Historical Walk in Clonakilty

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Map of Clonakilty

Clonakilty is extremely rich in the ancient monuments and dwelling places of its early and pre-celtic settlers. It is situated at the head of its own bay surrounded by gentle fertile hills. The area was rich in woods as the Gaelic names of the town and surrounding townlands indicate. A strip of land from Clonakilty, stretching ten miles inland was known as TUATH NA gCOILLTE - the country of the woods.

The district was home to many tribes, challenging one another for supremacy. The Anglo-Normans made the area their home, and their castles and surnames survive to the present day. The first mention of a settlement at Clonakilty was at Kyleocofthy (Kilgariff) less than a mile to the north-west of where the present town now stands. It is recorded that Thomas De Roche received a charter from Edward 1 in 1292 to hold a market every Monday. When Thomas De Roche sold his manor and lands in this area to Maurice De Rochfort whose family had come from France, he in turn petitioned Edward 1 in 1305 to confirm this granting of a market.

The name CLONAKILTY first appears in 1378 as Clogh Na Kylte or Kylte Castle recorded in a plea roll, as being among the lands held by William De Barri.

"Fineen Mac Owen Mac Dermody Mac Carthy, the ruling chief was slain in 1598 and David Lord Barry obtained an enquiry which found that Fineen was slain as a rebel and because of this his lands were forfeited. David was granted a lease of these lands and later exchanged them with Richard Boyle, a first Earl of Cork who became possessor of Tuath Na gCoillte."

CLONAKILTY was formally set up by Richard Boyle when in 1613 he obtained a charter from James 1 by which the inhabitants were incorporated as the "Sovereign, free-burgesses and commonality of the borough of Cloghnikilty."

But the town according to Smith's history of Cork, 1750 "was of some importance as early as 1605 in which year" he says "it was incorporated. That a representative body of some sort did really exist at that time appears from a petition dated July 5th, 1605 and addressed to the authorities at Cork from the PORTREEVE AND CORPORATION OF CLOUGHNAKILTY.

To begin your walk use the accompanying map to reference this index.

  1. Introduction
  2. The Kilty Stone - Clogh Na Kylte
  3. Tadgh An Asna
  4. Asna Street
  5. Clarke Street
  6. Sand Quay
  7. Mary Jane Irwin
  8. Long Quay
  9. Clonakilty Harbour
  10. Deasy's Quay & Shipyard
  11. William Harnett
  12. Convent - Mount Shannon - Scartagh Cottage
  13. Hospital
  14. Railway
  15. Faxbridge & Town Gallows
  16. River Feale
  17. Fever Hospital
  18. Cumann Lúthchleas Gael - Gaelic
    Athletic Association
  19. Youghal's House
  20. Town Bands
  21. The Wheel Of Fortune
  22. The Courthouse
  23. The Linen Hall
  24. Fish Market And Shambles
  25. Halla An Bhaile
  26. Cork County Council and Library
  27. Methodist Church
  28. Emmet Square
  29. Deasy's Old Brewery
  30. Post Office And Presbyterians Church
  31. R.C. Church
  32. Boys' National School
  33. Myrtle Grove House
  34. Parochial Hall
  35. Kilgarriffe (Kyleocofthy)
  36. Barracks
  37. R.C. Chapel
  38. Town Hall - Market House
  39. Pearse Street To O'Donovan's Hotel
  40. Museum


We begin our historical walk of Clonakilty and its sea-front at the stone at Asna Square, known locally as the Kilty Stone. The stone has many tales associated with it. Its translation to the Irish language spells out the Irish name for Clonakilty, namely Cloich na Coillte meaning the stone or castle of the woods. The element Clogh or Cloch usually referred to the stone castles of the Normans, the earthen ones of the native Irish were usually referred to as Caisleán, Lios, Dún and Ráth.

The stone was placed here by the Urban Council in 1983 when this area was laid out as a square. Before that, it has had many homes. The stone stood outside the courthouse for many years and is reputed to have come from the castle of a local Norman family. In Bennett's history of 1869 the stone is referred to as follows: "It is stated that the stone from which the term Clough (Cloughnakilty) is derived, may still be seen at the side of the street opposite the courthouse and adjoining the entrance to the butter-market".

Before we leave the kilty stone it is interesting to note that a building once stood on this site housing a butcher's shop run by a family called Hubber, until its demolition in 1941.

Clonakilty has had many spellings since medieval times, Cloughnikilty being the most widely used and survived into the 19th century.

From the manuscripts of Sir Wm. Betham
(Ulster King of Arms) National Library.
Manuscript No. 192 Pages 191 - 198.
CLOUGHNAKILTY (1605) (Smith's History)
CLAGHANAN KYLTE (1628) From a Fiant appeal, Charles 1
CLOGHNIKILTY (1678) From a "Cloghnikilty Penny" National
Museum, Dublin.
CLONE-KELLY (1685) Petty's Map
CLONEKILTY (1711) Map of Murdoc McKenzie
(1778) Terry's Map
CLONAKILTY (1811) Grand Jury Map


The statue in the centre of this square commemorates the illfated rising of Tadhg O'Donovan Asna and his followers against the British forces near Shannonvale in 1798. It was unveiled by Monsignor O'Leary P.P. on November 26th 1905, the pedestal having been completed for some time before this, when it was decided, during the centenary celebrations of 1898 to erect a statue to commemorate the rising. The 6ft. 3 ins. figure cost £80 which included its placing and the inscriptions.

The rising itself took place on Tuesday 19th June 1798 close to Shannonvale 2 miles north of Clonakilty. The main road to Bandon at that time was through this place, leaving Clonakilty via Barrack Hill. This rising was the only engagement in Munster during the rising of 1798, the major one taking place in Co. Wexford. There was much unrest in Ireland at that time due to the actions of the Yeomanry and Militia who were riding roughshod over the people. The United Irishmen had been founded in Belfast in 1791 with the intention of overthrowing British rule in Ireland and establishing a republic on the lines of those in America and France. By 1797 there were United Irishmen cells in most areas.

The Westmeath Militia were at this time quartered in West Cork with a large contingent in Clonakilty. The lower ranks were very disaffected and a plot was underway to join with the local United Irishmen in a general uprising. The plot was discovered by the authorities and orders arrived, late in the evening of June 18th 1798 that they were to leave for Bandon the following morning at 6 o'clock and were to be replaced by the Caithness Legion.

Word spread quickly through the countryside and before daybreak hundreds of men were converging on Shannonvale to await the arrival of the Westmeath. On the arrival of the Militia the rebels swept down on them from a hill. One account describes the rebel leader being shot dead by a Sergeant Cummins who was himself shot from the rear ranks of his own regiment.

The day was saved for the British due to the timely arrival of the Caithness Legion on their way to Clonakilty. At least one hundred of the rebels were slain and their bodies and that of their leader Tadhg An Asna O'Donovan, were dragged by the local Yeomanry to the Market House at Barrack Street, where they were left for several days until they were eventually taken to the strand at Faxbridge and thrown into the crab hole. Their relations afterwards saw to their burial. There followed court martials and a number of soldiers were sentenced to death and others transported.

Accounts differ as to the number of casualties but one thing is certain, that, had the rebels overcome the Westmeath Militia before the arrival of the Caithness Legion and captured their armament of at least 200 muskets and two sixpounders, it would have presented the British with a formidable problem. Also, the threat of a French landing was always on the horizon.

The Sovereign and chief magistrate, the Rev. Horatio Townsend addressed the Roman Catholic congregation at their Chapel in Old Chapel Lane the following Sunday 24th June, as follows:

"Deluded, but still, dear countrymen I wish to refer to the events of last Tuesday - the day on which so many of you rushed down upon the Westmeath Militia with the vain hope of finding support in their dissaffection. Surely you are not foolish enough to think that society could exist without Landlords and Magistrates. Be persuaded that it is quite out of the sphere of country farmers and tradesmen to set up as politicians, reformers and lawmakers. Reflect with remorse on the sanguinary designs for which you forged so many abominable pikes. Yield up to justice your leaders and the scandal you have brought on your country will in time be wiped away."

One wonders was this address translated to the Irish language for those people whose first tongue it was, otherwise this eloquent condemnation was probably lost to them. (Another remonstrance was read to the people from their Bishop Dr. Coppinger.)

Two years before this in 1796, after the illfated French landing at Bantry Bay the people saw the French prisoners marching through Clonakilty and Shannonvale on their way to Cork gaol.


We leave Asna Square and follow the street to our right, called Asna St., formerly Boyle St. This is a relatively new street as it did not exist in the valuation map of 1819 drawn up for the Earl of Shannon (Lord of the town and a descendent of Sir Richard Boyle). On our right is Seymour St. This street runs down to the river and in 1851 had but one recorded dwellinghouse, that of Jane Abbot at No. 1. The other buildings were outoffices and stables for brewery horses. In a deed of 1895 it is mentioned that Seymour St. was commonly known as Brewery Lane. As we move towards the end of Asna St. the site of Deasy's Old Brewery is on the left. No trace of that building now exists. The Brewery was founded by Timothy Deasy and probably had its entrance on the lane to the left. A Malt House Granary existed on Mill Street (now Ashe St. which runs parallel to this street) in 1772 connected to the brewery.

There was also a linen mill on Mill Street, which was begun c. 1820 by a Dr. Elmore and was the largest in Munster. On the right where there is now a garage was the site of a hotel owned by the O'Donovan family who still run a hotel on Pearse Street. The upstairs of this building was once used as a bandroom by a local brass and reed band.


We now move on to the junction of Asna St. and Clarke St. (named after Thomas Clarke one of the signatories of the 1916 proclamation). This street was originally called Old Brewery Lane, then it became the Quay, then Jermyn St. (after a member of the corporation) the portion of the street left of the junction was also named Mill Lane. It also had a pet name in Irish, "Sraid Na nAmhas" or the street of the hirelings, due to its reputation as being a red light district at one stage. The proximity of the quays being of importance of course.


Crossing the junction we now enter Sand Quay. The Public house on our right called the Quay House was in the possession of Maxwell Irwin, father-in-law of the patriot Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, in the year 1868 but dates from the 1830's. Attached to the Quay House on our right is a fine stone warehouse which saw boats at its gable up to 1978. The quays were filled in during the creation of the by-pass road at that time.


Turning left we move on to the next junction and pause before turning right down Long Quay and observe a splendid weather-slated three storied House. Mary Jane Irwin poetess and wife of the great Fenian patriot Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa, was born in this house. The Irwins were successful merchants, employing much labour in the harbour and in their stores. The marriage of Rossa to Mary Jane Irwin took place at the Parochial House, Clonakilty on October 22nd 1864. Mary Jane was in her eighteenth year and Rossa, who was twice widowed and the father of five small sons, was thirty four. Within a year of their marriage, Rossa was sentenced to life imprisonment for the crime of treason and sent to Portland prison in England. Soon after his imprisonment a son was born to Mary Jane and named James Maxwell. A few months after the child's birth, Mary Jane sailed for America leaving the child at home in Clonakilty with her parents at the Quay. She took up the plight of Irish political prisoners in English gaols and toured the length and breadth of America giving lectures and readings, calling for their release. She studied elocution and public speaking earning the money for her tuition by selling poems and stories to the "Irish People" newspaper and other periodicals. After four years, Rossa's life sentence was commuted and he and other prisoners were banished to America for twenty-years, where he finally started a one-man newspaper called the "United Irishman". His outspokeness and Irish revolutionary ideals caused him to be the target for the assassin's bullets, a number of which he carried to the grave.

Jeremiah O'Donovan Rossa died on June 29th 1915 following five years in hospital. His body was returned to Ireland for burial at Glasnevin Cemetery Dublin. Mary Jane conducted the funeral arrangements from the Gresham Hotel with the future leaders of the 1916 rising. His funeral was a huge nationalist one and was the beginning of a new fight for freedom.

On August 18th, 1916 Mary Jane died suddenly, and after her death a little poem to her children was found in her desk.

Wrapped in a silver cloud I'll float around them,
And feasting wistful eyes on features dear,
With every heavenly blessing I'll surround them

That they may walk through life with naught to fear
So when I leave thee darlings do not sorrow
'Tis but the body dies - my spirit still
Will guard thee through each night and through each morrow
And bless the homes that all my loved ones fill.

The Irwins always extended a welcome to nationalists and in March 1880 Charles Stewart Parnell spoke to an election crowd from here having been led into town by a fife and drum band to O'Donovan's Hotel from where he also spoke.


As we turn to continue down Long Quay, the first building on our left was once a corn store, further on fine stone built warehouses are very much in evidence on our left, while on our right nothing remains of the old quays which once heard the gentle sound of lapping water and the hustle and bustle of the busy little port of Cloghnikilty. At the end of the Long Quay we reach the by-pass quay which now takes the burden of heavy traffic from the narrow streets and lanes of the town centre, crossing to the other side we catch our first sight of Clonakilty Bay.


The bay has seen the sailing vessels of Clonakilty's many settlers since medieval times. The Norman families of De Arundel, De Roche and De Barri having come here from Cornwall and Somerset. When Boyle settled his colony of one hundred English families at Clogh Na Kylte in the early 1600's many of those also came from Somerset. These people were mostly puritans and it is interesting to note that the family names of those who probably sailed up this bay, were identical to many of the names that appeared on the roll of the "Mayflower" which sailed for America from Plymouth in 1620.

The bay is home to many varieties of birds and boasts of one of Ireland's largest Heron colonies. From this point we can look up towards the town where the layout of the old warehouses form a square which once contained the town's quays and the port of Cloghnikilty. The Rev. Horatio Townshend in his "Statistical Survey of the County of Cork" 1810 writes of the port as follows:

"There are four large quays at Cloghnikilty, each of which has several lighters constantly at work during the summer months . The proximity of the ocean, though not attended with all the circumstances that favour other maritime situations is, however, of prime and permanent importance. The tide flows up to its quays navigable for small sloops and lighters and though the great accumulation of sand at its mouth renders ingress and egress often difficult and sometimes dangerous, the harbour is, at high water, accessible to brigs and sloops and when attained, a station of perfect security.

The Channel from the harbour to the town, the distance of which is about a mile has received some improvement lately, and is capable of much more. The trade of the port consists chiefly in the export of corn and potatoes, large quantities of which are annually sent to Cork and Dublin. The returning vessels bring goods of various kinds occasionally, chiefly those of a ponderous nature, as bricks, tiles earthen-ware." Lewis' topographical observes in 1837. "14 lighters of 17 tonnes burden each regularly employed in raising and conveying sand to be used in the neighbourhood as manure."


If we turn our attention again to the bay an area of green to the left juts into the sea. A quay is cut at right angles into this place and the remains of another quay is beyond. This was Deasy's Quay and Shipyard. The Deasy family were brewers and sea-merchants and built up a reputation as smugglers, at which trade they were very successful. This place is still known as "little Dunkirk" by the older residents, due to the frequent smuggling trips made to that now famous French port. The shipyard flourished in the early and mid-nineteenth century when several schooners were built.


The hill above this place called Desert (from Diseart - a hermitage) was the birthplace in 1848 of William M. Harnett. Having emigrated with his parents the year after his birth the young William was to become one of America's greatest still-life artists. His paintings hang in galleries all over the U.S.A., the following are a few: "Old Models" (1892) M.F.A. Boston; "The Faithful Colt" (1890) Wads. Athem; "The Old Violin" (1886) Coll.W.J. Williams, Cincinnati; "Emblems of Peace" (1890) Springfield M.F.A. Mass.; "After the Hunt" (1895) California Palace of the Legion of Honour, San Francisco.
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