What Beara was like 300 years ago

A question often asked by local people is "What it was like to live in Beara some 300 years ago?"

The only record of how things were at the time is that made by the then Bishop of Cork and Ross during his visit to the area in the early 1700s. One of the earliest proceedings of Bishop Dive Downes on his appointment to the Sees of Cork and Ross in 1699, (Beara was then in the Diocese of Ross) seems to have been a book titled Visitation to his Diocese, a record of which in the form of a Journal of his Tour, was deposited in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

On Monday, June 10, 1700 he wrote, he went from Bantry to Berehaven by sea on a hooker. In the way on the north of the bay, is Glengarrif, Sugarloaf Hill and Daad O Huologhan or Hungry Hill, which is the highest in that country. He goes on to describe how after landing at Hungry Hill, in a small wood at the bottom of the hill on the south side, they saw a hundred of arbutus trees.

He also noted that O’Sullivan Bere lives in a cabin at the foot of the hill. He describes Hungry Hill as being part of the parish of Kilkaskan, (Adrigole), and part of it in the parish of Killaghaneenah, (Castletownbere). He wrote that “the parish of Killaghaneenah reaches from Bantry Bay to Kenmare River and was in breath 3 or 4 miles and 12 miles in length. The island of Berehaven (Bere Island) is in the parish, and also the Dorses (Dursey) and Berehaven, als. Dunboy.

There was a chappel in Berehaven Island called Ballinkilly, the walls are standing uncovered on the north side of the Island.

They saw it as they passed by it in the bay. He reports two English families and near thirty Irish families on the island. He also says that there were about ten Irish families in the Dursey. No English. There was, he wrote a chappel in the island of Dorses called Kilmichil, some of the walls are standing. In the whole parish of Killaghneenah are about 15 Protestant families, five of them are French and five Scotish which are dissenters, and five English families which are conformists. In the parish of Killaghneenah are about 80 plowlands.

A Popish schoolmaster, Major Carthy, teaches Latin in this parish. There was no Protestant school nearer than Bantry. “The Bishop then went on to describe the landholders in the area.

The Lord Altham, Earl of Corke, and a Mr Gookin, had land by lease, and a Captain Boid have the lands of this parish. Mr John Davys, Mr Hutchins, Capt. Boid, Mr Fountain, Sergeant Grahams, Mr Thomas Dyer and a waiter lived in the parish. The Countess of Castlehaven had the Rectory, which was worth about 318p.an, she also had the bulk of all the tythes. The Vicar’s part, by the addition of bookmoney, was worth about £25 per year. (Bookmoney was apparently one-fourth part of the tithes).

The Bishop went on to describe how the tides at the change and full of the moon rise about 10 foot at Berehaven. About twenty plantation acres of glebe was round the Church of Killaghaneenah, set at £20 a year. He described the lands of this parish as being generally very course mountains, rocky and boggy, but that the part that lies towards the Dorses was much better than the rest. On their way to Kilmannah (Allihies) they saw an iron mine near the road and that they used the iron at the iron works at Croomholla in Mr Wallis’s iron works.

This is what he wrote about Dunboy. “At Dunboy als. Berehaven Island, 5 miles in length, within a small mile of the main, it makes a good harbour, but there are some rocks under water near the entrances into Berehaven called the Cotts. There are 10 beds of escallops and oysters in the bay of Berehaven.

Courtesy of the Southern Star
18th October 2003