Skibbereen under siege in the early weeks of the Civil War

Although Skibbereen was one of the quieter areas of county Cork during the War of Independence and Civil War, the town did see a few weeks of intense activity in July and August 1922.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, opinion in Skibbereen, like most other places, was divided. At the outbreak of the Civil War most of County Cork was under the control of anti-Treaty forces, but Skibbereen was an exception. The town and immediate hinterland were controlled by a small contingent of Free State troops under the command of Jerh MacCarthy of Dreeney, assisted by Tadhg O’Sullivan of ’98 Street.

On the night of 1 July 1922 anti-Treaty forces, under the command of Gibbs Ross and Tom Hales, entered Skibbereen and demanded the surrender of the Free State troops. What followed was a few days of intense exchanges between Free State and anti-Treaty Forces. While the siege was relatively short, fighting was intense and within a week the Free State garrison had evacuated the barracks and handed it over to the anti-Treaty forces.

In a particularly timely and relevant article in the latest issue of the Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal, William Casey details the exchanges between Free State and anti-Treaty forces in Skibbereen and surrounding areas in July and August 1922. This is one of 12 articles featured in Vol 18 of the annual Skibbereen Journal. Included also are a number of other contributions which are particularly relevant to the centenary of the War of Independence and Civil War period.

This year’s Journal, and a selection of back issues, can also be purchased online at https://biblio.ie/bookstore/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814

Michael Collins at the Eldon Hotel, Skibbereen, on the morning of 22 August 1922

On the morning of Tuesday 22 August 1922, just hours before he was shot and killed at Béal an mBláth, Michael Collins held a meeting at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen.

There was, and still is, much speculation about why Michael Collins came to west Cork at that particularly dangerous and volatile time.

The Civil War was still in its early period. Skibbereen was one of the few towns in Cork county which remained in control of the pro-Treat Forces but the town had been sporadically under siege by anti-Treaty forces for a few weeks.

Michael Collins climbing into the car as he leaves the Eldon Hotel, Skibbereen, on the morning of Tuesday 22 August 1922, just hours before he was shot and killed at Béal na mBláth.

That meeting in the Eldon Hotel on the morning of 22 August 1922 was attended by about 12 men. Among them was Cornelius Connolly who was Commandant of the 4th Battalion (Skibbereen) of the Third West Cork Brigade IRA during the War of Independence. In a memoir written many years later, Connolly wrote: ‘I know for a fact that Michael Collins expected the Civil War would not last long and from some remarks that he made to me he was very anxious to see Tom Hales and others of the anti-Treaty men and I think that is what brought him to the south that day’.

In 1922 the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen was owned by the Clancy family and was run by Joe Clancy. The family also owned the pub in Bauravilla but sold that some time after they purchased the Eldon Hotel. Joe Clancy was a supporter of the Republican movement and the Eldon was the venue for many of their meetings.

The Eldon Hotel opened in May 1885. It was built by Frederick Peel Eldon Potter, the proprietor and editor of the Skibbereen Eagle. ‘Eldon’ was a Potter family name and  that is how the hotel got its name. It originally had 12-bedrooms and the first manager was a Mrs Goodland, ‘who was a lady in every way specially qualified to discharge such a responsibility, having had long experience in the management of first-class hotels in the metropolis’.

A description of the hotel on its opening in May 1885 continued: ‘Next to the bar, the hotel had a commodious and admirably fitted up smoking and news room, a desideratum rarely found in provincial towns. Here a select and valuable lot of books may be traversed, in addition to the journals and periodicals of the day, visitors will have the appreciable advantage of having the latest telegrams laid before them’.

Collins was a friend of the Clancy family. An extraordinary cameo at the height of the War of Independence bears this out.

Sunday 21 November 1920, Bloody Sunday, was the worst day of the War of Independence. In the early morning of Sunday 21 November groups of Volunteers, members of Collins’s ‘Squad’, converged on different addresses in Dublin. Fifteen men were shot dead, eleven suspected British agents, two Auxiliaries and two civilians.

That afternoon, another fourteen people were killed when members of the Auxiliaries, RIC and Black and Tans opened fire at Croke Park where crowds had gathered to watch an intercounty football match between Tipperary and Dublin.

Later that evening another three men were killed, two IRA prisoners, Dick McKee and Peadar Clancy, and another man, Conor Clune, a Clare man who was visiting Dublin.

One can only imagine the tension in Dublin the following morning, Monday 22 November. Large numbers of British Army and Auxiliaries combed the streets of Dublin trying to round up those involved in the events of the previous morning.

Michael Collins, then top of Britain’s most wanted list, and Gearóid Ó Súilleabháin of Skibbereen attended a wedding reception at Rathgar, Dublin, that morning. Even more extraordinary is that the two men stood in for a group photograph of the wedding party.

Group pictured at the wedding reception of Mr Michael J. O’Brien and Lil Clancy, both from Skibbereen, at 16 Airfield Road, Rathgar, Dublin, on 22 November 1920, the morning after Bloody Sunday. Back, from left, Julia O’Donovan, née Barry, bride’s aunt; Michael Collins, Gearóid O’Sullivan, Mrs. P. O’Keeffe, wife of Paudeen O’Keeffe, MP for Cork and later governor of Mountjoy Jail, Sean Hyde, veterinary student and member of the active services unit on Bloody Sunday; Denis Lynch, chief distiller, DWD, Drumcondra; Alice Lynch, Jim Murray. Centre, Fr. Bonaventure, OFM, Cap., of Rochestown College, Cork; Sheila O’Donovan, bridesmaid, cousin of the bride; Elizabeth A. Clancy, Michael J. O’Brien, Mick Lynch, best man, Joe Clancy, brother of the bride; Pat Barry, uncle of bride. Front, Ted Clancy (Joe’s wife); Eileen O’Donovan, Sean O’Donovan, Oona O’Donovann and Tadhg O’Donovan.

Getting married that morning were two Skibbereen people, Lil Clancy of the Eldon Hotel, a sister of Joe Clancy, and Michael J. O’Brien of Curragh, Skibbereen. It seems extraordinary that Collins and Ó Súilleabháin would attend the wedding of their friends that morning.

One of the last photographs of Michael Collins was taken as he left the Eldon Hotel on the morning 22 August. He was photographed getting into his car outside the door of the hotel in Bridge Street, surrounded by a large crowed. Many local people are clearly identifiable in that famous photo.

On Wednesday evening 17 August, Skibbereen & District Historical Society unveiled a plaque at the Eldon Hotel to commemorate the significant event 100 years ago.

Members of Skibbereen & District Historical Society who unveiled a plaque at the Eldon Hotel to commemorate the visit there of Michael Collins on the morning of 22 August 1922, just hours before he was shot and killed at Béal na mBlath.
The plaque at the Eldon Hotel, Skibbereen, to commemorate the visit of Michael Collins there on the morning of 22 August 1922.

Sweet Ilen – the story of a river: Part 1 – Source to Tide

Just why so little has been written or recorded about the River Ilen is something we can’t answer.

Thankfully, Robert Harris has undertaken to correct this anomaly and has written the first of a two-part article on the River Ilen for the 2022 Skibbereen Historical Journal.

For such an important waterway in west Carbery, it is quite remarkable that so little has been written about the Ilen.

In 2020 and 2021 Robert published a series of articles on the Ilen River on the Roaringwater Journal, https://roaringwaterjournal.com, the brilliant blog which he and Finola Finlay write.

In ‘Sweet Ilen – the story of a river: Part 1 – Source to Tide’ Robert has concentrated on the upper part of the river.

Robert writes of the topography and history of the Ilen and also refers to the geology of the area. In a wonderfully written and entertaining account, Robert has brought together pretty much all the information on the Ilen from a myriad of sources. We look forward with anticipation to Part 2!

The 2022 Skibbereen Historical Journal is selling for €12. As well as local shops, this year’s Journal, and a selection of back issues, can be purchased online at https://biblio.ie/bookstore/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814

The heroic life of Kate McCarthy from Drominidy North, Drimoleague

In the 2022 Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal Margaret Murphy has written an account of the extraordinary life of Kate McCarthy (Sr Marie Laurence), a native of Drominidy North, Drimoleague.

Kate McCarthy, the eldest of a family of ten children, was born in Drominidy North, Drimoleague, in 1895. She joined the Order of Franciscans of Calais at their Cork convent in 1913.

During World War I, Mother Laurence nursed hundreds of Allied soldiers and also German soldiers in Béthune in northern France.

Following a period in the US, Mother Laurence returned to Béthune at the outbreak of World War II. She assisted in the escape of countless numbers of Allied forces from Béthune when it became German-occupied territory. In June 1941, Mother Laurence was arrested by the Gestapo. She endured terrible conditions in several prisoner of war camps for several years before subsequently being held prisoner in Ravensbruck concentration camp.

At the end of the war, Mother Lawrence was helped to reach Sweden before eventually returning to the Honan Convent in Cork where she was made Reverend Mother.

The governments of both Britain and France recognised the valiant contribution of the Drimoleague-born nun. A year after the war ended, Mother Lawrence returned to France where she was decorated for her bravery, personally by General de Gaulle. She also received the ‘Black Cat’ emblem from the French underground movement, the Maquis.

Mother Lawrence was further honoured when she received a citation from Sir Winston Churchill, and the Chief of Staff of the Royal Air Force also cited her for her bravery.

Mother Lawrence McCarthy died suddenly on 21 June 1971 and is buried in St Finbarr’s Cemetery, Cork.

The Journal is selling for €12. As well as local shops this year’s Journal, and a selection of back issues, can be purchased online at https://biblio.ie/bookstore/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814

Skibbereen Historical Journal, Vol 18 2022

In the early days of July one hundred years ago, Skibbereen town was pretty much under siege!

It was the early stages of the Civil War (1922–23) and for Skibbereen the most active period of the conflict was in July and August 1922 when the war was in its initial phase.

Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, opinion in Skibbereen, like most other places, was divided. At the outbreak of the Civil War most of County Cork was under the control of anti-Treaty forces, but Skibbereen was an exception. The town and immediate hinterland were controlled by a small contingent of Free State troops under the command of Jerh MacCarthy of Dreeney, assisted by Tadhg O’Sullivan of ’98 Street.

On the night of 1 July 1922 anti-Treaty forces, under the command of Gibbs Ross and Tom Hales, entered Skibbereen and demanded the surrender of the Free State troops. What followed was a few days of intense exchanges between Free State and anti-Treaty Forces. While the siege was relatively short, fighting was intense and within a week the Free State garrison had evacuated the barracks and handed it over to the anti-Treaty forces.

In a particularly timely and relevant article in the latest issue of the Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal, William Casey details the exchanges between Free State and anti-Treaty forces in Skibbereen and surrounding areas in July and August 1922. This is one of 12 articles featured in Vol 18 of the annual Skibbereen Journal. Included also are a number of other contributions which are particularly relevant to the centenary of the War of Independence and Civil War period.

Among them is a splendid and compelling account of the life of Thomas Healy (1895–1957) by Liz Cassidy and Bernard Cassidy. Thomas Healy was born in Skibbereen in 1895. His father Joseph Healy was a solicitor and opened his own law practice in Skibbereen in 1881. Joseph Healy became a prominent figure in various Nationalist organisation in west Cork and was a passionate advocate for low rents, Home Rule and farmers’ rights.

Thomas Healy followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a solicitor and also a very prominent Nationalist figure in west Cork. He was a close friend and a confidant of Michael Collins and, in writing this article, Liz was able to draw on a private collection of letters from Collins to her grandfather, among many other sources, private and public. The Healy family also had a long association with the Southern Star and Thomas was a director of the company for many years and served a period as managing director.

In his beautifully written article about the River Ilen, Robert Harris has done us all a great service. For such a prominent feature of the landscape in the greater Skibbereen area, it is quite astonishing that so little has been written about the Ilen. In part one of what is a two-part series, Robert has addressed this anomaly with a wide-ranging and extensive look at the river and its history.

Margaret Murphy has written on the heroic life of Kate McCarthy (Sister Marie Laurence) from Drominidy North, Drimoleague. Sr Marie Laurence led an extraordinary life. During World War II she became a member of the French Resistance and was honoured by both France and Britain for her heroic work.

The story of Patrick John Hurley of Windmill (1888–1918) is a delightful vignette by Julianna Minihan. Patrick John Hurley was born in 1888, son of Denis and Honora Hurley of Windmill, Skibbereen. Patrick John was a soldier in the First World War and died in action in Italy in 1918. Like so many millions of others, Patrick John was an almost completely anonymous casualty of war. Now, Julianna has restored his name, his place, and his dignity, thanks to her diligent research and her perceptive writing of his story.

 If there is one feature in this current Journal that will gain universal approval, it is Amanda Clarke’s piece about holy wells in County Cork, with particular reference to Skibbereen and the Mizen peninsula. It is fantastically informative and beautifully illustrated article and a pleasure to read.

Contributions by Oscar Hernanz Elvira, Donal Corcoran, Maura Cahalane Joe Gibbons and Philip O’Regan are also included in Vol 18 of the Skibbereen Journal which maintains the very high standard it has set since its first publication in 2005.

The latest issue of the Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal has just been published. Volume 18 of the annual Journal and it maintains the very high standard it has set since its first publication in 2005. The Journal is selling for €12. As well as local shops this year’s Journal, and a selection of back issues, can be purchased online at https://biblio.ie/bookstore/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814

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