Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, charming and charismatic; blessed among women, an intelligence higher than Einstein, a right boyo, moves and talks with panache and above all else, the most devious and wily of them all…that wily boy from beside the mine pits. I was thinking lately that it would be extremely difficult to plagiarise my writings: my style is a unique mix of the highest intellect and limitless erudition, blended with wit and impossible to replicate stylistic effects. It is not given to other mortals to write history like that. The dogs in the street and the birds of the trees would laugh raucously at anyone seeking to replicate the writings of the boy from Barrystown! The birds will always sing my praises, anyway, as I feed them regularly, albeit on the cheap loaves!
In my last Blog—in a rare omission—I did not properly identify the young Augustus that the old inn-keeper in Carrig village spoke of. When Tom Boyse (of glorious memory) died in January 1854, his brother the Rev. Richard Boyse succeeded to his estates. The Rev. Richard Boyse had only one son, Augustus Freeman Boyse, who died as a young man, and (if I am correct) pre-deceased his father. After the death of the Rev. Richard Boyse, the nephew of Tom Boyse, Captain Arthur Hunt Boyse succeeded to his estates. He sent a missive to tenants demanding that they expel their under-tenants and dogs. He intended to do extensive sheep-farming. There was a forbidding and dark aspect to the man.
The headlines to the article in The People on the 6th of July 1904 were starkly alarming:–
South Wexford Line
Engine Rolls down An Embankment
Driver Killed, Waggoner Injured”
The opening sentences place the scene of the disaster near Wellingtonbridge:–
“Tuesday of last week witnessed another of those recurring fatalities on the South Wexford Railway Works. The accident in this case was of a most alarming, sufficient to paralyse with fright, not only those who narrowly escaped with their lives, but some of the workers who witnessed it from a distance. It consisted briefly in the hurling of an engine and three men down an embankment, whereby one was killed and another seriously injured. The miracle is how any of the three escaped. The occurrence which took place near Wellingtonbridge, on an embankment in process of formation, at Rosegarland, was due, it is alleged to a defective joint in the rails, by reason of which the engine that was running the ballast wagons to the tip-head, slipped off and went tumbling over, describing three revolutions before it ultimately landed in a bog. The man who lost his life in this frightful disaster was the driver of the engine, one Edward Burns of Scarva, County Down, a young man of about 26 years of age and unmarried. Along with Burns on the engine was a man named Palmer, a stoker and a man by the name of Moore who is what called a roper—that is the person who, in the run for the tip-head, by means of a rope, lets the wagon off at a tangent, at the proper moment.”
Terrible accidents were, going by the phrase “recurring fatalities” not unexpected, to put it mildly; but the astonishing aspect of the very first sentence of the report is that it implies that fatalities were recurring on the South Wexford Railway Works. I am not sure if the details of the causation of the disaster are comprehensible to latter day readers—I certainly do not understand them!—but I shall quote them anyway:–
“When the engine was moving up at a distance of about eighty yards of the tip-head, it came upon a joint in the temporary rails and, though the driver, with an energy and alertness, for which he was remarkable, shut all steam and applied the brakes, on the instant, the inevitable could not be prevented. The engine was fairly under-weight and having got into a diagonal and leaning position, its momentum was bound to carry it over the narrow margin of embankment and it did. It went to the right hand side- the side at which the driver stood. Palmer who was at the off or somewhat safe side, jumped to that side just at the fearful moment that the engine went toppling over and by the barest shave escaped the whirling wheels and landed safely on the embankment. Moore, who occupied a position towards the end of the engine, went down with the avalanche but, fortunately, got hurled into space clear of the path of the engine though he sustained some serious cuts and abrasions about the head and body. Poor Burns made a fine dash for life, but it was impossible and he met with a shocking death. The engine tumbled over him, breaking his back down the embankment and crushing his head, body, legs and arms terribly. Fortunately he was not killed instantly and the priest arrived in time.”
The last sentence of the above denoted the intense religious beliefs of that era: it was deemed imperative that a priest attend a person in imminent danger of death and administer the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and, if possible, hear the dying person’s Confession of his or her sins. The rapidity of the reaction of the local policemen, clergy and doctor was astonishing:–
“Word reached the Wellingtonbridge Police Barracks in less than ten minutes after the occurrence and Constable Cronin was quickly a-wheel for medical and clerical assistance for the dying man and in less than half an hour from the time of the occurrence had Father Kehoe and Dr Keogh, Bannow on the spot. The body by this time was extricated.
Life was still there. A few minutes later, Dr Keogh pronounced Burns dead. Sergeant Rattigan and Constable Cronin found on the body £18 in notes. The deceased was a most thrifty young man and had, it is stated, about £300 saved. He belonged to a respectable farming family of Catholics. There was a large number of them in it and his mother dying early, he resolved to go to Scotland, where in quick time he learned the business of a locomotive driver. About two years ago he came to work in this capacity on the South Wexford Railway Works, for Messrs M’Alpine and Son, contractors, who thought a good deal about him in consequence of his sobriety, punctuality and general reliability. He first drove on the Ballycullane section and then went to the Wellingtonbridge section, where he met with such a terrible doom. He was a most religious young man and received [the Sacrament of Holy Communion or The Eucharist] most regularly. His ending was doubly tragic. He was engaged to be married to an estimable young lady in Wellingtonbridge and the event was to come off a week or two hence.”
Inquests were, in that era, held shortly after the demise of the person concerned, with—usually—the body of the dead person laid out nearby. The account in People continued:–
“The inquest was held the following day, when a verdict of shock from the injuries sustained was returned, the jury adding a rider to the effect that the railway contractors were a little blameable and, also, expressing sympathy with the deceased father’s and family. On the following day the remains were taken to Scarva for interment.” The report continued with a more detailed account of the inquest:–
“Wednesday, the day following the accident, an inquest was held by Coroner Peter Ffrench Member of Parliament, at Mr Curran’s Hotel, Wellingtonbridge, touching the circumstances of the death of Edward Burns. Sergeant Rattigan appeared on behalf of the police and the following respectable jury were sworn—Messrs James Long, Ballingly (foreman), Edward Neville, Patrick Cleary, Thomas Curran, John Warren, Patrick Crosbie, James Byrne, Patrick Hanlon, James Crosbie, John Murray, William Morrissey and Gregg Neville.
Thomas Moore and Alexander Palmer were each examined in turn, and gave evidence as to identification of the body. They were on the engine when the accident occurred through the engine leaving the rails. They described as best they could how the deceased tried to pull up the engine and how it tumbled down the embankment, which was fourteen feet in height. They both agreed in swearing that they could not give any reason for the engine getting off the rails.
William Culleton, a local navvy, who witnessed the occurrence, next gave evidence of what he saw, and corroborated the evidence of Moore and Palmer.
There were next sworn and examined—Joe Ryan and Jack Jessyman, engine drivers and Thomas Neville and their evidence went to show that the line as a temporary one was safe.
Sergeant Rattigan deposed to having reached the body half an hour after the accident. Burns was still alive but unconscious. There was not much blood about, although his head appeared to be severely fractured. Witness found on his person £18 in notes and, also, found on his neck a number of scapulars, Agnus Dei’s and Gospels. Father Kehoe ministered to him, shortly after which Dr Keogh pronounced that he was dead. The deceased was a religious and very temperate young man—in fact a teetotaller. At the request of the Coroner, witness had examined very clearly the place where the accident occurred. He said the road, particularly, at a joining where the engine came off, was not safe, in consequence of the rails and sleepers being…loose for want of sufficient packing underneath the sleepers. The deceased was about 26 years of age and unmarried, [and] was a native of Scarva, County Down and during his time in the neighbourhood had lived in Coolbrook.
Dr Keogh, Bannow, deposed that he made a superficial examination of the body and found the spine of the back broken, the head fractured and abrasions about the limbs and body. He came to the conclusion that deceased died of shock from the injuries received.
The jury returned a verdict in accordance with the medical testimony and on the strength of the Sergeant’s evidence added a rider that the railway contractors were a little blameable by not having the rails perfectly safe. The jury passed a vote of condolences with the deceased’s relatives.
On the following day the deceased’s father and brother arrived at Wellingtonbridge and took the remains to Scarva for interment. A large concourse of the people of the locality saw the sad funeral off.”
The railways transformed life in Ireland in the mid-nineteenth century, or so my former teacher Professor Pat O’Farrell of Sydney, wrote. In an era that was apprehensive, even loathing, of many aspects of modernity, Professor O’Farrell observed sardonically that nobody preached against railways. Maybe they should have! Fatalities in railway accidents were not extraordinary events—they were, comparatively, frequent and horrible. In the case at Wellingtonbridge, the contractors were not a little blameable but fully blameable and if the equivalent of such happened in latter times, huge and pro-longed controversy would ensue. I was surprised that the old steam engine model of train still persisted as late as 1904: any machine or vehicle powered by steam was extremely complicated, cumbersome, awkward, ponderous, slow and dangerous. The internal combustion engine excised all those problems. The Father Kehoe who administered the last rites to young Burns was probably the Prior at Grantstown Augustinian Convent.
From The People on the 9th of July 1904:–
“Waterford and Rosslare Contract—Wanted an experienced time-keeper; must be steady and thoroughly honest. Apply—Robert M’Alpine and Sons, Contractors, Wellingtonbridge, Co. Wexford.”
I presume that these are the same contractors that young Mr Burns worked for. Have any one of my millions of readers ever heard of Mc Alpines, contractors at Wellingtonbridge?
From The Free Press the 10th of April 1924–
“General W. R. R. Murphy, a native of Bannow and Chief Commissioner of the Civic Guards in Dublin, wrote to Mr M. J. Connor, solicitor, asking for his co-operation in organising contests to select 40 athletes to represent Ireland in the Olympic Games in Paris. It was the first time Ireland would be represented as a separate nation in the Games.” General Murphy was a grand-son (I think) of the famous school-master at Danescastle National School. Hilary Murphy wrote an article on him in the first or second Journal of the Bannow Historical Society.
Brendan O’Dowda was a most famous singer and popularised many of the Percy Ffrench ballads, including his skit on the West Clare Railway Company, “Are You Right There, Micheal; are you right/ Do you think that we’ll be home before the night/ And we might now, Michael, so we might.” The West Clare Railway sued Percy Ffrench for libel and was awarded a penny damages. The only real fear for the passengers on the West Clare railway was that they might not reach their destination by nightfall; or that they might have to push it up a hill; their trains had no problem going downhill.
The Free Press on the 10th of April 1964 carried some letters sent to it about its “Our Village” series published in the previous year; one of them related to Brendan O’Dowda and Mervyn Boyse:–
“Brendan O’Dowda Recalls Bannow’s Musical Fame
We received the following letter from Mr Frank O’Dowda, Walkinstown, Dublin, which refers to our article on Bannow which we published in January which was an extension of our “Villages” feature on the same area published in the previous October.
This is Mr O’Dowda’s letter:–
During Brendan O’Dowda’s recent visit to Enniscorthy he called to Ballinapierce House to see his friends Mr and Mrs Mervyn Boyse. With him he brought a message from their mutual friend, B. B. C. personality, Alan Keith. With Brendan, was his accompanist, Miss Eily O’Grady, sister of Geraldine O’Grady and his brother Frank.
Needless to say, music and the arts provided the evening’s entertainment in a residence which houses the treasures of Mr Boyse’s former beautiful ancestral home at Bannow and, of course, Oak Park, where Mrs Boyse’s family resided for many, many years.
So Brendan was intrigued when he related this occasion to a friend last week and he received a copy of the January 10th issue of The Free Press and was asked to read page 8. Here in a most interesting article on Tom Moore, his historic visit to the home of his friend, Tom Boyse, was recounted at length. It appears that for generations Bannow played host to those famous in music and song and the other arts.
They say that history has a habit of repeating itself and it is interesting to note that “Love Thee Dearest” was the highlight of Brendan’s selection
From the Bannow notes in The Free Press on the 10th of April 1964:–
Muintir Na Tire—Mr Andrew Monaghan, Vice-Chairman, presided at the monthly meeting on Monday night. The raising of funds was the most important item on the agenda. Tea was served by the Ladies Committee and a Question Time followed. Question master was Mr John Breen and score keeper, Mr John Campbell. Individual winner, Fintan Campbell, Littlegraigue.
Concert—A very enjoyable concert was held in St Mary’s Hall on Friday night. Contributors included Mr Leo Carthy Member County Council and Mr John Cousins (songs); P. Hayes (accordion); T. Harpur (violin); E. Campbell and Miss Margaret Holmes (songs); Roche School of Dancing (eight hand reel); O’Reilly Trio, Taghmon (reel, hornpipe and jig). Clancy Brothers and Cullenstown Beatles contributed some of the most enjoyable items. Mr Walter Cullen thanked all for their support and contributions.”
There would seem to have been a delightful community spirit in the parish of Carrig-on-Bannow in 1964.