A Snapshot of Ballymacoda from 1942

The Irish Tourist Association Topographical and General Survey Files were compiled in the early 1940s. As well as providing a unique glimpse into the past, these surveys contain many mentions of local folklore important to the historical record. Thankfully, these surveys have been digitized and most relating to localities in County Cork, including Ballymacoda, have been made available by Cork County Council via the Local Studies Digital Library.

The surveys were compiled by the Irish Tourist Association, a predecessor to what we know today as Fáilte Ireland. The purpose was to survey the major towns and villages of Ireland and record cultural and tourism-related attractions in these areas. These were detailed documents, containing five forms to be completed by the appointed surveyor:

  • Form A: This dealt with natural features, topography and the geology of the area. In addition, detailed descriptions of antiquities and archaeological sites were recorded.
  • Form B: This section gives information on sports and games played in the area.
  • Form C: This section provides information on amenities and public services such as beaches, bathing and swimming facilities, parks, etc.
  • Form D: Similar headings and categories to Form C such as amenities and general information about the town or village, though without references to facilities relating to seaside areas which were recorded in Form C.
  • Form EThis section details information about accommodation in the local area and the names of hotels, guest houses and boarding houses, as well as the names of local restaurants and cafés.

The survey for Ballymacoda is dated August 16th, 1942 (which interestingly was a Sunday), and while the rest of the survey is sparsely populated, Form A is where the most interesting information is to be found.

Excerpt from the first page of the Ballymacoda survey conducted in 1942

The first point of note in the Ballymacoda survey, as visible in the above image, is that the village of Ladysbridge was included as a secondary village, and there are some references throughout. Form A is full of local folklore, some of which I certainly wasn’t aware of previously, and which will be covered here.

The ‘Geology’ section at the start of Form A makes reference to copper mines in Knockadoon:

At one time Copper mines were supposed to exist at Knockadoon, and a deep cave in the coast marks the spot where pits were sunk for mining purposes.

The subject of copper mining having existed in Knockadoon was covered previously on the Ballymacoda History Project in the post ‘A Copper Mine in Knockadoon?‘. This is yet again another fragment of evidence that this may actually have been the case.

The ‘Antiquities’ section of Form A covers everything you would expect in the locality – Ightermurragh Castle, Ballycrenane Castle, the castle (signal tower) at Knockadoon, Kilcredan church etc. An interesting item mentioned about Kilcredan church is that it was ‘used as Irish Headquarters during the war of Independence‘. This would certainly warrant further investigation.

Under ‘Historic Sites‘, unsurprisingly the Coastguard Station Cottages at Ring are mentioned in the context of the 1867 Fenian Rising. The interesting thing is that there is an explanation of how ‘The Block‘, as it is known locally, got its name:

About 25 years ago the coastguard station was referred to, by a local priest, as ‘The block of blazes’, owing to petty squabbles amongst the residents. Since then it has been abbreviated ‘The Block’ which is now its recognized term.

The ‘Historic Sites‘ section also contains a very interesting piece of folklore about Capel Island, off Knockadoon Head.

Three brothers from Wales were out fowling when a storm arose, blew them across the channel and they landed on this island where they were stranded for some time. In order to provide food they used their firearms to kill sea fowl on the island. The explosions were heard by the local chieftain, one of the Senaschals of Imokilly, which at the time was expecting an attack on his territory. He enlisted the Capel’s, which with their fowling pieces caused havoc amongst the enemy. For their services they were given tracts of land in the district. This is reputed to be the first occasion in which firearms were used in Ireland.

Of course we know that the island’s name derives from the Norman de Capelle family, granted the island after the Norman invasion of 1169, but the above is nonetheless interesting from a folklore perspective – especially the claim regarding this incident being the first use of firearms in Ireland.

The next example of interesting folklore comes surprisingly in the ‘Spas or Mineral Springs‘ section of Form A:

At Barnfield, one mile from Ballymacoda village, is a large limestone rock with oval centre about eight inches deep. Rainwater lodges in this basin, and is said to be a cure of warts, sore fingers, etc. A significant point is that the land around is all brownstone.

The above is certainly not the strangest thing to be found in Form A. The ‘Curiosities‘ section yields yet more interesting local folklore. For example, there are two mentions of note regarding the construction of St. Peter in Chains church in Ballymacoda. The first is that some of the beams in the roof came from timber washed ashore at Knockadoon, and the other is that the stone used in the construction was all quarried by one man! Reference is also made in the ‘Curiosities‘ section to the cargo of gin washed ashore at one point, with overindulgence killing two local residents. Again, this is something covered on the Ballymacoda History Project previously in the post ‘The Ballymacoda and Knockadoon Gin Craze in 1851‘ by guest author Tony Harpur.

The survey mentions that the practice of ‘Keening‘ was seemingly commonplace in Ballymacoda, this being a vocal lament (essentially wailing) for the dead, carried out at funerals. The description would suggest that the graveyard being referred to is the Hill Cemetery, as opposed to the graveyard at St. Peter in Chains.

“Keening” was regularly practised in this district, and for funerals to Ballymacoda churchyard which is situated on the top of a steep hill, the Keener rode on horseback up this slope, the animals being supplied as part of the normal funeral equipment.

In the ‘Antiquities‘ section, another local story is recounted which I have never heard. Listed under the heading of Knockadoon Rock, is the following:

On a rock near the headland are three impressions, somewhat indistinct but said to resemble the apparel worn by the clergy. The story is that the bodies of a bishop and two priests were washed ashore at this point. The sailing vessel in which they were travelling being brought to destruction near this spot by the local ship wreckers, who enticed the vessel with night lanterns.

There is also mention in another section of the survey, when referencing the Hill Cemetery, that the Bishop and two priests mentioned above who were shipwrecked at Knockadoon were buried there.

Yet another interesting piece of local folklore contained in the survey is the mention of an annual meeting of poets in the locality.

At the confluence of the rivers, Dower and Womanagh, an annual meeting of the bards or poets was held. It was called Crisc na mbárdán (contention of the bards). The chairman of the meeting held in his hand a token of his position, a cane or stick known as bata na barla (staff of staves). The chairmanship was secured and held by open superior knowledge competition and women also took part in the discussions.

Piaras Mac Gearailt (1702-1795), local born Irish language poet, is mentioned as being a long standing chairman of this gathering.

In Form B, and the rest of the survey as mentioned earlier, the information is sparse, but a few bits of information here are interesting. Some local fishermen of the time are listed as having boats available for hire at Knockadoon:

Punts – R. Shanahan, P. Lynch, Wm. Aherne, Wm. Walsh, Knockadoon. No fixed prices, an arrangement can easily be made with any of the above fishermen, but definite prices could not be obtained.

These surveys were completed with inputs from people in the locality, and thus provide a snapshot of local folklore and stories known at the time. Much of this information would likely have been lost in the generations since then. The digitization of these records has enabled the committal of this information to the historical record, and ensures that interesting folklore such as shown here is not lost.

A link to the full Ballymacoda survey can be found below.

References & Further Information

Irish Tourist Association, “Ballymacoda” Local Studies Digital Library, accessed July 1, 2022