St. Ann’s Hill Hydro and its link to golf’s fledgling days in the Barony of Muskerry

Tim O’Brien looks back on a historic era for the sport


Golf’s origin in the Barony of Muskerry, a vast tract of land extending to over 300,000 acres extending from Blarney in the east to the ‘county bounds’ with Kerry, can be traced to the former St. Ann’s Hydro near Tower.

I came across two documentary references to the St. Ann’s golf location, dating back to 1890 – a year prior to the formation of the Golfing Union of Ireland.

One such document was the Stretton and Stretton Dublin, Cork and South of Ireland Commercial Directory of 1892 which stated in an article dealing with the renowned St Ann’s Health Centre that a Major General H. F. Davies of the British Military Headquarters in Cork City was captain at a 13 holes course at Cloghphilip, near Tower.

The links, according to the directory, extended to a length of two and a quarter miles. It was open to visitors at the St Ann’s Hydro Hotel and Health Centre and was also available to officers of the British Army, Navy and Royal Irish Constabulary.

Further evidence of golf in the St. Ann’s area in the 1890 era can be gleaned from an 1891 advertisement which states that the hydropathic establishment near Blarney, founded in 1843 by the late Dr Richard Barter, was one of the finest health and pleasure resorts in the South of Ireland. It had extensive grounds and there were facilities for tennis, billiards, golf and fishing.

By 1894, a club had been formed at Coachford and a nine holes course of 1,900 yards laid out at Leemount, about a mile on the western side of the village on the Macroom road. The Honorary Secretary was W Parsons, Riversdale, Coachford and J Sullivan was green-keeper.

The Cork and Muskerry Light Railway provided the link from Cork to Coachford at the time and newspapers reported the playing of inter-club matches between Coachford, Cork and Bandon. Burke’s Hotel, Coachford, is also mentioned in reports in the Cork Constitution newspaper.

Both the Cork Examiner and Cork Constitution reported on September 15th 1897 that a Muskerry Tennis and Amusements Club of 72 members was formed at Coachford under the Presidency of Sir Augustus Warren of Warrens Court House with Herbert Gillman as Honorary Secretary.

Sub committees of expertise for golf, tennis, cycling, croquet etc were appointed to manage the affairs of their respective games but each was subject to the general supervision of the umbrella body – the Muskerry Tennis and Amusements Club. The report said that the club supplied a long felt want amongst the resident gentry throughout Muskerry.

Three days later, the Irish Times and Belfast Newsletter (September 18, 1897) announced the existence of a Muskerry Golf and Tennis Club at the same venue – Leemount, Coachford – and this was the entry that caught the attention of golf researchers and historians as they sought to put a foundation date on the present Muskerry Golf Club (founded in 1907) and located 12 miles away near Cloghroe. The association often led to confusion over the start-up date of the latter.

As was the case with the Muskerry Tennis and Amusements Club, the Times and Newsletter stated that the club at Leemount, Coachford – not to be confused with Leemount, Carrigrohane – had a membership of 72; they agreed on the principal officers’ names as Sir Augustus Warren and Herbert Gillman; and a reference to ‘supplying a long felt want for the gentry’ is also mentioned. This description fits the aforementioned Muskerry Tennis and Amusements club, so the reason for naming it the Muskerry Golf and Tennis Club is unclear.

A letter to newspapers in 1897 (discovered in the mid-1990s) and bearing the name A. A. McCall, Captain, Coachford Golf Club throws some light on the golf situation. McCall said, that contrary to reports, his club had not amalgamated with anybody – it was merely transferring its links to Myshall where a more extensive course was being laid out with Myshall House, near Dripsey, forming an excellent clubhouse.

Golf continued to be played at the Myshall centre for some time afterwards and a match between Coachford and Cork is recorded in the Cork Herald of December 1898.

The Golfing Annual of 1902/’03 reported the formation of a St. Ann’s Hill club at Cloghphilip near Tower. The club was instituted in November 1901 and Mrs. Ethel Pike, Kilcrenagh, Carrigrohane is listed as honorary secretary.

The course of nine holes was sited a quarter of a mile from St Ann’s Hill rail station and Blarney was two miles distant. The course was situated near the St Ann’s Hill Hydropathic complex and the centre also included a hotel. I am not sure if the location referred to was the same as that pertaining for the earlier golfing activity in the 1890 era.

Muskerry Golf Club’s formation was announced in the Cork Examiner and the Cork Constitution newspapers of March 13 and 15, 1907, respectively, through the publication of the following news item.

At an influential meeting held at the offices of Messrs Atkins & Chirnside, 39 South Mall and presided over by Sir George Colthurst, Bart., the initial steps were taken for the formation of Muskerry Golf Club. A provisional committee was elected of which Sir George Colthurst Bart. was president and Dr Anislee Hudson, the honorary secretary. It was announced that the services of Tramore professional John McNamara had been acquired and immediate steps were being taken to get the course in order for play.

The Muskerry club’s opening ceremony took place on May 4,1907; Dr Hudson, a physician at the nearby St Ann’s Hydro and Hotel, outlined the club’s aims and objectives, an exhibition match was played by the McNamara brothers from Lahinch, one of whom, John, was the club’s first professional, and the club was christened and wished a long life and prosperity. A marquee was provided for the occasion as a clubhouse had yet to be erected.

A Muskerry minute book reveals that land leasing arrangements for the nine-hole course were finalised with the Dorgan and O’Keeffe farming families in late 1907.

Seven months after the opening (December 1907) there was some interesting correspondence from the St. Ann’s committee to the newly formed Muskerry club. A letter dated December 12th, 1907 sent by Henry Barter to Captain Dundas, Honorary Secretary, Muskerry Golf Club read as follows:

“In reference to the request made to me at the general meeting last Saturday that I should ascertain from the St. Ann’s Hill committee what annual subscription they would give to the golf club. I shall be obliged if you would put the following before the committee of the club.

“When the club was started, the committee and staff of St. Ann’s made a donation of £48 in all towards the funds of the club and handed over to it the tools and implements, including a large and small mower which have been on use on the St. Ann’s links.

“In return for this, the committee of the club undertook to allow visitors staying in the Hydro to join the club as temporary members at a reduced charge of three shillings a week instead of five shillings a week payable by other temporary members. In addition to this, it was arranged that such members of the staff and committee of St. Ann’s as had subscribed £5 each – which formed part of the £48 before mentioned, wee to be members of the club for five years without the payment of any further subscription. This arrangement as to reduced charges will I suppose remain in force for the remainder of the year, viz. until the 1st of May next.

“In regard to the future arrangements between the St. Ann’s Hill committee and the club, I am directed by the former to propose some such arrangement as the following to the committee of the club for their consideration as the basis of a permanent agreement:-

“That the St. Ann’s Hill committee should subscribe a sum of £24 annually to the funds of the club. That in return for this, visitors staying at the Hydro should be allowed to play free of charge up to the number of 16 gentlemen at any one time, or to an equivalent number of ladies and gentlemen – counting two ladies as one gentleman. That this privilege should be limited to visitors actually staying in the Hydro and should not include any tenants or visitors to the cottages at St. Ann’s.

“Further that the St. Ann’s Hill committee should be given 16 votes at general meetings and should always have one nominee on the committee. That the rights of increasing this subscription, and of increasing the number of visitors allowed to play free, should be reserved to the committee, the ratio between these being one visitor more for each addition £1.10s. subscribed.

“In regard to the right of membership for five years given to subscribers of £5, those members of the committee and their staff who are playing members of the club are willing to forego this altogether and to consider their £5 as a donation and to pay the full subscription in future” the letter concluded.

Unfortunately, no details of any discussions on the above proposals have come to light but, perhaps, the search of an attic or two in the locality might yet yield results.

Rules and regulations for a club in the Macroom area in 1910 reveals that the course was known as The Links and was situated at Sandy Hill on the northern side of the Sullane River.

The document confirms a 1913 entry in the Cork Constitution (January 2nd) which stated that the Captain, Mr. F Philips, J P, of Clondrohid House attended a prize-giving ceremony for the club match-play final which saw C A Walshe defeat Thomas P Grainger, Solicitor.

On March 22 of that year (1913), a presentation was made to the said Charles A Walshe, District Inspector, whom the Constitution newspaper described as the founder of the club three years earlier. The annual subscription was a guinea for gentlemen; 10/6 for ladies and a family ticket was available for £2. Visitor green fee rates were five shillings a week or two shillings daily.

It is not known how long the club continued to function or if, indeed, it was in existence when the present Macroom club was formed at the Castle Estate Grounds in 1924.

Lee Valley Golf and Country Club was opened at Knockanore, Ovens in 1992 and the inauguration day featured an exhibition match between American star Fred Couples (he went around in four under par 68), Christy O’Connor jnr (course designer) and Irish internationals Eavan Higgins, Douglas, and Skibbereen native Eileen Rose Power (nee McDaid). Affiliation to the G.U.I. and the I.L.G.U. quickly followed and, through tremendous assistance from the course complex proprietors, the Keohane family, the club has made wonderful strides, playing host to several top ranking events since its inception whilst its representatives in ladies and men’s competitions have proved a match for the best, be it at county, Munster or national level.

A pay-as-you-play course was opened by the Quill family at Stoneview, near Blarney, in 1996 but the course was sold for development purposes in 2003 and soon closed as a golf amenity.

By 2003, preparations were underway for the development of a Blarney golf course and hotel at Cloghphilip, Tower and American golfer John Daly had a close involvement with the project. Daly himself was present for the opening ceremony in July 2006. A Blarney club was formed within a short time and affiliated to the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golfing Union and it has gone from strength to strength, acquitting itself ever so well in the inter-club arena.

Its development, so close to the location of the 1890 St. Ann’s Hill Hydro course, brings the number of golf clubs in the Muskerry Barony to four – Blarney itself, Macroom, Lee Valley and Muskerry (near Cloghroe), so a great sporting tradition dating back over 120 years is maintained.


The above article appeared in Issue No 8 ‘Old Blarney’ Journal


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