Our latest article comes at a time which perhaps none of us could have foreseen, or imagined would ever come to pass. And yet it has. For we are living in the midst of a pandemic, where social distancing has become the norm, and life and business are drastically affected. We are living a surreal existence, ‘cocooning’; or venturing out as essential workers providing essential services; or for limited exercise; or for basic necessities. Hopefully you will find this article an interesting read, and a welcome distraction during these times.
Another pandemic surfaced locally, just over a century ago. Almost in living memory. It too had drastic consequences internationally, nationally, and locally. The ‘Great Flu’ (or ‘Spanish Flu’) of 1918-19, just like coronavirus COVID-19, came out of nowhere to wreak havoc upon an unsuspecting world, and upset the very fabric of life and society. A paragraph from the Cork Examiner dated 18 November 1918 contains eerie similarities to our own experiences:
‘In the early portion of last week the people of [Macroom] and district were generally terror-stricken with the appalling results of the malady. At night the main thoroughfares of the town were completely deserted, the people shunned the streets and remained indoors … wakes and funerals have been sparsely attended.’
And yet this malady of the early 1900s would vanish in time, just as the malady which now afflicts us shall, or will when a vaccine comes to hand. By 1920, Irish life emerged into a post-pandemic existence, but things were far from normal. Establishment rule and basic law and order were breaking down. The Irish War of Independence was in full sway.
The month started with local Richard Crooke of Aghavrin House advertising turnips for sale, in the Cork Examiner dated 1 April. It was Holy Thursday. People would have been preparing for Easter, and all that went with it. Others however were preparing for something else, which would have ramifications for the parish at large.
An order issued from Irish Volunteers General HQ that all evacuated enemy posts were to be destroyed. On Easter Saturday night/Sunday morning, the 3rd/4th April 1920, the RIC barracks in both Coachford and Rylane were attacked and set alight. Both premises had previously been evacuated. It fell to Rylane Company of the Volunteers to deal with Coachford barrack, and Donoughmore Company got the job of handling Rylane.
‘ … there was little activity until Easter 1920 when the evacuated RIC barracks at Coachford was burned. This operation was carried out by Rylane Company under Dan Farrell (O/C). Nearly all members of the company were engaged in this operation, either on the actual work of destruction, or on guard, or outpost duty. I was engaged on outpost duty on the main Rylane-Coachford road.‘ (Witness Statement of Daniel McCarthy, Rylane Company, 6 July 1956).
‘On Easter Saturday night, 1920, I took a party of men from Donoughmore Company to Rylane, where we set fire to the evacuated RIC barracks. This operation was carried out in accordance with the instructions in a general order from GHQ that all evacuated enemy posts throughout the country should be destroyed on this date.‘ (Witness Statement of John Manning, O/C Donoughmore Company, 17 December 1957).
According to the 1911 Census, Rylane barrack housed three constables; had five or six rooms; and six windows to the front. Coachford barrack, better known as the ‘hut’, was a modest structure and cramped. In 1911 it housed a sergeant, his wife and three constables; had between two and four rooms (two of which were taken up by the married couple and constables respectively); there were but two windows to the front; and it had an ‘outhouse’ which served as a store.
On 1 June 1920, Cork Quarter Sessions court heard a claim for £1,500 for malicious destruction on 4 April of the Coachford hut. The court was told that it was unoccupied for a week or two before being attacked, as it was not considered safe for the police, and they were to return when the barrack was fortified, but it was destroyed in the meantime. £1,350 was allowed by the Court Recorder to the RIC Receiver and Board of Works jointly for the claim, which was to be levied off the county at large.
The smouldering remains of Coachford hut must have been obvious, when Cork & District Motorcycle Club roared through the village on the following day, 5 April 1920. They were on a ‘reliability trial’, and a planned return trip from Cork to Glengarriff. The club passed through Coachford on the outward journey, before heading onwards towards Macroom.
Wednesday 7 April would normally have seen a sitting of Coachford Petty Sessions court (held on the first Wednesday of each month) but the Evening Echo tersely tells us that the court ‘had no case for disposal’. Although superior courts under the British regime continued to function, lesser and rural courts, such as Petty Sessions, were on the point of collapse. The RIC, essential to the continuance of the Petty Sessions courts, were being compelled to withdraw to towns, or into armed garrisons. Locally, one of the remaining occupied RIC barracks was to be found in nearby Carrigadrohid, until it too was attacked and destroyed in mid-June 1920. Into the judicial breach would step Arbitration courts, to be soon followed by Dáil courts (or Republican courts).
Despite the turmoil, local life continued, just as it did during the Great War of 1914-18, the influenza pandemic of 1918-19, and now went on during what would in time be known as the Irish War of Independence. Sunday 11 April saw a hurling match in Coachford at 3pm between Inniscarra and Ballincollig, ably refereed by P. Mahony of Aghabullogue Hurling Club, with Inniscarra winning on a scoreline of 7-5 to 4-5. This was followed by a junior (or minor) hurling match between Aghabullogue and Macroom at 4.15pm. On the following Saturday 17 April, Coachford village hall was to be the venue for an Aghabullogue Coursing Club dance. Anyone seeking cards was to apply to secretary T. Sheehan no later than Tuesday 13 April.
Coachford Petty Sessions court might not have seen much action in April, but the Quarter Sessions at Cork courthouse certainly did. One case in particular had a Coachford flavour to it. Samuel Hynes of 63 Patrick Street put in a £200 claim for the ‘malicious destruction’ of a fishing hut, fishing gear and equipment, located on the north side of the river Lee, at Coachford. The deed was alleged to have occurred on the night of 4th, or early on the morning of 5th February 1920. Legally represented were Mr Hynes himself, along with Cork County Council, Macroom District Council, and Cork District Council. Samuel’s claim partly succeeded, as he was awarded compensation, but only to the amount of £65 6s 2d. Still, it wasn’t a bad day’s work, as that would be approximately £3,000 (and more in Euro) in today’s money.
The Cork Examiner ran an advertisement on behalf of one Farrell of Rylane, on Wednesday 21 April. For sale was an Imperial Rover path racer, ‘as good as new’, having a twenty-two inch frame and twenty-eight inch wheels. Thrown in for good measure were a pair of spare sprint wheels and tyres. This particular bicycle would have been manufactured by the Rover Company Ltd of Coventry, England and a new one would have cost the princely sum of £10 17s and 6d in 1923. As to whether this particular Farrell was any relation to O/C Dan, who had overseen the torching of Coachford RIC barrack two weeks earlier, is unknown.
Cork & District Motorcycle Club returned to Coachford on 21 April, this time not on a leisurely ride, but to decide the outcome of the Hudson Challenge Cup, as between four contenders. The race course began at Victoria Cross in Cork, continued to Macroom (via Ovens) and returned to Cork (via Coachford), before finishing at Wellington Bridge. The cup was won by Mr K Murphy O’Connor.
Horse breeding was a serious business in the 1920s, just as it is today. The Cork Examiner on 24 April proudly announced that a sire, a bay stallion of seventeen hands and one inch, would be standing at Coachford on Tuesdays. As a Warburton champion and winner of six first prizes (according to the paper) this fine beast no doubt would have had local horse owners queuing for some fine equine prowess.
Up the road at Hayfield, an auction was to take place at 12 noon on Monday 26 April. Forty-eight acres of grazing land were up for letting in two lots, being the property of William T. Carroll, and said to have an abundant supply of water. Also to be sold were five heifers; five bullocks; two colts; a horse cart, pony cart and tackling; cotton cake crusher; horsepower hay beam; American tumbling hay rake; and a side car with rubber tyres. The auctioneers were Jeremiah J. Cronin & Son, Macroom.
By late April the prolonged Cork bakers’ strike still continued, caused due to a dispute between bakers and employers over the issue of wages. No bread was obtainable in large areas of Cork city, but establishments such as hospitals were still receiving supplies. The trend seemed to be bucked in Coachford however, as T. Sheehan had ‘conceded the men’s demands’, according to the Cork Examiner. So … by the close of the month, the parish may not have had much of a functioning judicial system, and had even less of a functioning police force, but at least it proudly had one of the most basic foods and an essential dietary staple … bread!
- Bureau of Military History Collection, Military Archives, Defence Forces
- Census of Ireland 1911, National Archives of Ireland
- Cork Examiner
- Evening Echo