Battle lines in early Castletown

What is now the town of Castletown was two townships. The eastern village was known as Castle Dermot, and the western was known as the village of Berehaven. Between the two villages, where now are situated the business houses of the town and the square, was a barren rock and stretch of mud reaching down to the sea. In those days there was but very little traffic, and roads, where they existed at all were rough.

All that remains of Castle Dermot is Chapel Lane district, and all that is left of the little village of Berehaven is a few houses on "The Rock". As the villages grew towards each other the people began to realise that, after all they were one community. In the course of time it became one solid compact little township. Through right up to the 1930s there was always a kind of dividing line for schoolboys, the writer has clear and distinct recollections of the bloody affrays between the "westerns" and the "easterns" of his schoolboy days.

The geographical line which divided the bellingernet territories was at the Munster and Leinster Bank, and this line divided the numerical strength of the opposing armies fairly. To cross the line was a signal of battle, and a few boys were daring enough to undertake it unless accompanied by an armed escort.

Affairs were badly complicated by the fact that the National School was situated at Brandy Hall to the east of the town, this was because when public schools were first allowed in Ireland, Lord Bantry obstinately refused a site for a school building in Castletownbere, or elsewhere in his domain. Fortunately a Mr Leahy owned a large piece of ground extending to Brandy Hall Bridge, and which is about quarter of a mile eastward from the town. At this point the National School was built and there it stood until recent years.

One of the school's best known teachers in the late 1800's was William Dwyer a native of the town who was principal. Under him were Tim Harrington, (later MP John Harrington, afterwards a priest in Australia, Ned Harrington (later MP) and James Merwick. It is said that under Master Dwyer that boys of 14 were qualified to pass rigid examinations in the first three books of Euclid, mensurration of surfaces and solids, practical geometry, extensive knowledge of geology and astronomy, algebra, book keeping, English grammar and arithmetic and a thorough proficiency in reading and writing.
Besides many of these boys received a thorough education in the Latin and Greek languages, trigonometry and navigation from Mr William Dwyer. It was said that at one time in a class of twenty, every boy was a thorough theoretical navigator, who needed nothing but the vessel and the open sea to give practical effect to his teaching. Mr Dwyer had even the nautical instruments, quadrant, sextant etc., which he furnished at his own expense.

I remember in my time at Brandy Hall those instruments were still there, and our then teacher Mr Patrick O'Neill gave us lessons on how to use them, few of the boys in Mr Dwyer's time made use of their navigation studies, but those who did always appreciate the solid instructions imparted to them at Brandy Hall. Thanks to the clear memory of two fine old gentlemen in Beara Ed. Sheehan of Garnish and Johnny Brosnan of Derrymihan, I can name a few of those who were trained as navigators by Mr Dwyer and who followed the sea for an occupation. They were Captain James O'Donovan of the 'Hannah D'. Captain John Shanahan and Jeremiah Shanahan of the 'Delegate', Captain Dan Murphy of the 'Nonpariel' and Thomas Power of the merchant navy of Australia.

There were a number of other navigators raised locally, such as the three brothers Patrick, Timothy and John Harrington of South Forum, each rising to command, but whether their navigators education was acquired at Brandy Hall or not, I dont know.

There were at least three other deep water sea captains in Castletownbere at the time named Greenway. Power and Punch, but I don't think their education was acquired at Brandy Hall. A good story is told of Captain Punch, he was a man small in stature, but of considerable girth, his wife was a striking contrast. She was thin and tall, when she and her man went for a walk, they marched in single file - the lady leading the van and the Captain in the rear. The leader walked quickly and the old sea-dog in his efforts to keep within hailing distance was generally in a state of perspiration. A stranger one day seeing this ill-assorted pair passing by, asked a townsman who was the tall lady in front of the wee man. 'Punch’s Pilate" was the quick reply.

A distant kinsman of William Dwyer was Dan Dwyer, a carpenter and said to be a man of keen intelligence and a good tradesman. He had four sons, Robert, John, Dan and William. Each had a romantic life story; Dan was for years in a good position in Boston, USA. His spare moments he devoted to press work. After years there a priest who was a personal friend of his prompted Dan to study for the Church, as his exemplary life, and attachment to the Faith of his fathers, so strongly expressed in his writing, betrayed a genuine vocation, Dan, joined St Anthony's College. Catskill, New York, and was ordained priest in the year 1921 in his sixty sixth year.

William, who was well known in the Berehaven Band and also went to the US where he started a newspaper of his own named 'The Brockton Searchlight' in Brockton Mass, as well as being proprietor he was also the paper's editor. Each week he included some article about Berehaven.

In the issue of September 7th 1907, he wrote: 'Perhaps there is not in all Ireland a little town that this made so much progress in the last ten years as Castletown has, and it is not so owing to the prosperity of her merchants and mechanics as it is to the awakening of public spirit among the citizens.

In that time, the people have constructed beautiful waterworks and sewerage systems, have instituted a street lighting and a scavenger department, and have organised a Town Improvement Association to act as auxiliary to the government District Council. In the old days 'the doctor's well' at the West End, 'Downings Well' near Thade Cronin's forge, the town pump in Pump Lane, and Lefevre's Well at the North Road, furnished water to those who owned not a private well. The people unaccustomed to a better system, seemed perfectly content.

There have also been some wonderful changes in local government, changes which, if predicted twenty years ago, would be sufficent to commit the prophet to a madhouse. For instance in the management and operation of the district court, the presiding magistrate was always an official who had nothing in common with the people.

He was of a different race and religion, and was always regarded, even by himself, as an enemy to the people. He was always looked upon with awe by the honest simple minded peasantry who never approached him except when they were obliged to, and always with fear and trembling. Every man's hat was raised as he passed by and even women bowed their heads and bent the knee. Children feared him even worse then they did the fairies, and would even suffer a bite from his dog before they uttered a harsh or unkind word to the canine.

In the excitement of the game 'sally' or 'steal the stick', if the pursued boy could escape the humiliation of imprisonment by jumping the magistrate's fence, he never availed of the opportunity, as trespass on the autocrat's ground was only one degree less serious than High Treason. Every person he met had the pleasant smile and the wordy blessing, but he knew as well as they that such outward manifestations were not the expression of feeling within. His will was the law, and he was never bound by statutes or acts of Parliament. He was not even a lawyer. Times are very much altered what is know as a Resident Magistrate presides at court now. He is a salaried official and has a circuit of district courts in the county to attend.

He plays the part of judge while four or five men of the people with all the powers and prerogative of magistrates and Justices of the Peace sit and hear the cases, examine witnesses, deliberate, and render opinions on the merits, and the Resident Magistrate pronounces sentence. The petty sessions or court district of Castletown comprises a population of about 15,000 and it is a significant fact that never was it found necessary to hold a court other then once in two weeks.

It surely is a beautiful commentary on the honesty and peacefulness of the people, and it is doubtful if any community on earth can justly lay claim to this distinction. Even in the days of wildest agrarian excitement when the Land of League had raised a storm of agitation that frenzied the most conservative men, no extra court days were observed in Castletown, and there never was more than one cell in the police station or barracks.

Court is held in a little room at the west side of the old police barrack at the corner of Main Street and what used to be known as Greenway's Lane, later named the Tallon Road. There is not standing room in the little hall of justice for more than twenty-five people and there is no necessity for a larger auditorium. The fact is that the people of Berehaven do not take kindly to law. They have ever been accustomed to the settlement of their little quarrels and disputes by the parish priests, and it is only in aggravated cases that they resort to the little courthouse.

Law has been dispensed in this little courtroom for at least seventy years for all the people from Dursey Island to Glengarriff (a distance of about fifteen miles). In that seventy years or more, not a crime of very serious nature was ever tried.

William Dwyer became an institution in Fall River, where he fought a campaign against corrupt bosses and union officials with his paper.

On the front page was this notice - "The Brockton Searchlight - an independent weekly paper issued every Saturday morning devoted to the best interests of the wage earning class - a paper which owes nothing to any political party, but will be truthful on all matters affecting labour. If this course injuries or benefits any political organisation they may give themselves the blame or credit, as the case may be." William D. Dwyer. Editor and Proprietor. For Justice Though We Fight The World.

Courtesy of the Southern Star