If there is one article in the 2022 issue of the Skibbereen & District Historical Society 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 a fantastically informative and beautifully illustrated piece and a pleasure to read.
On St Bridget’s Day 2016 Amanda set out on a quest to visit every holy well in the county, where possible.
Please note that due to the high number of Covid-19 cases in the community, the Skibbereen & District Historical Society has decided to cancel the 2022 Journal lunch on Thursday 7th July. Apologies to anyone for any inconvenience caused by this.
The good news is that the Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol 18, 2022, is now available for purchase in shops in Skibbereen and some other outlets in West Cork.
Like other years, the 2022 Journal has a wide variety of articles, including: The Civil War in Skibbereen, An Eye-Witness Account of Michael Collins in Skibbereen in 1922, The Holy Wells of County Cork, The Irish White Cross in Skibbereen, The Heroic Life of Kate McCarthy (Sr Marie Laurence), Irish Army Census Records 1922, Sweet Ilen – the story of a river, and much more. See a full list of the articles below. 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
Contents: The Civil War in Skibbereen during July and August 1922 – William Casey Thomas Healy (1895 – 1957) – Liz Cassidy & Bernard Cassidy An Eye-Witness Account of Michael Collins in Skibbereen in 1922 – Joe Gibbons The Heroic Life of Kate McCarthy (Sr Marie Laurence) – Margaret Murphy Patrick John Hurley of Windmill, Skibbereen, (1888-1918) – Julianna Minihan Cornelius O’Driscoll: A West Cork man serving in the Spanish Army (1602-1622) – Oscar Hernanz Elvira Michael Collins and the Irish Provisional Government: January – August 1922 – Donal Corcoran The Irish White Cross in Skibbereen – Philip O’Regan Irish Army Census Records 1922 – Maura Cahalane The Holy Wells of County Cork with particular reference to Skibbereen & the Mizen Peninsula – Amanda Clarke Sweet Ilen – the story of a river: Part 1 – Source to Tide – Robert Harris Rides through the County of Cork: Castle Donovan – Philip Dixon Hardy
May Day, also known as International Worker’s Day, is an appropriate time to remember Marian Barry who played an important role in the development and growth of the trade union movement in Britain and Ireland, but is today largely unknown in her native town of Skibbereen.
Marian was born on 1 October 1871, the third child of John Barry and Mary Ronan. John and Mary were married in Skibbereen in 1868 and their first two children were James, born in 1869, and Elizabeth, born in 1870. The family lived in the Windmill area of the town and both John and Mary worked in the tailoring trade. At the time Windmill Hill was among the poorest parts of the town, and the housing there was of a very low standard. In December 1871, just weeks after Marian’s birth, tragedy struck the family when her sister Elizabeth died of croup, aged just 21 months. In 1873 another child was born and, in a common practice of that time, she was named Elizabeth, after her departed sister. In 1874 the family suffered further grief when the eldest boy, James, died aged just 5 years.
Sometime after the death of James in 1874 and 1878 the Barry family left Skibbereen and settled in the Whitechapel area of London, which was then a centre of the clothing industry. In London the Barrys found work at their trade and six more children were born between 1878 and 1887. Marian the, eldest surviving child, followed in her parent’s footsteps and found work as a tailoress. At that time the pay and working condition of those, particularly the women, employed in clothing factories, generally known as sweatshops, was very poor. To counter this Marian joined a trade union and started encouraging others to do likewise. Her organising abilities were quickly noticed. By 1895 she was a representative the East London Tailoresses, which later affiliated to the Women’s Trade Union League (WTUL) and in 1897 she was appointed to the Technical Education Board of the London County Council. As a representative of the WTUL, she travelled throughout Britain enlisting workers, especially women in the clothing industry, into trade unions. One newspaper account in 1897 described her as a ‘busy bee’ who in one week in Cradley Heath had persuaded 200 to join the union and that she was then off to Bradford to continue her recruitment work in that city.
In the course of her work Marian Barry met other trade union leaders, including Peter (Pete) Curran of the Gas Workers’ Union. Curran was the son of Irish emigrants and was one of the most prominent trade union leaders of the 1890s. As well as trade union activities, Marian and Pete also shared common believes in other causes. In a time when neither women nor working class men could vote, they were both advocates of universal suffrage. Both were anti-war in their outlook and they campaigned against the second Boer War. Sometime in the late 1890s, Marian and Pete married and afterwards Marian generally styled herself as ‘Mrs. Pete Curran’.
Marriage and a young family of her own did not stop Marian’s work for the trade union and labour movements. In 1906-7 she travelled widely in support of the Anti-Sweating League and she was involved in the Women’s Labour League. At the time she famously described the Labour Party as “the men’s party”. Despite this, in the 1906 General Election, when her husband Pete stood for the Labour Party in the constituency of Jarrow she worked tirelessly to get him elected. The issues she campaigned on in Jarrow included the high infant mortality rate, the need to provide school meals to children and the plight of women workers. Curran was not elected in 1906, but in a by-election in 1907 he won the seat. He was helped to this victory by Marian’s activism and the couple’s unequivocal support for female suffrage. In the 1910 General Election Pete narrowly lost his seat and shortly afterwards he died from liver failure – he had been a heavy drinker. His importance to the Labour Movement and the esteem that he was held in was demonstrated by the huge numbers who attended his funeral and lined the streets as his coffin was taken to Leytonstone cemetery in London.
In the years after Pete’s death Marian was less active. This was undoubtably due to the need to provide for her young family. For a period she worked as a secretary for the Board of Trade in London. In 1913 when that body tried first to constructively dismiss her and then offer her a job at a lower salary, ten members of the Board resigned in protest. By 1917 Marian had again returned to full time activism. In June 1917 a Labour-Socialist and Democratic Convention was held in Leeds, to support the February revolution in Russia and to promote pacifist sentiment. Marian was among the delegates to attend. In the following period most of Marian’s work was in her native Ireland.
In July 1917 Marian addressed a meeting of the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses in Dublin. In her speech she highlighted the fact that the Minimum Wages Act was being violated wholesale in Dublin. For the next fifteen months Marian worked primarily in Derry and the surrounding counties, chiefly organising women workers in the clothing industry. The issues she raised included low wages and the use of contract workers, who worked very long hours for very little pay. She also campaigned for workers in the clothing industry to be paid war time bonuses. Within weeks of her arrival in Ireland it was said that Marian had added 500 new members to the Amalgamated Society of Tailors and Tailoresses. At times her activities led to industrial strife and in October 1918, after a brief strike, Marian successfully negotiated a 25% pay increase for clothing factory workers in Omagh. While in Ireland Marian also supported the Irish Suffragette Movement and she was particularly critical of the resolution passed in 1917 by the Executive Committee of the General Council of County Councils, that asked for Ireland to be excluded from the provisions of any new franchise bill.
In late 1918 Marian returned to England, where she continued to work as a trade union organiser. In a speech delivered at a May Day rally in 1920 she referred to the ongoing war in Ireland. She stated that of all the resolutions passed that day the one calling for the withdrawal of the British military from Ireland was the one most appealing to her. She went on to explain some of the injustices that Ireland suffered under British rule and speaking of the ongoing war she stated that: ‘They may crush a nation for a time, but they will never entirely repress the spirit of freedom once it has been born.’
Little is known of Marian’s activities in the early 1920s, though it is probable that she continued working as a trade union organiser. She died on 8 September 1921 while on a visit to Brighton. She was just 49 years of age. A newspaper report at the time stated that ‘she had worked hard for Labour’ and that her death severed ‘another link with the early days of the British Socialist movement’. Marian was laid to rest with her husband Pete Curran in Leytonstone cemetery in London. Her name was never added to the headstone that marks the plot.
I recently read Anne Enright’s stunningly beautiful book, Actress, which was published in 2020. It is essentially the story of Irish theatre legend Katherine O’Dell, as written by her daughter Norah. If you have not already read it, get a copy. It is highly recommended!
Although peripheral to the story, the remarkable actor-manager Anew McMaster features in the narrative on a number of occasions. McMaster was an English actor-manager whose grand old style touring company thrilled audiences in Great Britain, Ireland and Australia over a number of decades.
McMaster is part of the folklore of Skibbereen because his was the last performance in the old Town Hall before it was burned to the ground in the early hours of Saturday 13 August 1955. The previous night, McMaster’s company had performed Oedipus, the story of the tragic hero in Greek mythology, as part of a seven-night run of shows. A few hours later, flames enveloped the hundred-year-old hall, situated with almost mathematical precision in the centre of the town, and many Skibbereen folk wept openly and unashamedly at the destruction caused.
McMaster’s was one of the better-known of the many touring theatrical companies in Ireland and Britain in early decades of the 20th century. His company would visit a town for a week and play five or six consecutive nights, with the same group of actors performing a different play each night. Mostly they played Shakespeare or the Greek tragedies.
I think McMaster’s first visit to Skibbereen was in 1929 when he played four consecutive nights in the Town Hall with the Dublin Shakespearean Festival Company.
Skibbereen was also to host McMaster on his tour of Ireland in 1951–52, when his company played six consecutive nights at the Town Hall from Tuesday 25 to Sunday 30 September 1951.
Included among the company of actors for this tour was a young actor from London, Harold Pinter. The Londoner was one of the few actors who made the successful transition from acting to writing and he became one of the world’s best-known playwrights, screenwriter, theatre directors and poets. Harold Pinter won a Nobel Prize for Literature in 2005.
McMaster’s next visit to Skibbereen was in 1955, when, owing to the fateful fire in the early hours of Saturday 13 August, he became part of the folk legend of the town.
McMaster’s tour included Clonakilty, where they played seven consecutive nights in Lowney’s Hall, from Monday 22 August. The company had lost scenery and costumes from several of their productions in the fire in Skibbereen and so had to improvise heavily for some of the Clonakilty shows.
This year is an important one in the Decade of Centenaries in Ireland. The period 1921–1923 was a particularly complex one in our history and it is important that it would be remembered appropriately, proportionately, respectfully and with sensitivity.
The year 2022 is a significant one for commemorations for another reason. It is the 175th anniversary of 1847. Black ’47 was the worst year of the Great Irish Famine 1845–52. It was the year when Skibbereen made the headlines in newspapers all over the world. Reports of the appalling conditions from this area featured prominently in newspapers in Ireland, Britain, America and many other countries.
The Irish poet Eavan Boland, who died in April 2020, said: ‘The Famine was one of the twofold trials of the Irish people – once in the happening and once in the remembering’. Skibbereen Heritage Centre does very important work in commemorating the Famine and we’re sure it will have an extensive programme of events this year to mark the 175th anniversary of 1847.
One of those who featured in the literature of the Famine in Skibbereen in 1847 was Dr David Hadden, who was Physician to the Castletownshend Dispensary. Dr Hadden was one of a group of doctors, ministers, priests and others who wrote letters to various newspapers, and who helped to focus world attention on Skibbereen. One such letter was written by Dr Hadden on 20 January 1847 and appeared in the Cork Constitution on 23 January. It is published below.
Dr David Hadden was born on 30 June 1817 in Abbeyleix, the son of Reverend John Hadden, a Wesleyan minister. David Hadden came to live in Skibbereen in 1840, the same year he was admitted a member of the Royal College of Surgeons of England. He graduated in Medicine from the University of Glasgow in 1846. His first appointment was as Physician to the Dispensary in Castletownshend where he served the community with great energy and devotion during the Famine. Like many others who gave such unselfish devotion to the care of the afflicted, Dr Hadden became very ill himself at one time, but he recovered and resumed his duties. Dr Hadden was appointed Physician to the Drimoleague Dispensary in 1852 and he served there until his death on 17 February 1878.
Dr Hadden is buried in Abbeymahon Graveyard in Skibbereen. At the funereal, his coffin was borne through the streets of the town on the shoulders of coastguards and policemen. Incredibly, the cortege went via Bridge Street, around Ballyhilty and down North Street on the way to Abbeymahon. Dr Hadden was survived by his wife Ellen and six sons John, George, David, Robert, Samuel and Edward. John, David and Robert followed their father into the medical profession. Robert Hadden served as a doctor in Skibbereen for many years. Members of at least four generations of the Hadden family were to go on and give distinguished service to the medical profession in Ireland and abroad. Ellen Hadden died at the home of her son Robert, North Street, on 8 February 1898.
Dr Hadden is remembered in Skibbereen. In Abbeystrewry church there is a plaque and a memorial window dedicated to his memory. The memorial window, directly behind the altar was installed in 1887 and was made at the famous glass factory in Leith, Edinburgh. The triptych, which is of beautifully stained glass, is composed of three panels, each of which has been designed to be representative of some scriptural subject. In the central panel, the Good Samaritan is depicted doing a deed of Christianity. The right panel illustrates the raising of Jairus’ daughter, and the left side of the window forms a depiction of the raising of the widow’s son. The dedication at the bottom reads: ‘To the Glory of God – In Memory of David Hadden M.D. / Born June 30th 1817; Died February 17th 1878’.
There is a fine painting of Dr David Hadden in the Masonic Lodge in Skibbereen. The painting was unveiled at a ceremony in the Lodge in June 1878, at which George Robinson delivered an eloquent tribute to Dr Hadden.
George Robinson was related to the Carson family which resided in Coronea House for many years. He was a grandson of Rev William Robinson, who was rector of Abbeystrewry before there was a church on the present site in Bridge Street. The church was then on what locals will know as the Long Quay.
Cork Constitution, January 23, 1847
TO THE EDITOR OF THE CORK CONSTITUTION
Castletownshend Dispensary, January 20th, 1847
Sir – I feel that I should not have discharged my duty to the suffering creatures amongst whom I am labouring, did I not make some allusion through your columns to the misery which to so fearful an extent prevails in parts of the parish of Castlehaven, but as your kindness has already been too much trespassed on by tales of misery, I shall do so as briefly as possible.
Within the last ten days I have been called on to visit about 130 cases of fever, independent of numerous applications at the Dispensary from persons labouring under other diseases, consequent on insufficient and improper food.
In a group of houses in a remote part of the district I saw 30, and in an adjoining group of about 40 cases of fever, combined with, or perhaps I should rather say caused by, the most extreme destitution. In the majority of cases whole families are prostrated by it, and crowded together on the same handful of straw, in a corner of their miserable cabin, from which every vestige of furniture has disappeared, having been sold to procure food or used as firewood. I saw a family who had just recovered from fever exerting their feeble strength in breaking up for firing the dresser, which in better days had been the pride of the cottage.
I will mention a few cases from which a faint idea of the exciting state of things may be obtained. About a week since I saw a man named Collins with his four children on the same bed in which I had seen his wife dying a few days before. Their only nourishment was water, and their only attendant a child six years old. The poor fellow in the delirium of fever went out and was found at night wandering naked amongst the rocks, and half dead with cold. In the adjoining house a poor woman named Carty was breathing her last. A little further on a man asked me to look at his only remaining child, three others having died within the last few days; and another poor fellow asked some assistance to bury the second of his children which had died since the previous Sunday. A few days ago, a poor famine-stricken creature called on me to visit her two brothers and sisters who were ill, saying that her mother and eldest brother had died the week before. On paying a second visit in three days after, I found the poor creatures who had summoned me lying dead, and since that, two other brothers and a sister have died, making six adults who had been taken from one family, and I fear that by the time this reaches you the remaining one will be no more. I saw a poor fellow named Wholly in a cabin not five feet high; he said that one of his children had just been buried, and in less than a week he and his two other children were in their graves. A poor man named Crowley with his child lay unburied for five days in the midst of his family, (who were then and still are in fever) owing to the fear of contagion which exists to such a degree as to render it difficult to procure a person, even for payment, who would venture either to remove the dead or minister to the wants of the living.
I could give a lengthened catalogue of such cases, but will only say that I know South Reen and have been through almost every cabin in Skibbereen, in both of which places misery in the extreme exists, but I grieve to say that I could point out places in the parish of Castlehaven which would bear comparison with either.
Noble efforts have been made by the resident gentry here towards the alleviation of the distress, but anything which can be done by private benevolence must be but as a drop in the bucket. – I remain, Sir, your very obedient servant. DAVID HADDEN, M.D.