Wonderful Heritage Brochure Reveals Youghal’s Fascinating Past
– By Christy Parker
A NEW SOUVENIR BOOKLET tracing Youghal’s rich heritage is set to inform and delight visitors to the town. For that matter it makes a wonderful reading inducement for locals as well, it being a fair bet that most of us traverse our local streets as oblivious to the historical significance of our surroundings as a bookie to a begging bowl.
Youghal Heritage Trail was researched and written by historian, retired headmaster, marathon cyclist and all round knowledgeable bloke, Kieran Groeger. “The idea for the book arose when representatives from the Youghal 4 All group and the Chamber of Commerce and Tourism tour guide training, particularly with a view to greeting coach tours, some months ago,” Kieran explains. “The Chamber asked me to prepare some scripts and over time it evolved into booklet material that is, I hope, a helpful accompaniment and souvenir for tourists taking the town’s Heritage Walk.” The budget behind the six-week enterprise, he adds, was “precisely nothing but time and effort.”
The work comprises 28 pages of intriguing facts, legends and anecdotes detailing centuries of deaths, births, marriages, skulduggery, revolt, conspiracies, achievements, tragedies, disasters, treachery, more marriages, slaughter, farce, greed, ambition, failure, yet more murders, unbelievable cruelty, revenge, religion, hope and survival with a cast ranging from nobility to poor, famous to infamous, stranger to invader, traitor to local; our ancestors basically. Youghal, the reader may surmise having read it, has quietened down a lot.
Delivered throughout in a chatty, informal, colloquial style, the wonderfully illustrated booklet leads us from the Market Square (Page 3) through the town and back to the Mall Arts Centre/Town Hall (Page 28) En route we encounter such notable (or notorious) company as Youghal ‘witch’ Florence Newton, Suffragette Anna Haslam, Fr. Peter O’Neill, Walter Raleigh, Cromwell, the Red House ghost, the Quakers, Danny ‘Dúis’ McCarthy, the Boyle family and Shakespeare. Oh, and Pat Lynch of –and because of- Fox’s Lane Museum. They pages pause to consider landmarks like the old Courthouse, St. Mary’s Collegiate Chapel, the Priory, Myrtle Grove, the Town Walls, the Alms Houses and St. Mary’s Catholic Church. The reader further encounters Youghal Lace, the civil war, duels, floggings, hangings and soup kitchens. There are small advertisements too, from times and places long past, to remind us how Youghal once echoed to the quaint and curious.
Within the generalisations lie gems of beguilement such as these:
• The Courthouse was built during the Great Famine (there were other, lesser famines too) as part of Relief Works for people to earn money to buy food.
• Gulliver’s Travels author Dean Swift lived in Youghal occasionally.
• In 1302 local merchant John Don had his wife’s lover Stephen O’Regan captured and castrated. O’Reagan sued for “loss of yearnings,” won the case and was awarded £20.
• Youghal nuns and 60 skilled lace makers worked, -in pre-electricity times- for a combined total of 90,020 hours to make the train Coronation dress train for Queen Mary in 1911. It was considered “the most magnificent example of Irish needlepoint lace ever seen.”
• Floggings took place at the Clock Gate. A whip usually comprised nine pieces of leather with little knots. Following the 1798 rebellion particularly, hundreds, or even thousands, of lashes might be administered, “each pulling a bit of skin off the body.” The screams would echo throughout the town. Women and children were tied to the back of a cart and dragged through the streets and flogged to the beat of a little drummer boy.
• Two friends, Anthony Watters and Hercules Langrishe fought a duel after arguing over a sugar bowl at breakfast. Watters killed Langrishe but they are buried side by side in St. Mary’s Collegiate Church. Duels took place outside town –at the Ferry Point, Rhincrew and Clifden.
• In 1709 a Mr Spratt a renowned troublemaker called Mr Spratt was thrown off the town walls and killed while very drunk. Several people were tried for his murder. Two said they would have liked to have killed him but another said he had followed the deceased’s brother for two miles and “would have murdered him too if he had been able to overtake him.” All were acquitted.
• The Red House ghost is considered a gentle spirit who “leaves people with a sense of well- being and peace.” Occasionally she also allegedly tidies up and lays out people’s clothing for the next day.
• The Alms Houses doors are so small because Richard Boyle, who had them constructed, wanted people to bow in recognition that they were poor.
• Boyle was “repulsive, greedy, unbelievably wealthy” and the father of 16 children, some of whom he didn’t see for years on end. He arranged marriages for his daughters from the age of six and had them shipped off to her prospective in-laws!
• The Quakers meeting house is in Ashe Street near St. Mary’s Catholic Church. One of the Suffragette’s founding members was Youghal-born Quaker Anna Haslam (nee Fisher). Living very nearby was Fr. Keller, a jailed hero who fought the Protestant landlords against unfair rents and won. Keller absolutely loathed suffragettes.
• William Shakespeare “probably” visited Youghal as his theatre company three times travelled from Bristol to perform here. He was also a friend of Walter Raleigh and of the poet Edmund Spencer, who both lived here. A former harbour Master of Youghal was one Thomas “Shakespere” from Bristol.
• In 1921, in Youghal: there were five trains running daily to Cork; a ferry every half hour to Ferrypoint; a butter market every Saturday; a livestock market once a month; two picture palaces; 12 hotels; 15 bakers; Hot Sea and Turkish baths at the Mall; War of Independence raids on houses; an IRA bomb that killed seven and injured 25 unarmed bandsmen from the 2nd Hampshire Regiment as they marched down the New Line towards Claycastle.
• A selection of “Small Ads from Times Past” requests ‘A young Protestant and needle woman of strict honesty, sobriety, good temper and cleanliness’ to mind four children. There is notice given also that Paddy Maher’s “Select” Bar (now the Point) stocked “Only Drinks of the Highest Quality!”
• On this page too, readers/visitors are urged, “Don’t leave without meeting Bill French (Church Street), local guide and historian. Conducted tours to places of historic interest by appointment.” And that, I suppose is what is called coming full circle.
Youghal Heritage Trail –Souvenir Booklet is available from Cree’s and Youghal Tourist Office. Price: €4.
Any comments or queries etc. to the author: Dr. Kieran Groeger, M.Ed.