By Pauline Murphy
In the autumn of 1902, Padraig Pearse spent some time cycling around West Cork. The then 22-year-old Pearse was in search of ‘Irish Ireland’ and he found it amongst the wilds of West Cork, writing about his travels here in the Gaelic League newspaper An Claidheamh Soluis.
In the October 4th issue of An Claidheamh Soluis, Pearse wrote how he started his travels in Cork city and travelled by train to Macroom.
When Pearse arrived in the town that “never reared a fool”, he hopped up on his bike and cycled westward to Ballyvourney. He described Ballyvourney, as the “principal city of the Gaeltacht” and he stayed there with his good friend Dr Domhnall O’Loinsigh, who was a famed figure in the area when it came to preserving the native language and customs. Dr O’Lionsigh had built the local community hall at his own expense so locals had a place to gather. On the night Pearse was there, they all gathered in the hall for song and dance. Pearse wrote “the evening passed with a dance in the new hall and a ceilidhe, in which Tadhg O’Cruadhlaoich was the sole artist, and good he was!”
The next morning Pearse set off on his bicycle once again. He went in direction of Ballingeary, over the mountain road Beal na nGleanna, as he described in his article; “from Ballyvourney, a switchback road threads through the hills to Ballingeary.”
In May 1916, after the execution of Pearse, Dr Loinsigh organised a gathering of locals to mourn in the same hall that Pearse had spent an evening in all those years before.
Pearse had a lot of praise for Ballingeary, particular its school children. He wrote in his Claidheamh Soluis article; “as I neared the village the children going to school greeted me lustily in Irish. The Ballingeary schools, presided over by Mr and Mrs O’Scannaill, are the premier schools in Ireland so far, as the teaching of Irish is concerned.”
Pearse enjoyed a long afternoon in Ballingeary school listening to the children singing songs and reciting poetry in Irish, before he continued on his travels. He went from Ballingeary to Gougane Barra and wrote “I went through what is probably the most Irish speaking district in county Cork. The people salute the wayfarer in Irish as a matter of course.”
Pearse didn’t have as good a word for Bantry as he did for the rest of West Cork. He described the maritime town as one “infested with tourists who seem addicted to wearing tennis costumes in all classes of weather and to carrying tennis bats instead of walking sticks!”
Pearse couldn’t get out of Bantry fast enough and the next stop on his travelogue details a Sunday in Dunmanway. He arrived in the town just in time to experience its ‘Irish Sunday’ where Irish song and dance were the order of the day.
After mass in Dunmanway, those filtering out from the church would gather in the centre of the town where, on a platform made from a few dozen planks placed across empty barrels of porter, a piper played a series of tunes.
When night fell, Pearse and the locals of Dunmanway retreated to St Patrick’s Hall where the music and dance continued deep into the night. In the September 12th issue of An Claidheamh Soluis, Pearse wrote; “Dunmanway has the reputation of being one of the most West British places in West Cork but it is a reputation undeserved.”
Pearse also travelled east to Youghal and north to Fermoy on his cycle tour but it was West Cork where he held a particular affection because it was there he found his ideal Ireland, it was where he found ‘Irish Ireland’.