Primary school pupils from the greater Bandon area have created a valuable archive of stories relating to the 1916-1923 period as part of a project run by the Skibbereen Heritage Centre. These tales focus on an important period in West Cork’s history which, in another generation, would otherwise have been lost forever
STUDENTS of Innishannon National School were given a surprise visit from the Mayor of Cork county when he called to award them the overall prize in the 2018 ‘Stories of the Revolution’ project. The winning student, Caoimhín Dart O’Flynn, also a pupil at Innishannon National School, was presented with a cash prize of €400 by Mayor Declan Hurley on the day.
The ‘Stories of the Revolution’ is a project run by Skibbereen Heritage Centre, supported by the Cork County Council Centenary Fund, which invites primary school children to collect stories relating to the 1916-1923 period from their own area. The concept is based on the highly successful 1937 Schools’ Folklore Commission project. As well as the stories, the children are also encouraged to include drawings and recordings in their submissions.
On this, the second year of the project, 197 students from 12 schools in the greater Bandon area submitted entries to the competition. The first year of this highly successful project ran in the Skibbereen area where 212 students participated, with Leap school winning the overall prize.
‘There was a fantastic response from the schools again this year,’ said Terri Kearney, manager of Skibbereen Heritage Centre. ‘The children really engaged with the project and recorded some very interesting local stories about the revolutionary period and the support of their teachers was also invaluable.’
‘Most of the primary schools in West Cork participated in the 1937 Folklore Commission and those stories make for great reading 80 years later and tell us an awful lot about this locality. Likewise, I imagine the Stories of the Revolution project will be used for many years to come. These young pupils are writing and collecting their own stories about their own history and recording them for posterity. In another generation, this information might otherwise be lost.’
The burning of the Hales homestead in 1921 is the subject of one of this year’s stories, in an entry submitted by one of Tom Hales’s great grand-children. It includes a copy of the original letter sent by Seán and Tom’s sister, Madge Hales, to her brother Donal, who was in Italy at the time. The letter graphically describes how the Hales’ house was burnt. The family were thrown out of the house by masked and armed Black and Tans who sprinkled petrol around the house and then set off bombs. When they had finished, Madge wrote that ‘nothing of my dear and lovely home is now standing but the four walls and even those are very injured.’
Another story is an account from the day Michael Collins was shot, told by the great grandson of Jack Wall, who was Éamon De Valera’s driver. On the day of the fatal shooting, Jack was driving De Valera around Fermoy when they heard that Collins had been shot. Dev, the essay records, put ‘his hands to his face and started to cry and said “poor Mick, poor Mick”.’ Subsequently when Jack would hear stories about De Valera being present when Collins was shot in Béal na Bláth ‘he used to go berserk’ because Éamon was with him on the day.
Stories about William Kelly, a member of the Cork Brigade, were recorded by Denis’s great grandniece. William used to smuggle bullets hidden in a hollowed out part of his carpenter’s mallet during the war of Independence. He was later shot dead in the Curragh, in 1923, at age 27. No church would take his remains because of the Catholic Church’s excommunication of IRA soldiers. After a lot of discussion, St Peter and Paul’s Church in Cork allowed his funeral to take place after 11pm on condition that the funeral party be ‘gone before first light the following morning.’
As with the 1937 project, the Stories of the Revolution will create a valuable archive which will be sent to Cork City and County Archives, where they will be stored for posterity. Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s website will also host a digital archive of the submissions, which will be available to the world on completion of the project. This unique project will continue next term in a new area of West Cork where it will gather even more stories relating to this important period of West Cork’s history.