Tag Archives: ballylongford

A letter from troubled Kerry, January 1921

On Jan. 24, 1921, widowed farmer John Ware of Killelton townland, Ballylongford, mailed a hand-written letter from the rural County Kerry community on the south shore of where the wide mouth of the River Shannon empties into the sea. It was addressed to his same-name, bachelor son, a streetcar motorman in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, a noisy, smokey manufacturing city of more than a half million people, a hub of Irish immigrants, including two of his sisters, with a brother on the way.1

The 87-year-old father2 began the letter by thanking his 35-year-old son for an earlier postal order for £3, equivalent to about $200 today.3 Such remittances from immigrants were vital to the Irish economy and perpetuated still more departures.

Your prosperity in America is a great consolation to me. Your generosity and kindness since you left home.

John Ware of Pittsburgh in World War I military uniform.

John Ware the younger left home in 1910. Sisters Nora4 and Bridget followed him to Pittsburgh in 1912 and 1916, respectively. He was naturalized in 1917, entered the U.S. Army as as private in April 1918, and shipped to France two months later. John survived the Great War and returned to Pittsburgh in February 1919.5

The father reported that another son in Ireland had just welcomed a baby girl to his family three weeks earlier. A third son had sailed from Queenstown four days before he wrote the letter, also destined for Pittsburgh.

We all felt so happy he [was] able to get away giving to the present state of the country. That state of the case in Ireland at present is very bad.

War in Ireland

Ireland was in turmoil in January 1921. Two years had passed since Irish separatists established the first Dáil Éireann in Dublin. The Irish Republican Army’s guerrilla war against British authority, typically followed by military and police reprisals, had escalated steadily since summer 1920.

There was a policeman shot in Listowel a week ago. There is a fear there will be great damage done the town of Listowel through envy.

D.I. Tobias O’Sullivan

District Inspector Tobias O’Sullivan was shot multiple times at close range mid-afternoon Jan. 20, 1921. He was only a few yards from the Listowel barracks. The victim was accompanied by his 5-year-old son.6

In Pittsburgh, John Ware may have read the next-day, front-page newspaper coverage of the O’Sullivan killing,7 which occurred about eight miles from his father in Killelton, Ballylongford. The city’s papers reported several of the shootings and fires deliberately set to houses, creameries, and other businesses that occurred in North Kerry since fall 1920,8 one episode only a few weeks earlier:

At Listowel, in the marshal law area, crown forces  were fired on by civilians while arresting men wanted. They returned the fire, killing one and wounding two who were captured and sent to a hospital. Five arrests were made.9

The most notorious event in the area, however, flared a month after John Ware’s letter, on Feb. 22, 1921, when two constables were ambushed and killed at Ballylongford, followed by retaliation from the authorities:

In the history of reprisals no place has proportionally been visited with such wholesale destruction as the prosperous little town of Ballylongford. What was one time the business center of North Kerry, the wealthiest district in the county because of its port … is now little more than a smoking ruin. … The houses remaining are shattered and the people occupying them are confined indoors. Those whose places were destroyed and who fled in terror in the dead of night with no notice save the discharge of rifle, revolver, and machine-gun fire,  the rattle of petrol tins and crackling of flames found refuge with their country friends and are afraid to return.10

These and other episodes of violence against civilians, but not IRA attacks on military and police, were cataloged by the Dáil in a document titled “The Struggles of the Irish People,” presented in May 1921 to the U.S. Senate.11 A century later, the burning of Ballylongford “has still not been forgotten locally.”12

Agricultural distress

War violence was not the only trouble John Ware mentioned in his letter from Kerry:

The past year in the country is the worst that was ever remembered. The most of the year was all raining, the farm produce was never before so bad.

Farming in Kerry in the early 1920s.

His assessment is confirmed in Kerry newspapers of autumn 1920, which reported the impacts of a “late spring” and “continuous wet weather” that created a “black outlook not only for the farmers but for the people in the towns as well.”13 Government reports also recognized the decline in agricultural activity that year, though quantifying it was complicated by the war and relied on estimates and summaries. “In 1920 it was not found practicable to obtain particulars of either crops or livestock on all farms.”14

John Ware in Kerry did not mention his two daughters in Pittsburgh, both of them working as household servants, perhaps also sending remittances. He concluded the letter to his son with wishes for a Happy New Year, a year that in six months would bring a truce to the fighting and conclude with a treaty that created the Irish Free State.

Storms lash Ballybunion, north Kerry

I have written several posts this year about the terrible weather in Ireland. I am most saddened to hear about damage in my ancestral homeland of north Kerry, including Ballybunion.

“Having lived in this town for over half a century, I have never before witnessed anything like the storm that hit Ballybunion on [5 February],” Gerard Walsh, editor of the online Ballybunion News, reported in his 14 February issue. He continued:

“Winds up to 150 mph accompanied by heavy rain, gave residents just some small idea of what it is like to experience a hurricane, as the storm ripped through the town around noon, causing tens of thousands of euro worth of damage and leaving a trail of destruction in its wake. Fences were blown down, sheds were turned over, the wooden hoardings in front of the old Atlantic Hotel site came down and parts of it were blown through the front windows of a number of homes on the Sandhill Road.”

In our 10 February exchange on Twitter, Kay Caball of @MyKerryAncestor wrote: “Quite a bit of damage along the Atlantic Coasts – Clare & Kerry. Ballylongford & Ballybunion both badly damaged.” A more recent email from one of my relations in Navan detailed damage to the barn of another family member in Lahardane townland on the hillside overlooking Ballybunion and the sea.

Walsh concluded: “Thankfully, nobody was injured which is a minor miracle in itself and hopefully we are over the worst of it now. Maybe after this weekend we will see some signs of spring as people begin to clear up and carry out repairs after what has been a really terrible beginning to 2014.”

Storm surge on the Ballybunion strand during a January storm. Photo from breakingnews.ie

The Atlantic surges high on the Ballybunion strand during a January storm.                           Photo from breakingnews.ie

 

 

Irish road bowling comes to U.S. country lanes

Great story from the Wall Street Journal about Irish road bowling gaining popularity in the U.S.

Irish Road Bowling—a low-tech cross between golf and bowling—has been played in Ireland since the 1600s. Much more recently the sport has popped up around the U.S., with fledgling clubs in North Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Iowa. …But the serious rivalries belong to clubs in New York, Boston and West Virginia. Top bowlers in the U.S. vie in tournaments for limited slots to compete in the All-Ireland championships each year.

The object of the sport is to hurl a 28-ounce iron or steel ball over a 1-mile to 2-mile course. The winner is the player who covers the distances in the fewest throws.

Road-Bowling-Ireland

Here are links to the Irish Road Bowling Association (Bol Chumann na hEireann) and West Virginia Irish Road Bowling.

I was surprised to learn that the cannonball rolled down the road is also called a “bullet.”

My north Kerry grandmother used to bake hard, roundish oatmeal raisin cookies that she called bullets. I always thought the self-depreciating nickname for her delicious creation referred to gun ammo. Now I believe she was recalling her youth, following the boys and the iron ball down the rural roads of Kilelton townland near Ballylongford.

Irish road bowling image by Martin Driscoll from Ten Pin Alley.

Reaching Out Ireland/North Kerry

My maternal grandmother and grandfather were both from North Kerry; she from Kilelton townland near Ballylongford; he from Lahardane townland near Ballybunion.

So I was excited to find the North Kerry Reaching Out heritage project, which is affiliated with Ireland Reaching Out.

The national effort is described as “reverse genealogy” and “entails the tracing and recording of all the people who left and seeking out their living descendents worldwide. Those identified or recognised as persons of Irish heritage or affiliation are invited to become part of a new extended Irish society.”

The Kerry effort focuses on people with ties to these villages: Listowel, Ballyduff, Lisselton / Ballydonoghue, Ballybunion, Asdee, Ballylongford, Tarbert, Duagh, Lyreacrompane, Lixnaw, Moyvane/ Newtownsandes, Knockanure, Finuge and Kilflynn.

Here’s the website’s Guide to North Kerry.

As much as I love all of Ireland, there something unique about North Kerry. I get a special feeling whether walking the beach at Ballybunion, hiking to the top of Knockanore Hilll or ambling through the narrow streets and books shops of Listowel. There’s something in my DNA that knows this is home.

Her emigration, 100 years ago

One hundred years ago, in mid-September 1912, Honorah Ware boarded the passenger ship S.S. Baltic at Queenstown, Ireland. The 20-year-old farm girl from rural Kilelton townland in northwest Kerry was bound for the American city of Pittsburgh.

Her journey began with a seven-mile trip to the railway station at Listowel. She probably was joined by an 18-year-old girl from nearby Ballylongford who also was bound for relatives in Pittsburgh. The 65-mile trip to Queenstown, now called Cobh, included stops in Tralee, Killarney, Mallow and Cork city.

The young women likely spent a night or two in a boarding house before taking a lighter out to the Baltic anchored in the harbor. Remember, this was five months after the Titanic sank in the icy waters of the north Atlantic. Imagine what must have going through their minds.

The crossing took eight days. Nora and the other passengers were processed at Ellis Island on Sept. 21, 1912. From there she took a 300-mile train trip to Pittsburgh.

Like many young Irish women of the period, Nora spent her early years in America working as a household servant, or domestic. She married a Kerry man in 1924, at age 33, and they had six children, including my mother. In 1959, I became the seventh of Nora’s 12 grandchildren.

Nora died in 1983, shortly after her 93rd birthday. She never lost her Kerry brogue, but she never got back to Ireland, either. I have had the pleasure of walking the north Kerry headlands and Shannon estuary of her birthplace.

At this centennial of her emigration, I honor her memory. God love her.

Ireland’s military history archive, 1913-21

Irish Volunteers on parade in Tralee, County Kerry, on June 14, 1914.

More than 1,700 witness statements, plus photographs, audio recordings and other documents from Ireland’s revolutionary period are now available online through the Bureau of Military History.

Here’s a news story about the release. Here’s a link to the BMH home page.

I’ve just started reading the witness statements, focusing on people and events around Ballybunion, Ballylongford, Listowel and other north Kerry communities, which were IRA strongholds. Here’s an example from the statement of IRA man Thomas Carmody about the February 1921 reprisal of the Black and Tans after the republicans killed two of their members at Ballylongford.

The next morning the Tans turned out of the barrack and, a short time after, were joined by lorry loads of Tans from other towns in the area. They looted and raided almost every house in the village. They filled the lorries with groceries, whiskey, cigarettes and anything they could lay their hands on. They then went from one house to another setting fire to each. The women were terrified and many of them threw their children from the top windows into the street. In all, 14 houses were completely burned out, while several others were partly damaged.

Keep in mind the witness statements were made in the late 1940s and early 1950s, more than 20 years after the actual events. The collection also falls short on material from the country’s civil war period following the creation of the Irish Free State in 1922.