Hi, it is the boy from Barrystown, the most manipulative, most enigmatic and most wily of them all, that wily boy from beside the mine pits: a human compound of genius, wit, extraordinary intellect, a right boyo, exceedingly modest and self-effacing, blessed among the women, a prophet, a seer, historian supreme with the eye of a hawk for telling detail, truly the greatest of them all—a figure of mystique and destiny. It always was gold and silver for the Barrystown childre (to use a coinage of Anna Maria Hall). If it is true, it ain’t bragging.

The trip proposed by the Clonroche Historical Society keeps encountering unexpected difficulties: Kilmainham Jail is booked out for this year but I am hoping that it may be possible to see Moore Street and the G. P. O. in lieu of it. We can go to Glasnevin Cemetery.

My birthday is on the 22nd of April, that is on next Friday. The birthday celebrations will finish on the night of Tuesday May 3rd at Clonroche Community Centre at 8.30 pm where I deliver my lecture on “Patrick Pearse and the Easter Rebellion in the context of World War I.” It is replete with scholarship and original insights and is, in overall terms, a fresh interpretation of those events: all through my life I have pondered on these events and personalities and with the vast amount of information now easily accessible I think that I have come to a definitive interpretation—but there is an anguish in recent weeks that given the emotional nature of such a subject that I may cause offence to somebody or other. I refer, in the lecture, to the Ballymitty mummers mumming at Duncormack in January 1913 in it. They recited a rhyme on Irish history, listing and extolling the legends, demi-divine figures, of centuries past. Professor Pat O’Farrell (my former teacher) wrote that in Ireland one had a blank cheque for Rebellion: any Rebellion would be approved of—I would amend that and say that any Rebellion would be approved of, at least, retrospectively! In that era, and indeed subsequently, people regarded Irish history, exclusively, as, at least, a celebration of Rebellion and maybe as an inspiration to renewed Rebellion. In the old university, we were required to regard history as the outcome of impartial study of primary sources, written documents, especially. Some aspirant lawyers studied history as it required a close attention to the text of a document and related good judgement—good training for a lawyer. There are numerous issues (ignored in the present Commemoration) raised in the lecture and all those with an interest in the events of 1916 should attend. It certainly will be an account of Easter 1916 and Patrick Pearse unlike anything that they have heard previously.

There is no need for me to tell my readers who Fr Davey O’Hanlon-Walsh was: the son of the Widow Walsh of Knocktarton, Ballymitty who was evicted from her prosperous farm and home, became an iconic leader of the Land League agitation. This became the only boycotted chapel in Irish history but I will let the Wexford Independent on January 21st, 1885 tell the sequel to the leaving of Fr Davey:–

“The chapel of Templetown which was nailed up in November on the removal of the Rev. David O’Hanlon-Walsh, still remains in the same state. The Rev. John Lyng who was appointed to succeed Father Walsh came to Templetown on Monday last and forced one of the doors. It was nailed up by some of the parties calling themselves the “Hook 200” the same night. On Tuesday morning the Rev. John Lyng came to the chapel again and had all the doors forced open. They were again nailed up the same day by the “Hook 200”. A meeting of what was called “The Nailors” was shortly afterwards convened and held in the rooms of the local league at 6, Dillon Place, to consider what was best to be done with the priest for meddling with their chapel. On Wednesday morning the people of the Poulfur part of the parish were alarmed to see the “Hook 200” marching in full force to the residence of the Parish Priest, the Rev. R. Kelly. When they arrived he was not at home but the two hundred, to show their strength, marched to Dungulph, to the residence of a woman named Mary Anderson, a shopkeeper, and one of their sympathisers. They hooted some parties on their route, who were of opinion they were doing wrong in nailing up the house of God.

When the “200” returned to Poulfur they were met by the Parish Priest and Curate, who told them they were only obeying their Bishop’s orders by opening the chapel doors. The “200” in reply said they had nothing to do with the Bishop and cautioned the priest not to attempt to do so again. The priest bluntly told them he would do so again and again, and always when ordered by their Bishop.

The “Hook 200” having left the chapel doors nailed up and seen their priests off, then returned to their own locality, headed by the Land League secretary Maurice Breen and treasurer Peter Connolly and a sailor named Grace.

Prayers are still said every Sunday by the “200” outside the chapel, one of their number officiating—Correspondent.”

The above was sent in to the Wexford Independent by a reader, who did not really like the “Hook 200”. Canon John V. Gahan in his informative and excellent book on the secular clergy of the diocese of Ferns writes that Fr Davey O’Hanlon Walsh was born at Knocktartin, Ballymitty in 1844. He was educated at St Peter’s College and later at the University of Louvain; he was ordained at the chapel of the Convent of Mercy, Enniscorthy on the 1st of November 1871 by Bishop Thomas Furlong. Canon Gahan wrote:–“He was so popular in the Hook area for his work on behalf of the tenants that when the Bishop transferred him to Castlebridge in 1884, the people nailed up the doors of Templetown church and refused admittance to his successor.”

Fr O’Hanlon Walsh may have been transferred because of his Land League activity but equally it may have been a routine diocesan procedure: in that era, in regard to the clergy, the religiously correct (to coin a phrase) reflex was that of excessive, irrational and hyperbolic [deliberate exaggeration for effect, according to my dictionary] displays of affection for their priests, especially if they were departing to another parish. For example Fr Thomas Busher was transferred from Tacumshane to become Parish Priest of Oylegate in August 1848. Canon Gahan quoted an account in The Wexford Independent at that time:–

“So deeply attached were the parishioners of Tacumshane to the Rev. Mr Busher that, in the exuberance of their affection, they gathered around him and would not, for nearly three hours, permit him to take off his vestments at the last Mass celebrated by him previous to his departure.”

The nailing up of the doors of the chapel as Fr Davey left probably arose of the disposition to adulate the clergy. Even if he had not worked for the Land League, the people might still have nailed up the chapel doors after Fr Davey was transferred. Only the boy from Barrystown now provokes such exalted levels of adulation.

The Farmers’ Magazine in 1807 wrote of the baronies of Forth and Bargy:–

“These two baronies were not conquered or taken by violence, but were granted by Dermod, King of this part of Ireland, to one of the English adventurers who had come over, in the reign of Henry the Second, to assist him in the recovery of his kingdom. Hervey de Montmorrice, the nephew of Richard Earl Strongbow, was the person declared lord of these baronies and who, it is supposed, brought over the colony from South Wales, of the Anglo-Saxons, to settle in this part of Ireland. This part of Ireland was well calculated for an infant colony. These baronies are surrounded on the east and the south by the ocean; and on the west, are separated from the rest of the county by an arm of the sea, called the Scare of Bannow; on the north they are bounded by a ridge of mountains, called the mountains of Fort or Forta, signifying strong or strength; and from this, it would seem, the barony of Fort, or Forth, acquired its name, in which barony the descendants of the first colony have remained, it is supposed to this day and a few years ago spoke the Anglo-Saxon language in considerable purity; a vocabulary of which was collected by that assiduous and learned illustrator of Irish antiquities, General Vallancey and published in the fifth volume of the Transactions of the Royal Irish Academy. The inhabitants still speak amongst one another, a dialect of the Saxon, mixed with English and have no Irish, whatever.

These baronies extend about fifteen miles from east to west along the sea-shore and stretching from thence to the mountains of Fort, or Forth, to the breadth of ten miles. The whole, extending from the mountains of Forth, consists of low and flat lands, entirely alluvial, containing marl, intermixed with shells. In some places the horns and bones of the moose deer have been found. There is here also limestone of marine origin; nor does the granite appear any where but at Concarne  (sic) Point which consists of compact granite.

The appearance of these baronies from the mountain of Forth in not unlike the appearance of the south of the county of North Devon, though on a much smaller scale. The whole district is well inhabited. The farm houses, generally, as in Devonshire, are built with mud and thatched; appearing warm and comfortable with convenient out-houses adjoining. Even the very small farmers of from five to ten acres, have their habitations comfortable and convenient. The inhabitants do not live entirely on potatoes, as in many other parts of Ireland. They always [eat] Oat meal stirabout with milk for breakfast and meat for their dinner twice a week, that is on Sundays and Thursdays and very often on Tuesdays.

We were desirous of ascertaining the population of the district but found it very difficult to accomplish, from the fear that the people had of the inquiry being intended for some purpose of revenue or taxation; and the clergy of the Roman Catholic persuasion were afraid to assist us, without a special order from Government, as much clamour had arisen from an attempt made to ascertain the population previous to the late Rebellion.”

The figures given for the parishes therefore may not be very accurate and I will only cite a few relevant to the history of Carrig-on-Bannow. Bannow had reputedly 131 houses; Carrig had 70 houses and Kilcavan had 89 houses.

The writer in The Farmers’ Magazine states that in the baronies of Forth and Bargie there was a surplus of food produced “forming a very considerable addition to the wealth and revenue of the kingdom. This surplus produce consists in barely and wheat, potatoes and oats, with great quantities of poultry and abundance of pork, beef, mutton, and remarkably excellent veal. There are, also, some diaries, where a considerable quantity of butter is made up for exportation and some cheese; and a considerable fishery for oysters, lobsters, cod, turbot, soles is carried on upon the coast. In the winter season, also, herrings frequently make their appearance in considerable abundance. To which ought to be added, immense flocks of widgeon, barnacle, teal, guiniard, (sic) ducks, and wild swans; altogether forming an abundance of not only the necessaries but the luxuries of the British islands.

The whole of the barony of Forth and about one third part of Bargie is evidently alluvial, containing at the depth of a few feet under the soil, abundance of marl with marine shells and pounded pieces of limestone. A “vein”, also, of compact limestone of marine origin, runs in a direction from north-east to south-west, from the bay of Wexford, about mile from the town, to the sea at Dunconnick Hill [Duncormack?]. The use of marl seems to have been introduced into this part of Ireland, as a manure, from a very early period, most probably by the Anglo-Saxons on their setting in this district, as it was said by them introduced into England. Lime is said to have been also made use of to a considerable extent formerly but is now given up in favour of marl, which forms the basis of cultivation in those parts not immediately on the sea-shore. For the lands bordering on the sea, to the distance of about a mile, the floating sea weed and  calcareous sand found on the sea-shore, form the principal manure. In those parts where great abundance of this sea weed is found, they obtain excellent crops of both grain and potatoes.

In the mode of applying these manures, they uniformly prefer laying marl on the lea or sod. This is done in the summer as soon after their seed-time as they find their horses have recovered from spring labour; for here as in all parts of Ireland, the common farmers never feed their working cattle with oats. They give from 1000 to 1100 car-loads to the Irish acre. It is considered that the quantity should be such as to afford, when spread, a tolerably thick covering to the ground. The calcareous sea-sand they put generally on the surface but often also form a compost of sea-sand and sometimes earth and the scrapings of ditches, which is ploughed into the soil. The dung is uniformly used for potatoes and often also sea weed for the purpose of raising that useful article. After marling they generally take wheat with one ploughing of the lea, harrow in the seed and shovel the furrows. They sow generally in October but often in November, about three fourths of a barrel per acre, that is, about fifteen stones—It is stated that in moderately good years they obtain from ten to fifteen barrels but we apprehend from correct information that from eight to twelve is nearer the truth. The cultivation of wheat has been of late years been much extended. They often take wheat after potatoes. Their second crop after wheat is barley but this is not confined to wheat stubbles; they have generally much more ground under barley than wheat; barley being their principal crop. For barley they plough twice and sow from a barrel and a half to two barrels on an acre. They have generally fifteen barrels produce in good years and even in favourable situations upon the sea coast, sometimes, twenty barrels have been reaped; but this is where barley is made the first crop after manuring or after beans. The surplus produce from these baronies, which are not greater extent than the Carse of Gowrie amounts to nearly 100,000 Winchester quarters of grain annually which is considerably more than the whole produce of the Carse which is stated at 84,000 quarters.

The farmers in this district of Ireland are now cultivating wheat as their most profitable crop and are getting generally into a better mode of agriculture and a rotation of wheat, peas, and barley, with red clover and grass-seeds.

The whole district is occupied by farmers, the size of whose farms are not more than from 40 to 100 acres; whereas in the Carse of Gowrie, there are few farms under 200 acres.”

The astonishing implication of the above long passage is that the baronies of Forth and Bargy, in the south Co. Wexford, was at a time long distant in the past, covered with sea water—the references to marine shells a few feet under the soil and limestone of marine origin leaves no other conclusion possible. When they were preparing to reclaim the Lough of Ballyteigue in the mid nineteenth century, an expert claimed that it was previously dry land; in 1963 after a terrible storm the strand of Ballyhealy, Kilmore was torn up, revealing a turf bog plus evidence of some old walls amongst the turf. These are puzzling phenomena. Was Barrystown in a dim past covered with sea water? Are there turf bogs under the strand at Cullenstown—might be worth investigating.

Mr P. D. Breen (the famous native of Carrig village) said at the late May 1913 meeting of the Co. Committee of the G. A. A. that the next business “was Mr [Jack] M’Cormack’s notice of motion that was adjourned from last meeting. It was—That the cash in hands at the close of the 1912 championships be devoted to purchasing medals for last year.” The subsequent discussion is difficult to follow but the real row began on Mr Breen making this observation:–

“Mr Breen said they would have to decide whether the seniors were to get a better description of medals than the juniors.

Mr M’Cormack asked was it fair that the year’s championship should pay for the design, etc, of medals which would be used over a period of years.

Chairman—That is my idea, too. You will have one year paying for several years.

Mr Connolly moved that one-fifth of the cost of the design for medals, etc, be written off each year. Mr P. Kehoe seconded and the motion was agreed to without discussion.

Secretary [Mr Breen]—Roughly speaking there will now be on hands £50. Is that sum to be allocated for the purchase of the 1912 medals? Mr M’Cormack—Yes. That is my proposal. Mr M’Cullagh seconded.” An amendment to this motion was rejected and Jack M’Cormack’s proposal was agreed.

The context to the next proposal by Jack M’Cormack of Ballymitty, a famous footballer and then or later a District Councillor was that Ballymitty-Bannow had very recently won the 1912 County Junior Football A Championship; it was played at Campile in 1913. Things did not always move on schedule then in Gaelic Games, which was understandable.

“Mr M’Cormack moved that the same description of medals be given to both seniors and juniors. Mr M’Cullagh, in seconding, said he believed the juniors had brought in as much money as the senior and he thought they should get the same medals.

Mr Connolly moved that as an amendment that there be a slight difference between the medals. Chairman—I think we ought to draw some distinction on them, no matter how small. Mr M’Cullagh—Put “senior” on the senior medals (laughter). Chairman—The only distinction you can make is that of gold and silver medals.

Mr Connolly moved and Mr Gus O’Kennedy [one of the two famous brothers from New Ross who won several All-Ireland medals with Wexford] that the senior medals be of gold. Mr M’Cullagh—My opinion is that if you are going to give four shilling medals to the juniors it would be better to drop the junior matches altogether. Mr Mackey—Do away with the medals altogether and play for the honour of the thing.

The Chairman called for a show of hands in favour of gold medals for the seniors and thirteen voted in favour of gold medals for the seniors and three against. It was decided that £26 be expended on the two sets of gold medals for the seniors and £24 on four sets of silver medals for juniors and second juniors.”

Shortly afterwards Jack M’Cormack resigned as Chairman of the County Committee  of the G. A. A. A massive row had arisen which would take the Ballymitty-Bannow Club out of existence, at least, for some years.