Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, charming, charismatic, ebullient, scholarly, erudite, eloquent, acts and talks with panache, poetic, inspired and inspiring, historian supreme, blessed among the women, a marathon runner, a florist with a flair for cultivating sunflower, an intelligence far in excess of Einstein and above all else, the most devious and wily of them all—that wily boy from beside the mine pits.
The Wexford Historical Society has sent me their notice of their A. G. M.; this note at the end caught my attention:–
“The A. G. M. will be followed by a lecture by Mr Bernard Browne on Peter Ffrench M. P. for Wexford. He was at the forefront of Wexford politics for over thirty years and is largely forgotten and his story full of incident and struggle remains to be told.” The A. G. M. is on Wednesday February 15th at St Michael’s Centre, Green Street, Wexford at 8pm.
Actually I have been endeavouring to tell the story of Peter Ffrench in the Blogs: my quest has been to determine what he represented. He was a native of Bannow but he is largely forgotten because Easter 1916 and its repercussions swept the Irish Parliamentary Party off the political landscape. There has been a tendency in the 2016 Commemorations at obscurantist blurring of the deep divisions in Ireland pre-Easter 1916; and the pushing of the anodyne thesis that all sections of Irish society were working to create the Easter Rebellion of 1916.
The Irish Party had be 1912 gone within an ace of achieving Home Rule, a limited form of self-government for Ireland but one problem (the existence of which the Irish Party leader John Redmond refused to acknowledge) proved insuperable: the Protestants in Ulster were determined, if necessary, to resist Home Rule by force. One historian argued that the outbreak of World War I in 1914 prevented a civil war in Ireland between Ulster and Southern Ireland. Instead of fighting each other, both sides went to Europe to fight the Germans!
The new nationalism of the Irish Republican Brotherhood and Sinn Fein was fixed on achieving total separation from Britain and establishing an Irish Republic. They anticipated a necessity of physical struggle to achieve the Republic. The decision of John Redmond to advise young Irish men to fight with Great Britain in the World War provoked extreme controversy and the Volunteers split, into a National Volunteers who followed Redmond’s advice and the Irish Volunteers who took the road towards Easter 1916. An attempt by Lloyd George the British Prime Minister in 1918 to impose conscription on all young Irish men (to fight in the War) powered Sinn Fein to outright victory in the general election of 1918: in south Co. Wexford young Dr Jim Ryan of Tomcoole, Taghmon, the Sinn Fein candidate defeated Peter Ffrench by a comparatively small margin. Mr Ffrench would have opposed the Easter Rebellion of 1916 as needless waste of life. The former Taoiseach Mr John Bruton has in recent times put forward a similar thesis. Mr Ffrench would have favoured Ireland remaining a part of the British Empire, albeit as an independent country within it. He did not feel that the martyrs of Ireland’s seven centuries struggle were calling him to start another insurrection in Ireland or to storm Vinegar Hill. Patrick Pearse claimed that he felt called by the ghosts of Wolfe Tone, Robert Emmet, John Mitchell, the Fenians of 1867 and I presume Fr John Murphy of Boolavogue to carry through another insurrection in Ireland. These were huge and angry issues in Ireland in that era and in the end a civil war (1922-23) was fought over them. There were resonances of the very olden divide in Ireland between the Normans and the Gaelic Irish, in the clash between the Home Rule aspiration of the Irish Party of John Redmond and Peter Ffrench on the one side and the republican nationalism of the I. R. B. and Patrick Pearse and the Rebellion of Easter 1916.
Peter Ffrench emotionally identified with the interpretation of Irish history as that of seven centuries of English oppression of Ireland and revelled in recall of the Rebellion of 1798 but did not want more rebellion and insurrection in Ireland. After Easter 1916, any politician perceived as uncertain about the separatist aspiration of Pearse and his Proclamation would prove most unpopular in electoral contests.
Peter Ffrench could be described in latter day parlance as a “constituency politician”—he was for ever making representations for the people of Co. Wexford at both a collective and individual level. He would have spoken out strongly against the landlord excesses during the Land League and was prominent on such matters as labourers’ cottages and provision of relief for the destitute, road, shipping and harbour matters and telephone and telegraphic communication. He was also for temperance and the severe discouragement of alcoholism. At that time every politician favoured temperance!
From The Enniscorthy Guardian the 21st of May 1927:
King—May 15, 1927 at Kilbride Lodge, Enniscorthy, Albert King B. A. T. C. D. last surviving child of Rev. Richard King, Woodville, County Wexford, aged 86. Funeral took place from Castlebridge on Wednesday.”
Does anybody now remember hay? The People of the 7th of July 1894 carried this notice:–
“Hay By Auction—100 \cocks prime Horse Hay by auction at Balloughton.”
From a report of a meeting of the Board of Wexford Poor Law Union as reported in The People on the 18th of July 1894:–
“The Kiltra Cottage
The Local Government Board forwarded the following observations from Mr Deane, their engineering inspector, and stated it would be necessary to have the alterations mentioned made:–“Unless the alterations which I suggested are carried out the cottage at Kiltra will not comply with the requirements of the Local Government Board’s circular letter of November 9th ’83. I consider the cottage is being acquired at a reasonable cost, namely, £40, and the proposed improvements would not bring the price of this cottage up to that of the new cottages in this union. I am of opinion that the alterations are absolutely necessary.
Mr Devereux—That is very strange. Clerk—I wrote last week exactly what you said. Chairman—Is it worth while writing up again and asking them to reconsider the matter? Clerk—What they ask us to do is a very strange thing, indeed. This shed is only four feet wide and they want us to make a bedroom of it. Any man in his senses would not ask us to do that. The shed is the whole length of the house. There is inspector in Ireland would condemn that house if we want it condemned and now when we want to repair it they require us to spend as much money on it as would build a new one, or anything at all like it. Mr Roche—And even then it would not be as good as a new one, or anything at all like it
Clerk—What they ask is the most ridiculous thing was ever heard of.
The Clerk read the correspondence which had taken place between the Board and the Local Government Board. Continuing the Clerk said Mr Deane had suggested that they build another end to the house, and make it up to 20 feet high. Mr Ryan pointed out to him that he was dreaming and then he gave it up. The kitchen was something larger than the cottages built under the Labourers Act. The bed room was nearly the same size; in fact there was very little difference in this cottage and the ones they had built. On the whole this house was the larger. Mr Devereux—The man is satisfied to turn the place into a store and that should do. Chairman—Mr Deane evidently considers that the upper portion of the house is not sufficiently large for the requirements.
The Clerk said he would write to the Local Government Board, referring them to the statement of Mr Devereux, giving the full size of the house and asking if it did not comply with the circular letter of the Local Government Board.”
The saga of the Kiltra cottage was confounding: the Local Government Board bought a house in Kiltra for forty pounds and then intended to require the Board of the Wexford Poor Law Guardians to make it compatible with a labourer’s cottage as specified in the regulations for building such coattages. It surely would be much simpler to build a new cottage. The only logic that I can see to it is that the Local Government Board may have taken into account the difficulty is persuading farmers and landlords to sell a half acre of their holdings to allow a labourer’s cottage to be erected on it.
The same meeting had among other matters to discuss, the condition of the walls of Bannow graveyard:–
“Graveyard Wanting Repairs
Mr Devereux stated that the boundary wall of the Bannow graveyard was in a bad state of repair. There were many breaches in the wall. He recommended that tenders should be invited to repair it. A committee from the dispensary committee, consisting of Messrs Andrew Cullen, Patrick Wade and John White would show the contractors what was required to be done.”
From the Bannow/Ballymitty notes in The People on the 18th of June 1989:–“Stone Found
Another large granite stone has been found in Bannow recently. This stone is on the same mould as the one standing in a field at Balloughton. The stone in Balloughton is said to be from 2,5000 B. C. and is nine feet high, has a Celtic cross on it, also some ogham writing. It is not really known what the origin of these stones is; whether they are land marks or whether they mark the grave of a chieftain. There is another stone like these found in Bannow parish on the Saltee islands.”
From The People on the 10th of July 1895:–
“The New Scheme Under The Labourers Act
The Bannow dispensary committee recommended that the following applicants for cottages be allowed to go before the Local Government Inspector:–Ballymitty—Martin Mc Grath; Bannow—Thomas Brawthers, Patrick Edwards, Jas Condell, Robert Purcell, Patrick Bent, Richard Maddock; Duncormack—Thomas Moran, Patrick Doyle, Patrick Redmond; Harperstown—Philip Murphy; Killag—David Siggins and John Cahill”
From The Enniscorthy Guardian the 11th of May 1927:–
“Retreat at Bannow
A Correspondent writes
The annual sodality retreat opened in Bannow Parish Church on Ascension Thursday and closed on Pentecost Sunday. Owing to the fame and reputation of the priest who gave it, the Rev. James Sinnott M. SS., Enniscorthy who is an excellent and assiduous preacher, the attendance was unusually large. The morning sermon or rather instruction, commenced at seven o’clock, at which the beautiful and spacious church was filled. The evening service began at 7.30 at which there was not standing room. Year after year the people of this parish have the pleasure and advantage of hearing good preachers and although it would be invidious to single any one out for marked distinction in a cause that all worked well; yet a word of special praise is due to Father Sinnott on account of his indefatigable labour, burning zeal, fatherly kindness and the superiority of his sermons which are admitted by all to be the best sermons ever heard in this church. His concluding sermon on Sunday night was a masterpiece of eloquence and pulpit oratory. He congratulated the congregation on their fervour and holiness of life and assured them he never felt so happy in giving a mission before.”
That was an era when the Catholic clergy were in very high adulation. They would have used rhetorical ploys: thus Fr Sinnott asserted that he never felt so happy in giving a mission before.” I suspect that this was his closing line at every mission! Jack Kennedy of glorious memory used to say of every place that he went that those who valued liberty should come there, Berlin, Wexford, New Ross, Ballymackessy, etc….
Some men in their lives and by their lives define aspects of the era in which they live. On the 15th of June 1989 the People newspaper reported the death of Nicky Coady, the well known and popular Redmoor tug-o-war expert, at his residence Kilcavan, Wellingtonbridge. He was in his early seventies.
He was born and reared at the Cull, Duncormack “and he moved to Kilcavan when he married Nancy Neville in 1955. He farmed extensively in Kilcavan until his retirement a few years ago. He was a noted ploughman in his young days and won a number of horse ploughing competitions in South Wexford.”
However, it was an exponent of tug-o’-war that he won most renown; his obituary stated:–
“He was a member of the Redmoor team that won ten successive county titles from 1939 to 1948 and they also won many tournaments . Nicky was reputed to be one of the strongest men on the team and the team felt that if they could have got transport to take part in the Leinster championship in the 1940s they could have won a Leinster title. This gallant team travelled to all contests either on horse and cart or by bicycle.”
His obituary continued:–
“Nicky was a great worker in Ballymitty parish and he served on a number of committee with dedication. He was a member of Bannow and Rathangan Show committee for a number of years. He was a regular attender at bingo session in Ballymitty Hall and ran pongo games at “field days”.
He had a great love of things done in the old ways and he showed the arts of threshing by flail, making ropes from twine and milling by quern stone at Medieval fairs and “field days” all over the country. He was, also, a nimble dancer with the Stack of Barley being his favourite dance.
Since he went to live at Kilcavan, Nicky was a Trojan worker in Ballymitty parish. He helped out in the running of bingo, concerts, “tops” and card drives in Ballymitty Hall. He loved a game of cards and would travel miles for a game of “45”. Nicky was an outstanding neighbour who would drop everything to help those in trouble.”
From the Free Press on the 1st of February 1941:–
“Ballymitty Schools’ team—Ballymitty schoolboys football team were presented with their championship medals by Rev. T. Power C. C. who by the way takes a great interest in the boys and the G. A. A. The following received the championship medals:–
T. Moran, P. Moran, M. Keegan, R. Byrne (Tullicanna), J. Mc Cormack, A. Mc Cormack, T. Maher, W. Harpur, G. Little, J. Hillis (Ballymitty), J. Neville, T. Neville, M. Keegan, J. Byrne and P. Byrne (Carrig).”
The G. A. A. is an acronym for Gaelic Athletic Association, denoting that as originally envisaged, especially by Archbishop Croke, the organisation was intended to promote athletics. That is a prelude, of sorts, to this account of a sports day at Ballymitty, as reported in The People on the 6th of July 1895:–
Handicapper—P. P. Sutton. Starter—J. Kehoe. Judges—J. E. Mayler, J. Murphy, J. Kehoe. Lapkeeper—J. Fortune. Time Keeper—W. Bennett. Marksmen—N. O’Hanlon-Walsh and M. Stafford. Telegraph stewards-P. Furlong, W. Keating. Hon. Sec—P. Doyle [I hazard a guess that the last named was the schoolmaster in Ballymitty].
The first meeting at Ballymitty, under I. C. A. and G. A. A. laws was held on Sunday and was accorded a measure of support and an attendance which many older meetings might envy. A total of forty competitors most of whom gave general entries and a programme of sixteen events, ten athletic and six cycling is above the average for rural sports and good management added to these, not withstanding the fact that most of the officials lack practical experience made the meeting a good success. The day, notwithstanding a very unpromising morning continued fine until the sports had been nearly finished when a heavy shower fell dispersing the spectators and making the track greasy. When half the events were got through there was a tendency on the part of the crowd to come in on the grounds but a little exertion of the stewards never failed to disperse them. The track was the only drawback. It was only 350 yards in circumference and despite the fact that there was little or no grass the going was very heavy. There was only one circumstance to regret—a certain amount of friction between the committee and some would be competitors. The advertisements of the sports and the entry forms contained the proviso that “entries closed with thee hon. sec. on Monday June 24th” and the committee rigidly adhered to this condition debarring those whose entries were sent on to the handicapper. Probably such a hard and fast rule would not have been made but for one or two competitors who declined to fill an entry form properly for the hon. sec.; applied for the entry fees which had been paid; and, then, at the last moment sent the entry onto the handicapper. The committee having given the matter due consideration, declined to allow anyone who had not entered with the hon. sec. to compete and unfortunately a couple of others, besides the two who were the occasion of this ruling being made, were debarred from competition in consequence. One of these was Gleeson who must be sympathised with, as he sent an entry form properly filled before the time for closing of the entries to the handicapper and it and, it must be confessed, this course though not in accordance with the usual conditions of sports meetings is usually followed and accepted. On the whole, the meeting was not productive of keen competition, unless in the 100 yards and three miles bicycle race, in the latter of which there was an exciting tussle between Roche of New Ross and Doyle of Ballymitty. The latter, who is deservedly popular in the home district from his connection with sports of all kinds bore off the lion’s share of the honours, winning five first prizes and a silver cup offered by the committee for points….”