Chain reaction of mayoral tradition

Despite the abolition of mayoral roles back in 2014, following the demise of town councils, Clonakilty has retained the tradition. MARIE TOFT talks to Michael O’Neill Jr of Fernhill House Hotel, who is running for town mayor, a position which was held by his ancestors
Chain reaction of mayoral tradition

A YOUNG MAN WITH AMBITIONS: Michael O’Neill Jnr, who will be running for Mayor of Clonakilty on May 25.

MICHAEL O’Neill Jr may be a young man but he’s someone who knows all about the power of the past and the lasting power of tradition.

He’s the fifth generation of O’Neills to run the Fernhill House Hotel in Clonakilty — a beautiful Georgian mansion with a fascinating history.

And now he’s decided to continue his family’s proud tradition of running for public office, with his announcement that he will run for Mayor of Clonakilty in this month’s elections.

“My great-grandfather, Michael J O’Neill, was the man who bought Fernhill and he served as Mayor of Clonakilty on several occasions,” explains Michael.

“His son, Con, was my grandfather — who turned Fernhill into a hotel — and also served as Mayor several times.”

TIMES PAST: A photo of Fernhill House, from the 1870s, which still stands today
TIMES PAST: A photo of Fernhill House, from the 1870s, which still stands today

Standing in front of Fernhill, overlooking the beautiful West Cork countryside, Michael reveals that back in 1900, the house was owned by Ireland’s Solicitor General George Wright.

“But from here, you can actually see the birthplaces of the great Fenian Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa on the right and to the left is Woodfield where Michael Collins was born and raised,” explains Michael.

“So when George Wright would have sat here admiring the countryside as the sunset, little did he know that this actual countryside would ultimately lead to the sun setting on the old system of British rule in Ireland.”

As Ireland gears up to mark the centenary of the War of Independence, Michael is very aware of how the fortunes of Fernhill changed.

The O’Neills have now owned Fernhill since the 1940s and have played a prominent role in Clonakilty from the first few decades of the new Irish state.

FIRST IN LINE: MJ and Bridget O’Neill — he bought Fernhill in 1946 and was the first of three generations of O’Neill Fernhill mayors.
FIRST IN LINE: MJ and Bridget O’Neill — he bought Fernhill in 1946 and was the first of three generations of O’Neill Fernhill mayors.

And now Michael hopes to continue that proud family tradition, to potentially become the fourth generation of O’Neills to serve the public.

But this is a young man who truly understands the importance of family legacy and uncovering the past.

His relentless research and documentation of the history of the Georgian mansion and putting the hotel on the map has led to Fernhill House Hotel being invited to join the Historic Hotels of Europe Group. Fernhill will now take its place alongside castles, manors, monasteries, lighthouses and palaces across 19 countries throughout Europe.

“Ballymaloe House, Castle Durrow in Laois and Monaghan’s Castle Leslie are some of the hotels which are part of the Historic Hotels of Europe,” explains Michael.

CHAIN HOLDER: Cornelius O’Neill. Michael jnr’s grandfather who was mayor of Clonakilty.
CHAIN HOLDER: Cornelius O’Neill. Michael jnr’s grandfather who was mayor of Clonakilty.

“So we’re very proud to now be part of that group.”

Along with celebrating this achievement, Michael is now gearing up for running for public office.

“It’s wonderful that Clonakilty has managed to continue the tradition of elected Mayor despite local councils being abolished in 2014,” he says.

“The position of Town Mayor of Clonakilty has been here since 1605,” he adds, “so it would be an honour to be part of that tradition.”

MORE ABOUT THE UPCOMING

CLONAKILTY MAYOR ELECTION

May 25 has been announced as Mayoral Election Day in Clonakilty.

Back in May 2014, all 80 town councils in the state were abolished, most having existed for several centuries. The position of Mayors of those towns also ended.

In Clonakilty, where the position of town mayor was established since 1605, local historical group, Dúchas Clonakilty Heritage decided that the position of Mayor of Clonakilty should continue — even in an honorary, non-statutory role.

Since then, Colette Twomey, Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin, Méara (Cionnaith Ó Súilleabháin), Anthony McDermott, John M Loughnan and Gretta O’ Donovan have represented the people of Clonakilty as Mayor in their respective years, attending hundreds of local events and activities in a voluntary capacity.

A spokesperson on the Clonakilty Mayoral Council said: “The Mayors have represented the town and its people in welcoming dignitaries such as the President of Ireland and Clonakilty’s twinning partners from Waldaschaff in Bavaria when they visited the town; welcomed home local achievers and accompanied the Tidy Towns to the annual National Awards.

“As a group, the five mayors, (known collectively as ‘The Clonakilty Mayoral Council’), have honoured around 80 groups and individuals at twice-yearly ‘Mayoral Awards’ community-orientated evenings over the last five years.

“Now, as the inaugural term comes to an end, an election in which the people will once again select who they wish to see as their five non-political, community, voluntary Mayors from June, 2019, to May, 2024 will take place on Saturday, May 25 at Scoil na mBuachaillí.”

Nominations must be made on the official Nomination Papers, which are now available at the reception of O’Donovan’s Hotel in Clonakilty, but must be lodged on or before 8pm on May 8.

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