How one man united a Cork town during Covid

On a cold, wet day in January, Ray O’Brien decided to start a Facebook page for the people of Midleton - it now has almost 6,000 members and has resulted in a book, reveals CHRIS DUNNE
How one man united a Cork town during Covid

TOWN PRIDE: Ray O’Brien, who created the Midleton Mainistir na Corann Facebook group which has led to a book of photos being published and raised money for charity.

WHILE many people took up zooming, running or even knitting during lockdown, Ray O’Brien decided to reach out to those who felt isolated from friends, family and a social life.

So he created the Midleton Mainistir na Corann Facebook group all about life in the town. Seven months later, it has almost 6,000 members.

What prompted Ray to reach out to the people of Midleton?

“The group was started as a result of the Covid lockdown,” says Ray, a Midleton man who lives near Castlelyons with his wife, Sheena, who is a nurse in Fermoy Hospital.

Bad weather at the start of this year made many people’s lives even more miserable.

“On the day the group was created in January, it was raining,” says Ray, who works with horses.

“I was indoors because it was too wet to go outdoors.”

Ray got his thinking cap on.

“I was thinking it would be beneficial to do something positive that would break the boredom of lockdown and give people a common interest.”

So he went back to his roots.

“I thought I would start the group about Midleton as I was born and raised in the town,” says Ray. “I knew some stories about the town and the people, and I thought they’d be great to share.”

A photo of the Owenacurra Bar in Midleton from the book Midleton. Mainistir Na Corann by Ray O’Brien.
A photo of the Owenacurra Bar in Midleton from the book Midleton. Mainistir Na Corann by Ray O’Brien.

What did his novel idea entail?

“The idea was that people could share photographs, stories and anything of interest about the town and its people, create discussions, have a bit of cráic, bring people together, and re-unite old acquaintances from the town and surrounding areas.”

Did he think it would take off and create so much interest among people during lockdown?

“I was apprehensive about and I thought it would be great to get 50 members,” says Ray. “But if there was no interest, then the group would be deleted.”

What happened?

“I was overwhelmed by the amount of interest, the amount of contributions and the positive feedback,” says Ray, laughing.

“The membership grew rapidly and at present there are almost 6,000 members,” says Ray, delighted with the response.

Then, the idea of Midleton Mainistir Na Corann grew legs.

“Several group members suggested preserving the photographs in a book format,” says Ray.

“Enquiries were made about printing, costs, etc. Lots of Midleton businesses kindly agreed to sponsor the book. The idea was posted in the group, which attracted multiple positive responses that sealed the idea of proceeding with the book.”

Another good idea was decided upon.

“It was decided that the proceeds of the sale of the book would go to the Friends of Midleton Hospital.”

Ray had great assistance compiling the book, which is a treasure trove of old photographs from members of the Facebook group.

From January 20 to January 29, the group grew from 50 members to 295 members, such was the level of interest in Ray’s proposal.

By May 1, the group had increased to 5,499 members.

Ray was delighted with the amount of photographs and stories he received for the book.

“I think the book will be priceless to people who live abroad who emigrated from Midleton over the years,” says Ray.

 “It would make a great Christmas present for them.”

How long was the book in the making?

“It was a six-month lockdown project,” says Ray.

“Putting the book together gave us something to do. My wife, Sheena, was a great help.”

Ray himself was born at The Rock, Midleton.

“My dad, Thomas Kevin O’Brien, had a market garden at Midleton House,” says Ray.

“It was one of the first market gardens to grow plants commercially for the distribution of tomatoes to local and Cork markets in the 1940s. Piped underground heating from a nearby furnace was used to keep the tomato plants warm. My father was ahead of his time!”

There are some lovely wedding photographs in the book. How did Ray and Sheena decide on which ones to use?

Ray laughs.

“We were overwhelmed with wedding photographs! There are 148 pages in the book, so we had to divide the pages, devoting a number of them to various subjects and to history.”

Midleton Mainistir na Corann The Book is a souvenir of memories, contributions and a few surprises by group members.

 A photo of John Barry’s bakery from the book Midleton. Mainistir Na Corann by Ray O’Brien.
A photo of John Barry’s bakery from the book Midleton. Mainistir Na Corann by Ray O’Brien.

Among the images that evoke fond memories is the picture of John Barry’s at 41, Main Street, which was a grocer and wine merchant back in the day.

“This was a shop with a pub at the back of it and Cummins’ sports shop is there now,” says Ray.

John Barry’s Bakery tells its own story.

“The photograph of the staff generated discussion about bread made at the bakery and it continued chat about related topics.”

Like what?

“We got cakes every Friday from Barry’s,” said Jean Horgan. “They had the best custard creams, (tall stacked square ones in pink or yellow), total nostalgia!”

Louise McCutcheon said: “Barry’s bread has to be the nicest I ever tasted! Oh and the cakes were yum! The smell of Barry’s bread wafted around, so lovely.”

The Southern Star Cinema and the Ormond Cinema, built to replace the first one and specifically for talkies, are both featured in the book.

The first cinema in Midleton was the Southern Star Cinema,” said Conor O’Flynn. “It was known as the flea pit! It opened in 1920 and was run by the Careys. It was located on the corner where Main Street meets the Cork Road bridge and not only did they show films, they also held events ranging from dances, to singing contests and even boxing matches. Movie-wise they held a nightly programme and a matinee on Sunday. Entrance prices ranged from 4 pence to 1 shilling and sixpence.”

There is a more meaty piece of gossip.

“According to local gossip, the owner was killed by a lion!” remarked one Facebook post.

There are old remedies from the past from members included in the book.

“Dock leaves and the spit for nettles, for wasp stings, and sudocream for everything else - unless you played sport and then it was water from a glass -Deasys’ red lemonade bottle,” recalled Kieran Kelleher.

Jim Roche had an interesting contribution.

“Onion in the socks to get rid of ‘flu - and hot milk and pepper for a sore tooth and gum.”

The contributions, covering a range of subjects, in Midleton Mainistir Na Corann, are both interesting and nostalgic, bringing some of the town’s colourful history back to life.

“We had the best childhood ever,” said Jayne Murray. 

“We all stuck together, played together and we shared our toys and sweets.”

Mossy Maguire said: “The best place to grow up for all of us. We made life-long friends with young and old.”

Lorraine Bennett Kelly sums up Ray’s unique idea in lockdown.

“To be honest, I think you are doing a wonderful job with this page. It brought us closer together as a community when Covid was doing its best to keep us apart. I love looking through the old pictures and seeing faces that I haven’t actually seen in years.”

Brian McCarthy added his tuppence half-penny, thanking Ray for his inclusive project during lockdown.

“Ray, thank you for creating this,” said Brian. “It’s fantastic to be able to look back at many events of the past, people that left us, people we went to school with and forgotten about, businesses that used to be in town. It’s a breath of fresh air.”

Ray must be very proud of the publication.

“I am very proud of the book,” he says. “It created great interest for many people associated with the town of Midleton.”

“All proceeds are in aid of the Friends of Midleton Hospital.”

Midleton. Mainistir Na Corann is available in Supervalu Midleton and McCarthys newagents Midleton, €20.

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