Skibbereen in Moments: 4 Important Historical Events

Sack Of Baltimore (1631)

Early in the morning of 20th June 1631, corsairs (raiders) from the Barbary Coast of North Africa landed in Baltimore Harbour and carried off 105 men, women and children from the sleepy village to be sold as slaves. This raid was part of a wider pattern of corsair raiding throughout the Mediterranean and Atlantic seaboard, a pattern which began in earnest following the expulsion of the Moors from Spain. The Sack of Baltimore is the only corsair raid ever to have been recorded to hit Ireland.

The inhabitants of Baltimore were primarily English settlers, who had been given the lease of a fishery by the local Gaelic lord, Sir Fineen O’Driscoll. The village was the centre of a power struggle between members of the O’Driscoll family (exiled to Spain after fighting against the English in the Battle of Kinsale) and local lawyer and moneylender Sir Walter Coppinger. Rumours abounded that the corsair captain who had led the raid, Murat Reis (a renegade Dutch sailor converted to Islam and raiding following his own capture at sea), had been tipped off by one of these men, or that the settlement had been built with the specific intent of serving as somewhat of a den for pirates, whom the area was rife with due to the illicit activities of the O’Driscoll family. It may simply have been Murat Reis’ own idea.

Regardless, very few of the Baltimore captives ever saw home again. Sold in the slave markets of Algiers, at most three of them were ever ransomed and returned home. The rest of the captives likely served as either galley or construction slaves, concubines, or ‘turned Turk’ (converted to Islam and assimilated into Barbary society).


First Temperance Hall in Europe (1833)

The Total Abstinence Society was founded in Skibbereen in 1817 by Geoffrey Sedwards, a local Quaker. The Society was the first total abstinence society not only in Ireland, but in all of Europe. Sedwards would go on to establish 72 Temperance Halls throughout West Cork. The Society was taken over by Fr Mathew in 1838 at the request of Cork Quaker leaders. Under its charismatic leader, the movement was massively successful, with five million members by the 1840s all over Ireland.

The Skibbereen Temperance Hall on Townshend Street, built in 1832-1833, was the first of its kind in Ireland, and likely also the first in the entire United Kingdom. The Hall was the centre of a thriving local temperance movement, and also hosted a library. It was at the Temperance Hall that Daniel O’Connell was entertained after his 1843 Curragh Hill monster meeting.

While the original hall burned down in 1854, it would be refurbished several times over the years and eventually became the base of the Skibbereen Fire Brigade in 1966. It served this function until 2002 when the brigade moved to a new home at the Marsh Road, and the hall was knocked in 2006 to widen the carpark entrance. Today a plaque (erected in 1970 by the Skibbereen Pioneers) commemorates this significant landmark of local history.


Michael Collins at the Eldon Hotel (22nd August 1922)

Michael Collins was shot at Béal na Bláth on the 22nd of August 1922, having been caught in an ambush while travelling through the Cork countryside with a small convoy. Earlier that evening, Collins had eaten what was presumably his last supper at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen.

Collins had been in Cork for several reasons, as a man with many responsibilities. Charged with investigating theft of state funds from Cork banks by Anti-Treaty republicans, as well as hoping to negotiate with the other side through neutral IRA middlemen Florrie O’Donoghue and Sean Hegarty, Collins had made the ill-advised decision to journey through Cork (a hotbed of Anti-Treaty activity) with only a small convoy. As an Anti-Treaty republican had spotted Collins earlier that day as he travelled through the countryside, all other roads back to Cork were blocked in order to lure the big Fellow into an ambush. Collins died after receiving a severe gunshot wound to the head.



Homecoming of Paul and Gary O’Donovan, Olympic Silver Medallists in Rowing (30th August 2016)


Paul and Gary O’Donovan, members of the Skibbereen Rowing Club, won silver at the Lightweight Men’s Double Sculls in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, claiming Irelamnd’s first ever Olympic medal in rowing, a truly historic occasion. The two Skibbereen natives arrived home to their native town on the 30th of August to massive crowds eager to welcome home the town’s sporting heroes.

The O’Donovan brothers have been rowing since they were seven and nine with the Skibbereen Rowing Club, and are delighted by the publicity their historic win is generating for their sport and home club. Rowing as a sport has strong roots in Skibbereen. Founded in 1970, the Skibbereen Rowing Club is regarded as the best rowing club in Ireland, with 163 Irish National Rowing Championship wins. The O’Donovan brothers have said on several occasions that they hope to inspire the younger generation to take up rowing as a sport.

The O’Donovan brothers were the subject of the film Pull Like A Dog, which aired on RTE One on 27th December 2016.



By Emma O’Donoghue

‘Dear Old Skibbereen’

Famous at home and abroad, the song ‘Skibbereen’ (also variously known as ‘Revenge for Skibbereen’, or ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’, among others) is one of the most famous examples of traditional Irish songs about emigration (others include ‘Boys from the County Mayo’, ‘Fairytale of New York, and ‘Fields of Athenry’), notably featuring in Neil Jordan’s movie, ‘Michael Collins’.

The lyrics of the song (although there is no single definitive version) indicate that it was composed outside of Ireland, most likely in the United States. The song was most likely written by Skibbereen emigrant Patrick Carpenter, who wrote for publications in New York and Boston, and was first published in 1869 in Boston in a collection called ‘The Wearing of the Green Song Book’.

The song is a dialogue between a father and son about the father’s reasons for emigrating from his native Skibbereen. It covers the various calamities that affected the area and country in general- the Great Famine (Skibbereen was one of the most affected areas, with between 8’000 and 10’000 dead), evictions, and the 1848 Young Irelander Rebellion. The British are blamed for these disasters, and the song calls for revenge in the form of rising up to fight for Irish independence. The song ends with the son swearing to return to Ireland and take his revenge.

Although the song heavily features the Famine, it likely began as more of a Fenian anthem than a pure lament. The song is overtly political and openly militant, and was initially only truly popular in Irish-American nationalist circles. While the song became more popular in Ireland after the melody switched from that of ‘The Wearing of the Green’ to a slower and more melancholy tune, it remained very much a nationalist song.


Further Reading:

Milner, Dan. “FOLK MUSIC: ‘OLD SKIBBEREEN’: Fenian Anthem or Famine Lament?” History Ireland 24, no. 5 (2016): 20-23



By Emma O’Donoghue

Five Fascinating Historical Skibbereen Figures

1. Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa

Born in Reenascreena near Rosscarbery in 1831, O’Donovan Rossa moved to Skibbereen shortly after his father’s death during the Great Famine, where he established the separatist Phoenix National and Literary Society (which would later merge with the Irish Republican Brotherhood). O’Donovan Rossa spent much of his life in various prisons for his Fenian activities. In 1871 O’Donovan Rossa and several others were released from prison but forbidden from returning to Britain until their original sentences would have finished. O’Donovan Rossa would never again live in his native Ireland, but continued his involvement in Irish republican circles for the rest of his life, with his activities ranging from setting up the United Irishman newspaper to fundraising for a bombing campaign in Britain. On his death in 1915, his graveside oration (delivered by Pearse) was a key point in the lead-up to the 1916 Easter Rising. Nowhere is O’Donovan Rossa’s memory more alive than in his native Skibbereen, where the local GAA club and park are named for him.

2. Gearóid O’Sullivan

Born in 1891 in Coolnagarrane in the Skibbereen parish, Gearóid O’Sullivan was a member of the IRB, the Volunteers, the Gaelic League and was an Irish teacher at Kildorrery National School and Coolbeg College. O’Sullivan was the second cousin of the famous Michael Collins, and with many republican leaders arrested in the German Plot in 1918, his cousin summoned him to Dublin and made him an Adjutant-General in the Volunteers. O’Sullivan is most famous for his momentous hoisting of the Irish tricolour on the roof of the GPO during the 1916 Rising. Fr Patrick Doyle (who knew him when he taught Irish at Coolbeg), however, recounted a more lighthearted tale O’Sullivan had told him of his role in the Rising. As Doyle would later tell the Bureau of Military History, O’Sullivan was charged with the transportation of most of the Volunteers’ ammunition supply from Liberty Hall to the GPO. To accomplish this, O’Sullivan used a cab and piled its interior full of ammunition, even stacking some on the roof. O’Sullivan and the ammunition arrived at the GPO just in time to witness Joseph Plunkett lead the charge to capture the building. Right on cue, the overloaded cab floor gave way and scattered the precious ammunition along O’Connell Street. O’Sullivan survived the War of Independence and Civil War, becoming a barrister and being elected five times to Dáil Éireann. He married Maud Kiernan, sister to Michael Collins’ fiancée, Kitty Kiernan, and is remembered with a stone plaque on the Skibbereen Town Hall wall.

3. Agnes Mary Clerke

Agnes Mary Clerke was born in Skibbereen in 1842. Homeschooled by educated parents, Clerke was taught Latin, Greek, mathematics and astronomy. It was the latter in which she would particularly excel. Settling in London, Clerke was a regular contributor to the Edinburgh Review, writing about the history of science (particularly astronomy). Clerke wrote seven books on astronomy on such complex topics as the structure of the universe and theories of its evolution. Clerke’s works were particularly remarkable for their inclusion of rare photographs of space and celestial bodies (obtained from her wide network of international correspondents in the field of astrophotography), as well as her talent for writing in simple language accessible to the ordinary reader that did not oversimplify the complex ideas. Clerke wanted to make astronomy more accessible to the average person, and was awarded the Actonian Prize for her excellent science writing. Clerke was an honorary member of the Royal Astronomical Society, and there is a crater on the moon named in her honour near the landing site of Apollo 12.

4. Percy Ludgate

Born in Skibbereen in 1883, Percy Ludgate is known for designing the second ever general-purpose program-controlled computer. The first design was by Charles Babbage, and while Ludgate was familiar with some of Babbage’s work, the majority of his design was entirely original and his work on program control even superseded Babbage’s. Ludgate’s envisioned machine could multiply two twenty-decimal digit numbers in a mere six seconds, and unlike Babbage’s Machine (which would have been significantly bigger), Ludgate’s was designed to be portable. Little known during his life, although highly respected by his colleagues, Ludgate published only one paper on his machine in the Scientific Proceedings of the Royal Dublin Society in April 1909, and never actually built it, dyinging in 1922 at only 39, of pneumonia. Incredibly, Ludgate was not a full-time scientist or researcher, but seemingly an accountant who took up computer design in his spare time as a hobby. Ludgate’s legacy lives on today in Skibbereen, with the Ludgate Hub in the town named for him.

5. Humphrey O’Sullivan

Humphrey O’Sullivan’s US Patent for Rubber Shoe Heel

Born in Skibbereen in 1853, Humphrey O’Sullivan emigrated to Massachusetts, USA after six years of work in the Cork printing trade. O’Sullivan continued to work in the printing trade in Massachusetts for three years, before going to work with his brother at his retail shoe store. As legend has it, O’Sullivan invented the rubber shoe sole when, working as a press-man printing local newspapers, his co-workers continuously stole the rubber mat he used on the stone floor of the printers to ease his leg fatigue from working long hours. In irritation, O’Sullivan cut out two pieces from his often-stolen mat and nailed them to his shoes. To his shock, this turned out to be a much more comfortable and efficient solution to his leg pain. Within a few years this invention was sold all over the USA, and was known as ‘America’s No. 1 Heel’.



By Emma O’Donoghue

The Skibbereen Area’s Marvellous Megaliths

West Cork has many megaliths (stone monuments) and the Skibbereen area is no exception. These stone monuments- from stone circles and forts to funeral stones, served diverse functions from the defensive to the calendrical, and would be well worth a wander to anyone interested in ancient Irish history.


Please note that parking is not available at all megalithic sites. Some may be situated on private land, so please ask appropriate permissions. As always, leave no trace and treat the monuments with respect.

Knockdrum Stone Fort (N 51° 31′ 35.5″, W 009° 11′ 37.5″)


Located approximately a kilometre east of Castletownshend, Knockdrum stone fort sits on a ridge, from which the Gurranes standing stones (the Five Fingers) can be seen. This impressive stone fort contains within its grounds a souterrain, an underground tunnel used for storage and as an escape route in case of attack.

Gurranes Stone Row (Five Fingers) (N 51° 31′ 50.9″, W 009° 11′ 25.9″)

Known as the Fingers, this stone row is within view of Knockdrum stone fort. Despite only three of the stones currently still standing upright, this stone row is impressive and well worth a visit.

Drombeg Stone Circle (N 51° 33′ 52.4″, W 009° 05′ 13.3″)

Perhaps Ireland’s most famous stone circle, Drombeg is located twenty minutes from Skibbereen town on the N71 and R597. There is a small car park for visitors only a short walk away. The stone circle consists of seventeen impressive sandstone standing stones encircling an altar stone. Within 35 metres there is a fulacht fiadh and the remains of stone huts. Drombeg and two smaller stone circle sites (Bohonagh and Reenascreena) form an equilateral triangle, and are thought by some to be somehow connected or part of a larger complex.

Knockanoulty Ring Fort (51°29’47.9″N 9°18’57.2″W)

Knockanoulty Ring Fort is located just over a mile from Lough Hyne and other nearby sites (such as the Lough Hyne Funeral Stone, the ruins of St Brigid’s Church, and a ruined holy well). The townland of Knockanoulty is bordered by the townlands of Barnabah, Ballinard, and Ballymacrown.

Lough Hyne Funeral Stone

Found throughout West Cork, coffin stones were used to rest the coffin while family, neighbours and friends said their final goodbyes to their deceased loved one within their own townland, before the burial took place. This stone can be found a short walk away from Lough Hyne, in a cleared area of undergrowth.

Reenascreena Stone Circle (51 37′ 4.155″N, 9 3′ 48.129″W)

Located less than a mile from Reenascreena village (birthplace of Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa), the stone circle consists of thirteen stones and is surrounded by a shallow ditch. There are two pits within the circle, one of which was found to contain fragments of cremated bone, suggesting that this was a site of ritual importance and perhaps served as a burial ground at some point.

Bohonagh Stone Circle (51° 34′ 48.37″ N, 8° 59′ 56.35″ W)

Bohonagh stone circle is located just over a mile from Rosscarbery town. The circle has thirteen stones, and there is also a boulder burial 25 metres to the southwest. Similarly to Reenascreena stone circle, cremated bone fragments have been found at the site, suggesting that it was of ritualistic importance.



By Emma O’Donoghue

Skibbereen Arts Centre

West Cork Arts Centre was established in 1985 in Skibbereen, Co. Cork. It is a publicly funded arts facility that creates opportunities for the people of West Cork to have access to, and engagement with, local and global arts practice of excellence.

It supports a multi-disciplinary arts programme with a focus on contemporary visual art . It is a resource and development agency, providing expertise and physical and human resources to assist artists, other arts organisations, groups and individuals to realise arts projects.

It is committed to exploring new and innovative ways of combating the challenges facing audience development and participation, and the development of opportunities for artists, especially in relation to those located in rural communities.

Currently WCAC provides a range of education and community programmes for adults and children at the Centre in Skibbereen and throughout the West Cork region. The unique and enriching opportunity to experience and work with real artworks and live artists is explored through many of its programmes. Our Artists’ Residency programme (Artists’ Studios and Dance Studio) offers Artist in Residence studio opportunities to artists locally, nationally and internationally. West Cork Arts Centre places education at the heart of its activities with a wide range of arts workshopscommunity-based projects, film screenings, seminars, talks and gallery tours on offer throughout the year.

West Cork Arts Centre covers the Skibbereen and Bantry urban and rural area which stretches from the Beara Peninsula in the west, to Clonakilty in the east, from Dunmanway in the north, to the islands of Cape Clear and Sherkin in the south. A considerable number of artists and crafts people from Ireland and abroad are living and working in the area.

Partnerships with other organisations and agencies are formed to deal with this geographical area and this is a vital strategy for realising the objectives of the Centre

Origins of Skibbereen

The Origins of Skibbereen

Skibbereen (population c. 2,000) is a vibrant market town serving a large hinterland. The town as we now know it owes its origins to a raid of Algerian Pirates on nearby Baltimore in 1631, when 100 people were taken as ‘white slaves’. A small number of survivors moved up the river Ilen to establish the town where it is today.

However, there was a much earlier settlement just east of the town, based around the castle of the overlords, the MacCarthys. This wealthy Gaelic family forfeited its estates during the turbulent 17th century. English Planters William Prigg and Samuel Hall were given Market Rights by a 1675 Patent. There was also a Cistercian Abbey on the banks of the Ilen from the 13th century.

The name Skibbereen is thought to have derived from ‘skiff’, a type of boat used for crossing the river. Prigg and Hall renamed it New Stapleton; however, it soon reverted to ‘Dear Old Skibbereen’.


Skibbereen is also said to be the ‘Cradle of Fenianism’. The famous Irish revolutionary Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa became politically active in Skibbereen just after the Famine. He went on to become one of the leading members of the Fenian movement. Rossa is commemorated in Skibbereen at O’Donovan Rossa Park, just outside the town. The Maid of Erin statue at the town square was unveiled by Rossa in 1904.

Another well-known Irish revolutionary, Gearóid O’Sullivan, took part in the Easter 1916 Rising. He raised the Irish flag over the GPO during that infamous rebellion.

O’Sullivan was a good friend of Michael Collins, another renowned West Cork revolutionary. Collins stopped at the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen on August 22nd 1922. Later that day, he was shot dead at Béal na Bláth.

Capital of the Carberies

By the early 1800’s Skibbereen was an important regional town. In June 1843, Daniel O’Connell held one of his monster Repeal meetings in Skibbereen. Newspaper accounts of the time claimed up to 500,000 attended.

The decades after the Famine saw major improvements in the town. The building that now houses Skibbereen Heritage Centre opened as a Gasworks in 1867 and the arrival of the railway a few years later heralded a new era for Skibbereen.

Two newspapers were established in Skibbereen in the 19th century. One of them, the Southern Star, still has its offices in the town. The second newspaper, the now-defunct Skibbereen Eagle, is remembered for ‘keeping its eye on the Czar of Russia’.

Science was also to the fore in 19th century Skibbereen. The celebrated astronomer, Agnes Mary Clarke, was born in Skibbereen in 1842. The ‘Clarke Crater’ on the moon is named in her honour. Another Skibbereen native, Percy Ludgate, designed the ‘analytical engine’, which is regarded as the first portable computer.

Skibbereen was the Seat of the Catholic Bishop for the Diocese of Ross between 1851 and 1950. The Cathedral in North Street is still the most imposing building in the town. The town evolved to become a hub of industry and was a thriving market town throughout the 20th century, as it still is today.

Skibbereen is the most significant town in Ireland in terms of its Famine heritage and it has an important role in commemorating this pivotal period. Every street in the town has its own story and the people of Skibbereen are extremely proud of its unique heritage. Learn about this important period of Irish history at the Skibbereen Famine Story exhibition  Skibbereen Heritage Centre.

For further information and details on important buildings in the town please check

Top Ten Facts

Top 10 Facts about Skibbereen

1. The name “Skibbereen” is thought to have derived from ‘skiff’, a type of boat used for crossing the river.

2. Prior to 1600 most of the land belonged to the native McCarthy tribe who were the overlords but the O’Driscolls also reigned there – today McCarthy remains the town’s most common surname.

3.  At the height of the famine in 1848, the body of an unnamed boy, taken for lifeless was placed in a coffin in the Town Square and conveyed for burial to the Abbey Cemetery. As he was lowered into the pit, the youth regained consciousness and walked unaided from the grave.

4. Skibbereen was one of the worst-affected areas in Ireland during the Great Famine and up to 10,000 Famine victims are buried in the Famine Burial Pits of Abbeystrowry Cemetery.

5. The Temperance Hall was the site of the foundation of the first Temperance Society (abstaining from alcohol) in Europe. Built in 1833 it has been succeeded by Skibbereen’s 26 well patronised pubs.

6. General Michael Collins had his last meal in the Eldon Hotel in Skibbereen before he was shot in an ambush later that evening in 1922.

7. The Skibbereen Eagle, a newspaper founded in 1857, became famous by declaring it was “keeping an eye on the Tsar of Russia” over his expansionist designs on China. This newspaper was superseded by the Southern Star, founded in 1889 which included amongst its shareholders one General Michael Collins.

8. Skibbereen and the nearby villages were chosen as location for the making of the film “War of the Buttons”.

9. Skibbereen and the nearby villages are the home to many international celebrities and World Champion Rowers as well as Ireland’s first Rowing Olympians, Gary and Paul O’Donovan.

10. The man who raised the Tricolour over the General Post Office in Dublin on Easter Monday in 1916 was a teacher from a west Cork farm.  Gearóid O’Sullivan, from Coolnagurrane, Skibbereen, a second cousin of Michael Collins, was a member of the Irish Volunteers, the Irish Republican Brotherhood, and the Gaelic League.

Genealogy Service

Genealogy Service at Skibbereen Heritage Centre

Genealogy service for the greater West Cork area by appointment with our genealogy team. Trace your West Cork ancestry and research your family tree.

Our genealogists, Margaret and Deirdre, can help you trace your West Cork ancestry and are happy to help you by appointment or online.

Catholic Church records for most local parishes up to 1911.
Tithe Applotments, Griffith’s Valuation, local estate records, census & burial records.
Local knowledge of place names, family histories etc.
Personal service by appointment

Lough Hyne & Visitor Centre

Lough Hyne Visitor Centre at Skibbereen Heritage Centre

Discover Ireland’s first Marine Nature Reserve and unique salt-water lake.

Find out about the history, folklore and formation of this renowned natural phenomenon at Skibbereen Heritage Centre before you visit the lough, (5km from the Centre).

Audio-visual on Lough Hyne shown in French, German and English.
Film footage of underwater Lough Hyne and its extraordinary marine life.
Learn about the long history of marine research at Lough Hyne since it was ‘discovered’ by scientists in 1886.
Explore its rich history and folklore – the O’Driscoll castle, its holy wells and the fable of the king with donkey’s ears!
Follow with an informed visit to the lake itself, (5km from Skibbereen Heritage Centre), with information on walks and other activities there.


Heritage Centre

Enjoy a visit to Skibbereen Heritage Centre, located in the award-winning Old Gasworks Building which overlooks the River Ilen.

Skibbereen: The Famine Story at Skibbereen Heritage Centre

Learn about the Famine of the 1840s when one million Irish people died and at least another 1.5 million emigrated.

Skibbereen became infamous as one of the worst affected areas in all of Ireland. The true enormity of this national tragedy is revealed through Skibbereen’s Famine stories.

Rediscover this era through exhibits, dramatisations and interactive stations.
Listen to the personal accounts of those who experienced the Famine in Skibbereen.
Take a ‘virtual tour’ of Famine sites in the town and hear the stories associated with them.
Follow with a visit to Abbeystrewry Famine burial pits (one of 3 mass Famine graves in Skibbereen) where up to 10,000 victims are buried.
Skibbereen Heritage Centre
Old Gasworks,
Upper Bridge Street,
Co. Cork,
Telephone: +353 (0)28 40900


The Great Famine – an Gorta Mór

The Great Famine – an Gorta Mór

Skibbereen was devastated by the Great Famine of the 1840s. As one of the worst affected areas in all of Ireland, Skibbereen is synonymous with this tragic period in Irish history when over one million people died .

Many of the buildings in the town have direct links to the Famine and there are numerous stories associated with each of these sites. Even today, the horror of this terrible time is palpable at these locations, including the infamous Famine Burial Pits at Abbeystrowry which hold the remains of up to 10,000 unidentified victims.

The Skibbereen Famine Story exhibitionwalking trail app and book offer an insight into this pivotal period of Irish history.

Rediscover this era through exhibits and listen to the personal accounts of those who experienced the Famine in Skibbereen. Take a ‘virtual tour’ of Famine sites in the town and hear the stories associated with them at the Skibbereen Famine Story exhibition.