At Last! A local historical society for Midleton and Ballinacurra.

Image: Midleton Market House as painted by Niall McCarthy.

Why is there no history society in Midleton?’ This question has frequently been posed to your author in the past few years. Often the question is prefaced wtih a comment about the presence of the Cloyne Literary & Historical Society (the granddaddy of our local historical societies), the well-established Whitegate-Aghada Historical Society and the Carrigtwohill Historical Society (founded just a few years ago). It seemed so embarrassing that Midleton, the largest town in the area, didn’t have a local historical society.

The The answer to the question posed at the head of this post is, of course, very simple – there isn’t a Midleton Historical Society one because nobody has set one up. There WAS a local historical society in Midleton in the 1980s but it completely lapsed many years ago. Midleton is a town that seems to have plenty of history but also possesses a contradictory attitude to its history and heritage. Heritage buildings have been demolished or radically altered without any appreciation of their importance. We still await the publication of a proper academic history of Midleton and Ballinacurra,  apart from a few valiant works by Jeremiah Falvey, Sean Horgan and John Fenton. In August Midleton & Area Chamber published Midleton – the Heart of East Cork, a booklet aimed at visitors but with interesting local historical information for residents of the area. However, the book covers more than Midleton, since its remit reaches to Roches Point, Knockaddon, Killeagh and Fota, taking in Ballycotton, Cloyne, East Ferry and Carrigtwohill on the way. It’s taken a while, but finally, there are moves afoot to found a local historical society for Midleton and Ballinacurra. And note the remit – we cannot discuss Midleton without discussing the older village of Ballinacurra., for so long the port of Midleton.

St John the Baptist Church Midleton

The Horgan brothers of Youghal photographed the site of the original foundation of the abbey that gave rise to the town of Corabbey, which was renamed Midleton by a Charter of King Charles II in 1670.

The desision to found this new society is prompted by the approaching year 2020. January of that year will see the 200th anniversary of the Ballinacurra-born Edward Bransfield RN’s identification of the CONTINENT of Antarctica, as opposed to the Antarctic pack ice. In June 2020 the Charter of Midleton will be 350 years old. The Charter gave the modern name Midleton to the town formerly known as Corabbey. And, finally, December 2020, will mark the 100th anniversary of the famous IRA ambush on Main Street that eventually in February 1921 led to the disastrous Clonmult Ambush. These were two key local events in the Irish War of Independence. Before that, we will see the centenary of the end of the Great War and the meeting of the First Dail as well as the first time the Irish Tricolour was flown over the Market House in Midleton (illegally, it must be said).

Choctaw evening 2

In order to prepare for these anniversaries, it is necessary to have a forum to organise events that will mark these occasions.  The people of Midleton and Ballinacurra, and of surrounding districts are invited to come to Midleton Library on Monday next, 18th September at 8.00pm for a meeting at which we aim to found a local historical society. This invitation is extended beyond Midleton and Ballinacurra to Castlemartyr,  Mogeely, Ladysbridge, Dungourney, Clonmult and Lisgoold in the hope that the history of these places can also be highlighted.

Bold Fenian Men – a lecture to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Fenian Rising in East Cork.

Rock Terrace 2

A view to a killing: Rock Terrace, Midleton, was built in 1861 – a mere six years before the Fenians under Timothy Daly shot dead Sub-Constable Sheedy and injured Sub-Constable O’Donnell across the street at the entrance to Mr Green’s house. Note the date of construction made out in yellow brick on the right of the photograph.

A hundred and fifty years ago this month (Tuesday 5th and Wednesday 6th March 1867) the Fenian Rising took place in various parts of Ireland.  A major series of incidents happened in Knockadoon, Midleton and Castlemartyr. No official ceremonies have been arranged but on Saturday 18th March, there will be a lecture on the subject in Midleton Library. Appropriately the library is housed in the old Market House.which was used to house troops from the 14th Regiment in the aftermath of the Rising.

The lecture will take place on Saturday 18th March at 12.00 noon in Midleton Library. Admission is free and all are welcome!


The Honorable Albinia Brodrick: from English Aristocrat to Irish Revolutionary Republican. A public lecture to commemorate the 1916 Easter Rising.

Hon Albinia Brodrick Nurse

The Hon. Albinia Brodrick as a nurse.

As part of the Cork County Council 1916 Centenary Commemoration programme a public lecture will take place in Midleton Library on Saturday 16th January.

The Hon. Albinia Brodrick (sometimes incorrectly called Lady Brodrick) was born into the English aristocratic Brodrick family, the absentee landlords of Midleton in County Cork. Brought up in a firmly Unionist milieu she supported her family’s commitment to preserving the Union between Britain and Ireland and their rejection of Home Rule for Ireland. This stance was so pronounced that as a young woman she read the newspaper to her partially blind father, William, 8th Viscount Midleton, but only on the stipulation that she never read out William Gladstone’s name whenever it was mentioned in the news reports. Gladstone, of course, tried to pacify Ireland with various Home Rule proposals but nothing came of this endeavour.

Albinia's Hospital

The remains of Albinia Brodrick’s hospital at West Cove, near Caherdaniel, County Kerry.

Extremely well educated privately, and well travelled, Albinia later acted as hostess to her uncle who was Warden of Merton College, Oxford. At some point in the early 20th century Albinia underwent an extraordinary change in her political, social and national loyalties. First, she trained as a nurse and became a staunch advocate of reform in nursing education – especially in training nurses to deal with venereal disease. Then she became interested in the condition of the Irish rural poor, particularly in the Caherdaniel are of County Kerry, where she established a hospital to provide improved treatment for local people. But her most radical change was to identify herself entirely with Ireland – she learned to speak Irish, changed her name to Gobnait Ni Brudair. Albinia went further by becoming a radical Irish republican, supporting the 1916 Easter Rising, opposing the Treaty of 1921, supporting the Anti-Treaty forces during the Civil War. During this time, Albinia’s brother, William St John Fremantle Brodrick, 9th Viscount Midleton, was the leader of the Southern Unionists -a very different group from the Ulster Unionists.

St John Brodrick as Minister

William St John Fremantle Brodrick as a British Minister, at the dispatch box of the House of Commons, The leader of the Southern Unionists, he became the 9th Viscount Midleton, and in 1920 was created 1st Earl of Midleton.

Albinia died in relative poverty in 1955 and was buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Sneem, County Kerry. She left her property to the members of the old IRA – but in fact the true heirs could not be identified by the High Court in Dublin. The lecture will illustrate Albinia Brodrick’s life and radicalism.

The 1916 Centenary Commemorative lecture will take place at Midleton Library on Saturday 16th January at 12.00 noon. All are welcome.

Continue reading

Monumentitis in Midleton – a public lecture

Cashman Monument 1

‘Who was Nellie Cashman?’ is a question frequently raised by people when discussing this monument. Hopefully the question will be answered on Thursday.

For decades there was only on solitary public monument in Midleton – the Clonmult monument that marks the northern end of Main Street.  In 1998 a second monument was added just a couple of meters from the Clonmult Monument. Then in the early 2000s came the Gyrator on the site of the former Goose’s Acre, again, not far from the Clonmult Monument. From 2014 to 2015 Midleton installed FIVE sculptures or monuments, four of them in the area around the Clonmult Monument and one isolated in the park on the Bailick Road. This latter is dedicated to the Choctaw people who donated $170 of their very scarce and hard earned money  towards Irish Famine Relief in the 1840s. There can be few other towns in Ireland with such a number of public sculptures or monuments, but the townspeople know very little about them. Indeed the discussion has generally been about the large sum of money spent on them. This raises questions about their quality as public art.

Choctaw evening 2

The magnificent ‘Kindred Spirits’ by Alex Pentek. Situated in Bailick Park, it is dedicated to the Choctaw people who made a donation to Irish famine relief in the 1840s despite their own poverty and tragic history.

On Thursday, 26 November, at 1.00 pm in Midleton Library I will present a free public lecture on these monuments and public sculptures, with the emphasis on the history of the monuments, of the characters and events commemorated by them, and some consideration of their artistic merits. The aim is to move the discussion away from the money spent on them to the appreciation of their role in the town. As a lunchtime lecture the presentation will take 45 minutes at most. All are welcome.

‘…a good market for flesh and fish….’ Celebrating good food and drink in Midleton.

Main Street, Midleton, was designed as a market place - and with the Food and Drink Festival in September, it reverts to this function.

The broad and straight Main Street in Midleton was originally designed as a market place – and with the Food and Drink Festival in September, it reverts to this function.

Does anyone know how to clone a human being? I fear I may have to subject myself to the procedure this month. Tomorrow, Saturday 12th Sept, Midleton celebrates its annual Food and Drink Festival. The whole Main Street from the Courthouse to Brodrick Street will be closed off for the festival, which will spill over into Connolly Street. The festival actually started on Friday 4th September with Fishy Friday – an appropriate celebration of Midleton’s proximity to the sea and the fishing port of Ballycotton.  Wednesday 9th Sept saw the official launch banquet with a medieval feast in the Jameson Heritage Center. Tomorrow’s street festival is the main event.

What I suspect is that most visitors will not be aware that Midleton had a good reputation for produce as early as 1750. In that year, Dr Charles Smith published The Ancient and Present state of the County and City of Cork. This survey of the county included the remark that Midleton (or Middleton, as he wrote it) possessed a good market for flesh and fish. The remark was interesting in that it almost certainly reflected the reputation of the town’s produce at the time. Alas, in keeping with the eighteenth century tradition of emphasizing the importance of meat and fish, Smith does not discuss the vegetable produce of the town. One would give much to know what people thought of the local vegetables and fruit at the time.

The earliest list of grocers and food shops in Midleton dates from 1824 (Pigot’s Directory). One gets the impression that the listing may be incomplete. It lists just three bakers, two butchers, a couple of grocers….and eight or nine spirit dealers, which gives an idea of the priorities. There was one distillery (Hackett’s) in 1824. Market day was, of course, on Saturday and there were four fairs during the year.

MiddletonFoodAndWineFestival2013 Slater’s Directory of 1856 gives us more detail: eleven bakers, eight butchers (five on Charles Street – now Connolly Street), fifteen grocers, nine spirit dealers and nineteen public houses (pubs). The Murphy brothers ran the only distillery (Hackett’s had closed by 1850). In 1870 Slater’s listed fifteen bakers, eleven butchers (all on Charles Street except for one on Main Street) and twenty-two pubs. In 1881 there were just ten bakers, still eight butchers, thirty two grocers (!) and only nineteen pubs.

These changes reflected the changing economy of Midleton from 1824 until 1881. The directories also show how the railway completed in 1859 had a major effect on the shopping habits of the people with more imports being made more readily available.

The Ballymaloe Quartet. Rachel Allen, Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen and Rory O'Connell.

The Ballymaloe Quartet. Rachel Allen, Myrtle Allen, Darina Allen and Rory O’Connell.

Midleton’s modern obsession with good food can be traced to Myrtle Allen. The doyenne of modern Irish cuisine opened a restaurant in the dining room of her home, Ballymaloe House in 1964. Myrtle had the bizarre notion of serving food produced locally and in season instead of relying on imported, and out of season, ingredients. Nowadays this is considered to be a standard policy in the best restaurants. With cookery courses being launched a couple of years later, Myrtle and Darina O’Connell (now Darina Allen) have had an enormous influence on the Irish restaurant trade. But it went further than that – they also had a huge impact on Irish artisan food producers, making the Ballymaloe effect even more important in the whole world of Irish food.  A very good reason to celebrate good food and drink during the harvest season in Midleton..


The first Sunday in September – the seasons turn again.

Padraig Mannion (Galway), John Power (Kilkenny)

Padraig Mannion (Galway – maroon* shirt), John Power (Kilkenny – black and amber shirt) in the Allianz National Hurling League game earlier this year. (When first published, the colour given here for the Galway shirt was ‘burgundy.’  However, I have been advised that the official colour is maroon. I must have been thinking of the 16th century wine trade between Galway and Spain!)

When does the autumn (the Fall to you North Americans) begin? Traditionally in Ireland it started on the first day of August. A meteorologist would state 1st September is the scientific date. Parents would suggest it starts when the children go back to school (this year some schools opened during the last full week in August!). But more and more in Ireland it seems to be the first Sunday in September, that is 6th September this year. All because of a hurling match.

As noted last year, the first Sunday in September is sacrosanct in hurling circles in Ireland – it’s the date of the All Ireland Hurling Championship Final in Croke Park, Dublin. This year’s final will be contested between last year’s winners Kilkenny (known as the ‘Cats’) and Galway (the ‘Tribesmen’). Having shocked everybody by defeating Tipperary in a thrilling semi-final, Galway are very welcome contestants for Kilkenny – and I’m saying this as a Corkman! Much as I admire Kilkenny, I feel the time has come for somebody to snatch the Liam McCarthy Cup away from them, if only to keep them on their toes!.Besides they’ve won that trophy seven times in the last nine years. Galway are aspiring to prise Kilkenny’s grip from the McCarthy cup for their first title since 1988! For this match, neutrals will be as rare as hen’s teeth.

The nobleman Culainn had a ferocious guard hound (cu) that was killed by the boy Setanta who struck a sliotar (hurling ball) down the hound's throat. Setanta then offered to become Culainn's new guard hound. Hence the name he was given - Cu Chulainn, or Culainn's Hound.

The nobleman Culainn had a ferocious guard hound (cu) that was killed by the boy Setanta who struck a sliotar (hurling ball) down the hound’s throat. Setanta then offered to become Culainn’s new guard hound. Hence the name he was given – Cu Chulainn, or Culainn’s Hound. Hurling is still a game that creates near mythical heroes.

The weather forecast looks good – dry and sunny with some small risk of showers hater (hopefully MUCH later). We’re enjoying something of an Indian summer at present although the temperatures are not exceptional. It’s dry – that’s all that matters!

For anyone who has never seen a game of hurling, I’d say, if you’re visiting Ireland during the summer months – go and watch a local club game! You may not understand it, but someone will try (and usually fail) to explain it to you. Or better, watch a major championship match on television. It’s unlikely you’d get a ticket to the big games – they get snapped up instantly. And remember the players are ALL ‘amateurs’ – that is they are not on a salary of any kind and yet they boast fitness levels that would rival that of most professional footballers on six figure sums. They play for pride of club, parish or county and for the honour of being a hero – in the true Corinthian spirit.

Made of hair. The earliest dates from the later twelfth century - between 1150 and 1200!

Made of matted cow hair with a horsehair covering, these early sliotars (hurling balls) are very different from the modern cork and leather sliotars. The earliest dates from the later twelfth century – between 1150 and 1200! The English tried to suppress hurling but its modern revival dates from the spread of the Gaelic Athletic Association in the 1880s.

Our official national festival is St Patrick’s Day, but to see 80,200 intermingled fans in Croke Park screaming on their respective counties probably gives a better indication of Ireland’s entrenched localism. There is a very real claim that the game is some 2,000 years old, with the modern rules being formulated in 1881, But it seems that the passions aroused by the game  haven’t aged one bit – there’s life in this old game yet!

Hurley used by Pat Madden of Meelick in the 1887 All Ireland Hurling Final against Thurles.

Hurley used by Pat Madden of Meelick in the 1887 All Ireland Hurling Final against Thurles. The modern hurley is somewhat more ergonomic, but every bit as deadly on the field of play.

Kikenny won’t have the mighty Henry Shefflin, who has retired. Not that they missed him – they have so many good players. Galway have already beaten Kikenny in the Allianz Hurling League and will play the irrepressible Joe Canning. Who is likely to win? It’s genuinely difficult to say, but I’m rooting for Galway!

The Brodricks, the ‘bribe’ and the borough of Midleton – Lunchtime talk in Midleton Library.

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

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

Who were the Brodricks of Midleton? Where did they come from? How did they get the land on which Midleton now stands? What was this ‘bribe’?  What did the Corporate Borough of Midleton actually do?

These are just some of the questions to be addressed – but perhaps not fully answered – at a public lunchtime lecture I am presenting in Midleton Library on Friday 29th May 2015 at 1.00 pm.  Expected duration: 45 minutes.

The aim of this lecture is to give some insight into the relationship between the Brodrick family and the Corporation of Midleton up to 1840.  Do come along if you are in the area!