Bandon (Co. Cork / Southwest)
Bandon (Droichead na Bandan – “Bridge of the Bandon”) (pop. 5,500) lies on the River Bandon between two hills, and likes to call itself the Gateway to West Cork. It has an attractive and well laid-out centre with handsome old buildings, and is a pleasant place to stroll around.
Bandon (Photo by Tewkes)
Originally named Bandon Bridge / Bandonbridge, the settlement was founded by Phane Beecher, Captain William Newce and John Archdeacon on land confiscated from the O’Mahony Clan after the Desmond Rebellions, and centred on a bridge spanning the river between two parishes, Kilbrogan and Ballymodan.
The founders’ lands were bought and developed by Richard Boyle, Earl of Cork, who provided civic facilities such as Market Houses and schools (two of each).
As an important nucleus settlement of the Protestant Plantation of Munster, and originally inhabited only by members of Puritan sects from England (mainly Somerset), Bandon was long known as The Londonderry of the South. The town was walled to keep out Roman Catholic natives; according to legend, a notice on the walls read ‘Turk, Jew or Atheist may enter, but no Papist‘, to which a local wit is reputed to have added: “Whoever wrote this, wrote it well – for the same is written on the gates of hell“.
As a result of the 1748 marriage of the 4th Earl of Cork‘s sole heiress Charlotte Boyle to William Cavendish in 1748, the northern part of the town, like Lismore (Co. Waterford), became the property of the Dukes of Devonshire, who played an active role in the development of the town over the next century and a half and erected several buildings, notably the Courthouse (1806), McSwiney Quay (1807), the 15-sided Shambles / Meat Market (1818) and the Town Hall (1863). The estate was sold to Sir John Arnott in 1897.
The War of Independence saw much violence and arson in the area, including the torching of the British Army’s old Cavalry Barracks and the sawmill belonging to local IRA leader Sean Hales, who went on to become a Brigadier General and TD, and was assasinated on the second day’s session of the first Free State Dail in Dublin. He is commemorated by a monument in front of the Post Office. His brother Tom Hales, widely regarded as the mastermind behind the murder of Michael Collins, was a Fianna Fail TD from 1932 to 1937.
Bandon’s Protestant population, largely unionist in their political sympathies, suffered from intimidation and attacks. Sectarian violence grew particularly heavy in January-March 1921, when at least five local Protestants were killed by the IRA: They were Thomas Bradfield, James Coffery, Jimmy Coffey, Alfred Cotter and Donovan (first name unknown). On 29th June 1921, the Protestant social hall in Bandon was burned to the ground.
The West Cork Heritage Centre is housed in the former Christchurch, Kilbrogan, built on the site of an old Danish fort in 1610 as “one of the earliest churches erected in Ireland for Protestant worship“. It contains the town stocks, an old forge and other interesting relics.
Early C18th Dissenters in Bandon are credited as amongst the first Unitarians (their place of worship existed until the mid C19th).
The local Presbyterian congregation had a church near the Courthouse; in 1843 the Trinitarian Presbyterians moved to Scott’s church (subsequently used by the Christian Brethren).
A Quaker Meetinghouse was also in use for many years.
The Methodist church (1821) is a historically significant building with a vibrant congregation, who sponsor the Funky Fish Youth Cafe. Methodists from this area established the community of New Brandon in New Brunswick c.1842.
St Peter’s church (CoI), designed by Joseph Welland, was erected in 1849 to replace an earlier parish church south of the river. The interior is very attracive. (Photo by Mweelrea IRL)
St Patrick’s church (RC), a large Gothic edifice opened in 1861, has beautiful stained glass windows, including one by Harry Clarke.
No less than seven Orange Lodges were founded locally during the C19th; the last was burned down in 1922.
Westside Baptist church is a newish building in the not inappropriately named Oldchapel area.
A US-based Charismatic organisation is currently active in the area.
Castle Mahon / Bernard
Castle Mahon, the ancestral O’Mahony seat, was renamed Castle Bernard by the family of the same name, who acquired the titles of Baron, Viscount and Earl of Bandon.
During the War of Independence the 4th Earl, James Francis Bernard (1850-1924), was kidnapped on 12th July 1921 and held hostage for six weeks by the IRA, who threatened to kill him but treated him well; he is recorded as having played cards with his captors, who released him but nevertheless burnt down the castle later the same year.
The family later built a new home on the estate, which currently remains in the ownership of Lady Jennifer Bernard. the eldest daughter of the late 5th and last Earl of Bandon, the RAFs Air Chief Marshal Percy Ronald Gardner Bernard (1904 – 1979).
Kilbrogan House (1818) is a large townhouse with a lovely big walled garden. It was acquired in 1992 by siblings Catherine and David Fitzmaurice, who have restored it and provide top-class B&B facilities with uniformly rave reviews; they have also also converted an old coach house into excellent self-catering apartments.
Brandon town and district are noted for several good pubs and eateries, including a couple of excellent cafés and no less than four Chinese restaurants.
Sir John Moore, the British Army commander famously killed in Corunna in Spain in 1803 during the Peninsular War, was governor of Bandon in the late 1790s.
George Bennett (1827 – 1900), born locally, wrote a History of the town in 1862, and went on to found Bandon, Oregon in 1873; he introduced gorse into the North American ecology with disastrous results.
Mrs (Margaret Wolfe) Hungerford (née Hamilton), the popular and prolific Victorian romantic novelist, published in the USA under the nom de plume The Duchess, was born nearby and lived most of her adult life in Bandon. Her most famous book Molly Bawn is mentioned in James Joyce‘s Ulysses. She is credited with the phrase “beauty is in the eye of the beholder“.
Arthur Percival (1887 – 1966) who developed a reputation for brutal torture of suspected members of the IRA as intelligence officer of the regular British Army garrison in West Cork in 1920-21 during the War of Independence, was not closely related to the landlord family of the same surname. He was the commanding officer who surrendered Singapore to the Japanese in 1941, the largest capitulation in British military history.
Graham Norton, the well-known gay comedian and TV star, was brought up in Bandon.
Duke’s Wood, formerly the property of the Duke of Devonshire, is traversed by the Sall river and has pleasant riverside forest walks through beech, Spanish chestnut, Norway spruce, Douglas fir and Scots pine trees. A few specimens of old Western red cedar are also to be found. Wildlife includes fox, badger, rabbit, squirrel, mink, dipper, and heron.
Castletown Kinneigh was the site of an early Christian Monastery founded by Saint Mocholmowg; the C10th Round Tower has six stories, standing 21m high on a hexagonal base thought to be unique.
St Bartholemew’s church & Round Tower (Photo – Mike Searle)
Enniskeane and Ballineen (Béal Átha Fhínín – “Mouth of Fineen’s Ford”) are pretty twin villages joined by a stone bridge over the River Bandon. In the C19th Lord Bandon was responsible for the construction of a Courthouse, a Market House, a Weslyan Chapel, a Gothic church and two schools.
Cahervaglier Ring Fort features a massive stone-built terrace.
Ballinacarriga Castle (1585) near Manch Bridge is a classic Irish Tower House built by the Hurley family. The ‘best room’ on the top floor still retains carved stone emblems of the Passion, geometric designs, and human forms, including a lovely one of a lady tying her apron.