From curse of the crows in Cork to the louche Happy Valley set in Kenya
TO understand the depth of feeling among locals opposed to the State forestry agency selling to a man, who by his own admission is attempting to reassemble his family’s foothold in the area by reclaiming his heritage, it is necessary to go back to times past.
The Castle Freke Curse of the Crows dates back to more than a hundred years ago when Stephen Evans Freke’s granduncle John lived in the area.
As the locals tell it, there had been crop after disappointing crop of corn because the crows had got to it before it could be harvested.
So, according to local folklore, the erstwhile 10th Lord Carberry, aviator John Carberry, hatched a plot with one of the men who worked on the estate to outwit the
Renounced title after quarrel with his mother
crows. The story goes that the seed for the next crop was soaked in alcohol, most likely the illegally distilled poitín.
And so it was when the crows returned to feast on the next harvest, they dropped to the ground, felled by the overwhelming effects of the alcohol. Thereafter the incident was referred by locals as the Castle Freke Curse of the Crows.
Soon after a prolonged dispute with his mother, the 10th Lord of Carberry sold up and headed to America. But after one too many bootlegging forays, the adventureloving Nazi sympathiser was banished forever from the United States, accompanied to a cruise liner by special agents just for good measure.
It was an inglorious exit that would no doubt have spelled the finish of a lesser mortal. But for John Carberry– who renounced his title after falling out with his mother – this embarrassing incident was merely a footnote in a colourful life that stretched from the family seat in Rathbarry, West Cork, to London, America and then on towards Kenya where he and fellow aristocrats revelled in a hard-living and promiscuous lifestyle immortalised in the film White Mischief.
The movie, based on a book of the same name, told the story of the murder of Josslyn Hay, the 22nd Earl of Erroll, who had a penchant for publicly humiliating the cuckolded husbands of his wealthy married conquests. Starring Charles Dance and Greta Scacchi, it chronicled how the decadent ways of the ‘Happy Valley’ set led to their undoing and eventual downfall.
In the aftermath of the 1941 killing, the finger of suspicion pointed firmly towards another member of the group.
A key witness at the subsequent sensational murder trial in 1941 was John Carberry’s teenage daughter Juanita. Her decision not to reveal that the suspect had confessed to her led to the acquittal of Sir John Henry Delves Broughton. At the time of the murder Sir Delves Broughton’s much younger wife Diana had been having an affair with the 22nd Earl of Erroll. But few of any of those implicated in the case ever found lasting happiness.
As for John Carberry he left a trail of destruction in his wake and squandered much of what he had inherited. He died in 1970.
Portrait: John Carberry, left, with mother Mary and his younger brother