Stories of Old Blarney and of Supt. Michael Cunningham

John Cunningham

As someone who was born and raised in Blarney, I have always felt a special attachment to the place. My memories of growing up there, going to school, messing around the village, the woods and the castle grounds, playing football and hurling for the parish and of the friends I still have from there, are invariably happy ones. For such a small village, it had a lot of interesting things going on and judging by the wonderful products of the Blarney Historical Society, it also has a lot of very interesting stories to tell. These are some of my recollections of stories that I would have either heard from my father or from those working with him.

My father, Michael Cunningham, was born on a small farm in Shyan near Kilmihil, Co Clare in 1899. He served as Superintendent of the Gardaí in the Blarney District from 1944 until he retired in 1962. He was so happy living and working in Blarney that he declined an offer of promotion as Chief Supt so that he could end his days there. He died Aug 9th, 1974 and is buried in the new cemetery in Garrycloyne.

The Big Flood
I believe it was around the winter of 1948, when the deluge finally hit Blarney. According to my father, it had rained for the proverbial 40 days and 40 nights and the land was already saturated like a well soaked sponge, when the clouds burst yet again over the village. The water roared down off the upper fields above the two sandpits and flowed onto the roads around the Square in no time.

My father had left the barracks and gone home for his tea when he heard the rush of water outside in the avenue, and knowing that floods were likely, he made his way down to the village by holding on to the cement wall that ran along between our avenue and Mrs. Coffey’s house (Now Fr. Cusack’s house).

What he did not know however, was that the force of the water had overcome the small dam up the Waterloo Road and the village was under several feet of water. It took some time before he could make his way down as far as the barracks which was at the lowest point of the village, so the water would be at its highest there.

When he got his head in the door, Guard Gaffey, who was on duty in the day-room that evening, had scrambled up onto the shelf where the big thick files were usually kept and was watching anxiously to see if the water was going to keep rising. My Father’s first thoughts were that Gaffey was being very dedicated in staying at his post instead of just wading or swimming to higher ground. It was not until sometime later that Guard Gaffey admitted that he could not swim, and the shelf looked like his best bet of survival. At any rate the rain eased off and the water subsided, and no casualties were reported from the night of the Big Flood.

The Siege
One of the anomalies of the drinking laws of the 1950’s was the infamous ‘Travellers Clause’. This part of the legislation was originally a concession to people who had to travel long distances, like over 5 miles or so, and who would be in need of resuscitation and nourishment as a result. The law allowed such people to be served drink after normal closing times on Sundays if they could prove to the innkeeper that they were ‘bona fide’ travellers.

In effect, however, it meant that people would travel out from Blackpool and places in Cork city to villages like Blarney and drink their heads off all day Sunday and then drag themselves home again on Sunday night. They would arrive on every means of transport, which in those days would typically mean either bicycle or horse-drawn jaunting car.

The pubs would do a roaring trade on most Sundays but on days of special events like the Blarney Sports, they would be pouring porter as fast as they could. If I remember correctly, closing time was 7 0’clock and the Guards would have to help the publicans to clear the unruly crowds from their premises, shove them onto the jaunting cars and point the horses towards Cork. Occasionally, the odd row would break out and some would have to get a few clips of a baton and put into the ‘Cooler’ for the night.

On one such busy Sunday, there was a particularly rough element below in the Muskerry Arms and Tom Bradley, God rest him, was having no luck in getting them to move. So, as usual, the Guards were sent for and they duly arrived to survey the scene. They were met with a sea of bodies still pressing to get drink from the bar and with no intention of moving. My Father and Sergeant Kelly were immediately sent for and they mustered up any reinforcements available that Sunday evening.

Armed with batons they descended on the pub and made their way around to the back of the bar through the yard. My Father, not being the sort of man who would ask his men to do something that he would not do himself, led his men up onto the bar counter itself and with a loud voice he asked the crowd to leave the pub once more. This request was met with another round of drunken guffaws and with that, Dad marched down along the bar and kicked the pint glasses back into the crowd. The guards then jumped down into the crowd and forced them out the door before them.

Outside on the street, several of the crowd attacked the Guards and had to be arrested and put into the small jail in the barracks. The jail only held about ten or twelve people if they all stood up, but this night they had to squeeze more in. No sooner had they locked the last few sardines in the ‘cooler’ than a gang gathered outside and demanded their release. When they were told that they could not be released until they had been charged with being drunk and disorderly, the crowd outside got nasty and the barracks door had to be bolted to keep out the mob. Windows were smashed but the Guards held firm and kept the mob at bay for about an hour or so after which time they got fed up and went home.

“At Ease Men”
On another occasion, such as the above, there was a need to draft in some extra reinforcements from the Watercourse Road barracks in Cork to control the drunken crowd. A young Guard called Vincy Strand was among the detachment sent to Blarney to help the local Guards and as usual, when closing time came, the rougher elements had to be ‘persuaded’ to leave the pubs. A fight started on the streets again and some strong-arm tactics had to be used by the reinforcements to sort them out and restore law and order to the normally peaceful village. This was no bother to the city-based Guards who would be used to dealing with the tougher elements of society in the Blackpool area every day.

When the job was done, Vincy and the lads retired over to the new bridge beyond Pat Byrne’s house and lit up cigarettes. They were just enjoying their smoke break, when around the corner came the Super striding purposefully. Being in uniform, the lads tried to hide the fags immediately in the hollows of their hands or wherever, and when my father demanded to know if they were the ones who had thumped the fighting gangs, they thought they were in trouble on two counts; unnecessary use of force and smoking while in uniform. They pulled themselves to attention and replied, “yes sir” to the Super’s question to which he replied, “And a f***ing good job ye did too. At ease men”

Vincy often related that story to me over a pint in later life when he retired from the Detective branch and settled in Blarney. I hope himself and Dad are enjoying the many stories about those times now, up above.

The Fraud Squad
One summer in the early 50’s, there came to the village a group of men and women with the sophisticated airs of London about them. They were drinking daily in Forrest’s and seemed to have no problem with money. Needless to say, this aroused quite a lot of interest in a small Irish village in the 50’s when there was very little all going on anyhow.

However, this peaceful holiday came to an abrupt end about a week later when the word came through that Scotland Yard in London were looking for a group of people of the same description for forgery in England. The Blarney guards suddenly found themselves in the midst of an international crime event and the excitement reached a peak in the village when the visitors were arrested and held in the barracks. A large crowd gathered to witness the detectives from Scotland Yard arriving the following day to take the forgers into custody and escort them back to England for prosecution.

The fact that such a prestigious organisation should come into our backyard and team up with the local police to apprehend international criminals was very exciting and kept us going with conversation for ages. The Emer Cinema probably also benefited by the increased interest in the Scotland Yard films for the next year or so.

The above item is taken from a much larger article by John Cunningham titled; ‘Stories of Old Blarney and of Supt. Michael Cunningham’ and published in ‘Old Blarney’ Journal Issue No 11, 2018.

Contact: Mr. Brian Gabriel Email: Tel: 087-2153216