interesting because it shows the beginning of a shift in influence. Until then Youghal had been the key town in East Cork. Cove, later Queenstown, rapidly gained prominence due to its status as a port for emigration. Midleton remained relatively small – but it had just built the only workhouse between Cork and Dungarvan. This workhouse would see Midleton’s population INCREASE during the Great Famine between 1845 and 1851! In that period, Youghal’s population decreased, although it was still the largest town in East Cork until well into the twentieth century. Today, Midleton is a thriving, bustling, market town and business centre, but Youghal seems, sadly, to be in the doldrums.

The notice in the Examiner begins with a petition addressed to Francis Jones.::

We, the Undersigned, request you will appoint an early day for a Meeting of such Persons as feel interested in the formation of a Line of Railroad between Cork and Youghal, with a branch to Cove, in order to adopt such measures as may be calculated to place before the public correct information as to the advantages likely to result from the undertaking.

Cove, 17th December, 1844.

This petition was addressed: To the Rev. Mr Jones, Sovereign of Midleton.

Following a list of the petitioners, Jones added his notice of a public meeting:

In compliance with the above requisition, I hereby appoint a Meeting of ‘such persons as feel interested in the formation of a line of Railroad between Cork and Youghal, with a branch to Cove,’ to be held in the Court-house, Midleton, on Tuesday, 6th inst, at the hour of Twelve O’Clock.

 It is signed: Francis Jones

Among the sixtyfive names attached to the petition are the local Justices of the Peace: Thomas Stubbs JP; Robert Ware, JP; Sampson TW French, JP;  William W Lambert, JP; Edward Millett, JP;  R Holmes, JP; Edmond Roche, JP Kilshannick (Kilshannig, near Rathcormac); EB Roche MP, Trabolgan; GS Barry, JP, DL; Edward Odell, JP.

The identifiable clergymen who signed the petition were Richard Gaggin, Rector of Clonmult, and William Keane, Parish Priest of Midleton. It seems likely that the three ‘Clerks‘ who signed were actually clergymen too: Andrew Todd, Clk; William Meade, Clk; and J Edmund Nash, Clk.  

Several solicitors and doctors also signed the petition: S Fleming, Solicitor; J Devitt O’Donovan, Solicitor; Thomas H Orpen, MD; DH Scott, MD; Thomas Garde, MD; SW Keane, MD; John Boston, AB and MD; Philip L Walsh, MD; Joseph Barry, MD.

Midleton was itself well represented on the list. The Coppinger family was prominent: Thomas S Coppinger; ES Coppinger and William S Coppinger all signed. The Callaghans of Brodrick Street, Mathias Callaghan and his son, John Callaghan, signed together. The local distillers also saw the benefits: BJ Hackett (who’s distillery opened in 1824) and James Murphy, Junior, (who founded the present old Midleton distillery in 1825). J Hallaran who developed the great maltings at Ballinacurra was very prominent in the list.

This list shows how people in east Cork realised the benefits of building a railway to link Youghal and Cove to Cork before the Great Famine. The year 1845 was an interesting one for Midleton. It opened on the Feast of Epiphany with the railway meeting scheduled by Francis Jones. Then came the completion of the largest brick chimney in Murphy’s distillery in April. That was closely followed by the Postmaster General in London agreeing to Lord Midleton’s request that the name of the Post Office and the town should be spelled ‘MIDLETON’ rather than in any other way. Finally, in October and November the potato blight struck the district very hard.

The far-sighted gentlemen who signed the 1844 petition to the Sovereign of Midleton had to wait until 1859 to see the first part of their dreams realised as the line reached Midleton from Dunkettle. Youghal was reached in 1860. The Queenstown (formerly Cove, now Cobh) branch was completed in 1862.

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2017 -Tercentenaries and other commemorations.

midleton-college-pic1

The original foundation building of Midleton Endowed School (now Midleton College) was completed under the supervision of Thomas Brodrick in 1717 and opened to take in pupils later that year. The present appearance of the front of the building is affected by the loss of the original cupola over the front door before 1750, and the blocking of windows probably in the 1820s refurbishment by the architect Joseph Welland, who was born about a mile away. The wing on the left is a later nineteenth century addition.

This year will see two tercentenaries marked in Midleton. First up comes the 300th anniversary of the first teaching year at Midleton College. The College, or Endowed School, was founded in 1696 by Elizabeth Villiers, Countess of Orkney, on a site in Midleton provided by the Brodrick family as a sort of payment for their political and legal assistance in helping her to resolve the disputes over King William III’s (William of Orange) grant of her Irish estates. The Free School, as it was also called, was finally completed in 1717 and George Chinnery was appointed its first Headmaster. It also took in its first pupils shortly after Chinnery’s appointment. Oh, and the School Governors finally paid off one of the joiners for providing the wainscotting to the schoolroom! I’ll follow up with a post on the vicissitudes of the foundation, and delayed completion, of the school in a later post. Suffice to say that the design of the original foundation building is intriguing because of its ultimate source. The design and construction of the building was specifically placed in the hands of Thomas Brodrick, the older of St John Brodrick’s two sons.

Alan_Brodrick

Alan Brodrick (1656?-1727), 1st Viscount Midleton, former Speaker of the Irish House of Commons, Lord Chancellor of Ireland.

The second tercentenary to be marked is that of the creation of the Viscountcy of Midleton. In 1717, Alan Brodrick, Lord Chancellor of Ireland since 11th October 1714, was elevated as The Viscount Midleton. He already held a lessor title, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, since 1715 but this new title moved him up one rank in the peerage. It should be noted that his elevation was based on his own political acumen and credentials. Oddly, his older brother, Thomas Brodrick MP, was never given a title despite his chairmanship of the British parliamentary inquiry into the South Sea Bubble crash of 1720. Very likely the inquiry’s report accusing too many ministers of corruption left Tom Brodrick in a bad odour in Court circles.  Alan Brodrick remained Lord Chancellor of Ireland until 1725 when, in the wake of a dispute with Speaker William Connolly, he resigned. Unfortunately for him, Alan Brodrick was blamed by the Irish peers and MPs for the British Parliament’s Dependency of Ireland upon Great Britain Act of 1719 (popularly called the Declaratory Act) which asserted the British parliament’s right to make laws binding on Ireland notwithstanding the existence of the Irish parliament. In fact that Act came about due to the obstinacy of the Irish peers in Parliament who ignored the wiser advice of given them by Brodrick in the matter.  Alan Brodrick, 1st Viscount Midleton, Baron Brodrick of Midleton, held his titles as a member of the Irish peerage, which meant that he could not sit in the British House of Lords. However, he did sit in the British House of Commons as an MP following election for Midhurst. The title Viscount Midleton is still extant having passed to a cousin on the death of the second Earl of Midleton in the later 20th century.

midleton-market-house-clock

Midleton’s Market House now serves as the town library. The Tricolour was provocatively flown from the upper windows in 1917. Happily, the clock is due to be repaired this year.

In Easter 1917, a group of young nationalists in Midleton decided on a dramatic stunt to commemorate the first anniversary of the Easter Rising.  They got into the Market House on Main Street in Midleton and unfurled the ‘Republican Flag’ (the green, white and orange Irish tricolour) out of a window on the upper floor. At the time, this was a highly illegal gesture because the British authorities were still sensitive to any hint of sedition a year after the Easter Rising in 1916. It seems to have been the first know attempt to display in Midleton the flag that eventually became the national flag of the Irish state. The Market House now houses the public library. There are proposals to conserve and repair the Town Clock on the Market House this year. As an aside, a certain Henry Ford, whose family came from County Cork, established a tractor factory in Cork in 1917!

aghada-hall

Aghada Hall became the base of the US Naval Air Station Queenstown from 1918. The US Navy took up station in Cork Harbour in May 1917.

Of course there are other anniversaries to commemorate in 2017 – the centenary of the arrival of the US Navy into Cork Harbour as the United States was compelled to enter the First World War by the decoding of the Zimmerman Telegram which offered Mexico most of the western parts of the United States in return for attacking the US. It’s rather ironic that President-elect Donald Trump is indulging in sabre-rattling against Mexico a century later! The Germans were desperate in 1917 – is Trump desperate in 2017?

passchendaele

Battlefield or the swamp of Hell? They sent men to fight and die in that – the battlefield of Passchendaele in 1917.

Staying with the Great War, we will see the necessarily grim commemorations of the horrific battle of Passchendaele, also known as the Third Battle of Ypres. It lasted as long as the Battle of the Somme (July to November 1916) which we commemorated in Midleton by unveiling and dedicating a World War I memorial. For all the horrors of the Somme, Passchendaele was worse for the ground in Flanders was churned to mud and many of those who died were actually drowned rather than died of wounds inflicted by weapons.

luther-theses

Martin Luther’s protest at the abuse of church power sparked off the Protestant Reformation from 1517.

October 31st 2017 (yes, Hallowe’en!) will mark the 500th anniversary of the famous incident when the Augustinian friar Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses to the door of the University church in Wittenberg to spark a debate on the efficacy and validity of indulgences. This act (which may or may not have happened) sparked off a movement that led to the Protestant Reformation. This is undoubtedly the biggest commemoration this year – and, hopefully, historians will provide new insights into a complex development.

This is just a sample of the events for this year.

Happy New Year!