Níl neart go cur le chéile: How eviction was foiled

Niall Murray on the story of a rural community’s victory

It might well make a fine location for a meditation centre or artists’ retreat, but this rural riverside home was the scene of historic ructions during an attempted eviction in the dawn of the 20th century.

The babbling of the nearby River Lee makes Cois Laoi the obvious choice of name for the six-bedroom property near Ballingeary in the mid-Cork Múscraí Gaeltacht.

It was in 1906 that national headlines told ofa local outbreak of trouble when one Jeremiah O’Mahony was the subject of the contested eviction and he’s the great grandfather of the family who are now sellign this property.

With the blowing of horns and screaming of colourful language, the locals and their imported supporters were described by police as “turbulent and threatening”, as they tried to oust the landlord’s caretaker tenant. But a strong police presence and court convictions for some participants failed to diminish local backing for the O’Mahonys, who eventually retained the house and farm which was then a holding of over 40 acres.

The police had been drafted from Bantry, Dunmanway, and Macroom, the three towns being within a 15-mile radius of this property.

But while these large towns are a short drive away, the village of Ballingeary today still has more than most of its kind — primary and secondary schools, supermarket, resident doctors, a Garda station. There are two pubs in which to mingle with the locals, or to bring visitors or guests, and all only a five-minute walk from Cois Laoi.

Ballingeary is also a hub of activity in the summer, when teenagers from around Cork and beyond, descend to learn their native language, which is still spoken strongly among the local population.

Back in the 1960s, the home was one of dozens in the area hosting hundreds of those students at the Gaelic League’s Coláiste na Mumhan, there since the first decade of the 1900s.

The events of that summer over 100 years ago are remembered over a fireplace in the house, with a photograph of the defenders of Drom an Ailigh, the townland in which the house sits, with Jeremiah O’Mahony seated at the front, (see right).

Above the image is written across the wall: ‘Do Briseadh ar Dísealbhú sa Tigh Seo Samhradh na Bliana 1906,’ or ‘Our eviction from this house was broken in the summer of 1906.’

This is just in part of this extensive home — with a ground floor that includes a kitchen; dining, living and sitting rooms, study (which could become a downstairs bedroom), two shower rooms and w/c.

For anyone who would like to know more about the property and its history — as well as that of the surrounding district — a browse through Cónal Creedon’s book The Immortal Deed of Michael O’Leary is possibly the best recommendation.

But to get a true feel of it, take the spin toward the source of the Lee and visit for yourself. Once a 46-acre-holding, the historic home now sits on a more manageable one-acre plot with a fenced paddock, stable, yard, and out-houses that could be converted to workshops, or even holiday apartments if the next owners are minded for such a venture.

Any such plans may be boosted by the fact that promising research was undertaken by members of the family about its use as a cultural centre, or some other element of a tourist trail in the culturally-rich district. But the owners believe that developing it as an amenity is now best left to those with a little more energy, and perhaps a budget for some extra investment.

The selling agent, John O’Neill of REA Celtic Properties in Bantry has set a €195,000 valuation on the property, which he suggests has immense potential to be converted to an artists’ retreat. There is certainly no shortage of landscape to inspire, from the holding itself or in the nearby Muskerry countryside.

Beyond the walled garden, the source of the Lee in Gougane Barra National Park is a few short miles away. So, too, is the beautiful Pass of Keimaneigh, a deep ravine valley road, and another scene of historic encounters and battles.

Additional space is not likely to be a requirement for anyone considering this as a family home option. The 225sq metres include five double bedrooms and one single, all upstairs and with views of the surrounding countryside.

Even the younger generations can enjoy the views, as they take advantage of the large loft that could be used as playroom, or an additional living room.

A plaque on the side gable that faces the road was unveiled in 1956 to mark the half-century since the O’Mahony’s were returned to their home. It bears the name of the man who unveiled it: then-Gaeltacht minister Richard Mulcahy, a previous leader of the Irish Republican Army during the War of Independence, and Michael Collins’s successor in command of the National Army in a Civil War when anti-Treaty forces found refuge in this quiet landscape.

During his revolutionary days, Mulcahy cycled the by-roads around Ballingeary during 1917 as a Gaelic League organiser, promoting the old Irish language and lifestyle that was a key ingredient in efforts to swing public opinion toward the independence struggle.

That old lifestyle remains strong in the area and Cois Laoi could be the ideal place to adopt and live it yourself.

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