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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Glounthaune, formerly New Glanmire and Queenstown Junction (updated).

century. He created fine gardens that were neglected when the house became a hotel in the 1950s.

Ashbourne House in Glounthaune could have been lost in the 1960s. Fortunately it was acquired by the Garde family who rain it into a small hotel and who also maintained the gardens for the enjoyment of their guests. Despite being sold in the year  2000, it is really thanks to them that the house and gardens  survive today.

I’ve updated the post on Glounthaune, formerly New Glanmire and Queenstown Junction to take into account some new information from Mike Garde in respect of the later history of Ashbourne House which became Ashboure House Hotel in 1960. Mike’s family preserved the house and the gardens developed by Richard Beamish at a time when so many of these houses were demolished as too expensive to maintain due to the high council rates. They were also considered too old fashioned, lacking the modern conveniences of running water and modern conveniences. As it was, the auctioneer had removed and sold off some of the plants from the gardens before the Gardes managed to acquire Ashbourne. Without their intervention and care from 1960 to 2000 it is likely that the house and gardens would have been entirely lost or, at best, severely damaged. There is a more detailed history that could be written about Ashbourne after Richard Beamish’s occupancy.

I’d like to thank Mike Garde for alerting me to the new information!

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!.

Glounthaune: formerly New Glanmire and Queenstown Junction.

Glounthaune by Dennis Horgan

Dennis Horgan’s aerial view of the original village of ‘New Glanmire’. The village was built on reclaimed land created in 1780. The railway cut the village off from the mainland in 1859 so a bridge was built to reconnect the village. At the bottom of the picture is GC Ashlin’s Sacred Heart Church which opened1898.n

(Apologies: somehow I pressed ‘publish’ before my draft was completed, and some readers may have read the incomplete and garbled version. To all who were shocked and disappointed by my falling standards, I offer my apologies! Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa! You’ll be glad to know that someone very kindly alerted me to my mistake and I’ve completed the post as intended. Furthermore I have recently – October 2015 – had new information from Mike Garde who had some fascinating insights into Ashbourne House/Hotel and its history and gardens. I wish to thank him for getting in touch with me on the subject and providing the information to correct some mistakes and to update the post!) 

Many Irish villages have origins lost in the mists of time. But some are very clearly the result of someone’s decision to create a village in a particular spot. This is the case with Glounthaune, located about nine or ten kilometers east of Cork. Until recently all traffic for Midleton, Youghal, Waterford and Rosslare had to go via Glounthaune. However the completion of the dual carriageway from Dunkettle to Midleton put an end to that. Traffic now by-passes Glounthaune, allowing it to slip into a new existence as a very desirable commuter village.

Annmount was built by Riggs Falkiner in 1775 but was heavily modified in the 19th century. It burned down accidentally in 1948. The grounds are now filled with a housing estate.

Annmount was built by Riggs Falkiner in 1775 but was heavily modified in the 19th century. It burned down accidentally in 1948. The grounds are now filled with a housing estate.

The local community have set up a series of sign boards to illustrate and explain the history of the village – which was only created in 1810 by the Falkiner family of Annmount, a local ‘big house’. When I say ‘village’ you must remember that it was a really small place. Firstly, Riggs Falkiner (then MP for Clonakilty, later MP for Castlemartyr) had a quay built in 1780 for the extraction of local stone and importation of coal. This quay extends some distance out into the waters of the inner reaches of Cork Harbour to ensure that vessels would not ground on the mudbanks. The local parish priest, Fr Murtagh Keane, had a chapel built there in 1803, at a cost of £500 or £600. . A village began to grow up around the quay and the chapel, but in 1819, the local landlord, Sir William Falkiner, had some ‘superior dwellings’ erected in New Glanmire to create a planned village laid out on a T-plan. Sir William’s dwellings were given some of the highest valuations for ordinary houses by th Griffith Valuation – the houses or cottages were valued at £3.10 which was very high compared to the national average of £1.

The sea wall at Glounthaune is built of Little Island limestone. This view shows how vulnerable the original village is to rising sea levels.

The sea wall at Glounthaune is built of Little Island limestone. This view shows how vulnerable the original village is to rising sea levels.

In the 1830s the village got a National School, which by 1837 catered for some 250 pupils. A new school building was erected in the village in 1901, which, happily, is still in use, but as a community center. The current National School is now located on high ground overlooking the village. In the meantime, vast changes had taken place that affected not only the topography of the village, but also its transport links.

Glounthaune's former National School was built in 1901. Beautifully preserved, it now serves as the community center.

Glounthaune’s former National School was built in 1901. Beautifully preserved, it now serves as the community center.

The creation of the village led to the making of a new road on the shoreline to link Cork to Midleton and Youghal.  However the only access to this road from Cork was still by way of the bridge in Glanmire. Up to this point the only route to the east from Cork was by boat, as Arthur Young experienced in the 1770s, or via the upper road from Glanmire which ran along the crest of the hills above ‘New Glanmire.’This road passed over what was popularly known as the ‘Dry Bridge’, or Lackenroe Bridge. The bridge was constructed in 1811 by Sir Samuel Falkiner to provide a smooth road from his house at Annemount, overlooking Glounthaune, to Cork on one side and Midleton and Youghal on the other side. The ordinary people at the time didn’t understand the word viaduct, so this bridge was given its popular name. It still stands as one of the most famous fearures of the village. The bridge also allowed the creation of a proper paved road down the steep hill to ‘New Glanmire’, probably replacing an old trackway. The Lackenroe Bridge is still a landmark in Glounthaune, and causes headaches for truck drivers who don’t realize that their trucks might just get caught under the bridge.

Lackenroe Bridge is a viaduct built in 1811 to carry the old main road from Cork over the road leading down to the village of 'New Glanmire'.

Lackenroe Bridge is a viaduct built in 1811 to carry the old main road from Cork going right to left  over the road leading down to the village of ‘New Glanmire’ (on the right). Its popular name was the ‘Dry Bridge’ because it didn’t cross a stream.

The most important changes came about in the late 1850s when the Cork to Youghal railway was built along the shoreline. The embankment to carry the track smoothened out the shoreline and created a series of ‘ponds’ on the landward side. The line from Dunkettle to Midleton was completed by 10th November 1859 and reached Youghal by May 1861. By that time the Cork and Youghal Railway Company had been amalgamated with the Great Southern and Western Railway, which proceeded to built the line linking Glounthaune to Queenstown (now Cobh) by 1862. In 1896, the line from Glounthaune to Youghal, vial Carrigtwohill, Midleton and Killeagh was downgraded to a branch line, with the Queenstown line being upgraded to a main line. This was the route that so many Irish emigrants took to meet their passage to North America. Railway halt at Glounthaune was initially called New Glanmire Junction. Then it became Queenstown Junction in 1866, Cobh Junction in 1925 and finally became Glounthaune Station in 1994. With the final closure of the line from Glounthaune to Midleton and Youghal in 1978, Glounthaune became a mere suburban halt on the Cobh line. But the reopening of the rail link with Midleton in 2009 made Glounthaune a busy spot again, since it was now possible to travel by rail from Midleton to Cobh – and Fota Wildlife Park!

Sacred Heart Church replaces a chapel built in 1803. The present church opened in 1898 and was designed by George Coppinger Ashlin, who was born in nearby Little Island.

Sacred Heart Church replaces a chapel built in 1803. The present church opened in 1898 and was designed by George Coppinger Ashlin, who was born in nearby Little Island.

One effect of the building of the railway was the demolition of the chapel built in 1803 and its replacement by a new building designed by George Coppinger Ashlin, which was opened in 1898. Ashlin recycled his design for the church at Ballyhooley for the church at Glounthaune, although it seems likely that  the parish priest at the time specifically asked for this design. Today, Sacred Heart Church remains the most distinctive monument viewed as one passes the village – for the original village was cut off by the railway line and a bridge was built to link it to the new road on the northern side of the railway. The church stands directly opposite this bridge, close to the site of the original chapel of 1803.

Ashbourne House was the residence of Richard Beamish in the early 20th century. He created fine gardens that were neglected when the house became a hotel in the 1950s.

Ashbourne House was the residence of Richard Beamish in the second half of the 19th century. Beamish created the fine gardens with plants and trees from all over the world on the triangular grounds between the Old Cork Road (up the hill) and the New Cork Road running along the waterfront.  It was later bought by the Hallinan family, who ran the Avoncore Mills in Midleton.  They maintained the gardens into the 20th century, until it was put up for sale. After a few years of lying empty the house was finally bought by the Garde family who turned it into a hotel and proceeded to restore the gardens for the enjoyment of their guests. It is thanks to the Gardes that these gardens were listed for protection. Sadly with the closure and sale of the hotel the gardens have not been maintained to the same standard.

One claim to fame that Glounthaune has is the rich planting of specimen trees, especially conifers, from all over the world, but especially from the west coast of North America – at times the place feels like parts of Northern California. These trees and other shrubs were planted by the occupants of the ‘big houses’ such as Annmount and Ashbourne House. Ashbourne House was the home of Richard Beamish in the late nineteenth century. He used the railway halt directly opposite his house for importing specimen plants for his gardens. (No doubt the denizens of Fota did the same, with their very own railway halt!) Richard Beamish, scion of the brewing family that made up one half of the Cork brewers Beamish and Crawford, was recognized for his contribution to propagating plants when a poppy was named for him – Meconopsis Beamishii.  With its sheltered position and sunny southerly aspect, it is no wonder that Glounthaune became a favoured habitat for wonderful specimen plants from the late 1800s. Ashbourne was later acquired by the Hallinan family who ran the Avoncore Mills in Midleton (formerly Hackett’s Distillery). The Hallinans employed some of their mill workers to develop the gardens at Ashbourne – given that their mill was close to the railway in Midleton, it was easy for such workers to get to Ashbourne to work there! The Hallinans kept up the gardens (one would love to know what additions were made by them) but eventually they sold Ashbourne in the 1960s. It appears that the auctioneer removed some of the more valuable plants to Dublin before the sale of the house! The development of the house into a hotel secured its future, with the gardens being carefully maintained throughout these years. Sadly the closure of the hotel in the year 2000 and its current use as an asylum seekers reception center means that the gardens are not properly maintained. The good news is that the grounds are actually listed for protection, so there’s hope for restoring them!

Meconopsis Beamishii - Glounthaune's 'national flower'?

Meconopsis Beamishii – Glounthaune’s ‘national flower’?