West Cork Finally Gets a History Festival!

For a place that’s dripping in history and archaeology, and with several active historical societies, it’s a wonder this hasn’t happened before.

Tom Barry, bust by Seamus Murphy

The inaugural festival of the West Cork History Festival will take place just outside Skibbereen on the last weekend of July this year. Take a look at their website – it’s a great program, offering sessions from medieval to modern, from pirates and adventurers to soldiers, revolutionaries and poets.

A Letter of Marque gave an individual permission to be a privateer – a form of legalised piracy

Although it’s got West Cork in the title, this is not only West Cork History. The organisers emphasise its eclectic nature and call it a festival of intellectual delights. National dimensions are obvious in discussions on the War of Independence and international ones in sessions on the First World War. West Cork gets a good look-in, though, with a thorough re-examination of Hart’s work on the Bandon Valley Killings (see here for a good summary of the events and the controversies surrounding the scholarship), in the light of the most recent research. Several active and respected local historians will contribute in their area of expertise.

War graves such as this one have been springing up all over Cork in the last few years. For most of the 20th century we maintained a form of collective amnesia about the Irish fighting in the First World War – see my piece Outposts of Empire

National and local topics are happily juxtaposed – tower houses, for example, will be the subject of two sessions, one of which places them in an all-Ireland context and the other in a West Cork context. (For more on tower houses, follow this link.)

Kilcoe Castle – an impressive example of the Irish Tower House, now magnificently restored by Jeremy Irons

I’m very much looking forward to learning more about Richard Boyle, the Great Earl of Cork – a tremendous figure in the history of this area. But the Festival takes it one step further with a talk on the vital roles in Irish history played by the children of the Great Earl. I’m also going to make sure I take in a presentation on the Knights Templar by Dominic Selwood, yet another of the multi-talented speakers on the schedule.

Richard Boyle, Great Earl of Cork (1566-1643)

The opening and closing sessions will be major highlights. Prof Roy Foster will deliver the introductory lecture. How fitting – Roy Foster is surely among the most respected historians of his generation. Author of numerous books and influential articles, including Modern Ireland (1600-19720) and a justly famed two volume Life of W B Yeats. His topic, ”A Fair People”: antagonism and conflict in Irish history, will set the tone for a weekend that will not shy away from controversial and thought-provoking sessions.

Prof Roy Foster, considered by many to be one of Ireland’s greatest contemporary historians

The closing session features the writer (and highly entertaining speaker) Michael Dobbs, creator and author of the House of Cards series of books and TV shows. Titled Life, Lust and Liquor: how House of Cards wrote itself, this should bring things to a close with a bang.

And in between, there’s a host of academics, researchers, film-makers, journalists, writers and editors – and even a couple of ambassadors! It’s an eclectic mix and sure to be provocative and engaging.

The Festival features a screening of the Film Rebel Rossa, made by the great-grandsons of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa. A West Cork man, Rossa became famous and infamous for his Fenian activities. See my three-part account of him here.

The Festival is the brainchild of Simon Kingston, who, with his wife Victoria (a professional historian) has a long association with West Cork, which culminated in their settling at Rosebank, the dower house of Liss Ard Estate, just outside Skibbereen. Simon is a graduate of Trinity and of Oxford and describes himself as an historian at heart, although he makes a living in the world of executive recruitment. He’s put together an amazing program, sure to become an ongoing feature of the West Cork heritage landscape for years to come.

I’ve only managed to give you a tiny taste of what’s in store at this Festival – you will have to come and experience the terrific range on offer for yourself. Meanwhile, they’ve set up a Facebook page so you can keep up to date on all the latest news and announcements. Head on over and give it a Like and a Share. And are you a member of the Twitterati? There’s a Twitter feed just for you!

 Right so – on July 28 – see you there?

When in Youghal…

boyle header

We spent St Patrick’s Day in Youghal – within County Cork but a long way from our own part of that territory. The place is falling down with history, and warrants an extended visit. Finola has written about the walled town and some of its architecture: I will be concentrating on the Collegiate Church of St Mary, a building that goes back a long way and is said to be on the site of the monastic foundation of Saint Declan, a fifth century contemporary – or even a predecessor of – St Patrick.

Saints by Harry Clarke: St Patrick, Ballinasloe (left) and St Declan, Honan Chapel (right)

The Vikings came to Youghal, and one stone slab in the church depicts a vessel from those days. There are so many other memorial stones, carvings and inscriptions that we spent hours in the building just trying to take them all in. I can only show you a taster and recommend you to go and see for yourselves.

longboat

Carving of a Viking longboat – can you see it?

The structure of the present church deserves close study. It claims to be the oldest church in Ireland that has had continuous worship taking place – since the 13th century. Look firstly at the roof over the Great Nave: the timbers have been carbon dated to around 1170, although an intriguing hand-printed notice about this feature states …The roof of this church was put up there in 1220 by French labour, there are two german cathedrals roofed with Irish Oak and their walls bear the same masons marks as this church. They were all built by the same hands. Ireland was covered with oak woods in 1220, but saw mills were not invented until 1328. They had to pick each oak tree the same size, and with an axe skin and square it up. So each piece is a small oak tree – or Saplyn…

oak roof

In 1464 St Mary’s was made a Collegiate Church, with the foundation of Our Lady’s College of Yoghill by the Earl of Desmond. It was served by a ‘ Warden’ of eight ‘fellowes’ and eight ‘singing clerks’. In the precincts of the church is the Warden’s House, known as Myrtle Grove. This also has a long and complex history: this article about Henry and Edith Blake – two of its colourful inhabitants (who are buried in its garden) is worth a read. Another former inhabitant of the house – and one of Youghal’s celebrities – is (or was) Sir Walter Raleigh.

myrtle grove 2016

Sir Walter Raleigh, once the owner of many thousand acres in Cork, including the whole settlement of Youghal – and his home, Myrtle Grove, in 1833 (top right) and seen today (above)

Myrtle Grove is said to be one of the oldest houses in Ireland: it remains in private ownership. St Mary’s Church itself is unusual in that it is in the guardianship of the state while also continuing as a place of worship.

st mary's church

Another Youghal celebrity was Richard Boyle – the Great Earl of Cork (1566 – 1643). While Raleigh had acquired his estates during the English ‘plantations’ following the Desmond rebellion, Boyle, also an English incomer, was an entrepreneur and an opportunist. He invested in many ventures – mining, fishing, iron smelting and linen weaving – as well as studying law and pursuing his political career. He was appointed Clerk of the Council of Munster in 1600, became a privy councillor for the whole of Ireland in 1612, and, having found favour with Queen Elizabeth, was knighted and made Earl of Cork and Viscount Dungarvan in 1620. Eventually he was created Lord Treasurer of Ireland. He owned Bandon and designed and built Clonakilty, while also relieving Raleigh of all his estates – 42,000 acres – for the rather small sum of £1500. Boyle died in 1643 and is interred in a tomb he built for himself and his family in St Mary’s Church, Youghal. He is said to have been the richest man in the known world at the time of his death. Go and see his tomb – it is spectacular! Boyle had two wives and fifteen children by one of them: all – and Boyle’s mother – are included in the monument.

The Collegiate Church is one of the places where – in the middle ages – ‘acoustic jars’ were used to enhance acoustics. These ceramic vessels were placed in niches above the choir area: the niches are still there but, unfortunately, the vases are not.

acoustic jars

There’s a lot more to the fascinating story of this church. I’ll leave you with a visual round-up of some of the details that we found, all of which add to the interest and the richness of the place. You could call it a ‘medieval miscellany’ – I call it my Youghal Menagerie.

miscellany 17

The Love Which He Bare Her

Nothing beats a romantic walk in a graveyard

Nothing beats a romantic walk in a graveyard

In honour of the upcoming St Valentine’s Day, and of course because it’s now officially spring, my thoughts have turned to love. As we travel, here in West Cork, and in Ireland generally, we have a habit of dropping into churches. I’ve been struck by the eloquence – the purple prose – of memorial inscriptions in many Church of Ireland  (Protestant) churches, dating from the 18th and 19th Centuries. Why only in those churches? There weren’t many Catholic churches in Ireland until after the Catholic Emancipation Act of 1829. In the wave of Catholic church building that followed that Act there are few examples of individual memorial tablets on the walls: instead, the walls are filled with Catholic iconography, such as the Stations of the Cross and statues of saints.

Although most memorial tablets commemorate men (particularly ministers, soldiers and noblemen) here and there you can find memorials to couples, or to beloved women, erected by their ‘disconsolate husbands’ or by a grateful parish. The first two below are from the ruined Muckross Abbey in Killarney. Here we found a stone erected by Stephen Coppinger of Cork, recounting the many virtues of his cherished Helen. The Coppingers were a Catholic family, one of whose members was the infamous Walter Coppinger of Coppinger’s Court.  Another, Elizabeth Coppinger of Barryscourt, in 1760 in defiance of the Penal Laws joined with Nano Nagle and five other Cork ladies in founding a Convent of the Ursuline order in Cork.

Helen Coppinger's memorial tablet

Helen Coppinger’s memorial tablet

Erected by Stephen Coppinger of the City of Cork in Memory of his late Wife HELEN Whose Accomplishments and Goodness of Disposition were her lowest Recommendations. Her solid Understanding, her diffusive, tho. judicious Charity, and strict Adherence to every Principle of the Christian Religion, the Duties of which she never ceased to perform, her Patience and Resignation during a lingering and tedious course of Sufferings, rendered her an Object of Admiration to all who had the Happiness of knowing her. She lived beloved and died lamented the 9th of August 1802. Aged 49 Years.

Also in Muckross Abbey we found this stone to Lucy Gallwey – so generally esteemed that the inhabitants of Killarney erected the memorial. A little sleuthing on my part discovered that Lucy was born Lucinda Grehan in Dublin, and that she and Christopher Gallwey had nine children.

Lucy Gallwey

Lucy Gallwey

Lucy

Wife of Christopher Gallwey of Killarney, Esq. This monument was erected By the inhabitants of Killarney and its neighbourhood to testify The deep sense of those amongst whom she lived And the Exemplary fidelity With which she discharged the relative duties of wife mother and friend as well as to perpetuate the recollections of the many benefits she conferred upon society and to hold up to the emulations of posterity her active useful yet unostentatious exercise of the most ardent charity directed by a singularly sound and well regulated understanding. She died the 14th of December 1829 aged 57

In St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin we came across this lovely plaque for Elizabeth, Viscountess Doneraile. (In the same Cathedral is an enormous memorial to the Boyle family built by Elizabeth’s great-grandfather Richard Boyle, Great Earl of Cork – but that’s a whole story in itself.) I love the wording of this one – not just that he loved her, but sincerely respected her.

Elizabeth, Viscountess Doneraile

Elizabeth, Viscountess Doneraile

      ELIZABETH, VISCOUNTESS DONERAILE

Wife of the Right Hon Hayes Sentleger, Lord Viscount Doneraile, Daughter of the Right Hon Joseph Dean, Lord chief Baron of the Court of Exchequer in 1715, and of Margaret Boyle, Daughter of the Hon. Roger Boyle, of Castlemartyr, in the County of Cork, Esq. She departed this life on the 3rd day of Dec, 1761, in the 59th Year of her age. She lived universally esteemed & died universally lamented. Her disconsolate husband, with whom she lived in perfect harmony forty Years, hath caused this Monument to be erected in testimony of the Love which he bare her, and as a memorial of his sincere respect for her many great & amiable Virtues.

Here’s one from Cloyne. And what a lovely thought – to have years of uninterrupted conjugal affection and then to “gently fall asleep.”

James and Lucinda Hingston

James and Lucinda Hingston

The final one is also from St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin and it’s for Stella, whose real name was Esther Johnson, lifelong friend and companion of Dean Swift. At his request, he was buried alongside her.

Stella

Stella

Dear Reader, do you have a favourite memorial tablet erected by a disconsolate husband, or extolling conjugal affection? If you do, post them to our Facebook page – we’d love to see more of these.

Stella - Swift's Beloved

Portrait of Stella

I’m now busy composing a suitable epitaph for myself…let me see, er, amiable accomplishments Well regulated mind joined with admirable charity. The kindness of her disposition was matched only by the elevation of her thoughts. Natural perfections. Guess I’ll keep working on it. The emulations of posterity can wait a while.