THERE is a reputed old Chinese curse: ‘May you live in interesting times.’ Meant to be ironic, the ‘interesting’ part really refers to what makes front page news: War, death, and pestilence.
When you pick up an edition of the Cork Evening Echo from 100 years ago, in 1917, they were most certainly ‘interesting’ times in which to live.
In the late spring of that year, the newspaper was approaching its 25th birthday, and in the edition of Saturday, May 5, the front page was awash with news, with advertisements now relegated to the corners of the page and inside the newspaper.
At the time, World War I was still raging, with the armies deadlocked on the Western Front after three years of slaughter.
The nation was also still suffering from the fall-out of the 1916 Easter Rising, while in a few months’ time, British Prime Minister David Lloyd-George would call for the self-governance of 26 counties on the island, a split which would ultimately create a painful division.
Off the Cork coast, ships were being sunk in Irish coastal waters, some as a result of direct German fire, others victims of mines. The City of Cork Steam Packet ship, the Bandon, was just one of many vessels to sink, with huge loss of life, as the result of an attack by a German submarine.
Cork, like much of the country, was in a state of unrest. The deaths of the leaders of the Easter Rising had left a bitter tension in the air and altercations between civilians and military were common.
The edition of May 5 reveals how several soldiers from the Royal Field Artillery, stationed at Ballincollig, were attacked on the South Mall by a large group of civilians. The soldiers defended themselves from their attackers, who used fists and stones as weapons.
The altercation was brought to an end by Sergeant O’Callaghan and Constable Prendergast, who threatened both sides with their batons. There were few injuries in the incident and the police made no arrests.
Later that evening, a lone soldier was attacked and left unconscious in Ballincollig.
Also in the news, police raided the premises of a Mr P Corcoran on Sullivan’s Quay in Cork city, where he ran a printing business. The printing machine was removed and brought to Victoria Barracks.
No reason was given for the seizure, but a little research tells us that the premises had been used to print documents issued by the Cork Executive of Sinn Féin.
Elsewhere, the Irish Women’s Association asked next of kin to stop sending them food parcels for Irish prisoners of war serving under British regiments.
The association stated they would be buying and sending food parcels themselves and insisted they would no longer accept donations from those families with loved ones in the prisoner of war camps.
The Association was also in the news for its recent meeting concerning the ‘Adopt A Prisoner scheme’.
The meeting was chaired by the Countess of Bandon and the scheme allowed wealthy patrons to pay for and send provisions to an Irish prisoner of war.
At the meeting, it was decided that the Cork ladies would provide for members of the Royal Irish Regiment who had been taken prisoner, and that they would prioritise men from Cork city and county.
One particular story refers to two sisters who were caught up in a debate about women working in a Cork city munitions factory. It emerges in the article that the sisters had nine brothers, all of whom were fighting in the Great War. That is a large sacrifice by a single family.
The war was having a profound effect on Cork. Each day brought news of another fallen Cork soldier, or reports of young men from throughout the county who had been captured as prisoners of war or were missing in action.
In some cases, photographs of the dead or wounded appeared. Private John Arnold of Glanmire is among those photographed, listed as “injured at the Battle of Arras, now in hospital in England”.
Imagine the hope and fear wrung out of those 11 words by his family and friends.
Photographs, which were so rarely used in the early years of the Evening Echo, were becoming more commonplace. Sadly, they were mostly used to accompany death announcements, although some marked happier occasions such as the Fermoy Football Club’s outing to Shothail outside the town, where the footballers helped local plot holders to dig their trenches.
In news from the courts, Mr S. Jago, of North Main Street, was fined for selling bread “not by weight” on Patrick Street. At the time bread had to be of a certain weight to be sold.
Jago claimed that this particular bread had been made to order, for costumers who wished to use it to make puddings. The judge did not believe the defendant and fined him two shillings and sixpence.
District Inspector Studdert of the Royal Irish Constabulary, serving in Ballincollig, suffered a badly broken leg when his bicycle collided with a cart. He was brought to Madame Goulding’s Private Hospital, Patrick’s Place, for treatment.
There was also a brief news story in May, 1917, relating to the “Cork Motor Project”.
The article refers to the ongoing negotiations for the development of land at the Marina and mentions the involvement of public bodies and promoters.
It says discussions had been going on for quite some time and it was almost certain that the project would get the go-ahead.
No doubt this refers to the Ford Motor Company, the motoring giant which is celebrating a centenary in Cork and Ireland this year.
Elsewhere in that Evening Echo a century ago, a tender for provisions was made public by John Harley Scott, honourable secretary of the Cork Fever Hospital and House of Recovery. Amongst the provisions listed are: best new milk to be delivered twice daily direct from a farm, best Bermuda Arrowroot and James Hennessey Three Star Brandy.
It is not stated whether the brandy was for the patients or for the doctors...
On the medical front, an advertisement ran commending tar and its ability to cure asthma. According to the ad, the original recipe had run in the Evening Echo a number of weeks earlier and since then asthma sufferers had been reaping the benefits of drinking syrup made from tar.
In an era before television, radio, and other forms of home entertainment, Cork Carnegie Library revealed its visitor figures. An average of 4,000 people used the library on a weekly basis. The library on Anglesea Street had been destroyed in the Burning of Cork three years later.
Meanwhile, Edward Sheehan, Chairman of the Cork Consumers League, raised his concern over luxurious confectionary stores selling iced goods and a variety of expensive sweets and chocolate. He was particularly concerned by shops displaying fancy goods in their windows.
Sugar was not readily available at the time due to the war and Sheehan stated that poorer families were suffering while the rich were squandering money on items made from an excessive and wasteful amount of sugar. He suggested that a regulation be introduced and this would eventually happen in the form of rationing.
There was some bad news for Cork drinkers with the announcement that Arthur Guinness Sons & Company Ltd was increasing the cost of its stout.
Members of the Cork city licenced traders revealed the bad news that pints were going to have to increase from four pence to five pence to compensate for the wholesale price rise. At the time, the Evening Echo cost a penny.
This increase in a pint of plain must have been a nasty shock in 1917, but no doubt many a 2017 drinker would not mind a weekend away in old Cork with the help of a time machine at those prices.