Mayhem and murder on Skellig night – the Fenian Rising in East Cork, March 1867.

Castlemartyr 1860

The main street of Castlemartyr from the west in the 1880s. The Fenians attacked from the other end of the street. The Constabulary Barracks was half-way down the street almost directly opposite the Market House. Later, the Royal Irish Constabulary moved into a new barracks closer to this end of the street, where they were attacked in 1920. The entrance to St Joseph’s Catholic Chapel is just behind the horse drawing the first car. Notice the small windows in the gables – an indicator of early to mid eighteenth century construction. Two buildings in Midleton have the same feature, suggesting that Midleton was originally a two storey town, just like Castlemartyr. 

On Friday evening, 31st March 2017, villagers and guests gathered at the village hall in Ballymacoda to be piped to the nearby church of St Peter in Chains where they comemorated the 150th anniversary of the death of Peter O’Neill Crowley, the local Fenian leader who was killed by Crown forces at Kilclooney Wood near Mitchelstown in north Cork – the last act of the Fenian Rising of 1867 in County Cork.

james stephens

The Fenian Brotherhood was an Irish revolutionary republican organisation founded by James Stephens in 1858. Stephens was a participant in the failed 1848 Young Ireland rising, after which he fled to Paris. Following his move to the United States in 1856, Stephens began to recruit conspirators amongst the large Irish community in the US. The outbreak of the American Civil War provided Stephens with the perfect recruiting ground for an immense recruiting campaign. The thousands of Irishmen and Irish-Americans who joined the Union army provided Stephens with an enormous and potentially valuable of trained and experienced soldiers for his organisation. To raise funds, the Fenians issued bonds to be redeemed when an Irish republic was established.  However, very early on, tensions developed between the more hardline Amarican wing of the organisation which wanted a rising to be launched as soon as practicable in Ireland. The British reliance on slave-grown, and harvested, cotton from the Confederate states left an unwelcome odour in US political circles so that when the Fenians launched ‘invasions’ of British North America (Canada) in 1866, several US politicians didn’t feel it necessary to take drastic action against them.

The Fenians also managed to recruit about 7,000 men in the British regiments based in Ireland. However, the Brotherhood had been thoroughly penetrated by British agents and the enormity of the Fenian recruitment of trained soldiers in the army appalled the government and prompted the authorities to start rotating regiments from Ireland. They also swooped on the Fenian leadership in Ireland in September 1866, effectively paralyzing the Irish command structure. Early in 1867 James Stephens was overthrown as leader in a coup within the Fenian Brotherhood and the new leaders settled on launching a rising on 5th March – Shrove Tuesday.

Kilmallock barracks 1867

Killmallock Barracks, County Limerick, following the Fenian attack in 1867. The Constables and their wives defended it against a large force of Fenians.

 

The night of 5th March was also known as Skellig Night in Munster – it was, effectively, an Irish Carnival, although the puritanically minded Catholic Church tried to discourage such folk festivities. In Midleton, people ‘knocked about’ – that is they made merry and created harmless if noisy mayhem in their last opportunity to let their hair down  before Lent began next morning.

On Skellig Night, the night of Shrove Tuesday, 5th March 1867, four constables, Greany, O’Brien, O’Donnell and Sheedy, left the police barracks on Main Street, Midleton, to patrol the town. They turned north to eventually patrol the Cork Road. They then returned to the Barracks to consult the Head Constable. Oddly, it was on the Cork Road  that a carpenter called Timothy Daly assembled his force of somewhere between thirty and forty men, armed with a few guns, pikes and agricultural tools. It is not entirely known how the two groups of men managed to avoid each other but it seems likely that the Midleton Fenians assembled when the coast was clear, a likely event if they had monitored the regular patrols from the barracks.

The Fenians marked in military formation carrying sloped arms down the lenght of Main Street. Twice in the darkness the Fenians were approached by townspeople and asked who they were – one man thought that they were a large police patrol. (It should be noted that the Midleton Gas Company had been established 1859, but it is not certain how many public gas lights there were on Main Street at the time.} The Fenians marched to the southern end of Main Street and reassembled their men at Lewis Bridge where they redressed their ranks by the National Bank. This is where the four constables encountered them having resumed their patrol from the police barracks. The Fenians trapped the police within a semi-circle, with the wall and high wooden gates of Mr Green’s house behind the constables.

Bank House 2

The former National Bank at the Rock in Midleton was where the Fenians assembled to confront the patrol of four constables. The encounter left constables wounded – Patrick Sheedy soon died of his wounds.

The Fenians challenged the police in the ‘Name of the Irish Republic’ to surrender and give up their arms. Tim Daly reached for Sub-Constable O’Donnell’s gun and as the two men struggled over the gun, a shot rang out and Sub-Constable Patrick Sheedy fell mortally wounded. Next, Constable O’Donnell was shot in the head but only lightly wounded. The other two constables fled, in opposite directions as a fusillade rang out.

Rock Terrace 2

Witness to murder: the occupants of these houses would have witnessed the Fenians shooting Constables O’Donnell and Sheedy. Note the date of construction made out in yellow brick on the right – 1861.

The Fenians then stripped the fallen constables of their arms and munitions, and then in marched up Chapel Road towards Ballinacurra. From Ballinacurra they took the Gereagh Road to Ladysbridge. That village is the meeting point of five roads, so it was the assembly point for groups from Aghada, Cloyne and other places in the district.

AS the events in Midleton were taking place Peter O’Neill Crowley led the Ballimacoda Fenians in a raid on the Coastguard Station in Knockadoon. Nobody was hurt in the raid but the entire stock of guns and ammunition was removed from the Coastguard Station.  Taking the coastguard men as prisoners, the Fenians then marched via Killeagh to Mogeely where the prisoners were released. The Fenians then moved north of Mogeely to Bilberry Hill to await the other groups from Midleton and elsewhere.

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The coastguard station at Ring, Knockadoon. There si some question as to whether this structure is the one attacked by the Fenians on 5th March 1867 or a replacement. Evidence of fortification suggests that is dates from AFTER the Fenian raid – landowners once again began to build ‘fortified’ houses after 1867!

Meanwhile, earlier in the evening in Castlemartyr, the police were alerted to large fire at a farm haggard in Gortnahomna, just east of the village, belonging Mr Walker. When the police arrived, Head-Constable O’Connell became very suspicious and promptly decided to order his men back to barracks – no doubt to the horror of Mr Walker. Once they were back in their barracks the police promptly went into what is now called ‘lockdown’ – they got their guns ready, closed the shutters and fortified the building. (Note: this was not the building the constabulary occupied in 1921 but another building almost directly across from the Market House where Abernethy’s Garage later operated from.)

Captain John McClure,  leading the combined force from Ladysbridge, assembled his his men at the crossroads on the eastern side of Castlemartyr, across the river from the Main Street.  He then proceeded up the street to call on the constables to open up and surrender, but they refused. Calling for volunteers, McClure ordered Tim Daly and his men to attack the barracks.  A gunfight ensued, waking some of the villagers who opened their windows to see what was up. The Fenians ordered them to shut their windows and stay indoors, while the attack was continuing. The six constables in the barracks, trained and well armed, were able to hold off the Fenians, and one constable, firing from a side window, shot Tim Daly. The wounded man managed to move ten perches (fifty metres) from where he was shot, and he died partially on the pavement and partially on the roadway – almost exactly the same as Sub-Constable Sheedy in Midleton, as was noted at the Coronor’s inquest into Sheedy’s death. Daly laft a wife and eight children.

Abernethy's garage

The original Constabulary Barracks in Castlemartyr was apparently in this building which later became one of the best known motor garages in East Cork when the Constabulary were moved to another building in Castlmartyr..

When the Fenians retreated back across Castlemartyr bridge the Head Constable O’Connell led his men out to clear their attackers off. However, when they got to the bridge the realized how many men opposed them and retreated to the security of the barracks. It was later claimed that the Fenians had barricaded the bridge, but there was never any evidence for this. The police probably thought that discretion was the better part of valour.

Abernethy's Garage side

The narrow side window from which Tim Daly was apparently shot can be clearly seen in this image. It was an excellent building from which to control the main street of Castlemartyr.

Captain McClure then led the main body of his force to Killeagh from where they vanished – supposedly in the direction of Tallow in County Waterford. In fact many of them almost certainly ended up in Kilclooney Wood between Mitchelstown and Kilmallock. The next morning saw a train arrive at Mogeely railway halt from Youghal to disgorge companies of the 67th Regiment to take control of Castlemartyr. Peter O’Neill-Crowley and his men, waiting patiently but surely forlornly at Bilberry Hill, spotted this and realised that the rising must have failed. Some time later another train arrived – from Cork. This disgorged Companies of the 14th Regiment who replaced the 16th Regiment in Castlemartyr, while the rest of the 14th Regiment occupied Midleton. The Market House tin Midleton was pressed into service as a temporary army base.

A number of men were arrested in Midleton and Castlemartyr and rapidly hauled before the magistrates to await trial for treason before a special commission that was established almost immediately.

midleton-market-house-clock

The Market House in Midleton (now the library) was used as a base by the 14th Regiment the day after the failed Fenian rising.

Meanwhile various groups of Fenians gathered at Kilclooney Wood. It was there on 31st March that a force of police and soldiers found and attacked them . One man was shot – Peter O’Neill Crowley from Ballymacoda. He was gravely wounded and taken immediately to Mitchelstown where here died some hours later. His funeral a few days later was one of the biggest in County Cork. O’Neill Crowley’s body was carried on the shoulders of supporters all the way from Mitchelstown to Ballymacoda (a distance of about sixty MILES)! The irony of the whole incident was that one of the leaders of the Crown forces was Edward Redmond, the Resident Magistrate in Lismore, and uncle of John Redmond, the leader of the Irish Parliamentary Party who eventually obtained the passage of Home Rule Act of 1914, and of Willie Redmond who died on the Western Front during the Great War.

In early April, the Lord Lieutenant of County Cork, Lord Fermoy, who lived at Trabolgan, summoned a meeting of the magistrates of Imokilly to meet at Midleton Courthouse to discuss the rising and to express their support for, and admiration of ,the work of the police in suppressing the rising. Constable O’Connell was highly commended for his actions in Castlemartyr, and condolences were expressed to Constable Sheedy’s widow.

Manning Tower Fota

Manning Tower, a Napoleonic era martello tower, located between Fota and Great Island, was attacked and raided, with nobody being hurt, in December 1867. This was the only martello tower ever ‘taken’ by an enemy and the raid led to the closure of martello towers as military installations in 1868.

In September, the rescue of two Fenian prisoners from a police van in Manchester led to the accidental death of a police sergeant and the subsequent manhunt eventually resulted in the capture of five men, of whom three were later tried for murder. the Three men were found guilty of murder, despite the flimsy evidence. They were condemned to hang. The men were Philip Allen, Michael Larkin, and Michael O’Brien. who was born in Ightermurrogh, between Ladysbridge and Ballymacoda. O’Brien’s childhood home has long been demolished. This probably happened not long after his father, John O’Brien, was evicted from his farm by the Earl of Shannon despite being fully paid up in all his rents and any arrears. Michael O’Brien had fought in the American Civil War and was an American citizen.

The final act of the Fenian year in Cork came in December when ‘Captain Mackey’ (as pseudonym for a man called Lomasney) managed to raid Maiining Tower, the martello tower situated between Fota and Great Island. Mannin Tower was the only martello tower in Britain or Ireland to be successfully ‘attacked’ and ‘taken’ by an enemy force. This led, in early 1868, to the decommissioning of all martello towers in Britain and Ireland.

The Fenian Rising of 1867 was suppressed by the police – the military forces were hardly involved, except to secure ‘infected’ areas following the uprising. This was why Queen Victoria granted permission for the Irish Constabulary to be renamed the Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) in September 1867.

One question must be asked: did the Fenians use ‘Skellig Night’ revels as a cover for assembling their forces?

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The 1867 Fenian Rising in Midleton, 5th and 6th March – 150 years ago this month.

1798-statue

Mistakenly called ‘The Fenian Man’ this statue actually commemorates the birth of Irish republicanism in the United Irishmen’s rebellions of 1798 – nearly seventy years BEFORE the 1867 Fenian Rising. However, the Fenian rebels who marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr did assemble at the Fair Green beyond the trees in the background.

In front of the Courthouse in Midleton there stands a recently erected life-sized bronze figure of a man holding a pike. The popular local name for this figure is ‘The Fenian Man‘. Unfortunately the name is a misnomer. The figure actually represents a participant in 1798 rebellion of the United Irishmen – almost seven decades before the Fenian Rising. Many people in Midleton do not realise that the housing scheme called Tim Daly Terrace is actually the town’s real monument to Midleton’s role in the 1867 Fenian Rising.

The Fenian Rising is usually associated with other parts of the country , such as Tallaght in County Dublin and  Kilmallock in County Limerick. Yet, on the evening of March 5th 1867 about fifty men led by Tim Daly assembled at the Fair Green in Midleton to march ‘in military order‘ to Castlemartyr where they planned to attack the Constabulary barracks there Two police constables were shot at the Rock, Midleton, one, Sub-Constable Sheedy, being fatally wounded. The column continued to Castlemartyr via Ballinacurra and Ladysbridge, attracting further groups on the way. The attack on  Castlemartyr police barracks was fought off by the police, but it led to Tim Daly’s death. Daly left a wife and eight children. Sub-Constable Sheedy left a wife and seven children.

Damian Shiels’s blog Midleton Archaeology and Heritage Project gives an excellent account of the Fenian Rising in Midleton in 1867: https://midletonheritage.com/2012/12/14/midleton-and-the-1867-fenian-rising/

One of the ironies of Midleton’s involvement in the Fenian Rising is that almost exactly a month later the Christian Brothers opened their school in Midleton. The nationalist republican interpretation of Irish history is often called ‘the Christian Brothers’ version’ of Irish history. The present author’s personal experience of studying history at the same CBS Secondary School in the early 1980s is worth noting – Midleton (and East Cork’s) role in the Fenian Rising was entirely ignored!

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!

Life a hundred years ago – National Heritage Week 2016

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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

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

Even the ducks have flown – Midleton’s history of flooding.

Midletonflood3

The from Lewis Bridge of the flooded southern end of Main Street, Midleton, on Wednesday morning, 30th December. (Irish Examiner)

Walking by the banks of the Owenacurra River, the principal river on which Midleton stands, I have noticed in recent weeks that even the family of ducks which frequent the place have now flown. Only the herons are still in residence. That’s how serious the rainfall has been since November, exacerbated by the sudden flooding of parts of Midleton on the night of Tuesday 29th December and on the morning of Wednesday 30th December 2015. However, the history of flooding in Midleton goes much further back – it’s a reality of the town that simply hasn’t been properly addressed.

One of the best early descriptions of flooding in Midleton is that from 1895: this flood happened on a Saturday night/Sunday morning and saw the Owenacurra River overflow its banks between Ballyedmond and Ballinacurra. ‘…all the low lying lands…are deeply flooded to a greater extent and depth than has been seen before by the oldest inhabitant.’  So severe was the flooding that the streets and sidewalks (the original word in the text) were ‘.…deeply submerged during the day causing much inconvenience to pedestrians going to and returning from their respective places of worship, many of them having to employ cars to convey them over the flooded portions of the town.

Midletonfloodexaminer

View over the flooded area of the distillery (mid-ground) towards the west. The disused railway line to Youghal is represented by the double of row of trees on the right. The flooded rugby club is just above the distillery. (Irish Examiner)

In 1911 another flood proved, perhaps, more devastating, because it happened on a Saturday, a busy market day: the flooding was caused by a massive thunderstorm lasting from about 10.30 am to about 3.30 pm accompanied by flashing lightning that terrified both the people of the town and draft animals.The worst of the storm happened between 12.00 noon and 1.30 pm. The deluge proved so bad that vehicular traffic had difficulty making its way through the town. The lower end of the Main Street was several inches deep in water and ‘…presented the appearance of initiating a lake.’ The lower part of Thomas Street was inundated to a depth of three feet and cellars on Main Street began to fill with water.

The flash flooding of 1920 left many homes deluged and even threatened the lives of animals who had gone into the Owenacurra or Roxborough rivers. The depth of the flooding reach some five or six feet The lower part of Thomas Street was inundated to a depth of three feet, with seven or eight houses being abandoned as the inhabitants sought refuge elsewhere. The cellars on Main Street began to fill with water.

Midletonfloodmirror

The onset of the flooding on Main Street, Midleton, on the night of Tuesday 29th  December. (Irish Mirror)

What is too frequently forgotten is that the centre  of Midleton is a low lying area between two rivers – the Owenacurra on the west and the Roxborough/Dungourney River on the south. Although the land between these rivers is not entirely flat (indeed there is an outcrop of rock at one point) most of it is quite flat, but deceptive. Midleton is usually, but incompletely, described as being on the Owenacurra River, but the more dangerous river is almost certainly the Roxborough. This is the river that has flooded the lower end of Main Street frequently in recent years. The trouble with the Roxborough is that it is barely noticeable in the town – people just drive over Lewis Bridge to and from Main Street, not realizing that the river below the bridge is a strongly flowing stream that can flood very rapidly. The Roxborough is fed not only by its main stream coming from Dungourney but also by a watercourse coming from Loughaderra and Ballybutler in the east, near Castlemartyr.

Midletonfloodecho2

View down the flooded southern end of Main Street, Midleton, on Wednesday 30th December 2015. Note the ripples caused by a strong southerly wind blowing the water up the street. (Irish Examiner)

There is an opinion that the railway line that was built to link Midleton and Youghal to Cork in 1858-1860 may actually follow an original ancient dried up course of the Roxborough/Dungourney River just to the north of the town. This was the area that was badly flooded on 29th and 30th December 2015, as was part of the modern distillery, and the areas along the Dungourney Road, including the Rugby Club (the latter being under several feet of water) and several houses. The route of the railway line runs directly alongside these sites.

The trouble with the Owenacurra is that it reaches a pinch-point where the Cork Road Bridge stands. There is a ridge of higher ground bringing the Cork Road into Midleton with a corresponding area of somewhat raised land on the other side around the courthouse. This can lead to the floodwater in the Owenacurra backing up on the northern side of the bridge. To complicate matters, several houses were built very close to the river in the latter years of the twentieth century, often on low ground.

The background to all this is the almost persistent rain since early November (seven storms in eight weeks, with more rainfall in between) adding up to a record rainfall for the month of December – indeed the rainfall in December alone was the equivalent of THREE MONTHS of winter rainfall! The two rivers and their tributary streams were full to saturation and almost contantly in full spate. The exceptionally high tides coming in from the sea, as well as a strong southerly wind all contributed to the conditions for a perfect storm leading to a flood. The arrival of Storm Frank on the 29th December was the spark that led to disaster. The two rivers burst their banks – but, fortunately, the Roxborough/Dungourney didn’t completely burst its banks – that would have been a true catastrophe.

Flood2015

The N25 linking Cork to Waterford and Rosslare flooded between Castlemartyr and Killeagh. The flood was so bad that it took a week of pumping to clear the road for traffic. (Evening Echo)

No warning was given by the County Council of an immanent flood threat. The flooding started during the night of 29th and rapidly became very serious indeed. Families were evacuated from their homes in several areas and one family was rescued from a car trapped between two flooding streets. The Defence Forces were called upon to use their high-axle trucks to drive through the floods to rescue people. The Midleton Park Hotel, Midleton College and the Castlemartyr Resort Hotel all accommodated evacuated families. Meanwhile the waters were spreading. It was the combined efforts of volunteers, property owners, business owners and the small local council staff that prevent even more properties from flooding. The southern end of Main Street was closed for most of Wednesday 30th, being opened around 6.00 pm.   It is extraordinary that not a single life was lost, despite some houses on the Mill Road being situated below road level!  One observer said that she had lived in Midleton for 84 years and never saw a flood like it.

The 2015 flooding wasn’t just confined to Midleton – parts of Castlemartyr were flooded, as well as Glanmire and Glounthaune. Many local roads were rendered impassable by floods, and the N25 (or Euroroute 1), the main road from Cork to Waterford, was actually closed between Castlemartyr and Killeagh due to a local turlough (a seasonal lake) spreading its waters over a mile of the road. It took a week of pumping to clear the N25 for traffic again. As the flooding has receded people discovered that several of their local roads are now barely passable, if not entirely ruined. The road linking Lisgoold to Midleton and that linking Midleton to Dungourney are in a particularly poor condition.

MidletonfloodSusan

Councillor Susan McCarthy’s photo of the flood on Main Street, Midleton, on the morning of 30th December. The fine stone building across the street is the Pugin building, formerly the Midleton Arms Hotel and more recently McDaid’s Pub. Refurbishment started before Christmas and is still ongoing, although the ground floor got flooded on this occasion. (Councillor Susan McCarthy)

One thing that did emerge was the community spirit – farmer brought in their tractors and tankers to suck up the waters from flooded houses and business premises, and to remove the flood from Main Street, Brodrick Street and other parts of the town. Irish Distillers used their equipment to assist properties on the Dungourney Road whilst clearing the floodwaters from their own property. Many shopkeepers reopened as soon as they could, often within a day of the flooding.

The reality is that Midleton was actually fortunate that matters were not worse than they turned out to be. This is of no comfort to the people evacuated from their flooded homes, or to businesspeople who are still picking up the pieces. Some thirty or so families were evacuated or had to abandon their homes and some forty businesses suffered, some being flooded for the first time ever. Yet, compared with the people living along the banks of the Shannon River (who have been inundated from the middle of December at the latest) and in Bandon (who were flooded twice), Midleton got off relatively lightly.

Regrettably, Midleton IS historically prone to flooding, but thankfully it usually affects just one or two localized parts of the town. The flooding of December 2015 was a severe shock – the lack of warning, the extent of the damage, the closure and even destruction of local roads was a real wake-up call to the people of Midleton. We have to do something about the matter. Hopefully something will come of the public meeting at the Midleton Park Hotel on Tuesday 12th January at 6.30 pm.

Ambush! Where was Walter Raleigh ambushed in Midleton in 1580?

The traditional site of the Seneschal of Imokilly's attempted ambush of Walter Raleigh is usually placed on the Owenacurra River near the present St John the Baptist's Church, Midleton, built on the site of the medieval Cistercian abbey.

The traditional site of the Seneschal of Imokilly’s attempted ambush of Walter Raleigh is usually placed on the Owenacurra River (foreground) near the present St John the Baptist’s Church, Midleton, built on the site of the medieval Cistercian abbey.

‘...in Ireland he was a reprehensible snob and killer.’ Such is Michael Twomey’s blunt assessment of Walter Raleigh published in History Ireland in 2014. Twomey bolsters his assessment with a litany of incompetence and brutality committed by Raleigh during his time in Ireland, with the damning conclusion that Raleigh ‘..added nothing to Youghal’s infrastructure and very little to its economy.‘ And they’ve named a section of the town’s historic center after him!

The Second Desmond Rebellion (1579-1583) which convulsed Munster barely a decade after the previous Desmond Rebellion proved to be devastating for the FitzGerald interest in the province. The Earldom of Desmond went defunct, and ultimately extinct, as a consequence and many estates held since the arrival of the Anglo-Normans in the province in 1177 were confiscated and awarded to English adventurers. The often brutal Walter Raleigh was one of the biggest beneficiaries gaining some 40,000 acres of confiscated lands for his troubles. Edmund Spenser, the celebrated poet who wrote The Faerie Queen, was another beneficiary of the confiscations that followed the crushing of the rebellion.

What is little known (even in Midleton) is that Raleigh’s life might have been rudely cut short if the rebellious Seneschal of Imokilly had got his act together in September 1580!

The incident is recorded in the second edition of Holinshed’s Chronicles which was published in 1587. James Fitzmaurice, leader of the Desmond Rebellion, while on pilgrimage to Holy Cross Abbey in County Tipperary in August 1580 was suddenly killed. This meant that John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, Seneschal of Imokilly, was now the effective military leader of the rebels. Captain Raleigh, based in Cork, had already attacked Barryscourt Castle, near Carrigtwohill, which had been burned by David, Lord Barry, to deny it to the Queen’s forces. The Holinshed chronology seems rather confusing but it actually seems that after Barryscourt, Raleigh had gone to Youghal. After a short time there Raleigh had to return to Cork, and prompted the attempted ambush at Corabbey, now Midleton. It’s best to give the Holinshed version before discussing the incident further. (Note: I’ve modernized the spelling to make it easier for the modern reader. The ‘captain’ in the text refers to Raleigh.)

Sir Walter Raleigh painted in 1588 when he was aged just 34. This elegant portrait gives no idea of the sheer brutality of the man who participated in the massacre of Papal and Spanish forces at Smerwick Harbour near Dingle in 1580, a crime condemned all over Europe.

Sir Walter Raleigh painted in 1588 when he was aged just 34. This elegant portrait gives no idea of the sheer brutality of the man who participated in the massacre of Papal and Spanish forces at Smerwick Harbour near Dingle in 1580, a crime condemned all over Europe.

This captain, making his return from Dublin, and the same well known unto the seneschall of Imokilly, through whose country he was to pass, lay in ambush for him and to entrap him between Youghal and Cork, lying at a ford, which the said captain must pass over with six horsemen and certain kerne, The captain, little mistrusting any such matter, had in his company only two horsemen and four shot on horseback, which was too small a force in so doubtful and dangerous times: nevertheless he had a very good guide, which was the servant of John Fitzedmond of Cloyne, a good subject, and this guide knew every corner and starting hole in those places.

The captain being come towards the ford, the seneschal had spied him alone, his company being scattered behind, and very fiercely pursued him, and crossed him as he was to ride over the water, but yet he recovered the ford and passed over. The Irishman who was his guide, when he saw the captain thus alone and so narrowly distressed, he shifted for himself and fled unto a broken castle fast by, there to save himself. The captain being thus over the water, Henry Moile, riding alone about a a bowshot before the rest of his company, when he was in the middle of the ford, his horse foundered and cast him down; and being afraid that the seneschal’s men would have followed him and have killed him, cried out to the captain to come and to save his life; who not respecting the danger he himself was in, came unto him and recovered both him and his horse. And then Moile, coveting with all haste to leap up, did it with such haste and vehemency that he quite overlept the horse, and fell into the mire fast by, and so his horse ran away, and was taken by the enemy. The captain nevertheless stayed still, and did abide for the coming of the residue of his company, of the four shot which were as yet not come forth, and for his man, Jenkin, who had about two hundred pounds in money about him, and sat upon his horse in the meanwhile, having his staff in one hand and his pistol charged in the other hand. The seneschal, who had so fiercely followed him upon spur, when he saw him to stand and tarry as it were for his coming, notwithstanding he was counted a man (as he was indeed) of great service, and having also a new supply of twelve horsemen and sundry shot come unto him; yet neither he nor any one of them, being twenty to one, durst to give the onset upon him, but only railed and used hard speeches unto him, until his men behind were recovered and were come unto him, then without any further harm departed.

Basically what happened was this: having returned from Dublin, where he was given a new commission to root out rebellion by Lord Deputy Grey, Raleigh had attacked David, Lord Barry, at Barryscourt, but was foiled by Barry’s burning of his own castle. Continuing to Youghal, Raleigh spent a short time there before he took a small escort of mounted men with him to go back to Cork. Their guide was a local man, a servant of John FitzEdmond FitzGerald of Cloyne, a cousin and mortal enemy of the Seneschal of Imokilly. One of the men in Ralaeigh’s party carried two hundred pounds in cash – probably pay for the garrison in Cork. The Seneschal discovered Raleigh’s plan and attempted to ambush him at a ford. Raleigh, riding ahead of his men, evaded the Seneschal’s personal attack and reached the far bank of the river. One of Raleigh’s men, The local guide ran off into a nearby ruined castle to save his life. Henry Moile was thrown from his horse in mid-stream. Raleigh came to his aid but Moile was too eager to remount and fell off his horse into a mire on the riverbank. Raleigh however stood his ground until the rest of the party caught up. The Seneschal, who had twenty men with him, some armed with guns, didn’t bother to attack Captain Raleigh but abused him with insults. When the rest of his men had crossed the stream, Raleigh gathered them up and made his way safely to Cork.

The first point to note is that Raleigh’s party was to pass through the country of the Seneschal of Imokilly – that means he was going from Youghal to Cork, through the barony of Imokilly. This is important because it meant that Raleigh’s movements could easily have been made known to the Seneschal whose seat was at Castlemartyr, although it is unlikely he was actually in residence at the time. But knowledge of Raleigh’s movements would have given the Seneschal time to plot an ambush. It is worth noting that the river (or ford) that Raleigh crossed is not named. There is one important clue – the ‘broken castle fast by.’ There were two castles in the immediate vicinity of Corabbey (Midleton). About half a mile to the east stands the ruin of Cahermone Castle, which had been acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne, the loyal subject of Queen Elizabeth mentioned in the text. This stands on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River. The other castle was Castleredmond. No longer extant, Castleredmond stood on the shore of the Owenacurra Estuary at its narrowest point. However, given the silting of the Ballinacurra Creek and the Owenacurra Estuary especially since about 1900 it simply isn’t possible to suggest that this was the site of the ford where the ambush took place.  Indeed there is no known historical evidence for a ford at that point. The third option is that the ‘broken castle’ was actually the ruined Cistercian abbey of Chore, on the site of the present St John the Baptist’s Church in Midleton. This was indeed ‘fast by’ the fordable river Owenacurra, which marked the boundary between Imokilly and Barrymore baronies. However it seems highly unlikely, given the apparent eye-witness account of the ambush, that the narrator mistook a ruined abbey for a ‘broken castle.’  In short there is only one place where this ambush might have happened – on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River near Cahermone and NOT on the Owenacurra River.

In addition, it’s worth noting that the Owenacurra has lost much of its volume of water, and indeed can almost dry up entirely, because so much of the water is siphoned off upstream to supply the town of Midleton. The Roxborough River, despite being previously diverted into the distillery, has always been blessed with a good and rather deep flow of water. Given the proximity of Cahermone Castle, I’m inclined to place the ambush on the Roxborough rather than on the Owenacurra. Add to this is the mention of the ‘mire’ into which Henry Moile fell – there is an area of bogland next to the Roxborough River which probably extended further east towards Cahermone before the land was reclaimed in the seventeenth or eighteenth century. it should be noted that the townland of Park South straddles the Roxborough between Townparks (marking the center of Midleton) and Cahermone. Park South (along with Park North) formed part of Sir St John Brodrick’s deerpark as authorized in the Charter of Midleton of 1670.

The ruins of Cahermone Castle with the later additon on the right. The castle was acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne who supplied the guide for Raleigh's party in 1580. This is most likely the 'broken castle' in which the guide took refuge during the attempted ambush.

The ruins of Cahermone Castle with the later additon on the right. The castle was acquired in 1571 by John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne who supplied the guide for Raleigh’s party in 1580. This is most likely the ‘broken castle’ in which the guide took refuge during the attempted ambush. The castle stands on the banks of the Roxborough or Dungourney River.

The comic detail of Henry Moile over-leaping his horse in mid-stream suggests that the Holinshed source was actually present at the ambush and recounted it to amuse the company but also to display his courage in standing by his hapless colleague. In addition the detail that Jenkin had two hundred pounds in coin in his possession is very telling. it was a considerable sum of money at the time.

Unfortunately the Seneschal of Imokilly, John FitzEdmund FitzGerald (NOT the gentleman from Cloyne!), does not come out of the affair with much credit. Indeed, the whole incident is redolent of hesitation and uncertainty on the part of the Seneschal and his men. Raleigh attempted to ford the river under the direction of a guide provided of John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, a Catholic gentleman who was both Dean of Cloyne (but a layman for all that) and a staunch supporter of Queen Elizabeth I. At this stage FitzGerald was very likely safely shut up in Cork, for Cloyne had fallen to his cousin, the Seneschal, who had burned much of it. The fact that this Raleigh’s guide had fled to the ruined castle suggests that he was familiar with the place, as he probably would be if he was a servant of John FitzEdmund FitzGerald of Cloyne.

Raleigh comes out of the tale with considerable credit, although one must question his foolishness in traveling through a rebellious country from Youghal to Cork with such a scanty force. Perhaps he felt it was sufficiently subdued to warrant the risk. Or perhaps he was in a hurry and a smaller party would make better speed than a larger one. It could well be that he just couldn’t spare the men and had to leave some to garrison Youghal.

Barryscourt Castle, Carrigtwohill, was extensively refurbished by David, Lord Barry, after he had burned it to deny it to Raleigh in 1580. Raleigh later tried to get Queen Elizabeth I to grant it to himself, but she refused,   preferring to keep the Barrys on side.

Barryscourt Castle, Carrigtwohill, was extensively refurbished by David, Lord Barry, after he had burned it to deny it to Raleigh in 1580. Raleigh later tried to get Queen Elizabeth I to grant it to himself, but she refused, preferring to keep the Barrys on side. The castle was restored by the Office of Public Works at the end of the twentieth century. 

The specific details given in the story and the description of the site of the ambush all point to one conclusion – Walter Raleigh was himself the source of the story in the 1587 Holinshed. This is reinforced by an interesting coda related in the text. Some time after the failed ambush, there was a parley between the Crown and the rebels. Raleigh and the Seneschal were both present and Raleigh took the opportunity to berate the Seneschal for his cowardice during the ambush. One of the Seneschal’s men piped up that his master was indeed a coward that day but was otherwise a valiant man. The Earl of Ormond intervened and suggested a duel to settle the argument, but the Seneschal sensibly demurred. It seemed he preferred to keep his head rather than lose it. After a peace had been arranged (and the rebellion crushed) the Seneschal was allowed, eventually, to return to his residence at Castlemartyr. Some time later he was arrested and imprisoned in Dublin Castle by a suspicious government. There were apparently plans to release him given the lack of any evidence against him, but John FitzEdmund FitzGerald, the last effective Seneschal of Imokilly, died in prison in 1586.

References:-

Holinshed’s Chronicle, 1587: http://www.english.ox.ac.uk/holinshed/texts.php?text1=1587_0542

Michael Twomey: ‘A good heritage/tourism story getting in the way of historical facts?’ History Ireland, Issue 1 (January/February 2014), vol 22.

See:- http://www.historyireland.com/volume-22/good-heritage-tourism-story-getting-way-historical-facts/