Castletown

Castletown derives its name from Castle Dermot, an old castle built by a McCarthy. It is rather a modern town as there was not a house here, except the ruins of the castle, when Dunboy was besieged. In the year 1800 there were a few fishermen's cottages. The Allihies Mines, which were opened in 1812, gave it the first start, and in 1840 it contained more than 300 houses. The present population is about 1,000. The town has been vastly improved during the past twenty years, new houses have been built and old ones improved; sewage works have been constructed, and a good supply of pure water introduced into the town. There is, however, no industry in the town, and the only industry in the past, viz., fishing, has been on the decline for many years. In the year 1840 there were 12 hookers of 12 tons and 51 yawls, which furnished employment to 400 fishermen; at the present there are not more than half-a-dozen yawls, which give employment to about 20 men—and that not steady employment.

In about the year 1840 fairs were first established here, and four fairs were held annually. At the present there is a monthly fair, and two fairs are held in certain months. There has been vast progress in every way, and the town is likely to become a prominent centre in the future. The traders of the town are good business men, some of them wealthy, carrying on an extensive trade, and they are sure to embrace every opportunity offering itself that may tend to the advancement of the locality.

The affairs of the Church are in a flourishing condition. The Sisters of Mercy have charge of the infant and girls' schools, and impart a sound religious and secular education, both primary and secondary. The inhabitants appreciate the opportunity afforded to their girls of receiving a training equal to that given in some of the best secondary schools. A beautiful new church has been recently constructed under the superintendence of the Very Rev. J. Canon M'Donnell, P.P., at a cost of about £15,000. It is an enduring monument to the energy of the priest, and to the piety and generosity of his parishioners.

The whole barony of Bere is now in a peaceable and prosperous state, but it was otherwise in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries. During all that time it was very much disturbed, and suffered from invasion, forfeiture, and other evils. Attempts were made in several places to introduce foreigners and expel the natives, and this was done under the sanction and support of the Government, but all ended in failure. A Huguenot settlement was established here about the year 1700. The organiser of the project was Jacques de la Fontaine, the son of a French Protestant minister. This adventurer came to England and carried on some small business for a time. He then became a Protestant clergyman, and in the year 1694 came to Cork, where he ministered to a small Huguenot congregation. He heard of the fisheries at Berehaven, which he thought offered a wider field for the exercise of his energies. He repaired hither, rented some land and houses, brought over his colonists, and formed a fishing company. He was soon appointed Justice of the Peace, and in this capacity became most obnoxious to the natives.

He made himself a busy tool of the Government, and interfered in matters which scarcely concerned him. Smuggling was carried on largely at the time, and he thought he would put a stop to it. The task was beyond his powers and brought him to grief. He was fully aware of the enmity of the natives and of those engaged in the smuggling trade, and he made preparations to protect himself in case he should be attacked. Having some knowledge of erecting forts, he raised earthworks around his residence, which got the name of the " Sodfort." His foresight was soon justified, for in June, 1704, a French privateer entered Bantry Bay and proceeded to storm the Sod Fort. Fontaine stood well to his guns, and after an engagement that lasted from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon, the privateer withdrew with the loss of three killed and seven wounded. The Government granted him a pension of five shillings a day for his skill and bravery in the action, and he was supplied with five guns which he was authorised to mount on the battery.

On the 7th of October, 1708, another attack was made by a French privateer. As she entered the harbour she hoisted the English flag. A man from the fort came on board, who was liberally supplied with wine, which made him rather communicative, and he revealed that the fort was without a guard. Fontaine was temporarily absent. The crew of the privateer, who were nearly all Irish, determined to attack the fort at midnight. As they approached the fortifications, Fontaine, who had now returned, hailed them through a speaking-trumpet, and as no answer was given he opened fire on them. The fight that ensued was vigorously contested, but the attacking party prevailed and the garrison surrendered. Fontaine and his two sons were taken on board the privateer. Madame Fontaine offered to pay a ransom of £100 for her husband, handing in £30 as a first instalment. As a security for the remainder, the skipper took away one of the sons, but he was soon released and no further payment was demanded. Fontaine and his colonists packed up immediately and left Berehaven.

The parish in which Castletown is situated is called Kiloconeanach, the Church of the Fair-field. The term Aonach, a Fair, meant more than our fairs at the present day, and was a more important affair. If it were a provincial fair, the king and nobles of the province were present, and all kinds of amusements were practised—athletic games, military spectacles, mimic combats, horse and chariot races; it was attended by all kinds of persons affording amusement—story-tellers, acrobats, jugglers, musicians, itinerant bards, etc. The local Aonach was of a similar nature, but carried out on a smaller scale.

As regards minerals, lead and tin are recorded and also steatite or soap stone at the south-west of Dunboy and at Pulleen Harbour.

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