Updated: 19/04/18 : 07:46:01
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Sligo and its cultural history... is indeed Surprising!

By Declan Foley

Upon reading, Paddy Clancy's, excellent piece in Sligo Today, (see link below) I, for one hope it leads to others, studying, the great, and important history, of Sligo town and County. W. G. Wood-Martin's "History of Sligo Town and County," published in 1883, has rarely been surpassed.

A number of books, published in the past thirty years by amateur, but notable, historians, alas, leaves much to be desired, for the simple reason: the authors failed to reach out to others, with knowledge of Sligo. 

I cite two examples here: John Mc Ternan's excellent book on Sligo, cites the make of motor car owned by the Gore Booths in 1903 as a "Dainter" because, that is how he deciphered the hand writing, in the Sligo Council, Motor Tax Office record for the car. Whereas, the car was in fact a Daimler, -- these details, if made available to the Daimler Club in England, would complete a blank space in the records of the Daimler Car Co, destroyed in the bombing of Coventry, during WW II.  History in Sligo, also has its value in other places.

In 1976 the Diocese of Elphin, published a history of the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception to celebrate its centenary. The editor mentions on the original plan, there is a  "Mortuary": - he was baffled by this, and imagined it was an error. Yet, if he had approached my father Gerry Foley, my brother Tony, or myself, we could have told him that the "Mortuary" was where the coffin was placed  as part of the rite of "removal of the remains," to the Cathedral on the eve of a Requiem Mass. This practice ceased circa 1955. The reverend editor again, did not ask anyone else's view. In fact, any RC could have told this reverend editor, that the baptismal font inside the front door of a Catholic Cathedral, or church, and the mortuary behind the altar,signified the path of life, from birth to death.

As the piano that accompanied Count John McCormack was dismissed as insignificant; so too, was the make of the Gore-Booth car, and the actual reason for a mortuary, being in the plan of the Cathedral. Nothing in history is insignificant.

For example,  A Celebration of Sligo First Essays for Sligo Field Club,  editor Martin Timoney, is a fine example of the wonderful natural history that Sligo has. Well edited, concise, but most importantly: shared with others prior to publication, and their suggestions taken on board.

History is important for many reasons, and Sligo is abundant in it. From the dolmens preceding the  Egyptian pyramids, through the Tuatha de Danaan; the Fir Bolgs; Court Cairns, Carrowmore (the one in the Bricklieve Mountains "The Speckled Mountains") and the great megalithic cemetery at Carrowmore near Sligo town: the Battle of the Books near Drumcliffe, preceded by Ptolemy's City of Nagnata.

For example: Collinsford near Drumcliffe was a major north-south crossing of the Drumcliffe river. This extract from Wood-Martin, (p 273 Vol:I)

A large boy of the cavalry of Carbury was ordered by O'Conor to occupy the pass of Bradhullian,  -  (Braghait- Chuillige. Old map of Sligo of 1609 this place is called Bradhillye, now Collinsford.) [W-M footnote] - which lies to the east of Finned. This pass was formerly identified by a castle, and the site is till called by the country-people Bhaile-an-chaislean, i.e.,  Castletown.

Wood-Martin, notes, "the tradition amongst the men of Grange and Magherow (who so late as 1836 spoke for the most part Irish) was, that O'Donnell, when leading his forces against O'Conor Sligo, always passed from Ballyshannon through the plain lying  to the north-west of Ben-Bulbin, keeping very close to the sea, until he reached Braghait- Chuillige, now Collinsford, which lies about a mile east of the village, [of Drumcliffe] and has given its name to a townland in the parish of Drumcliff. Tradition further says, that at this ford (In Irish Atha-a-choilin,  the ford of the holly, and yet remarkable for the growth of that evergreen) O'Conor always encountered O'Donnell and resisted his passage. . . . Collins, from whom the ford, according to a local tradition, took its name, lived in the time of this O'Donnell. He is sad to have been a faithful retainer of O'Conor, proof against all bribes, and he is reputed to have beheaded without compunction any person he detected in an attempt to cross his ford, which formed one of the few inlets from from the Magherow district to the country lying about the town of Sligo. However strange this statement may now appear, [1883] it should be borne in mind that the whole of the district in question had been continuous forest, that the destruction of forests is invariably followed by a rapid diminution of rainfall, and it is therefore quite credible that the streams and rivers were, at the time treated of, both wider and deeper that at present. . . ."

Many years ago the Sligo Tourist Association came up with the headline for a brochure "Sligo is Surprising!" Indeed it is, and so are its people and places, from the distant, and recent past.

There is so much of the County of Sligo: townlands, villages, and people that have played minor and major roles, in long ago as well as recent history. Nothing in history is set in stone, as one historian, asserted some years back about the origins of the name of Sligo.

Always bear in mind, as this extract from Wood-Martin illustrates Irish history was oral for centuries, and the following is an example of how you can learn from oral history over a period of time.

Circa 1971 my father Gerry Foley (1913-1990) was telling us of an ambush on the RIC barracks in Wine Street ( later Rogers & Lyons shoe shop) in 1921. Aged 8 years he was with  friends from Upper John Street, when the attack happened. He told us a man was killed by a ricochet bullet, and he could not recall the man''s name. 

Two years later in the company of the late, Jim Duncan,  - a long time employee, of Henry Lyons & Co's furniture removal department, based in Lower Knox's Street, with its high plate glass windows - of Willie Mc Quirter installing flood lights in the ceiling, near one particular plate glass window, Jim said to Willie, "Whatever you do, don't touch the top of that glass, it is brittle,as that is where the bullet ricocheted in 1921, etc, etc.,

In 1984 talking to painter and decorator, Seamus Mullen, I asked Seamus if he could do a faux black carrara marble finish on the funeral parlour in High Street. Seamus replied, "You will need to get Kivlehan the painter from Wolfe Tone Street that was killed by a ricochet bullet in Wine Street during an attack on the RIC barracks! No one ever learned that technique from him."

No more than Paddy Clancy's seeing the historic piano lying dilapidated in Summerhill College, here was another historical piece garnered over fourteen years, from three different people, from three different aspects. This is why research is important when it comes to history.

As an aside to the Summerhill piano, on the day John Mc Cormack's completed his education at Summerhill College, as he made his way down the avenue to Sligo Railway Station, get a train to his home town of Athlone, he was accompanied by a fellow student, going home to Roscommon, Edward J Flanagan, the founder of the famed  "Boystown" in Omaha, U.S.A.

When dealing with Irish history, we must be aware of changes in the Irish language down the years, and also take into account elision in place names, as per the example from Wood-Martin: "...  the pass of Bradhullian,  -  (Braghait- Chuillige. Old map of Sligo of 1609 this place is called Bradhillye,"  

Link: Sligo Today 17/4//2108