Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, charismatic, charming, inspiring and inspired, original, brimming with a happy humour, modest, humble, self-effacing, innovative, creative, a historian supreme, a right boyo, a big hit with the girls and above all else, wily—that wily boy from beside the mine pits.

In the Journal of the Kilkenny and South-East Archaeological Journal for July-December 1864 Rev. James Graves quoted a letter received by him from another member of the Society, the Rev. John Lymberry of Fethard Castle:–

“Are you aware of the large deposit of bones, &c, on Clare Island, near Bannow? As far as I can judge it is one of those “kitchen middens” as they call them. I think it would be well worth investigating. There is a growth of about a foot of vegetable mould over it, which may afford some clue as to the period at which this deposit was made. You can see “Clare Island” on one of the Ordnance Survey maps, between Bannow Island and the old Church; it lay in the former channel by which the tide passed and is now no longer an “island”. It is about thirty yards long and is nearly covered as far as I can see, by this kitchen refuse, which is about a foot deep. I never heard of it until a few weeks ago, as I walking there with a friend, when he mentioned its existence, thinking it a proof of the vigilance of the sanitary commissioners of those days, who had the relics of the food conveyed to such a distance from the now extinct town. On going there, I was really surprised to see such an accumulation of bones and skulls. The island having been washed away by the action of the sea, is much smaller that it has been, as the very centre of the midden is exposed to view at the top of the little cliff, which is six or seven feet high; so that it might be easily, at least partially, investigated without removing the soil on the surface of the island. Should it be as you conjecture, of such remote antiquity, few things of the kind would be more interesting. I doubt, however, that the bones are sufficiently decayed to warrant this conclusion. Another circumstance should be mentioned—that there is a large quantity of oyster shells and our idea here is that there were no oysters in Bannow Bay until a cargo was conveyed there by one of the Colcloughs, as you may see that Mr Leigh of Rosegarland, mentions, in his account of the county of Wexford, in the Society’s Journal. The bones are mostly those of cows and are all broken to remove apparently the marrow and some smaller of deer, I believe.”

The theory favoured by researchers on Bannow is that in previous times Bannow Island was actually an island: that an eastern channel flowed between it and the mainland. This eastern channel was supposed to be the harbour of Bannow, up which the Normans came in May 1169. The Down Survey Map of seem to depict Bannow Island (sometimes called Slade Island in ancient maps and texts) as an island.

The kitchen middens of Clare Island were taken as proof (by some writers) as proof that there was an ancient Gaelic community at Bannow prior to the Norman invaders. Gaelic communities deposited food waste away from their settlements.

The tantalising aspect of such evidence is that it amenable to radically different interpretations! John C. Tuomy the Taghmon schoolmaster scorned the ancient Gaelic interpretation of the bones found on Clare Island. He was an opinionated man with a contrarian disposition but also a brilliant writer (never properly appreciated by historians of the Co. Wexford) who is ever a corrective to fanciful conclusions based on murky evidence.

There is a gentle sarcasm in John C. Tuomy’s missive to the Wexford Independent on September 25, 1850:–

“Were there no written records of the olden times to tell of this channel, I think I have adduced evidence sufficient to establish its existence at some bye-gone period and not the least of my proofs are those bones of Clare Island. Tradition and the results of my investigations, agree in placing the islet on the eastern verge of the channel and the shells and bones, as I have before remarked, tradition says, were thrown upon it by the sailors and fishermen at anchor alongside.”

That missive of Tuomy began with a witty rejoinder to Rev. Graves about the alleged chimney of the tholsel or tower house of Bannow city:–

“I have read in the last number of your journal the interesting “observations” &c of the Rev. Mr [James] Graves and I am happy to say that in them he has given the most satisfactory description of the “Irish Herculaneum” which I had seen before. But as the rev. gentleman “observations” will be preserved among the archives and may be quoted by Antiquaries, long after the far future will have changed into the past, you will be kind enough to allow me to append a few notes taken whilst seated on “the famous chimney of the town house” which he says is no longer visible.”…”

This chimney was assumed to have been that of the town house or tholsel of Bannow and the formality of an election of the members for Bannow to Parliament was performed on the chimney, presumably as it lay prostrate. Mr Tuomy returns to the theme of the chimney later in his letter:–

“If the Rev. Mr Graves read the following, from a pamphlet, published in 1839, I do not blame him for missing the chimney:–“The massive chimney of the town house is among the number, peeping above the soil while the rest of the edifice lies buried under it.” From this description, one would infer that there it stood erect, rising out of the sands like one of Petrie’s round towers. Alas for the reality! It cannot come near to this. In the south-west side of the grave yard may be seen a lump of masonry; approach it and you will find it a portion of a chimney lying in a lateral position. The funnel is about 18 inches square and the jambs of the same dimensions. At present there is only three feet in length of it complete; but you can trace its former length—or when erect height, by portions of its masonry for twelve feet, where a grave stone cuts it at right angles; and all further trace of its length is cut off by other graves. It was certainly a “massive chimney” to whatever house it was formerly attached, but I think we have very poor authority for ascribing it to the tholsel of the extinct corporation. I suppose that it was necessary to hold some form of election for a member here, prior to the Act of Union; and as there was no house at hand, I suppose the returning officer laid the burgess roll upon this block of masonry; and a very good table it is for such a purpose—covered with a cloth of grass, instead of one of green baize and having had his number nominated and returned, went about his business. Hence the imaginative antiquaries of the nineteenth century dubbed it the chimney of the town house and others pictured it rising up in municipal grandeur from the sands, whereas there is no sand at all about it but the graves of the dead.”

The Rev. Mr Graves in his reply graciously acknowledged Mr Tuomy’s correction re the chimney; his response is coiled in around itself and bound with a happy humour:–

“The chimney of the town house is, then after all, a verity. I certainly must plead guilty to having seen it; but as John C. Tuomy most justly surmises, I had been so mystified by the grandiloquent descriptions of precious writers, that I could not for a moment suppose the prostrate mass of masonry to be the veritable chimney, through which, ere I visited Bannow, I had fancied myself about to make a descent in order to examine the subterraneous wonders of the “Irish Herculaneum”.

It would seem that the Rev. Graves had seen the prostrate chimney but did not recognise it as that on which the election formalities were conducted. A law enacted by the Irish Parliament circa 1725 required that the election of members for each constituency and borough should take place in a public place within it. Rev. Graves was looking for the chimney of the town tholsel that the grandiloquent writers had written of.

John C. Tuomy was relentlessly logical and brusquely original in his thinking. His theory about the existence or possible non-existence of the town or city of Bannow is worth examining—but I am not convinced of its truth! I quote from his letter dated September 17 1850:–

“The Rev. Mr Graves says—“The town of Bannow was situate on the eastern head of the bay.” This is perfectly correct, if the word “harbour” was substituted for “bay”, so as to distinguish the inner from the outer waters. Any vestiges of the town at present existing are upon the headland immediately overlooking the mouth of the blocked up channel; and certainly if the inner waters required protection from an enemy’s fleet, no better position could have been selected for the site of a fort. The present bed of this extinct channel is 220 paces in breadth, from “cliff of slate rock” on the town side, to cliff of same material on the side of the island; so that I may say the waters of the ocean rushed in through a deep gorge, which separated the island from the town. The distance from the west gable of the “old church” in a straight line due west, to the precipice overlooking this channel is 130 paces; and it is within this space, which I shall call breadth and about twice 130 paces in length, by the verge of the channel, that all these formidable sand hills have had existence and beneath which we have been told lay buried the “Irish Herculaneum”. Let the reader ask himself what sort of town could have fitted within an area of 130 paces in breadth, by 260 in length. He will answer a very small one indeed. Just so, such a one or part of one as I have seen the foundations uprooted during the last ten years. Over this area of something more than five roods, plantation measure, were scattered small sand hills, varying from five to fifteen feet in height, during the recollections of the oldest inhabitant, until within the last few years. One hillock remains, at least fifteen feet in height, above the hard clay surface which covers the slate rock, looking down upon the choked channel; but even this last of its once bennet clad fellows, will soon be carted away to the manure heaps, of the farmers’ bawns. The sand which composed these hillocks, has been nearly all removed and carried off for manure. During these process, I have had frequent opportunities of closely examining the buried remains of this cabin-village. There appeared to have no order observed as to streets—the sites of the houses were in all directions and the building materials were in all instances stones cemented, if I may use the expression, with mud mortar. I never saw one instance of lime mortar. I have seen the foundations of several houses laid bare, with the four walls complete, to the height of three feet. The houses varied in length and breadth, from 14 feet by 10 to 25 by 12. The rude mason work was generally well, and skilfully laid, considering the description of the mortar used. The stones were for the most part, a kind of green flag, or slate, which is found beneath a deep stratum of clay, upon the coast about half a mile to the south-east; but among these were many of the rounded stones which are always found upon the beach. A greater proportion of those “sea-stones” were employed in the building of the church, than in any one of the cabins I have seen.

The site of these cabins was not covered with any sand prior to their erection, as I think I can very satisfactorily prove. When the manure collectors had completely denuded the cabin foundations of their sandy covering, and had, also, removed the last stone, they then commenced a deeper excavation and carried off the surface upon which the cabins had been built, a kind of brown sandy loam, which was considered even better stuff than sand to make up the compost heap and thus they continued to carry away until they laid bare the hard clay sub-soil.—Thus at present is a large portion of this site of the buried Bannow, not only stripped of the sand hillocks, the cabin foundation stones, but the very soil or “corn earth” upon which those foundations had been laid by the hardy fishermen who inhabited them and over this cleared portion, the drift sand is again spreading and the plant “bennet” waving in luxuriant verdure. But when the last shovel full of the soil upon which this suburban hamlet stood shall have been removed, and that may happen within a very few years as every day sees a portion of it go off to add to the manure heaps of the parish and should the drift sand again accumulate and form bennet clad hillocks; the tourist and antiquary of the year 2050 will be sadly puzzled, though he may excavate to the slate rock to find any vestige of the “Irish Herculaneum”, so much spoken of in the fancy “sketches” in the first half of the nineteenth century. To further prove to you, that no other traces of a buried town are to be found here than those I have mentioned, I have but to state, that the plough yearly passes over every perch of ground with the exception of the five roods already mentioned and another strip containing about 3 acres, stretching along the banks to the south-east….” I do not agree with him!

The grant of Bannow to Nathaniel Boyse excluded six acres according to Tomas O’Broin in The Past in 1920, being  the town and corporation of Bannow and surrounded by a wall [He was quoting Hore].. In that same letter John C. Tuomy makes this reference to Anna Maria Hall:–

“On the other [tomb within chancel of Bannow church ] is engraved:–

“Anna Maria Hall, died 26th of July 1815, aged 56 years.” Now this lady was grandmother of Mrs S. C. Hall, the authoress and I am sorry to say caricaturist of the Irish peasantry. As Miss Fielding, Mrs Hall and her family are kindly remembered here but as Mrs Hall, the “book author” she has attained an unenviable notoriety with the simple and honest peasantry among whom she spent the happiest portion of her life—her early youth.”

This is the only criticism of Mrs Hall’s writing that I have encountered. My little dictionary describes caricature as a deliberate exaggeration of a person or persons for comic effect. I think that Mr Tuomy is therefore harsh in his attack on Mrs Hall: she had a genuine love of the local people and one of her intentions in her writings was to counter what she perceived as defects in the collective character of the Irish peasantry. To a lesser extent, Patrick J. Kennedy who wrote books such as the Banks of the Boor and Legends of Mount Leinster sought also to suggest improvements in the lives of ordinary people; he believed in grid-iron fireplaces whatever they were! There was a underlying similarity between Mrs Hall and Kennedy (who extolled the Carews of Castleboro, close relatives of Tom Boyse): they both wrote for the same market, liberal landlords, progressive clergymen of both denominations, educated urban elites and therefore were under an onus to depict the local people (or in the parlance of the time, the peasantry) as totally loveable, of ongoing peaceful disposition and devoid of—indeed totally immune to—the feral, violent and savage passions often assumed by outside observers to be present in their nature. It was advisable for marketing purposes to add a touch of quaintness to the peasantry.

A very close friend of Patrick Kennedy wrote that he excised all conflicts of class, creed and interest (he meant this as praise); one of the reviews of a book by Kennedy opined that since he omitted anything negative or grotesque in his accounts of Co. Wexford society, his work was not a truly objective account. Both Kennedy and Mrs Hall wrote in the receding memory of the Rebellion of 1798 and both created fantastical and fabulous yarns to prove the deeper wells of common humanity and instinctive community in Ireland and especially manifest in the heartfelt concern of members of the Established Church and Catholics denominations to protect each other in the turbulence of the summer of 1798. It is not necessary to believe everything that either Kennedy or Mrs Hall wrote of 1798: the conundrum is that if the two communities were in such routine amity then it is difficult to see where the Rebellion originated. In a brazen but delightful rhetorical trick Mrs Hall often gives, in her stories, Protestant gentlemen Catholic names and Catholic ones Protestant names! There is ever an interchange of names, facts and details (from their ordinary usage and/or meaning) occurring with the speed of light.

Mrs Hall’s style and themes would seem to have much in common with George Elliot’s (George Elliot was the pseudonym of a woman) “Silas Marner”, a text sometimes on the Leaving Certificate Honours English. In the latter text, parental passion is posited as transcending mere connections of blood and seems to be of mystic inspiration. As in Silas Marner, many of the stories of Mrs Hall focus on the nurturing and upbringing up of orphans.

In the writings of both Mrs Hall and Elliot, Providence (or the heavenly powers) confound ordinary human plans and aspirations but only to create intricate new realities of exquisite beauty. The impact of Providence in Silas Marner is less obvious and more delicately discrete than the paranormal interventions in Mrs Hall’s writings. The paranormal may be—in literary terms—too pronounced in Mrs Halls’ writings and often strain ordinary credulity.

Mrs Hall was a famous writer in her time.

Two of Mrs Hall’s stories, at least, focus on orphans: Father Mike rears a young relative and Ben Radford is slighted in love by a young girl; the young girl marries a sailing man who perishes in the sea; his wife dies of heartbreak and old Ben raises the infant daughter. In these stories, the relationship between the child and adoptive father is intense, ever enduring and apparently mystical. Marner told the father of his adopted child that he and she could not be separated. As one who never evinced any interest in romance of any kind, I am not—to put it mildly—expert on marital and family matters but I had thought that good parenting recognises a need to let one’s offspring move out into the wider world at an appropriate time.