Ballydehob quay was a hive of activity up to about 70 years ago. Sandboats were busy bringing sand and sea weed to the farmers to fertilise their land, a practice which lasted up until the 1950s. Market days saw small boats landing here from the nearby islands boosting the trade in the town. In winter Heir Islanders rowed here to cut willows in the hinterland to mend their lobster pots. In the early 1900s coal was imported to here from Wales and Liverpool but the big schooners, carrying up to 200 ton, had to stay in the outer harbour and the sandboats hauled in the coal over a period of two days. Timber was imported from Canada in the 1800s and again it had to be floated in from the outer harbour. These empty timber ships carried immigrants on their return journeys before and during the famine. In the 1850s some copper ore was exported from here to Swansea. Up until the 1930s coastal trading boats would arrive here from Cork on a weekly basis bringing all kinds of supplies to the local merchants from flour to buckets and from sugar to cement.
The Twelve Arch Bridge
The 19th century saw the expansion of the railway system and with the Cork-Bandon Railway line extending to Bantry, Skibbereen and Baltimore plans were drawn-up to connect Crookhaven in the extreme west with Skibbereen. A narrow gauge railway was decided upon with the line initially going from Skibbereen to Schull with Goleen and Crookhaven to be connected later. Most of the line was laid along the route of the existing roadway but the problem of the steep incline entering and exiting Ballydehob was overcome by the erection of an imposing 12-Arch Bridge over the estuary. Completed in just 14 months the West Carbery Tramway and Light Railway line opened on 6th September 1886. Never a financial success and never being extended westwards to Crookhaven the last train ran on 27th January 1947. For most of its life there was a 15 mph (24kmh) speed limit on the railway.
The tramway, however, has left the village with the magnificent 12 -Arch Bridge still dominating the estuary.
Danno Mahony Memorial Statue
Danno was born on 29th September 1912 to Daniel and Susan O’Mahony at the family farm in Dreenlomane, Ballydehob. While still in his teens Danno became known for his athletic ability. In 1933, Danno and his brother Flor enlisted in the national army. His sporting prowess soon attracted the attention of Jack McGrath, a wrestling promoter, who was looking for ‘a young wrestler who could beat the world’. Danno had a meteoric rise to stardom and eventually there was only one man standing between him and the world title, Ed Don George, a former title-winner himself. The title fight was held in Braves Field, Boston, on 30 July 1935 with over 60,000 fans attending. A bruising encounter saw Danno at the age of 22 declared the heavyweight all-in wrestling champion of the world and dubbed ‘The Irish Whip’. His triumphant return home in 1936 can still be viewed on YouTube. Crowds flocked to see him. His untimely death at the age of 38 in a car crash, while home on holidays in Ireland in 1950, is still vivid in folk memory. Photos and other memorabilia about the wrestler can be found in the Irish Whip Bar. More Danno history can be found here
Denis O’Driscoll’s Workshop, Store Road:
In this workshop, from 1929 to 1961, many young men served their three-year carpentry apprenticeship to Denis O’Driscoll. Carts, wheels, stairs, chairs, tables, doors and windows were all made there by hand. The mural marking the spot where the workshop once thrived was painted by local artist Patricia Carr.
Brushes with Historic Fame
Behind the Danno statue on Main Street are two plaques that memorialise two Ballydehob brushes with fame. One recalls Ballydehob’s Titanic Three- Bridget O’Driscoll, Annie Jane Jermyn and Mary Kelly- who sailed together on the ill-fated steamer and were saved together on the last lifeboat to escape the sunken liner. In 1912 emigration from Ireland to Britain and America was at its peak as thousands of young men and women departed annually in search of a better life. In Ballydehob the girls purchased their tickets, costing £7-15s.-0d. each from John Barry, who was the local White Star Line agent and whose premises were where Hudson’s Wholefood Shop is now located. As is well documented, escape from the stricken ship was chaotic with third class passengers confined to the bowels of the liner until almost the very last minutes. As the final lifeboat, ‘Collapsible D’, was being launched at 2.05am on the 15th April, Bridget made her way on to the boat, followed by Mary and then Annie Jane, who injured her chest jumping on board. ‘Collapsible D’ successfully made its escape and was just 100 metres from the doomed Titanic when she slid beneath the icy waters of the Atlantic. Eventually, the survivors were picked up by another liner, the Carpathia, and conveyed safely to land. The ‘Ballydehob Three’ would, as far as we know, never meet again as their lives took very different paths. The second plaque tells the story of the visit of the Ladies’ Land League founder and leader, Anna Parnell (1852-1911), sister of Charles Steward Parnell, to Ballydehob on Wednesday, 30th March 1881. The local branch of the Irish National Land League, led by Richard Hodnett, was extremely active in those years of agrarian unrest and over 4,000 supporters gathered in Ballydehob to hear Anna speak at a meeting banned by the authorities. She addressed the crowd from a rock overlooking the field on which Scoil Bhríde National School now stands. This rock became known as ‘Annie’s Rock’. The opening sentences of Anna’s speech were: ‘A month ago I did not know there was such a place as Ballydehob but now that I know there is such a place, I think it is the grandest place in the world. Do you know when I first heard of the name of Ballydehob? I thought to myself there is a sound about the name that looks as if there was some backbone in the place – there is a kind of fighting sound in the word Ballydehob and I am sure from what I have seen, that Ballydehob will not be the first place to go back of the Land League.’
Since the 1960s Ballydehob has been known for attracting an array of artists. Painter and Sculptor Carol James moved to Ballydehob in 1974 from the UK. She has taught our children and adorned our art galleries and school yards ever since. Her most prominent work in the village can be found at St Matthias National School and in the park at the approach of Ballydehob village. “When I moved to West Cork from Kent I was completely overwhelmed with its wild beauty, nature, and rural life, which I attempted to capture and create its essence by pure observation.” – C James
Flora & Fauna
The mild damp climate along the shores of Ballydehob Harbour encourages the growth of some unique plants such as the Irish Spurge (Saxifraga) and St Patrick’s Cabbage (Euphorbia). Keep a lookout for sea birds and waders both sheltering and feeding in the harbour such as the Heron, Cormorant and Little Egret. The colourful Kingfisher can sometimes be seen north of the 3-arch bridge and be sure to look out for the shy otter often hiding in the seaweed under the viaduct. The Mallard Duck and Mute Swan are permanent residents between the viaduct and the 3-arch bridge. As you take a stroll along the pleasant nature trail that begins in the car park at the east end the call of Curlew and cackle of Gull will provide a vocal backdrop along the top of the 12 – arch bridge. The hedgerows offer examples of thorn bearing and herbaceous plants. Particularly notable are the Fuchsia, Whitethorn and Honeysuckle. Wild flowers abound like the Primrose and Dandelion in spring and the Foxglove, Cornflower and Violet in summer.
Beautiful Places of Worship
Picturesquely situated outside the town on the road to Durrus is St. Matthias’ Church of Ireland. Described in Samuel Lewis’ ‘Topographical Dictionary of Ireland’ in 1837 as a handsome edifice in the early English style of architecture, without a tower. It was built in 1829 by means of a grant of £650, donated by the late Board of First Fruits. Ballydehob which was the eastern portion of the parish of Schull was made a separate parish in 1870, with the Rev. Robert Noble M.A. being appointed as the first Rector.
Among the memorials on the walls is a plaque with the names of parishioners who gave their lives in the First World War, 1914-1918. Beneath is a plaque recording the name of one who made the supreme sacrifice in the Second World War, 1939-1945. The most striking feature is the East Window with its deep rich colouring, the centrepiece being a reproduction of the painting ‘The Light of the World’ by Holman Hunt.
Ballydehob had its first post-penal chapel at Gurteenroe about a mile from the village, dated from around 1750. The present St. Brigid’s Roman Catholic Church was built by Father Florence O’Mahony and dedicated to St. Brigid. The date of erection is believed to have been 1826, in advance of the granting of Catholic Emancipation in 1829, on a site provided by a local Swanton landlord. Over the years there have been many changes to the building, the most recent being in the 1990s during the ministry of the late Fr. Jerome Hurley P.P. and Fr. Joseph Spillane, C.C.
The church’s unique altar, a large mass rock-like stone, its sanctuary designed by artist John Verling R.I.P. with a single fish going astray from the rest of the shoal, and the Harry Clarke Studio rose window all help to make a visit a deep spiritual experience.