The Blarney and District Historical Society latest publication, ‘Old Blarney’ Journal Issue 13 was launched at Blarney Castle Hotel on 13th July 2022. The event was very generously sponsored by Ian and Una Forrest proprietors of the hotel.
Mr. John Mulcahy, the Honourary Editor of all twelve previous ‘Old Blarney’ Journals and five ‘Old Blarney’ Photo-journals introduced this latest edition and the following is his speech for the occasion.
‘One hundred years ago our country was torn apart by a bloody civil war. Throughout mid-July the army of the newly established Free State faced the Anti-Treaty Republican forces in an area of South County Limerick bounded by the towns of Bruff-Bruree-Kilmallock. A few weeks later, Free State troops landed at Passage West leading to the abandonment of the city by Republicans. Two weeks after that Michael Collins was killed at Béal na mBláth.
The government has decided that an overall commemoration of the events surrounding our independence will take place over the Decade of Centenaries, from 1913 to 1923. This spans the time from the Dublin Lockout and the founding of the Irish Volunteers through World War One, the Easter Rising, the 1918 election and First Dáil, the War of Independence, Hunger Strikes, Truce, Treaty, Civil War, Dump Arms, Internment and Hunger Strikes. Each of these events and many more are dealt with in our Old Blarney Journal through the prism of those who lived through them and participated in them, in one case by an individual and in another by a remarkable family. Frank Busteed’s role in the independence struggle has been written about before, but not with the insight and personal knowledge that Brian O’Donoghue, his grandson, brings to the table. On the other hand, the O’Doherty family of Shamrock Terrace are virtually unknown, but collectively they made a huge contribution to the struggle, not only here in Blarney, but in Dublin and the battlefields of the Western Front.
Frank Busteed and Felix O’Doherty grew up together here in Blarney, joined Fianna Eireann and the Irish Volunteers together, fought through the War of Independence and Civil War together. It would seem that there would be a lot of duplication between the two articles, but that is not the case. Frank Busteed’s rise through the ranks brought him to the role of Vice Commandant and later Commandant of the Sixth Battalion, in charge of the ill-fated Dripsey ambush, and the subsequent executions of Mrs. Lindsay and her chauffeur. Felix O’Doherty was Captain of the Blarney company and he collaborated with Frank in raiding for arms and capturing Major Compton Smith, who was later executed. Curiously both played minor roles in the major event of the troubles in Blarney, the attack on the RIC Barracks, although together with the Blarney Company, they completed its destruction the following night.
Both endured imprisonment, on-the-run, the experiences of having their homes raided frequently, which may have led to the death of Frank’s mother. Blarney went through a tough time, and was frequently surrounded and searched. Both had narrow escapes. Another thing they shared was they both had brothers who served in the British army. While Frank Busteed acknowledged the help his brother gave in smuggling out guns and ammunition from Ballincollig Barracks, Felix kept silent about his brother, Denis, who was killed in 1918 fighting in France.
But the women also played a major part in supporting the IRA. Nellie O’Doherty left an account of her role in Cumann na mBan of providing first aid, providing sustenance to captured volunteers in the local barracks (and at the same time removing compromising documents), concealing arms and documents, and carrying dispatches. Without the support of these brave women, the task of the volunteers would have been much more difficult.
I want at this stage to break away from the Troubles to talk about another remarkable local who features in this Journal. In a week where Ireland’s rugby warriors made history by winning their first ever test in New Zealand, Brian Gabriel’s article on Dr Tom Donovan of Rockhill is timely and topical. One wonders if Sky Sports was around a hundred years ago, offering 24-hour, wall to wall coverage of all sports, what would it have made of this all-rounder super athlete, who broke records and won international rugby caps, won innumerable championships across a variety of athletic events? Undoubtably it would have made him a household name, a Mo Farah – another who has made the headlines this week. But then, sport was for amateurs, and when Tom had completed his studies and qualified as a doctor, circumstances forced him to emigrate to Australia where injury put paid to his glittering athletic career. His heart was never far from home and as Brian relates, his trophies and international cap were eventually bequeathed to his alma mater, UCC.
Visitors to the National Gallery, Dublin, gaze in awe at the Marriage of Strongbow and Eva, the largest painting in the gallery, recently restored to its full splendour. It’s creator, Daniel Maclise, was one of the greatest and most famous painters of the Victorian age. His link with Blarney is the subject of my article, where he visited in 1826 with his friend Thomas Crofton Croker, at the invitation of the parish priest, Fr Mat Horgan. There in the barn next to his house in Ballygibbon, he was a guest at the festivities of Halloween, or All Hallows Eve. The fun and games he witnessed there became the subject of his best loved painting, Snap Apple Night. A print from the painting hangs in the meeting room of St Patrick’s Church, Whitechurch.
Returning to our decade of centenaries, Liam O’Doherty was another member of this remarkable family who worked in the GPO Dublin. He attended the meeting in 1913 where the Irish Volunteers were founded and was present at the Howth landing of arms by Erskine Childers. While on holiday in Blarney during Easter 1916, he heard of the Rising and returned to Dublin on the only available train to join his unit at the Four Courts. He fought on until ordered to surrender and was subsequently interned in Stafford Jail. He subsequently rose to Commandant of the Fifth (Engineering) Battalion and played a prominent role in the burning of the Custom House.
Both Frank Busteed and Felix O’Doherty were involved in the setting up and running of the tapping station along the railway line at Glencam, near Rathduff. This was an extraordinary successful operation which continued throughout the Truce and allowed the IRA to listen in on a 24-hour basis to police and army conversations. Only in recent years has it become known through witness statements and pension claims and this is the first full article on the topic.
We began with the Civil War and now I must return to it. Both Frank Busteed and the O’Dohertys took the anti-treaty side. Frank took command of the Sixth Battalion, taking part in fighting near Rochestown before retreating to Donoughmore. Felix O’Doherty became adjutant at Ballincollig Barracks up to the withdrawal and burning. Felix was captured near Donoughmore in a round-up where Frank had a narrow escape. Felix was jailed up to his release on ill health grounds. His brother Liam was also captured and interned up to the general release having endured hunger strike.
Events in Blarney throughout 1922 as described in the press feature in Richard Forrest’s article. For one half of the year the Republicans were in control and imposed their form of censorship. Following the occupation of Cork, and by the way, the destruction of the Examiner presses by the retreating Republicans, the boot was on the other foot, and the Free State censors took control. Thus, the Anti-Treaty Republicans were referred as Irregulars and the Free State army, Nationalists. Accounts of skirmishes were biased and numbers of casualties greatly exaggerated. But what comes through Richard’s article is the resilience of ordinary people, who tried to live a normal life throughout trying circumstances. Did the owner of the straying ram found in Courtbrack ever claim it back?
But the stories of the main protagonists did not end with the civil war. Frank Busteed emigrated for a while to America, where he married, before returning to Ireland, where Fianna Fail was soon to be in government, a party which Liam O’Doherty had been a founder member. Both served in the National army during the Emergency. Felix O’Doherty spent much of the rest of his life in enforced unemployment, seeking in vain for compensation through a disability pension. Liam O’Doherty’s death in 1982 creates an overlap with most of our lives here tonight.
The story of these events needs to be told. To many today, it is remote and even irrelevant. It is neither. What happened in Blarney during that decade had a profound effect on those who lived through it, breaking family links and friendships, forcing some into silence. There were economic effects, loss of property and income, forced emigration. I’m not claiming that everything that happened in Blarney is recounted here. In a future journal, I hope to publish the full list of members of the Blarney company with some account of the activities they were involved in. Much of the material is available and we await more pension claims to be published.
My final plea: the society would welcome articles for future Journals. We need more contributors and we must look to our secondary school students, their teachers and university students, all of whom are required to do research and dissertations, to help us out. I urge anybody with an idea for a project on a local place or topic, a piece of family history to let us know, and we will help you out. Mentioning family, I want to commend Tim R Murray for the fine book he has produced on his family’s part in the struggle for Independence, A Safe House, which I would recommend to everybody.
It is with pride and affection that I launch this Journal as the Society’s contribution to this decade of centenaries. Buy it, share it, promote it among your friends and families. Thank you.’
‘Old Blarney’ Journal Issue 13 is available in local shops, from committee members and on www.blarneyhistory.ie