Skibbereen Historical Journal, Vol.20 2024

On Friday night, 5th July, the Skibbereen Historical Journal, Vol. 20 2024 was formally launched. The event was presided over by the chairperson of the society, John O’Neill, and the guest speaker was the society’s first chairperson, Jim Byrne. Given that Jim was a key figure in first publishing the Journal, back in 2005, and was also the first chairperson of the Journal’s Editorial Committee, he was the ideal choice to launch Volume 20. In his talk Jim spoke about the importance of the Journal and recalled some of the key event in its history. He also spoke about the fourteen articles in this year’s Journal, illuminating his speech with his knowledge and wit throughout.

The chairperson of the editorial committee, William Casey, also spoke. He thanked all those involved, particularly the contributors – without whom there would be no journal. He paid tribute to three former contributors who had died in the past year, Alfie O’Mahony, Jasper Ungoed-Thomas and Robert Harris and pointed to the fact they was a tribute to them in the Journal. The also spoke about the late Tim Cadogan of the Cork Library Service, who lunched the first Journal and was extra-ordinarily helpful to many local historians. An article by Tim on Fred Potter and thee Skibbereen Eagle is included in this year’s Journal.

As with other years, the articles in this year’s Journal cover a variety of topics including:
The Story of Saoirse: Making History Again, One Hundred Years On – Flor MacCarthy
The Development of Skibbereen – Tracey Wood Wolfe
Collins & Lavery: The Final Encounter – Sandra Downey
A Rock Art Concentration in Castlehaven – Finola Finlay
The kingdom of Corcu Loígde and the ringfort in Baltimore – Dr Paul MacCotter
West Cork Disconnect: The West Cork by-election, October-November 1916 – John O’Donovan
1924: The Irish Free State – peace and stability – Donal Corcoran
Blacksmith – Mary McCarthy
The Jewel in the Estuary: The story of Ballydehob’s railway viaduct – Eugene McSweeney
The Lords Audley or Earls of Castlehaven and Copper Mining in West Cork – Michael Christopher Keane
The Lilac Ballroom, Enniskeane – Ted Cadogan
Patrick ‘Rocky Mountain’ O’Brien – John O’Neill
Dr Browne’s Report on Skibbereen, 1901 – Introduced by Philip O’Regan
Fred Potter and the Skibbereen Eagle – Tim Cadogan

This year’s Journal is selling for €12 and is available in local shops in Skibbereen and throughout West Cork. The Journal, and a selection of back issues, can also be purchased online at

Pictured at the launch, at the back from left to right: William Casey, chair of the editorial committee; John O’Donovan, contributor; Ted Cadogan, contributor; Donal Corcoran, contributor; Michael Keane, contributor; John O’Neill, contributor and chair of the society. At the front from left to right: Finola Finlay, contributor; Sandra Downey, contributor; Jim Byrne, guest speaker; Gerald O’Brien, president of the society; Flor MacCarthy, contributor and Mary McCarthy, contributor.

Naomh Ciarán of Cape Clear

March 5th is the feast day of Naomh Ciarán of Cape Clear. Legend has it that Ciarán converted much of the southwest coast of Ireland and the region of Saigir in County Offaly, where his father came from, before St Patrick arrived in Ireland. He is often referred to by sources as the first native born Irish saint.
There is a long history of devotion to him on Cape Clear Island and the tradition was that on the eve of his feast day that ‘rounds’ were said at a pillar stone known as Gallaunkeiran, located at the north harbour. Close by are a holy well and a church also dedicated to the saint, who was said to have been born on the hillside overlooking the harbour. Ciarán is also the patron of the Diocese of Ossory and patron of Cornwall where he is known as St Piran. He was also revered in Brittany where he is known as St Sezin.
Among the many legends associated with Ciarán is that he had a special affinity with the natural world, especially animals and birds. Two stories about him were translated from Latin by the Belfast based author Helen Waddell and were published in her 1934 book, Beasts and Saints. That work was beautifully illustrated by the Kinsale born artist and writer Robert Gibbings. To remember the saint on his feast day the first of these stories is reprinted below.

St Ciarán and the Nesting Bird

Illustration of the Hawk and Nesting Bird by Robert Gibbings.

The most blessed Ciarán, bishop, and first begotten of the Saints of Ireland, belonged to the west border of Leinster, which is called Ossory. At the time he was born, all the folk of Ireland were heathen. His father was called Luaigne, of the nobler of the Ossory clan: his mother Liadain, born in the south of Munster … And Ciarán was born and brought up in Corca Laighde, on Cape Clear Island. And verily God chose him from his mother’s womb: for when the name of Christ was not heard in Ireland, the austerity of the Christian faith began to spring in him. For his parents wondered, and all who saw him, at the soberness of his mind, the gentleness of his nature, the sweetness of his words, his timely fasting, his wise counsels, and other qualities that belonged to holy men.
One day on the same Cape Clear Island the first of St Ciarán’s miracles came by God’s will to pass. For when he was still a lad, a hawk swept down from the sky upon a small bird brooding on its nest and caught it, before St Ciarán’s eyes, and carried it off in its talons into the air. The lad saw it, and was in sore grief over it, and prayed for the poor captive: and straightway the ravisher came down with the prey, and laid the small bird, mangled and halfdead, before him. But under the pitying gaze of the lad, the hapless creature by God’s grace was made whole, to his heart desire: and before his eyes sat brooding on her nest, happy and unhurt.

(Beasts and Saints, trans. Helen Waddell (London, 1934), pp. 99–100.)

Jasper Ungoed-Thomas: a great friend of our Society

Jasper Ungoed-Thomas.

It was with great sadness that members of Skibbereen & District Historical Society learned of the death on 5 January 2024 of Jasper Ungoed-Thomas.

Jasper died peacefully at his home in Condicote, Gloucestershire, UK, with his family around him.

Jasper will be remembered in Skibbereen for the outstanding biography of his grandfather, Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen, which was published by The Collins Press in 2008. Jasper Wolfe was born in Skibbereen in 1872, the son of a Methodist shopkeeper. Jasper had a remarkable life; he became a highly successful solicitor and founded Wolfe & Co Solicitors in Skibbereen in 1894.

Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen published in 2008 is one of the most important books that has been published in connection with the history of Skibbereen.

A strong supporter of Home Rule, after the 1916 Rising Jasper Wolfe was appointed Crown Solicitor for the City and West Riding of Cork. Having been a target of the IRA for some years, he subsequently became a defence lawyer for dissident Republicans after the Civil War. Jasper was elected to Dáil Éireann on three occasions as an independent TD, the two elections in 1927, and again in the general election of 1932.

Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen is the story of a remarkable man and his family and is one of the most important books written concerning the history of Skibbereen. The book was launched at Skibbereen Heritage Centre on 20 September 2008 on what was a very enjoyable and memorable occasion.

Though Jasper Ungoed-Thomas was raised in Wales and London, he was a regular visitor to Skibbereen throughout his life. Jasper’s mother, Dorothy Travers Wolfe, Barrister-at-Law, married Mr Arwyn Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, Barrister-at-Law, at a ceremony in the Methodist Church in Skibbereen on 19 April 1933.

Jasper’s father, Arwyn Lynn Ungoed-Thomas, had a distinguished legal career. He was Labour MP for the Llandaff and Barry constituency from 1945–50 and sat for Leicester North-West from a by-election in 1950 until 1962. He served as Solicitor General in 1949–51 and was appointed a judge of the High Court in April 1962.

Jasper Ungoed-Thomas was a history graduate of Oxford and worked as a teacher, education researcher and schools’ inspector. He also published widely on education and was an education consultant. Jasper’s Vision of a School: The Good School in the Good Society, published in 1997, is a thought-provoking work that offers a convincing argument for what a good school should be.

Jasper Ungoed-Thomas in the Southern Star offices in Skibbereen in September 2002 when he was researching for the biography of his grandfather Jasper Wolfe.

It was in 2001 when he was researching for the book on his grandfather that we first met Jasper. He visited West Cork for a few weeks every August or September. He loved his annual visit to Skibbereen and enjoyed meeting people here. He was a brilliant intellectual, he was the best and the easiest of company and he was a great conversationalist. Jasper and Gerald O’Brien, president of Skibbereen & District Historical Society, struck up a particularly good friendship and it was a great privilege to be in their company on many occasions when the topics of conversation ranged far and wide.

Great friends Gerald O’Brien and Jasper Ungoed Thomas pictured in Skibbereen.

Jasper was an avid supporter of the historical society and read the annual journal each year from cover to cover. He contributed to a number of the journals, including the first one published in 2005. With the kind permission of Daisy Swanton, Jasper edited a detailed diary of Willie Kingston, a solicitor who was born in Skibbereen and who worked for Jasper’s grandfather, Jasper Wolfe. In volume 6, 2010, Jasper wrote a particularly significant article ‘IRA Sectarianism in Skibbereen?’. In volume 10, 2014, Jasper and Terri Kearney collaborated on a beautiful piece titled ‘Lick Hill Cave and its inscriptions’. In volume 12, 2016, he collaborated with Richard Vickery and Gerald O’Brien in a brilliant piece on the Skibbereen Skellig List.

For some 20 years we greatly enjoyed Jasper’s company for a few weeks in early autumn. We know he enjoyed his time in Skibbereen, he felt very much at home here. We will remember Jasper fondly and the biography of his grandfather Jasper Wolfe ensures that the Wolfe name will have a long and honourable place in the history of these parts.

P. O’R.

Pictured at Skibbereen Heritage Centre on 20 September 2008 on the occasion of the launch of the biography of Jasper Wolfe were, from left, Jasper Ungoed-Thomas, Adrian Healy and Gerald O’Brien.
Jasper Ungoed-Thomas and Daisy Swanton at the launch of Jasper Wolfe of Skibbereen at Skibbereen Heritage Centre on 20 September 2008.
Jasper Ungoed-Thomas and Gerald O’Brien in Skibbereen in September 2019.
Vision of a School by Jasper Ungoed-Thomas was published in 1997.

Strange Noises in Aughadown Glebe, 1864

Thank you to everyone who attended last Wednesday’s lecture on the Rev. Edward Spring and his Mission. Given that it is Halloween, the following addendum to the story of Edward Spring deals not with religious affairs but instead with things that go bump in the night.

In November 1864, the Skibbereen Eagle newspaper, in its inimitable style, reported that for months past strange noises had been heard in Aughadown Glebe House. These ‘knocks on the floor’ began every evening at precisely 10 o’clock and were only heard when the rector, Archdeacon Stuart, was absent. Floorboards had been lifted to discover the cause, but nothing was found. Since the noises commenced, Archdeacon Stuart had departed the parish to be replaced as rector by the Rev. Edward Spring. However, the newspaper reported that the knocking had persisted and though the Rev. Spring had heard it the Eagle reported that he would not be ‘knocked out’ by this, for while the spirit was a ‘little noisy’ it was ‘perfectly harmless’.

This story was picked up by several newspapers throughout Ireland. As a result, one individual, who claimed to be a clergyman and no believer in ‘spirit-rapping’, wrote to the Cork Constitution relating his experiences in the same Glebe House in the summer of 1835. He stated that while there on several occasions he was awoken between half past three and four in the morning by loud noises that appeared to come from the kitchen. These consisted of ‘chairs … raised up and slapped down at great force – kettles, pans, metal pots, fire irons etc., appeared to be thrown about with considerable violence’. When he went to investigate all was in order and when he questioned servants they protested that they knew nothing of the matter.

On 25 November 1864, Edward Spring wrote to the Skibbereen Eagle to give his understanding of these events. He reassured readers that the stories were much exaggerated and that the floorboards in the Glebe had not been pulled up. He admitted there were noises in one bedroom, but they did not occur at any precise time. He suspected that the cause was a large ancient-looking bedstead. He had since bought this item in an auction and it no longer caused any issue – (presumably because he had it broken up). Since then no noises had been heard.

The Eagle replied that their report was obtained from a gentleman who had been ‘expressly invited’ to the Glebe to hear the ‘knocking’ and far from being exaggerated their initial report had fallen ‘far short’ of what was told to them.

Afterwards, nothing else appears to have been heard of the mysterious noise in Aughadown Glebe. Poltergeist, ghost, or an old creaking bed, that is up to you to decide.

The Glebe House in Aughadown was built in 1784 by the Rev. Joseph Wright. Today it is a private residence.

W. C.

Alfie O’Mahony – a tribute

Alfie O’Mahony: 12 November 1931 – 18 October 2023.

It was with great sadness that members of Skibbereen & District Historical Society learned of the death on 18 October 2023 of Alfie O’Mahony.

When the Skibbereen Society was formed in 2003, Alfie was a very active member. He delivered talks on various subjects to members, and he contributed a number of articles to the Society’s annual Journal over the years.

Alife died at his home at the Flaxmills, Skibbereen, full of years and of contentment. Just shy of his 92nd birthday, Alfie had a long life and he enjoyed robust good health until practically the end.

Alfie O’Mahony at his desk at his house at the Flaxmills in Skibbereen.

Alfie did not have a very auspicious start in life. He was born in Dublin on 12 November 1931. In 1933, when just an infant, he was admitted to an orphanage in Kilkenny. He was a resident there from 1933 until 1941. Alfie had just turned 10 years of age when he was sent from the orphanage in Kilkenny to the Industrial School in Baltimore, arriving there on 8 December 1941. All his life Alfie could recall the night he arrived in Baltimore.

From December 1941 until 1947 he was a resident at Baltimore Industrial School. How the Baltimore Fisheries School, which was opened in 1887, became the ‘industrial school’ is a long story. The original Fisheries School was a wonderful initiative, spearheaded for the most part by Fr Charles Davis and funded largely by the altruistic Baroness Angela Burdett-Coutts, an English heiress. The transition of the fisheries school into an ‘industrial school’ was a gross betrayal of those who founded it. How such noble altruism was allowed to deteriorate to such depravity is scarcely credible.

The Industrial School in Baltimore received a shameful notoriety for the way children in its care were treated. The Child Abuse Commission, set up by the government in 1999, uncovered evidence of appalling sexual abuse, severe physical punishment, flagrant neglect, and near starvation of residents of the Baltimore school. In fact, when Justice Mary Laffoy’s final interim 434-page report was published in 2004, it mentioned the analysis of material from 55 industrial and reformatory schools, but it described in vivid detail just one named institution, that being the Baltimore Industrial School.

The Industrial School in Baltimore where Alfie O’Mahony was a resident from 1941 to 1947. The institution closed in 1950.

Though Alfie wrote about the Laffoy Report, and he spoke publicly about it on many occasions, he did not give evidence before the Commission and did not seek compensation through it. He did, however, support and encourage his contemporaries who did give evidence. In 2006 Alfie published Reminiscences of life in Baltimore Industrial School, a series of essays which he described as ‘resembling a patchwork quilt due to the different issues being linked by association.’ Alfie wrote this book not for any commercial or personal gain; this was a personal narrative written for posterity and it is an account that is true to himself and the story of his life.

Reminiscences of life in Baltimore Industrial School was published by Alfie in 2006. Amongst essays in this book, he writes about his time in the Industrial School in Baltimore and he gives his analysis of the Laffoy Report, which was published following the establishment of the Child Abuse Commission in 1999.

Alfie was extraordinary in his magnanimity. Bitterness or recrimination were not in his make-up. He was above all that. He escaped his childhood. Even in later life, Alife would recall small acts of kindness that some of his teachers in Baltimore showed him on occasions. He remembered the joy of listening to the school band. He spoke fondly of his trips to the mobile cinema that occasionally visited Baltimore. He had a gift of remembering the goodness he encountered amid the scandalous depravity of the institution.

In 1947 Alife went to work and live with the O’Donovan family (Denny Jer’s) in Drominidy, Drimoleague, and this was the beginning of a new life for him. He worked on the farm in Drominidy for four years where he became one of the family. It was the first time he knew stability and support in his life. Several generations of the O’Donovan family of Drominidy were to become firm friends of Alfie’s, an important connection that ran through his life from 1947.

In 1952 he emigrated to England where he worked hard and he accomplished a great deal, professionally and socially. Alfie never allowed the trauma and deprivation of his early years to hold him back. He went on to have an extraordinary life, lived to the full. He was employed for a time as a security officer at Independent Television and then for many years as a security officer at Harrods. For nine years he attended evening classes at various educational institutions in England. This exposure to education broadened his mind and introduced him to subjects that he was to study throughout his life.

He availed of every opportunity he could to study and deepen his knowledge. Alife was a man of considerable learning and an accomplished scholar, and he had a great appreciation of the many and varied subjects that inspired him. He could hold his own in any company on any number of topics, including history, literature, theology, philosophy, music, and other subjects.

Having worked and lived in England for 45 years, Alfie returned to Ireland to live in Skibbereen in 1997. Despite the years Alfie spent in the confines of the callous and inhumane Baltimore Industrial School, he developed a great love for Baltimore itself. This was more than just a bit of a grá for the place, Baltimore was his spiritual home.

Alfie often told me that he would rather burn than rust. He certainly didn’t rust away! For the last 26 years Alfie became a valued and respected member of the community in west Cork. When Skibbereen & District Historical Society was founded in 2003 he was an enthusiastic member and contributed substantially to the activities of the Society. He was a prolific writer and as well as publishing a number of books, he wrote many articles of historical interest for the Southern Star.

Alfie was a prolific writer and he contributed many articles to the Southern Star over the years, including this one on Boat building in West Cork which was published in the Star of 10 January 1998.

While in England, Alfie played squash at a very high level and was also a very good tennis player. In Skibbereen he played tennis right up to his mid-80s and also coached tennis until quite recently. Alife was good company, and he enjoyed the company of others. Mind you, you would not want to be in a hurry if you called to see Alfie. He could talk for Ireland!

In just the last few years, Alfie was reunited with some of his family members. This discovery brought unconfined joy and fulfilment to Alfie. It completed him!

Alfie was buried at Tullagh Cemetery, Baltimore, on Saturday 21 October, following Requiem Mass at the Sacred Heart Church, Rath. We know that Alife will rest easy in that ancient burial ground overlooking Carbery’s hundred isles.

P. O’R.

Alfie played squash at a very high level when he lived in England and he was also a very fine tennis player. He played and coached tennis in Skibbereen right into his 80s.
Alfie O’Mahony pictured with Tim Cadogan at the launch of the 2005 Skibbereen & DistrictHistorical Society Journal.
Alfie enjoying a chat with Cathal O’Donovan at the launch of the 2005 Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal. That was the first journal published by the Society.
Baltimore, A Perspective, which Alfie O’Mahony published soon after he came to live in Skibbereen in 1997.
Heritage was published by Alfie in 2018. It comprises a series of essays on some of the events and characters in history that interested him.

The summer sun is falling soft on Carbery’s hundred isles,

The summer sun is gleaming still through Gabriel’s rough defiles.

Old Inisherkin’s crumbling fane looks like a moulting bird,

And in a calm and sleepy swell the ocean tide is heard.

The hookers lie upon the beach; the children cease their play,

The gossips leave the little inn, the households kneel to pray.

And full of love and peace and rest, ­ its daily labour o’er;

Upon that cosy creek, there lay the town of Baltimore.