SKIBBEREEN and District Historical Society launched its 2017 Journal at the very successful inaugural West Cork History Festival this summer.
Volume 13 of the journal comprises a diverse selection of articles, sixteen in all, covering a wide range of topics. Some are written with a specific local dimension but each piece has a broad appeal that will be of interest to the general reader.
2017 is the 150th anniversary of the Fenian Rising of 1867. Two articles, ‘Mortimer Moynahan: the forgotten Fenian leader’, by William Casey, and ‘James Gilbert Cunningham: Tracking the Transnational History of a West Cork Dynamiter’, by Patrick J. Mahoney, tell the stories of two prominent Fenians from West Cork.
Moyhahan, ‘the forgotten Fenian leader’, was one of the founders of the Phoenix Society in Skibbereen in 1856 and played a big part in the spread of the Fenian movement. He was a close confidant of James Stephens, and Moynahan became, for a brief time, leader of the Fenian Brotherhood in America. O’Donovan Rossa said of Moynahan that: ‘Few men I met in the movement were truer to Ireland or more devoted to her cause than Morty Moynahan: to write of that cause and to forget him and his work would be treason.’
Despite that, the story of Mortimer Moynahan had been largely forgotten and William Casey has done a service by resurrecting his memory and has gone some way to restoring Moynahan to his rightful place among the pantheon of Fenian leaders.
James Gilbert Cunningham was another prominent Fenian, albeit from a slightly later era than Moyhahan. Cunningham was a native of Gurtnamona, Schull, and was one of those who took part in the ‘dynamite campaign’ in Britain in the early 1880s. Cunningham was centrally involved in the most devastating attack of the dynamite campaign when three almost simultaneous blasts rocked two of England’s most iconic buildings, the Tower of London and the Palace of Westminster. Cunningham carried the explosive device into the Tower of London. He later spent years in English prisons in such harrowing conditions that saw most of the Irish prisoners driven to insanity.
Patrick J. Mahoney has done painstaking research to piece together the story of James Gilbert Cunningham, another West Cork man whose involvement in the Fenian movement had largely been forgotten.
Eugene Daly, a regular contributor to the Journal has this year written an article on Peadar Ó hAnnracháin (1873-1965), who served as a brief period as the editor of ‘The Southern Star’ newspaper.
Ó hAnnracháin spent much of his long life trying to halt the decline in the Irish language. He was a timire and an organiser for Conradh na Gaeilge, and he was a prolific writer, leaving behind a very valuable body of work. He was a prominent nationalist and was one of fifty prisoners from the Cork area to be sent to Wakefield prison after the 1916 Rising.
Maura Cahalane’s article ‘Castletownshend links to the Anglo-Zulu War’ tells the story of Michael Minihan, a West Cork man, who was one of a heroic group who defended Rorke’s Drift in a famous engagement during the Anglo-Zulu War in 1879.
Having served some twenty years in Her Majesty’s forces, Minihan returned to Castletownshend in 1884, aged 39, with his health in a very precarious state. He married Johanna McCarthy of Castletownshend in 1885 and they had a family. However, Minihan died in 1891 having never fully recovered his health.
By a strange coincidence, another man with Castletownshend connections, Lieutenant Neville Coghill, was also involved in the defence of Rorke’s Drift, and he unfortunately lost his life in the battle.
‘The Agricultural Labourer – Skibbereen 1893’, by Tony McCarthy, is the story of the very detailed Agricultural Labourer Report which was published by Arthur Wilson Fox in 1893. Fox undertook a survey of the work, pay and living conditions of farm labourers in 30 different Poor Law Unions in Ireland, including Skibbereen. Fox also went into great detail about the fishing industry in this area. This is a most interesting read and gives us a great insight into the social and living conditions of the labouring class at a time when poverty was, unfortunately, still very prevalent in these parts.
Another article which deals with the fishing industry in the latter stages of the 19th century is ‘Angela Burdett-Coutts: “Queen of Baltimore”,’ by Jasper Ungoed-Thomas. It is the fascinating story of how one of the richest women in Europe took the village of Baltimore to her heart and played a major role in rescuing the crucial mackerel fishing industry from imminent collapse.
Brendan Lyons, in his ‘Meanderings through Cloghdonnell’ makes an almost forensic study of the district electoral division (DED) of Cloghdonnell, just outside of Skibbereen town. There are 14 townlands in Cloghdonnell, and Brendan has pulled together a huge amount of data on these from many and varied sources. Probably more qualified than most to undertake this kind of study, Brendan has demonstrated how information can be collected and used to chart changes in these rural communities where depopulation and decline is too often the narrative.
Devotees of archaeology are well catered for with two comprehensive articles. Finola Finlay and Robert Harris, authors of the outstanding roaringwaterjournal.com blog, write about ‘Rock Art at Derreennaclogh, Co. Cork’, while Gillian Boazman writes of high crosses in her piece ‘A cross-shaft at Coosheen, Schull’.
Colm Wallach, in his article ‘Garda Detective Officer Timothy (Tadhg) O’Sullivan 1896-1929’, recounts the tragic death of Skibbereen man Tim O’Sullivan who was killed in the line of duty at Tullycrine, Kilrush on June 11 1929. The 32 year old Detective Garda was killed when ‘a bomb, intended for the murder of him or others’, exploded.
The story of Frederick Parslow VC, by Victoria Kingston, tells of a very interesting connection between the first member of the Merchant Navy to be awarded the Victoria Cross (who was also the oldest VC winner of the First World War) and how his award was won off the Cork coast.
The Vickery name has a very long association with West Cork, and the story of George Vickery, a native of Skibbereen, and his time as a dispensary doctor in Kinsale is a delightful read. ‘Dr George Vickery – Dispensary Doctor for the Ballymartle District 1871-1886’ was written by Fergal Browne.
‘The Blood and Bandage (The story of the Cork GAA jersey), by Samuel Kingston, tells the story of how the famous red and white came to be adopted as Cork county GAA colours. But for an extraordinary quirk of fate during the War of Independence, the legendary red and white may never have been used as the county colours and our teams could still be lining out in the blue and saffron which early Cork teams wore. Perish the thought!
In ‘Fiction and the Famine Farmsteads’, Pádraig G. Lane takes a divergent look at the impact of the Great Famine as recorded in novels, particularly through descriptions in some of the better known 19th century literature on the subject.
‘Dá mbeinnse óg arís – A Trip down Memory Lane’, by Brendan McCarthy, is a beautifully engaging little vignette on growing up in West Cork in the 1940s – a time when we had less material abundance, but our wealth lay in a calmer, less complicated and slower (in a good way!) way of life. Less than idyllic in many ways, we suppose, but it did have much to offer.
Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal Vol 13 is available in many shops in Skibbereen and around West Cork.