account of 115 years old man from Bandon area who remembered
historian Paddy Connolly has passed on to The Southern Star
a fascinating article which appeared in The Skibbereen Eagle
of April 9, 1898 headlined "extraordinary case of longevity
near Bandon - Remembered the time the French came to Bantry
Bay". It is about the passing of 115 years old Cloughduv
born William Coveney, Kilpatrick, Bandon, who was born in
1773, remembered the 1798 Rebellion and lived to reach the
year of its centenary. Paddy obtained the cutting from Billy
(William) Coveney, Queensfort, Farnivane, Bandon, great
great grand son of William.
Within the past month, there was laid to rest in Innishannon
chapel yard, the mortal remains of Wiliam Coveney, a poor
peasant belonging to Kilpatrick, who has lived to the extraordinary
age of 115 years.
Such cases of centenarian life are so rare that most people
are inclined to be sceptical when they see some announcement
in the press about some person well beyond the century,
and conclude that there was some error of calculation on
the part of the modern patriarch totting up his years. Besides,
additional cause for doubt is given by the universal habit
of country correspondents to associate a deceased centenarian,
when writing about one, with vivid memories of the stirring
scenes of the Rebellion of 1798, even though history recorded
no rising within miles of the district in which the old
celebrity lived and died.
This custom, however interesting it makes the mans
demise, has some very objectable feature and leaves a bad
impression on the public, so that when as in the present
case, a genuine centenarian is submitted to their notice
they will, once they see the heading of the paragraph, pass
on as they would from a patent medicine advertisement.
However, there can be no question as to the authority of
Coveneys age, even though his memory took him back
to that eventful time, 102 years ago, he a boy of 13 or
14, saw a big concentration of troops at Bandon, when the
French fleet came to Bantry Bay. At that time, he lived
in his native place of Cloughduv, a few miles to the north
of Bandon, which town was then a hive of industry, full
of prosperous tanneries, cotton and other factories, rope
walks, woollen and other mills etc.
The old man used to tell what a vivid impression the sight
of so many soldiers made on his young mind and the terror
which the arrival of the French expeditionary force created
amongst the loyalists of the district. There were other
people, however, the majority of the population, who could
scarce repress their exultation at the news, although such
manifestations might, in those cruel times, have brought
them a terrible experience of the pitch-cap, or the triangle,
or the half-hanging with which the savage Orange yeomen
and militias glutted their racial sectarian hate of the
United Irishmen and their sympathisers.
Coveney well remembered how, when the tidings of rebel success
in Wexford reached the Bandon district, a number of young
men from Cloughduv set out for the scene of conflict, ignoring
the dangers that beset them on their way. Nearly all of
them reached the insurgent encampment on Vinegar Hill and
they took part in the principal engagements fought in the
country. Some passed through the strife scatheless but many
of their gallant young comrades left their bones on the
The survivors, on returning to their native place after
the suppression of the rebellion, brought with them dreadful
accounts of the murders and outrages committed by the Orange
yeomanry and militia, the Hessian mercenaries and the infamous
Welsh cavalry regiment, the Ancient Britons, whose barbarities
were terribly avenged in the bloody ambuscade of Ballyellis.
On arriving at manhood years, Coveney went to work with
a farmer residing near the village of Kilpatrick, then a
prosperous little village, with some few small industries
and settled down there permanently. There he lived for upwards
on 90 years, outliving by decades the oldest of his youths
compeers. For the past 30 years he had suffered from asthma
but was able to work as a labourer up to ten to twelve years
Coveney was of middle size, strongly built and full of physical
and mental energy. Anybody looking at him would never take
him to be much over 60 years of age, for he appeared no
way feeble and his hair - he was not a bit bald - was only
grizzled. It his habits he was very simple and abstemious.
He smoked but little and drank modestly.
When he heard of arrangements being made to celebrate the
centenary of the rebellion of 98, he expressed the
wish that he would be spared to witness some of the demonstrations
and to see and converse with the returned exiles, amongst
whom no doubt, would be descendants of some of his former
As he was an extremely intelligent old man with his mental
faculties still unimpaired, his presence at a centennial
celebration would have been a most interesting and remarkable
feature. He was probably the most interesting link between
the old and the new 98 for though there were maybe
other centenarians living, none of them could reach up to
his grand total of years.
Coveney was twice married, a son (Thomas) by the first wife
is living in Queensland and is 86 years of age. There was
an interval of about 30 years between her death and his
second marriage. The youngest son of this union is Denis
Coveney, a very intelligent young man. Denis is employed
at the Upton Industrial School.
The centenarian was interviewed and photographed early in
January last by Mr JS Wayland of Cork who had a very interesting
account of the chat and a reproduction of the photograph
in the issue of Black and White on the 22nd of that month.
Great great grandson, Billy Coveney, aged 49, of
Queensfort Deerhounds and Boarding Kennels told The Southern
Star that he has an interesting collection of letters and
photos of a family which has a tradition of longevity, including
his late grand aunt Maisie Coveney, Gurranabraher, who died
recently aged 92. Billys late father and great grand
father were named Denis and his grandfather Bill Coveney
was in the old IRA. There are also relatives in the Kilpatrick
and Bandon areas.
Billy said that in one of his letters, his great great grandfather
wrote to his son Thomas around the time of the Great Famine
stating how starving people were arriving in their hundreds
into the towns. The main diet for people able to get food
was Indian meal because it was impossible to buy seed potatoes.
In another letter, dated January 18 1891, William delights
at having made contact with his son after a gap of 50 years.
Courtesy of the Southern Star