Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 22 September 2022
Launch of A History of the Glen
Gerard Martin O’Brien’s book on The Glen in the heartland of Cork’s northside is an impressive landmark and beautiful publication. It is a personal memoir brought alive with deep research on the story of such a space of industrial heritage but also the movement in recent years to restore the space as one of Cork’s leading biodiverse parks. The book is entitled Faeries, Felons and Fine Gentlemen, A History of the Glen, Cork, 1700-1980 and is being launched at 7.30pm at Mayfield Library on 23 September, aka on Culture Night.
The book is intermixed with Gerard’s stories of growing up in the heart of the Glen to the stories of the various industries, which harnessed the power and space of the Glen river valley. In his introduction, Gerard noted about playing in the Glen amidst the ruins; “My Glen, the one I grew up in, had such diamond-like qualities as far as I was concerned. Yet, as a youngster, when I explored the old ruins, mused on the function of old waterways, and listened to stories of past activities and occupations, I should have understood how my ‘permanent world’ was already changing and had always been changing”.
Gerard’s idea for the book had its origins in the chance discovery of an old photograph of Goulding’s factory, which is not just remarkable for the clarity of the image, but also surprised Gerard with the clarity of recall the image engendered. It was one of three taken by the intrepid aerial photographer, Captain Alexander (‘Monkey’) Morgan in 1956, which Gerard discovered in the Morgan Collection in the National Photographic Archive.
Gerard describes that the Glen River is neither big nor long but rises from the springs and marshes in Lower Mayfield and Banduff and flows west. It is joined at Valebrook by another stream emanating in upper Ballyvolane (Ballincolly). The enlarged river flows through the Glen. At Blackpool it joins the bigger and longer Bride River. The river provided power to many industrial enterprises over the past three hundred years. Five mill ponds of varying sizes once punctuated its course at relatively even intervals between where it first emerges near the Fox and Hounds Crossroads, and Spring Lane at the western end.
As far as a history of the Glen is concerned, Gerard details that there were many versions of what the Glen had been like ‘before’ and the farther he went back in time, the less clear-cut anything became. Even the names changed and changed again through the lack of standard spelling or mistranslation: Glounapooka, Glounaspike and Glounaspooks are now forgotten names once associated with opposite ends of the Glen.
Before the eighteenth century, Gerard speculates the activities that went on there. For instance, the trees that covered the Glen in the nineteenth century were English elm, which had been introduced to Ireland in the seventeenth century. For such trees to colonise an area, there must have been a clearance of native woodland – but by whom and why is not recorded. Of arable faming Gerard denotes: “There is evidence to show that the eastern part of the Glen, being arable, was farmed long before the eighteenth century. Then of course, going back into prehistory, the post ice-age landscape would have been entirely different, and at some stage it is possible that much of the lower Glen, possibly all the western half, was a big lake before the river eroded its way through the rocky pass”.
Gerard’s research details that the quarrying of stone, sand and gravel probably represented the first efforts at exploitation of the Glen’s resources. Historic documents refer to a ‘north’ and ‘south’ sand quarry in the eighteenth-century Glen. A third quarry was also opened in the nineteenth century on the borders of Cahergal and Clashnaganiff townlands. The rock on the south face of the Glen was also quarried, most likely to build the mills in the eighteenth century and the distillery in the early nineteenth. However, from examining a succession of early OS maps, Gerard argues that it is probable that the quarrying of stone continued, at least periodically, throughout the nineteenth century. The sand quarries have now either been built over or landscaped, but evidence of the stone quarries can still be traced.
The earliest date for which references can be traced for any of these mills is the beginning of the eighteenth century. Gerard argues that it is not impossible that one or two ‘prototype mills’ existed before that. The Dodge family, one of the first families to make their mark on the Glen, may have prospered but their prosperity was a relative one: they were comfortable but did not amass a large fortune and plied the same trade for a century.
Gerard maps out and writes in detail that towards the end of the eighteenth century, flax milling was established at the eastern end of the Glen, but the process appears to have lasted only thirty years at most, before the mill was converted to a starch mill. The only other manufacturing process to be carried on in the Glen at that stage was iron working – a trade as old as corn milling – so it appears that a slow, steady, hardly changing way of life prevailed for the first century covered in this work. Gerard describes that in effect, the mills are centred in two clusters; “The iron mill, flax mill and one corn mill were located at the eastern end of the Glen where the landscape is broader, and the hills rise gently from a wide, marshy base. The malt/corn mills and the distillery/fertiliser factory were at the western end where the hills rise steeply to approximately one hundred feet and the valley floor has a characteristic V-shape”.
With the beginning of the nineteenth century the establishment of the distillery introduced an industrial model to the Glen. Gerard outlines that the first of these individuals, Humphreys Manders, went bankrupt almost immediately. The Perrier Brothers, with more money and experience, straightaway took his place. They did not live in the Glen and had other interests elsewhere in the city. The nineteenth century would see several such individuals associated with the Glen. Then, as the twentieth century dawned, a new type of industry dominated the landscape – Goulding’s Fertilisers, which was arguably the first Irish multinational industry.
Faeries, Felons and Fine Gentlemen, A History of the Glen, Cork, 1700-1980 by Gerard Martin O’Brien – copies can be bought at the launch or contact Gerard through his website www.bluehorsepress.net.
1169a. Gerard Martin O’Brien, age four, standing by the ‘Hatch’, The Glen, circa 1957, from Faeries, Felons and Fine Gentlemen, A History of the Glen, Cork, 1700-1980 by Gerard Martin O’Brien.