Saturday 20 July 2019

A short dip into Wicklow history journals

Reporter David Medcalf spent some happy hours in the library in Wicklow Town, where issues of local history journals provided these delightful nuggets

The Piper’s Stones at Athgreany
The Piper’s Stones at Athgreany
The electric tram on an old cigarette card
Bray’s Martello tower

2000 BC: The Piper's Stones ceremonial circle was created at Athgreany south of Blessington. The site contains 16 stones, though most of them have been moved from their original positions. Other ceremonial circles in County Wicklow are at Castleruddery Lower and Booleycarrigeen. They were probably used for community ceremonies and were perhaps associated too with burials.

AD 501

Kilnamanagh, in the Ashford area, can claim to have provided the site for one of the first schools in Ireland. The curriculum promoted by the founder, St Eugenius, laid a heavy emphasis on religious matters. The best known pupil was Saint Kevin, nephew of Eugenius. Kevin was groomed by his uncle to take over as abbot in Kilnamanagh but the younger man found himself tormented by the allure of a local lassie called Kathleen, so he decamped to the more austere surroundings of Glendalough instead.


Hands up anyone who thought that Wicklow is as old as the hills, or at least as old as humankind. Wrong. The county was created a mere 414 years ago by an 'inquisition' held at Newcastle which was concerned that some villages - including Arklow, Dunlavin and Baltinglass - belonged to no existing county. So they created a new county from the baronies of Newcastle, Arklow, Ballinacor and Talbotstown, with the half barony of Shillelagh attached. Presumably, this was done in the interest of better tax collection.


We who live in the 21st century think of Bray as being one of the most populous towns in all of Ireland but it was not always so. The imposition of a hearth tax led to an official survey of substantial houses in the county. The officials noted just 41 houses liable to the charge - six in Ballywaltrim, townland, five in Boneshadden, 14 in Great Bray, two in Oldcourt and 14 in Newtown. The tax ignored the common folk who lived in mud-walled huts.


The Corporation in Wicklow Town imposed a levy on residents to raise five pounds for a new ducking stool. Such stools were used for the punishment of wrong-doers who were strapped in and then immersed in some local pond. In more recent times, the CIA has applied a similar technique to interrogation and called it water-boarding.


The execution of rebel Billy Byrne of Ballymanus was a public spectacle at the appropriately named Gallows Lane in Wicklow where he was hanged and put in a timber coffin. Where he was buried remains a matter for speculation, though he may well have been interred in the ground of Saint Thomas's at Church Hill, or possibly in a family plot at Rossahane.


With fears of a French invasion running high, a series of Martello towers was constructed along the coast from Bray to Balbriggan. They included one on the seafront at Bray (demolished in the 1880s), one at the southern side of Bray harbour (later to become a private residence), one on the seashore opposite Ravenswell convent (fell victim to coastal erosion in the 1860s), one in the grounds of Shanganagh Castle (demolished early in the 20th century) and one at Loughlinstown (later to become a private residence). The cost of such security measures was around £1,800 (€2,290) per tower.


That popular newspaper 'The Freeman's Journal' linked the Dargle river in Bray with one of the world's best known pieces of music. The paper reported that George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) was so struck by the sound of the Dargle that he attempted to re-create this in his celebrated 'Hallelujah Chorus' when he wrote his 'Messiah'. Hmmm.


The parish of Derrylossary in Roundwood had nine schools - one of which, run by Philip McKeon, had just four pupils.


Samuel Lewis's 'Topographical Dictionary' included a survey of ports. Readers learned that Bray specialised in the importation of coal, timber, slates and limestone, while Wicklow handled exports of copper and lead ore from the local mines, at a rate of 400 tons per week.


Though the west and north of the island of Ireland bore the catastrophic brunt of the famine, life expectancy was not great in Wicklow either. The county had a dozen fever hospitals operating during this decade, some temporary and some permanent. Between them they recorded 656 deaths during the ten years, during which time 2,172 deaths from fever were recorded throughout Wicklow. This suggests that many patients did not present themselves to the service.


The lifeboat station was established in Wicklow harbour where the first lifeboat was 'Dauntless', which was 30 feet long and propelled by a 12 strong crew who pulled on a set of oars.


The Roundwood GAA club was founded in this year, though they did not play their first football match until March of 1886, a game against a more experienced Ashford side.

A heavy fall of snow covered the pitch but spectators and players grabbed shovels and cleared the field.

The club had to wait until 1931 to capture their first major title, when they became Intermediate Football champions.


The fishing fleet at Arklow was left counting the cost of a hurricane after the schooner 'Ida' was knocked from its moorings by a couple of dilapidated hulks during the storm. The schooner and hulks then demolished a fleet of smaller fishing vessels, which were either sunk on the spot or swept out into the open sea, putting 150 men out of work.


The phrase 'battle of the bands' was given a literal twist in Bray as two marching bands paraded through the town on July 31. A policeman called Mahony was assaulted when he attempted to stop St Kevin's Band. Later, attempts were made by Mahony and his colleagues to arrest band leader Michael Murphy


The parish of Delgany was scandalised by the death of 56-year-old Winifred Gorman. The unfortunate victim was shot by bricklayer James Sweeney, who promptly handed himself over to the police. He was found guilty to manslaughter and was sentenced to ten years penal servitude. In the same year, in Blessington, 76 year old caretaker Anne Neale was murdered in her own bedroom, her head close to severed from her body. A man was twice tried for her murder - once in Wicklow and once in Waterford - but neither jury could agree a verdict.


The members of the Wicklow Militia were called to training camp and 494 men reported for duty. If they hoped to fire live rounds, then they were disappointed though they were introduced to new field guns. The officers put out a polo team which took the field on The Murrough against a side composed of civilians. The players were mounted on donkeys rather than horses, providing great entertainment for a large crowd. The civilians won this most unusual sporting fixture by a couple of points.


The local GAA club, with its headquarters in the middle of the village, now dominates the sporting landscape of Ashford. But this was once cricketing country with a 'cricket field' opposite the rectory. As the game was widely played in the area, there was no shortage of opposition. Credit for bringing the sport to town is given to a Scottish nobleman called Sir Douglas Blacker, who resided at Glanmore Castle for a period up to 1914

The onset of war dented interest in cricket and the field became part of the farm of JP Deegan, later acquired by MJ Hender.


This was the golden age of Arklow hurling, though details of how they won three successive county senior titles are sketchy. However, it is known that they completed the hat-trick in 1918 by defeating rivals Barndarrig at Newbaun. Players Tom Byrne and Jack Martin walked all the way from Arklow to participate.


Maria Curran and Mary Hoyne struck a blow for feminism when they were elected to Arklow Urban District Council.

Miss Curran, who was prominent in Sinn Féin, went on to become the first woman to chair a local council in Ireland, championing such issues as the need to dredge the sand bar at the harbour and the provision of breakfasts for poverty stricken schoolchildren.


A good 52 years before the Dart came into service, the Bray to Dublin train line had electric trams. These innovative trains were inspired by James Drumm, a professor at UCD who devised a battery which was easy to re-charge. With charging points at the stations in Amiens Street and Bray, the trams operated until 1950 when they were replaced by diesel engine locomotives.


Roundwood man Pat Roche picked up a copper axe head in a stubble field while out for a walk with his metal detector. It looked at first glance like a piece of slate but one expert said it might be 4,000 years old.

With thanks to: Arklow Historical Society Journal, Ashford and District Historical Journal, Bray Historical Record, Bray Journal, Greystones Archaeological and Historical Society, Roundwood and District Historical & Folklore Journal, Wicklow Historical Society Journal

Wicklow People