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Monty O'Neill

An Interview

with Bridie Little

1997

Monty O'Neill Interviewed by Bridie Little in Cromane, Winter 1997

Bridie: "Monty, you have grown up near the Coastguard Station, could you tell us a little about it?

Monty: "The Coastguard Station was built by the British in the last Century (Ed note:19th Century). Six houses in number, all built from stone. They were built to house six Coastguard families. The boathouse was also built at the same time. The road then went only as far as the boat house, those families living below walked the beach to their homes, in bad weather they walked through the fields to the left of the boathouse. The road from the boathouse was built as late as the 1920's. The sea-wall was built in the 1930's by local labour, the rate of pay was 24(?), this was the normal rate at that time.

Bridie: "The British had their own church built on what was the O'Neill's property. Is that correct?

Monty: "A lady by the name of Miss Hamilton who used to holiday in Dooks donated the site and also had the church built, this was sometime during the years 1860-1870. Lucy O'Neill who was my aunt was the last person to worship in the church. She died in the year 1979. I remember the horses being tied to the gates of the church on Sundays when the service took place. There was a large contingent of British families at the time, some living in Dooks. Before this church was built there was a building lower down in Cromane called the Mission Room, this was where they worshipped before the new church was built. The church is still there and has been beautifully renovated keeping the Gothic style of the building still intact. It is, of course, now used as a dwelling house. The font belonging to the old church still survives and is being carefully cherished. The last to be baptised in the font were Dessie and Kenneth O'Neill now living in Milltown."

Bridie: "Do you know when the Roman Catholic Church, was built?"

Monty: "The Roman Catholic church was built in 1902 - that was the date on the gable - it could also, perhaps, be the date that the bell was erected. The church was again renovated in the 1960's and again in the 1980's. Before the church was built the people of Cromane used to walk to Killorglin to worship. In 1986 new bells were erected in memory of Tom Hayes who died putting out a fire in the church. His death shattered the people of Cromane, he had done such excellent community work - he was sadly mourned and missed by the people."

Bridie: "Monty, can you tell me about Glosha Bank?"

Monty: "Glosha Bank was built in 1921."

Bridie: "When was the first school established in Cromane?"

Monty: "The school was where Denis Teahan's public house now stands. There was quite a large population of British children attending the school, whose religion would not have been Catholic. There were six of the O'Neill's alone. There was a popular visiting house known as the Lodge, this was owned by a British family. Those people coming from Dooks to Cromane used to walk the fields of Stookisland and Lios - this is how the children went to school."

Bridie: "When was the school at the cross set up?"

Monty: "A new school was built in 1886 at the Cross in Cromane. I am told that the first Headmaster was called Master Foley and the last Headmistress to teach there was Mrs. Eileen Hayes. There were four class rooms and a gallery. The toilets were outside. In 1986 the new modern school was built in Glosha, and with great expediency members of the then Community Council were successful in acquiring the old school for the purpose of a Community Centre. Obviously hard work went into the fundraising, communication with state bodies etc. in the implementation of the renovations, all the work and expenses were completed without any burden to the community. The opening of the Centre took place in December 1994. It is a very valued facility for the people of Cromane, being used by the groups operating in the area."

Bridie: "Cromane always relied on fishing, did it?"

Monty: "In the last century (19th) the local people of Cromane were not allowed to fish their surrounding waters. Fishing was government owned and controlled. There were six salmon weirs in the area of Dooks and Cromane, they were run by the firm of "Keyes, Ronan and Dodd", situated in Killorglin."

Bridie: "So when did Cromane gain control over the surrounding waters then?"

Monty: "There was a man by the name of Michael Casey who had spent some time in Australia, he was also known as Michael Óg. Michael opposed the fishing laws as they pertained at the time. He was boarding the train in Killorglin to attend court in Dublin in connection with the fishing laws in Cromane; he was offered 50 pounds not to attend. Michael declined the offer, he went and attended at the court in Dublin and came back triumphant. This man was also a great boat builder. He is buried in an unmarked grave in Dromavalla. He should and probably always will be remembered in Cromane as being the man who so dramatically changed the living standards of the Cromane people for the first time. Personally, I believe that a monument should be erected in his memory."

Monty: "There was also another man in Cromane who played a huge and important part in changing the living standards in Cromane; he was informed by a sea-captain visiting the area at the time that Cromane was sitting on a goldmine if only they would export the Mussels, which heretofore were only used for local consumption. Moore was a stationmaster in Killorglin. He made enquiries in Britain regarding the exporting of Mussels and within a short time he was doing business with fish-merchants in England - this was in the latter part of the century (19th). The price for a ton of Mussels at the time was five pounds. The men used to haul the dredge by hand weighing 15 to 20 bags. The women would sieve and clean them, carry them in cliabhs on their backs, sack and label. They would then transport them by donkey or pony cart to Killorglin to the train. These were hard times!"

Bridie: "What other type of work did women do at the time?"

Monty: "In the last century and in the first half of this century (20th) women worked very hard. Cutting the seed potatoes (sciollain), binding the oats, bringing home the turf, digging and saving the potatoes and also rearing large families. Wives were chosen not so much for their good looks but for the strength of their backs. They had to do a lot of carrying."

Bridie: "What did the houses look like at the time?"

Monty: "In those times the dwelling houses were mostly thatched roofed, the men used to row to Inch to cut the white straw for thatching, this was particularly good thatching material as it lasted longer than the ordinary bull rushes."

Bridie: "Tell me about the 'Manchester Merchant'?"

Monty: "In 1901 a ship called the 'Manchester Merchant' with a cargo of cotton aboard coming from Brazil went on fire as the cotton overheated. To save the cargo the ship pulled into Dingle Bay. The ship was scuttled to save the cargo, part of which was timber. The scuttling took place in ten fathoms of water a few miles west of Inch beach near Annascaul. The timber was washed up on the shore. The people of the surrounding area collected the timber, some of the houses were roofed with this. The 'Merchant's' losses were Cromane's Gain. Local people were also employed in transporting the cargo to Killorglin."

Bridie: "What was the importance of the coastguard?"

Monty: "The Coastguard had control of all fishing operations. A mast would be risen (sic) at 5.55 each Saturday morning on the watch tower on the Coastguard station, signaling fishing to stop until Monday morning at 5.55. The Coastguards used to keep a boat for fishing protection. This boat was held in the boathouse. One night four local men somehow managed to get hold of the key, they took the Protection Boat across to inch and scuttled it. If the identity of these men was recognised they would have faced severe punishment, luckily they were not found, a livelihood for their families was what they were engaged in, nothing more sinister."

Bridie: "Did the people speak Irish or English in Cromane?"

Monty: "Irish was the language spoken by the people of Cromane in the 19th century. Whilst all were fluent in the language, there were some who could not speak anything else. The traces remain in the English spoken by the people today."

Monty: "During the mackerel season several crews used to go to Cahersiveen to fish mackerel. They fished at night coming into Valentia in the dark. T.W.O'Connell, fish merchant from Cahersiveen, purchased the mackerel."

Monty: "In 1938/39 the Irish Fisheries Board built the Mussel Purification Station in Cromane. In 1940 it was officially opened. The first manager was a man named Wilmot, known locally as Monty."

Monty: "Regattas were held annually. Small boats were used. They used to start from the iron bridge in Killorglin - four miles across the tide, thankfully rowing is strong and healthy in the area to this day. It is interesting how descendents of the old surname are still involved in keeping the tradition alive."

Bridie: "I am grateful to Monty O'Neill for providing me with the above information. I hope I have detailed it as he gave it to me? The more informed reader will note that some dates are approximate, 'ach beidh la eile as an bPaorach'. I am also grateful to Mary, Monty's wife, for providing tea and cakes during the historical briefing."





The Bard of Cromane

LAMENT FOR THE OLD SCHOOL

In the village of Cromane I've stood since 1886 I'm build of stone and mortar - never mind your ready-mix, I've stood the test of time, and clime, but alas my sad prologue, I'm being replaced (oh what a waste) with another in Glasha Bog.

Despite my age, I'm stout and strong and for the life of me, I cannot understand at all why the local committee decided to abandon me, like a useless, decayed log and take my darling little ones to lonely Glasha Bog!

What will I do without them, I'll miss their youthful play, their songs, and dance and nursery rhymed, all through the long schooldays, It really makes me weary as an ageing pedagogue, giving way to a mire youthful man in lonely Glasha Bog.

Ah well I do remember those happy, bygone days when first my doors were opened to God's own sunshine's rays, the boys and girls came barefoot with dresses to the heel, hot potatoes in their pockets, for the longed for mid-day meal, they shared their spuds with others, or the passing hungry dog, can you imagine such a scene in lonely Glasha Bog!

Master Foley and Master Coffey were geniuses of pen who succeeded and another, changing gassons into men, teaching Shakespeare with alacrity and even Euclid's log I'm afraid 'twill never be the same again in lonely Glasha Bog.

I see of late the G.A.A. are developing a pitch about one hundred yards or less from my old earthen ditch, it's really most ironic, and fills my head with fog, to think that this amenity is miles from Glasha Bog.

The planning of this funny scheme, is the latest Kerry joke, the field of play and school, two miles apart Cromane village is deserted, and not one to raise a hand, It really is depressing to my heart. Sure, the people of Cromane have let me badly down; Too many "Yes-men" looking quite agog at the man who wears the Russian hat, Ah, Good Bye, God bless you all and Good luck with your College in the bog.

Crubeens

Now the Scotsmen are fond of their Haggis, and the Cork men their tripe and drisheen, but I still maintain, that for brawn and for brain, you can't whack an Irish Crubeen

My Grandfather swore, when he reached ninety four, that he'd be dead at the age of nineteen, were it not the fact, that his Ma never lacked, respect for the Irish Crubeen.

His hair was as black, as the best of coal slack, and his teeth had a brilliant white sheen, when asked by someone, re this phenomenon, he replied, "'twas the Irish Crubeen."

A crubeen a day, old Gran she would say, when cooked with nice turnips, or greens, together with spuds, smiling out through their stubs, was a meal fit for kings and old Queens.

Now the housewives today, I'm sorry to say, cock their snoots at this source of protein, oh, it saddens the Bard to see such disregard, for the honourable Irish Crubeen.

Instead they buy mutton, lamb chops, pork and steak, and junk food that keeps their kids lean, if they had any sense, they'd save pounds and pence, in the purchase of Irish Crubeen.

When King Juan Carlos of Spain, arrived in the rain, he whispered to his beautiful Queen "I'd give my right hand, whilst I'm in Ireland, to feast on an Irish Crubeen.

I would ask all you readers, who are delicate feeders, try one for a start, and I ween, you'll be thanking the Bard, for the respect and regard, he has shown for the Irish Crubeen.

Knockers

If you’re wealthy, and well dressed, you are a gangster, if your arse shows through your trousers, you’re a bum, whether you play golf or soccer, to the cold eye of the Knocker, you’re away above your station, my dear chum.

“Get behind me, and you’ll find me”, is the war cry of the Knocker, as he casts his steel cold eye upon his prey, he knows every family’s history, but to the ard it’s still a mystery, how he neglected to study his own, along the way.

When his index finger the Knocker points at any other man, he should look down at his hand, and there he’d see, the three of them are pointed back, directly at himself, provided of course, he’s capable of counting up to three.

In many cases he is not, in his ignorance profound, but relies on rustic cunning to survive, he’s the bane of all society, and I’m sure of the almighty, the bard equates this predator! To a wasp in a beehive.

“Let those without sin among you, be the first to cast the stone” Our dear Lord’s words, to a most unruly crowd, your guessed right, they were all Knockers, and miserable mockers, but they had no answer to his words, and slunk away head bowed.

Every family, without exception, has a skeleton in its cupboard, which should be allowed to there remain in peace, if you know where the key is, the bard would ask you please, do not divulge your knowledge, or your happiness will cease.

Pioneer Walk

In the town of Killorglin, that’s famous for Puck if you die at this time, you’re in very hard luck ‘cause the graveyard is full at the back of the town, so before you go up, there’s no place to do down.

Despite the best efforts of all with the brains, not a move could they get from the man with the reins “several thousand” says he, without a hiccup if you want to go down, before you go up.

“I warrant” says Michael, at four score and three, “I’m damned if I’ll pay, ‘tis the haggard for me, in my will I have stated, that in no circumstance should my body to Milltown, or Churchtown advance.

A man from Cromane said ,“I’ll be buried at sea” “If you do” says the wife, you’ll go without me, “I want to be buried in some hallowed ground” “I suppose” said the hubby, “ you’re afraid you’d be drowned”

Says Katie of eighty, as she sniffed at her snuff “Tis a ‘grave’ situation indeed right enough but things I am sure, will come right in the end, if they don’t, God knows,” we’ll be all round the bend”

So the crack it goes on, in lounge, and in bar, I declare it no lie, we’re the joke of Glencar, but God in his mercy, I’m sure has his plans so stay alert, stay alive, you’re in very good hands.

Straying Cattle

Did you ever do battle, with straying hungry cattle as you drove on your way to the west, through Cromane and Stookisland, Dooks, and Dooks mountain if you didn’t my friend, you are blessed.

For there let me tell you without any doubt, every night of the week without fail, you’ll find cattle, asses, goats and some horses as you would on the long lonesome trail.

Some are horned, dehorned, deformed, and thin and obviously lacking in food. While the people who own them, ever keep them at all will never be quite understood.

And four legged friends to the motorist they’re not, but a hazard to him and his clan and for your front garden, you’d need a strong warden to keep them at bay my good man.

Now the Bard he is patient, but that’s fast running out, so a warning he’s giving this day, that he’ll name the owners, of these skin and boners, and that’s no idle threat let me say.

To the long cute acre grazers and traffic hell raisers, and the cute boys who collect them at dawn, tie them up, keep them in, or sell them next fair, otherwise you’ll end up in Seachran.

Old Age Pension

I’m looking forward to the day that I reach sixty-six when, with a little bit of luck, I may not need the sticks to get around, and have my fling, like I’ve never done before, and enjoy my few remaining years, ‘ere I reach that golden shore.

It may seen odd to you my friend, that this wish I should make, but frankly it’s as simple, as the icing on a cake, at sixty-six as you all know, I’m entitled to a pension, and with it will come many perks, which I list for your attention.

I’ll have free light, free travel, free butter, free coal, free telephone and telly, ah! don’t mention that old dole, together with my weekly cheque of forty pounds or more, sure all my “fond” relations will be flocking to my door.

So with gusto I look forward, and with sadness I look back, on all those days of toil and woe, oh man! My aching back, I hope and trust God spares me, and delivers me of tension, so I’ll stand erect, and live to collect, my longed for old age pension.

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Images of Cromane, Co. Kerry