Midleton’s Most Famous Forgotten Son? General John Joseph Coppinger

Many of Midleton’s men and women have emigrated down through the years, settling all over the globe and becoming part of the Irish diaspora. Some went on to become relatively famous abroad- for example Nellie Cashman- a woman who will be the topic a future post. However one man, although his family name remains closely associated with Midleton, is not well-known in the town of his birth. This is despite the fact that he is undoubtedly one of the town’s most successful and colourful emigrants. His name was John Joseph Coppinger.

Coppinger was born in Midleton on 11th October 1834, into the powerful Catholic landowning family. He was one of six children of William Joseph Coppinger and Margaret O’Brien. We don’t know much about John’s early life, until he begins his first associations with the military- associations that would continue across more than half a century. He first tested out the military in the 1st Regiment of the Warwickshire Militia- The London Gazette of 12th October 1855 recorded that ‘John Joseph Coppinger Gent.’ was to be an Ensign from the 29th September. However, his life of adventure really started in 1860 when he became a Captain in the Papal Battalion, a group of Irishmen which travelled to Italy to defend the Papal States from the ongoing efforts to reunify Italy. During the fighting there the young Midleton man performed well- his defence of the La Rocca gateway that September earned him the position of Chevalier and two Papal decorations. (1)

Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede (For the Chair of Peter) awarded to members of the Papal Battalion, including John Joseph Coppinger (Robert Doyle)

Medaglia di Pro Petri Sede (For the Chair of Peter) awarded to members of the Papal Battalion, including John Joseph Coppinger (Robert Doyle)

When the Papal War was lost, John Joseph Coppinger was one of a number of men in the Battalion who elected not to return home permanently. Instead he travelled to the United States. According to one account, upon the outbreak of the American Civil War, Archbishop Hughes of New York sought advice from clergy in Ireland as to young Irishmen of influence who might come to America to become officers: …’Bishop Keane, the patriotic prelate of Cloyne, who had been parish priest of Midleton, recommended [Coppinger]…and he was one of six young Irishmen who came to the United States as commissioned officers.‘ (2)

So began John Joseph Coppinger’s long an extremely successful career in the United States military. In September 1861 he was appointed to the rank of Captain in the 14th United States Infantry. Joining the Union Army of the Potomac in July of 1862, he was severely wounded when he was shot through the neck at the Second Battle of Bull Run on 30th August. Lucky to survive, it took him six months to recuperate. John returned to active duty and in 1863 participated in the Battles of Chancellorsville and Gettysburg. (3)

General Torbert and his staff during the American Civil War. John Joseph Coppinger is seated at the front left (Library of Congress)

General Torbert and his staff during the American Civil War. John Joseph Coppinger is seated at the front left (Library of Congress)

During the Civil War Coppinger was brevetted a Major for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Trevilian Station on 12th June 1864, and brevetted Lieutenant-Colonel for the same reason after the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19th October that year. At the time he had been serving on the staff of Cavalry General Alfred Torbert. Recommended for promotion by men such as George Armstrong Custer and Phil Sheridan, Coppinger was appointed Colonel of the 15th New York Cavalry on 19th January 1865, a position he held until the close of the war. (4)

Detail of the Civil War photograph showing Midleton's John Joseph Coppinger (Library of Congress)

Detail of the Civil War photograph showing Midleton’s John Joseph Coppinger (Library of Congress)

After the war Coppinger returned to the rank of Captain in the regular army and was transferred to the 23rd United States Infantry, with whom he served on the Western Plains. He earned another brevet, this time to Colonel in 1868, for ‘energy and zeal while in command of troops operating against hostile Indians in 1866, 1867 and 1868.’  In 1871 he returned to Cork to attend to family business resulting from a bereavement, and took the opportunity to visit Egypt. However, it was always his intention to return to the United States, and he was soon back in the American West. The Midleton man had a reputation as a dashing officer, and after his return to America he landed in hot water, when he was accused of seducing another man’s wife in California. Described by his accuser as ‘a gay Lothario in epaulettes…a…bold, unprincipled adventurer …a serpent’, Coppinger was outraged by what he described as ‘infamous falsehoods’, but whoever was in the right, the incident eventually died down. It did not hurt his military career, as John was promoted to Major in 10th United States Infantry in 1879 and Lieutenant-Colonel in the 18th United States Infantry in 1883. 1883 was also the year he finally married, tying the knot with Alice Stanwood Blaine (25 years his junior) in Washington D.C. on 6th February. The wedding was attended by President Arthur and his cabinet, a mark of how high Coppinger had risen. The couple would go on to have two sons, Blaine and Conor, but Alice would die tragically young just seven years later, during an influenza epidemic. (5)

John’s march through the ranks of the army continued. He was promoted to  Colonel as a result of service rendered against hostile Native Americans between 1886-1888, and took command of the 23rd United States Infantry in 1891. He finally became a Brigadier-General on 25th April 1895. When the Spanish-American War broke out in 1898, the Cork native took charge of the 1st Independent Division in Mobile, Alabama. He later served as Major-General of Volunteers commanding the IV Corps. John Joseph Coppinger retired from his 36 year career in the U.S. military on 11th October 1898. The Midleton man died in Washington D.C. on 4th November 1909, where he is buried in Arlington National Cemetery. (6)

General Coppinger during the Spanish-American War, 1898 (National Archives)

General Coppinger during the Spanish-American War, 1898 (National Archives)

Today John Joseph Coppinger is all but forgotten in his home town. Indeed he is one of the many hundreds if not thousands of men from around Midleton and East Cork who fought in the American Civil War and who are no longer remembered at home. Surely one of Midleton’s most successful and noteworthy emigrants, remembering John Joseph Coppinger’s life is hopefully something that will improve in the future.

The grave of General John Joseph Coppinger in Arlington National Cemetery (Brian C. Pohanka via Find A Grave)

The grave of General John Joseph Coppinger in Arlington National Cemetery (Brian C. Pohanka via Find A Grave)

*The most comprehensive research on John Joseph Coppinger to date has been carried out by the late Brian C. Pohanka, who’s work is referenced in this article and should be rightfully acknowledged.

(1) Pohanka 2013, London Gazette 1855, Tucker 2009: 135, Irish Nation 1883; (2) Irish Nation 1883; (3) Foreman 1943: 125, Tucker 2009: 135; (4) Foreman 1943: 125, Hunt 2003: 84; (5) Foreman 1943: 125, Pohanka 2013, Irish Nation 1883; (6) Foreman 1943: 125, Tucker 2009: 135;


The Irish Nation 17th February 1883. Colonel Coppinger.

The London Gazette 12th October 1855. Commissions signed by the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Warwick.

Foreman, Carolyn Thomas 1943. ‘General John Joseph Coppinger Commandant Fort Gibson’ in Chronicles of Oklahoma Volume 21, No. 2.

Hunt, Roger D. 2003. Colonels in Blue: Union Army Colonels of the Civil War: New York.

Pohanka, Brian 2013. Defender of the Faith and the Union Cork Born John Joseph Coppinger 

Tucker, Spencer 2005 (ed.) The Encyclopaedia of the Spanish-American and Philippine-American Wars

John Joseph Coppinger Find A Grave Memorial

Categories: Famous Links, Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Midleton Women in Cumann na mBan: A Complete List

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of the founding of Cumann na mBan, a women’s nationalist organization founded  to ‘advance the cause of Irish liberty.’ We here at Rubicon Heritage thought it would be a good time to share a table we have been working on that lists the Midleton members of the organisation in 1921 and 1922. We have had Sorcha Corcoran diligently making her way through the Cumann na mBan nominal rolls for the area, transcribing the names of all those who were remembered as being in the organisation. This includes those from places such as Aghada, Carrigtwohill, Churchtown and Cobh, which we will share on the site in the near future. These rolls are part of the treasure trove of primary material to be found on the Military Archives website. The rolls are handwritten documents that chart the membership in different areas on the 11th July 1921 (pre-Truce service) and on 1st July 1922 (post-Truce service). They are based on the recollection of a number of local Cumann na mBan officers, so the amount of details provided on individuals can differ depending on memory. Cumann na mBan members became eligible for pensions from 1934 and it was for this reason that these lists were drawn up- the majority were compiled in 1935.

The Midleton Branch of Cumann na mBan came under the jurisdiction of the Midleton District Council, 4th battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade Area. Aside from Midleton there were also branches in Cobh, Carrigtwohill, Aghada, Churchtown and Cloyne who came under this umbrella. The President of Midleton Distict Council in both 1921 and 1922 was Anna O’Keeffe of Ardraha, who had passed away by the time of the pensions in the 1930. The Adjutant/Secretary of the District Council (again in both 1921 and 1922) was Peg Harty of Churchtown, who subsequently emigrated to America. No Treasurer was recorded for the district, as it was said they had ‘no money.’

Below are the two lists for the Midleton Branch for 11th July 1921 and 1st July 1922. Columns have been created to record name, maiden name, role, where they lived (if recorded) and any notes (e.g. death, emigration). If you would like to see the original handwritten lists, you can do so here. Do you have any ancestors who are among the women listed?

Members of Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy Prison, July 1921 (Image via Wikipedia)

Members of Cumann na mBan protest outside Mountjoy Prison, July 1921 (Image via Wikipedia)


Name Maiden Name Role Lived Notes
Murphy, May Murnane, May Captain
Kelleher, Nelly Hickey, Nelly Adjt./Sec. Went to USA
Collins, Mrs. Dennis, – Treasurer
Murphy, May Murnane, May Captain
Kelleher, Nell Hickey, Nell Secretary
Collins, Nan Dennis, Nan Treasurer
O’Brien, May Deasy, May Committee
O’Shea, Kathleen Committee RIP
Brady, Mrs. J. Committee
Ahern, Mrs. Ciss Committee
Carroll, Agnes Committee
Lawton, Josie Committee USA
Ring, Maggie
Ring, Nellie
Ramsel?, Lizzie
Donogan, Mary
Glavin, Lillie
Buckley, Bridget Murnane, Bridget
Murnane, Nan RIP
Greene, Georgina RIP
Ahern, Bridie Charles Street
Desmond, Mary E.
McCarthy, Rose
McArdle, Mrs.
Rice, Patty
O’Neil, Margaret
O’Neil, Bridie
Joyce, Ciss
Murphy, Belinda
Ahern, Mary K.
McCarthy, K.
Hennessey, Mollie
Mulcahy, Nellie
Cremins, M.
Barry, Mary
Ahern, Joan
Ahern, Bridie St. Mary’s Road
Brennan, Maureen Burke, Maureen
Burke, Eileen?
McCarthy, Rose
McCarthy, Vera
Ahern, Kate
Ahern, Agnes



Name Maiden Name Role Lived Notes
Murphy, May Murnane, May Captain
Kelleher, Nelly Hickey, Nelly Adjt./Sec. Went to USA
Murphy, Mrs. M.
Kelleher, Mrs. N.
Collins, Mrs. Nan
O’Brien, Mrs. May
Ahern, Mrs. Ciss
Lawton, Josie
Ring, Maggie
Ramsel?, Lizzie
Donovan, Mary
Desmond, Mary E.
Buckley, Mrs. Bridget
Murnane, Nan RIP
Greene, Georginia RIP
Ahern, Bridie
Joyce, Ciss
Hennessey, Mollie
Mulcahy, Nellie
Ahern, Joan
Ahern, Jean
Ahern, Kate
Ahern, May K.
Ahern, Agnes
O’Neil, Bridie
Ring, Maggie
Ring, Nellie
Glavin, Nellie
Carroll, Agnes

*Special thanks are due to Sorcha Corcoran, who compiled this data from the original lists.


Irish Military Archives. Guide to the Military Service (1916-1923) Pensions Collection.

Irish Military Archives. CMB/12 Midleton District Council Cumann na mBan Nominal Rolls.

Membership rolls for Cumann na mBan contain the ranks of officers, the names, postal addresses and maiden names where applicable of the membership at District, Branch and Squad level with the strengths on 11 July 1921 and 1 July 1922. Rolls are signed and dated by the Officers concerned. Deceased members are named and location of surviving members, if abroad, given. – See more at: http://www.militaryarchives.ie/collections/online-collections/military-service-pensions-collection/search-the-collection/organisation-and-membership/cumann-na-mban-series#sthash.QTeNcor6.dpuf
Categories: War of Independence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Who Lived on Midleton’s Main Street in 1901?

We decided to have a look at the 1901 Census to see who was living along Midleton’s Main Street in 1901. Our Transition Year student Rob Mitchell took up the challenge, and picked out some of the well known businesses on the street today to see what was going there over 100 years ago. The results are fascinating- read on to find out about the Australian, Tasmanian and Americans living on Main Street, as well as the ‘Fowl Fanciers’ and ‘Fancy Tobacconists’ who worked there. From new born baby’s to immigrant German jewellers, there was a lot happening on the Main Street in 1901. Rob takes up the story:

I have researched the buildings and inhabitants of the Main Street of Midleton from this era and compared this to the present day. Many of the buildings remain largely intact and unchanged. Some questions addressed are;

Who lived in the buildings of the Main Street?

What was the function of the building?

Is there any connection to today’s tenants?

I have selected some of the findings and detailed them below.

Main Street, Midleton, Co. Cork

Main Street, Midleton, Co. Cork

McDaid’s, 55 Main Street, Midleton

This is presently one of the most popular pubs in Midleton. 112 years ago an old shop keeper named Mary Ann Blansfield (80) who sold provisions, along with her daughter Mary Margaret Blansfield (44). The same architect who designed the Palace of Westminster, A.W. Pugin also designed McDaid’s in 1852 at the request from Lord Midleton. Originally designed as two buildings, by 1901 it had become one.

Shanghai House, 25 Main Street, Midleton

This was home to one the O’Brien families. John O’Brien (42) was a shop keeper as was his wife Kate (42). They had five sons Daniel Joseph (16), Thomas (14), Paul (12), Michael (10) and Maurice (9). Two servants were also present on the night of the census, Fanny Morrison (22) and Michael O’Dwyer (24), as well as Kate’s mother Kate Lisk (84).

Boots, 26-27 Main Street, Midleton

As this was once two buildings it was home to two separate families. In No. 26 lived the Barrys. Head of the family was Patrick Barry (49). a shop keeper who lived with his Limerick-born wife Johanna (50). He also had three apprentices- Bridget Barry (16), Kate Colbert (23) and Katie Draddy 16), one servant- Ellie Gearey (18) and one boarder, shoemaker Patrick Lane (23). No.27 was home to a small collection of the Daltons. Robert Richard Dalton (58), born in Derry, was a baker by trade. He lived with his wife Annie (57) and his daughter Queenie (17) who was a scholar.

Cummins Sports, 41 Main Street, Midleton

This was lived in by the Kelleher family. John Kelleher (58) was an accountant in the distillery, his wife Bridget Kelleher (56) was a vintner. They had two daughters Josephine (21) and Mary Ellen (15).

Wallis’s, 74 Main Street, Midleton

Today the site of another popular pub, in 1901 it was home to Richard Fitzgerald (56) a shopkeeper and draper who was the Head of the Family and led a very large household.. Also in residence were his wife Ellen (46), his brother and business-partner Michael (50), children Norah (13), Michael (15) and William (5) (all scholars) and brother and sister-in-law William Walsh (39) and Kate Fitzgerald (43). They had two servants, Hannah Higgins (24) and Kate Keeffe (16) as well as five boarders- Shop Assistant Michael Desmond (27), Dress-Maker Norah Higgins (26), Milliner Margaret Power (26) and Apprentices William Lane (15) and Michael Manning (15).

Leonardo’s Restaurant, 83 Main Street, Midleton

This was the home of William Deasy (33) who was a tailor and his wife Mary (33). Also present was Timothy Riordan (17) who doubled up as their servant and as a second tailor. They had three sons, Thomas (3), Francis (1) and William who had not yet reached a year old.

Muckley’s Jewellers, 85 Main Street, Midleton

Victualler and vintner Daniel Gilmartin (32) was the head of the family here, with his wife Katie (34) from Kilkenny running the business with him. They had four children, Christopher (6), Erin (5), Bartholomew (3) and May who was under one. Daniel’s 21-year-old nephew Michael Allen also resided there as a butcher, as did a servant/butcher Michael Spillane, also 21. The family also had a waiting maid, Lizzie Dunlea (28) and a cook Bridget Burke (24).

It is interesting to note that at the time of the 1901 Census two German brothers had taken rooms in No.28 Main Street. These were Albert (30) and Edward (25)- both were jewellers by trade and were surely the originators of the family and shop which retains a presence in Midleton over a century later.

123 Main Street, Midleton

Some of the more unusual residents of the Main Street resided in this house in 1901. Richard Walton Long (41) was the head of the family, He was a physician and surgeon and must have been an important man in the town. His wife Maria Long was 30-years-old and was described as a ‘Fowl Fancier.’ In addition she had been born a long way from Midleton- she came originally from Tasmania. They had a three-year-old daughter Iris Maria Walton Long. Also in the house was 27-year-old Marian Lilla Clockie, from Australia. The family clearly had strong connections to the other side of the World. Sisters Elizabeth Deacon (a 27-year-old nurse) and Edith Deacon (a 26-year-old scholar) were visiting on the night of the census. Another nurse, Mary Jugh (26) lived in the house with domestic servants Minnie Curtin (29) and Kate McCarthy (28).
The Maple Bar, 5 Main Street, Midleton

This building has been a pub for more than one hundred years as in 1901 this was owned by licensed publican John P. Barry (45) who was originally from Whitegate. He lived with his wife Marie (36), a native of Ballinacurra, and their five children James (10)  Louise (8), Lillie (5),  Margaritte (3) and ‘Ez O C’ who was only two days old. The family had recently returned from living in America, as eldest three children had had been born there, Also in residence were two domestic servants- Hannah Meade, an 18-year-old domestic servant from Ballincurrig, and Elizabeth Riordan, a 16-year-old from Thomas Street in the town.

O’Farrell’s Butchers, 19 Main Street, Midleton

This was occupied by May O’Keeffe (66), a widow who ran a grocery shop from here. Working with her were her son Eugene (40) and his wife Hannah (33). They also had a domestic servant, 18-year-old Hannah Brien who lived with them.

Ballycotton Seafood, 46 Main Street, Midleton

In 1901 Denis Desmond (52), who worked as an accountant at the distillery but also had a business as a ‘Fancy Tobacconist’. He lived with his wife Christine (51), who was from the city, and their 24 year-old daughter Ellen, a shop-keeper, and their son Michael (19) who was a medical student. Denis’s older brother James (60) who had been a mariner and was an invalid.

Paddy Power, 14 Main Street, Midleton

This was originally home to the Days. David Day (40) the head of the family was a merchant tailor, married to his wife Ellie (40). They had three daughters Winifred (6), Johanna (4) and Margaret (2). David’s mother Hannah (60) also lived with them in 1901.

101 Main Street, Midleton

In 1901 this was occupied by the Fishbournes. This family is interesting in that they were all born outside Cork. John G (45) was the head of the family and was a bank agent born in Carlow, His wife Sarah (40) was born in Co. Kildare, It seems likely that John had travelled around the country working with the bank, as the couple’s daughter Dorah (10) had been born in Laois (Queen’s County) and their son Derrick (4) in Waterford City. They employed a 25-year-old governess, Mable Shaw, who was born in Dublin. The family cook, Hannah Holsour (21) was from Co. Kilkenny; their house maid, 26-year-old Annie Ryng [Ring?] and groom, 24-year-old Denis Murphy were both from Co. Cork.

We intend to put all the families from the 1901 Census up on the site, but if you are interested in finding out more you can see a full list of the occupants of Main Street in 1901 on the National Archives site here. We intend to expand our search to look at other streets in the town, as well as the 1911 Census to see what changes had taken place.

*Please see the comment of Kathryn Walsh below regarding an error in the census information which throws out some of the house numbers (Thanks Kathryn!)

Categories: Midleton Census | Tags: , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

Lord Broghill, Ballymaloe and Oliver Cromwell

Today Rob Mitchell explores Lord Broghill, one of the area’s most notable past residents and former owner of Ballymaloe House. 

Lord Broghill

Lord Broghill

Roger Boyle, the 1st Earl of Orrery was born 25th April 1621 in Lismore, Co. Waterford. Boyle was the third surviving son of the famous Richard Boyle, 1st Earl of Cork. His mother was Catherine Fenton daughter of Sir Geoffrey Fenton of Dublin. Roger was named after his parents’ first son who died at the age of nine. He was created Baron Broghill on 28th February 1628.

Roger Boyle became best known as a soldier, making his reputation during the Eleven Years War of 1641-52. He was also a dramatist and politician, and he regularly sat in the House of Commons between 1654 and 1679. When war erupted in Ireland in 1641 Boyle returned to Ireland from his travels in Europe to help suppress the rebellion. It was in the same year that Ballymaloe passed to Boyle, part of an association which lasted for thirty-eight years and saw the construction of the west wing.

In 1642 Boyle fought with his brothers for the Government forces in their victory of the Confederates at Liscarroll in north Cork. The outbreak of the English Civil War left men like Broghill with a choice to make- King or Parliament. Broghill elected to side with Parliament, and he served publicly until the execution of King Charles I in 1649. After this he retired from public affairs and settled in one of his residences at Marston, Somersetshire.

Broghill appears to have been uncomfortable with the execution of the King and was suspected of trying to bring about the restoration. However Oliver Cromwell offered him a command in Ireland to help bring about the end of the war there, and Broghill accepted. During the ultimately successful Irish campaign Cromwell stayed in Ballymaloe, and Broghill played a key role in crushing the Confederate cause.

Broghill helped to secure Ireland for the King on the Restoration in 1660, and was rewarded by being created the Earl of Orrery. He also became a Lord Justice of Ireland and drew up the Act of Settlement. He spent most of his time at his estate in Broghill, near the town of Charleville, which he founded in 1661. He died 16th October 1679.

Categories: Famous Links | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

William Penn: Quaker, Founder of Pennsylvania and Occasional Resident of East Cork

Rob Mitchell has been continuing his great work each week in the Rubicon Office’s on the Midleton Heritage Project. Having compiled a database of references in the witness statements to the IRA in Midleton during the War of Independence, he has also been looking at local castles in the area, and is currently compiling information on those who lived on Midleton’s Main Street during the 1901 Census. In his latest post Rob looks at local connections with the U.S. state of Pennsylvania.

William Penn was born on October 14th 1644. He was the son of Sir William Penn, an English admiral and politician who sat in the House of Commons from 1660 to 1670. The younger William was educated first at Chigwell School, by private tutors whilst in Ireland, and later at Christ Church, Oxford. After a failed mission to the Caribbean, Admiral Penn and his family were exiled to his lands in Ireland. It was during this period, when Penn was about fifteen, that he met Thomas Loe, a Quaker missionary, who was maligned by both Catholics and Protestants. Loe was admitted to the Penn household and during his discourses on the “Inner Light”, young Penn recalled later that “the Lord visited me and gave me divine Impressions of Himself.” After many years, the free-minded William Penn announced publicly that he was a Quaker. He did so in an attempt to slip past charges stating that since Quakers had no political agenda they could not be subject to laws that restricted political action by minority religions and other groups.

Penn Castle, Shanagarry (www.buildingsofireland.ie)

Penn Castle, Shanagarry (www.buildingsofireland.ie)

In 1669 Penn travelled to Ireland to deal with many of his father’s estates. Whilst there he attended meetings and stayed with leading Quaker families. He became great friends with William Morris, a leading Quaker figure in Cork, and often stayed with Morris at Castle Salem near Rosscarbery. He also owned a castle and estate which he inherited through his family in Shanagarry. Known as ‘Penn Castle’ it still stands today and offers a permanent reminder of East Cork’s links with Pennsylvania.

As the prosecution of Quakers began to accelerate rapidly and with religious conditions deteriorating, Penn decided to appeal directly to the King. Penn proposed a solution which would solve the dilemma—a mass emigration of English Quakers. Some Quakers had already moved to North America, but the New England Puritans, especially, were as hostile towards Quakers as Anglicans in England. Some had even been banished to the Caribbean. In 1677, a group of prominent Quakers that included Penn purchased the colonial province of West Jersey (half of the current state of New Jersey). That same year, two hundred settlers from the towns of Chorleywood and Rickmansworth in Hertfordshire and other towns in nearby Buckinghamshire arrived, and founded the town of Burlington. In 1682, East Jersey was also purchased by Quakers.

With the New Jersey foothold in place, Penn pressed his case to extend the Quaker region. Whether from personal sympathy or political expediency, to Penn’s surprise, the King granted an extraordinarily generous charter which made Penn the world’s largest private (non-royal) landowner. In possession of over 45,000 square miles, Penn became the sole proprietor of a huge tract of land west of New Jersey and north of Maryland (which belonged to Lord Baltimore), and gained sovereign rule of the territory with all rights and privileges (except the power to declare war). The land of Pennsylvania had belonged to the Duke of York, who acquiesced in the transfer, but he retained New York and the area around New Castle and the eastern portion of the Delmarva Peninsula. In return, one-fifth of all gold and silver mined in the province (which had virtually none) was to be remitted to the King, and the Crown was freed of a debt to Admiral Penn of £16,000, equal to £2,120,595 today.

Penn first called the area “New Wales”, then “Sylvania” (Latin for “forests or woods'”), which King Charles II changed to “Pennsylvania” in honor of the elder Penn. On March 4, 1681, the King signed the charter and the following day Penn jubilantly wrote, “It is a clear and just thing, and my God who has given it me through many difficulties, will, I believe, bless and make it the seed of a nation.” In 1682 in England, he drew up a Frame of Government for the Pennsylvania colony. Freedom of worship in the colony was to be absolute, and all the traditional rights of Englishmen were carefully safeguarded. Penn drafted a charter of liberties for the settlement creating a political utopia guaranteeing free and fair trial by jury, freedom of religion, freedom from unjust imprisonment and free elections.

East Cork’s connections with William Penn are being celebrated as part of the The Gathering. The William Penn Symposium will be held in The Kilkenny Shop, Shanagarry on 25th August 2013. For more details on the event see here.

Categories: Famous Links | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The Attack on Cloyne RIC Barracks, 8th May 1920

As part of the ongoing project Transition Year student Rob Mitchell has been working one day a week in the Rubicon office, exploring the history of the local area. Rob’s first task was to compile all the witness statements available in the Bureau of Military History that refer to Midleton, allowing us to gain a broad view of the War of Independence as seen through the eyes of the local men who participated. As a result Rob has been able to focus in on a number of events which involved the Midleton volunteers, one of which was the 1920 attack on the RIC Barracks in Cloyne. Rob has described the action for us.

The period between 9th February 1920 and 8th May 1920 was an uneventful one for the IRA around Midleton, except for the organisation of companies in every town in the 4th Battalion area. Although the amount of arms and ammunition available was scarce, the local volunteers were alert for opportunities to supplement their stock of weapons.

In April 1920 plans were made to attack and capture the barracks in Cloyne. Every volunteer around Cloyne was to be on the job, but the main brunt of the attack was borne by men from Cobh and Midleton. Even with the large numbers of men available success was not guaranteed, as the Barracks had been strengthened to resist attack with steel shutters put on all the buildings windows, front and rear, and the garrison had been increased. This was to be expected, as the RIC had already lost the barracks in Castlemartyr and Carrigtwohill to IRA attacks. The RIC Barracks in Cloyne would now be more cautious and alert, and the IRA plan therefore envisaged a determined defence.

'Hair Kutz' on Church Street, Cloyne, where the RIC Barracks was located in 1920

‘Hair Kutz’ on Church Street, Cloyne, where the RIC Barracks was located in 1920

Volunteer Michael Leahy traveled to Brigade HQ in Cork and obtained additional rifles and grenades for the operation, which was planned for 8th May. It was a Saturday. Some members of the Midleton company were also members of the Gaelic League, and were taking part in a play that was going to be staged the following night in Cloyne Technical School. During the day men from the Midleton company began to ‘drift’ into the school carrying arms and ammunition, which were then hidden under the props that were to be used in the play.

From about 8pm onwards, parties of volunteers were set to work blocking roads and cutting telephone and telegraph wires, thereby completely isolating the town. Men from the Cobh company arrived having crossed the harbour at East Ferry. They stood guard armed with rifles and revolvers at East Ferry to prevent British reinforcements from Cobh crossing to Cloyne via that route. Volunteers from Aghada blocked the roads from Fort Carlisle and the Coastguard Station at Rochestown Point. All other roads to Cloyne were blocked with felled trees and boulders, making the roads impassable.

The RIC Barracks in Cloyne was located on Church Street, where ‘Hair Kutz’ is today. The plan was for the IRA to enter the two public houses on either side of the Barracks after closing time (10pm). Three of the men, Patrick Whelan, Jack Ahern and Donal Leahy, were sent into the corn stores directly opposite the Barracks. Whelan and Ahern were armed with rifles, but Leahy carried only a hatchet. Their job was to lay down covering fire- a difficult job for a man armed only with a hatchet!

The corn stores opposite the RIC Barrracks on Church Street, Cloyne

The corn stores opposite the RIC Barrracks on Church Street, Cloyne from which Whelan, Ahern and Leahy laid down covering fire during the attack

A small number of men were sent into Meade’s and Powers pubs on either side of the Barracks shortly before 10pm, so they could open the doors for other volunteers when the operation was due to commence, at 10.30. The plan hit a snag when Mrs. Meade refused to let the men in. After a few moments Diarmuid Hurley decided to break the glass on the door with an iron bar to gain entry; this alerted the Barracks to what was going on, and they began to open fire. Hurley and his party of Manly, Joseph Ahern, D. King, Kelleher and Mick Desmond got into the pub and Mrs. Meade and her maid were removed to a place of safety in the town. Whelan in the corn stores shouted “Now Jack!” and Whelan and Jack Ahern began to fire down at the Barracks doors and windows. The RIC returned fire and fired verey lights into the sky to call for assistance.

Inside Meade’s pub, Ring, Desmond and Kelleher went into the sitting room and began to lay gelignite onto the wall that adjoined the Barracks. Hurley and a few others went upstairs and began banging on the wall to distract the RIC, and draw their attention away from the shenanigans downstairs. The sitting room was evacuated and the gelignite exploded, but the breach created was too small. The RIC now began to fire back into Meade’s pub through the hole in the wall. Hurley had some gelignite left over, so the lit the fuse on it and threw it through the breach, causing the RIC to scatter into separate rooms to avoid the explosion. They next got a tin of petrol and poured its contents into a ewer, which they chucked through the hole, to be followed by a cloth lit by Kelleher. A blanket of flames soon began to engulf the Barracks. The blaze spread to Meade’s pub, where curtains caught fire, making the room untenable.

The RIC Barracks ('Hair Kutz', the yellow building) was flanked by two pubs, Meade's (the red building to the left) and Power's (to the right of 'Hair Kutz')

The RIC Barracks (‘Hair Kutz’, the yellow building) was flanked by two pubs, Meade’s (the red building, now Cuddigans, to the left) and Power’s (now The Tower, to the right of ‘Hair Kutz’)

While the volunteers in Meade’s evacuated the room, heavy rifle fire was still being exchanged on the street outside. The IRA men in Power’s pub, on the other side of the Barracks, succeeded in blowing open another hole in the wall with gelignite, but found that the raging fire prevented them from entering the building. At this point the garrison threw what looked like a white pillow case or a white piece of cloth out the window as a token of surrender. The RIC evacuated the building and were lined up on the street. Patrick Whelan ran into the Barracks in search of equipment, and discovered a large box of arms and ammunition which he managed to get outside.

Flushed with victory, the volunteers began to sing ‘The Soldiers Song’, while the boys from Ballymacoda, who were in ‘great form’ began to shout ‘Up Ballymacoda!’. Mick Leahy, aware that identifying themselves was perhaps not the smartest move, quickly ordered them to stop. The victory at Cloyne RIC Barracks was elating for the volunteers of the 4th Battalion, filling them with confidence. It was one of the last attacks possible before the disastrous events at Clonmult, which would follow in 1921.

Categories: War of Independence | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Midleton and the 1867 Fenian Rising

In 1867 the Fenian movement attempted an armed rising in Ireland in an effort to wrest the country from British rule. However, poor planning and successfully Government infiltration of the organisation meant that the effort was doomed to failure. The rising was sporadic and quickly fizzled out. However, the London Times of 8 March 1867 illustrates that Fenian members in Midleton were determined to take part:

A formidable insurrection has broken out in this county [Cork], and is, probably, simultaneous with a similar movement in other places. Last night, at about 11 o’clock, the telegraph wires belonging to the two companies having stations at Cork were cut, the Magnetic Company’s wires being destroyed a little way beyond Charleville, about 36 miles from Cork and the Electric Company at Midleton, whence they radiate to several quarters. At an apparently preconcerted hour bands of armed insurgents assembled at Midleton, at Carrignavar, in the neighbourhood of Cork, at Kilmallock, Knocklong, and Rathduff…

The rising began in Midleton- that is, the assembly there seems to have been the earliest. The Fenians collected on the fair green  to the number of about 50, and marched through the town in military order. They were all armed, and had haversacks of provisions. At the end of the town, near Copinger’s-bridge, they were met by an armed police patrol of four men. The Fenian leader called on the patrol to surrender, and the demand was followed up by a volley, by which one of the four constables were killed and another slightly wounded. The uninjured men returned the fire, with what effect is not known, and made their escape hastily into an adjoining house, whence they afterwards regained the barracks. The Fenians marched from Midleton to Castlemartyr, leaving the police barrack at the former town unmolested. On the route they were joined by several parties of armed men, and arrived in Castlemartyr with a force about 200 strong. Daly, the Fenian leader, drew up his men in front of the police-barrack, which had been closed and barricaded on their approach, and called on its occupants to surrender. The policemen, who did not exceed six or seven in number, replied by a well-directed fire, killing Daly and wounding several of his band. The remainder then retired in the direction of Killeagh, to which place small parties of men were seen making their way from Cloyne, Youghal and several other places during the night. 

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

Mugshots of Fenians taken in Mountjoy Prison in 1866. The Fenians were some of the first people in Ireland to have mugshots taken, as it was a relatively new practice at the time (New York Public Library)

The Cork Examiner of 7 March 1867 added further detail regarding the particulars of the incident at the bridge in Midleton:

The precise circumstances of the occurrence in Midleton are these:- A few minutes before eleven o clock, the Fenians assembled in the Main-street of the town, as already stated, and after the interview with the gentleman who mistook them for police, they moved down to the bridge close by the National Bank and here they drew up on the left side of the approach to the bridge. The patrol, consisting of Acting Constables Greany, Sub-constables O Donnell, Sheedy, and O Brien, passed on towards the bridge, at the other side of the road. When they had passed slightly beyond the Fenians, they were challenged by, it is believed, Daly, their leader, and called upon to surrender in the name of the Irish Republic. The police were then close to Mr. Green’s gate, and the Fenians were but a few yards away from them, assembled four deep. When the police did not obey the call, Daly seized Sub-Constable O Donnell’s rifle, and presenting a revolver at his head, fired. O Donnell at the same time pushed Daly slightly from him, and thus caused the pistol ball to glance around the back of his head, the powder singeing his hair. At the same moment, the party of Fenians fired a volley. A ball entered Sub-Constable Sheedy’s breast, low down near the stomach on the right side, and after running a short distance up the chapel road, he fell and bled probably to death. The other policemen fled in the same direction, and O Donnell, who was wounded in the head, took shelter in a house. As the others fled, the Fenians fired after them, and the Acting-Constable had a number of extraordinary escapes. Bullets grazed the back of his hand, passed through his cap, touched his knee, and cut the edge of his ammunition pouch. He, with Sub-constable O Brien, got round by Mr. Green’s house, and having taken shelter there till morning, got back to the station, escorted by Mr. Green, who had great influence and popularity in the town. After Sheedy fell he was stripped of his rifle and accoutrements. Daly took Sub-constable O Donnell’s rifle with him. Greany and O Brien retained theirs. The gate and wall in front of Mr. Green’s residence were thickly marked with the volleys of bullets fired by the insurgents, and subsequently, a dozen revolver cartridges were found on the foot path there, as well as two large hand grenades with fuses attached. The cartridges were patent make, manufactured by Gladstone and Co. of London. It is also said that the first assembly of the Midleton Fenians was at the Cork road, where they were formed in three divisions, but being there surprised by the police they scattered and subsequently met at the house of a person of some position in the town, at the door of which a sentry was posted, and all persons entering closely scanned. Thence they are believed to have proceeded to the Bank Bridge. The police say they were only armed with pistols, but a gentleman who passed close to them, says that they had rifles and swords. After the encounter of the bridge, they are said to have gone by Ballinacurra towards Castlemartyr. The firing in Midleton is described as being as regular as that of disciplined troops. Another circumstance stated is that suspicious looking strangers wearing cloaks were seen in Midleton early in the evening, and they are believed to have come from the direction of Cork. Cars heavily laden are also known to have passed through the town about one o clock. Constable Greany found, near the bridge, a pike ten feet long, this morning.


London Times 8 March 1867

Fenian Rising Pages on Corkgen.org

Mountjoy Prison Portaits of Irish Independence: Photograph Albums in Thomas A. Larcom Collection

Categories: Nineteenth Century | Tags: , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

The Hilltop Enclosure at Curragh Woods

Rubicon were very fortunate last week to have Transition Year student Ruth Murphy working with us. Ruth spent much of her week examining a hilltop enclosure in Curragh Woods, as part of the Midleton Archaeology & Heritage Project. Ruth researched the enclosure, conducted a site visit, and wrote up her findings to share on the blog (she even produced the accompanying graphics!). She tells us below what was discovered regarding the site.

Louise Baker of Rubicon Heritage, and TY student Ruth Murphy recently paid a visit to a hilltop enclosure situated in the beautiful Curragh Woods, just north of the busy market town of Midleton, Co. Cork, as part of the Midleton Archaeology and Heritage Project.

Location of the Curragh Woods enclosure

Location of the Curragh Woods enclosure

The woods are situated between the townlands of Curragh, Ballynaclashy, Ballyedmond, Ballycurranny and Ballyleary, on either side of a valley of the Owennacurra and Leamlara rivers. The nearby Ballyedmond Estate was once home to the Courtenays and Barrys, but the house no longer exists. This valley is a popular area for recreational activities, such as hiking and mountain biking, due to its woodland paths, steep terrain, scenic views and proximity to Midleton. Various archaeological sites have been discovered in the vicinity, such as ringforts, fulachtaí fiadh, and souterrains, but we decided to focus on the hilltop enclosure in the south-western section of the woods.

Aerial view of the enclosure in Curragh Woods

Aerial view of the enclosure in Curragh Woods

This enclosure is too large to be described as a ringfort, but “the area enclosed falls well short of an average hillfort, and  bivallate defences are not typical of Irish hillforts”, according to Professor Barry Raftery, so this feature is very difficult to date, although hilltop enclosures generally date to the Iron or Bronze Ages. The inner bank has an interior height of 0.55m, exterior height 1.7m, while the outer bank has interior height 1.2m, exterior 1.6m, and these are separated by a fosse, with an outer fosse 0.5m deep also. These walls surround an area about 75 metres in diameter, mainly covered by bracken and brambles, with the entrance to the north-west.  It is skirted by coniferous plantation from west to north-east. Situated on a prominent site, with ground falling away steeply to the south and east, it commands a sweeping view of the surrounding countryside to the south and south-east, as well as Midleton town and glimpses of Cork Harbour. The location of the site is probably due to the ease of access to the river, and its view of the countryside. The openness of the enclosure may also have been used to display the wealth of those who owned it, or to communicate with (or keep an eye on!)  the nearby ringforts.

View of the outer bank of the hilltop enclosure at Curragh Woods

View of the outer bank of the hilltop enclosure at Curragh Woods

A similar, smaller enclosure, with just one bank can be found in the south-eastern section of the woods, on a slope facing the Ballyedmond Estate, while a number of raths exist to the north and east. Two fulachtaí fiadh are visible as mounds of burnt  material in the north-western leg of the woods and in the east. On a hillside above the Leamlara-Carrigtwohill Road there is a burial ground and holy well to the east, the holy well still being used for religious ceremonies on August 15th.

Ruth stands between the inner and outer banks of the enclosure at Curragh Woods

Ruth stands between the inner and outer banks of the enclosure at Curragh Woods

If you want to check out this fantastic area for yourself, you should take the R626 out of Midleton, continue for about 6km until you reach the smaller Leamlara-Carrigtwohill Road through the wooded valley, where you will find a gravel parking area. From here, you can visit the enclosures, holy well and raths, hike through Curragh Woods (or if you’re really adventurous, bike or horseride!) or simply wander around and view the picturesque Cork countryside!

We would like to thank Ruth for her work on this site- and her superb description of it- we hope that you take her advice to visit!

The ruins of a vernacular building present on the north slope of the Curragh Woods enclosure

The ruins of a vernacular building present on the north slope of the Curragh Woods enclosure

Categories: Prehistory | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

The 1920 Midleton Ambush- Battle on the Main Street

One of the aims of this project will be to share information about the town and the environs. To kick off we are going to look at a remarkable account of an event that took place right in the centre of the town during the War of Independence. It forms one of the statements in the Bureau of Military History, which collected reminiscences from those involved in the 1916 Rebellion and the War of Independence. One of the accounts was provided by Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, who had served with ‘B’ (Midleton) Company, 4th Battalion, Cork No.1 Brigade and the 4th Battalion Flying Column during the War of Independence.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (a further two were executed later). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

The burnt cottage at Clonmult, where 12 members of the local Flying Column were killed (two more were later executed). Many of these men had participated in the Midleton Ambush.

Patrick Whelan was born in Co. Wexford on 10 February 1896, but moved to Cobh with his family at an early age. He was later one of a number of members of ‘B’ Company who worked at Pat Hallinan’s Engineering Works in Midleton. On the night of 29 December 1920 he was one of the members of the Column who decided to launch an attack on a patrol of R.I.C. (Royal Irish Constabulary) and Black and Tans in the town. Patrick has left a remarkable account of events that evening, when the Main Street of Midleton was briefly transformed into a battleground:

The whole column, including Jack Aherne and myself, moved into Midleton under cover of darkness, and assembled at a saw-mills in Charles Street [now Connolly Street]. From the saw-mills, Jack and I continued on to the main street. We arranged that I would take up position at the corner of Charles Street which is situated about midway in the main street, and at right-angles to it. Jack posted himself further down the main street, in the vicinity of the Midleton Arms Hotel.

We were armed with .45 Webley revolvers and wore trench coats and capes. I was only about five minutes at my post when I saw a patrol of Black and Tans, marching slowly towards me. They move in pairs, about six paces apart and on both sides of the street, four pairs on my side and two pairs on the opposite side, together with an old R.I.C. man named Mullins. All were armed with rifles and revolvers, with the rifles slung on their shoulders.

In the last pair on my side was a Constable Gordon with whom I was well acquainted before I joined the column. When passing, he noticed me and, evidently surprised at seeing me, shouted, “Hello, Paddy!”. I said, “Hello, Gordie!”, which was my usual way of addressing him. For a moment, I thought he would leave the ranks and come over to me, but fortunately he carried on with the patrol. I am sure my heart missed a beat or two. Gordon knew me well. He had not seen me for the previous few months, and now he was looking at me wearing a trench coat and cap, items of apparel which I had never previously worn in his presence. I remember wondering if he suspected something was afoot. If he did, he kept his suspicions to himself, as the patrol continued sedately down the street. I waited until he had passed Jack Aherne, when I went and collected him, and reported back to Diarmuid Hurley, comparing notes on our way. We had a perfect picture of the whole patrol, and lost no time in describing their disposition to Hurley. He immediately issued his orders.

There were sixteen of us, all intimate with the lay-out, knowing every house and doorway in the main street. Ten of us took positions in doorways between Charles Street and along about forty yards of the main street up to the Midleton Arms Hotel. The remainder did likewise on the opposite side of the street. I was at the corner of Charles Street and Main Street, and Diarmuid Hurley was at the Midleton Arms Hotel end of Main Street, on the same side as I was. It was decided that, when the patrol was between our two positions on the return journey, Hurley would open fire, and this was to be the signal for all of us to go into action. Each one of our party was armed with a revolver.

We were only about five minutes in position when the patrol returned- still in the same order as I had seen it earlier. Hurley judged his shot to perfection, and at once all of us opened fire. The patrol was taken completely by surprise and, in comparatively short time, the attack was over. Some of the Tans did fire back at us, and there were a few narrow escapes on our side. Dan Cashman of Midleton was fortunate to be carrying a cigarette case in his vest pocket- it was badly dented by a bullet, but it probably saved his life. Jim McCarthy of Midleton, although not a member of the column, took part in the attack, and was wounded in the wrist. Otherwise, we escaped unscathed.

But what of the patrol? Constable Mullins was shot dead, and about six other Tans wounded, some of whom died later from their wounds. Some of the patrol threw their rifles on the street and ran away. “Gordie” escaped uninjured, and somehow I was glad of this as I still think he was not of an evil nature. Two of the Black and Tans were lying on the footpath near me, bleeding profusely.

Sergeant Moloney of the Midleton R.I.C. had been sent earlier to the house of a British ex officer, to collect the latter’s uniform. The sergeant was returning to barracks with the uniform, and as his return coincided with the attack, he came under our fire, was shot in the foot, and dropped the uniform convenient to where I was, and only a few yards from one of the wounded Black and Tans. I knelt down beside the Tan and spoke to him. He told me his name, which I have now forgotten, and said he was from Liverpool. He said he would resign if he recovered from his wounds. He then offered me his wallet. I took it from his hand and put it back in the breast pocket of his tunic, and told him I was doing so. I then got the uniform which Sergeant Moloney had dropped, folded it and placed it under the Tan’s head. The poor fellow lost a lot of blood, and I expect he was one of those who eventually died of wounds.

I cannot say with any certainty now what number of rifles and revolvers we captured that night. I do know I secured one rifle and one revolver, and I’m sure the rest of our lads were just as successful. This attack took place only a few hundred yards from the R.I.C. barracks and about five hundred yards from the military post. The whole affair lasted about twenty minutes. We withdrew by the same route as we had arrived. All the boys were in great form, and they had every right to be, but I recall having mixed feelings, due to my intimate contact with the wounded Black and Tan.

Patrick’s account is a fascinating insight into the main incident of the War of Independence in Midleton. Three R.I.C. and Black and Tan patrol men died as a result of the nights actions. These were Constable Martin Mullen, twenty-one year old Constable Ernest Dray and twenty-three year old Constable Arthur Thorp.

The Flying Column’s attack in Midleton led to the first official reprisals carried out by the British military during the War of Independence. Brigadier-General Higginson, commanding in the area, had leaflets distributed around the town (one of which survives in the National Museum of Ireland) informing residents that a number of houses would be burned in response to the attack. Those targeted were the houses of John O’Shea, Paul McCarthy and Edmond Carey of Midleton as well as a number of homes in Ballyrichard and Ballyadam. Extraordinary British Pathe film survives of the aftermath of this reprisal, showing the damage it caused to the town. To see the video click here.

The ambush and its consequences were undoubtedly some of the most dramatic episodes in Midleton’s history, when just over 90 years ago the busiest part of the town was suddenly transformed into a warzone.


Bureau of Military History Witness Statement 1449. 1956. Statement of Commandant Patrick J. Whelan, Vice Commandant, 4th Battalion, Cork No. 1 Brigade

Hart, Peter (Ed.) 2009. Rebel Cork’s Fighting Story 1916-21

Categories: War of Independence | Tags: , , , , , , , | 6 Comments

The Midleton Archaeology and Heritage Project

Hi and welcome to our new blog! The Midleton Archaeology and Heritage Project is a not for profit group that has been established to explore the history and heritage of the town of Midleton, Co. Cork and it’s environs. We are a partnership between local archaeology and heritage businesses Rubicon Heritage Services, Know Thy Place and Midleton Tidy Towns Association. We hope to use these social media platforms to highlight different aspects of Midleton’s fascinating story, and to raise awareness of the stories that surround us. We hope that you will follow us as we try to find out more!

Main Street, Midleton, Co. Cork

Main Street, Midleton, Co. Cork

Categories: General | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

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