Tim O’Brien in reflective mood.
Right now, I cannot think of a better way of spending a beautiful summer’s day in mid-June than to ramble around the parish of Inniscarra and retrace some of the steps of my youthful days.
Upper Cloghroe was my home place and, no doubt about it, my late parents, John and Kitty, – like so many other families – sacrificed much to guide a family of five boys and five girls to various and diverse destinies. Each was to receive their early education at Vicarstown National School in Matehy and this is an area that has undergone tremendous change with the passing of time. The old national school, long demolished and used as a car park nowadays, is just a distant memory, being replaced by a modern building a few hundred yards away; the post office has closed and so also have a few licensed premises – or pubs as we used to call them.
A graveyard, adjacent to the local church, is still very much part of the community and has been the subject of many newspaper and magazine articles through the decades, mainly because of the reported re-burial of bodies following their removal from their Loughane location across the valley of the River Shournagh. Or so the story goes as others have a different version of events following the death of a British army officer named Fox and his interment, supposedly at Loughane. He was connected with the death of a priest celebrating Mass at Matehy Church and in his escape bid down a steep hill near the present Fox’s Bridge was himself thrown from his horse and killed. Was the bridge named after him – I ask myself in passing.
Anyway, families of deceased people at Loughane graveyard are understood to have voiced their displeasure when word emerged relating to Captain Fox’s final resting place. It is thought that the transfer of bodies to the old Matehy Church surrounds was a consequence. No doubt historians and other researchers will provide the real story details in due course, as I am certainly confused and need to be convinced on the issue.
Matehy and Vicarstown have adjoining townlands like Gurth, Killeens, Gilcaugh and Kilclough and each has made its contribution to Inniscarra history. People like Most Rev Dr J. J. Scanlan, a past pupil of Vicarstown school and later the Bishop of Honolulu, Timmy Murphy, a talented athlete, Michael Dilworth, a champion ploughman, and Mick Collins, owner of that outstanding greyhound, Creamery Border, come to mind. A horse called Dark Rosaleen also brought glory to the area.
Kilclough can also boast a wooded landmark regarded as the highest point in Inniscarra, whilst the siting of the Blarney golf course and hotel in the Killeens/Gurth/Cloughphilip area has brought a new dimension to the district. As has the provision of a new cemetery in recent years and named after St. Senan – the patron saint of Inniscarra.
Nearby is the well-known Kerry Road which winds its way through the countryside with its name made famous through its association with the transport of butter through Tower and Clogheen to the international market in Blarney Street neath the shadow of the renowned Shandon Steeple. One of the final overnight stops for the horses on this ‘butter run’ from Kerry and Millstreet was at the Dilworth home – my grandparents – at Vicarstown Cross.
Tourists from Killarney on their way to Blarney also travelled along the Kerry Road and a visit to the Castle often meant a sojourn for some at the famous St Ann’s Hill Hydropathic Centre and hotel adjacent to Tower and Cloughphilip. A Turkish bath health facility using water and steam was inaugurated there by Cooldaniel, Macroom doctor Richard Barter in 1843 and was the first of its kind in the country. The practice lasted into the 1900s, while a well-known Hydro Hotel at the same centre operated until the mid-1950s, providing much needed employment in the area.
A family connection with the hotel was that my late father used to bring rabbits and pheasants on his bicycle to the hydro, as visitors and guests liked the idea of a tasty menu.
Serving the complex too was the famous Muskerry train, or tram as it was affectionately known, as it wound its way from Cork’s Western Road to termini at Blarney, Coachford and Donoughmore. It had intermediate stops at Carrigrohane, Leemount, Healy’s Bridge, The Junction, Cloghroe, Gurteen, Dripsey and North Kilmurry (on the Coachford run); Tower and St Ann’s as it wound its way to Blarney; the Burnt Mills, the Gurth paper mills and Fox’s Bridge as it headed for Donoughmore, crossing the River Shournagh three times in the space of two miles on leaving St Ann’s.
The transport system began in 1887 and continued until 1934 and was to prove of great benefit to the Mid-Cork community, including the big fair days at Coachford and Donoughmore. Sports followers too were delighted with the service, particularly those travelling to hurling matches at Coachford and the renowned Blarney sports.
It helped the promotion of golf as well as, during the tram’s lifetime, courses were opened at St Ann’s and Coachford (both now defunct) and the present day Muskerry club near Coachford Junction. The golf clubhouse of today overlooks the one-time centre of great activity as the rail tracks went their separate ways to Blarney/Donoughmore and Coachford.
On that line to Coachford, the train would have passed through the Ardrum Estate near Cloghroe. The magnificent Ardrum House with its reported 365 windows – sadly no longer to be seen – was home to the Colthurst family up to 1870 prior to their taking up residence at the Blarney Castle Estate mansion.
Overlooking Cloghroe Valley, featuring the Shournagh and Sheep rivers, is Templehill (of Rocklodge Pitch and Putt club fame) and the imposing Garravagh Hill which, when tree plantations are neatly trimmed, provides a magnificent view of the sprawling countryside for miles and miles distant, as well as to residents of nearby town-lands like Dromin and Coolflugh.
At Cloghroe Church, I am reminded of the first All-Ireland bowl-playing championship final in 1954 when Liam O’Keeffe defeated his Waterfall neighbour Ned Barry – a score that commenced near the church and was to last for two Sundays, mainly because of its late year fixture. I remember having a vantage point in the glen close to our home as the event reached its finishing point near the Fountain Bar.
A few hundred yards further on stands another famous landmark – the Yellow House – and in the vicinity also is a mass rock depicting a link with penal times. A priest’s face etched on a rock is an interesting and much admired feature. Across the valley is Callas Hill and continuing along the Cloghroe/Donoughmore road, one soon reaches Ballyshonin where many an important bowl-playing fixture was decided. This was a very busy place in an earlier era, being the location of a creamery, Mini Mahony’s shop and Jimmy Cooney’s forge.
The Donovans are long associated with the area and a turn left past their shop and petrol station led me to Berrings Cross. There are many changes here also as the local dance hall, whose walls no doubt could relate many a story, is now just a distant memory. Closed too is Mrs Collins’ shop but, on the plus side, the building of a new national school some years back has brought much vibrancy to the area.
I headed for North Kilmurry and on to Dripsey’s model village – one of two in the parish, Tower being the other. The local O’Shaughnessy owned woollen mills – closed for many years now – provided much work for the community in its time and the sport of hurling benefitted as well as a team representing the Mills won the Cork Inter-Firm championship.
One cannot pass Dripsey Cross without making a call to the Dripsey ambush memorial site – a Séamus Murphy designed monument erected in 1938 to the memory of people executed for their part in an attempted ambush of British troops during the War of Independence, but which plan went horribly wrong on the day.
Griffin’s garden centre has a great reputation and I pass the former Dripsey creamery and the O’Leary provisions store on my way to the ESB generating station at Inniscarra, where the construction of a dam brought much needed employment in the mid-1950s. Electricity had only been introduced to the district a few years earlier – Inniscarra, in fact, being the first parish in County Cork to receive it.
Further along the Cork road, I stop at the Canon’s Cross and reflect on the wonderful feat of Captain Christy and its one time owner and breeder George Williams, who shared in that magnificent Gold Cup triumph at the Cheltenham racing festival in 1974. This is just one memorable triumph in a string of victories that brought such glory to the parish.
Both Inniscarra graveyards are other parish features. Anne Roper’s Inniscarra House on the banks of the River Lee is an imposing residence, while Seán Ó Riordáin, a poet of international repute, is remembered through a roadside plaque near his former home at Bunacummer. Gawsworth House provides a bird’s eye view for people making their journey from the city past the Angler’s Rest and Lee Road.
It is getting late so I head back to my native Cloghroe, past the Wayside Inn and Blairs (formerly Healy’s licensed premises) for my final port of call – the Inniscarra Community Centre, which has brought so much enjoyment to so many people for many years now at its Ballyanly headquarters. Facilities are first class, catering as they do for sport bodies as well as the social side for patrons of all ages with the complex further enhanced in recent time by the provision of a perimeter walking route. Long may the venture continue to thrive.
The above article appeared in Issue No 9 ‘Old Blarney Journal.