Kieran’s Our City, Our Town Article,
Cork Independent, 22 March 2012
Kieran’s Events, Lifelong Learning Festival
Next week coincides with the advent of the Cork Lifelong Learning festival during which a myriad of events will take place showcasing the importance of community spirit and education within the city. The motto of the festival, “investigate, participate and celebrate” are strong verbs to describe the festival as a feast of learning opportunities. I have two events taking place. The first presents a historical walking tour of Douglas village, and the second is a lecture on Cork in the 1920s and 1930s (Wednesday, 28 March, 10.30am, Curraheen Family Centre meeting room, Church of the Real Presence, Curraheen Road).
The Douglas Village walking tour, in association with Young at Heart, starts at 2pm, Saturday, 24 March, at St. Columba’s Church carpark and takes a circular tour around the village talking about seven or eight sites of heritage that offer an insight into how the village developed. The District of Douglas takes its names from the river or rivulet bearing the Gaelic word Dubhghlas or dark stream. As early as the late thirteenth century King John of England made a grant of parcels of land, near the city of Cork to Philip de Prendergast. On 1 June 1726, the Douglas Sailcloth Factory is said to have been founded by a colony of weavers from Fermanagh. The eighteenth century was a golden age for wooden sailing ships, before the 1800s made steam and iron prerequisites for modern navies and trading fleets. The era was also a golden age too for maritime exploration, with the voyages of James Cook amongst others opening up the Pacific and the South Seas. Douglas in its own way added in part to this world of exploration.
Douglas Village is lucky that it has been written about in depth by local historians in the 1980s and 1990s, scholars such as Con Foley and Walter McGrath, both of whom shone a huge spotlight on the depth and range of material available. Con Foley’s book on the history of Douglas shows his love of place and his participation in sitting down for years, penning notes, walking the ground, using ordnance survey maps and pondering on and mapping interconnections between the different memories of families active in the village and environs through time.
In subsequent editions of his work, Con Foley presents two evocative photos on the front and back cover of his book. The first, an image from the William Lawrence Photographic Collection, presents East Douglas Street and a tram departing or stopping at the scene (remembered in the nearby Tramway Terrace) where the old street surface or gravel and mud can be clearly seen and an absence of traffic. The second image shows a hunt beginning at the Fingerpost. The picture shows a stoutly built wooden road sign, of a type rarely seen nowadays, it stood at the junction of the Maryborough and Rochestown Road. Embedded in a beehive shaped pile of stone, it is about fifteen feet high, including the base. Apart from its value as a road sign, it was of some local historical significance. A local man, Phil Carty of Donnybrook, is said to have been hanged on the original Finger Post for his part in the 1798 Rebellion and his corpse left dangling in chains there. For many decades subsequently, men passing by would raise their caps and bless themselves.
The Lawrence Collection now appears more or less in full on the National Library’s website (www.nli.ie) under catalogues and databases. The man who took all the photographs, other than studio portraits, for the firm of William Lawrence from the late 1870s to 1914 was Dublin man Robert French. He took at least 40,000 photographs over approximately 30 years. During that time railways criss-crossed the land. Irish cities in particular were being transformed. Public transport was being introduced. Dublin, Cork and Belfast were expanding rapidly. Whole new suburbs were built. Indeed, the story of Douglas and its environs seems to be in part a story of experimentation, of industry and of people and social improvement; the story of one of Ireland’s largest sailcloth factories is a worthwhile topic to explore in terms of its aspirations in the eighteenth century; that coupled with the creation of 40 or so seats or mansions and demesnes made it a place where the city’s merchants made their home it and also these suburban spaces make for an interesting place to study in terms of ambition. Those landscapes that were created still linger in the environs of Douglas Village.
My interest in local history tries to present the human experience involved in creating it, and those visible and invisible qualities of a sense of place and identity, and how they are constructed. Indeed, apart from the data of the nineteenth century and previous ones, residents and visitors to the present area are constantly changing the memories associated with the place. Indeed, a key aspect of giving any talk is the wealth of information in front of you in the room. Those in the audience are as important as those in the past in aiding the process of investigating, participating and celebrating local history.
To be continued…
633a. Photograph of Douglas Village, c.1900 by William Lawrence (source: National Library of Ireland)