The society’s inaugural meeting took place on November 14th, 1986 in Murphy’s Restaurant, Castletownbere with the key aim being to ‘advance the dissertation, presentation and interpretation of the history of Beara.’ The following committee was elected at that meeting: president Daniel M O’Brien; chairman Gerdie Harrington; vice-chair Mary Breen; secretary Cathal Moriarty; treasurer Tom O’Brien; assistant treasurers Kathleen Twomey and Jimmy Harrington. Since then, through a series of lectures in the winter months and outings to historical sites in the summer months, the society has continued to document and promote the unique history of Beara.
The Beara Peninsula, from its eastern boundaries on the outskirts of Glengarriff, to the far western reaches in Allihies, and taking in the islands of Dursey and Bere, is an area steeped in history. It includes Bronze Age stone circles and wedge tombs, evidence of Viking incursions, a castle associated with the Gaelic Chieftain O’Sullivan Beare at Dunboy, the copper mines at Allihies, World War I fortifications, and it was also the birth place of a number of key Irish historical figures.
Now run by a core group of six, the present committee of Beara Historical Society comprises president Connie Murphy; chair Penny Durrell; vice chair Dorothy Brophy; secretary Fachtna O’Donovan; treasurer Mairín O’Driscoll; assistant secretary and assistant treasurer Juliette O’Brien.
During the course of its existence the society has sought to mark key sites in Beara by erecting plaques, to mark specific events or key figures. A monument was erected at East End, Castletownbere to commemorate local man Timothy Harrington, who began his career as a local schoolteacher before moving into journalism and founding the Kerry Sentinel. Harrington went on to become one of the giants of the nineteenth century land wars, one of Parnell’s closets advisers, and served three terms as Lord Mayor of Dublin. The monument was erected in 2003, the centenary of the passing of the 1903 Land Act – which destroyed the power of the landlords in Ireland – in which Harrington played a key role.
Other memorials erected by the society mark the famine plot at the Glebe Cemetery, the burial place of Princess Beara, the Siege of Dunboy, the Ahakista Bridge, William Martin Murphy, Canon James Goodman and more recently a plaque to honour former World War II prisoner of war and Castletownbere native, Dr Aidan MacCarthy.
The society has also published a number of books over the years, including Beara A Journey through History by Daniel M O’Brien, The Last Chieftain of Gaelic Ireland by Paul O’Sullivan, two volumes of Beara’s Pictorial Past, and a trilogy by Gerdie Harrington – In the Path of Heroes, Beara Down Memory Lane and Beara Histories and Stories. The society’s most recent publication was The Prehistoric Archaeology of the Beara Peninsula by Connie Murphy.
The Beara Historical Society has planned a number of key events to commemorate the centenary of the 1916 Easter Rising. Secretary Fachtna O’Donovan commented, ‘we couldn’t let that pass, it’s such a pivotal event in the history of the country.’ Following a dawn mass at 6am on Easter Sunday, March 27th in Kilcatherine Cemetery, Eyeries, a plaque will be unveiled in Eyeries at 8.30am to commemorate the forming there of the first Company of the Irish Volunteers by Terence MacSwiney in 1916.
After the unveiling, at 9am, the society will stage a re-enactment of the Beara Volunteers march from Eyeries to Lauragh, and encourage all to join them.
On Saturday, April 2nd at 3pm in St Finian’s Cemetery, North Road, Castletownbere the society will hold a remembrance commemoration at the grave of local man Constable John Hurley who was shot in Co Tipperary during Easter Week 1916 at the age of 24. Later that day, at 8.30pm in Twomey’s Lounge, Castletownbere, historian Michael Hall will give a talk on Glasnevin Cemetery. Michael grew up beside the cemetery where his father and grandfather worked. The society has already held talks this year on Diarmuid Lynch by Eileen McGough, and Joseph Mary Plunkett by his grandniece and biographer Honor Ó Brolchain.
The society regularly marks National Heritage Week in late August with a number of talks and outings. Events planned for Heritage Week 2016 include the unveiling of a plaque to Padraig Ó Laoghaire who taught the young Patrick Pearse followed by an illustrated talk on Ó Laoghaire by Fachtna O’Donovan; a talk on Michael ‘The’ O’Rahilly, 1916 leader, by his grandnephew Manchán Magan; ‘The Republic of Buttons,’ – a performance piece based on the relationship between Sean MacDiarmada and Min Ryan, and her visit to his cell before his execution when he gave her buttons from his uniform. The piece is written and performed by Min Ryan’s granddaughter, Eyeries resident Cathy Bacon.
Sadly in recent years the society lost some of its longest-serving members, all of whom dedicated their time and energy to promoting Beara’s history and antiquities. They include Gerdie Harrington, Brendan Finch, Denis O’Driscoll and John Tim Sullivan.
The society welcomes all new members, and especially young people with a flair for history in general, but especially in local history. Books published by the Beara Historical Society are available in a number of venues throughout Beara.