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Ancient Sweet Donoughmore

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Stirring story of an ancient parish

Áilín Quinlan - (Irish Examiner County Supplement 19th January 2016)

A battle so bloody that its location became known as the Hill of Slaughter; famine victims who desperately tried to sell their clothes for food; and a clergyman who used a soup kitchen to tempt starving Catholics to renounce their faith, these are just some of the colourful and often heart-breaking stories recounted in a successful book by a Cork man on his native village of Donoughmore- and now he’s planning to begin work on a follow up collection. A mind- boggling 30 years of research and a further five years of writing has gone into Gerard O’Rourke’s book Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900. The book, which reaches back some 6,000 years of human existence, has garnered substantial local and national acclaim since it was published late last year. The book – whose hardback edition sold out within weeks-chronicles the birth of an Irish rural district in Mid Cork to the beginning of the twentieth century. It is packed with fascinating gems on archaeology and the early Christian and medieval periods, as well as containing heart-rending harrowing accounts of the horrific impact of the Great Famine on local people. There is the story of a mass slaughter by Cromwellian soldiers in the 1600s, when hundreds of Irish resistance fighters died on local hill, and the harrowing tale of how, during the Great Famine two centuries later, starving local people stripped off their clothes and tried to exchange them for food. “Donoughmore was very badly hit during the famine’’ says Gerard – ‘from September 1846 to June 1847 some 1400 people died of hunger – a figure which is comparable to that of Skibbereen, which is believed to be one of the worst-hit area in the country’. “There are harrowing accounts of the famine included in the book’’ he said, adding that a local Protestant Rector who set up soup kitchens for the starving, also used the charity to “recruit”- starving Catholics to the Protestant faith - he was later forced to resign his position as joint secretary of the local famine committee. There are more positive stories too: There was the local man, who emigrated to New York and ended up becoming a friend of Mark Twain; as well as the tale of a pioneering railway system that revolutionised everyday life; and the story of how ten thriving schools had come into existence in the parish by 1824. The 480-page self-published book, which is packed with maps, line drawings, photographs and unpublished original documents, comes with a foreword by John A Murphy, Emeritus Professor of History UCC. ‘’The book provides previously forgotten details about a very ancient parish’’, according to Gerard’.’’Donoughmore is one of the oldest parishes in Ireland’’ he said ‘’It is associated with Domhnach Mór’’.The name refers to the status of the village of Donoughmore in the fifth century, where the local patron saint, St Lachtín, founded a monastic church there. ‘’The relic of St Lachtín, which is regarded as one of the gems of 12th century Irish metalwork, is located in the National Museum of Ireland alongside such treasures as the Ardagh Chalice and the Tara Brooch’’.

New Book takes readers on a journey of suspense and intrigue

Bill Browne - (The Corkman January 7th 2016)

A fascinating new book recalling the intriguing goings on in the parish of Donoughmore around the turn of the last century has received critical acclaim from one of Ireland’s leading historians. Entitled ‘ Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900’ the book is the result of painstaking research by author Gerard O’ Rourke and contains many stories never before reproduced in print. The book offers readers a wonderful insight into birth of a rural Mid-Cork Irish district in the years leading up to the turn of the 20th century, transporting them through a time tunnel of suspense and intrigue with many surprises along the way. It recalls the stories of a landlord’s agent severely beaten by disgruntled tenants, a remarkable assisted emigrant programme, a direct connection with the playwright George Bernard Shaw and an unlikely alliance between the citizens of a small country parish and the French capital of Paris… a foreword by John A Murphy, emeritus Professor of History at UCC. He described the book as ‘a kind of total history, as panoramic in its sweep as it is microscopic in its focus’. Author and historian Michael Galvin was equally effusive in his praise of the book saying it was ‘a scholarly and truly monumental body of work that will be treasured for future generations’ The book also tells the story of how, during the Franco- Prussian war of 1870 the people of Donoughmore in a huge expression of sympathy and support with the people of Paris contributed £3s (€3000 in today’s value) in aid to the wounded and sick of the city. There is the story of a landlord’s agent lucky to escape with his life when local tenants ambushed him and inflicted life threatening injuries. The subsequent inquiry into the incident involved correspondence between the Chief Secretary and the Secretary of State, resulting in three individuals being publicly hanged. Also included in the book is the story of Charolette Payne Townsend, the wife of George Bernard Shaw who recounted her ancestral links to Donoughmore in her book ‘Mrs GBS’. In the book she raises the distinct possibility of her husband having visited Donoughmore and enjoying its peace and tranquillity.

Book Launch Night

(October 16th 2015)

Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900 was launched on Friday night last (16th 0ct.) in Stuake, Donoughmore. It was standing room only as the capacity attendance enjoyed a highly entertaining evening where old friends met and reminisced being further enthralled by the depth of new information regarding the parish’s background. John O’ Connell MC performed his duties admirably reminding the attendance of that sense of place they belonged to and extolling the virtues of the parish. He acclaimed the determination, foresight, vision and courage of the author Gerard O’ Rourke to publish this new information for the benefit of the public. Guest speaker Michael Lenihan delved into the book and highlighted some interesting anecdotes such as the fact that hidden treasure is buried in the townland of Pluckanes.This originated in medieval times when a group of forty thieves who has created mayhem countrywide were themselves attacked. Their gains of treasure were entrusted to a senior clan member who found a particular spot for burial. Michael encouraged anyone interested to make haste. Of particular interest was a story about a tenant’s lease agreement in the late 18th century where he was obliged not to dig, cut or save any turf from the bog land he was renting. If he did so an additional yearly rent of 5 shillings a ‘kish’ (a basket to carry turf) was the penalty. He was also to furnish four horses yearly to his landlord or pay 4 shillings in lieu and to erect 40 perches of ditch annually. The plight of the people during the famine was another fact that has not been universally known. Comparing mortality figures for a twelve month period in Donoughmore with the well documented figure for West Cork it was found that the population in Donoughmore had in fact declined by 5.5% more. Mr Lenihan remarked that as an avid local history collector this book was one of the finest he had seen in every aspect. It was certainly of an academic stature but had the uncanny quality of relating the story of a typical rural area to the very people who populate it. Its undoubted attraction also lies in the numerous images be it line drawings, original documents, maps and photographic elements which was sure to provide much interest.

Donoughmore Book Launch Group Photo

Gerard O’ Rourke, the author, recalled the research and publication of his first book A History of Donoughmore Hurling & Football Club in 1885 where he found that a vast amount of information on the parish was waiting to be explored. Family commitments postponed any intensive research for this book but he made provision for future investigation by detailing sources and references. His involvement in the local historical society’s two journals and his close involvement with Richard Henchion in the publication Donoughmore and All Around further delayed the present work. Following this, time permitted him to unravel Donoughmore’s early history and through extensive research the basis of a publication was made, but it took five years of intensive work. In his address the author mentioned passages in the book citing vicious battles during the Cromwellian wars . Location names for these battles such as The Bog of Slaughter, The gap of strife, and The hill of Slaughter portray and self explain this era further. A possible unique connection with George Bernard Shaw is also unravelled. The Townsend family had a long association with the parish where they occupying the Glebe House. Charlotte Payne Townsend one of these descendents was married to the famous playright. As was common to those ascendancy regular visits would be made to the respective estates for hunting, horse riding and social occasions. It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that Shaw did visit Donoughmore on one of these excursions. Mr O’ Rourke also recalled the three hangings of individuals involved in an assault on a landlords agent in Donoughmore resulting in a show of defiance by the authorities. The men were hanged at three separate locations at Blarney, Ballynamona and Donoughmore. A damning report on the Donoughmore/ Majourney joint dispensary testified that ‘ dispensaries usually originate with the pretext of supplying the wants of the poor and if any of these may be supposed to resemble that of Donoughmore/ Majourney it may be safely stated that all such are more likely to shorten the lives of those who apply to it than to prolong them. The famine was a horrendous time in the parish causing unprecedented hardship. Some of the quotes of the time vividly portray this. The local rector remarked ‘We are tottering on the brink of starvation, despair and death from want of food’. According to the priests of the time ‘wherever they went nothing was heard but the wail of despairing famine and imploring cries for food’.The Examiner further reporting on the population ‘The poor creatures have eaten their laying hens’. A rather strange but uplifting association with the people of Donoughmore and France is also laid bare. During the Franco-Prussian war a sum equivalent to €3000 in today’s currency was collected and sent to Paris for the relief of the French cause.

Donoughmore Book Launch Attendance

In conclusion Mr O’ Rourke maintained that steps needed to be put in place to preserve the ancient church and graveyard site at Donoughmore Cross and encouraged a more concentrated cooperation of community leaders and local and church authorities. He thanked everyone involved in the preparation for the night and acclaimed everyone who had done him the honour of attending the launch. A recitation of an old parish poem The Cross of Donoughmore by Joseph Twomey accompanied by Oisin Sheehan provided an uplifting experience for the attendance. The finale was a recorded version of the poem/ ballad Ancient Sweet Donoughmore by Paddy Foley formerly of Ballycunningham which brought rapturous applause on a night when Donoughmore came alive .

Press Release

(October 5th 2015)

Ancient Sweet Donoughmore: Life in an Irish Rural Parish to 1900 chronicles the birth of an Irish rural district in Mid Cork to the beginning of the twentieth century. Along this journey the archaeology and early Christian and medieval periods are explored; leading to a study of the religious and agrarian aspects, the Great Famine and development of education culminating in an examination of the economy and the land question. Through a long period of settlement a story of cultural identity and fortitude is unfolded relating to the people who inherited that landscape.

Primary evidence never previously published gives the reader a direct and fascinating insight to the lives of people and transports them through a time tunnel of suspense and intrigue with some surprises. The 496 page publication is lavishly illustrated with over 200 images including maps, line drawings, original documents and tables of intriguing data with a foreword by John A. Murphy Emeritus Professor of History UCC.

Donoughmore is an old and historic district acknowledged in 1913 as being the richest storehouse of pre historic monuments in Munster. Its analogous link with St Patrick saw an early Christian church built and the patron saint Lachtin is synonymous with a reliquary that is accepted as being one of the finest examples of 12th century metalwork in Ireland. Its status is reflected by the location of the reliquary in the Treasury room of the National Museum in Dublin alongside such treasures as the Ardagh Chalice and Tara Brooch.

This is a book that has something for everybody with detailed information on the parish and the lifestyles of generations. Indeed, as John A. Murphy remarks in his foreword "it is a kind of total history, as panoramic in its sweep as it is microscopic in its focus". Profiles are laid bare on the leaders and their supporters, the old fashioned and the unconventional, the rich and powerful and the poor and defenceless. For example a teacher who had to resign because of his part time position as clerk of the petty sessions; how three ogham stones ended up in the National Museum of Ireland; the Holy well that moved; a battle so brutal the location was called the Hill of Slaughter; how a man lost three infants and his wife in their efforts to emigrate, then, remarried and lost another infant; how some poor creatures in desperation during the famine stripped their clothing to pawn for food; a story about a rector who was so controversial that at a public meeting he was asked to resign his position as joint secretary of the local famine committee; here also is found the practice of boycotting during the Land War, a damning report on the local dispensary implying that it would shorten the lives of those who attended rather than prolong their existence;, how a farmer spent four years in Mountjoy Jail and strove to prove his innocence, an emigrant who settled in New York and befriended Samuel Clemens better known by his pen name Mark Twain; the pioneering railway system that revolutionised everyday life and how ten schools came into existence in the parish by 1824.

It should be of interest to anyone with a connection to Donoughmore , to those interested in local history, to those thinking of a gift for Christmas or indeed for anyone with an interest in rural Ireland. It will be launched on Friday October 16th by Michael Lenihan, best-selling author of "Hidden Cork", "Pure Cork" and "Timeless Cork", in the Community Centre, Stuake, Donoughmore at 8 p.m. Everyone is very welcome to what should be an eventful evening of nostalgia supplemented over light refreshments. A limited collector's hardback edition is also available. Further details at or tel: 021/7337368. The book will be for sale in local shops, in neighbouring parishes, Liam Ruiseal , Easons and Waterstones in Cork and from the website.