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West Cork pupils share untold tales from the past

June 15th, 2017 11:51 AM

By Southern Star Team

Katie Scannell, a sixth class pupil at St Joseph's National School in Skibbereen, whose story was the overall winner in the Stories of the Revolution 1916-1923 project organised by Skibbereen Heritage Centre. (Photo: Anne Minihane)

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EXTRAORDINARY stories about the people of West Cork have come to light as part of a schools’ history project organised by Skibbereen Heritage Centre.

The ‘West Cork: Stories of the Revolution’ project invited primary school children to collect stories relating to the 1916-1923 period from their area. 

Part of Cork County Council’s Centenary programme, the response saw 235 individual student entries in total coming from 12 schools. 

Each of these students gathered local stories that would otherwise be lost, recording previously  unrecorded material relating to this time. 

It is envisaged that these stories will be referenced and used well into the future and the students’ work will be deposited at Cork Archives where they will be preserved for posterity. 

The entries will also be digitised and each school will be given a digital copy of the students’ work. A database of entries will be created over time and will be available on Skibbereen Heritage Centre’s website. 

An example of the stories collected as part of the project is about a young Skibbereen woman, Mary McCarthy, who risked her life by helping Tom Barry in 1921. 

Barry, as Commander of the Third West Cork Flying Column, was planning a major attack on the heavily-garrisoned town of Skibbereen and he wanted to survey the RIC barracks in advance. 

Mary agreed to act as his guide and decoy and take him around the town. 

At this time, Martial Law was in effect which decreed that no more than two people could walk together and everyone had to keep their hands visible.

To further complicate the mission, Barry was a ‘wanted man’ at this time and would have been shot without warning had he been recognised by the military or the RIC. Barry would not be taken alive and Mary risked her life by being with him.

Walking side by side, they walked through the Square and up High Street, right past the RIC Barracks, then turned down Mill Road and onto Market Street. 

Showing nerves of steel, Barry demanded a second trip past the barracks which – thankfully – passed off without incident.

Mary McCarthy, then only 20 years of age, returned home safely to the Curragh just outside Skibbereen that night. She subsequently lived a quiet life in Skibbereen as one of the many unsung heroes of the revolutionary period. Now her story is recorded for posterity alongside many others in West Cork.

Twelve local schools participated in the ‘Stories of the Revolution’ project in 2017 and the winning individual entry and school entry will each be awarded a prize of €400 donated by Skibbereen Credit Union. 

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