A Short History of Knockadoon Camp

Knockadoon Camp’s origins trace back to Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary), located on the opposite side of County Cork. It was there, in 1922, that Father Stephen Glendon, a Dominican from St Mary’s Dominican Priory in Cork City, initiated an Irish language summer camp exclusively for young men and boys. The camp operated in its original location for two years before relocating to Knockadoon in 1924. The decision to move was influenced by the camp’s desire to be closer to the sea. Being situated near the coast provided opportunities for various water-based activities and added to the overall appeal of the camp experience.

Boys from Christian Brothers College Cork attending Knockadoon in July 1960

The camp in its original form was an adjunct to a confraternity for young men and boys in their late teens called the Angelic Warfare Sodality (a sodality essentially being a group of people who promise to pursue some good together within the Church). Fr. Stephen Glendon O.P. was the founder and first Director of the camp at Knockadoon. He was born Henry Stephen Glendon in Dundalk, Co. Louth, on May 13th 1866. He entered the Dominican order at Tallaght in 1887, and was ordained in Rome in 1892. After spending a few years in Lisbon, he arrived back in Dublin in 1894 and ministered at St. Saviour’s Church. He left Dublin in 1907, and served in Galway, Sligo and Tralee before being placed in Cork.

Advertisement for Knockadoon Camp appearing in ‘An tÓglach’ in July 1925 (magazine of the Irish Defense Forces)

The original camp was setup to cater for young men and boys aged 12 years and over. The aim was to give attendees the experience of the outdoors and being close to nature. Attendees at the camp were asked to bring towels, a bathing costume, and soap. Hurls were allowed if the attendees wanted to bring them, as were musical instruments, and bicycles for which a store was available. The cost per person was 3s per day, and the minimum stay at the camp was 1 week. Through an arrangement between the camp and Great Southern Railways and Great Northern Railways, special concessions were available on tickets for campers, on issue of a voucher signed by the Director of the Camp. The nearest railway station was Killeagh, and each Saturday a charabanc (a horse-drawn, early form of a bus) would meet the train in Killeagh to collect campers, for which they were charged one shilling.

An early group of campers at Knockadoon, from the archive of Vincent Travers

As you would expect of a Dominican run camp, promotion of the Catholic ethos was a key aim, and campers were expected to attend mass each morning at 08.30am in the oratory of the camp, as well as participating in the saying of the Holy Rosary daily. Confession was also available to campers.

An open day at the camp in 1930

Campers were given three meals a day in the dining hall, and porridge and milk was available to everyone each night before the regular Cèilidh. It is interesting to note that food wasn’t restricted at the camp – anyone wishing to have more than usually allocated, was allowed. At this time, all the campers slept in tents, each in their own bed. In bad weather, the campers slept in a large dormitory. There were also a limited number of timber bungalows used for sleeping.

The camp in July 1960, the tents used as dormitories are clearly visible here

Sanitary Arrangements‘ at the camp were described as ‘perfect‘ in camp literature. With the latrines ‘erected in a secluded corner on the edge of a cliff‘ and ‘flushed by the tide‘. Not surprising for the time, but this setup wouldn’t be described as ‘perfect‘ today!

Original timber bungalows at the camp, these were used up to 1986 when they were replaced with concrete structures

Upon its relocation from Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh to Knockadoon, the camp underwent changes in its language program. The previously compulsory Irish language classes were eliminated, and instead, campers were encouraged to engage in conversation using the Irish language as much as possible during their time at the camp. Despite the removal of mandatory classes, fostering Irish culture and language continued to be a significant objective. Each night, a Cèilidh was held in the camp hall, or if weather permitted, an open-air Chuirm Cheoil around the camp fire. Attendees at the camp were also given the option to learn traditional Irish singing.

The main activities at the camp at this time were swimming, boating, hurling and football games, and picnics and excursions to local areas of interest such as Capel Island (with the help of local fishermen). While the aim of the camp was to provide a relaxed atmosphere, discipline was maintained, with early camp literature mentioning that ‘the right is reserved to send home any boy whose influence is deemed harmful‘.

Thousands of boys from all over Ireland attended the camp in the 1920s after its founding – over 400 in 1928 alone. The camp in the 1920s was also used by the Dominican Order for other purposes. Notably, William Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice was staged at the camp in the summer of 1926.

Announcement of the staging of The Merchant of Venice at Knockadoon, this carried in the Cork Examiner, July 29th, 1926

Knockadoon Camp in its initial existence continued to flourish until 1933, when the driving force, Fr. Glendon, was transferred to Galway. Between the end of the 1933 season and 1955, only small groups used the camp. With World War 2 also occurring during this period, the camp was fully closed due to rationing of goods during ‘the emergency‘ as it was called in Ireland, and also the risk of the camp being mistaken for a military post.

Headline from Cork Examiner article announcing the full reopening of the camp, Friday June 17th, 1955

In the 1980s, some investment at the camp saw the building of concrete structures to replace the existing timber bungalows.

Building of new accommodation in progress in 1985

The ‘New Hall‘ was also constructed in 2006, adding more space for activities, and 2023 is seeing refurbishments of the bunkhouses take place.

New buildings completed in 1986. The building in the foreground, one of the original timber bungalows, was known as ‘Little House on the Prairie’ and was left intact to be used as an art room

Today, Knockadoon Camp is used for multiple different camps throughout the summer season, and offers a diverse range of activities and programs for campers, including sports, arts and crafts, drama, music, dance, and outdoor adventures. The camp relies on a dedicated team of volunteers who contribute their time and efforts to make it a success. These volunteers, often former campers themselves, play a vital role in organizing activities, providing guidance, and creating a positive and inclusive atmosphere.

Coláiste Cúram, established in 1975, is a three-week program that has been nurturing a deep appreciation for the Irish language and culture among young people. It has remained an integral part of the camp’s annual summer schedule ever since, except for the years 2020 and 2021 when the camp had to be closed due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Knockadoon Youth Week (KYW) is another staple of the summer schedule at the camp. This has run since 2011, and now runs over four separate weeks each summer and has 100s of volunteer leaders from all over Ireland, many of them previous attendees of the camp.

Camp Creideamh, established in 2016, is a catholic faith camp for boys and girls which runs for one week in June each year.

Knockadoon Music & Liturgy Course has also been a regular part of the summer in Knockadoon for 40 years. This is a one week residential course for young people involved in church music.

Since 1999, the camp has also been used by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul during the summer to host groups of children.

Over the years, Knockadoon Camp has evolved into a cherished institution, offering young people the chance to immerse themselves in Irish culture, language, and various recreational activities. The camp has had a significant impact on the local community and beyond. It has served as a place for young people to connect, learn, and grow, fostering lifelong friendships and memories. Many campers return year after year, and some become volunteers or leaders, further contributing to the camp’s legacy.

Overall, Knockadoon Camp has a storied history of promoting Irish culture, faith, language, and personal development. Its inclusive and engaging environment has ensured that attendance remains a lifelong memory for the generations of young people from across Ireland who have attended over the years. We are lucky to have it in our locality.

References & Further Information

A special word of thanks to Billy Harrington, who provided many of the photographs and newspaper clippings used in this article

Knockadoon Camp Website

Coláiste Cúram Website

Knockadoon Music & Liturgy Course

Knockadoon Youth Week

Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún

Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún was an Irish language poet who emigrated from Ballymacoda in the 1800s. From the United States, he wrote several letters home to his friends in Ballymacoda. The content of many of these letters survived and was published in a collection by Risteard Ó Foghludha in 1932.

Pádraig was born in Shanakill, Ballymacoda in 1777, the son of Mary & Piaras Cúndún. He had a brother and at least two sisters – although different sources give conflicting information here, indicating that he may have had two brothers. Pádraig eventually took over the family farm, and in 1811 he married Margaret McCarthy, the daughter of Charles and Christina McCarthy from nearby Beanfield. They had a son, Piaras, and three daughters, Eibhlin, Caitlin and Maighread.

In 1825, Pádraig emigrated to the United States with his wife and family. There isn’t a clear reason as to why he decided to emigrate at that time (Pádraig was in his late-forties by then), but some sources show that his landholding in Shanakill was prone to flooding. Passenger lists confirm 1825 as his year of arrival, when, embarking from Cobh, Pádraig and his family landed at Quebec in Canada where they remained for some time, before travelling to New York where some of his cousins were living.

The 1830 United States Federal Census shows Pádraig living in Deerfield in Oneida County in the state of New York. He is listed using the English version of his name, Patrick Condon. He had settled there in an area known as Deerfield Hills, near the town of Utica.

Entry for Patrick Condon in the 1830 United States Federal Census

In the Christmas of 1834, Pádraig wrote letters home to Ballymacoda for the first time, to four of his friends. His first letter home contained nearly 300 lines of verse.

An excerpt from Pádraig’s first letter home in 1834, with English translation

Pádraig’s writings home give a unique insight into the times, and cover such topics as his thoughts on living in the United States, the prices of day-to-day goods in comparison to home, and the status of his crops. His letters also contain requests for news from home, as in 1848 when he wrote to his old friend Tomás Ó Briain in Mountcotton, Ballymacoda, enquiring of the status of the crops at home, which he had heard were ‘wretched, deficient, scanty, and miserable‘. This was at the height of ‘An Gorta Mór‘, the great famine in Ireland.

While it is evident from some of Pádraig’s letters home that he missed Ireland, with him even having said ‘Níl áit fón ngrein do b’fhearr liom bás dfhagáil ioná in Éirinn…‘ – ‘there’s no place I know of under the sun I would rather die than in Ireland‘, his writings also indicate the poverty he had escaped, and his opinion that he was much better off having left Ireland:

…for a day never dawned on me that I thought more sorrowful than the day I left Shanakill – me and my big, poor family – to make our way across the sea to an unknown land. Nonetheless, the mournful, melancholy day I went through then turned into today’s beautiful, sunny, mirthful day, for I have a fine farm in freehold now, and thus I think I am better off as I am rather than having to pay a cruel yearly rent for Shanakill.

Another excerpt from a letter Pádraig wrote home (translated to English from the original Irish)

With regards to poetry, his most famous work is likely ‘Tórramh an Bhairille‘ (‘The Wake of the Barrell‘), written in praise of the people of Ballymacoda. In the composition, he tells of the generosity of the people of Ballymacoda; that the people of these parts will drink alcohol but never drink soda, and that there will always a meal on the table for a visitor.

First verse of ‘Tórramh an Bhairille’, with English translation

Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún died in Deerfield on March 13th 1857, having lived the remainder of his life there. This is confirmed by entries in the United States Federal Census in 1840, 1850 and also in the New York State Census of 1855, all listing Patrick Condon as living in Deerfield.

He is buried in St. Agnes Cemetery in Utica, New York, beside his wife who had died in 1840. What is amazing to learn is that throughout his life, Pádraig remained a monoglot – having never learnt to speak the English language fluently. This was helped no doubt by the large number of Irish emigrants who spoke Gaeilge living in Deerfield and the surrounding area, some of which, as with his old friends in Ballymacoda, Pádraig had correspondence by letter. In recent years, his gravestone has been up-righted and restored by the Irish Cultural Center in Utica.

The restored gravestone of Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún in St. Agnes Cemetery, Utica, New York

Pádraig’s son Piaras, arranged for some of his fathers poems to be published posthumously in the New York based newspaper, The Irish American in 1858. In 1932, Risteard Ó Foghludha published a collection of Pádraig’s poems and letters home to Ballymacoda, having previously published excerpts between 1908 and 1910 in The Gaelic American. Kerby Miller, the noted American historian who transcribed over decades hundreds of letters from Irish immigrants in America, also repeatedly quoted Cúndún’s poetry in the 1985 book Emigrants and Exiles: Ireland and the Irish Exodus to North America.

The poetry and letters of Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún continue to be consulted by scholars and used as teaching materials today. Professor Kenneth E. Nilsen (1947-2012), professor and chair of Celtic Studies at St. Francis Xavier University in Canada described the writings of Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún as representing ‘the most important body of pre-famine writing in Irish from the United States‘.

References & Further Information

Thanks to Kay Cullen for sharing her existing research notes on Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún.

Thanks to Michael Hoke of Utica, New York for providing the pictures of the restored headstone in St. Agnes Cemetery.

U.S. and Canada, Passenger and Immigration Lists Index, 1500s-1900s [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010.

1830, 1840, 1850 United States Federal Census [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc, 2010.

Ancestry.com. New York, U.S., State Census, 1855 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2013.

Cúndún, Pádraig Phiarais, Entry in the Dictionary of Irish Biography

Risteard Ó Foghludha, ed., Pádraig Phiarais Cúndún, 1777-1856, Baile Átha Cliath, 1932.

North American Gaels: Speech, Story, and Song in the Diaspora (McGill-Queen’s Studies in Ethnic History, 2.49), edited by Natasha Sumner, Aidan Doyle, November 2020