Cork Fella Comes to County Wicklow

Above – Trafalgar Road, leading down to the harbour, Greystones, c1900. This seaside town is in Co Wicklow, and the connection with West Cork is that our ‘Big Fella’ – Michael Collins – had intended to set up home there once he had married Catherine (Kitty) Kiernan. Collins was staying in the Grand Hotel when he proposed to Kitty. That building is better known to us as the La Touche (photo below from the National Library of Ireland).

Above: la Touche, mid 20th century. Today, the hotel has been transformed into modern apartments (below). The fine original central building has been retained and upgraded:

Michael Collins and Kitty Kiernan have been described as ‘star-crossed lovers’. The pair were first introduced by Michael’s cousin, Gearoid O’Sullivan, who was friendly at the time with Kathy’s sister, Maud. Kitty was also close to Harry Boland, who served as President of the Irish Republican Brotherhood from 1919 to 1920. Boland was a good friend of Collins.

Harry Boland (left), Michael Collins (centre) and Éamon de Valera (NLI public domain c1920). Collins and Kiernan announced their engagement in 1921 and planned to marry the following year, but the political upheavals of the time kept delaying the wedding. During this turbulent period, Collins had ‘grown quite fond of Greystones’, often spending time in the house of his aunt, Maisie O’Brien Twohig – Dysart, Kimberly Road. Ironically, this property backed on to the RIC station.

(Upper) Dysart – home of Michael Collins’ Aunt Maisie. (Lower) former RIC barracks and present-day Garda station, immediately adjacent to Dysart.

(Above) Kitty Kiernan. Collins and Kitty had planned to live in Brooklands, on Trafalgar Road, Greystones (below), after their marriage.

Michael Collins, Arthur Griffith and Robert Barton were delegates to the Treaty Negotiations that ended the Irish War of Independence in December 1921. Before he left Greystones, it is recorded that Collins visited Fr Ignatius of the Congregation of the Passion:

. . . The facts are these: he [Collins] was staying at the Grand Hotel, Greystones, while I was giving a mission there. It was coming near the close of the Mission. Michael was very busy in Dublin, worked and worried almost beyond endurance. He got to Greystones one night very late and very tired. It was the eve of his departure to London, re the Pact. He got up the next morning as early as 5.30 am and came to the Church, and made a glorious General Confession and received Holy Communion. He said to me after Confession, “Say the Mass for Ireland, and God bless you, Father”. He crossed an hour or so later to London . . .


Patrick J Doyle PP, BMH.WS0807, pp 39-40, 90-91

(Above) St Brigid’s Church, Greystones. Fatefully, Collins was shot in West Cork on 22 August 1922. Collins “. . . One of the World’s greatest figures . . . Knightliest Soul of the Land . . .” was mourned by the nation, and – of course – by Kitty.

(Above) headlines in the Boston Post on the morning of 23 August 1922.

The de Valeras – Éamon and Sinéad (above, in 1910) – took a house in Greystones soon after the 1916 rising, situated on Kinlen Road in the Burnaby Estate. The house was built at the turn of the 20th century by Patrick Joseph (PJ) Kinlen, who lived there for a time himself. PJ built much of the Burnaby estate and Kinlen Road was named after him. They named the house Craigliath – it is now known as Edenmore (below).

A reason for the popularity of Greystones in the early 20th century was its relative proximity to the centre of Dublin, and the railway line which gave access to the city. If any readers have travelled on this line – which goes down the east coast as far as Wexford – you will know that the section between Bray and Greystones is one of the most adventurous railway journeys in the world! Engineered by Isambard Kingdom Brunel, it clings to the precipitous cliffs and ran on trestle-bridges and through a series of tunnels: there have been many incidents during its history, and the line has had to be reconstructed a few times to avoid the effects of erosion. (With thanks to the Greystones Guide for the image below):

A popular story tells how Éamon de Valera was travelling home from Harcourt Street to Greystones on the night of 17 May 1918. When the train reached Bray, the driver saw that “two detectives” (although some versions say it was a number of constables) had boarded the train a few carriages behind.

 . . . [The driver] felt sure that the intention was to arrest de Valera that night in Greystones. He said that they would slow down the train coming into Greystones before they arrived at the station at a certain point, which they indicated to de Valera, and they advised him to jump out of the carriage on the off-side, and that he could easily get away, and afterwards they would put on speed . . .

However, de Valera chose not to accept this offer, and when the train arrived at Greystones, he was apprehended and arrested. The Irish Independent adds a few further details:

. . . Dev “. . . was taken to the waiting room under a heavy guard, and after being searched, was placed in a motor car and driven to Kingstown, where he was handed over to the military and placed on board the transport … for England” . . .


Irish Independent, 20 May 1918

(Above: Greystones Station – late 19h Century). Personally, I am unsurprised that de Valera did not accept the train driver’s offer. Jumping from a moving train is not a recommended course of action – especially when the terrain of that section of railway-line is so hazardous. De Valera was imprisoned in England but escaped and then went to America: his wife did not see him for three years. During this time Michael Collins visited her often in Greystones to bring her news and also to provide funds. Later she reportedly told her husband that she was ‘quite in love with Collins’. He grumpily responded: “…That’ll do. There are enough people in love with Michael Collins…” (Below – lantern slide of Greystones Harbour, 1900):

Of course, de Valera lived to tell his tale – he died on 29 August 1975, aged 92, having achieved the status of Taoiseach and President of Ireland – whereas Michael Collins did not: he was shot at Béal na Bláth, County Cork, at the age of 31. It is fair to say that he undoubtedly achieved the perhaps more fulfilling status of National Hero.

Greystones Harbour in 1911. With many thanks to the excellent Greystones Guide for invaluable free access to pictures and information.

12 Arches of Ballydehob – Pics for Christmas Day!

Last week’s post The Twelve Arches of Ballydehob proved a most popular subject. Ballydehob’s railway viaduct – dating from the late nineteenth century can’t be ignored. It was fairly easy to put together another dozen pics of the structure, making a good Christmas Day theme to take your minds off turkey and stuffing!

As we have lived not too far from the viaduct over the last ten years, we have seen it – and photographed it – in many of its moods. And it’s a constant backdrop, of course, to life in our West Cork village. Below – here it is, supporting a very ancient tradition, on St Stephen’s Day (that’s me on the right!):

“No Wrens Were Harmed in the Making of this Post!” That was the title of my RWJ article on the Wren Day festivities in Ballydehob in 2019 – pre-Covid. It was great to be out and about in the village, echoing a custom which has been passed from generation to generation. When I grew up in England I joined in the Mummers’ tradition there: I followed it for much of a lifetime, and even now can recite the whole play without a prompt… “Here comes I, Bold Trim Tram: Left hand, press gang – press all you bold fellows to sea…”

Something else which could do with a revival is the Pedalo tradition. Pedalos were brought out of storage for an unique occasion in the summer – a project named Inbhear, an art installation by Muireann Levis. Here is own my post about it.

I was pleased to have this photo of the viaduct in my collection. If the scale looks a little wobbly it could be because this – and the train – are models sited at the West Cork Model Railway Village at Clonakilty. Below – a local company, in Ballydehob, has chosen to use the bridge in its title.

We showed you some of Brian Lalor’s work last week. Here’s another of his drawings. It is dated 1975: he tells me he has plenty more viaduct pics if I write another post in the future.

Atmospherics a-plenty: we have them all the time in Ballydehob. We do live in one of this world’s most inspiring places… Have a very good and atmospheric Christmas, everyone! And – safe journeying if you are out and about.

The Twelve Arches of Ballydehob

As we are approaching the traditional Twelve Days of Christmas I thought it fitting to give you Twelve views of Ballydehob’s iconic viaduct. Our West Cork village of Ballydehob has many claims to fame. It has been the centre of a great Irish art movement in the mid-twentieth century (have a look at this site). But earlier – between 1886 and 1947 – it was an important stop on the Schull & Skibbereen Tramway. This was a three-foot gauge railway line which must have been a great wonder to those who witnessed it in its heyday. There are fragments of it still to be seen, but its most monumental structure remains with us: the twelve-arched viaduct at Ballydehob.

Above: Brian Lalor was one of the creatives who settled in Ballydehob back in the artists’ heyday (he is still here today). The railway viaduct was a great source of visual inspiration to him and to his artist colleagues.

Here (above) is another Lalor work depicting the viaduct (many thanks, Brian). Behind the arches in this print you can see the former commercial buildings on the wharf, now converted to private use. At first glance you might think what a fine masonry structure this is. In fact, most of it is mass concrete. Look at the close-up view of the arches below: they are cast and faced in concrete, albeit the arch-stones are made to look like masonry. Only the facing infills and the parapets are actually of stone. This is quite an innovative construction for its time. Barring earthquake it’s certain to endure.

I was not surprised to find how often images of this engineering feat have inspired artists and others working in creative fields. Here’s a particularly fine example from the days of the artist settlement around the village in the mid-twentieth century (below): this one is a batik by Nora Golden.

I really like this moody photograph by Finola: it demonstrates the elemental nature which repetition and shadow gives to the scene. (Below): we have to see the way over the top, now a public footpath. The railway was a single track narrow-gauge at this point.

The ‘Tiny Ireland’ creator – Anke – has sketched this wonderful caricature of our wharf area, showing the 12-arched bridge in context. Finola has written about Anke. You can buy your own piece of Tiny Ireland through her website, here.

How better to look at the bridge in context than this view from Aerial Photographer Tom Vaughan. Thank you, Tom, for allowing us to use this magnificent image. Here’s the link to his own website. You will find excellent gifts for the connoisseur here. The last of our ‘Twelve Arches’ (for now) has to show us the bridge in its rightful use. I think this postcard – from the Lawrence Archive -dates from the early 1900s. I can’t resist quoting the caption for the rail buffs among you!

. . . A Schull-bound train has stopped especially for the photographer: this is Ballydehob viaduct looking north. The train comprises GABRIEL, bogie coaches Nos 5 and &, brake vans Nos 31, 32 and 38 . . .

The Schull & Skibbereen Railway – James I C Boyd – Oakwood Press 1999

In Search of Wells and Railway Lines

We are often invited to join our friends Amanda and Peter Clarke on their journeys of exploration into the wild places of West Cork and Kerry. We even stray over into Limerick on occasion! And it’s usually all to do with Holy Wells. Amanda has been writing about them for years, and you can find her accounts of them in Holy Wells of Cork & Kerry, here.

Recently we were at Loo Bridge, near Kilgarvan, Co Kerry. There’s a well there – Tobar na Naomh – All Saint’s Well, and there’s a lively account of it in the Dúchas Schools Folklore Collection. Evidently a ‘band of Saints’ travelling over the mountain to Gougane Barra stopped at this well for refreshment. One of them (St Finnbarr) left his spectacles behind and didn’t realise it until he was a long way up the steep path. Fortunately, there were so many of his companions that he was able to pass a message back down to those who were still starting off from the well and the spectacles were retrieved! But – because they were holy spectacles, they left their imprint on the rock at the well – forever. There it is in the picture above.

There are several crosses etched into the stones around this well by visitors. It’s wonderful to think of the continuity of those pilgrims seeking out the well and keeping its veneration alive – probably through countless generations.

Another well on our agenda involved us walking over a long, muddy trackway. We could see the prints of the feet of other travellers: the top pic looks like bear paws (although perhaps more likely to be badgers), whereas the cloven hoof above is either Satan or a deer. We met none of these on the path that led, eventually, towards the Wells of St Peter and St Paul.

St Peter’s well is clearly defined (above, with Amanda looking on). Beyond it is a weather-worn shrine with a Calvary depiction. It’s quite a surprise to find such a substantial life-sized scene in a remote wood.

A little way to the east of St Peter is St Paul (above). He looks down on his own well. Note the modern mugs, implying that the well is still in use.

Both St Peter and St Paul share their feast day on 29th June. This is the day when these wells should be visited.

The 6″ OS map, above, dates from the late 19th century. St Peter’s well is marked on it, while St Paul’s only gets mentioned as a spring. Not far to the south is a railway line: The Great Southern Railway: Headford Junction to Kenmare. This was opened in 1890 and closed in 1959. While the track itself is long gone, many features can be traced. We stopped at Loo Bridge where the old station remains, as does an adjacent steel river crossing.

I am always saddened to see abandoned railway lines: they could so easily have had a new lease of life in our present environmentally conscious world. Regardless of their potential functionality, ‘heritage railways’ are also highly popular tourist destinations. I’m afraid, however, that the work and costs now required to recover them is unlikely to be invested any time soon, unless there is a big change in attitude and priority.

Lost railways and fading wells: unlikely bedfellows for a day out in Kerry. But our travels are always fulfilling, and diversity is the essence. In Ireland we can never run out of places to visit, or matters to be researched and recorded. Join us again, on our next expedition!

West Cork Villages and Towns – Bantry

. . . The town is situated at the northern extremity of the bay to which it gives its name, in a small valley encircled by lofty mountains, which attracting the clouds in their passage over the Atlantic, involve it in almost continual rains. The streets are indifferently paved, and not lighted; the inhabitants are supplied with water from numerous springs. The approaches are steep and incommodious, and are lined with cabins of very inferior description. Little improvement has been made in the town, except by the erection of some very extensive stores by Mr O’Connell and Mr Corkery, merchants of the place, and the enlargement of the principal hotel, which now affords ample accommodation to the numerous tourists who, during the summer season, frequent the place on their way to Glengariff and the lakes . . .

Lewis Topographical Dictionary of Ireland 1837

. . . This bay was known to the ancients by the name of Inber Sceine. It is a noble sheet of water, landlocked by beautiful mountains. The scenery is picturesque, bold, and grand, and equals, if it yet not surpass, the best to be found in these kingdoms . . .


Early Irish History and Antiquities and the History of West Cork
W O’Halloran 1916

Bantry . . . a miserable poor place, hardly worth the name of a town, consisting of seven or eight small houses, and some mean little cottages . . .

Jacobite army officer and author John Stevens, 1689

Well, here we have some contrasting descriptions of the town of Bantry, the earliest (above) dating from over 330 years ago! That one is a bit unfair, in truth, as it seems to be almost an ‘aside’ within Stevens’ ill-tempered account of his own involvement in the Williamite War (1689 – 1691). Bantry was a landing place for the Jacobite army which then marched through Cork and engaged in the Battles of the Boyne and Aughrim, and the Siege of Limerick (which is celebrated to this day in a traditional country dance!). None of this needs to detain us further from pursuing our contemporary account of Bantry town.

Bantry in the time of Covid . . . As with our exploration of Schull, the first in this series, we capture a moment in time: all the photographs are taken in one summer’s day, and show the norms of daily life. We deliberately did not choose Market Day (every Friday throughout the year), as on that day the population of the place appears to double in size. This is an average weekday and it is busy enough, with holiday makers swelling the ranks and helping to populate the many outdoor facilities.

Bantry has made its mark in the history of Ireland’s independence. An attempted landing by the French Fleet in Bantry Bay on 22 December 1796 was partly precipitated by Theobald Wolfe Tone – one of the founding members of the United Irishmen. The mission was unsuccessful due to severe gales. A political cartoon of the time (below) satirises the venture:

. . . On the French expedition to Bantry Bay, at the end of 1796: Pitt, Dundas, Grenville, and Windham are the four winds which blow up the storm to destroy the invaders. FFox, as the carved figure at the head of the Revolution, is represented as influencing the United Irishmen. The crew of the jolly-boat are Sheridan, Liberty Hall, Erskine, M A Taylor, and Thelwall, who, it is insinuated, were all approvers, at least, of the Irish rebellion . . .

Historical and Descriptive Account of the Caricatures of James Gillray, 1851

Wolfe Tone’s statue looks down over the square which bears his name in Bantry today: it was sculpted by Jeanne Rynhart in 2000. Close by is an anchor from the ‘French Armada’ found off Whiddy Island. The square was known formerly as Egerton Square – named after a descendant of the Earls of Bantry (have a look at this post). In 1899 the Irish Nationalist MP James Gilhooly oversaw the renaming. Also on the present-day square (much of which is on reclaimed land) is the notable statue of Saint Brendan by Imogen Stuart.

The aerial image, above, shows how the town has evolved along the original river valley. Comparing this view with the earliest 6″ OS map – dating from around 1840 (below – upper) – and the 25″ OS edition c1900 (below, lower), you can see clearly how the Square has encroached on the original natural harbour. You can also see that the terminus of the Cork, Bandon and South Coast Railway was carried on an extended pier to the west, enabling goods to be shipped in and out of the town. Interestingly, prior to the railway’s arrival in 1892, and continuing into the early 20th century, there was a regular steamship service from Bantry to Castletownbere on the Beara Peninsula. This also served Glengarriff and Adrigole.

In spite of local opposition the railway was closed on 1 April 1961, and the station building was demolished. We do fortunately still have some vestiges of the line clearly visible in the town.

I have only touched on the briefest aspects of the history of this significant West Cork town. There is considerably more recorded in a recent opus compiled by distinguished historian and international scholar Colum Hourihane, who hales from Bantry. We were recently at the launch of his latest book Bantry Through the Centuries, Bantry Historical Press, 2021 and were treated to an illustrated talk, given by the author. Colum is at pains to point out that this is not a general history of Bantry, but that its core is the streets of the town” . . . It’s an effort to understand how the town developed over the centuries in relation to its people . . . “ The book is a first-class resource: a 490-page review of local lore and garnered knowledge illustrated with almost 140 additional pages of historic photographs. This must surely be the most comprehensive volume ever published on this town.

Let’s finish with some more of the photos taken on our day’s exploration: an attempt to capture the essence of this significant West Cork settlement. I hope it will encourage you to visit, if you don’t already know it.

You can read much more about Bantry in Roaringwater Journal. Here are just a few links:

The Golden Hour

Masters of Tradition Festival

Ireland’s First Inhabitants

West Cork Villages and Towns – Schull

What better time to visit Schull than during Calves Week? That’s a big sailing festival at the beginning of August every year, and you have to be a sailor to understand the nuances of its title. It’s held at the same time as the UK’s premier sailing event – Cowes Week, ‘…the world’s longest running sailing regatta…’ and is focussed around the three Calf Islands in Roaringwater Bay. So there you have it – Cowes and Calves! What it means, of course, is that the village of Schull is at its busiest and, since Covid has given a boost to outdoor socialising, the streets are crowded with visitors enjoying the shops, pavement cafés and galleries.

In this occasional series on the Towns and villages of West Cork we will take one community and try to discover why and how it has developed through history, and how it fares in the present day. A snapshot of the place will be presented – hopefully – in the best possible light (although this won’t always be on a sunny summer’s day!) From the aerial view above, you can see how Schull has been built up around its connection with the water. Schull Harbour is at the head of a long sheltered inlet, and the pier today is always busy with fishing and pleasure boats, ferries and yachts.

That’s the road to the pier, above, and it’s just a few steps from the village centre. If you are a visitor, you may have no idea that Ireland’s most south-westerly railway line once ran right on to this pier! The narrow gauge Schull, Ballydehob & Skibbereen Tramway and Light Railway was in service between 1886 and 1947, connecting these remoter parts of the county to Skibbereen and then, via the main line, Cork city. Although never considered a commercial success, it was a valuable element of infrastructure enabling local passengers to get to shops and markets, and fishermen to send their catches to distant merchants as hastily as possible (bearing in mind there was a speed limit of 15 miles per hour on most of this rural line). This photograph from the NLI Lawrence Collection (below) dates from the 1890s, and shows barrels of fish stacked up next to the railway track on Schull pier, awaiting despatch. They are likely to contain salted pilchards and herrings.

In all these pictures of the pier and pontoon areas above you can see the lively sailing activity in the background. Below are two extracts from early OS maps, one showing Schull and its location to some of the offshore islands, and the other showing the town centre, probably around 1890. It’s thought-provoking to see on the latter the various facilities which the town offered at that time, as well as the railway: Court House, Constabulary Barrack, Smiths, Schools, Hotel and Dispensary.

Note that on both the maps above, which date from more than a century ago, the settlement’s name is given as Skull: it still is on all OS Ireland maps up to the present time. Mostly today it’s known as Schull, or in Irish An Scoil, which translates as The School. Some of you may remember my posts earlier this year when I looked in to the possible origins of this village name – and the earliest ‘School’: a site described on Archaeology Ireland as a ‘possible early Christian settlement’:  . . . the ancient school of Sancta Maria de Scholia, ‘a place known in early times as a centre of learning’ . . . There’s a fair bit of local lore surrounding the subject, and you need to read Schull resident John D’Alton’s article on this to find an alternative view to the perhaps romanticised ideas of an ancient monastic site: I’m sitting on the fence!

Historic village – perhaps with medieval origins – to vibrant sailing centre and colourful streets in the 21st century. Schull has come a long way, and has far to go. Today the resident population numbers around 1,050: this is boosted substantially with the influx of summer visitors. It’s good to see long established names and new businesses on the streets, contributing to the colourful palette of the architecture. Great things are happening in the future: the old bank building (below) is to become a cinema and film centre: a focal point for the acclaimed annual Fastnet Film Festival.

Year round, Schull is worth exploring. Mount Gabriel, the area’s highest point, is above the village and offers superb vistas over the bay and islands. Finola has looked at the many legends associated with this peak and there is ancient history there, too: the remains of Bronze Age copper mines on its slopes. Good walks can be had on the high ground and on the coastal footpaths – see the Explore West Cork website.