Tales of a Grandmother Born 1830

In 1850 Johanna Dogherty came to Castlegregory to take charge of the Girls’ School there, having been asked by an Inspector who visited the Ballyheigue School if she would accept the position. There must have been at the time an average of about fifty people or rather pupils in the Catholic School for girls, and about the same number in the Boys’ School. Within thirty years the average had risen to about 200 in each school. A new school was built in 1880 to accommodate the pupils.

In 1850 a Protestant School carried on also in the village. But after the Crimean War, when coastguards were withdrawn, the attendance in the Protestant School declined and finally the School had to be closed.

A parson resided in the village, another at Claghan and a third at Kilgobbin. When the existing parsons in the two former places died, the Services at Kilgobbin and Castlegregory were carried out by the Kilgobbin minster, and Claghan Protestant church fell into ruins.Before the Famine the population of the village was 800. In 1900 there were scarcely 300.   There was no direct road from Dingle to Tralee. The great bulk of the fish caught in Dingle chiefly hake, cod, herring and mackerel were salted and taken over Conair Hill. The Connor at that time was very narrow and at one part formed a natural tunnel through the mountain. A road was made after the Famine, but projecting rocks covered or rather overhung the pass. These rocks fell bit by bit, till one morning somewhere in the nineties (189-) the last projecting piece fell. The fishermen had to come down a road near Claghan, then turn east, go through Stradbally, spend a night at Castlegregory, and get to Tralee next day. Another night had to be spent at Castlegregory on the return journey. The village lost a good deal of its trade when the new road from Dingle to Tralee was made.

The fishermen and others had to pay toll to the ‘ghost’ at Killiney at a lonely spot near the Stradbally Church. One night some fishermen coming along the road stopped at a public house in Stradbally where they had imbibed something stronger than water. When they arrived at the ‘haunted spot’ the white ghost put up hands – the signal for the carts to stop so that the ghost could take whatever quantity of fish it required. On this particular night the men in the carts determined to attack the spirit which turned out to be flesh and blood in the form of a woman. The latter screamed and immediately a man behind the hedge put up his head – he was the husband of the woman. He begged the fishermen to let his wife off and that she should never again appear to frighten them. They did so, and thus was laid forever the Killiney Ghost.

A more formidable ghost appeared near Tralee for a long time. She had the power of emitting fire from her mouth. She had got hold of matches long before the ordinary people knew anything about them. So by using lighted matches she had succeeded in capturing a great quantity of stuff left behind by the frightened owners. However, she too was captured. Her name was Mary, or as she was called, Mair Lyne.

In the village of Castlegregory there was one generation whose ages were reckoned from a famous ship which was wrecked on the shore – the ‘Lexington’. The wreck must have taken place about the year 1856. One person’s birth was reckoned as the year of the Lexington, another – two years old at the time of the Lexington, and so on. The wreck of the Lexington brought with it a plague of rats which however the natives succeeded in banishing after about two years. All the villagers could tell the story of the last surviving rat of huge proportions for which traps were laid in every house in the village. It left its leg in one trap and managed to get from house to house on three legs. Finally, it was killed. (The writer of this manuscript was born in Castlegregory in 1881, and never saw a rat there).

Up to the nineties as soon as a funeral entered the village the caoine could be heard a long distance off. At wakes three women from the village who were famous at the caoine – Mrs Mary O’Callaghan aged about seventy, Mrs Johanna Hoare, wife of a tailor, and Mrs Norrie Kennedy wife of a carpenter, the two latter about forty, always performed the caoine at a wake. One started in a high key, another joined in with a different key. Then the third. Mrs O Callaghan said all the things about the dead person in a set form of caoine phrases.

Note. Fr. Morgan O Flaherty of the Maharees, Castlegregory sometime about 1894 to 98 professor at St. Brendan’s Seminary Killarney, collected caoines all over the county, he got the old people to ‘chant’ the caoine, then took down the pitch in Tonic Sol Fa, and he spent his free time playing these over on a harmonium, in the Seminary. He died sometime after 1920 and is buried outside the Catholic Chapel at Castlegregory.This priest it was who carried of Monteith dressed as a nun soon after his (Monteith’s) arrival at Ardfert with Sir Roger Casement in a submarine from Germany. When it was known that the police were aware of the arrival of the submarine (on Easter Saturday 1916) Fr. O Flaherty motored with Monteith to Limerick, where the latter got on board a boat which was just leaving for America. Few knew what became of the fugitive, and a vigorous search was instituted for his capture.

When two funerals were approaching the same graveyard each quickened its pace to get burial for its remains first, as there was a superstition that the last buried in the graveyard had to draw water for the rest of the souls buried there.

About the year 187- there lived in the village of Castlegregory a Mrs O Donnell who was known as Mary Jimmy. She had a big family of sons and one little daughter. The little girl died and was buried at Killiney about a mile from Castlegregory. For two months after the child’s burial – until the next burial took place – the mother never missed one night without visiting the graveyard, taking a bucket full of water, and leaving same outside the graveyard gate. Whatever happened the bucket was empty in the morning.This graveyard had in the centre the Protestant Church, at the back of which was a ruined building called the ‘old Church’ (Catholic). By making a small climb one could get in through a small window into what must have been the second storey of the building, to a small square room with flagged floor – one of the rooms of the old monastery. the lower storey of which was covered by a heap of rubbish. This was St. Enda’s Monastery.Between the ruin and the protestant Church there was a rude stone cross (not Celtic) which had a chip off the face of one arm in front. The story was that when the Protestants came to build the church they set about breaking the Cross first, but a chip of the stone when hit entered the eye of the breaker, rendering him blind. So after that the cross remained untouched.

Between the graveyard and the lake in a rather marshy field there was a ‘holy well’ which some few people visited on the feast of St. John Baptist to make ’rounds’ for the cure of sore eyes.

The story attached to this well was that it was at one time in the graveyard, but that a Protestant woman to show her disbelief in the ‘holiness’ washed a garment in the well, and next morning it was no more to be seen in the graveyard, but in the field where it now is.When funerals entered the graveyard the coffin was borne three times round the Protestant Church. I never heard why.

In most houses the corpse was waked in the kitchen arrayed in brown habit. The beard of men was always shaved before ‘waking’, a table was put end to wall, while over head two ropes were fastened to beam of roof (about a yard apart) and carried right across the kitchen where the other ends were fastened to the beams of the opposite side of roof. Over the table a large sheet was laid over these ropes and draped artistically at the sides forming a sort of canopy. This ‘laying out’ always seemed to be done by the same woman Mrs Egan – Nell Brosnan, wife of a labourer. The table was then draped and the corpse laid on it. The wake lasted generally for two nights and two days. The caoine could be heard at intervals during the day and night.

The writer never saw drink given out at a wake except on two or three occasions – and on these occasions it was done in the houses of better off people who waked the corpse on a bed in the bedroom. A glass of wine was offered to each man who came to the wake. No more drink was given. On all other occasions a clay pipe filled with tobacco was handed to everyone present. Those who smoked immediately took a ‘gall’ of the pipe with a ‘Lord have mercy on the deceased.’ Snuff was also handed round. Candles in brass candlesticks which were borrowed (generally thirteen or some odd number) from the neighbourhood were kept lighting all the time on a table at the head of the bed. It was not until about 1895 that people adopted the custom of bringing the remains to the Church on the second night.

When the remains were removed from the house, chairs tables and stools were turned upside down till after the funeral to prevent a death within the next twelve months.The clothes of the deceased had to be worn three Sundays at Mass by somebody.It was considered lucky that where possible the bearers of the coffin should be of the same name as the deceased.

I once saw a stone brought with great secrecy to a priest (Rev. James Crowley, a native of the village). The stone was round with edges water worn and centre slightly hollow; carved on it was a chalice with a host above it and rays proceeding from it on all sides. The work was nicely executed, and I believe it had been found on Leary’s Island ([???]] near the Maharees. Fr Crowley died in 1906 in Ardfert. I never heard what became of the Stone. The deceased priest had cherished it very much. (On the island there are the remains of beehive cells, and a church; the rude altar of which was in position in 1900. A graveyard was attached. Many mounds were to be seen in it. For many years (previous to 1900 only infants were buried there. On the mainland near the island is the ruin of an old church (Cill- Seanaig).

People had a belief in mermaids and many old people thought they had seen them. It was probably the presence of seals gave rise to this belief.

Schools of porpoise could be seen occasionally sporting in Tralee Bay. The writer of this account was once presented with a slice of what seemed to be cooked bacon with a fishy taste. It was porpoise.

Dilisk was collected on the Strand ([?]) and sold when dried in Tralee and in Cork.On the islands (off the Maharees) a superior kind which fetched a higher price was found – shell dilisk. The mussel shells were left attached the dilisk to show the genuineness of the article. Many people took the dilisk as an aperient.

Carragin Moss was also collected and dried; then taken to Cork to be sold.At spring tide a great many poor people gathered from the wrack a species of sea weed – light thin ribbon bands about 1/4 in. width. This was then washed in the river which flowed into the sea and when dried was used for ticks, pillows and bolsters. It was renewed each year. Sivy was the name given to this particular weed.

Mr James O Connell of Castlegregory, a shopkeeper started a small factory for the manufacture of kelp from sea-weed. The business did not pay. So the work was soon abandoned.

A great quantity of ‘wreck’ timber was often cast ashore on the Maharees and the Islands.Between 1887 and 1893 the writer remembers three wrecks on Brandon Bay. The Charger laden with timber was wrecked at Cill Seonaigh. The bodies of the crew were washed ashore. All perished. Mrs McGowen of Tralee bought the greater part of the timber which took months to remove. This was a three-masted ship. The Catherine Richards which was seen in difficulties in Brandon Bay was driven into Ballyheigue and wrecked while the bodies of the crew were found in Castlegregory Strand.

On Jan 1st 1894 The Port Yarrock had dragged two anchors into the terrible breakers of Brandon Bay. The pilot went to the rescue, but the Captain would not desert the ship. The former regained the strand with difficulty. Immediately after the crew sent out signals of distress. It was then too late. The sailors lashed themselves to the masts, which at one moment rose perpendicular, next touched the waves on the right,then rose upright, only to touch the waves on the left.

The sight was terrible. Nothing could be done. A message was sent to the Dingle coastguard. But all was over when they arrived. The masts broke, and the unfortunate men were first severely injured, and finally drowned. As far as I can remember fourteen men were washed ashore, not all at the same time. Relatives of some arrived from England and Wales. All coffins were shouldered to Killiney a mile distant, and the village people made and put on the coffins artificial wreaths. The strangers could not express their surprise and gratitude to the local people whose kindness had overwhelmed them. A nice monument erected by the relatives of the sailors now marks their last resting place.

The ship (3 masted) was laden with copper. Messrs. McCowen Ltd again bought the cargo, which was being extracted bit by bit at low tide. The operations were still in progress in 1911.

Soon after this ship had been wrecked a coastguard station was established at Brandon, and remained till the Great War when all hands were needed for Britain’s navy.There lived at Coolroe a family of O’Neills whose main occupation was to gather cockles at Clahane, boil them and then sell the shelled product in the village at 1d per pint. Outside O’Neills house was a precipice over a little stream. The cockle shells were thrown here. In the course of years there was made a fine bank of shells. Future geologists may think of some sudden inundation of the sea here. On Holy Thursday, people were busy picking sleadhacha or sladdy [?] a kind of sea grass. This was boiled and bittled for several hours and made a very pleasant drink for the Good Friday dinner, when no milk eggs or butter could be used.

By 1890 neither cockles nor sladdy could be got. Up to this year also wheat or barley or oats or rye was winnowed in a dildarn a sort of circular wooden vessel with a sheepskin bottom. It was held over the head on a windy day and shaken until the chaff had gone with the wind and the grain remained.

About this year three farmers were able to procure winnowing machines, which were lent gratis to the whole neighbourhood.

Soon after this the threshing machine arrived.

Up to 1905 there was one weaver in the village, Robert Downse. His customers came chiefly from the mountain villages in the neighbourhood of Aughacasla.

Home-made flannel was sold on fair days by the bandle. This measure looked something like a yard measure.

There were four coopers in the village. The advent of butter buyers and zinc pans ruined this trade.The last of these Robert Casey died about three years ago (1936) aged 104. Between the years ’95 and 1900 great shoals of mackerel arrived in Brandon bay, ad were often sold to local curers (in Dingle) at 2 shillings per 120.

Curing of the fish was carried out in Dingle both by Armericans and by local people, and a considerable number of barrels was need. A barrel full of cured fish which cost 4/5 was sold in America for 10 shillings.

he coopers of Castlegregory, Casey and Fitzgerald who had a little capital started barrel making and did very well. Sometimes they made and stored barrels for two years, and the whole stock was got rid of in a month or two.

Now fish seems to have deserted that coast.

At the entrance to Stradbally, from the east on the left hand side of the ‘upper’ road was a gallan. In the distance it resembled a woman with a child in her arms, but on near approach the resemblance ceased. It was clearly the headstone of a grave at the foot of which were a few small stones inserted in the ground.

At the entrance to Aughacasla village from the west at the left hand side of the road was another gallan. It was said this was a stone thrown by Finn Mac Cumhaill from the top of Caherconree (about four miles or more away) at a flying bird.