Me, a history teacher! My stint as a tour guide for local children

“He’s a guy who came out of the army barracks in Fermoy to train them, Matthews was his name. They had their own costumes and everything.

It was January 1975 and I had traveled the two miles to Ballyda to chat with Jerry and Johnny Roche, two single brothers born in the late 1800s.

Growing up in the 1890s, Jerry remembered going to school at the ‘old school’ in Monanig, and he told me that when Coffeys of Midleton was building the ‘new school’ in 1903, he was working with them as workers.

Seventy-three years later, when I spoke to him, he reminded me of the story of the Bartlemy Fife and Drum Band.

Father Peter O Leary, or An t Athair Peadar as he was better known, had been vicar in this parish in the 1870s and it was then that he engaged Matthews, master of bands in the British Army, to teach music at Bartlemy and Rathcormac. He was the man Jerry Roche had told me about on that January night 47 years ago.

I remembered this story yesterday as I was walking around the Croix de Bartlemy. The principal of Bishop O’Brien Memorial National School had asked me to do a “walking tour” of local history with classes from the school.

To paraphrase the words of William Wordsworth, ‘ And I watched and still the wonder grew that a little place could tell me all I knew‘, and it was like that for an hour yesterday as we walked and talked.

My pleasant task was to tell the story of my place as best I could. I have been so lucky to have heard so many stories told by people I have met at home and on the go and I feel honored to pass these stories on to a new generation growing up around the world. place that I love so much.

We started below with our Path Field. It has been here for decades, perhaps centuries, that locals have come to Shanks’ mare for Sunday mass along the old mass path. For worshipers coming from distant parts of the parish, walking the mass path has reduced their journey to miles. Over Ballinwillin Bridge – scene of bloody and fatal factional fighting in the 1830s – along the valley, over the first stile and up the slope near the Holy Well. Along the ‘double ditch’ between Captain Connells and our pit field, over the second upright and through the ditch at Path Field.

Finally, they followed the old path which divided the field in two, above the last rise, a few meters from the church. That people even made such a trip amazed the children.

Mick O’Regan and Denis Spillane – both now gone – are the last two I saw take this route to Mass in the 1980s.

Across the road is the beautifully restored tailor’s house Spillane, whitewashed with roses around the door.

We do not know exactly when the church dedicated to the Well of Saint-Barthélemy was built, probably in the 1820s. Two great scholars, Abbé Maurice Kennefick and Abbé Edmond Barry, both parish priests here, are buried in the church. Another cleric who ministered here, Father Joe Kenneally, was the man behind the nearby church hall building, built in the early 1960s. theater nearly 60 years ago – loved it and still love it!

It was through the generosity of Tom O’Brien that the hall was built – he donated the site to the parish for free.

Across the street from the church stands Ahern’s house – empty and unoccupied now and likely to be demolished soon. What fun and song and dance resounds from this farm. Eighty years ago it was a thatched shop when ‘old’ Mike Ahern lived there, then in the 1990s history repeated itself when his son Tom had a ‘business’ there .

Tom was a character, he once told me that there were three things he would never sell in his shop because he thought “people could get by without them” – salt, toilet paper and Epsom salts!

Tom was the music man, he was brilliant with the harmonica and the accordion.

I told the children that when I was their age, the Cross was a very busy place. I remember two pubs and the store – O’Briens, Dooleys and Woods – all quiet now with doors closed for business.

Older folks have told me how the Murley family once had a “standalone” post office, then it was at Woods Shop. When Mrs Dooley bought the shop in 1974, William Woods ran the post office in what was once the ‘Butter Store’.

This was before creameries came to rural Ireland. Local farmers churned their own butter, sold it here at Woods’, and they in turn sold it at Cork Butter Market. William died suddenly in 1991 and An Post closed the office forever.

Before my time, I then told how a little corner of a room in the house where the Mannixes later lived, on the Tallow Road, was a public library. Next door was the Band Room – as Jerry Roche recalled – where the Bartlemy band practiced. All instruments were stolen by the Black and Tans in the early 1920s. The band was no more, but the name “Bandroom” survived until the 1970s.

The music room is where the local GAA club, Bride Rovers, was founded in 1928.

A long, long time ago there was another little store, Spillanes, just below Woods – the house still stands, Mike Spillane was the last to live here.

I remember Pad Roche telling me about the night of Jim Spillane’s wake in 1942 and how they had a storytelling contest in the wee hours of the morning!

Behind Spillanes was where the Bartlemy horse fair was held for years. There was the fairground itself and below was the galloping field where a horse race was always held on the days of the two major fairs in September.

I said it is unlikely that Napoleon Bonaparte was ever in Bartlemy himself, but his famous white horse Marengo was probably bought here by a French army horse buyer.

Schoolchildren have never heard of the Riot Act, so I explained that it was legislation introduced by the English government in the 1800s under which, when the public reading of the law, all illegal gatherings or demonstrations had to disperse “on pain of death”.

This infamous law was read publicly here at Bartlemy’s Cross on the morning of December 18, 1834, as locals and neighboring parishioners gathered in support of Widow Ryan, who refused to pay unjust “tithes”. In the bloody aftermath, 12 people were shot dead.

Imagine the store, the pubs, the post office, the library, the public telephone booth, the petrol pumps – all in ‘my time’ and now in a distant memory.

Then during the 1960s and 1970s we used Carnival here. For ten days the place was buzzing with dancing, music playing on a record player in Denis Barry’s loft, Wheel of Fortune, Pongo, bowling, Timber Maggie, costume parades, tug of war and hurling tournaments.

I told the children about the fun and games we had when we were the age they are now.

They wanted to know why the store had closed, why they couldn’t buy sweets and ice cream like we could a long time ago.

I could tell them all about the story but some of their questions, no, even after all these years can I explain and understand how things have changed so much.

And yet the place could never boast of having a grand or rare mansion

No seigniorial mogul resides there, nor millionaire proud of his purse

For the inhabitants there are the humble, and the humble alone

Whose only sure world is around that Bartlemy cross