I was asked by the teachers to meet the two classes in Gortroe Cemetery, about a mile from the village.
Local history is something I love so I was delighted to be asked to give a kind of ‘guided tour’ of this ancient burial place.
Gortroe is a picturesque, hilltop cemetery — having been cared for over the decades by Maurice Lane, then his son Dan, and now by Dan’s son, Gerard.
In the centre of the enclosure are the substantial ruins of what is thought to be a post-medieval church. An older building may have stood here long before the Reformation.
Records state that the Church ‘est in ruinam lapsem’ by 1615 — indicating that the older building predates the Battle of Kinsale and other epic events of the Middle Ages.
Up until the 1820s, the building was in use as a Church of Ireland Parish Church. It was replaced in 1824 by a new building, at the bottom of the hill, dedicated to St Peter. This new church had a short innings and barely 50 years after its construction it was dismantled and all the materials sold.
No-one can be sure when the first burials took place here, but undoubtedly they predate by many years the oldest headstones of the early 1700s.
Back in 2005, I was given the opportunity to research the history of the cemetery and the stories told by the 294 headstones which are within the boundary walls. Hundreds of names are on these stones — but hundreds more lie in peace here without their name on any stone.
One such person is John Tynan. While researching the files of the then Cork Examiner, I came across a Death Notice, on Monday, September 27, 1926;
Tynan: On 25th September at the North Infirmary, John A Tynan, 1 Lower Glanmire Road. Deeply regretted. Funeral on this day (Monday) from Saint Patrick’s Church at 12 o’clock for Gortroe, Bartlemy via Watergrasshill.
John Alphonsus Tynan was just 46 at the time of his death. He was born in Kilkenny in 1880 and his was a remarkable journey that took him from the Banks of the Suir that flows down by Mooncoin to the Banks of the Lee and finally to Gortroe.
Born to Richard Tynan and Mary Cassin, John was just 19 and an apprentice tailor when he joined the Royal Irish Regiment in Kilkenny in 1899. His Army career lasted for over 20 years. He was sent to the Boer War in 1900 and remained until that conflict ended in 1902.
His 1st Battalion of the Royal Irish were due for a tour of duty in India then, but in October, 1902, Private Tynan ‘bought’ himself out of the Army by paying the sizeable sum of £18.
He must have got a desire to get back in uniform because in December, 1903, he rejoined the Army once more — actually joining two different regiments in the space of a week!
On December 3, he signed up for the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry but four days later he transferred to the Durhams.
Having spent two years with the 2nd Battalion of the Durhams, on what was called ‘Home Postings’ in England, he was transferred with his comrades to Cork in 1905. This move was to change John’s life forever.
While in Cork he met a farmer’s daughter from Knockraha, Bridget Sheehan, and in 1907 the couple married in St Patrick’s Church, Cork.
Four years earlier, in that same church, Bridget’s sister Julia had married William Buckley, an engineer. Julia was running a public house on the Lower Road in Cork city — either the Ferry Boat Inn or another establishment on the same street, where the KLM is now.
Incidentally, in 1909, again in St Patrick’s, another Sheehan girl, Mary, of 17, King Street (now the Shelbourne bar) married shopkeeper Augustine Nestor — their son Willie was a great athlete.
As for John and Bridget Tynan, they had two children, Richard, born in 1908, and Bridget Aida, born in 1910 — she died as an infant.
Transferred back to Colchester in England, John saw action in World War I on the Western Front in France and Belgium in 1914 and ’15. From 1916 on, he served in the Labour Corps, which indicates that, though only in his thirties, his health was not the best.
Around 1920, John came back to Cork and the Lower Road. His father- in-law William Sheehan had died in 1908 and William’s wife Bridget died in 1920. Both were buried in the Sheehan family graves in Gortroe cemetery, where an ancestor, William, who lived from 1711 until 1759, is commemorated on the headstone.
John Tynan, the soldier from Kilkenny, got into poor health, probably from his battlefield exploits, and made his last journey to the burying place of his wife’s family in September of 1926.
His wife Bridget survived him by 35 years. She died in 1961 and is buried in St Joseph’s cemetery, Tory Top Road, Ballyphehane.
Just a few yards from the grave of John Tynan in Gortroe, another former soldier lies. Maurice (Moss) O’Regan was born in 1895 to Patrick Regan, a shoemaker, and his wife Mary Geary in Bartlemy. As a teenager he joined the Royal Navy and he saw active service during World War I.
One Sunday morning, while on board his ship on the high seas, Moss was on deck at ‘prayer time’ — the vast majority of his crew mates were Protestants and were attending Service below deck.
He spotted the antennae of a German U-boat not far away and immediately raised the alarm. Before the Germans could strike, his ship’s guns went into action and despatched the enemy boat.
Home on leave, Moss decided his own country needed help. He terminated his career in the Navy and joined the Bartlemy Column of the IRA. He was deeply involved in ‘Flying Column’ action all during the War of Independence.
Like many of his comrades, Moss saw the Civil War as a terrible tragedy. He became a full-time Trade Union organiser in Sligo, where he stood for a Dáil election. Back in his native parish, the versatile Moss went back to the family trade of shoemaking. He died in 1965 at the age of 71.
Just a stone’s throw from the graves of John and Moss is the family grave of the Burkes of Mount Catherine and Skehanagh.
Thomas Augustus Burke was the eldest of six children born to Edmond Burke and his wife Catherine McGrath. He made his way across the Atlantic to New Jersey in the United States.
In the spring of 1918 he joined the American Army and in the autumn of that same year was sent to France. The War ended on November 11 but by then young Burke had been injured in hostilities. He died at the age of 27 in February, 1919.
Thomas was buried in a War Cemetery. In May, 1922, the remains of 62 Irish soldiers — eight were from Cork — were brought back to Ireland by the American Army.
On Saturday, June 3, the remains of Thomas A Burke, American soldier, were laid to rest in Gortroe cemetery.
Next Saturday in Camden Fort, Crosshaven, John Tynan and 12 others will be honoured in a special ceremony in the Memorial Garden Of Remembrance.
John, Thomas and Moss — three brave men, three soldiers who fought with different forces and now lie in peace in the hilltop cemetery of Gortroe. Just one of the many tales from this holy, hallowed spot.