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

John Murphy, West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen: A tribute

The death took place on 30 July 2021 of John Murphy, Ilen Street and formerly of the West Cork Hotel, Skibbereen.

John Murphy (1928-2021).

John died full of years after a long and active life. His connection with Skibbereen goes back several generations and his singular knowledge of the area and its people was without equal. Though a very public figure as owner and manager of the West Cork Hotel for much of his life, and while he enjoyed the company of people, John was in many respects a very private person. However, the writer of this modest tribute has on many occasions been grateful to John for his patience and unfailing generosity with his time in answering many queries about aspects of the history of Skibbereen and its people.

John and Betty Murphy will of course be forever associated with the West Cork Hotel which they ran from 1959 until they retired from the business in the mid-1990s. John was predeceased by his wife Betty (née O’Driscoll) who died on 10 June 2018.

Great Grandfather

John’s great-grandfather, Patrick Murphy, and his great-grandmother, an O’Donovan from Drominidy, both emigrated to America during the Famine. They married in New York in 1853 before returning some years later to Ireland and to Skibbereen. Patrick brought a shop in North Street and later brought a premises in Main Street where he ran a pub and a meal and flour business.

John Murphy and Annie Fitzgerald who build the West Cork Hotel which opened in 1902. John and Annie were grandparents of John Murphy.

Patrick Murphy died in July 1910 and Mrs Murphy died three years later in 1913. Patrick and Mrs Murphy were survived by one son, John, and this was the man who built the West Cork Hotel which opened in 1902.

John Murphy began his working life as a law clerk and later worked as a carpenter. He was a very progressive man and built a number of houses in Cork Road and at Market Street. John married Annie Fitzgerald of the Abbey, Skibbereen, on 8 September 1887.

An advert in the ‘Skibbereen Eagle’ of 27 September 1902 announcing the opening of the new West Cork Hotel.

By the turn of the twentieth century Skibbereen had become a very progressive market and business town, and Ilen Street was an ideal site for a new hotel, it being situated close to the railway station which then played such an important role in the commercial and social life of the town.

This splendid photograph from the Lawrence Collection shows the original West Cork Hotel building with the railway running behind it.

The original hotel had eleven bedrooms and early on the proprietors converted a downstairs billiard room into three bedrooms to bring the total up to fourteen. It was Annie Murphy who ran the hotel for many years. John and Annie Murphy had six children, three boys and three girls, Dan, John, Pat, May, Eileen and Katie.

Their eldest son Dan and his wife Lizzie took over the running of the hotel when his mother Annie’s health forced her to reduce her involvement in the business. Annie died on 27 September 1937.

John and Betty Murphy.

Dan married Lizzie Ross of Glandart, Bantry, on 28 April 1927. It was Lizzie who mostly managed the hotel and she took over the business completely when Dan died tragically young on 1 August 1939. Dan pre-deceased his father by some sixteen months; John died on 13 November 1940.

Dan and Lizzie had two sons, John and Pat. John married Betty O’Driscoll from Carrigillihy, Union Hall, on 17 September 1959 and the couple took over the running of the West Cork Hotel. From the beginning, it was a real team effort. For thirty-five years John and Betty dedicated themselves to making the West Cork Hotel one of the best-known establishments in the south of Ireland.

John Murphy (1928-2021).

The West Cork Hotel became an institution under John and Betty’s guidance. It was a tourist attraction, appealing to people from all over to come and enjoy the excellent hospitality and service. It was one of the most popular wedding venues in West Cork and over three decades John and Betty worked extraordinarily hard to make every visitor welcome. They treated everyone with the same respect and they, in turn, were greatly admired and respected for their enormous commitment to their guests.

In 1978, in conjunction with the Skibbereen Welcome Home Week, the O’Donovan Rossa GAA Club ran a ‘Lord Mayor of Skibbereen’ contest which proved to be a very successful fundraising event. The seven candidates Timmie Salter, Charlie Davis, Ronnie Carthy, John Young, Michael Harte, Oliver Fahy and Robert Swanton, had a ‘press conference’ to launch their respective campaigns in the West Cork Hotel and pictured here is John Murphy welcoming candidate Timmie Salter to the event.

John and Betty added seven bedrooms in 1960. Then when the railway closed in 1961, they bought more land behind the existing hotel and in 1965 they added a substantial extension. They added the function room and an extra seven bedrooms. In 1972 they carried out a further expansion to bring it up to a forty-one bedroom hotel. John and Betty retired in the mid-1990s and the management of the hotel was taken over by their son John, the fourth generation of the family to run the business.

Recognised in the Bridgestone Guide as one of the best one hundred places to stay in Ireland, John McKenna wrote that: ‘People find the West Cork to be a home away from home, a place of relaxation where things are done properly according to ageless standards of service. It demands that rare epithet, venerable, to describe its charms’.

John decided to pursue other business interests and in 2005 the West Cork Hotel was purchased by the Looney family who have continued the fine tradition of the hotel.

John Murphy is survived by his children John and Liz, sisters in law Elmar Nolan and Noreen Lucey, relatives, and a large circle of friends.

P. O’R.

Three Burials in Aughadown Graveyard, February 1921

In February 1921 three burials took place in the old graveyard in Aughadown, four miles west of Skibbereen town. Those interred were Patrick O’Driscoll of Mohonagh, William Connell and Mathew Sweetnam, both of Lissanoohig.

The deaths of these three neighbours were not normal. Each man had died a violent death, the casualties of the ongoing War of Independence, which was then in its most intense phase.

In the 2021 Skibbereen Historical Journal William Casey tells story of these three men, neighbours but from different backgrounds.

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