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Muintervara started the 19th century as an Irish speaking area and finished English speaking.   There has been a lot of interest in the post on the Irish words used in English in Durrus in the 1930s and I though it might be opportune to look at the use of Irish and its decline in the area in the 19th century.

Being a coastal area and with a significant English speaking population since at least the early 18th century the decline in Irish speaking was more rapid than inland areas such as Caheragh or Kealkil.

Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald has done a study on the decline of Irish in the 19th century based on the 1911 Census[1].  He surmises that Irish was widely spoken in the area extending from South Kerry into West Cork bordering on the Liberties of Cork.  He excluded, however, the area of the Bandon valley and the two peninsulas (Muintervara and Mizen) bordering on Dunmanus Bay where the use of English was predominant by 1860.  This is set out on the table below from his researches.  The decline of Irish was more pronounced by the religious mix of the area involving settlement in the late 17th and 18th century in the eastern part of the peninsula by people of English and Huguenot origin and the influence of the various English speaking schools.  It might be noted that Scart and the Bantry rural area had a high percentage of people speaking Irish as did Dunbeacon and the western end of the peninsula.

Analysis of 1911 Census by Dr. Garrett Fitzgerald, of those born before 1851 and alive in 1911 who could speak Irish

Durrus/Kilcrohane DED

Population2779 60+413 60+%14.9 60+413 Irish Speaking 182 Irish Speaking 44 %
Durrus East 433 65 26 40
Durrus West 686 102 36 35
Glanlough 509 76 33 43
Seefin 555 83 32 39
Sheepshead 596 89 55 62
Neighbouring DEDs
Dunbeacon 588 86 60 70
Scart              549 48 56 100
Bantry Rural              1114 127 116 91

Note: DED is district electoral division.

Eliza Cole 84 widow married 1792 read Irish 1851 Census.  Frank O’Mahony (retired solicitor Banrry author of a history of Kilcrohane) refers to a complex court case heard in Cork in 1823 from Kilcrohane when all the witnesses gave evidence in Irish.   Fr. Matthew administered the pledge in Irish in Durrus in July; 1842.  The American missionary, Asenath Nicholson was in Bantry in 1845 and wrote ‘I left an Irish Testament where the man of the family could read Irish well, and to where no Bible had even been.  The peasants in this part of the country are not so afraid of the scriptures if they speak Irish, because they attach a kind of sanctity to this language.  The Rev Freke was preaching in Irish in Rooska and Glenlough in 1850.  Warburton the local Resident Magistrate questioned whether Irish interpreters could be paid in 1871.  Many of the people over 30 both Catholic and Protestant in the 1901 Census spoke both Irish. It is probable that the 1901 Census at least underestimated the extent of Irish in the older population.  Father Kearney preached in Irish when he was both a curate and parish priest of Durrus.  Gerry Jack Owen Daly (b.1915) recalls a number of Irish speakers in Kilcrohane in the 1920s.[2]

There were a number of business premises in Bantry in 1903 which had their names over the door in Irish, the mottos in the workhouse were in Irish and all the Poor law members could speak Irish[3]In October 1905 Mr O’Hourihan from the Gaelic League addressed a Public meeting in Durrus attended by Father O’Leary and presided over by J.D.O’Sullivan and acknowledged that Irish was seldom used in the district.  Around the same time Canon Shinkwin was talking to the older people in Borlin in Irish and asking them to speak Irish to the small children at night with a view towards arresting the decline of the language.  An article in the Southern Star in 1907 by ‘Ciaran Og’ bemoaned the lack of Irish on the Mizen Peninsula, Dunbeacon and Durrus.  It was not taught in the schools although the Durrus teachers were sympathetic this was in contrast to Bantry where there were classes in the Convent run by Conchubhair O Muineachain and Irish speakers around the town.  The area he felt was badly in need of a travelling Irish teacher.  Articles in Irish by Peadar O h-Anrachain appear in the Southern Star from 1907.  Going by the 1900 Census Irish was being passed onto children up to the 1890s[4]

In the neighboring parish of Ballydehob, Mr. Swanon, an irish scholar lived.  He wrote in 1846

‘that though the people here seem desirous to give it up, it will be a long time before they can express themselves with some comfort in English’.  He tried without success to get his 5 daughters to speak Irish or to have the servants use it in the house.


Sheepshead DED Glenlough DED DED Seafin DED Durrus West  and East DED
Year Born1799 1
1800-1819 7 6 4 2
1820-1829 22 5 14 15
1830-1839 36 23 16 25
1840-1849 59 24 25 45
1850-1859 22 27 18 28
1860-1869 2 6 10 13
1870-1879 2 5 6 13
1880-1889 6 4 8
1890- 2 2 2
Percentage of speakers of Irish and English 21% 18% 15% 12%

In 1846, Thomas Swanton, Irish scholar from nearby Ballydehob remarked of the status of Irish in the locality ‘Though the people here seem desirous to give it up, it will be a long time before they can express themselves with such comfort in English’

[1] Royal Irish Academy, December 2003.

[2] Among those were Mrs Mahony and Dan Mahony Cahergall, Jim Cronin Eskeraha, Mrs Donovan Rhea who was also a teacher. His own father Dan Daly b 1850 had many songs in Irish.  Tadhg O Donnabhain, Kilcrohane,  b1919 has been an Irish scholar all his life, his mother nee Holland from the Coomhola area was a native speaker.  In 1938, school folklore project, Mary O’Donovan, Rearour, stated that Ellen Coakley aged 83 had Irish which she used to greet old friends or strangers.

[3] Southern Star 31 Jan 1903.

[4] Clashadoo Annie Canty 23, Timothy Dullon 26, Annie Dillon 24, John McCarthy 17.  Coomkeen Daniel Burke 25, Mary Burke 26.  Village Mary Levis 20.  Gerhameen Denis Sullivan 22, Michael Wholihan 20.  Ballycomane Michael Hurley 22, Richard Sweetnam 26, James Cleary 25.  Clonee Denis Dineen 18.  Coolculaghta William Coughlan 28 (his brother aged 22 had only English).  Murreagh Michael McCarthy 10, Nora Sweeney 20, William Sweeney 22.

Some of the older older Church of Ireland farmers in the 1900 Census had both English and Irish, Clashadoo Paul Shannon 70, Crottees Mary Deane 50, Jane Dukelow 72, John Camier 82.  James Dukelow 65 Drumtaniheen.  Ballycomane Richard Vickery 64.  Dromreagh John Jagoe (born outside Dunmnway) 75.

Harry Ward runs a website re the connection between the Casper, Wyoming area and KIlcrohane.  In it he says his father born 1890 remembers the old men outside the store in Kilcrohane talking Irish suggesting they acquired it 1830s/40s.