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

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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!

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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.

Midleton House and, er, the other Midleton House…..a tale of two houses and one name.

Midleton House at the southern end of Main Street only acquired the name around 1896 when the Ordnance Survey noted it. This was the house that almost led to my being 'handbagged' in August 2014!

Midleton House at the southern end of Main Street only acquired the name around 1896 when the Ordnance Survey noted it. This was the house that almost led to the present author being ‘handbagged’ in August 2014! Note the huge grain store at the extreme left of the picture, behind the house. Until the 1930s it was the residence of the Coppinger family.

During a tour of Midleton during Heritage Week at the end of August 2014, I was nearly handbagged by a group of ‘Old Midleton’ ladies who’d joined the tour. Their outrage was sparked by my use of the name ‘Midleton House’ while referring to the very first house at the southern end of Main Street. But this was not the building standing across the river from it that ThEY called Midleton House.You will be glad to know that handbags were not employed on this occasion, because I managed to deflect their collective ire by promising them a juicy piece of gossip!

One of the mysteries of Midleton is why the town has two houses, each called Midleton House, facing each other across the narrow Roxborough or Dungourney River. Now there are a lot of people in Midleton who would object that the above statement is factually incorrect – like the ladies on my tour, they would assert, beyond any fear of contradiction, that there is only ONE Midleton House. Well, let’s look at this matter more carefully.

When I lived in Limerick, I had heard a rumour that the town council had directed the owners of the house at the southern end of Main Street to remove a new house sign bearing the name Midleton House. The tale I heard was that the council asserted that the other house directly across the river was Midleton House, and that no other house was entitled to the name. Now I haven’t corroborated this tale, but I can think of a perfectly good reason why the council might have objected to a sign – but it has nothing to do with the name of the house. My concern would be that the original forged and cast iron railings might be harmed by the addition of a new sign. This, in my opinion is the ONLY proper objection that the council should have had to the sign – NOT the ‘fact’ that there was only one house entitled to the name ‘Midleton House.’

So, it’s time to examine why Midleton has two houses with the same name apparently glaring at each other across the river.

The first thing to note is that the first edition Ordnance Survey map shows both houses in the 1840s. But only one house is actually named – this is the house on the southern bank of the Roxborough or Dungourney River. It is called Lewis Place – a name that is virtually unknown in Midleton, despite the fact that the house is located next to Lewis Bridge. The lawn at the front of the house contained a well – Lewis Well, now covered over and entirely forgotten.

Recorded on the first edition Ordnance Survey map as Lewis Place, this mid-18th century house acquired the name Midleton House by 1856. It was the residence of the Greene family from the 1790s until the early twentieth century.

Recorded on the first edition Ordnance Survey map as Lewis Place, this mid-18th century house on the south bank of the Roxborough River acquired the name Midleton House by 1856. It was the residence of the Greene family from the 1790s until the early twentieth century. It is currently boarded up and for sale.

One might ask who was Lewis? That a house, bridge and well should be named after him suggests someone of improtance. The answer is that we simply don’t know, although Charles Smith’s History and Character of the the County and City of Cork (1750) notes that some of the monuments in St John the Baptist churchyard (C of I) bore the family name Lewis. So the family must have been resident in the town or parish into the middle of the eighteenth century. And this is important, for clearly the house is older than its earliest recorded deed from the 1790s, when it was leased to Rev Mr Greene, a onetime Sovereign of Midleton. The slope of the roof and the placement of windows and door at the front suggest that it even LOOKS older, with a bit of gentle modernisation around 1800. I suspect that a date somewhere between 1750 and 1760 is about right. At one point this house enjoyed a view right up the entire length of the Main Street towards the mill at the northern end of the town.

First edition Ordnance Survey map of Midleton showing Lewis Place (outlined in green) on the south bank of the Roxborough or Dungourney River and the Coppinger residence (outlined in red) on the north bank at the end of the Main Street.

First edition Ordnance Survey map of Midleton showing Lewis Place (outlined in green) on the south bank of the Roxborough or Dungourney River and the Coppinger residence (outlined in red) on the north bank at the end of the Main Street.

Sadly, the view is no longer open because the trees and shrubs planted in the front garden of the house across the river have grown up to block the vista. THAT house is clearly a much later building than Lewis Place. The size and disposition of the windows and door, as well as the shallower slope of the roof, and the good manners of the house in following line of the western side of the Main Street all suggest a building from about 1790 – 1800. Behind this building is a large yard and a huge grain store, about six to seven storeys in height. Until the 1930s the yard was known as Coppinger’s Yard thus revealing the name of the family that developed the site at the end of the eighteenth century. This house was NOT not given a name in the first edition Ordnance Survey map. It is worth noting that Coppingers Brewery stood across the Main Street from the yard.

Midleton House is the name given to BOTH the Coppinger house on the north side of the river and the Green house formerly Lewis Place on the south side of the river in 1896.

Midleton House is the name given to BOTH the Coppinger house on the north side of the river and the Greene house, formerly Lewis Place, on the south side of the river in 1896. Surprisingly Lewis Well is still there in the middle of the lawn!

Returning to our Ordnance Survey maps, but this time to the 1896 25-inch survey of Midleton. BOTH houses are called Midleton House on the map! This is why I believe that the former Coppinger residence at the southern end of Main Street is entitled to be called Midleton House, along with the former Lewis Place across the river. Sadly it would appear that nobody in the council bothered to look at the Ordnance Survey maps!

It might serve to give some history of the occupation of the two houses.

First, Midleton House, The Rock, formerly Lewis Place, on the southern bank of the Roxborough River. As noted this is clearly the older of the two houses by several decades. From the 1790s it was the home of the Greene family who developed most of the western side of St Mary’s Road (at one time to the dismay of Lord Midleton’s agent!)..

Pigott’s Directory of 1824 gives us the information that the Rev Wm Greene, LLD, Rector of Tullilease (in north County Cork) resided in Midleton, under the heading of ‘Nobility, Gentry and Clergy’. The name or precise address of the house is not given and there is no mention of the name Lewis Place anywhere – remember this was BEFORE the first edition Ordnance Survey map was produced. Mr Greene’s near neighbour was the Rev William Maunsell, Archdeacon of Limerick, residing at Midleton Lodge (now the council offices). In 1856, Slater’s Directory gives the detail that Rev William Greene, LLD, resided at Midleton House. Now this is the ONLY Midleton House noted in the Directory. So shortly after the Ordnance Survey completed their survey of Midleton the name Lewis Place was changed to Midleton House. It is not at present known if Viscount Midleton gave his consent to this change.

Mr Michael Greene's gate, the entrance to Midleton House, The Rock, where two constables were shot by the Fenians under Tim Daly in 1867. Three of the constables took refuge in Mr Greene's house.

Mr Michael Greene’s gate, the entrance to Midleton House, The Rock, where two constables were shot by the Fenians under Tim Daly in 1867. Three of the constables took refuge in Mr Greene’s house.

Slater’s Directory  (1881) gives us Mr Michael Greene as resident at Midleton House. A solicitor who was also a ‘commissioner for taking affidavits’ and a registrar of marriages, he was the son of Rev. William Greene, Rector of Tullilease. Michael Greene was the same man who, in 1867, provided refuge tor three constables following their violent encounter with Midleton’s Fenian rebels directly in front of his own gate. During this encounter, one constable was shot dead and another was wounded, after which the rebels marched on to Castlemartyr to attack the constabulary barracks there. Mr Greene was still resident and performing the same official functions in 1893, but the house was occupied by, his son, William B Greene in 1897. This latter gentleman is recorded as a District Commissioner and town councillor in 1909. Thus in one sense the offended ladies on the tour were right – Midleton House, The Rock, previously Lewis Place, seems to have been the original Midleton House. (Note: The Rock is the part of Midleton directly south of the Roxborough River once dominated by a large outcrop of rock that has been quarriee away to provide access to the road to Youghal.)

The other house, at the southern end of Main Street, on the north bank of the Roxborough River, was built by the Coppinger family between 1790 and 1820 (more likely at the earlier part of this period). The Coppingers were the wealthiest Catholic residents of Midleton from the late eighteenth century to the early twentieth century. Thomas Stephen Coppinger is noted as a merchant in Piggot’s Directory of 1824, while John and Joseph Coppinger are identified as brewers and maltsters. Thomas Stephen lived in the unnamed house marked on the first edition Ordnance Survey map, with his grain store and yard behind the house. However, by 1842, Thomas Stephen Coppinger, now a Justice of the Peace, had moved to Midleton Lodge and a Richard Coppinger, merchant, is noted as living in Midleton almost certainly in the former residence of Thomas Stephen Coppinger.

Midleton House, Main Street, was the center of a major grain exporting and later a coal importing business conducted by the Coppingers. Note the huge grain store peeping over the roof of the house. The metal railings in front are original.

The view from the former Coppinger brewery. Midleton House, Main Street, was the center of a major grain exporting, and later a coal importing, business conducted by the Coppinger family. Note the huge grain store peeping over the side of the house. The metal railings in front are original. The building on the right of the picture also belonged to the Coppingers.

In Slater’s Directory of 1881 Thomas Coppinger Esq, JP is resident at Midleton Lodge, but we now see TS & R Coppinger, as corn merchants on Main Street – presumably in the original Coppinger residence backing on to their grain store. By 1897 TS & R Coppinger of Main Street were now coal merchants and seed and manure merchants, a business they ran into the twentieth century.. Note that the house on Main Street is not given a name in these directories, yet the name Midleton House appears attached to this house  on the 1896 map. It seems highly unlikely that the Ordnance Survey made a mistake – it is far more likely that the managed to correctly ascertain the name of the Coppinger house.

Thus, according to the Ordnance Survey of Ireland, we DO have two houses on the banks of the Roxborough River bearing the name Midleton House. One clearly had the name since the mid-1850s, but the other acquired the name by 1896. Somehow I don’t think the Midleton Post Office required postcodes to ascertain which letter was destined for which house!