Magourney and early Coachford

By Doug Lucey

The civil parish of Magourney in mid-Cork, sixteen miles west of Cork city and eight miles east of Macroom town, contained twenty-two townlands, and was situated at the eastern end of Macroom Poor Law Union, with the village of Coachford being the main population centre.

Samuel Lewis describes Magourney as a parish mainly situated in the barony of East Muskerry and partly in the barony of Barretts, on the road from Cork to Killarney, containing with the parish of Kilcolman, and the post town of Coachford 2,397 inhabitants. The land, other than 150 acres of bog and waste, was said to be of good quality and well cultivated, with the agricultural system improved under the resident gentry. Roads were said to be in excellent repair.1

The Church of Ireland parish of Magourney contained a rectory and vicarage united perpetually to the vicarage of Kilcolmanand it had the same boundaries as the civil parish of Magourney. The Roman Catholic parish of Aghabulloge (modern day spelling ‘Aghabullogue’) was a considerably larger and separate geographical entity, having boundaries similar to the civil parishes of both Aghabulloge and Magourney.

Deeshart, Fergus, Meeshal, Tullig Beg and Tullig More townlands were transferred by virtue of Act 6 and 7 William IV., cap. 84, from the barony of Barretts to the barony of East Muskerry,3 bringing the entire civil parish of Magourney within the barony of East Muskerry before the census survey of 1841.

Magourney Civil Parish Map1

Although Coachford village was well established as the main population centre of Magourney by the Great Famine, its origins are unclear. It may have existed by the eighteenth century, due to the presence of a hotel for travellers, with the name said to derive from being a crossing point for coaches over a stream. Coachford does not appear on Bath’s map for the Grand Jury of Cork, surveyed during the 1790s,4 but Magourney church and glebe are depicted, as is a [Roman Catholic] chapel to the west.5  The village certainly existed by the early nineteenth century, as reference was made during a meeting at Magourney church on 3 January 1822, to a prior meeting at Coachford.6 Some development took place during the 1830s, but it was the pre-Famine period of the 1840s before considerable development occurred.

In 1835 Dr Thomas Godfrey confirmed that Magourney Dispensary was established on 12 February 1825 to relieve the poor requiring medical or surgical assistance. Residing 100 yards from the dispensary and attending three days per week for an annual salary of fifty guineas, Godfrey considered it his duty to attend on those locally who were unable to pay. From 5 January 1830 to 1 January 1833 there were 1,939 entries on the register, and cases included fever, measles, skin complaints, midwifery, complaints of the eye, stomach and abdomen, and some cases of asiatic cholera. The dispensary was financed through voluntary subscriptions and the granting of presentments.7

The Poor Inquiry report of 1835 was scathing, and stated that dispensaries resembling Magourney would likely shorten rather than prolong the lives of applicants. The medical attendant had not been present at the Inquiry, denying receipt of a summons, and the management, capabilities, finances, expenditure and tenure of the dispensary were not ascertained. No pharmaceutical apparatus, surgical equipment, splints or bandages were evident upon inspection. An apprentice frequently acted in the place of the medical attendant and displayed ignorance of medicines and a general lack of qualification. The report also stated that many dispensaries within Cork East Riding were unsatisfactory and legislative measures were required.8

There was little development in Coachford during the 1830s, other than biannual fairs in Nadrid townland,9 and the establishment of a sub post office by 1833.10 A Loan Fund Society was formed during 1839-40, followed by noticeable improvement and some prosperity in the years leading to the Famine period.11 Other developments included the commencement of presentment sessions on 26 January 184212 at the newly constructed loan fund office, and held twice yearly in January and May/June. On 25 October 1842 it was decided at Cork county courthouse that a new police station be formed at Coachford consisting of four men.13 A new national school had been constructed in Clontead More townland and was ready for occupation by 11 January 1843.14 On 25 October 1843 a notice appeared in the Cork Examiner, with Rev. Denis Mahony giving thanks for subscriptions to the Coachford chapel rebuilding fund, and included were a considerable number of local Protestants who subscribed amounts varying from £5 to 10s.15

A grocery warehouse was established at Coachford in late 1841 to provide necessities at reasonable prices. The poor previously endured a return walking trip to Cork for goods, or procured them at high prices locally, as did the gentry and farmers who had the means of transport to ease their journeys. On 26 November 1842, a meeting of clergy, magistrates, gentry and many from the peasantry took place in Coachford, to ascertain feelings and opinions on the continued operation of this warehouse. Sales for the previous twelve months were said to amount to approximately £2,000 (£700 to gentry, £300 to farmers and £1,000 to labourers and tradesmen). Savings made by labourers and tradesmen amounted to some £500 or fifty per cent, as confirmed by various individuals at the meeting. It was unanimously agreed that the warehouse should continue to operate. The lack of employment for local females was also disclosed, with 6d. being the maximum amount earned weekly for knitting stockings.16

During October 1844, a notice appeared in the Cork Examiner, confirming that the interest, stock and fixtures of Coachford warehouse were to be sold, and a long lease given at moderate rent. Its objective of accommodating all classes and particularly the poor was said to have been realised. The business was for sale with small working capital required, the locality said to be rich and densely populated, and a purchaser to be declared within two weeks.17 Within twelve months, however, termination of the warehouse’s affairs had commenced. On 19 January 1846 warehouse contributors gave thanks at a meeting in Coachford to landed proprietor Lewis Gollock for his efforts in its winding up.18 It was a terrible irony that within months of the closure of this establishment, originally set up to benefit the poor, that the Famine and consequent local distress would befall Coachford and the surrounding area with such devastating effect.

The creation of Coachford Loan Fund Society (loosely comparable to modern day Credit Unions) had a positive impact on the development and prosperity of the village and its environs during the first half of the 1840s. Instrumental in the formation of this Society was magistrate and landed proprietor Charles Colthurst of Clonmoyle House, with the locality and poor in a bad state from moneylenders and crippling financial arrangements.19 It opened for business c. August 1840 as the ‘Magourney Small Loan Fund Society’, changing its name to ‘Magourney and Ahabullogue Loan Fund Society’ in 1841, and settling on the name ‘Coachford Loan Fund Society’ by 1843.

Evidence of the benefits of the loan fund society was provided in 1844, when traveller Florence O’Sullivan returned to Coachford and noticed great improvement since his previous visit. He learnt locally that the spacious Catholic chapel (previously described by George Mathison after his 1835 visit as a ‘small homely edifice’) had been contributed to by Protestants of the parish and several houses built due to the establishment of the loan fund society. O’Sullivan noted no such improvements had taken place in Macroom town.20

Coachford Loan Fund Society prospered during the early years of its establishment, but was dramatically affected, as were many loan funds nationally, by the onset and consequences of the Famine. It never recovered to pre-Famine levels, and ceased to operate c. 1859. The Famine had a great impact on the locality, when one considers that Coachford particularly began to develop during the early 1840s, and by April 1846 the scale of local distress and failure of the potato crop was all too evident.21 The potential growth and development of the village and its environs was stunted, and the local population dramatically decreased. By the post-Famine period, the severe distress of the labouring class in Macroom union had ended, although poverty remained a feature of life. The financial concerns of ratepayers and landed proprietors continued, now directly affected by external factors such as declining agricultural prices and a government free trade policy. The emergence of the Tenant Rights movement, a more influential Catholic Church and variations in local ownership through the encumbered estates system, all contributed to dramatic changes and a very different post-Famine Magourney.


1 Samuel Lewis, A topographical dictionary of Ireland (2nd ed., 2 vols, London, 1837), ii, 335.

2 Ibid.

Parliamentary Gazetteer of Ireland (3 vols, Dublin, 1846), ii, 724.

4 Cork City Council, ‘Grand Jury Map of County Cork’ ( (29 April 2015).

5 By the 1820s, St Patrick’s Church in Coachford had been constructed and this chapel, a stone structure with thatched roof, had fallen into disuse. The chapel was located in a field now known as ‘Murray’s acre’, which is situate to the west of St John’s Cemetery and in the townland of Monareagh.

6 Freeman’s Journal, 10 Jan. 1822.

First report from his majesty’s commissioners for inquiring into the condition of the poorer classes in Ireland, with appendix (A.) and supplement, p. 77, H.C. 1835, (369), xxxii, 599.

8 Ibid., pp 153-4, H.C. 1835, (369), xxxii, 223-4.

9 ‘Deeds, Leases, Mortgages, Marriage Settlements, Administrations, etc. Baronies of E. & W. Muskerry and Duhallow 1708-1864. Abstracted from the Deeds Registry, Henrietta Street, Dublin’ in A. E. Casey and N. F. Donaldson (eds), O’Kief, Coshe Mang, Slieve Lougher, and Upper Blackwater in Ireland (15 vols, Amite and Knocknagree Historical Fund, Alabama, 1971), xv, 1755.

10 Post Office (Dublin). Returns showing the names and situations of all persons employed in the Post Office (Dublin) who carry on any other employment or business; books and paper sold; salaries or allowances to deputy postmasters; arrears of late deputy postmasters, etc., p. 24, H.C. 1837, (35), l, 458.

11 In 1841 Coachford was described as a poor village with a post office and loan fund, Ordnance Survey Namebook (Special Collections, University College Cork: microfilm, box 943).

12 Cork Examiner, 26 Nov. 1841.

13 Ibid., 26 Oct. 1842.

14 Seamus O’Donoghue, ‘History of Clontead National School’ in Clontead (Coachford) National School 1842-1992, incorporating the Coachford Record vol. 3, iii, (1992), p. 27.

15 Cork Examiner, 25 Oct. 1843.

16 Ibid., 5 Dec. 1842.

17 Ibid., 14 Oct. 1844.

18 Cork Constitution, 27 Jan. 1846.

19 Cork Examiner, 5 Dec. 1842.

20 Ibid., 10 July 1844.

21 A poor relief meeting took place on 3 April 1846 at the premises of Coachford Loan Fund Society, chaired by Rev. William Welland, rector of Aghabulloge.