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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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?

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 Midleton Railway Petition of 1844

courthouse-midleton

the Rev Francis Jones, Rector of Midleton, chose Midleton Courthouse as the venue for the meeting of 6th January 1845 to discuss the building of a railway. The meeting was called in response to a petition drafted and signed in December 1844. The petition was made to Francis Jones in his capacity as the last Sovereign of Midleton.

In 2015, some 340,000 passenger journeys were made on the Cork to Midleton railway service. This is an astonishing number given that the population of East Cork is nowhere near that figure. And, it should be recalled that this line only reopened in 2009, having been closed to regular passenger services since 1963. In the first six months of 2016, some 260,000 passenger journeys were already recorded on the line. When you consider that this line now has more daily services than a century ago, it shows the wisdom of reopening the local commuter lines to take the strain from the overcrowded road network around Cork.

This enthusiasm for idea of building a railway began in 1844. In December of that year the Rector of Midleton published a public notice in The Cork Examiner newspaper (now the Irish Examiner). The Rector, the Rev. Mr Francis Jones, didn’t actually publish the notice in his capacity as Rector, but as the last Sovereign of Midleton – four years after the Corporation of Midleton had been abolished. However, Jones was still addressed as Sovereign (or mayor) of Midleton until his death – since there was no Corporation to vote in a replacement and the reform had failed to abolish the office! The notice that Jones published is interesting because it shows the beginning of a shift in influence. Until then Youghal had been the key town in East Cork. Cove, later Queenstown, rapidly gained prominence due to its status as a port for emigration. Midleton remained relatively small – but it had just built the only workhouse between Cork and Dungarvan. This workhouse would see Midleton’s population INCREASE during the Great Famine between 1845 and 1851! In that period, Youghal’s population decreased, although it was still the largest town in East Cork until well into the twentieth century. Today, Midleton is a thriving, bustling, market town and business centre, but Youghal seems, sadly, to be in the doldrums.

The notice in the Examiner begins with a petition addressed to Francis Jones.::

We, the Undersigned, request you will appoint an early day for a Meeting of such Persons as feel interested in the formation of a Line of Railroad between Cork and Youghal, with a branch to Cove, in order to adopt such measures as may be calculated to place before the public correct information as to the advantages likely to result from the undertaking.

Cove, 17th December, 1844.

This petition was addressed: To the Rev. Mr Jones, Sovereign of Midleton.

Following a list of the petitioners, Jones added his notice of a public meeting:

In compliance with the above requisition, I hereby appoint a Meeting of ‘such persons as feel interested in the formation of a line of Railroad between Cork and Youghal, with a branch to Cove,’ to be held in the Court-house, Midleton, on Tuesday, 6th inst, at the hour of Twelve O’Clock.

 It is signed: Francis Jones

Among the sixtyfive names attached to the petition are the local Justices of the Peace: Thomas Stubbs JP; Robert Ware, JP; Sampson TW French, JP;  William W Lambert, JP; Edward Millett, JP;  R Holmes, JP; Edmond Roche, JP Kilshannick (Kilshannig, near Rathcormac); EB Roche MP, Trabolgan; GS Barry, JP, DL; Edward Odell, JP.

The identifiable clergymen who signed the petition were Richard Gaggin, Rector of Clonmult, and William Keane, Parish Priest of Midleton. It seems likely that the three ‘Clerks‘ who signed were actually clergymen too: Andrew Todd, Clk; William Meade, Clk; and J Edmund Nash, Clk.  

Several solicitors and doctors also signed the petition: S Fleming, Solicitor; J Devitt O’Donovan, Solicitor; Thomas H Orpen, MD; DH Scott, MD; Thomas Garde, MD; SW Keane, MD; John Boston, AB and MD; Philip L Walsh, MD; Joseph Barry, MD.

Midleton was itself well represented on the list. The Coppinger family was prominent: Thomas S Coppinger; ES Coppinger and William S Coppinger all signed. The Callaghans of Brodrick Street, Mathias Callaghan and his son, John Callaghan, signed together. The local distillers also saw the benefits: BJ Hackett (who’s distillery opened in 1824) and James Murphy, Junior, (who founded the present old Midleton distillery in 1825). J Hallaran who developed the great maltings at Ballinacurra was very prominent in the list.

This list shows how people in east Cork realised the benefits of building a railway to link Youghal and Cove to Cork before the Great Famine. The year 1845 was an interesting one for Midleton. It opened on the Feast of Epiphany with the railway meeting scheduled by Francis Jones. Then came the completion of the largest brick chimney in Murphy’s distillery in April. That was closely followed by the Postmaster General in London agreeing to Lord Midleton’s request that the name of the Post Office and the town should be spelled ‘MIDLETON’ rather than in any other way. Finally, in October and November the potato blight struck the district very hard.

The far-sighted gentlemen who signed the 1844 petition to the Sovereign of Midleton had to wait until 1859 to see the first part of their dreams realised as the line reached Midleton from Dunkettle. Youghal was reached in 1860. The Queenstown (formerly Cove, now Cobh) branch was completed in 1862.

‘Known by the trees’ – Autumn glories from the behind the demesne wall.

midleton-lodge-2016

The view from the front of Midleton Lodge shows the grove of trees on the north bank of the Dungourney River in mid-October 2016. The grove stands in front of the wall that separates the demesne from the woollen factory built by Marcus Lynch in 1794. This is factory is now part of the Jameson Experience, while Midleton Lodge is now the local council office and Lynch’s demesne is a public park. Lynch planted the trees in 1806-09.

Autumn ended in Ireland on Thursday 17th November when a cold Arctic snap plunged the comfortable temperatures into a biting winter mode with a dusting of snow in many parts of the country. Midleton, happily, escaped the snow but not the cold. The long, dry, sunny and pleasantt autumn weather was a most welcome season before the onset of winter. One of the glories of Midleton, and East Cork in general, this autumn been the colour of the leaves as they changed from green to yellow to red and then to brown before falling.

This abundance of trees in East Cork is due to an ironic circumstance of history. William J Smyth of UCC referred to this in a lecture he gave to the Royal Dublin Society in 1996. The title of his lecture was ‘The Greening of Ireland – Tenant tree-planting in Ireland in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries‘;  Smyth introduced his lecture with quotations from two Irish poems – one an anonymous but well known seventeenth century Irish (Gaelic) verse that we all learned at school, and the other twentieth century quotation came from a poem by Austin Clarke.

The seventeenth century reference from the poem Kilcash asks:

What shall we do without timber,

the last of the woods is down.

The Austin Clarke reference tells us:

For the house of the planter

Is known by the trees.

kilcash-castle

Kilcash Castle in County Tipperary is best known through the anonymous seventeenth century poem lamenting the passing of the old order, symbolised by the loss of woodlands.

The poem ‘Kilcash‘ refers to the systematic destruction of the ancient Irish woods and forests in the seventeenth century by the new English planters who had been granted estates in Ireland. Part of the reason for the destruction of the woods was to deny any Irish rebels and outlaws a place of refuge. A second reason was to enable the planters to make a quick financial return on their new estates – England was severely short of good timber for building houses and ships and for barrel staves. In addition wood was needed for making charcoal to smelt iron, especially iron for making cannon for the fleet. One of the key culprits in this activity was Richard Boyle, first Earl of Cork. Between 1600 and 1670 most of the remaining Irish woodlands were lost as a result of the various plantations imposed on different parts of the country.

Clarke’s poem makes ironic reference to the fact that those planter families were later instrumental in planting new trees to take the denuded look off their surrounds – mind you, this was done mostly inside the high walls surrounding the demesnes of the ‘Big House’.Those walls screened the bare countryside from easily offended eyes, and protected both the inhabitants and their trees from the peasantry. Thus the descendants of the people who originally cut down the forests and woods were also the first to begin replanting, often with foreign species! Even today, a plantation of deciduous trees indicates the site of a ‘big house’, whether intact or in ruins.

It was really only from the 1690s that the new landlords began to plant trees as a policy of ‘improvement’ on their estates. Between 1697 and 1791 Smyth estimates that there were seven parliamentary acts relating to tree-planting in Ireland. It was only from 1721 that tenants were given parliamentary encouragement to plant trees, and by 1765 tenants had an entitlement to the value of all the trees they’d planted.The really big improvements came with the foundation of the Dublin Society (later Royal Dublin Society) in 1731 and the act of 1765, which required the registration of trees planted in order to claim ownership. It was the 1791 act that led to a spectacular surge in tree-planting in the decades that followed.  From the surviving registers we get a good idea of why East Cork is so well wooded. Smyth notes that the densest area of planting seems to have been the barony of Imokilly (between Midleton and Youghal), and the southern part of Barrymore  This was a region of dense tree-planting between 1790 and 1815. (There was a dip between 1815 and 1820 when planting began again.)

Despite all this planting, British visitors to Ireland in the nineteenth century frequently noted the bare appearance of the Irish countryside, noting that the few trees were to be found within the walls of demesnes. Even now, with all the State forestry planting programmes, Ireland has only 8% of its land under forest or woodland, the lowest percentage of tree cover in the EU.

Donal P. and Eileen McCracken published a paper with the title ‘A Register of Trees, Co Cork, 1790-1860‘ in the Journal of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society in 1976 giving the register of tree-planting in County Cork. By the mid-1800s County Cork possessed nearly 52,000 acres of trees in plantations, nearly 15% of the Irish total.The register gives the numbers of trees planted by civil parish, with the townlands where the trees were planted being named. There are problems with the list – some townlands are clearly placed in the incorrect parish, so caution is advised when using this source.

path-in-midleton-lodge

A path in Marcus Lynch’s grove of trees between the Dungourney River and the wall of the old distillery in Midleton in October 2016.

The figures for Midleton Parish (called Middletown in the text) are as follows: Marcus Lynch planted 2010 in the grounds of Midleton Lodge between 1806-09; Samuel McCall planted 5,590 trees at Charleston in Castleredmond in 1809-12, and Swithin Fleming (incorrectly named Southeen in the text) planted 1,770 trees at Lakeview in Castlererdmond in 1831 (which indicates that his house was built by then); William Mc O’Boy (McEvoy?) planted 2,830 trees in Gearagh in 1815; in Bawnard, John Lander planted 5,100 trees in 1824 and Daniel Humphries planted 26,000 trees in 1827; in Ballyedkin, John Leech planted 61,300 trees in 1827-32, while Thomas Wigmore planted 144,870 trees in 1828-33; in Deer Park South, George Turkey (Tuckey?) planted 3,240 trees in 1832; in Broomfield, Benjamin James Hackett (the distiller) planted 1,480 trees in his grounds in 1834. This list gives a total of 254,190 trees planted in the area in and immediately around Midleton between 1806 and 1834.

Sadly many of these trees have been lost, but a lot survives – Marcus Lynch’s plantings are still a joy to behold just off Main Steet, and on the Youghal Road, in Midleton. But further afield we can see that planting was just as intense.

rostellanwaterside

The woods at Rostellan were part of the demesne of the Marquis of Thomond’s East Cork estate. They are now run by the state forestry company. On the wall of the barrage in the foreground is one of three milestones installed there in 1734.

In the townland (and parish) of Aghada, Robert Austen planted 28,470 trees in 1814; Michael Goold planted 27,620 trees in Jamesbrook (Garranekinnefeake parish) in 1807-11;  in the parish and townland of Rostellan the Marquis of Thomond planted 55,140 trees in 1827, in Rossmore (Mogeesha parish), Edmund Coppinger planted 21,340 trees in 1824; in Barnabrow (Cloyne parish) in 1809-12 Timothy Lane planted 27,940 trees, while John Royal Wilkinson planted 20,100 trees there in 1831.

avenue-midleton-2016

Planted in the 1980s to mark the entrance to the newly built St Colman’s Community College, on Youghal Road in Midleton, this avenue looks very well established today. It emulates the type of planting established around the town in the years around 1800.  

This is not a complete list (it leaves out places like Fota and Ballyedmund) but it shows that many landowners in East Cork felt it necessary to plant trees to improve their estates in the early nineteenth century. Despite losses in the 1940s, the legacy of this planting is the rich tapestry of trees that enrich the local landscape especially in summer and autumn. The good news is that such planting continues – directly opposite Marcus Lynch’s old house stands St Colman’s Community College which was built in the early 1980s. One farsighted decision made by the school was to plant an avenue of trees leading from the gate to the main entrance – just a few decades later it looks splendid.

 

 

 

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Dodging flying bullets in Ballincurrig.

irish-road-bowling

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.

castle-mary-bowling

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).

women-road-bowling

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.

road-bowling-bullets

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.

john-buckley

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.

ballincurrig-logo

Time, gentlemen, please! The last ‘Act of Union’ between Britain and Ireland.

dunsink-observatory

Dunsink Observatory near Dublin was the official regulator of Irish time from 1880 until 1st October 1916 when Ireland was incorporated into the British time zone. This observatory was once the workplace of John Brinkley (1763 – 1835), Andrews Professor of Astronomy at the University of Dublin (Trinity College), first Royal Astronomer of Ireland, later President of the Royal Irish Academy and the last resident and independent Bishop of Cloyne in the Established Church (Church of Ireland).

You may have heard it remarked that ‘the Irish are always late.’ Certainly we don’t appear to aspire to Teutonic punctuality like the Germans, Austrians and Swiss – or the Scandinavians, for that matter. However, this assertion about the Irish is actually incorrect. In fact it may even be shown to be scientifically incorrect!

Indeed it is a serious calumny against us poor Irish to suggest that we cannot read a clock. It fits in the same category  with the observation of British (or more precisely, English) travellers to Ireland in the nineteenth and early twentieth century. They often assumed that the natives were inherently lazy. This observation was frequently derived from seeing the grass lying unharvested for hay early on a summer’s morning. Or more likely from observing  in Ireland haymaking only started after 10.00 o’clock on a summer’s morning – a shocking example of sloth when the English farmer had already started the same task at least two hours earlier. It took the Welshman, E. Estyn Evans of Queen’s University Belfast to observe that the Irish farmers were very sensible to start their haymaking after 10.00 o’clock or even after 11.00 o’clock. You see, Evans observed that in England (especially the south and east of England) the weather was often warmer and drier than in Ireland, and, consequently, the grass in the hay meadows was frequently dry before 10.00 o’clock or even 9.00 o’clock.

However, Evans observed that in Ireland the grass was often wet with dew until about that time in the morning in Ireland (and even in parts of his native Wales as well as Scotland. and the north of England). There simply was no point in scything  damp grass to make hay – it actually has to be dry to make hay. In Ireland the sun may shine on a summer’s day but it is really the breeze that dries out the grass, cut or uncut. So the nineteenth century Irish farmer wasn’t being lazy – he just did the right thing for making hay. Start when the damp from the dew has burned or blown off and then cut the dry grass. If you’ve ever mown a wet lawn (!) you will understand the wisdom of the nineteenth century Irish farmer’s traditional haymaking custom of waiting until the grass was dry before cutting it. It wasn’t that the Irish were lazy but that the English observer frequently didn’t understand, or didn’t wish to understand Irish conditions.

saving-the-hay-1920

Saving the hay in Listowel in 1920s Ireland. The term ‘saving the hay’ refers to the vagaries of the Irish weather – the grass had to be dry before being cut and it had to be left to dry out completely before being gathered into haystacks. The unpredictable Irish weather meant that the work was highly concentrated and extremely demanding in order to save the main winter fodder for the livestock from the unpredictable Irish weather.(National Geographic Society, Washington DC)

And so it was with time, or, more particularly, Irish  timekeeping. There is a delicious irony in the fact that just six months after the Easter Rising in April 1916, Britain imposed the last ‘Act of Union’ on Ireland. This wasn’t really a specific Irish security measure but had more to do with larger matters pertaining to the Great War.

In order to increase productivity in British War industries, the Westminster government introduced certain measures like mandated pub closing time and daylight saving time. The latter was designed to ensure that every hour of daylight in the long summer days in the latitude of Britain and Ireland would be put to productive use in the factories producing shells, bullets, guns, uniforms, and other war materiel. The new ‘daylight saving time’ was mandated to come into effect on 1st October 1916. However, the new law also affected Ireland by stealing its time, as Constance Markievicz (one of the 1916 rebels) claimed.

bristol-corn-exchange-clock

The clock on the Bristol Corn Exchange has two minute hands – the red hands show Greenwich Mean Time or London Time and the black hand shows Bristol Time, ten minutes later.

The Time (Ireland) Act of 1916 amended a legal situation dating to 1880 when Dublin Standard Time became the official time in Ireland. Until 1880 time in Ireland (and in Britain) was determined by the noonday sun (if it could be observed!) in each district in Ireland. Clearly, Cork is further west than Dublin so its time was later than Dublin time. Galway was further west again – so that was a few minutes later. Midleton had a public clock before 1750 so that was set to a time that was appropriate to the town until 1880. The arrival of the railways changed all that. The speed of the mainline trains was such that it became necessary to closely co-ordinate the times for departures and arrivals at the various termini and intermediate stations. This was particularly important for passengers aiming to catch a connecting train. The importance of keeping the railway regulated by a standard time is illustrated by Bristol’s Corn Exchange Clock which shows TWO time zones on its face – Bristol time and London (or Greenwich) time. Bristol, being further west than London, observed local noon ten minutes later than Greenwich.

From 1880, Dublin Standard Time was set at 25 minutes 21 seconds after Greenwich Mean Time. Dublin time was regulated by the Dunsink Observatory until 1st October 1916. Thus Ireland had its own national time zone for all thirty-two counties for a period of just thirty-six years until 1916. At 1.00 am on the morning of the 1st of October 1916, when Britian had to put its clocks back by one hour, Ireland only put its clocks back by 35 minutes to bring Irish time to an end. Thereafter, Ireland followed (and still follows) the British system of springing forward in March and falling back in October. The date of this change has moved to the last weekend in October. The reason for the change of time zone in Ireland was to facilitate the telegraphic communications between Dublin and London, especially between the Admiralty and Royal Navy’s facilities in Cork Harbour.

Haulbowline from Queenstown

The Royal Navy developed the island of Haulbowline in Cork Harbour as as vital naval station guarding the south-western approaches in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

So the irony of this year’s centenary commemorations of the 1916 Rising is that it is followed by the less prominent commemoration of the last Act of (Chronological) Union just six months later. But, of course, the Irish rebellion goes on. If the Irish are about thirty minutes late for an appointment, they are not really late. You see we were never consulted about the change of time zone. We are still operating on Dublin Standard Time or Irish time that operated between 1880 and 1916! So we are really on time…..it’s actually the clock that’s wrong!  One unintended benefit of the move to British time is that Ireland enjoys particularly long periods of daylight on a summer’s evening – almost on a par with Scotland, which is situated much further north.

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!