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

The Holy Wells of County Cork

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.

Amanda’s findings are recorded on her blog and her research to date represents a very valuable body of work.

The 2022 Journal is selling for €12 and is available in shops in Skibbereen and around west Cork.

This year’s Journal, and a selection of back issues, can also be purchased online at…/coolim-books-skibbereen/shj/39607814

Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol 18, 2022

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

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

Marian Barry (1871-1921): Trade Union activist and native of Skibbereen

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.

The Windmill Hill area of Skibbereen circa 1900.

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.

Pete Curran’s funeral cortege in 1910

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.

Marian with other delegates at the Labour-Socialist and Democratic Convention held in Leeds, 1917

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.

The Curran headstone in Leytonstone cemetery.

W. C.

Why Anew McMaster has a place in Skibbereen folk memory

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.

Anew McMaster.

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 played four nights in the Town Hall, Skibbereen, in June 1929.

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.

Advert for Anew McMaster’s programme of plays for the Town Hall, Skibbereen, in September 1951.

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.

Advert for Anew McMaster’s programme for the Town Hall, Skibbereen, in August 1955. It was in the early hours of Saturday morning 13 August, following a production of ‘Oedipus’ the night before, that the Town Hall was destroyed by fire.

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.

Harold Pinter.

P. O’R.