At home with Michael Collins

On a tour of West Cork one of our most enjoyable days of the trip was spent in Clonakilty.

Clonakilty is a bustling town about 1 hours drive from Cork city.
It is known for it’s pudding but we were there for a Michael Collins tour with Tim Crowley from the Michael Collins Centre.

Along with seeing some of the rugged West Cork countryside we also got to visit Michael Collin’s birthplace at Woodfield, while also tracing his steps on that fateful day he was killed in 1922.

Michael Collins early life

Michael Collins was born in this building at Woodfield in West Cork on the 16th October in 1890, he was the 8th child of Michael Senior and Mary Anne Collins and he lived here with his brothers and sisters. Michael’s family built a new larger farmhouse next to this cottage and moved into the new house at Christmas 1900, these buildings pictured below, then became the outhouses and sheds.

Birthplace of Michael Collins
Michael Collins bust at Woodfield

Michael’s family home

During the War of Independence in 1921, the larger farmhouse was burnt down by the Essex Regiment, a British Auxiliary unit. Neighbours of the Collins family who were ploughing in a nearby field also had their farming tools and a horse harness thrown into the house before it was set alight.  Any neighbours who sheltered the Collins family were also threatened that their own homes would be burnt down.

Woodfield farmhouse of Michael Collins
The original plans of Michael Collins farmhouse at Woodfield and photographs of the Collins family pictured outside their burnt house.

Brief history of Michael Collins

Collins attended national school in Clonakilty and emigrated just before his 16th birthday to London. He worked for nine years in England with the Civil Service and other financial companies. He returned to Dublin in January 1916 to take part in the Easter Rising and fought in the General Post Office. He was interned at Frongoch in Wales from May until December 1916.

When he returned to Ireland he set up an intelligence network along with an arms smuggling operation. He fought in the War of Independence, became a TD in the first Irish government and went onto lead the Irish delegation at the Anglo-Irish Treaty talks in London in 1921. He fought on the pro-Treaty side during the Irish Civil War and was the commander of the new free state Irish army.

As part of the guided tour, we also visited Sams Cross, Four All’s Pub and of course the Béal na mBláth ambush site.  (Click here to read more about the ambush and who fired the fatal shot).

Michael Collins pub
Collins stopped for a drink here with his soldiers on the day of the Beal na Blath ambush
Beal na Blá site
Beal na Blath townland where Michael Collins was ambushed and killed
Beal na Blath ambush memorial
Memorial at Beal na Blath for Michael Collins

We planned to visit some of these places ourselves but we are glad we decided to do the tour as Tim’s local knowledge and enthusiasm for Irish history shone through.

In Clonakilty itself there’s a Michael Collins statue located in Emmet Square, Collins lived here for a time with his Aunt.

Emmet Square, Clonakilty statue
Michael Collins statue
Emmet Square Georgian Houses Clonakilty Cork
Emmet Square where Michael Collins lived in a house in the square with his Aunt.

A new visitor centre dedicated to Michael Collins has opened, called the Michael Collins House and it is located on Emmet Square. This wasn’t open when we visited but we hope to go back sometime for a visit.

During our stay in Clonakilty, which we visited during our road trip along the Wild Atlantic Way trail, we stayed in a local B&B and visited De Barras pub in Clonakilty, which is worth a visit, as its a quintessential old Irish style pub with regular live Irish music.

Check out our blog post on the Slievenamon car and its connection to a key event in Irish history.

Jimmy’s Hall at the Abbey

 

James Gralton, the true story of the only Irish man deported from his own country.

We went to see the stage adaptation of the Ken Loach film, Jimmy’s Hall in the Abbey theatre last week.  The play is directed by Graham McLaren with Richard Clements starring as Jimmy and Lisa Lambe as Oonagh.

The opening scene set in 1932, sees the title character, Jimmy Gralton returned from America to help his mother with the family farm in Leitrim.  Jimmy had left ten years previously after his socialist ideals got him in trouble with the clergy and local authorities. Jimmy had built a hall on his fathers land in Effrinagh, it was called the Pearse and Connolly Memorial hall and was a place where all were welcome and dancing, singing, poetry, art and politics could be discussed openly.

When Jimmy returns from America where he has gained citizenship, he reopens the hall, but once again the clergy are not happy and soon make an appearance, Jimmy defends the rights of local people and gives speeches highlighting local injustices, this puts him in the firing line and the government and the church soon conspire together to have him deported.

I didn’t realise it was actually more of a musical which I’m not generally a fan of, but I’m glad I went as this was a great production, it was more Ceili music and bodhrans, which I like.

The stage design was fantastic, as the stage of the Abbey was transformed into the tin clad country hall and as the audience took it seats we were treated to a hooley, as the main cast sang, danced and played instruments.

There was also an opening audio piece played with a excerpt from President Michael D. Higgin’s speech from September 2016, when he unveiled a plaque on the site of the original hall in Effrinagh, Leitrim. I plan to visit Effrinagh soon and see the plaque, as we drive through Carrick regularly.

The opening night of the play was held in Carrick-on-shannon in Leitrim, near to Jimmy Gralton’s homeplace of Effrinagh. I never got to see the film version so will be watching it in the next few weeks, the film was shot on location in Sligo and Leitrim.

Some scenes were shot on The Mall in Sligo, this 19th century building with the large porch on the Mall was used as the backdrop and street altered to resemble the 1930’s.

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The Liberator’s home

On a recent trip to Kerry, we visited the ancestral home of Daniel O’Connell, the Liberator.  Since we had visited his crypt and round tower at Glasnevin cemetery, you can read about our visit here and got to touch his coffin and for years admired his statue on O’Connell street, we couldn’t miss an opportunity to see where the great man once lived.

Brief history of Daniel O’Connell’s Life

Daniel O’Connell was born in  1775 in Cahersiveen, Kerry.  The O’Connell family had been wealthy Roman Catholics that had been dispossessed of their lands.

Daniel O'Connell
Portrait of Daniel O’Connell at Derrynane House

His Uncle Maurice O’Connell

At the age of five, Daniel moved to Derrynane House to live with his wealthy childless Uncle, Maurice “Hunting Cap” O’Connell who had fostered him. Maurice was the head of the O’Connell clan and was to have a strong influence on Daniel’s education and life. Daniel was eventually to inherit this house and he renovated it and made it his Summer residence.

Old picture of Derrynane House
Old sketch of Derrynane House, the ring wing is now demolished

Under the patronage of his wealthy Uncle, Daniel went to France to study along with brother, they had to flee France during the French Revolution. Daniel went to Law school in London and trained as a barrister. After he qualified, he worked for several years as a barrister around the Munster circuit.

His wife Mary O’Connell

In 1802, he married a third cousin, Mary O’Connell, despite his Uncle and families wishes, as Mary was not wealthy, it was a love match and they went onto have a happy marriage and seven surviving children. When Mary died in 1836, Daniel was heartbroken, he stated “she gave me thirty-four years of the purest happiness that man ever enjoyed.’

There were rumours of Daniels infidelities and illegitimate children at the time but these may have been spread by his political enemies.

Dining room at Derrynane house
In the dining room of Derrynane House, portraits of Daniel’s wife Mary O’Connell and his Uncle Maurice ‘Flat Cap’ O’Connell

Campaign for Catholic Emancipation

In 1811, he established the Catholic Board, which campaigned for Catholic emancipation.  This would give Irish Catholics the opportunity to become members of parliament.

In 1823, he set up the Catholic Association which embraced other aims to better Irish Catholics, such as: electoral reform, reform of the Church of Ireland, tenants’ rights, and economic development.  This Association was funded by membership with subscriptions set at 1 penny a month, so Irish peasants could afford it.  The campaign was successful and sufficient funds were raised to campaign for Emancipation.

Fatal Duel

In 1815, in a speech Daniel referred to the Dublin Corporation as a “beggarly corporation”. The corporation members were outraged and because O’Connell would not apologise, he was challenged to a duel by John D’Esterre.

They met in Kildare for the duel and D’Esterre who was an experienced duellist shot first, by chance his bullet missed O’Connell and hit the ground in front of him, O’Connell had aimed low and shot D’Esterre in the hip, not intending to gravely hurt him but the bullet logged in his stomach and D’Esterre died from his injuries two days later. Daniel felt much aggrieved at the killing and supported D’Esterre’s daughter for 30 years after.

Duelling pistols
Duelling pistols, the bottom pistol was Daniel’s

 

Daniel O’Connell Member of Parliament

O’Connell stood in a by-election to the British House of Commons in 1828 for County Clare, he won the election but was unable to take his seat as members of parliament had to take the Oath of Supremacy.  The Prime Minister fearing another rebellion in Ireland, if O’Connell was refused his seat, introduced the Catholic Emancipation Act 1829.

Daniel Imprisoned

In 1844, Daniel was arrested and imprisoned for 3 months, he had been charged with ‘seditious conspiracy’ for his campaign to repeal the Act of Union, which had moved the Irish parliament to Westminister in 1800. The Repealers hoped to re-establish an independent parliament for Ireland by putting pressure on the British authorities. The Repeal campaign organised Monster peaceful meetings, one had been held on the Hill of Tara with 100,000 people in attendance.

On his release from prison, a procession was held and Daniel was paraded through the streets of Dublin, in a large chariot, called the Triumphal chariot. This chariot was restored and is now displayed in the Coach house at Derrynane house.

Daniel O'Connell's Triumphal chariot
Daniel O’Connells Triumphal chariot
Daniel O'Connell atop the Triumphal Chariot
The Triumphal procession of Daniel O’Connell

Derrynane House 

In 1825, Daniel’s Uncle, Maurice O’Connell died and Daniel finally inherited Derrynane House and set about renovating it.  The house dated back to 1702 and over the generations, rooms and wings had been added as needed. In the 1950’s, two great granddaughters of Daniel O’Connell’s who were then aged in their 80’s resided at Derrynane, as the original house dated back to the 1700’s and as no maintenance work had been carried out on the house in many years it had already fallen into disrepair.

Derrynane House
Derrynane House

After the ladies passed away the house was gifted to the Irish state, by this stage, it was decided that the main section of the house had to be demolished, this housed the kitchens and bedrooms, the other wing of the house, the part that Daniel had designed and constructed in the 1820’s are what remain of the house today. Daniel added a dining room, drawing room, a study and library and changed the entrance of the house, he also added a small church to the house, which also survives.

Home of Daniel O'Connell
Derrynane House, ancestral home of the Liberator Daniel O’Connell
Ornate table belonging to Daniel O'Connell
Ornate table carving of dogs and Irish harp under a table in the drawing room of Derrynane House
Daniel O'Connell's drawing room
Drawing room with large wooden throne at Derrynane House
Library at Derrynane House in Kerry
Portrait of Daniel O’Connell hanging his library at Derrynane House

In 1847, Daniel went on a pilgrimage to Rome to get the Pope’s blessing, in Genoa in Italy, he took gravely ill and died a few days later at the age of 71 years old. He was a man who was ahead of his time, although a religious man,  he believed in the separation of the church and state.

This is the actual bed from the Feder hotel in Genoa that Daniel O’Connell died in. It was donated to the Office of Public Works by the Pontifical college in Rome who had come into possession of it back in 1926 from the family that owned the hotel.

 

Daniel O'Connell's deathbed
Daniel O’Connell’s deathbed from the Feder hotel, where he died in 1847

Daniel had stated on his deathbed, My body to IrelandMy heart to Rome, My Soul to Heaven

His last bequest was granted and his heart was sent to Rome and his body returned to Ireland and his coffin is held in a crypt under the Daniel O’Connell round tower at Glasnevin cemetery which you can visit and view.

Daniel’s ancestral home is now maintained by the Office of Public Works and you can visit the house from March until early November, click here to find directions.

 

Sources:

Information gathered during visit to OPW - Derrynane House

Background Info: http://www.theirishstory.com/2013/02/03/daniel-oconnells-childhood/

Background Info: derrynanehouse.ie

Background Info: wiki: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daniel_O%27Connell

Journey to the South Pole

On a recent trip to Kerry, we decided to visit the village of Annascaul.

The main reason was to visit the pub once owned and run by the famous Irish Antarctic explorer, Tom Crean and to visit his grave site.

I think I first became aware of Tom Crean, from the iconic Guinness Ad from 2002 and the newspaper reports about Tom’s life.

A few months ago, we went to the Hawks well theatre in Sligo to see the one man play about Tom Crean, written and performed by Aiden Dooley, it was really enjoyable and I learnt a lot about the life of Tom Crean, the Kerry man, who went on three expeditions to the Antarctica with Captain Scott and Sir Ernest Shackleton. If you get the opportunity to go to this play, go see it.  As we had a trip planned to Kerry a few weeks later we decided to put Tom Crean’s pub on our road trip itinerary.

We saw another play related to the Antarctic voyages last year, in the Factory Performance theatre space on Lower Quay street, Sligo.  The Blue Raincoat theatre company produced an audio visual performance more than a play, four silent actors recreated the scenes and atmosphere of the Antarctic and Shackleton’s Endurance expedition, using old photographs, ship puppetry, sounds, lighting and shadows.

Tom Crean

In 1893, at the age of 16, Tom Crean from Annascaul in Kerry, enlisted in the Royal Navy. He travelled the world with the Navy and in 1901 while docked at a port in New Zealand, by chance he got the opportunity to join Captain Robert Scott’s Discovery expedition.  He later rejoined Captain Scott on the Terra Nova expedition, this is the expedition where Scott lost his life and Crean saved the life of his comrade Edgar Evans, he was awarded the Albert Medal by King George on his return.

Kerry Antarctic explorer Tom Crean
Famous photograph of Tom Crean on the wall of the South Pole Inn

Crean’s third expedition was with Sir Ernest Shackleton on the Endurance expedition.  The ship became trapped in ice and was crushed, the men had to escape onto the ice and drifted for 492 days before the ice melted and they had to row their small boats to Elephant island.  After reaching Elephant island, deserted except for Elephant seals, Crean was part of a small crew lead by Shackleton which volunteered to row a further 800 nautical miles (1,500 km) from Elephant Island to South Georgia, to seek aid for the stranded party.  Crean and the crew miraculously survived and managed to get help and all of the 22 men were saved.

Crean retired from the Navy in 1920 and returned to Kerry.  He married Ellen Herlihy and had three children, opening a pub that he decided to call the South Pole, in recognition of his time in the Antarctic. He sadly died in 1938 from a burst appendix, he was only 61 years old.  Crean rarely talked of his achievements, he was quite modest and gave no interviews.

This sculpture in the village, depicts Tom Crean holding the sled dog puppies in the Antarctic and was erected in 2003 across from his pub.

Statue of Tom Crean in Annascaul, county Kerry, Ireland
Sculpture of Tom Crean with his sled dog puppies

About 5 kilometres from the village, we visited Tom’s grave, its located in Ballynacourty cemetery.  Many of the graves in this cemetery,  are above ground in crypts.  People have left coins and piled small stones on his grave.

Antarctic explorer Tom Crean's grave
The grave of Tom Crean and his wife Ellen and their daughter Kate.

Crean bought the pub in Annascaul in 1927 from a bursary received from Captain Scott’s widow in gratitude.  The pub itself is a warm and rustic place and serves nice food and has lots of old photographs on the walls about Tom and the Antarctic voyages.

Endurance voyage
Photos of Sir Ernest Shackleton and the Endurance voyage hanging on the wall of the South Pole Inn

Annascaul is a quaint small Irish village, the day we visited it was lashing rain but we walked up the street for a look round and we passed another well known Irish pub by chance, as I didn’t realise it was located in Annascaul. Dan Foley’s pub was once featured on an Irish pub postcard series and also on a pubs of Ireland poster.

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In the trenches in Cavan

If you are planning a visit to Cavan, you would do well to pay a visit to the Cavan County Museum in Ballyjamesduff.  We have visited a few county museums over the last few years but Cavan’s museum stood out.  Museums today should strive to create interactive user experience’s and the museum has embraced this idea.

The Museum is based in a beautiful 19th century building that was previously a convent used by the Poor Clare Order of nuns.

Ballyjamesduff convent
View of Cavan Museum building

The nuns arrived in Ballyjamesduff in 1872 with the convent itself being opened in 1883.

In 1992, with the dwindling convent community, a decision was made to close the convent and move to smaller accommodation within the community.  Cavan County Council purchased the convent to house the new county museum.

The museum is located on the Virginia Road – it’s signposted but easy to miss the turn (it’s a narrow slip road beside the church).

The building itself is substantial as you can imagine but luckily they have a lot of varied exhibitions to make good use of the space.

Exhibitions include Cavan GAA history, the history of the Barons Farnham (owners of the Farnham Estate for over 300 years until it was sold in the mid-2000s), the Great Famine, Percy French, local links to World War 1 and an exhibition on the Poor Clare Order of nuns.

There’s some other interesting pieces scattered around the museum like a gun belonging to Arthur Griffith.

Irish War of Independence
Arthur Griffith gun

Percy French was a famous Irish songwriter in the early 1900’s and he is connected to Ballyjamesduff as he worked in Cavan and wrote a famous Irish emigration song called “Come back Paddy Reilly to Ballyjamesduff” and in his honour a replica statue was erected in the town. I found out recently after posting the photo below on our Facebook page, a descendent of Paddy Reilly told me, he was a jarvey taxi man with a horse and cart who use to drive and collect people from Ballyduff and the Oldcastle train station, he did leave Ballyjamesduff, when he emigrated but he returned a few years later and settled back in Ballyjamesduff.

Ballyjamesduff statue
Percy French statue

By far the most impressive features of the museum are the World War 1 Trench Experience and the Visualising the Rising exhibition.

Cavan Museum have a replica trench onsite that was “built to the specifications and manuals of the Irish Guards and used by the Royal Irish Fusiliers at the Battle of the Somme 1916, it is over 350 metres long and includes frontline, communication and support trenches. Over 6000 sand bags were used in its construction. ”

World War 1 trench
Replica trenches – front line

The replica trench is the largest outdoor one of it’s kind in Ireland and the UK. This is very well done and you get a better understanding of what life must have been like in the trenches for the soldiers, they slept in something that resembled a shelf, never far from the rats and mud.  With audio posts dotted throughout the trenches, capturing some of the sounds of the WW1 trenches.

World War 1 first aid
Replica trenches – casualty clearing station

Also onsite is “a replica GPO façade and a series of tunnelled-through contemporary building interiors that allow visitors to experience the claustrophobic fighting conditions endured by the rebels.”

You can go inside the GPO during the Rising and experience the tunnelled Moore street houses.  We both read a book called Inside the GPO, it was a memoir by an Irish volunteer called Joe Goode, which recounts his time during the 1916 Rising. Goode paints a vivid picture of the last days of the Rising, volunteers tunnelling through the narrow rows of houses on Moore street and life inside for the inhabitants, with James Connolly stretchered into the house, a defiant Sean MacDiarmada and Patrick Pearse looking out at the civilians killed and writing the surrender letter and about life for the impoverished families who lived there. One story about the young volunteer Michael Collins trying to cook his ration sausages in a bedroom fireplace, on quenched emblems so as not to attract the British army snipers with smoke coming from the chimney stack, in the end ashes covered the sausages with Michael cursing the snipers.

General Post Office Dublin
GPO facade

The museum has a peace & reconciliation garden that remembers those from all sides of Irish society and the different paths they took, that led some to the trenches in World War 1 and others to the Easter Rising.