Kevin Doyle Blog

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Archive for the ‘Cork’ Category

The Punk Bit …

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SLF NYC

I was a Stiff Little Fingers fan [c. 1980]

The truth is my punk records were stolen many years ago and it was a blow. What that says about my state of mind or the state of my life back then – this was in the early half of the eighties – is another question but it’s true that I took the loss badly. It was not that I was an obsessive collector of punk and New Wave records, but I had a decent collection, tempered by yearly visits to Portobello Road market in London.

I was lucky to have an uncle who lived in Paddington and he attended the market religiously on Friday and Saturday morning every week. My brothers and I often went to stay with him in the summer months during the seventies and through that I got to know the ins and outs of Portobello market in west London: where the ‘tourist’ end was and where the locals went. Under the Westway flyover, there were often plenty of punks and lots of punk records, new and second-hand, to be had; I spent a good deal of time there sifting through the records stalls. Further down the market , in the direction of Notting Hill, there was Rough Trade of course – another Mecca for anyone interested in punk back then.

45s

Thankfully my collection of 45s survived the theft.

Douglas Street

Being broken into is an unpleasant experience. I was living on my own in a fairly decrepit flat on Douglas Street when it happened – working my way through my Masters when the theft took place. Some money was  taken and a few other bit and pieces but the record collection’s disappearance was the big loss. I can’t remember for sure now but I think the thief was caught – he attempted to cash a cheque from a campaign cheque book I was holding; I tended to volunteer then for jobs like ‘treasurer’ or ‘secretary’ – and after being told to return to the bank with ID if he wanted to cash said cheque, he did and was duly arrested. He never revealed where my prized collection was however and, as I recall, the garda detective involved was not that interested either.

I spent awhile haphazardly combing through various second-hand record stores in Cork hoping to spot one of my treasures, hoping indeed to see any part of my collection again but I never did; the records were gone and I suppose were soon dispersed in every direction.  That, in a sense, was the end of the story.

Charity Shop

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Castle Street, Cork

Years later and at a very different stage in my life, my record collection came back into my mind. By then I had two children and they were attending The Cork School Project (Educate Together) located on Grattan Street in Cork. I often dropped them to school and collected them later to bring them home again. This involved walking through town and one shop of particular interest that we often passed was on Castle Street (pictured) off North Main Street. A charity shop along the street was well known for making an art form of its interesting window displays.

This was the noughties and records and LPs were not yet back in fashion as they are now. There were boxes of vinyl lying on sale at giveaway prices in the shop and I often checked them, somewhat absent-mindedly, but with an eye for any of the gems that I had lost all those years ago. I wondered about the idea of finding my collection again and what that would feel like after all this time. It would be strange and odd too, right? Now what if I found the entire collection still intact, what would that mean?  It never happened but I did have an idea for how a story – probably set in Cork – could begin.  All this time later it is how To Keep A Bird Singing begins.

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The Road To Letterfract

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CNPLast year I gave a reading at Kenny’s Bookshop in Galway as a guest of Over The Edge. I read Capricorn, a short story I wrote about an elderly Irish exile, Hallisey, who has chosen to live in a remote area of the Pilbara in north-west Australia. An unexpected phone call reminds Hallisey of what happened to him as a child at St. Patrick’s Industrial School (Greenmount) in Cork. As the story progresses it becomes clear that Hallisey has lived in silence and alone with what he suffered at the school for all these years. Now, finally, provoked by the phone call, it appears that he may tell someone about what happened to him; understanding at last why it is essential to talk about what happened long ago.

I knew about Letterfract’s reputation. In part because I was in Galway and in part because I had been writing about the legacy of the industrial schools for a number of years, I felt I should take the opportunity to go there and see what now remains of the infamous institution. The school itself closed in 1974 and I wondered what, if anything, existed now that bore witness to what had happened there. I had heard that the original school building  still existed and I wanted to see that. But what else was there?

STARK

Letterfract - Then and Now(1)It takes about an hour and a half to get to Letterfract from Galway. The trip through Connemara National Park is a highlight. On the day I made the journey, it was cold and overcast. The national park is bleakly beautiful. It was said about Letterfract Industrial School that it was crueller than the norm due to its remote location on the edge of Ireland’s Atlantic seaboard. Even today it still feels like the journey across county Galway to Letterfract is a journey into isolation.

Except that today Letterfract is anything but isolated. It is a busy, tourist-centred locality, a gateway to a multitude of adventure based activities involving  the national park and the nearby coastline. Signposts direct the visitor to pub food, accommodation and to this company and that one offering different tourist experiences. Letterfract has had a modern make-over and in some ways epitomises the reinvention of Ireland’s western coastline. Here, in a place still wracked by emigration, a small community has clung on to assert a new way of using and making a living from the location’s natural beauty and amenities. On the day I visited, although at the end of the tourist season, there was a steady stream of people and activity around the shops and pubs. In the summer period I figured Letterfract got quite busy.

I understood that former industrial school was near the centre of Letterfact so I was surprised when I couldn’t find it. I realised that I had made a very basic error : the old industrial school building was there, dominating one quadrant of the main crossroads that is the centre of Letterfract. My mistake was that I was looking for a building fitted out in monochrome. Now, brightly repainted in red and yellow, the main building looked nothing like its former incarnation. In fact the building complex is now part of the Galway-Mayo Institute of Technology.  A public park and picnic area in the foreground, screened by trees further helped to offset the domineering image that the industrial school once wore as a badge of pride. In the end, still unsure that I was in the correct location, I accepted that I was indeed looking at the former institution by virtue of the building’s position relative to Diamond Hill. Many of the iconic photographs of Letterfract Industrial School (see below) were taken with the austere peak in the background. Today that same vista is easily observed.

UPTON, ARTANE, BESSBOROUGH, TUAM …

It was a disconcerting sight – a place of abuse and a place where cruel punishment was meted out. Despite the passage of time, despite the make-over, it was hard for me not to think about what happened there. I was bothered too by the precise change of use: the former penal institution was now a part of a place for advanced learning. That seemed to me to be a travesty. The Letterfract building – because of what it was – has so much to tell us about ourselves. But that it seems is not of interest to some. I walked over to the main building. Close to where the old entrance was once located there is a plaque under the window with a poem on it: Show Day by Mary O’Malley. The poem, one of a series in the Letterfract Poetry Trail is a moving elegy to location and emigration. It can be listened to here.

Is there anything more, I wondered. There must be. I walked around. Students came and went. A group of young backpackers were picnicking on the grass despite the cold conditions. I wondered what they knew about this place. A casual visitor would not learn anything by walking around. There is nothing to warn anyone about what happened here; on the contrary in fact. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that an effort has been made to obliterate the past but there is doubt that someone is intent on not drawing any attention to what this place once stood for either. I was reminded of a visit I made to St Patrick’s Industrial School at Upton outside Cork a  number of years ago – as part of research I was doing for my novel To Keep A Bird Singing. That complex is now a functioning day care centre in the Bandon area of Cork. I was told when I went there that it was not possible to walk around the main building for ‘health and safety’ reasons. St Patrick’s is another site of abuse where care has been taken to obscure the past.

God Was Living Close By But ...There had to be more. Letterfract’s Catholic Church is on an elevation at the rear of the main building complex. A path leads to steps and then to another short path: I arrived at the front of the church. It is literally a stone’s throw away, underscoring for me the role that the Catholic Church played in the regime of abuse at Letterfract: the church was the overseer to the crimes that happened there, but it also very much a witness too.

GOD COULDN’T HEAR ANYTHING … AGAIN

It is not my intention here to trawl through Letterfract’s litany of crimes. One example will suffice to give the reader an idea of what the place was like. Taken from the Child Abuse Commission’s report published in 2009 it concerns a Brother Vernay who in 1940 made a complaint to the regional body overseeing the Christian Brothers regarding serious mis-doings at the institution. By passing his own boss at Letterfrack, Vernay outlined the case of a number of boys who were regularly being punished in public at the school by a few the Brothers. The method of punishment was the problem: the Brother were using horsewhips on the young boys. Yes, that’s correct, horsewhips. Pointing out that (even then in 1940) the ‘instruments used and the punishments inflicted are obsolete even in criminal establishments’, Brother Vernay went on the draw attention to the fact that knowledge of the severe punishments being meted out at the school had permeated to the community living around the industrial school. In his letter to the regional head of the Brothers, he noted that ‘people were talking’ and that this was causing disquiet both inside and outside the industrial school. Worried by the damage to the Order’s reputation, Vernay asked for an intervention. This happened and it appears that Vernay’s complaints were upheld. However little it seems was ever done to any of the assailants or to the superior at Letterfract who it seems ‘wasn’t even reprimanded.’ The Commission also found out that no apology or recompense was made to the victims. That was the sort of place that Letterfract was. Children beaten in public using horsewhips. Just one example. The entire chapter on Letterfract in the 2009 report (The Ryan Report) makes for grim reading, I tell you.

Behind the church there is narrow lane. It is a part of one of the recommended walks in the area. A backpackers hostel is close by. A little further on, on the opposite side of the road, there is a sign on a pillar: Letterfract Industrial School Graveyard.  I walked up to the cemetery. At the entrance there are two more poems from the Letterfract Poetry Trail. By Paula Meehan, these are The Boy From The Gloucester Diamond  and The Cardboard Suitcases and they can be  heard here.

DIED AT A YOUNG AGE

The grave yard is relatively small and compact and is surrounded by tall trees; it is quiet and sheltered. Inside there is a careful arrangement of small headstones in two main plots. Walter Footer died as a young boy. Edward McDermot died aged 8. William Fagen died aged 13. John Kelly died aged 15 … Died Died Diedand so on they go. I figure that there are a lot more buried here than there are names for. The cemetery is really a mass grave and this is underlined by the headstone pictured on the right. At one end, a plinth supporting a cross is draped with a tattered and bleached Irish Tricolour. Fitting. There is also a small memorial to the Letterfract boys erected by Connemara National Park.

I sat down. There was no one else there when I visited. Certainly this was a place to meditate on the wrongdoings that took place at the industrial school. What were these boys’ stories I wondered. How did they come to be sent to Letterfact and how did they die? The graveyards is a peaceful place. Thought has gone into it and it is well maintained. I felt that here at least what happened in the past is both respected and understood. It is good to see that.

LONG REPRESSED, RENDERED INVISIBLE

In a number of location in Ireland right now, a battle is being fought by activists to simply have just this – a proper cemetery such as that that exists at Letterfract. PillarIn Tuam (Galway) and in Cork at the Good Shepard Convent (Sunday’s Well) and at the Bessborough Mother and Baby (Blackrock) efforts are underway to identify the full extent of a series of mass graves that are probably located in those places. The situation at Tuam is particularly heart-wrenching. A large number of babies and children’s bodies were dumped in mass grave at the Tuam site without any care to record who they were or to mark their places of burial in any way. These ‘unwanted’ (by Catholic Ireland’s mores) were unceremoniously dumped. The Irish government has been embarrassed into looking into the matter in more detail but it is now claiming that a full and exhaustive excavation of the site would actually cost too much.  In the two Cork locations, there is also resistance to efforts to identify and mark who is actually buried at those sites. The Catholic orders and institutions are refusing to make records fully available. Even more telling in the two Cork cases, the property and buildings involved are either in the process of or have actually been sold to private developers who wish to turn these former sites of institutional abuse into apartment complexes. For many it is a race against time to extract the information and prove that these sites must by properly excavated and respected. At least at Letterfract, this small precious cemetery has been salvaged from the steamroller of progress and the process of ‘active forgetting’ at least partially stalled.

HeroesBut are cemeteries enough? At Letterfract? At Tuam or in Cork? Most definitely not. Cemeteries are needed. Each individual buried in each of these places is also entitled to a proper headstone as a minimum. None of this should be in any dispute – even though it is. But we need a lot more too. We need a museum and a permanent exhibition space which will the tell the story of the industrial schools, the Magdalene Launderies and the Mother and Baby homes.

Such a facility would and could perform a number of functions. Firstly, it would act as repository for all the records related to these institutions of abuse – a place were all the information (print, audio and photographic) can be safely stored and made available for future generations so that they too can learn and understand what happened. Such a place could also facilitate scholarship into what took place and help with explaining how such abuse practices could have taken place. There are still so many aspects to the entire edifice of institutional abuse that we do not fully understand. We need to know a lot more about the perpetrators for example. Who were they, why did the behave as they did, why have they been protected as they have? Thirdly such a facility, if properly structured, could act as a place where we as a society might be able to look at what happened, attempt to understand what happened, and learn more about the legacy of widespread institutional abuse.

Pillar2As I see it there is a conscious effort (by the Catholic Church) and an unconscious effort (by the state) to facilitate us forgetting what happened. The idea is to render almost invisible what happened at these industrial schools, Laundries and Mother and Baby homes. In part the point is to salvage the reputation of the Catholic Church but these efforts are also a societal aversion to acknowledging who we are and what the price was for becoming the Ireland that we are today. Many of us have been raised to be good at looking the other way. Here now, around this matter of institutional abuse, our acquired talents have taken on a societal dimension: turning away from facing up to the truth and the reality of what was done by us and in our name. We have the left the victims to scramble after small crumbs of justice.

We are talking about a shameful period in our history and we need to face up to it. At Letterfract, we can see today what the preferred solution looks like: the past is not hidden away anymore but it is certainly kept at a distance from the public’s eye. It is no longer feasible to say the past didn’t happen – the victims after all have refused to go quietly and won’t be silenced – but Irish society is still happy and comfortable with leaving things largely unseen. At Letterfact you have to search for the past and this is at one of the most infamous of all the abuse institutions in our country.

So if we are to be honest about all of this we need the following:

  • Firstly, full publicly-funded excavations of all the burial sites. Every effort to be made to identify all the those buried in all mass graves. Where there is suspicion about the causes of death, criminal investigations to follow.
  • Secondly, a commitment to the creation of a publicly funded facility to highlight and explain what happened. This facility – a museum – should be located at one of the former institutional sites of abuse. A site should be identified as soon as possible for this facility.
  • Thirdly, we must oppose the sale of any of these former sites of abuse by the religious orders to private developers until full disclosure and recompense is made to all the victims.

More Information

News about The Worms That Saved The World

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Where To Buy The Worms That Saved The World

A plan 2To buy online go here.

In CorkVibes and Scribes (21 Lavitt’s Quay), Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett St.) and The Quay Co-op Bookstore (Sullivan’s Quay). In KinsaleBookstór (8 Main St.). In Carrigaline: Carrigaline Book Shop (Main Street). 

In DublinThe Winding Stair (Lr. Ormond Quay) and Connolly Books (Temple Bar). 

In Kildare: Woodbine Books (Kilcullen)

In Galway: Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop and Kennys Books

Winner 2017Now available throughout Ireland at Easons. For branches near you see here.

In England: London at Housman’s Books (Caledonian Road, King’s Cross) and Bookmarks (Bloombury Road, WC1)

In Australia: Jura Books (Sydney)

For UK & Europe-wide distribution please contact AK Press (Edinburgh, Scotland).

For USA, Canada and Worldwide distribution please contact AK Press (Oakland, California).

Free2Download

What People Have Said About …

“An inspirational story for children … entertaining and beautifully illustrated …”

Pet O’Connell, review in Evening Echo, Cork

“Everyone should get one of these books for children close to them. It is beautiful, refreshingly different with a very important message. I love it! You won’t have come across a book for kids like this….ever. A new trend hopefully.”

Niamh Leonard, artist, Cork

“… the characters in the book … reach out to people across the world …”

BookforLittles, USA

“I got my books in the post today. I love it!!! Will recommend it to all my friends and family.”

Maeve Caraher, Louth

“Looks charming.  Look forward to sharing it with the younger generation.”

Noam Chomsky

If you are looking for something unique, new and really wonderful …

Charlie Byrne’s Bookstore, Galway

“An inspiring tale that celebrates all that is good about community and solidarity.  Beautifully illustrated with colourful characters that will delight and charm and written in a style that will appeal to children and adults alike, this is a book that should be in every classroom and school library in the country.  Its message that when we support each other we can tackle anything is delivered in a way that will appeal to children, and to the child in all of us.”

Gregor Kerr, primary school teacher, Dublin

“The mighty, the arrogant and the swaggering brought low by the humble worm — what’s not to like in this charming tale of working together for what’s right and good? Up the worms!”

Theo Dorgan, poet

“High quality production, a fun and relevant story. A very child-friendly approach to political activism.”

Letterbox Library staff

“A unique take on conservation and protest – strong messages told through a lively text and attractive illustrations – I like it!”

Inclusion Manager, Primary School (via Letterbox Library)

 

News articles about The Worms That Saved The WorldSpark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)

 Background Articles

Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links)
About “The Worms That Saved The World”
Interview in Look Left

Connect with The Worms That Saved The World

Facebook and Twitter for The Worms That Saved The World
Kevin Doyle
Spark Deeley

Press Release: “Rebellious Worms Aim To Reclaim The Old Head of Kinsale”

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A colourful new children’s book, entitled The Worms That Saved The World, is set to focus renewed attention on the controversy surrounding the Old Head of Kinsale in Co Cork. Written by Kevin Doyle and beautifully illustrated by artist, Spark Deeley, The Worms That Saved The World will be launched at Cork’s City Hall on May 5th by writer and dramatist Conal Creedon.

Access to the scenic Old Head of Kinsale – a landmark site on Ireland’s Wild Atlantic Way – has been restricted since 2003 when the Supreme Court ruled in favour of the Old Head Golf Links who had applied for exclusive rights to control who could walk on the headland. In The Worms That Saved The World a group of earthworms living on an imaginary headland begin to suffer when a golf course takes up residence around their home. The worms attempt to tell the new owners about their concerns but they are dismissed. In response they organise and join with the other birds and animals on the headland. Eventually they reclaim the headland for everyone.

“The book was inspired by the Free The Old Head campaign,’ said Kevin Doyle, ‘but it is about a lot more than just that. It is also about the environment and the need to stand up for your rights while celebrating community and solidarity in our lives. It’s a feel-good book that kids and parents together can enjoy and learn from.”

He continued,

‘The illustrations are works of art in their own right. Children will love these rebellious worms. Let’s face it, earthworms get a lot of bad press but these worms have something to tell us about the need to share the planet and respect the environment.”

The illustrations in the book have already garnered praise.

“There are thirty-five original illustrations,” said Spark Deeley. “First, I sketched the images onto watercolour paper. The drawings were then inked in using a fine liner drawing pen. Finally, I coloured the drawings by hand using watercolour paint. The larger images took between 4 – 5 days each from start to finish.”

Spark Deeley and Kevin Doyle (2)She added, “The expressions on the faces of the worms change throughout the book. Their faces convey the emotions that they experience as the story unfolds. We see concern, confusion, surprise, fear, outrage, concentration, questioning, determination, compassion and pure joy. That is what this story is all about.”

The Worms That Saved The World is published by Chispa Publishing, Cork and will retail at €10. Copies can be ordered online via Facebook or Twitter. The book will be available in Cork at Vibes and Scribes (Lavitt’s Quay) and Liam Ruiséal (Oliver Plunkett Street).

Further Information:

Kevin Doyle and Spark Deeley

For background history about the Old Head dispute see Free Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History (includes more links.)

For more about the storybook and its development see About “The Worms That Saved The World”

 

Free The Old Head of Kinsale – A Brief History

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Free The Old Head Poster 2The Old Head of Kinsale is located about twenty miles from Cork city, on Ireland’s Atlantic coastline. Jutting into the ocean, the promontory of land is a scenic highlight and has been a destination of choice for walkers going back over a hundred years. The waters around the Old Head are dangerous and there are records of a lighted beacon on the tip of the headland as far back as pre-Christian times. The first official lighthouse was established in the 17th century by Robert Reading. Today, a fully automated lighthouse still operates on the tip of the Old Head.

In Bartholomew’s (1) Walk Cork and Kerry the hike down to the Old Head lighthouse is described as follows:  The Old Head is a quiet place. Little remains of the Celtic settlement or of the many ships that have come to grief on its rocky eastern shore. Today it is the haunt of fishermen, bird watchers and rock climbers. The bird sanctuary is a protected area. The numerous coastal tracks here are well-defined.  

Older guides to the Kinsale area are more graphic. Thulliers notes that Holeopen Bay – on either side of the isthmus at the Old Head – is mentioned in Joyce’s Ulysses. (2) The same guide records that there are a number of ‘spectacular sea arches in the rock at the water’s edge that may be seen from a boat‘. ‘Some of these cut right through the 200 foot high cliffs‘ where ‘light from the other side of the headland to be seen.’ The Spanish knew of the Old Head and called it Capo de Vel (Cape of Light). It has been a favoured destination for bird watchers for generations too. The best time to visit the headlands is from mid-April to mid-July when seabird numbers are at their highest. Upto to 5,000 Guillemots regularly nest on the cliffs, laying their single eggs on bare ledges. The headland’s ‘prominent position jutting out into the Atlantic’ makes it a great place ‘to watch the passing migrations of various seabirds in spring and autumn’. Smaller colonies of Razorbills, Kittiwake, Fulmars and Shags also nest in the area. (3)

Millionaire

old-head-of-kinsale-cork-ireland-wild-atlantic-wayIn the early 90s, the wealthy businessman John O’Connor purchased the entire headland for the princely sum of just €300,000. Although he would later describe the decision as a ‘rush of blood to the head’, he had a clear sense of what he wanted to do with this unique part of the Irish coastline (4). His dream did not include walkers, sightseers or the general public. O’Connor’s vision was to construct a golf links at the Old Head aimed at the luxury end of the market. In an interview with the Irish Examiner (4) in 2002, he described his intentions as follows:

‘[The Old Head Golf Links will be] a five-star service. From the moment they arrive our golfers are looked after. Everyone has a caddy and their clubs are cleaned after they come off the course. We give a level of service that doesn’t exist anywhere else in Europe, let alone in Ireland. Our aspiration is to rank among the ten best course and ultimately to become the premier club in the world. We’re aiming at the top end of the market – and I make no bones about that.’

Major construction work began at the Old Head in the mid-90s. However matters didn’t go entirely to plan for the millionaire. When O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holdings Ltd sought planning permission for a clubhouse that would act as the centerpiece for his new luxury enclave, he ran into public resistance and the planning process. Permission to continue with the construction was eventually granted by Cork County Council, however a stipulation was added that the public had to be allowed to have access to the coastline and to the walking paths leading down to the Old Head lighthouse.

2017-03-27 18.05.33 (2)This was not acceptable to O’Connor. He disputed the existence of any public right of way on the headland – despite all the evidence to the contrary. Threatening to abandon his commitment to the development unless he was given full control over the Old Head, he began a series of legal actions against Cork County Council and An Bord Pleanála. As he saw it his ownership and investment in the exclusive golf course conferred on him the right to control access to the Old Head. This, in his view, should include who could use the road leading down to lighthouse and who was permitted to walk the paths along the cliffs:

You can’t have people wandering around a golf course, he said. We wouldn’t get insurance if the public were let in here. (4)

O’Connor also felt he taking on a fight on behalf of all developers:

The implications [of the planning stipulation upholding the public’s right of way] are wide-ranging. Every development company in the country and every landowner is looking at this case very anxiously. [If the decision to prohibit the public access to the Old Head walkways is not upheld] It would mean that there would be no such thing as private property any more.

O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holding Ltd won the first round when the High Court ruled in favour of the new golf facility. Justice Nicholas Kearns described the public’s right of access as ‘manifestly unreasonable’ as walkers and golfers had differing interests and concerns. If joint access was allowed, he argued, it ‘could result in either injury or conflict between members of the public and golfers using the facilities of the course’.

Shortly after, Cork County Council withdrew from the case. However An Bord Pleanála opted to continue the legal battle and appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. As it did a campaign got underway to assert the public right to walk the cliff and coastline at the Old Head.

Picnic Time

On July 1st 2001, the Free The Old Head campaign organised its first ‘People’s Picnic’ on the grassy hill overlooking the deCourcy Castle ruins which stood at the entrance to the new Old Head Golf Links. The event was a great success.

About 150 people turned up outside the scenic main entrance for the protest picnic, and after plenty of eating and singing discussion began on ‘what to do’. Despite the fact that the golf course and the access to the walking area was protected by a high rampart wall and razor wire, protesters overran the security heavies … In all nearly 60 people scaled the fences and marched along the traditional route of the ‘Old Head walk’. Avoiding confrontation and harassment from Golf Course security, the group held a protest meeting at the Old Head Lighthouse and then returned to the picnic area.

A further report added,

The day was the hottest of the year … The local Evening Echo had given some advance publicity and the Kinsale Residents Association had announced their support … All around the open ground people were setting out picnics with friends and family. A few musicians were playing and everyone was very relaxed. After awhile a few small groups of people spontaneously infiltrated through the wire topped walls and were escorted out. The security were a bit tetchy. Talk then began of a need to stage a mass entrance onto the course. This was canvassed among the picnicking groups and it was made clear that each person could make up their own minds [about] what role they wanted. Some would climb the wall, others proceeded to the gate and others just picnicked and observed. At 4 pm we rushed the walls, around 100 people flowed unimpeded onto the course apart from two or three over enthusiastic plain clothes gardaí resistance was non-existent and they gave up when the realised the sheer numbers they were dealing with.

People's Picnic At Old Head, c 2003The determination of the protesters surprised the irritable O’Connor. He decried the public controversy surrounding his plans for the Old Head.

An impression has been created, he said, that the Old Head is a Phoenix Park [- a reference to the main public park in Dublin, Ireland’s capital city]. That it’s a kind of public park for Cork and we came and stole it and built a golf course on it … It has created a sense of outrage among a segment of people that … individuals could come and steal a national park.

He was right. People from Kinsale, Cork and further afield were aggrieved. As a result the standoff continued. The second People’s Picnic (in late July of the same year) was billed and organised as another family friendly event. However the response from the authorities was noticeable different. It would be an exaggeration to describe the garda presence at the second picnic as oppressive, but there was no disputing that it was intentionally intrusive. Cars transporting picnickers and protesters to the area outside the golf course entrance were repeatedly challenged by the gardaí. Vehicles were checked and car registrations recorded; many drivers were instructed to produce their documents at local garda stations around Cork county within a fortnight. Gardaí also had cameras and proceeded to make a record of those who insisted on their right to access the walk to the Old Head lighthouse.

No Compromise

Over the summer of 2001, three People’s Picnics in total were held. Each picnic was followed by a decision by those present to walk down to the Old Head lighthouse – in a peaceful declaration of the public right of way.  In 2002, the protests got underway early in the year in March. By now O’Connor had erected razor wire along the walls of the old deCourcy castle, which marked the boundary with the golf course. Large numbers of private security were also in attendance along with a large detachment of gardaí and Special Branch. However, the protesters, numbering over 150, were prepared and using old carpet they neutralised the barbed wire barriers and proceeded to have an orderly walk down to the lighthouse.

O’Connor was furious. He claimed that the protesters were ‘hardcore militant activists’ and added that ‘some of them are thugs and wear balaclavas. There is no compromise’. In the same interview he pointed out how much money he had spent on the course. The matter to him was simple, black and white.  ‘Golfers and ramblers don’t mix,’ he said. Either he was granted complete control or he would leave.

The protests continued. However in late 2002, the Supreme Court ruled on An Bord Pleanála’s appeal. It found unanimously in favour of O’Connor’s Ashbourne Holdings and dismissed the appeal ‘in its entirety’ affirming that no public right of access existed on the promontory. Moreover, the Supreme Court awarded costs to O’Connor who remained in an unforgiving mood.  He berated Cork County Council and An Bord Pleanála for having the temerity to oppose him. He suggested that they had been cavalier in their approach and had wasted public funds. They needed to have their ‘knuckles rapped’, he said.

The Free The Old Head campaign pledged to continue the fight. Significantly though, at first protest of 2003, the People’s Picnic failed to gain access to the road leading down to the lighthouse. A combination of bad weather, a large garda presence and the determination of the authorities to prevent ‘any trespassing on private property’ saw the protesters outnumbered and outmaneuvered. At subsequent protests even more gardaí were bused in, creating a difficult atmosphere for the protests.  The fortifications along the boundary wall had also been strengthened – with more razor wire and security cameras – making it even more difficult for the walkers to gain access to the walking areas.

Razor Wire ‘Assaulted’

In late 2003 a member of the Free The Old Head campaign was charged with ‘attacking’ the barbed strung across the ramparts during one of the trespass attempts. Despite the fact that large numbers of cameras were now being utilised to monitor the protests, no photographic evidence could be produced in relation to this ‘violent’ assult at the trial. Instead the evidence of two gardaí who ‘witnessed’ the attack was deemed sufficient. The activist in question was convicted and fined.

2017-03-31 12.23.21The campaign had lost momentum. Although the option existed to initiate a new legal challenge over the right of way issue, the costs involved far exceeded the Campaign’s capacity. On the other side of the issue, further protests risked the prospect that even more activists would be singled out on other spurious charges relating to the heavy-handed security presence.

The Free The Old Head campaign still exists today. It continues to hold protests (5) at the entrance to the Old Head Golf Links and has publicly declared its intention to fight on until full public access to the Old Head is restored. In the meantime access for the general public is starkly restrictive – this despite the Old Head area being described as ‘one of the most spectacular beauty spots on [Ireland’s] Wild Atlantic Way’. According to a notice close to the entrance to the traditional walking area, ‘access is strictly by permission of the owners.’

Greed Is Good!

On the other hand, if you have money, you are very welcome. For the tidy sum of just €30,000 per year you can be a member of the Old Head Golf Links. In 2015 this amounted to some 300 members, 80% of whom are from outside Ireland. Alternatively you can pay to play golf for just the day at the club. According to Jim O’Brien, a manager at the Old Head, ‘At the height of season, nobody blinks at the idea of paying €1,000 for a four ball. We never ever get a complaint here on value. Any complaints we might get would be more about a foggy day or a bit of slow play.’ 

A plan 2The ‘permitted’ visitors to the Old Head are welcome for other reasons too. While some fly in from far afield for the ‘experience’, other overnight in Kinsale. O’Brien again: ‘The golfers who go out for dinner in Kinsale might go through 10 bottles of Chateau Lynch-Bages on a night out. And those Bordeaux are €500 a bottle.’ So, in a sense, you could say, O’Connor’s dream did come through. He died in 2013.

Latest News: The Worms That Saved The World is an illustrated story book for children and adults that was directly inspired by the campaign to free the Old Head. It tells the story of a mythical community of worms who live on a headland ‘on the edge of the Atlantic Ocean’. Life changes forever for the worms when a golf course moves onto their headland. At first the worms try to manage but a combination of chemical pollution and intolerance from the new owners force the worms to act. They realise that they cannot win against the powerful golf club on their own so they seek the help of other birds and animals who share the headland with them. They are a determined and inventive community of worms and in the end the win back control of their home. The Worms That Saved The World is due to published in May 2017 and is a collaboration between writer, Kevin Doyle and the artist and illustrator, Spark Deeley. More details about where you can get the book will be made available shortly.

References:

(1) Bartholomew’s Walk Cork and Kerry, 1990

(2) John Thuilliers, A History of Kinsale, 2001

(3) Sherkin Comment, 1990

(4) Irish Examiner p15 22/07/02

(5) See http://www.indymedia.ie/article/83957

Other Links:

Reports compiled by protesters involved in the People’s Picnics. From the WSM’s Environment page.

The Free The Old Head campaign website.

About the Old Head of Kinsale.

More on O’Connor’s views.

The Old Head Golf Links in their own words.

A comprehensive report on the Old Head campaign in Cork’s Irish Examiner was printed on in the paper on page 15 on 22/07/02. This is currently not available online.

A recent feature on the Old Head Golf Links. Includes spectacular photos of the area.

Old Head Golf Links visionary O’Connor dies.

Patrick Galvin: Renowned Poet and Socialist is Dead

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P GalvinPatrick Galvin, the renowned Cork writer and socialist, has died. Born in Margaret Street in Cork in 1927, Paddy was a prodigious and accomplished writer producing many works in poetry and drama, as well as writing the memoir The Raggy Boy Trilogy. He was also a most accomplished balladeer and many of his early works were in this form.  

Full version here. First published May 11th, 2011

Written by Kevin Doyle

March 31, 2016 at 3:03 pm

Solidarity On The Cork Docks

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dockIn mid April (2008), Cork dock workers took action in support of the crew of The Defender, a cargo ship owned by Forestry Shipping from Riga, Latvia but registered in Cambodia. The Defender had nine crew on board and was carrying cargo for delivery in the Cork area.Kevin Doyle spoke to Peter Andrers, Stephen McCarty and Timmy Ricken, members of SIPTU’s No 5 branch about the action.

Link: Pubished on Indymedia, Ireland here.

Written by Kevin Doyle

March 31, 2016 at 1:22 pm

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