The launch of the Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal 2019 took place at the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre on Wednesday 29 May.
Dr Mervyn O’Driscoll BA, MA, PhD, Head, School of History, University College Cork, a native of Dunmanway, was the special guest and formally launched the journal.
Vol. 15 of the Skibbereen Journal has seventeen articles of wide-ranging interest covering such diverse topics as ‘The sketching trips of Jack Yeats to Skibbereen and Schull, 1915 and 1919’, ‘The History of Skibbereen Fire Brigade,’ to ‘Irish Constitutional Nationalism in west Cork, 1916-1918’ and ‘Ballyrisode Fulacht Fia: A New Bronze Age Site on The Mizen’.
Speaking to a large gathering at the Uillinn West Cork Arts Centre, Dr O’Driscoll said that Skibbereen had a rich and more varied history than many observers might at first suspect. ‘Probably it is often linked with the worst excesses of the Great Famine and Black ’47, and that is a factor perhaps in its emergence as the so-called “Cradle of Fenianism.” However, as the Skibbereen & District Historical Society Journal makes abundantly clear, at least to me, this tragic history and narrative obscures the very rich and varied histories and personal histories of the district.’
Dr O’Driscoll said he was ‘deeply impressed by the professionalism and high standard of this historical journal. It is a good model for many other local journals to aspire to as it combines an effort to communicate clearly and effectively to a wide audience regardless of educational attainment, but simultaneously it has a strong emphasis on endnotes and citation from good quality secondary sources and original documents. That is enormously valuable, and you can be assured that in fifty, nay one hundred years, historians will be reading this work for insight. The editorial and authorial team have done a brilliant job in excavating the hidden past and unexplored sources and questions. They need to be congratulated for their services to the wider community and history.’
Dr O’Driscoll gave a brief review of each of the seventeen articles and complimented all the authors in turn. He said that ‘Peter Murray’s original essay on Jack Butler Yeats sheds new light on his life and influences. This breaking open of a neglected West Cork dimension of one of the most celebrated painters of early twentieth Ireland is completely original. Moreover, it is odd that Yeats’ biographers fail to mention his visits to West Cork for extended periods.’
Frank Fahy was a member of Skibbereen Fire Brigade for forty-six years and served twenty-five years of those as Station Officer, so he was uniquely suited to writing ‘The History of Skibbereen Fire Brigade’ which Dr O’Driscoll said: ‘was clearly the result of careful detective work.’
‘They drilled by the light of the moon in lonesome places’: The Fenians in Rural Folk Memory, by Patrick Mahoney, ‘is a remarkable and original work’, said Dr O’Driscoll, ‘which delves into the Fenians of folk memory, to reveal the complex social memory relationship and perceptions that ordinary people had with the IRB.’
Vincent O’Neill’s story of ‘The World War I Medals of Thomas Collins, Lisheenroe, Castlehaven, Skibbereen’, is the story of a local man who served in the Royal Navy in World War I and survived it. Unfortunately, stories like this are underrepresented in our historiography and Vincent, and also Guy Warner’s article on ‘Four Cork Airmen in World War I’ are important contributions to help redress this balance.
Kieran Doyle’s ‘Unionism and the Orange Order in Bandon,’ according to Dr O’Driscoll, ‘is a fascinating assessment of Unionism and the Orange Order in Bandon during the nineteenth century.’
John O’Donovan, a tutor and PhD candidate in the UCC School of History, presents an in-depth study on Irish Constitutional Nationalism in west Cork, 1916-1918 in his essay.
Dr O’Driscoll waxed lyrical about Brendan McCarthy’s nostalgic article on the changing times and his recording of some of the crimes and misdemeanours people were charged with in the halcyon days of the 1960s. The times certainly are a changin’.
‘Eugene Daly’s close analysis of The Book of the Takings of Ireland from the twelfth century exports us back to the High Kings of Ireland and Corca Laidhe, from Kinsale to Kenmare, and the tribes that ruled here from the first century BC, and their origin stones,’ said Dr O’Driscoll. The Book of the Takings of Ireland is a record of the oral histories of the peoples of Ireland and their myths.
‘Finola Finlay’s archaeological expertise is on display in her article on Ballyrisode Fulacht Fia,’ according to Dr O’Driscoll, ‘and in the absence of the written record we are reliant on such professionalism to peel back the mists of time.’ Finola’s description of the water-boiling that took place in the Fulacht Fia reveals how challenging life was for early inhabitants of this island.
‘Chasing Ghosts on the Irish Canals,’ by Robert Harris is a story of canal adventuring which deals mostly with the fascinating odyssey of the Rolt family in Ireland in 1946 and how the author followed in their footsteps some seventy years later, in 2017. The story of Tom and Angela Rolt – largely forgotten – has been rescued from obscurity by Robert and, with the accompanying images, this article highlights the revival of the Irish canals into what is now a significant network of canal and river navigations.
Referring to ‘Servants’ by Michael MacCarthy Morrogh, Dr O’Driscoll said that the article ‘entertains us with the tales of servants and masters in the Big House. It is a remarkable piece of social history – the etiquette, the social pecking order and the life of the country gentleman are illuminated.’
Over the past few years William Casey has produced a very important body of work on the Fenians in West Cork, and in this journal he records the story of Mortimer Downing, the American-born son of Patrick J. Downing of Skibbereen, a very prominent Fenian, and Margaret Spillane. ‘This is an outstanding investigation into the radical trade union life of Mortimer Downing. The son of a Skibbereen Fenian emigrant, Mortimer imbibed his father’s radical instincts being a key organiser and publicist for the industrial workers of the world, also known as the Wobblies,’ noted Dr O’Driscoll.
Dr Donal Corcoran is a graduate of UCC and in 2018 Four Courts Press published his book The Irish Brigade in the Pope’s Army 1860 – Faith, Fatherland and Fighting. Donal has selected some extracts from his book for publication in this journal and he tells the stories of just a few of the 1,300 Irishmen who went to fight for Pope Pius IX in 1860.
In his second contribution to the 2019 Journal, Eugene Daly recalls the story of a tragic incident in Cape Clear a century ago when on 18 November 1919 four young men were killed by a floating mine, just a half a mile outside the North Harbour.
‘The “Farms” of Tullagh Civil Parish: resources and occupiers as recorded in the 1929 Tithe Applotment Books,’ by Jim Collins is a fascinating look at the ‘Farms’ of Tullagh, their occupiers, acreages and valuations, including sub-farms, based on information taken from the Tithe Applotment Books. There’s a wealth of information in the 1823/34 Tithe Applotment Books (TABs). In that period, all land or holdings in Ireland greater than one acre had to be valued and a tithe established.
Skibbereen & District Historical Journal Vol 15, 2019 is now available in shops in Skibbereen and around West Cork. There’s sure to be something of interest there for everyone with any West Cork connection, or who has in interest in history. It would also make a very nice gift to send to someone from this area who is living abroad.
The Journal, and back issues, can also be ordered online at https://www.biblio.com/bookstore/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814.