Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, ebullient, charming, charismatic, scholarly, enigmatic, obliging, inspiring and above all else—wily and as I always say it is Gold and Silver to the Barrystown children. They do not call the boy from beside the mine pits the historian supreme for nothing. One of my mentors in the University said that I had the eye of a hawk for a telling detail—maybe I should have got a patent on the phrase! There is a resonance of it somewhere….blah, blah….My former mentor Pat O’Farrell of Sydney remarked that the historian is always a critic: if he meant that a historian should seriously scrutinise the conventional verities of society then I agree with that but if he meant that a historian should always rail and protest against all existing authority and systems then I disagree. The experience of my lifetime is that protest is often ill-informed and those in authority may often be doing their best and there may be a good logic to the way things are organised. There is no perfect society but in latter times conditions have improved enormously. In the 1930s George Bernard Shaw—the famous writer and philosopher— went to Russia and said that he had seen the future! God help us. Sean O’Casey the playwright, agreed with the Russian invasion of Hungary in 1856.

The death occurred of Fr John Donnelly O. S. A., a native of Ballymitty, in early January 1926; he was ordained in Rome in 1918 and left for the Australian mission. Another brother was Fr F. K. Donnelly who died at Grantstown in the early 1950s and a third brother Fr Patrick Donnelly C. C. Courtnacuddy died there in circa 1953.

Dermot Roche told me a couple of years ago that in Bannow/Ballymitty club they only bothered about hurling when a particular match had to be played; Dermot himself was a useful exponent of the game certainly at the junior level with a penchant for going on solo-runs, I presume, to exploit his acceleration. My memory of my native country is that in the late 1950s there was enormous enthusiasm in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow for hurling and ongoing, almost, interminable talk of the great Nicky Rackard. The patrician aspect, his magnificent physique, his imposing stature, his professional qualification (in an era when such qualifications were scarce) and obvious personal charm rendered Nickey Rackard a demi-divine personality and a hero in a county Wexford then obsessed with heroes. Commodore John Barry was a hero; the men of 1798 were heroes and Nickey Rackard as a hero was immediately present: the easy accessibility of him was evident from his willingness to attend functions and especially medal presentations all over the county. In the latest issue of the Kilmore Parish Journal published shortly before Christmas the boy from Barrystown has an article on Nickey Rackard coming to Kilmore in the spring of 1957 to present medals to the schoolboys of the parish who had won the Nickey Rackard hurling and football leagues in 1956. [I have two other articles in the Journal as well, one on the opening of the pier there in 1849 and the other on the whales taking a vacation on the Kilmore shore—not a very safe thing for them to do in olden times! In the nineteenth century the people who lived close to the sea looked to captured and killed whales as a form of manna from the ocean deeps.]

This comments from the Free Press on May 3rd 1952 confirm my recollection of intense enthusiasm about hurling in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow: they might not have been exquisite exponents of the art of Cuchulainn but they—especially the youngsters of school going age and perhaps a little more—were playing the ancient game:

“Hurler injured—During a hurling practice at Cullenstown on Sunday the ball struck Matthew O’Neill in the face and broke his jaw bone. He was treated by Dr. H. R. Brady and is making satisfactory progress. Mr O’Neill was formerly a county hurler and a member of the Adamstown Club.

Joined the Army—Three well known members of Ballymitty G. A. A. teams, Sean Culleton, Danescastle, Michael Byrne, Maudlintown and Sean Chapman, Kiltra, joined the army during the week.

Hurling Challenge—Cullenstown and Carrig-on-Bannow meet in a challenge game in Mr Breen’s field in Carrig-on-Bannow to-morrow (Sunday).”

In his biography of his life Fr Philip Doyle O. S. A., a native of Maudlintown, tells of playing hurling on the street of Carrig-on-Bannow village with his schoolmates with a rudimentary ball which was too heavy to lift—they struck it along the ground. I am surprised that the Bannow Historical Society has not thought of publishing a printed version of Fr Doyle’s biography: it is a splendid account of life in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow as the nineteenth century ended; a veritable treasure trove.

The army were conducting a comparatively sophisticated advertising campaign in the national and local newspapers in those years seeking recruits: a section of the Irish army has been stationed at Wellingtonbridge during the Second World War and this may have created a tradition of local men joining the army. Young men and women in those years seemed attracted to life in vast organisations and institutions: the number of young men being ordained to the priesthood was phenomenal and the number of girls, in some cases leaving attractive jobs, opting to become nuns was equally phenomenal.

In the Free Press in January 1925 Kathleen A. Browne (then or later a Senator) published what she claimed were extracts from the diary of a Barony Forth farmer; I have not seen the diary but I assume that she was writing the truth. This is one piece from it:–

“Mary Lynch, account of wages for 1806, from 1st of May £1, 17 shillings, to get a pound of flax, 8d; for a yard of stuff 1 shilling and six pence; of a day going to the orchard, 2 pence; for soles and tacks 1 shilling and 1 penny; to pay for spinning, 3 pence, to pay for brogues, 5 shillings, 5 pence; she went for hens to Wexford, 6 pence; All Hallows Day going to Wexford, 2 shillings, 6 pence; tacks for brogues and fine leather, 3 pence; a sculune [coarse apron] that Peggy bought, 1 shilling, 1 pence; for a beads 1 and a half pence; going to Confession 1 penny; to give Mary Lynch, 2 pence; paid to the dancing master, 2 shillings, 6 pence; gave her the pattern day of Mulrankin, 5 pence; paid for stockings, 1 shilling, 1 penny; going to Confession, 1 penny; 1 barrel of barley, 16 pence; to her 3 shillings, 1 and a half pence—1 pound , 17 shillings.

Hired Thomas Connor for the year 1809 from May ye first, for 5 pounds, 13 shillings, 9 pence—gave for a fine shirt, 7 shillings; brogues, 6 shillings, 3 pence; tacks for shoes and brogues, 3 pence; to get garters, 6 pence; to pay for wool, 4 shillings; a shirt bought at Mr Breen’s, 5 shillings; soles for brogues, 1 shilling; going to the hurling to the Moor, 10 pence; tacks for brogues, 1 and a half pence; to give his grandmother, 1 pound, 14 shillings, 1 and a half pence; going to the pattern of Rathmacknee, 1 shilling, 3 pence; for soles to brogues, 2 shillings; going to a berrin [funeral], 6 pence; going to the pattern of Mayglass, 10 pence; going to a beggar’s berrin [burying, ie, funeral]”

They went hurling to the Moor of Mulrankin; a proof of the existence of hurling in the South County Wexford in the late 18th century and early nineteenth century.

This is another excerpt from the diary:–

“November 1821—James bought a pig for Laurence Power, for 55 shillings, 10 pence; weighed when he was killed, 2 cwt, 2 quarters, 12 lbs; 11—St Martin’s Sunday; fine but the night before a great night of storm; Pat Dillon here all this time making my surtout [a close fitting frock coat] and mending other things….13—Digging potatoes. Come to great rain at noon; land all in mortar. 15. 17—Digging potatoes, very wet. Hard set to get them in. 19—Twenty picking potatoes, come to rain, almost every day rain….25. Sunday, rain, land all very wet. 26. Myself after the Hunt at Rathmacknee. ….30—All the day killing rats; killed upwards of 60.”

This farmer experienced extremely wet weather but there was no climate change then. What explained it? He certainly could not as witness this extract for June 4 1822:–

“The greatest day of rain and thunder we ever saw. All carried away with the flood and women killed with lightning. Anty Creaney and the widow of Cleariestown killed and their house burned. A frightful day. 5. James at the bog. The boys stopping gutters and gaps that the flood carried off. Pat Doyle’s calf killed with lightning. 10. Digging clays for bricks. James at the fair. No price for anything.”

The People on the 19th of May 1886 carried these two advertisements:

“Grazing cattle will be taken by the month on the lands of Quitchery. Apply J. L. Handcock, Colebrook; or the Caretaker on the Lands.

May 18th 1886.”

“Grass To Be Let

About 35 Irish acres of Grass to be let on the lands of Keerlogues, well watered and fenced. Apply to Patrick Ryan, Ballygoman, Wexford.

April 21st, 1886.”

I presume that Pat Ryan was letting grass on the Kerlogue Islands off Bannow, although I am not sure if the Islands could possibly provide sustenance for cattle or sheep and how would a man get livestock onto the Islands?

On Wednesday February 7th 1951 John White & Co., M. I. A. A. Auctioneers and Valuers, Bannow held a public auction at Bannow House on instructions from Mr Timothy Mulcahy to sell tractors, implements and livestock—included were Fordson Major Tractor, 1947 model, on spade lugs with pulleys and Fordson Major Tractor, 1947 model, on rubber. As the wit said it would be fun to farm with those machines!

William Cronin wrote the “At The Cross Roads” feature in the Free Press for over 40 years: I am quoting from the issue of November 1st 1952:–

“The Ballymitty Coal—A local deputation interviewed Government Ministers and development were awaited but evidently whatever action was taken did not encourage any promotion of actual mining. During the recent World War the shortage of fuel revived all the old hopes of the introduction of a mining industry but they came to nothing. The discovery of good quality coal in Ballymitty in 1860 when a local committee commissioned mining experts to sink a shaft, were recalled and it was stated that the work was stopped because landowners preferred to sell land to a railway company that proposed to run a railway line along there, that to lease mining rights to a colliery that might or might not be necessary.

Railways Versus Mines—This matter of the opposing interests of railways and mines has cropped up in other countries and it may well have been the real reason why the Ballymitty mine was never developed. Collieries are against the construction of railways over a mining area as there is a danger of damage to the mine workings. On the other hand railway companies fear that the extension of a mine may cause subsidence of ground that would damage the line. The subject of mining never lost interest during the war years when shortages of various materials directed speculation to the possibility of supplying the country’s needs from home resources.

Mr Cronin claimed the Barrystown mines were abandoned in 1847 due to inadequate equipment and objections of landowners to the dangers of building being undermined. A couple of years ago I lectured on the Caime mines which were closed in part because they were undermining Mr Howlin’s mansion but that was the not the principal reason: the mines in Caime were losing a lot of money! I think that it was the same in Barrystown. I do not think that there was any prestigious building close to the mines in Barrystown.

In 1914 Mr William H. Lett of Balloughton owned the lands on which the Barrystown mines were situated; he gave permission to Mr Johnson Pasha—a pioneering figure who spent most of his life in Egypt—to explore at Barrystown; he spent £1,000 and sank two pits to a depth of 25 feet “and finding ore he engaged a mining engineer, under whose advice one shaft was continued down to 50 feet and shafts were opened from it in two directions.” The mine pits present there in my childhood are therefore the ones made by Johnson Pasha; this man gave a lecture on the Barrystown mines in Enniscorthy in 1918 and I will reprint it on the Blog when I track it down.

It was the time of World War I and the engineer went away to the War and the mining at Barrystown was not resumed. I leave the next extract from Mr Cronin to the consideration of my infinite number of readers:–

“The next occasion on which curiosity about mining possibilities in the county arose was in 1933 when the traditions that coal and silver ore are to be found in the Ballymitty and Horetown areas began to be talked about. A farmer in Whitty’s Hill locality, a few miles from the Barrystown mines, found a mineral that was said to have the qualities of silver ore.”

When Johnson Pasha, Samuel G. Knotts, an engineer from Colorado and County Engineer visited various mines in the County Wexford in circa 1925 they were accompanied by “the people of Whitty’s Hill, Ballymitty.” [The vague diction is Mr Cronin’s]. I suspect that the coal in the Ballymitty area was at Whitty’s Hill.

The Wexford Constitution was a newspaper that expressed the views of the Anglo-Irish community in the county; it was of the Unionist political disposition: this report appeared in it on January 21st 1860:

“We regret to have to announce a terrible affray which took place at the Moor of Bannow, resulting in the death of one of the unfortunate party and serious injuries inflicted on another. We have learned the following particulars of the fearful catastrophe. It appears that a number of persons came across from St Kerin’s thinking there should be a sale at the wreck of the Arethusa but no sale taking place they went to Mr Keane’s public house in order to regale themselves. A dispute arose which eventually ended in a murderous encounter in which a man named Thomas Ouslam was so dreadfully and savagely kicked in the ribs that five of them were broken and he died instanter. The name of the person who sustained the serious injuries and of whom there is no hope of recovery is John F–. Several parties were arrested on the day and Michael Walsh was committed to the County Gaol by Jonas King Esq., J. P. for assaulting John Fitzgerald. The Coroner Dr Ryan held an inquest on Wednesday last on view of the body of Thomas Ouslam at which the jury returned a verdict of manslaughter against Michael Fitzgerald who is also committed to stand trial at next Assizes. We understand the F– are brothers.”

There was a visceral animus between the men of Tintern and those of Bannow, probably related to the sea weed contentions. This enmity extended to the controversy over the Widow Murphy’s pub and hotel in Wellingtonbridge during the Land League era.

From the Free Press April 26th 1952:

“Tillage by the head-lamps is now a commonplace throughout the country but a farmer from Whitty’s Hill, Wellingtonbridge has the distinction of being the first to use artificial light with horse drawn implements on the land. With urgent business awaiting him in town on Saturday and with his potatoes to be sown and the sowing time running out he decided to work overtime on Friday night. He fixed a tilly lamp to the haemes of the horse and got the job covering the potatoes completed in splendid order just around midnight.”

One of the great controversies of that time was the fate of horses after their working life faded out, sold for export to France to be slaughtered for meat. They were slaughtered under the most callous, insensitive, cruel, painful and degrading conditions in primitive slaughter sheds in France; the failure, even, to prevent these horses from being slaughtered in sight of other horses was to all right thinking people utterly sickening. How a civilised country like France could permit such debased activity is a puzzle. There were regular and massive protests in Ireland at this vile export trade and it eventually ceased: one simple cause of it was the absence of any abattoir in Ireland to process horse meat. The dilemma of farmers was that an old, retired horse would still consume a lot of food and the horse exporters would pay a small price for the old horses. One writer proposed that farmers shoot the old horses as a means of avoiding the expense of feeding them but that would leave the farmer without the price available from the exporters. In an era when people were pinched by financial needs it was difficult to forego any source of money, even if it came from a truly horrendous activity. Any person that would impose unnecessary suffering on a horse would not be fit to call himself or herself a human being let alone a Christian; A famous show-jumper in the 1970s stated that a horse has the equivalent intelligence of a nine year old child. (I think that he may have exaggerated). Irish legislation even in that era required the use of humane methods of slaughter of animals. You would prefer not to think about it.

This next item from the Free Press on April 26th 1952 seems too far-fetched and outlandish to be true:–

“A well known farmer in the Harristown district of Ballymitty made a mistake last week which has left him in a dilemma. He had obtained a supply of cement to do some building and some fertilizers to manure the crop, all of course issued in paper bags. Being in a hurry to get to his potatoes he was rather rushed, but what his chagrin was when he discovered that he had sown the cement in the drills instead of the potato manure!”

On December 5th 1838 the Rev. David Thompson, Rector of Kilkevin and Vicar of Bannow, died at the Bannow Glebe, well before his time. The reports of his earlier career in Wexford town indicate a man of a most severe Protestant disposition and he may have been in the Brunswick Clubs. At Bannow, probably under the Boyse influence, he projected a more liberal persona: Tom Boyse stated at one meeting that the Rev. Thompson had refrained from seeking payment of the tithes from the Catholics in his parish but no Rector in Bannow in the time of Tom Boyse would have the temerity to levy tithes on the Catholics. Caesar Sutton died at Ballylannon at this time, also.

The Wexford Freeman on April 2nd 1834 had this report:–

“The Rev. James Harpur who has been for many years the Roman Catholic Curate of the Parish of Bannow having been appointed by his Bishop to a Catholic Rectory in the north of this county, his late parishioners immediately assembled to take measures for evincing to their beloved Pastor the sentiments of affectionate esteem which actuated them in his regard.

It was resolved that a subscription should be immediately set on foot for the above purpose and in three or four days a sum amounting to £60 14 shillings and 6 pence was actually paid in to the Treasurer, a liberal Protestant of the Parish, to whose activity this large subscription is chiefly attributable. Further subscriptions are still expected and the fund is to appropriated to the conferring on the gentleman some substantial and permanent memorial of the gratitude and regard of the men of Bannow, who so well know how to appreciate the value of his spiritual service and his uprightly conduct while he continued to reside among them.

We heartily congratulate Mr Harpur on becoming the possessor of so unequivocal a testimonial of the people’s love.”

The above indicates a ready availability of liquid money, cash that is, in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow.

I believe that the soil in the south Co. Wexford must contain a cornucopia of ancient coins or at least it did back in the 1950s when numerous discoveries of ancient coins were reported in the Co. Wexford newspapers. Could these not be uncovered by a simple metal detector? The Free Press on June 7th 1952 had this item:–

“A Very Ancient Coin

When Mick Bent of Coolhull, Duncormack, was working for his employer, Mr J. J. Furlong M. C. C., Littlegraigue, during the week at a place locally designated “Knocker’s Hill”, he unearthed a silver coin dated 1593. It had a woman’s profile and the inscription “Elizabeth” with other words which were indecipherable. The coin was about the size of a florin [a two shilling piece] and should be of great historical interest. There must be very few of its kind in existence. It is in a good state of preservation and records the reign of the first Queen Elizabeth who sat on the English throne from 1558 to 1603.”

There is no need for me to point out that Henry VIII executed at least two of his wives effectively because of their failure to produce a male heir and eventually Elizabeth, his daughter, succeeded to the Throne; I think that her sister or half sister, Mary Queen of Scots, had reigned for a short time previously. Mary carried out horrendous persecution of the Protestants but Elizabeth who favoured the Protestant Reformation presided over a period of political stability and national prosperity.

I believe that Christmas celebrations are now overwhelmed by a surrealism of extraordinary expectations of ecstasy and pleasure, sometimes translated as copious consumption of alcohol and gluttony for food. The doctrines of traditional religion were correct on one thing, at least: perfect happiness is not ever achievable in the human condition. The surreal expectations at Christmas time are invariably attended by eventual anti-climax. Christmas is also a poignant time when we remember those who have gone before and are no longer in temporal existence. Those previous generations lived on very little and had meagre comforts and yet they are not that much removed in time from us. On this Christmas Eve I deliberated with myself as to whether I should refer to the death by suffocation as a result of a fire in his house at Danescastle of James Laffan in April 1937. It was an appalling tragedy caused in all probability by a lighted candle that dropped on to the bed clothing. Mr Laffan was unmarried, lived alone, aged 53 and a labourer (that was the term used then but I am loath to use it as I find it offensive—all work is honourable). Mary Jolly told the inquest:

“The last time she saw the deceased was on the previous night at 9 o’clock. He was then walking about as usual and said he was going home to read a story book. He generally has a candle lighting.” Mary Jolly and other neighbours only saw the smoke coming from the chimney and thatched roof the following morning at half past nine. Tom Walsh, a carpenter, went to the house at ten minutes past ten o’clock, saw the smoke coming through the thatched roof and burst in the door. Guard O’Hara told the inquest that the “fire must have been in progress for a long time.” Johanna Kearns the half sister of Mr Laffan identified the body and testified at the inquest. It must have been a poignant and heart-rending ordeal to her.

It seems probable that he was reading in bed with the candle lighting and that he fell asleep. Reading of it on last Friday, seventy-six years later, I was still jolted by the horror and tragedy of what happened. It was a world before rural electrification, of thatched roofs, of candles—and ever present dangers. The people of that time were wonderful in their calm and stoic acceptance of the frugality of their lives; maybe they were happier than the pampered generations of later times.

This report in the Wexford Herald on Saturday April 17th 1824 is in a kind of historical symmetry with the case of the burning at Danescastle:

“A distressing incident occurred at Tullicanna on Wednesday night. A neat, hatched cottage was burned to the ground, together with Miss Susannah Hamond, its only inmate, a lady upwards of 60 years of age. It is conjectured that she fell asleep while reading at a table, her whole body burned to a cinder. No person was near to render her assistance; her servant not sleeping in the house.”

A defining characteristic of the estates of Sam and Tom Boyse were the slated homesteads. Thatched roofs, oil lamps and especially candles are a sure fire formula for conflagration. I think that these people worked long hours and arose very early in the mornings. They were consequently tired and drowsy and likely to fall asleep if close to a fire or if reading or smoking in bed with a lighted candle. I suspect that Miss Hamond was unable to afford the cost of slating her dwelling; to pay a servant to do a bit of work was, probably, the extent of her capacity to spend.

The electricity was coming and by 1958 it had definitely arrived: in January of that year J. J. Furlong “said that in Carrig-on-Bannow the street lights came on sometimes at eight o’clock and went off at two o’clock the next morning. Who was responsible? He supposed the Electricity Supply Board had to be paid for this current but he was sure nobody wanted lights in Carrig-on-Bannow wanted lights from 12 midnight until two o’clock in the morning.”

The winter of 1837 was appallingly wet: heavy, incessant and flooding rains. On Sunday night March 14 1937 they had a mumming competition in the Carrig New Hall. The attendance was remarkable “considering the ‘flu prevalent in the district and the very wet night.” The competing sets performed very well although they had only recently got together. The original suggestion was that the groups should select a panel of judges, one from each district but owing to the bad weather this was not feasible and Mr T. Moran of Rack’s Cross acted as the sole judge.

“During intervals a concert programme was gone through in which the following contributed: Messrs J. J. and T. Holmes and R. and S. Dake, songs; Messrs J. Kendrick, J. Harpur and W. Purcell, dances; E. Corcoran, whistling and P. Murphy, harmonica. “Newcomers” and “Wren Boys” helped to diversify the programme and add to the entertainment provided.”

Aidan Mc Cormack the famous Ballymitty, Corah Ramblers and Wexford footballer, then in Chicago, was one of the Wexford people in the United States of America who contributed money for the training of the Wexford Senior Hurling team for the All-Ireland Senior Hurling Final of 1962. That was indeed a classic final but contrary to myth Nick O’Donnell did not mis-hit two puck outs at the beginning of the game leading to two Tipperary goals. The doyen of full backs missed the puck out after the first goal, and Sean Mc Loughlin pounced to get a second goal. The Free Press on September 7th 1962 under the heading DETAILS OF THE PLAY related:–

“First Half. Wexford had the first attack when Martin Lyng sent the ball swinging into the left corner but, as Wheeler followed up, John Doyle came out to clear. Two sideline pucks in quick succession put Tipperary into the attack and from the second one Moloughney got his stick to the ball and Tipperary were a goal in front. From the puck out, Mc Loughlin gained possession and after making a bit of ground, he hammered the ball to the net just inside the upright.”

The above is crystal clear (to paraphrase one of our previous leaders): the first Tipperary goal came from their first attack, initiated by a long drive from the legendary John Doyle. The first Wexford puck out—taken by Nick O’Donnell—was mis hit and Sean Mc Loughlin pounced on it to hit the second Tipperary goal. Therefore Nick O’Donnell did not miss two puck outs as is said repeatedly about that final—it was as Billy Rackard said a classic final. Nick O’Donnell was a native of Graignamanagh and came to work in Wexford; he was a substitute on the 1947 Kilkenny All Ireland winning team but disagreed with the Kilkenny mentors and opted to play with Wexford. He was a man of powerful physique and strength and exquisite hurling skill and nous. John D. Hickey the famous sportswriter wrote emotionally of O’Donnell’s majestic display in September 1960 when Wexford had a shock win over Tipperary. O’Donnell by 1962 was slowing and played that day with an inflamed appendix and was operated on later. He was full back on the All-Ireland winning teams of 1955, 1960 and 1956. Early on in the game Billy Rackard fell awkwardly into Mackey Mc Kenna as the latter was pulling on the ball; Billy Rackard played the rest of the game with three broken fingers. The dilemma of the Wexford selectors was that of a shortage of the requisite talent: it was not possible to replace either O’Donnell or Rackard with men anything like as good. The Free Press after the All-Ireland Final of 1962 wrote that no praise could be too high for Tom Neville of Fethard, the outstanding performer in the Wexford defence.