O Donovan Rossa Commemorative Event at Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork, Saturday 13th August.

Cape Clear Island Ferry leaves Baltimore at 2pm and returns from Cape Clear at 6pm

Remembering O’Donovan Rossa’s engagement with the Cape Clear island community of 1862.

As part of the Cork County Council 1916 Centenary Programme, a Commemorative Event will take place at Cape Clear island on Saturday 13th of August recalling Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa’s engagement with the starving poor of Cape Clear in 1862. On the ferry journey to Cape Clear a brief 2.30pm stop will be made at the Gascanane Rock to reconnect with a tradition associated with the rock and with O’Donovan Rossa.

At Cape Clear island a Silent Walk will take place from the corner at Dinny Burkes to South Harbour where O’Donovan Rossa met with and distributed relief to some 300 starving men, women and children. The neglect by Government and landlords and the shocking housing conditions on Cape Clear in the 1860s will be presented in an exhibition at Cape Clear Island Museum. Miss Terry Kearney, Manager of the Skibbereen Heritage Centre will launch the exhibition. All interested in the history of islands and in the life of West Cork man, O’Donovan Rossa are invited to attend.

Historical Exhibition at Cape Clear 4pm detailing the background to starvation and neglect of islanders in 1862

In 1800 the Parliament at Westminster passed the Act of Union taking full responsibility for the governing of Ireland. However, subsequent British Governments and landlords in the nineteenth century rarely considered that they had any duty of care towards their tenants and to the poor that their privileged class, had by their centuries of neglect created in Ireland.

The famine death and emigration throughout Ireland in the mid nineteenth century was not an act of God but was caused for the most part by English Government control of Ireland, the plunder of its resources and its wealth, the export of huge amounts of food while the population starved. Government political and economic policies, indifference and landlord neglect caused most of the deaths and the subsequent emigration of millions of Irish people between the years 1845 to the early 1900s. The West Cork area and the islands in particular were badly affected by extreme poverty, hunger and death during these years. At first glance, the extent of the suffering of the people of Cape Clear during periods of distress and starvation seems incomprehensible, given the abundant fish stocks in the surrounding seas. During this time however, the market price of fish collapsed and many fishermen sold off their fishing-gear, their household furnishings to buy food and pay rent, as neither shopkeeper nor landlord was prepared to give credit to the poor of the island.

In May 1862 people were dying of starvation in Cape Clear Island and the situation in nearby Sherkin Island was also desperate. Islanders were calling on the Skibbereen Board of the Guardians, for immediate relief. In a series of accounts, The Cork Examiner newspaper reported in graphic detail on the hardship and hunger being experienced by Cape Clear islanders. These reports stirred a great amount of controversy and brought newspapers into conflict with the Skibbereen Board of Poor Law Guardians. In an attempt to avoid further bad publicity, the Poor Law Commissioners composed of several landlords and business interests decided to send a ton of meal to the island.

Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa who was at the time a shopkeeper in Skibbereen was asked to undertake the work of Temporary Relief Officer for the islands for a period of three months. A boat was made ready to take him and the meal to the islands for distribution. He brought with him his neighbour, Michael O Driscoll, who also knew the island and its community and, like, Jeremiah was a fluent Irish speaker. The meal was put on board and next day set sail for the island.

Arriving in Cape Clear about nine o’clock in the evening Rossa and O’ Driscoll were met by the island curate Fr. Collins with a horse and cart to transfer the meal to his house at South Harbour. Word was sent throughout the island to have all those in need come to the priest’s house at South Harbour next morning to take their share of the relief. Some 270 starving islanders came and received a small measure of meal. Father Collins next took O’Donovan Rossa to see a bed-ridden woman who was living in a cleft of a rock on a hill at the back of his house at South Harbour. They had to crawl on their hands and knees to get inside her ‘house’ and there the poor woman was stretched upon flagstones, covered with heath. She could not sit up to cook the measure of meal that they gave to a neighbouring poor woman for her. The priest suggested that as there was some of the meal left, it would be no harm to give this neighbouring poor woman an extra measure of it in consideration of her attendance upon the sick woman. The woman was given the extra measure. O’Donovan Rossa lost his job because of this.

On the way to the other end of the island to take the boat to Sherkin a number of houses were visited. Some of them had flags for doors—the wooden doors having been burned for firing. In one house were five or six children; one of them was dead—evidently dead from starvation. On reaching the mainland O’Donovan Rossa reported the case of death to a coroner in Skibbereen; an inquest was held and the coroner’s jury brought in a verdict of: “Death from starvation”

The Report infuriated the Commissioners and their chairman, the Cape Clear island landlord called for a postponement of a discussion on Rossa’s Report until the next meeting of the Board of Guardians. At that meeting the landlord had other landlords and friends gathered around: He had an account of Rossa giving the extra measure of meal to the bed-ridden woman: he declared that to be a violation of the Poor Law Rules and Regulations; he proposed that Rossa be dismissed from the position of temporary relieving officer; that he get no salary for the time he had served, and that he pay out of his own pocket for the extra measure he had illegally given away.

The Board dismissed Rossa from his position and the struggle on that subject continued for about six weeks, during which time Rossa continued to visit the islands and bring help to islanders who had been abandoned not alone by the greedy landlords but the Westminster Government who governed Ireland at that time. O’Donovan Rossa brought the Commissioners before the court who found in his favour and the Commissioners were obliged to pay him his three months’ salary. They set out to destroy his business and have him arrested and imprisoned for his republican views.

The high profile given the Coroner’s verdict of death from malnutrition mentioned in Rossa’s report of 1862, and the accounts in the Cork Examiner of widespread starvation, shocking housing conditions and distress brought on a Parliamentary Inquiry which drew attention to landlord neglect of their tenants as well as conditions being suffered by much of the Irish population at the time.

Cork County Council Centenary Fund supports this event.

2016 Commemorative Events at Cape Clear Island, Co.Cork, August 20th-21st


Over the weekend of Saturday- Sunday 20-21 August 2016 events relating to the Howth Gun-Running of 1914 and the part played in that daring and historic venture by Cape Clear fisherman and poet John K. Cotter will be held at Cape Clear Island, Co. Cork.

1. John K. Cotter Memorial Lecture at Club Chléire, Cape Clear Island, 8:30pm Saturday 20th August 2016.
John K. Cotter, Glen, Cape Clear island was a fisherman and poet who composed poems in both Irish and English on a range of varied subjects. Aspects of the following subjects feature in one form or another in verses he composed: landing of guns from the Molly and Erskine Childers yacht Asgard at Howth in 1914; boats, fishing and sailing; island landscape; dancing and other pastimes; An Ghaeilge; love, youth and old age. He also penned a number of poems about other places that were familiar to him, including Galway and Blackwater, Co. Kerry, where he and his family relocated in 1920. His verses are the words and thoughts of an island fisherman who loved his island home, its community, its way of life and language.

Dr. Éamon Lankford, founder and voluntary director of Cape Clear Island Museum and Archive is author of a number of works on Cape Clear island life and history. He has edited the manuscripts, left by John K., of some forty poems. Between 1976 and 1990, he also recorded a number of the poems from an older island generation who were able to recite them from memory.

On Saturday 20th August at 9 pm Éamon Lankford will deliver a lecture titled: Remembering John K. at Club Chléire, Cape Clear island. Over the weekend it is also intended to visit sites mentioned in the poems of John K. where members of the island community will recite some of his verses. All are welcome to attend.

The book of the poems of John K. Cotter : Ó Charraig Aonair go Droichead Dóinneach / From Fastnet Sound to Blackwater Bridge, will along with an exhibition detailing the part played by John K. and the crew of his fishing vessel Gabriel in the landing of guns from the Asgard will be launched at the Island Museum at 3.30pm on Sunday afternoon 21st August.


2.Commemorative Exhibition: The Howth Gun-Running and its connection with Cape Clear islanders
Within a week of the start of the First World War in 1914 a small group of Anglo- Irish Protestant Nationalist daringly brought some 900 guns from Germany to Howth, Co. Dublin in a desperate effort to help arm the Irish Volunteers. Ulster Unionists had been stirring up opposition since 1912 to prevent the passing of the Government of Ireland Bill at Westminster which was at the time offering a measure of Self Government to Ireland. Unionists in Ulster formed the paramilitary Ulster Volunteer Force and imported some 35,000 guns and 3 million rounds of ammunition to back up their threats to oppose by all means the will of the Government and Parliament at Westminster. The Crown authorities took no action against the Ulster Volunteer Force who were heavily armed and drilling openly. As the Erskine and Molly Childers owned yacht Asgard carrying its cargo of guns and ammunition approached Howth on Sunday morning 26 July 1914, Cape Clear islander John K. Cotter was the only person on the East Pier at the time. A member of the crew of the Asgard, from Gola Island, Donegal, recognising John K. from a previous fishing encounter in 1913, called on him to assist with the mooring of the boat. John K. caught the rope passed to him and, with assistance from some of his own crew, who, by this time, were emerging from Cotter’s fishing vessel Gabriel, hauled the Asgard around the head of the East Pier and moored it.

John K. and fellow Cape Clear islander, Carey Con Cadogan, then went on board the Asgard and from its hold, together with McGilligan and crewman Charles Duggan, also from Gola Island, organised the opening of the cargo boxes and all then set about the distribution of the guns, first to Na Fianna scouts and then to the crowd of several hundred of the Irish Volunteers who had, by that time, arrived on the pier, having marched from Dublin to collect the arms.

As soon as the guns were offloaded and dispatched John K’s motor-powered Gabriel towed Asgard from Howth Pier into a position from which, under her gallant skipper and heroic crew, she could safely and swiftly head for the open sea. The guns landed at Howth Pier were used by the Irish Volunteers in the 1916 Rising in Dublin.

Cape Clear islanders have always known and are proud of the part played by John K. Cotter and the crew of Gabriel in helping Erskine and Molly Childers in that bold, historic venture. What if that initiative had not been successful?


The 2016 commemorative events at Cape Clear island are supported by: