Every Skibbereen person, whether living at home or abroad, surely has some memory of the town Square – hopefully a happy one!
Geographically, Skibbereen Town Square is almost right in the centre of the town. For natives and visitors it is the centrepiece, the focal point of Dear Old Skibbereen. It has a number of notable landmarks: the Town Hall, the Maid of Erin, the Post Office, all central to the history of Skibbereen.
In former times, this was the market place in Skibbereen. At one time there was an extensive thread market carried out here. Also, behind the Town Hall there was an alfresco market.
The Becher family, as far back as 1801, mapped the ground on which the Town Hall stands for a Market House, and in 1824 established a Thread Market there.
The ‘old’ Town Hall as we knew it was built around 1863 to replace the old Becher Market and Toll House which was then in a very dilapidated state.
The hall was two-storey. The ground floor comprised a meat market and behind the hall there was an alfresco fish and vegetable market. The hall itself, with a permanent stage, was upstairs.
In 1886 Skibbereen Town Commissioners purchased the Town Hall from the Becher estate and in 1887 they moved the Local Authority headquarters there from the old Land and Labour Hall which was situated at the Bridge Street entrance to the Fair Field.
On the night of August 13th 1955 the Town Hall was burned down. It was rebuilt on the same site and the new Town Hall was officially opened on February 2nd 1960.
Many famous people have addressed crowds at the Square, or have appeared on stage in the Town Hall. It is wonderful to see it still being used as a theatre and a venue for concerts – still a focal point in the cultural and social life of Skibbereen.
MAID OF ERIN
The Maid of Erin of course is the iconic symbol of Skibbereen. The monument was erected by the Skibbereen branch of the Young Ireland Society. It is of Irish limestone, standing over 18 feet high. The figure is full of the imagery of the Gaelic Revival era and the representation of Ireland as a woman has a long history. The right hand of the figure of Erin is leaning on a Celtic Cross, with a harp, while the left holds a bunch of shamrock clasped to the breast.
Immediately below on the pedestal are the years of the different National movements – 1798, 1803, 1848 and 1867, and further down are suitable inscriptions in Irish and English.
The monument, executed by Mr John Francis Davis of Cork, was unveiled by Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on November 27 1904 in what was one of the greatest public occasions ever in Skibbereen. It may well have been surpassed, however, in September 2016 with the welcome home for Skibbereen Rowing Club’s two Olympic heroes, brothers Garry and Paul O’Donovan.
The Maid of Erin was originally situated right at the centre of the Square, in the middle of the road but, following a referendum in Skibbereen, was moved, for her own safety, to a more secure location in 1988.
Skibbereen & District Historical Society would love to hear your stories about the Square or the Town Hall. Remember the pantomimes in the 1960s and 70s. Did you ever dance around the Maid of Erin to the accompaniment of St Fachtna’s Silver Band on a New Year’s night to welcome in the new year?
Did you, perchance, meet your partner at a dance in the Town Hall? Do you remember or have you heard any stories of the great political rallies where were held at the Square?
Every Skibbereen person has a memory of the Square or the Town Hall. Please share yours.
Were you ever photographed at the Square in Skibbereen? If you have a photo of any event at the Square, we’d also invite you to share it with us.