How West Cork bounty almost became a county
AUTUMN leaves may have been falling in the garden of the cottage that I was renting during a break in West Cork two weeks ago, but the sun was splitting the sky, making it hot enough to sit outside with hardly a stitch on. Like the toddler who made me smile on Warren Strand in Rosscarbery — who was wearing nothing but a nappy under a T-shirt bearing the legend: “West Cork: the 33rd county.”
This beautiful town is more modest, being mostly hidden from view by trees. Its friendly residents were in fine form, having won silver medal in this year’s Tidy Towns. Though it epitomises how West Cork is cleaning up in other areas — what with GAA glory, in the form of Carbery Rangers and Castlehaven briefly facing the prospect of playing each other in the County Club Senior Football Final at the end of the month.
It would have meant the all-east Cork Senior Hurling Championship Final being followed in football by the Andy Scannell Cup going west after 33 years.
Reminding me that from the mouth of babes — or their mouthpiece of T-shirts. Because it wouldn’t be the first time that the west nearly popped the County Cork, so to speak. For Rosscarbery once was on the verge of becoming the main town of a separate county of that same name.
For The Council Book for the Province of Munster c.1599-1659 reveals how Queen Elizabeth I decided that County Cork was too large to run as one unit and needed to be broken into two counties, a view shared by her successor, James I. The new county would be named after its shire, or main town.
Youghal’s yearning to become the high status settlement almost succeeded, after the King’s Privy Council agreed to the proposal by letter to the Lord Deputy, Arthur Chichester, in January, 1609. But its chances were scuppered when the President of Munster and the Freeholders of the County dismissed Youghal as unsuitable because it was in the eastern-most part of the county.
This prompted the King’s Council to write to Chichester again in June, 1609, advising that Cork continue as the shire town of the eastern county — while Rosscarbery (“being an ancient corporate town and the Bishop’s seat”) would become the shire town of the new County of Rosscarbery. After all, wrote the King’s Council, it was best sited for spreading a “civilising” influence westward.
The debate on splitting Cork continued into 1613, with Richard Moryson, vice president of Munster, suggesting that they divide the county along a line going from Crosshaven to Carrigaline, on to Owenabue and from there through Muskerry and Duhallow.
However, this is the last word on record, with no explanation as to why the dramatic idea was dropped.
But whatever about the rest of Cork, if either of those mighty Ross and Haven minnows did win the Scannell Cup, the celebrations in western parts would surely leave many in the county half cut.