‘A Different World: An English Vicar in West Cork’, by Hilary Wakeman

Hilary Wakeman.

I was lucky enough to get some very nice books in my Christmas stocking in 2021. One was a beautiful memoir by Hilary Wakeman of part of her time as Rector of the Kilmoe Union in the Mizen peninsula.

Kilmoe comprises a broad stretch of rural West Cork which begins just west of Ballydehob and includes Schull and Crookhaven. There are three churches in the Kilmoe Union, Holy Trinity in Schull, Teampol na mBocht in Altar, and St Brendan’s in Crookhaven.

A Different World: An English Vicar in West Cork, by Hilary Wakeman, a beautiful, personal observation and will definitely strike a chord with many people.

Hilary was one of the first women ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1994. She had been working in the Church as a deaconess and then deacon for nine years prior to that. She was one of the first women to take charge of a parish while still a deacon and was a member of the General Synod, the Church of England’s governing body, from 1990 to 1995. In 1994 Hilary was made an Honorary Canon of Norwich Cathedral.

Hilary Wakeman was one of the first women ordained a priest in the Church of England in 1994.

The Church of Ireland began ordaining women as priests in 1990 and Reverend Canon Hilary Wakeman was the first female priest to take over a parish in West Cork when she was appointed Rector of Kilmoe in 1996.

In the spring of 1995 Hilary and her husband John spent a week’s holiday in Ireland. That was the catalyst that led to them moving to Ireland full-time in 1996 when, in March, Hilary was appointed Rector of Kilmoe. Hilary knew that moving from Norwich to rural West Cork was going to represent great changes for her, her husband John and daughter Rosie, and so in the Spring of 1996 she began keeping a diary.

Canon Hilary Wakeman was the first female priest to take over a parish in West Cork when she was appointed Rector of Kilmoe in 1996.

This beautiful book, A Different World: An English Vicar in West Cork, is a memoir based on those diary entries from April 1996 to June 1997. On 10 May 1996 Hilary was instituted as Rector of Kilmoe, and the great adventure began. For some of us, 1996 seems very recent indeed, but reading this memoir we realise that West Cork was a very different place just a quarter of a century ago.

This is not Hilary’s first book. She is an accomplished writer and editor. Saving Christianity: New Thinking for Old Beliefs was published in 2003 and in it Hilary argues that if ‘moderate Christianity is to survive, we need to find new ways of expressing old truths’.

Hilary also edited a number of books, including Women Priests: The First Years, published in 1996, and Circles of Stillness: Thoughts on Contemplative Prayer from the Julian Meetings, published in 2002. Hilary was also a regular contributor to the ‘Rite and Reason’ column in the Irish Times and was an occasional contributor to the Southern Star.

Hilary and John at their cottage in Skeagh, at the foot of Mount Gabriel, where THE SHOp poetry magazine was produced.

Hilary’s husband John Wakeman was a poet, editor, and a noted scholar. In 1999 John started a poetry magazine THE SHOp, and Hilary joined him as co-editor when she retired in 2001. THE SHOp was a very welcome and significant addition to the collection of Irish poetry publications.

THE SHOp was produced entirely from John and Hilary’s old stone cottage at Skeagh, at the foot of Mount Gabriel to which the couple had retired. Three issues of THE SHOp were published each year until the final double issue, Number 46­-47, was published in the Autumn of 2014. Because of John’s deteriorating health, the couple returned to Norwich in 2017, and John died in 2018.

Hilary and John Wakeman at their cottage in Skeagh.

THE SHOp was a publication of great beauty and was widely acclaimed in poetry and literature circles in Ireland and abroad. Bernard O’Donoghue called it ‘unquestionably the most beautiful poetry magazine now in existence’, and Seamus Heaney described himself as a ‘confirmed SHOp-lifter’.

I had the pleasure of meeting Hilary and John at their cottage in Skeagh on a number of occasions. Their hospitality was generous and their company engaging and easy. Hilary’s memoir A Different World is a joyful reflection on the first year of the couple’s great adventure in West Cork. It is a beautiful, personal observation and will definitely strike a chord with many people.

THE SHOp, issue 42, Summer 2013. The artwork is Rishabadeva by Janet Mullarney (Aluminium, 2010). The 46 issues of THE SHOp were beautifully produced and often adorned with beautiful images.
Autumn 2014, double issue No 46 and 47 and the last edition of THE SHOp poetry magazine.

P. O’R.

Memories of pantomime in Skibbereen

For many Skibbereen people, at home or living abroad, thoughts at this time of year will, at some stage, invariably turn to the days of the great pantomimes in the Town Hall. The annual pantomime was such an integral part of the Christmas-New Year period for many years.

The cover of the programme for the first pantomime in Skibbereen, Robinson Crusoe, which was staged in 1963.

Organised by the De La Salle Past Pupils’ Union, the first pantomime in Skibbereen was in 1963. ‘Robinson Crusoe’ started on Sunday night 6 January and ran for eight consecutive nights.

Those extraordinarily ambitions productions played to appreciative audiences for eight or ten consecutive nights, and also included two matinees on Sunday afternoons. Some of those shows had a cast of over one hundred, including men’s and women’s chorus, tiny tots, dancers, as well as the main characters. Scene changes were plentiful, and costumes were often spectacular. As well as being highly entertaining performances, the whole business of staging the annual pantomime was some feat of organisation.

We remember here some of those people who were part of the great pantomime tradition in Skibbereen and who sadly died in 2021.

Brother and sister Liam O’Donovan and Nancy Casey who played the leading roles in some of the pantomimes in the 1960s.

Nancy Casey died on 12 September 2021. Nancy played the character of Marguerite in ‘Robinson Crusoe’ in the first panto in 1963. She was a noted operatic singer and was well known in musical circles throughout the county, having appeared in several Cork operettas. Nancy’s brother, Liam O’Donovan, tenor of countless performances in Skibbereen, played the lead part opposite her on a number of occasions and their duets would draw favourable comparison with any in musicals or pantomime anywhere. In the 1960s, people travelled from all over the county to see and hear Nancy and Liam perform.

The late Nancy Casey.

Nancy spent all her working life teaching at St Patrick’s Boys’ NS, Skibbereen, and will be fondly remembered by past pupils. Nancy was also a member of the choir at St Patrick’s Cathedral for many years. Nancy married Fachtna Casey from Rosscarbery in March 1964, and Fachtna too became part of the tradition of pantomime in Skibbereen with some great performances .

Anna McCarthy died on 6 December 2021. Though she didn’t appear on stage, Anna was an integral part of pantomime and indeed of the Cathedral Players and Skibbereen Theatre Society for many years. We remember Anna, with the late Margaret Ryan and others, backstage doing make-up, sorting costumes, and generally keeping a lid on things in often frenetic situations. Anna’s husband Frank was a member of the Past Pupils Union which began the pantomime and as well as taking to the stage on many occasions, he was also secretary of the organisation for a long period.

The late Anna McCarthy.

Anna, a native of county Roscommon, served the community of Skibbereen for many years in her capacity as a nurse in the practice of the late Dr Micheal O’Sullivan and later at the Medical Centre in Market Street. Anna was also a great worker in the community and contributed very generously to many organisations, most especially the Skibbereen Geriatric Society.

Some members of the ladies chorus in the Skibbereen De La Salle PPU’s 1982 production of Aladdin. From left, Mary White, Sandra Dempsey, Josephine O’Driscoll, Margaret O’Neill Rosellen Walsh and Imelda Whooley.

Margaret O’Neill, originally from Myross and lately of Glandore Road, Leap, died on 24 December 2021. Margaret sang in the chorus on a few occasions in the 1980s and her sparkling personality and fine voice were ideally suited to the lustre of pantomime.

There are others, we are sure, who it would be appropriate to mention, but we remember Nancy, Anna and Margaret in particular with great fondness.

P. O’R.

The list of those involved in Robinson Crusoe, the first pantomime staged by Skibbereen De La Salle PPU, which ran for eight nights starting on 6 January 1963.

Dillon’s Corner is back!

A new bakery, restaurant and deli has opened in Skibbereen in one of the most prominent business premises in the town.

The new business at 68 Bridge Street, that iconic site that stands on the corner of Bridge Street and Mardyke Street, will be welcomed by local people and visitors to Skibbereen. The beautifully appointed building has been given a comprehensive make-over and, thankfully, Dillon’s Corner has been given back to the town.

The beautifully revamped ‘Dillon’s Corner’ at 68 Bridge Street, one of the most prominent business locations in Skibbereen.

People of a certain age will remember the original Dillon’s shop and public house which was run for so many years by sisters Gretta Dillon and Nora Grimes. In the early decades of the twentieth century Dillon’s general grocery store was particularly noted for specialising in different kinds of tea.

An advert for Dillon’s Delicious Teas in February 1905.

For over a century Dillon’s was a notable landmark in Skibbereen and was for many years run by Thomas and Kate Dillon. Thomas and Kate McCarthy were both from old Skibbereen families. Kate’s father Cornelius McCarthy was Town Clerk of Skibbereen for many years.

Kate mostly ran the public house and shop as Thomas was a commercial traveller and was well known throughout West Cork. He was a prominent member of a number of Nationalist organisations and was a founder member of the Skibbereen GAA Club in November 1887.

Thomas died in October 1918 and was survived by Kate and five daughters, one of whom, Gretta, joined her mother running the business. When Kate died in December 1948 Gretta continued in the business for another thirty years and in later years was joined by her sister Nora Grimes. Nora married James Grimes in September 1931. James, a native of Kells, county Meath, joined the editorial staff of the Southern Star in Skibbereen in 1929. He died tragically young in February 1936 and Nora went to England for a number of years before returning to Skibbereen where she joined Gretta in running the shop and public house. Nora died in February 1999 and was the last of the Dillon family in Skibbereen.

Work begins on the demolition of the ‘old’ Dillons in October 1983.

Following the retirement of Gretta and Nora from the business in the early 1980s, 68 Bridge Street was purchased by Brendan and Eithne McCarthy in 1983. Eithne and Brendan were to open a bar and restaurant having run the Carbery Restaurant in Bridge Street for a number of years. However, the transition for Eithne and Brendan was far from smooth. The state of deterioration of the old building was much greater than originally believed and, somewhat controversially, the building was demolished and cleared away in less than twenty-four hours in October 1983.

There ’tis, Gone! In the space of twenty-four hours the old building was demolished.

However, after a bit more angst than had been anticipated, Brendan and Eithne opened their new bar and restaurant on 16 March 1984.

The ‘new’ bar and restaurant which was opened by Brendan and Eithne McCarthy on 16 March 1984.

In latter years, the premises has changed hands several times. Brian and Margaret Foley ran a thriving bar business there for some years. Two local men, Killian O’Driscoll and Aidan Murphy, then leased the bar for a time. They restored the original Dillon’s name to business, but that was short-lived. In March 2000 David Egan purchased 68 Bridge Street and for six and a half years ran a very successful bar and restaurant under the name of The Tzar. David closed the business in August 2006.

Since then, several different tenants have operated at 68 Bridge Street. Carmel Summers ran the Good Things Café and subsequently the Perry sisters, Tessa, Kez and Jo, from Baltimore, ran a restaurant there. However, in June 2019 they decided not to renew the lease on the property.

The gold leaf signage is the work of signwriter Declan Newman.

The revamped Dillon’s Corner is a huge addition to Skibbereen. The substantial street frontage is strikingly beautiful. The magnificent gold leaf signage is of course the work of signwriter Declan Newman, a true craftsman, whose work has enhanced many business premises all over West Cork.

It is good to have Dillon’s Corner back as a landmark in Skibbereen and we hope it will play an important role in the commercial, social and cultural life of the area for many years!

P. O’R.

The beautifully appointed ‘Dillon’s Corner’ at the corner of Bridge Street and Mardyke Street.

Skibbereen Flooding: a record in time

Flooding has been a perennial problem in Skibbereen for centuries, most likely from the time a settlement grew up on the banks of the Ilen River in the 1600s.

The Bath Chronicle of 31 August 1769 reported that: ‘We hear from the Barony of Carbery, in Ireland, that many bridges have been carried away, roads broke up, many ditches thrown down, the towns of Bridgetown and Skibbereen laid under water, and his Majesty’s stores and collector’s apartments very much damaged, by the heavy rain that fell on the 11t instant’.

Cathal O’Donovan, right, author of the article ‘Skibbereen Flooding: a record in time’. Cathal was elected secretary of the Skibbereen Floods Committee at their inaugural meeting in February 1982 and is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the Skibbereen Floods Committee. At left is Gerald O’Brien, President of Skibbereen & District Historical Society.

In the mid-19th century, the Board of Guardians in Skibbereen proposed the widening and deepening of the riverbed to ‘save the town from the floods and inundations to which it is every year subject’. But while the problem of flooding persisted and got progressively worse, the talking continued, and little was done to ease the situation.

Flooding Photo 2
On Wednesday 6 August 1986 Skibbereen suffered what was described by many locals as its worst flood ever. Boats travelled up and down Main Street throughout the day!

The issue of solving the flooding problem in Skibbereen seemed to have been consigned to the hallowed hall of Irish
aspirations, much like the draining of the Shannon and other projects. That was
until a new committee was formed in Skibbereen in February 1982. Skibbereen
Floods Committee members quickly realised that for any significant flood relief
scheme they were talking about a thirty-to-forty-year timescale, and they were
in this for the long haul.

It was also evident from preliminary studies that any satisfactory solution would have to comprise three critical infrastructural developments – a sewage system, relief road and a flood relief scheme. This would be a massive task!

Skibb Flooding CE January 21 1969
January 1969, a crowd gathers at the end of Townshend Street to witness the damage from yet another flood of Skibbereen town. Note the boat in the middle of the street!

At the inaugural meeting of Skibbereen Floods Committee on 25 February 1982, Cathal O’Donovan was elected secretary. Cathal has been intimately involved with every aspect of the work of the committee for
the past forty years. Nobody knows more about how the enormous three-stranded infrastructural
developments were brought to completion in 2020.

Cathal is uniquely qualified to tell the story of the Skibbereen Floods Committee and in the Skibbereen Historical Journal 2021, he has written a comprehensive account of the work carried out over the past forty years which has culminated with the centuries old flooding problem in Skibbereen finally
being solved!

Flooding Photo 4
The late Haulie McCarty at the junction of Townshend Street and Ninety-Eight Street on the occasion of one of the many floods of that part of the town.

‘Skibbereen Flooding: a record in time’ is one of fourteen articles covering a diverse range of topics of local and national interest in Skibbereen Historical Journal, Vol. 17, 2021, which is now available for purchase in shops in Skibbereen and some other outlets in West Cork.

The Journal has fourteen articles covering a diverse range of topics and it maintains the very high standard of the previous sixteen. The Journal is selling for €12. It can also be purchased online by clicking on this link  https://www.biblio.com/book/skibbereen-district-historical-society-journal-vol/d/1408087414

The story of the Murrahin Amber Necklace

In the 2021 Skibbereen Historical Journal, Eugene McSweeney of Ballydehob tells the story of an artefact known as the Murrahin Amber Necklace.

It is an incredible account of a set of amber beads which originated in the Baltic coast and how they came to end up in a bog in Murrahin North. There were three different types of beads in the find, the oldest most likely dating back to the late Bronze Age, 100BC–600BC.

The Murrahin Amber Necklace. (Image by Lisa Moloney, courtesy of the Cork Public Museum).

Amber is the fossilised resin of ancient pine trees and since it often takes on a golden hue it has been valued as a precious gem since Neolithic times. It has been used in the making of jewellery, works of art and decorative ornaments.

The beads were discovered about 1920 when they dropped out of a sod of turf which was being broken for the fire by Henry Sweetnam of Murrahin North, in the parish of Kilcoe, just west of Skibbereen town. Henry gave the beads to his mother, Mrs T. Sweetnam. They remained in her possession for about thirty years when Mr Bernard O’Regan of Sea View House, Aughadown, Skibbereen, acquired them and he presented them to the Cork Public Museum.

The late Bernard O’Regan of Seaview House, Aughadown, Skibbereen.

Bernard O’Regan was one of the best-known antiquarians in West Cork; he had a deep interest in and knowledge of the history, archaeology, ornithology, and botany of this region. Bernard was a lifelong member of the Cork Historical and Archaeological Society.

This is a fascinating story beautifully written by Eugene. He records in the most compelling way the chance discovery of the beads, how they were preserved so well by the Sweetnam family and how Bernard O’Regan understood the significance of the find and had the prudence to donate them to the Cork Public Museum.

Unfortunately, the Murrahin Amber Necklace is not on public display at the museum. Wouldn’t it be something if it could be acquired on loan and put on display somewhere in west Carbery? Maybe, just maybe, Eugene’s article will be the catalyst for such a move.

Skibbereen Historical Journal Vol 17, 2021, is now available for purchase in shops in Skibbereen and some other outlets in West Cork.

The Journal has fourteen articles covering a diverse range of topics and it maintains the very high standard of the previous sixteen. The Journal is selling for €12.

It can also be purchased online by clicking on this link  https://www.biblio.com/book/skibbereen-district-historical-society-journal-vol/d/1408087414