Poor little rich girl – Pauline Roche 1835 – 1894

Although it reads like a novel, Pauline Roche’s tale is not a work of fiction by the Bronte sisters but a riveting tale about a feisty young lady righting a long standing wrong done to her. It is a tale that links Aghada Hall to Rome, and to Ballyadam, near Lisgoold. Here it is told by William Grey in his blog.

Forgotten Victorians

I love Pauline Roche, she’s the sort of relation everyone should have in their family history. Her story is so bizarre that it reads like a novel.

She is John Roche’s great-granddaughter, and in an unintended way, one of the major beneficiaries of his will, at her marriage, she was said to have about £7,000 (roughly £ 7.5m today). So to set her in context; Pauline Roche is Ernest O’Bryen‘s first cousin on her mother’s side. Her mother Jane is John Roche O’Bryen‘s eldest sister. She is also his second cousin on her father’s side, because William Roche, Pauline’s father is their ( Jane and John Roche O’Bryen) first cousin once removed.

Vatican City Bridge and St Peters Vatican City Bridge and St Peters

Pauline was born in Rome in 1835, and her father died the same year, when she was three months old. Her mother died the following year (1836) when she was eleven…

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Dodging flying bullets in Ballincurrig.

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Dodging the bullet – the sport of road bowling is common in East Cork. The village of Ballincurrig holds the most prestigious international competition in the country.

If you just happen to be driving along the road from Rathcormac to Midleton via Ballincurrig and Lisgoold tomorrow and next weekend (14th-16th October) please be VERY careful. You may have to dodge a flying bullet or two! And, no, these ‘bullets’ are not measly little thing expelled by an propellant from a firearm – we’re not talking a gangland or wild west scenario here. The ‘bullets’ are in fact cast iron cannonballs cast along the road by men and women to see who would walk away with the coveted title of King or Queen of the Roads.

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In 1842 Daniel MacDonald painted one of the finest Irish sporting paintings depicting a road bowling match at Castle Mary near Cloyne. The match was held between two gentlemen – Abraham Morris of Dunkathel House (near Glanmire) and a member of the Longfield family of Castle Mary. The landscape is fanciful but the dolmen depicted in the background is thought to be the one in Castle Mary. The painting  was acquired in 1988 by the Crawford Art Gallery in Cork.

Other countries may play genteel games of lawn bowling or boules, but the Irish sport of road bowling is akin to nine pin bowling, without the pins, using an actual cannonball and played on a public road. While out for a stroll today on the Gearagh road linking Ballinacurra to Ladysbridge, I noted some neat and precise lines drawn in chalk right across the road – the start and finish of a road bowling course. These lines reminded me that the annual King and Queen of the Roads contest was due to take place in Ballincurrig this month. Clearly some locals in Ballinacurra were hoping to make the grade with a local contest. At this point it should be noted that road bowling isn’t just a casual affair – it has rules, and is nationally regulated by Bol Cumann na hEireann (Irish Road Bowling Association).

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Not for the faint-hearted. Even women enjoy casting cannonballs along winding Irish country roads. The Queen of the Roads competition celebrates this on 9th October and on 14th to 16th October. 

So what is road bowling? Take a stretch of road (it can be ‘straight’ – there’s an Irish oxymoron!- or winding) and mark out your start line and finish line. Then get the competitors to ‘cast’ or throw an iron ball (bullet) from one end of the course to the other. The winner is the one who gets over the finish line in the fewest throws. (This is why a winding road is so much more exciting than a straight road – if you could even find a straight country road in Ireland!) The missile is a cast iron ball of 3 inches (6.5 centimetres) in diameter weighing 26 ounces (794 grammes). Given the uneven surface on Irish country roads, the sport is much more technical than it might first appear – imagine a golfer setting up for a delicate putt into a hole but on a green with hidden undulations. Road bowling is entirely like this but is played on a hard road surface.

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The bullets or bowls are actually cannonballs. And they do hurt if you don’t jump out of the way fast enough!

Road bowling is concentrated in Counties Cork and Armagh but also has pockets of followers in the counties of Limerick, Louth, Mayo, Monaghan and Waterford. More recently it has gained followers in the counties of Tyrone and Wexford.  However the game may not have been of Irish origin. Until the nineteenth century it was played in Scotland and the north of England too. Astonishingly it was also played in North America – but not because of Irish immigrant influence. The game may have originated with bored Dutch artillerymen in King William of Orange’s armies in the War of the Three Kings in 1689-1691. There is a similar game played today in the Netherlands (klootschieten) and in the neighbouring areas of North West Germany. So there will be an international dimension to the competition in Ballincurrig with Dutch and German competitors contesting the title with Irish competitors.

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A real episcopal bullet from Bishop John Buckley of Cork and Ross!

Along with hurling, camogie (hurling for the ladies), Gaelic football and Irish handball, road bowling is one of the national sports in Ireland, albeit on a very local basis. There you have it. Dodging  ‘bullets’ will be the order of the day in Ballincurrig for the next two weekends.

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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.