Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 12 July 2018
Stories from 1918: The Aeridheachts of Fr O’Flynn
During the summer of 1918, the Cork Gaelic League branch was active, especially through community projects under the leadership of Fr Christy O’Flynn. He arranged a number of aeridheachts across County Cork. His personal contributions to local concerts and such functions always ensured successful outcomes (several years later in 1924 he set up the Loft Shakespearean Company). The organisation of aeridheacht or “Taking the Air” was the brainchild of Pádraig Pearse’s title for St Enda’s School Annual Open Day. He revived the ancient Feis (festival) of Tara. The ‘Aeridheacht’ or open-air concert and the ‘Ceilidh’ or social indoor party encouraged original literary compositions, oratory and storytelling in Irish, the music, songs and dances of the Gael. The concept spread outside of Dublin. For example, in August 1915, an aeridheacht was held at Millstreet under the auspices of the Gaelic League and an address was delivered by Pádraig Pearse himself. A number of Sinn Féin Volunteers from Cork City attended this aeridheacht in uniform, travelling by train to Macroom and cycling from there through Carriganimma. The Aeridheacht process enabled public assemblies to pursue recruitment of Volunteers.
Fast forward in time to after the 1916 Rising and the hosting of aeridheachts were banned by Westminster’s Defence of the Realm Act. On Saturday evening, 13 July 1918 the local Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC) were under orders to prohibit the holding of the Cork Gaelic League’s aeridheacht on Dublin Hill, Cork, on the ensuing day. News spread that the organisers had decided to abandon it. However, this was entirely inaccurate. By the hour advertised for its commencement on the Sunday afternoon at 3.30pm – bodies of police, fully armed, had taken up positions in and near the field in which the platform was erected. The Cork Examiner of the day reveals that Fr O’Flynn, one of the principal organisers, of the aeridheacht had re-arranged the location of the event farther into the country along the Old Mallow Road. It was held near Murphy’s Rock near Kilcully in a secluded field near a mill.
The opening item of the programme was an Irish song sung by three boys. Not more than a few hundred persons were present at first, but as the event progressed it was recorded that a great stream of crowds flocked to the scene, until within an hour the little glen was swarming with people. Fr O’Flynn, during the course of the aeridheacht, addressed the people in Irish, and also in English highlighting the importance of culture and language. “we had been warned that they should not hold their aeridheacht today…In attempting to suppress our language or the Gaelic League Mr Lloyd George had overstepped himself. It was very important that Irishmen should know how to act. Nothing rash must be done. First of all, they should take up the study of their language. In batches in the streets let them talk it, in the trains, in the homes—let them in batches take their books along the Lee Fields and there study it”.
Fr O’Flynn’s advice to the young men present was to keep cool; “do not allow their tempers to rise through provocation. Let the young men learn their native language. Young men who did foolish things to policemen were only harming their country’s cause, were throwing it backwards. Irishmen’s action should be quiet and dignified above all things at a time like this. Their nationality could never be suppressed”.
The programme of the aeridheacht was a very varied. The vocal items, solos, duets, and concerted numbers were enjoyed, as well as some splendid dancing was witnessed. At the conclusion of the entertainment the crowds dispersed quietly homewards. The programme was carried out. without interference. There were several scouts placed some distance away encircling the location of the field watching for the approach of the police, who ultimately did not arrive.
Over a week later Ballyvolane was the place originally announced for the holding of an aeridheacht on 21 July. The attentions of the RIC were anticipated, and with forethought the plans of the organisers were flexible. A make shift platform of a few tables had been constructed on the lands of Mr Kennedy at Arderrow. The force of police took possession of it, but the organisers never really intended rolling out the aeridheacht there. By way of a decoy, a certain number of the public were allowed to go in that direction, but the bulk of them were directed to Upper Lota, a considerable distance away, where, in a field on the lands of Mr Hegarty an enjoyable open-air function took place. The programme, which consisted of a short address in Irish, songs, dances, recitations and violin selections, had been practically completed when two police scouts were observed. The programme was concluded. A collection was made amongst the 600 or 700 people present, and a substantial sum realised.
In July 1918 as well aeridheachts under the auspices of the Cork Gaelic League took place at Ovens, Little Island, Clonakilty, Ballinhassig, Mallow and Knockraha, In August, Inniscarra hosted one, whilst Tower and Ballygarvan hosting theirs in September 1918. All went through the challenges of organisation and re-organisation along similar lines as the Murphy’s Rock and Ballyvolane one.
954a. Fr O’Flynn in his twenties/ thirties (source: North Cathedral Archive, Cork)
954b. Public flyer advertising an aeridheacht presentation in Millstreet, Co Cork, 22 August 1915 where Pádraig Pearse was guest speaker (source: Cork City Library)