Welcome to my tour as we reel back the years in Bartlemy...

Instead of a staycation, enjoy this virtual tour of John Arnold's locality...
Welcome to my tour as we reel back the years in Bartlemy...

STORIES TO TELL: John Arnold on his Bartlemy farm — he is a Tour Guide for the local area and knows much of its rich history

SO ‘staycation’ is the new buzz word in this year of Our Lord, 2020 — which will always be remembered as ‘the year of the Covid’.

We hope it won’t be the first of many and that the ‘Second Wave’ will subside without further waves or ripples in its wake. It’s been tough on everyone these last five months and if the experts are even partially right, it’s not over yet.

The furore over foreign holidays, the ‘Green List’ and whether to travel at all has been raging as virulently as the fever this past week. Leaving the honeymoon out of the equation, I’ve been on eight foreign holidays in my life, an average of about every seven years, and I think we’re ‘due’ again in about two years’ time so I’m not fretting at present.

So many people who work hard and save up for a break most years in sunny climes are simply not going to be able to travel this year. That makes the Holiday at Home — ‘Ireland, Make A Break For It’ campaign, a vital cog in tourism plans for the next few months. The autumn/winter tax-back initiative is a little help provided unscrupulous accommodation and dining places don’t hike up their charges by 25%.

Ye all know I’m sure that as well as being married to a farmer and being s small-time writer, I am also a fully qualified Tour Guide. I completed the course a few years back.

Now some might say being a Tour Guide in Bartlemy is a bit like a lighthouse in a bog, brilliant but useless. Laugh and scoff not ’cause though we are isolated a bit from Dublin 4 and the chic suburbs of Cork, Galway, Waterford and Limerick, we have a lot to offer out here. Lack of public conveniences means you have to go before you come.

At present, our range of eateries and catering establishments is minimal. Fear not though, yes the Famine stalked the land here long ago but in modern times, if anyone left the place hungry, well ‘twas his or her own fault.

Ah yes, we’re off the Wild Atlantic Way and a bit removed from the Hidden Heartlands. You’d have to go over the border to Waterford to savour Ireland’s Ancient East but worry not, take it aisy and come with me,

Come by the hills to the land where legend remains.

And the stories of old fill the heart and may yet come again,

Where the past has been lost and the future is still to be won;

And cares of tomorrow must wait till this day is done.

Now don’t let the hilly roads bother you at all. Whatever way you come here there’ll be a hill — Hollyhill, Bluebell, Garryantaggart or Baneena — but wisha, most buses and luxury coaches can manage ’em nowadays, what with the power steering and the air-brakes. If you leave the ‘old’ main Cork to Dublin at Dr Barry’s bridge you’ll see the sign post for Bartlemy and the Tour Guide, me, will meet you there.

Kilshannig House, built by the Devonshers, is an imposing edifice to the right. When the original owners got into financial difficulty, it was sold and the Roches, Lord Fermoy’s clan, had it for a while. They wintered there and ‘summered’ in Trabolgan.

Keep right at the next fork — left is for Conna, Tallow and Lismore. A little road to the left leads to the hilltop Gortroe cemetery with its ruined ancient Church remains. A visit is worthwhile if the bus can cross the little bridge near where Bowen’s house stood.

In the corner of the cemetery is a solid, locked stone structure. It was used to thwart the activities of body-snatchers who plied their illicit trade of digging up freshly buried remains and with a ‘nod and a wink’ sold them to ‘persons unknown’ in Cork City (mainly anatomy students).

The headstone of John Smithies dated 1706 is the oldest inscribed headstone. In the Ross family vault is buried Rev William Ryder — more anon.

The burial ground is in the townland of Ballinterry. In this same area lived Bishop John O Brien, Catholic Bishop of Cloyne during Penal times. From 1738 until he went to France 30 years later, O Brien lived here in a little house. In France he published the first ever Irish-English dictionary.

Back on the bus now, we take the hilly Hollyhill road to Bartlemy, to the right. In Irish this area gave its name to the ancient parish of Inchicollin. On the left amongst tall trees can be seen the remains of Sheila Buí na Scian’s Castle. She was reported to have built a secret chamber for all her treasures and money. With a dagger she then killed the man who had built the chamber. She was killed herself in an attack on the castle and the treasure hasn’t been found yet! The lady in question was Shiela of the Blonde Hair of the Knife;

Sheila lived in her castle, all alone,

She knew its secrets hidden by stone,

Haughty she was, became no man’s wife.

People said she knew how to use a knife.

On the hill opposite once stood Fielding’s Mill, later known as Bluebell Mill. Bartlemy village is a hilltop, crossroads village. Once a bustling commercial centre with shops, public houses, a library, butter-market and renowned Horse Fair, it’s a quiet crossroads now. Still, the local church, parish hall and modern school are focal points for the community. The Church, built around 1820, has buried within it’s walls two famous priests. Fr Maurice Kennefick, a noted Gaelic scholar, and Fr Edmond Barry, a writer, antiquarian and promoter of the GAA in the 1880s.

Leaving the village, the road slopes gently through the townland of Garryantaggart (home of this poor scribe). On the right is a little turn in the road, ‘Cuneen na Spríde’

‘The Corner of the Spirit’, a yarn says a funeral of a woman passing this way, with her coffin carried on shoulders, fell to the ground, lo and behold she was still alive! Her husband wasn’t delighted. Next time she died the funeral went a different way.

On beyond the remains of an ancient lime kiln to the School Cross — the old Bartlemy National School 1904-1986, is just up the hill opposite. Take the road to the left — the New Line, built as a Famine ‘Relief’ Road in the 1840s. I met a woman, born locally, who recalled her grandfather telling her he saw men dying at the side of this road in 1847 and ‘48.

Over ‘Tom Ryan’s’ bridge with the beautiful Lourdes Grotto on the right. In the ditch on the right just beyond the Grotto a small square opening can be seen in the stonework. This was used during the Troubles for leaving despatches by the old IRA — places of safekeeping such as these were called the Deadman’s Letter Box; instructions to kill a ‘spy’ might well have been left here.

On the left is Blessed Well, which gives its name to the parish, dedicated to St Bartholomew who was never here, but in ancient times this locality was known as Bartholomew Well and over centuries this got corrupted into Bartlemy.

The pattern day is August 24. The famous Bartlemy Horse Fairs, two each September, were held in O’Donovan’s’ field, the Fohure, behind the well for centuries.

Just as St Bartholomew was never here, it’s also unlikely that Napoleon Bonaparte came to these parts. The Boss might not have come but French Army horse-buyers regularly came. That’s how Wexford-bred Marengo was sold here and bought for the French Army and ended up carrying the bould Napoleon into battle.

When everyone has ‘done the rounds’ at the Well and drank some of the water, back into the bus please. A few yards over the road then is Ballinwillin Bridge, built over the Knoppogue River which joins the Flesk, which in turn is a tributary of the Bride. The bridge was regarded in days of yore as the spot where North and East Cork met. It was here that a famous and bloody faction fight took place in the 1820s between two rival groups, the Shanavests and the Caravats. Somebody probably insulted someone in a pub, a dance or a fair, and the only way ‘honour’ could be restored was to fight it out with blackthorn sticks.

Some historians claim the founding of the GAA in 1884 sounded the death knell for faction fights. From then on parishes and clubs could still try and ‘bate the other crowd’ but at least there were rules and a referee!

Now, at Ballinwilling Bridge we could go left to Rathaneague and Killamurren and Monanig or right to Bluebell — the Battle of Gortroe. and Mellifontstown (where Queen Victoria had a small farm) and Commons and Desert. Whichever way we go history abounds. but look at the time? Half five and not a cow milked yet, we’ll have to come back another day and finish this tour… any questions before I go?

This American lady wants to know if there’s accommodation nearby, yes Bluebell House is only over the road and we’re ten minutes to Ballinterry and Ballyvolane and half an hour to Ballymaloe. Of course, if ye want to experience real rustic, rural life we have one spare room at home in our house but there are no sweets on the facility.

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