The Avondhu - By The Fireside
Denis Ryan grew up in Kilworth in the 1940s and ‘50s. His parents ran a bar cum grocery business at Lower Main Street in the premises known as The Funcheon Vale Hotel (now The Village Inn). He has fond memories of throwing bowls on the Coach Road with his brother Jimmy in the 1950s. He has written quite an extensive piece on ‘Irish Roads prior to the Turnpike system’, part of which we include hereunder. Denis lives in Mount Merrion in Dublin.
For any community to continue to exist, it was essential that it was able to trade and had a means of communication for both goods and people to move from one location to another. Roads had to be improved for greater usage and the better the condition of a road, the cheaper the transport cost and the speedier the journey. Goods for export had to be transported to the ports, while imports had to be carried to where they were required.
The 1615 Act for repairing and amending highways, established that Irish roads were to be managed completely on a local basis. This Act also introduced the ‘6 day labour system’ whereby parishioners had to attend for 6 days each year, for free, to work on road maintenance or pay fines in default. Grand Juries had a supervisory role.
An Act in 1634 for repairing bridges and highways gave power to Grand Juries to levy a tax on the people within their functional area to build or repair bridges and roads. It also introduced the ‘Presentment System’ which meant when the work was completed satisfactorily, the Grand Jury paid out an agreed amount, having collected it by way of a local tax from the inhabitants. This
Presentment System lasted until 1898!
The country would never have developed as it did without the Turnpike system, as it provided the structure of the trunk transport system, especially during the ‘Corn’ bounty period (a subsidy or bounty paid by the Government on the carriage of corn from all parts of the country to Dublin). This system also provided the basic infrastructure for the later mail coach road system.
Back in the seventeenth century, it meant a gate across a road, capable of being opened and closed to allow vehicles, persons and stock to use the length of the road on payment of a prescribed sum of money or toll. In 1731, eight Turnpike Road Acts were passed, including No 8 relating to Cork via Kilworth mountain to the brook at Glenduff (Mitchelstown) on the Co Tipperary border (34 statute miles). Alice Farrell was the trustee of the Glenduff Turnpike located on the Cork-Tipperary border on the road between Kilworth and Ballyporeen. A two storey building a short distance up the road was used to stable the horses which were fed with grain and hay stored in a loft. It was estimated that, on average in 1778, the Dublin to Cork road (via Clonmel, Clogheen, Ballyporeen and Kilworth) had 1 turnpike gate for every 8.32 miles.
The corn bounty lasted for 40 years until the original Act was repealed in 1797 and the last bounty was paid in 1798.
Many Trusts seemed to be in financial trouble in the 1750s. In the early 1800s, the river/canal systems had grown to be a major link in the national transport network. Again, the advent of railways in the mid 1800s ended the need for all the turnpike roads as passengers, mail and goods now went by train.
The Whiteboys, a secret society made up mainly of tenant farmers and labourers, came to prominence in 1760, brought about by a combination of the effects of the 1759 Roads Act where cottiers and tenant farmers had to pay increased taxes in addition to having to provide the 6 day compulsory unpaid work each year as well as tithes, religious persecution, electoral disputes, poverty, road and land enclosures.
Trouble from this cohort began in the spring of 1761, mainly in the south of Ireland. First formed in Co Tipperary, the society spread along the turnpike road from Clonmel to Cork, through Ballyporeen, Kilworth and Rathcormac, before eventually spreading into counties Limerick and Kilkenny. They threatened landlords and tore down newly erected fences where landlords had been grabbing common land and roadside patches.
In 1765, the 6 day compulsory unpaid work system was abolished and the Presentation System was formalised where such road works were undertaken by the Grand Juries made up of local landlords. In the July 1857 Act, turnpikes were abolished, taking effect from April 5th, 1858.
Twenty one years ago, the old toll-house at Glenduff featured as part of an RTÉ documentary on the old ‘Bianconi route’. The old toll house had fallen into disrepair and would have remained in ruins to this day, except for the efforts of the late Rodger (Rodgie) O’Farrell, who took a special interest in its restoration.
Restoration work began on the structure in 1989 and two years later, it stood as it did in its original state. Hopes at the time that the old toll house may be eventually developed as a travel museum, sadly were not realised. It may well have done but for Rodger’s sudden death some years later.