Courtmacsherry and neighbouring Barryroe have a big history.
What was formerly Timoleague Bay is now known as Courtmacsherry Bay. Timoleague was the head of the navigation and thrived from wharfs built in front of the medieval Priory there until a catastrophic earthquake occurred in Portugal in 1755, causing a tsunami which hit the coasts of Britain and Ireland and dramatically changed the topology. This bay is one example: the inlet was no longer navigable for sea-going vessels up to Timoleague, and new piers and quays were built further to the east, closer to the mouth of the estuary, on the north facing shoreline. The place we now call Courtmacsherry didn’t exist until after this maritime event. However, there was an Abbey in Abbeymahon in the 1200s so people recognised early on how desirable the area was!
The visiting nobility left their mark on Courtmacsherry, not least because their summer residence would become the hotel and the Octagon and the Church of Ireland Church were part of the Estate. The trees that make it so unusual in the area were planted by the Earl of Shannon. The Earl himself and the remarkable Boyle family resided in Courtmacsherry and are linked to many of the buildings that remain. The Ladies Boyle, the last members of the family to live in Courtmac are remembered in The Church of St John the Evangelist where there is an inscription in the porch as well as a donated stained-glass window. The Church is open in the summer months and worth a visit. The Church had been a woodman’s hut under Boyle, later a school teacher’s residence and finally the Church of Ireland.
The first lifeboat was established in Courtmacsherry in 1825 – one of the first to be founded in Ireland. The lifeboat is very central to the life of Courtmacsherry and is very much part of the proud history and tradition of this beautiful seaside village.
The sinking of the Lusitania occurred on Friday, 7th May 1915 during WWI. The ship was identified and torpedoed by a German U Boat and sank in 18 minutes. The vessel went down 11 miles (18 km) off the Cork Coast. One thousand, one hundred and ninety-eight people died leaving 761 survivors. The sinking turned public opinion in many countries against Germany, contributed to the the US entering the war and changed the course of history. The sinking of the Lusitania was an iconic symbol in military-recruiting campaigns as to why the war was being fought. In Courtmachsherry that fateful night, the RNLI lifeboat Kezia Gwilt was on call. The crew rowed the 11 miles out to the wreck because there was no wind to sail her with, and helped rescue survivors. Lifeboatmen involved on that day included Tim Keohane (father of Antarctic explorer Patrick Keohane). The Courtmacsherry Lifeboat was recently the centre of a week-long commemoration as the Centenary of the sinking of the Cunard liner Lusitania has just passed
A monument was unveiled on the 31st May 2016 to mark the centenary of the Battle of Jutland off Denmark’s North Sea coast. Six men from the Barryroe parish perished. The battle involved 250 ships and around 100,000 men. Both sides claimed victory but Britain retained control of the North Sea. Research conducted by the local Courtmacsherry/Barryroe history group revealed 24 men from the parish died serving in World War One.
The monument includes two limestone seats. The seats are carved from limestone that was previously used as steps in Barryroe Parish Church but were surplus to requirements after a refurbishment of the Church of Our Lady, Star of the Sea. The Courtmacsherry & Barryroe history group have a website documenting their research into many local buildings and people as well oral histories.
Our Antarctic Explorer
Patrick Keohane was born in Courtmacsherry, County Cork, Ireland in 1879. He joined the Royal Navy and rose to the rank of petty officer. Served with Edward Evans on the HMS Talbot. At age 30, he was selected to join the Terra Nova Expedition to Antarctica. On the expedition’s main southern journey, he led a pony to the foot of the Beardmore glacier, and then became part of the 12-man manhauling party which began the push towards the pole.
On 29th October 1912, after spending the winter on the continent, Keohane was among a party that went to search for Scott’s group. On 12 November, they found their frozen bodies. Keohane’s last role in the expedition was to help erect a 4m high wooden cross in Antarctica in memory of Scott, Wilson, Bowers, Oates and Evans. After his return, Keohane joined theCoast Guard service. He served as the district officer of coastguards for the Isle of Man. He later rejoined the Royal Navy and served inWWII. He died in England in 1950 at the age of 71.
Determined not to forget one of our own, in February 2011 a few interested individuals formed a committee and approached West Cork Development Partnership, who agreed to back the project to erect a monument to Patsy Keohane. Bandon sculptor Don Cronin was commissioned to cast a bronze statue of Keohane, which was unveiled at Lislee Court, overlooking Keohane’s birthplace in Courtmacsherry, by Cork-born polar adventurer Dr Clare O’Leary.
The West Cork Railway
Courtmacsherry railway station on the Timoleague and Courtmacsherry Extension Light Railway opened on 23rd April 1891, closed for passenger traffic on 24th February 1947 and for goods traffic on 10th March 1947, finally closing altogether on the 1st of April 1961. The Timoleague and Courtmacsherry Railway was a 9 miles (14 km) long, light railway connecting Timoleague station and Courtmacsherry station. It was the last roadside railway operating. Between 1947 and 1961 it operated only for summer excursions and the winter beet harvest. Summer passenger excursions operated every Sunday from Cork Albert Quay railway station and they were well supported from the small stations on route. The leisurely pace at which the trains rounded the sharp curves of the roadside track contributed to the relaxed and jovial atmosphere for which these excursions were renowned. Even though the trains would stop pulling into Courtmac station, the good humour would remain! The entire West Cork Railway terminated without warning in the autumn of 1960. The Old railway route between Courtmac and the nearest town is now a flat estuary walk. Today, the small wooden station building at Courtmacsherry remains, as does part of the single platform. The former loco shed also remains in use as a boat house, and the nearby pier, constructed for fish traffic in 1893 still survives.
There is always an air of mystery to seaside villages and by all accounts the Coast Guard in Courtmac spent a part of their time chasing smugglers along the coast. Smuggling of spirits from France was rife, and many families made their fortunes, including the Deasy’s of Abbeymahon, and subsequently of Clonakilty. Deasy’s Brewery, founded in 1768 in a neighbouring town was hugely successful. Many will remember Deasy’s in Clonakilty and would have fond memories. And they have Courtmac to thank for that too!
We have a great sporting tradition with Barryroe GAA being founded in 1892. The Club website outlines our various accolades and has a large section devoted to the history of the club.
The people of Courtmacsherry and Barryroe have demonstrated their bravery not only here at home in Ireland but, they have also left their mark on the wider world stage. Many local groups have documented their endeavours. There are references here to other resources. Look around the village and peruse all that history left behind! Enjoy!