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McCarthy family home reveals story of life in 1900s West Cork

July 21st, 2019 9:51 PM

By Siobhan Cronin

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A MODEST family home near Baltimore, which has been the subject of US university research, has yielded some wonderful nuggets of information about post-famine times in West Cork.

The McCarthy’s home outside of Skibbereen has, for two years, been the focus of an excavation by a team of Maryland students, who have located and catalogued several items dating back to life in the 1900s.

The 11 students and two professors from the University of Maryland are keen to research the lives of ‘normal’ people who lived in West Cork in the 19th century. 

They have been visiting West Cork for four years, having earlier researched sites at Windmill Rock in Skibbereen and a house near Lough Hyne.

Like many other families in West Cork, the McCarthy family were evicted from their home, possibly between 1901 and 1911, and were forced to emigrate to Wales.

Thanks to the investigative work of Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s genealogist Margaret Murphy, the family’s descendants were able to visit the house in 2018, and again this year.

‘It meant the world to these McCarthys from Wales to return to the site and no doubt their ancestors would have been very happy to see the “blood returning home” over 100 years later,’ said Terri Kearney of the Skibbereen Heritage Cetnre, which has supported the project from the start.

There was a very poignant moment during the dig when the family were on site, and able to handle some of the artefacts of their ancestors. 

It was even more signficant for Peter McCarthy and his family as there is a ‘burn layer’ on the ground, so it is likely this was a forceful eviction. One of the researchers even found two tiny dolls’ heads that Peter was able to hold.

‘This was perhaps the most poignant artefact uncovered,’ admited Terri. ‘These tiny ceramic dolls’ heads are wearing bonnets, probably from the nineteenth century, and were found in the living room of the ruined McCarthy house. They would have had cloth bodies and would, no doubt, have been a much-loved plaything for a child living in that house.’

‘And Peter, whose father Jeremiah was born in this house, was certainly moved by the artefacts when he visited with his wife Pat. We have a photo of Peter holding the little dolls’ heads that once belonged to an ancestor of his. We don’t know her name, but this would have been a treasured item and Peter felt very honoured to hold it as a tangible link to this little girl.’

Items of crockery and utensils were also located but some other, more significant items, like a ‘torpedo’ water bottle, came from the Franciscan Well in Cork, and another water bottle originated in Holland.

These suggest that the McCarthys, while poor, still had the means to purchase  ‘luxury’ items. One of the staff members, Drew Webster, is doing his PhD on this dig so will be able to provide more significant information in the future.

‘The arefacts are all going into storage for the time being until the project ends, but we hope to put some of them on display when the narrative is complete,’ explained Terri Kearney. 

For more see www.skibbheritage.com

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