Obituary: Ronnie Herlihy was a Rebel scholar with a raw passion for Cork city

Obituary: Ronnie Herlihy was a Rebel scholar with a raw passion for Cork city
Local historian Roger ‘Ronnie’ Herlihy, who died suddenly at the end of March.

LOCAL historian Roger ‘Ronnie’ Herlihy, who died suddenly last week, will forever be remembered as a true Cork man with the city in his heart.

His exploration of Cork’s past took many forms, from his summer walking tours of Douglas Street and St Joseph’s Cemetery, to his work as the ‘In-House Historian’ on The Neil Prendeville Show, to putting together an Ar Slí na Fírinne documentary on TG4, to finding pictures for the Facebook group ‘Old Photos of Cork City and County’, and his various writings.

Following his sudden passing, tributes have been paid to Ronnie from all across the world. 

Douglas Street traders have referred to him as ‘hugely popular’, with his walking tours cited as ‘the highlight of the Autumn Fest’ every year. 

His close friends and family have called him a ‘scholar’ for his depth of knowledge on the Rebel County.

To anyone who ever has spoken to Ronnie or read one of his books, there was always a childish sense of excitement and wonder about the stories and people which made Cork. 

This was all rooted in the sense of place from where he grew up, on Cove Street, in the house where Fr. Matthew founded the Temperance Movement.

It was there, in between the River Lee and the cobblestones of Nano Nagle Place, where his lifelong fascination with history began.

In his earliest of years, it was on the sporting field where he made his name first known. 

Fittingly, for a man who embodied Cork so well, he played hurling for St. Finbarrs and Cork as a teenager. In his brief career, he was top goal scorer in the 1978 Féile before going on to win the All Ireland u16 Hurling Championship in 1979.

Ronnie also had a love for soccer, with two clubs, in particular, taking his fancy, Liverpool and Cork City FC. 

After seeing the pair win almost everything there was to be won, he developed a fascination with rugby, with him rarely missing a Munster or Irish international.

Roger ‘Ronnie’ Herlihy sharing his historical knowledge.
Roger ‘Ronnie’ Herlihy sharing his historical knowledge.

After finishing school in Deerpark CBS, Ronnie went to work in Hartnett and Son on Travers Street, metres away from where he grew up on Cove Street.

In 1982, his world expanded in a whole new direction when he met his future wife, Ann, who was from the Pouladuff Road. 

They were together for six years before marrying in 1988 and a few months later they settled down in Greenhills Court on the South Douglas Road. 

1993 saw the birth of their first child, Ciara, and three-years-later Daniel was born.

Inspired by the sights and stories of his childhood, Ronnie joined the South Parish Historical Society in 2001. 

He took to the group like a duck to water and absorbed any information he could about Cork’s historical past.

Within two years he had his first book published, A Walk Through the South Parish: Where Cork Began, which told the story of the very first days of Cork and how the city was born and grew up around Douglas Street.

He followed this up with his second book, Tales from Victorian Cork, 1837-1859 which gave an excellent look into what life was like for people living in Cork during the Victorian period.

His final book, Among The Stones, was published in 2016 and told the story of St Joseph Cemetery in Ballyphehane and the colourful characters which rest inside.

His thirst for knowledge was one which consumed his spare time. His lunch breaks at Hartnetts would involve crossing the river to the Cork City Library to take over a desk for reading.

When he was not out guiding tours, his Saturdays were spent in between the stacks at the library, looking further into Cork’s past.

These stories of Cork are ones which travelled the world. For someone who spent his life on the south of River Lee, Ronnie carried his Cork wherever he went, be it New York, Amsterdam, Prague, Sydney, or Nice.

Ronnie’s other passion in life was music. 

This started as a child when he purchased his first record from Golden Discs. From that moment, he slowly built a small but diverse collection, which included everything from rebel music to Rory Gallagher.

Later on in life he would use the collection as his own backing track for his writing process, inside the spare room of his house. 

One of his favourite things in music, were Sunday evenings in the Oliver Plunkett, where he would go to listen to the Swinging Mickeys.

In all of the tributes which followed Ronnie’s passing, his son Daniel described him perfectly as: “A man who left school with his Leaving Cert, and became one of the main voices for history in Cork.

“He did not need a degree, just a raw passion for his city. With that, his writings have travelled across the world.”

Ronnie is survived his wife Ann, his daughter Ciara, son Daniel, mother-in-law Ellie, brothers-in-law, sisters-in-law, his adored niece Avril, Rhoswyn and family in Cardiff, relatives and his many friends, especially his life long friend Michael O’Brien.

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