THE date was January 1, 1900 — the dawn of a new century — and the whole country was awash with excitement at what the new age would bring.
Queen Victoria would visit Ireland one last time, in the springtime, when 52,000 children greeted her at the Phoenix Park in Dublin, and her long reign as monarch of Britain and Ireland would end in just over a year.
Cultural nationalism had reached new heights and the ‘Irish Revival’ was strong, despite Britain’s sway over the nation.
However, the front page of the Evening Echo that Monday morning as the 20th century began was dominated by an advert for cigarettes!
Such prominent adverts were common for the time and, perusing the many news reports that day, it is also clear how involved Britain was in the governance of Ireland at that time and how her news was our news.
On January 1, 1900, the Boer War was in full swing. It had started three months earlier, in October, 1899. With thousands of Irish men fighting for the British crown, it was only a matter of time before the 9th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, known locally as the North Cork Militia, would get orders to travel to join the war effort in South Africa.
At least 80 Cork men would die in the war and the early 1900 editions of the Cork Evening Echo are filled with reports of battles, big and small, and fears for the Irish men who were fighting in them.
Of particular concern was the use of a new type of binocular used by the enemy which could be fitted to a rifle and used as a “range-finder”. This was only available to the Boers and it was hoped that the Home Office in the UK would see fit to provide its troops with a similar type of weapon.
The war did, however, bring a benefit to Irish farmers and horse dealers. A request for horses to support the war effort resulted in Cork animals being shipped out to Africa to be used by the cavalry.
In the city of Cork, excitement was high due to the mayoral elections scheduled to take place on January 23. No candidates had yet put themselves forward but a dozen men were speculated to be interested in running.
A decision by Cork Corporation meant that the council officials for 1899 would remain in office for a year under the new mayor.
In 1900, Daniel Hegarty became the first Lord Mayor of Cork, ending a run of ‘mere’ Mayors of Cork that stretched all the way back to 1273. The title of ‘Lord Mayor’ was granted by a Charter on July 9, 1900, following the visit of Queen Victoria. In Hegarty’s term as Lord Mayor, he opened Eglinton Street Swimming Baths, and a Corporation housing scheme off Cornmarket Street.
Meanwhile, an Evening Echo report in January, 1900, into the Cork Poor Law Union, detailed the various profiles and ages of those needy people housed by it.
The Union had been established under the Poor Law Act, 1838, which resulted in the foundation of 14 workhouses throughout the county of Cork. At the start of 1900, the Cork City Union had a total of 1,903 “able bodied” men and 44 “able bodied” women. A further 71 women were listed as nursing mothers whilst 63 women were detailed as caring for children in the union infirmary.
Amongst the figures, there is reference to 245 nursery age children and 103 aged and infirm men, compared to 335 aged and infirm women. Over 100 people were classified as “lunatics”.
In Bandon, a popular physician, Dr William J Belcher, died from accidently ingesting poison at the Bandon Workhouse, where he had worked for 30 years and was very popular with his patients.
At the same time every day, the doctor would mix and drank a tonic. But on the day of his death he was distracted by talking to an infirmary nurse, Miss Power. Without looking, he picked up a bottle of poison, poured some into his glass and drank the mixture. Despite Nurse Power’s desperate attempts to help him, Dr Belcher died an agonising death.
In Fermoy, two farmers, the Sheehan brothers, were badly injured when their neighbour, a Mr Waters, attacked them on New Year’s Eve, 1899.
The Sheehans were thrown from their cart and subsequently beaten by Waters and his servant boy. Both brothers had “their heads fractured” and were gravely ill.
Waters was arrested by Sergeant Gethings from Clondulane Station and later released on bail. No reason for the attack was given.
Following the Christmas festivities, a large number of people were charged with drink-related offences. The Echo simply stated that the “usual penalties were imposed”.
In other court news, a “house of ill repute” was causing quite the scandal. The property, described as being at the South Mall end of Princes Street, had been the subject of investigation on a number of occasions. According to a Sergeant Connors, the house was particularly well known for its illegal activities during the May Races.
The big question being asked was how a well-known brothel could be continually allowed to do business under the all-seeing eye of the law. It would seem that the police chiefs could not prove the allegations made against the house, despite recording a number of well-known prostitutes entering within.
The presiding judge was determined to rid Cork of such a shameful premises and fully intended to fine the owner of the house and penalise him by every means possible.
Elsewhere in the city, an accident caused traffic chaos on St Patrick’s Bridge when the No.25 tram, between the Western Road to Summerhill, collided with a a horse and cart delivering bread, which was owned by Mr Maurice O’Donnell.
There were no injuries and little damage was caused, despite the horse and cart overturning. Mr O’Donnell said the accident was due to insufficient room to turn his van at Camden Quay.
A new column emerged in the Evening Echo around this time. Woman’s Weekly Gossip was written by “The Echo’s Lady Correspondent”. This unnamed woman wrote about everything from fashion tips to household do’s and don’ts. In one particular column, she discussed the virtues of the “mailcart”, an innovative pram designed to make it easier to perambulate one’s child.
The mailcart was described as “the old baby carriage cut in halves, the child’s legs dangle over an abrupt half”. The description sounds for all the world like a buggy — but it was something the opinionated Lady Correspondent believed was dangerous and not an item that should be encouraged.
She also wrote of the new fashion for small social gatherings rather than big house parties, stating that talking in small groups had become far more fashionable than playing music at a soiree. Oh, and wear a bolero, she advised, the latest craze for fashionistas!
An odd advertisement from the time reads more like a letter to the editor. It refers to a tax on bachelors which was being proposed in several countries at that time
Apparently, those who refused to marry were a burden on the state. The Echo writer believed that if bachelors were to be taxed then so should spinsters, but the last thing anyone needed was people entering unhappy marriages simply to avoid paying taxes.
This bizarre advert also suggested that everyone should be using Page Woodlock’s Wind Pills, an apparent cure-all for everything from sick headaches to biliousness. The tasteless pills were made from vegetables and suitable for the most delicate of either sex.
What this actually has to do with a tax on bachelors is anyone’s guess, but it sounds like a couple of paracetamol and a bottle of Gaviscon might be a safer choice than Wind Pills...