St Patrick’s Day, March 17, 1902, saw one of the biggest public demonstrations ever in Skibbereen.
On that day, Maud Gonne visited the town and, according to the report in The Southern Star the visit of this “illustrious lady was marked by a reception which has been seldom, if ever, accorded to any person in that town.”
The purpose of her visit was to deliver lecture in the Town Hall at the invitation of the Skibbereen branch of the Young Ireland Society.
A branch of the Young Ireland Society had been founded in Skibbereen in July 1901. It came about after a deputation from the Cork branch of the society visited Skibbereen as part of their efforts to raise funds for the erection of a National Monument in Cork City.
Following some discussions and canvassing locally, a branch of the Young Ireland Organisation, as it was known, was formally instituted in Skibbereen with the following officers: Geoffrey Wycherley, president; John Duggan, vice-president; Edward Cotter, treasurer; Con O’Mahony, DB McCarthy, Laherdane House, and DR O’Donovan, secretaries. The committee included James Hurley, John O’Mahony, James Duggan, John Cotter, Charles Coughlan and John Donovan (Market Street).
One of the first important public events organised by the Society was a lecture by Rocky Mountain O’Brien.
The Society assisted in the collection in West Cork for the funds for the Cork City National Memorial. There was a generous response in West Cork and a considerable sum was forwarded to the Cork branch.
In November 1901, an address was delivered in the Town Hall, Skibbereen, by John Daly, then Mayor of Limerick City. John Daly was accompanied by his niece, Miss Daly, later Mrs Tom Clarke. At the time that John Daly gave his address in Skibbereen he had just been released from a thirteen-year incarceration in English prisons.
The Daly family were called upon in 1916 to make further sacrifices in the cause of Ireland’s independence. John Daly’s only nephew, Edward Daly, and his nephew-in-law, Tom Clarke, the first signatory of the Declaration of the Irish Republic in 1916, were amongst those who faced the English firing-squads in Dublin.
The next great event organised by the Society was a lecture by Maud Gonne on St Patrick’s Day 1902. That was quite a significant year for one of the country’s best known revolutionary figures. On April 2 Maud played the lead in Yeats/Gregory’s Cathleen ni Houlihan, in June she decided to marry Major John MacBride, and later conducted a lecture tour of Paris. She also helped to launch the Irish National Theatre Society.
Maud Gonne’s visit to Skibbereen generated great interest throughout West Cork. She was greeted by a huge crowd off the train and they followed her in procession through the town. At one point the crowd was so great that the procession couldn’t move any further, so Maud Gonne was taken to an upstairs window of Browne’s Hotel in Bridge Street from where she addressed the assembled crowd.
The procession then continued on its way to the Town Hall where Maud Gonne delivered her lecture. This whole event was an outstanding success and £10 was raised, a not insubstantial sum in those days.
At subsequent meetings of the Skibbereen branch of the Young Ireland Society, it was decided that they wouldn’t send the £10 to Cork, but would rather use it to start a fund to build their own monument in Skibbereen, and thus the idea for the Maid of Erin monument was born.
Fundraising continued throughout the remainder of 1902 and 1903 and the whole project culminated with the visit of another famous Irish revolutionary figure, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, to unveil the monument on November 27, 1904.