How West Cork bounty al­most be­came a county

Sunday Independent (Ireland) - - Puzzles - Fiona O’Con­nell

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.

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