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Macroom

Maigh Chromtha
Town
View of the Castle Arch, showing the relocated Olive Ardilaun's cannons
View of the Castle Arch, showing the relocated Olive Ardilaun's cannons
Country Ireland
Province Munster
County County Cork
Population
 (2011)
 • Total 3,879
Irish Grid Reference W337729

Macroom ( Irish: Maigh Chromtha) is a market town and civil parish in the barony of Muskerry West, County Cork, Ireland. Situated in a valley of the River Sullane, about halfway between Cork city and Killarney, its Irish Gaelic name may mean "meeting place of followers of the god Crom" or "crooked oak", the latter a reference to a large oak tree that grew in the town-square during the reign of the English King John. Macroom is traditionally known as "the town that never reared a fool." The broader urban area recorded a population of 3,553 in the 2006 national census.

Bridge over the Sullane, Macroom - geograph.org.uk - 654790
Bridge over the river Sullane, viewed from Masseytown

The area was at one time a meeting place for the Druids of Munster, and is first mentioned in 6th century records. It was the site of a major battle c 1014 involving Brian Boru. In the following centuries Macroom was invaded by a succession of warring clans, including the Murcheatach Uí Briain and Richard de Cogan families; they built a series of tower houses around the area, many of which survive. In the 17th century the MacCarthy family won control and led Macroom towards prosperity through milling, markets and fairs. This fortune was short lived and followed by the Williamite wars of the 1690s when authority over the town castle waxed and waned between the Irish MacCarthys and a number of ambitious, warring, English families.

Macroom became a centre point of conflict in the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland. The population suffered in the 1840s during the famine and emigration, evidenced by the remains of a workhouse, now the district hospital, and a mass graveyard to the west near Clondrohid. During the late 18th and early 19th century a number of Anglo-Irish families, including the Masseys, settled in the area; many of their estate houses were burned out by rebels during and after the Irish War of Independence as the town was caught up in a turmoil of IRA activity.

From 1976 to 1982 Macroom hosted the annual Mountain Dew festival, with line ups that included Rory Gallagher, Thin Lizzy and Van Morrison. Today it is an economic hub for the mid west Cork region.

History

Pre-Christian

Knocknakilla4
The area around Macroom contains many records from pre-history and is perhaps one of the richest areas in the world in Stone Age megaliths. This standing stone is part of a 3500-year-old complex in Knocknakilla between Macroom and Millstreet

The region's Iron Age pre-history survives through ancient burial monuments; the area is unusually rich with standing stones, dolmens and stone circles. Macroom seems to have been a centre for Bardic conventions and a base for the Druids of Munster.

The first historical reference to Macroom dates from the 6th century, when the townland was known as Achad Dorbchon and held within the kingdom of Muscraighe Mitine. The Eóganachta were then the dominant clan of Munster; they held kingdoms from Muscraighe Mitine to the midlands town of Birr. At some point they were replaced by the Uí Floinn, who commissioned a castle in Macroom so as to establish Raithleann as capital of Muskerry.

MacCarthy family

Muscraighe Mitine underwent three invasions during the 13th century. The Murcheatach Uí Briain and Richard de Cogan arrived in 1201 and 1207 respectively; the MacCarthys became the dominant and most powerful family and held Macroom Castle until the mid-17th century.

Mairie de Macroom, Irlande
Macroom Town Hall was built for £1,000 in 1900 on premises purchased from Lady Ardilaun two years before. The first phase of work on the building was completed in 1904.

From the 14th century, Macroom became the capital of the Barony of Muskerry and the centre for trade, burial and religious worship. It was one of the earliest Irish milling centres, and from the end of the 16th century the town grew from a village to a functionally diverse urban centre. The locality grew outwards from the castle. The MacCarthys established the town as a centre for markets and fairs, and in 1620 a market house was built to the east of and facing the castle. The family introduced a plantation scheme which aimed to attract new agriculture and industrial techniques and methods to the area. By the mid-17th century English families owned approximately one-third of the town in value terms. The Protestant families introduced butter making to the town, an industry that was labour-intensive and had a positive effect on local dairy farming.

Macroom Protest Meeting 1894
c. 1894 mass meeting, organised by the ILLA supported by small tenant farmers and agrarian labourers in the Market Square

The 1650 battle of Macroom was waged as part of the Cromwellian conquest of Ireland, when an English Parliamentarian force under Roger Boyle defeated an Irish Confederate force under David Roche. Bishop Boetius MacEgan, fighting on behalf of the MacCarthys, failed to hold the castle and was taken prisoner by the Cromwellian forces and hanged at Carrigadrohid.

A 1750 tenement list details 134 buildings and 300 families, with a population ratio of 6 to 1 between Catholic and Protestants. The town had developed from a locality of mud cabins in the early 1660s to a linear shaped urban settlement of mainly thatched cabins, which were later replaced by solid cottages following a campaign by the Irish Land and Labour Association (ILLA).

Macroom Castle was for a period controlled by Admiral Sir William Penn, a British Admiral and father of William Penn, after whom the U.S. state of Pennsylvania is named. Penn spent time in his father's Irish home, particularly during his childhood.

War of Independence

Mount Massey
The "Great House", the ruined home of the Cork branch of the Massey family, burned during the War of Independence

Macroom was the main base in Cork for the British Auxiliary Division during the 1919–1921 Irish War of Independence. The Irish Republican Army was highly active in the county, especially in the areas around Macroom, Bandon and Dunmanway. Royal Irish Constabulary police in the town described the area as "practically in a state of war". After a series of burnings of local police barracks and courthouses a curfew was imposed on the town, with a ban on public meetings and market fairs. A local IRA member wrote of a "hinterland unpoliced and unwatched". The local police felt they had lost control and the Auxiliaries were called in. The local townspeople treated them with hostility, and there were instances of patrols being stoned. They quickly found themselves embroiled in a guerrilla battle in the Muskerry hills, coming under fire from the Ballyvourney IRA cell, and lost three men – two of them officers – in one attack.

In 1920 at Kilmichael, on the road between Macroom and Dunmanway, 17 members of the Macroom Auxiliary "C Company" were ambushed and killed by a local IRA cell led by the prominent general Tom Barry. In the aftermath of the attack, the British military were given the power to execute anyone found carrying arms and ammunition, to search houses, impose curfews, try suspects in military rather than civilian courts and to intern suspects without trial. On 11 December, in reprisal, the centre of Cork city was burned by Auxiliaries, British soldiers and Black and Tans.

Macroom Castle was burned out on five separate occasions; the last occasion was on 18 August 1922 following the evacuation of British Auxiliaries from the town. Members of anti-treaty forces, including Erskine Childers and Frank O'Connor, retreated from Cork City to Macroom, burning the castle before leaving.

Mount Massey, the former, now ruined, 18th and 19th century home of the members of the Massey family is located north by Kilnagurteen and gave the townland of Masseytown its name. They family were major landowners with land covering 13,363 acres and extending from Clondrohid to Drishane. Later the home acted as was an auxiliary workhouse. It was laid siege and eventually burned in December 1920, during the War of Independence.

Iarthair Chorcaí 179
Cross commemorating the location Michael Collins, leader of the National Army, was killed in August 1922

The revolutionary soldier and politician Michael Collins was killed in 1922 in an ambush near Béal na Bláth.

Lady Olivia Ardilaun, a descendant of the McCarthys, and widow of Lord Ardilaun, sold the castle demesne in 1924 to a group of local businessmen, held in trust for the people of the town.

Geography

Macroom was built on the River Sullane, a tributary of the River Lee. Its hinterland is lies on a valley at the foot of the Boggeragh Mountains. The town stretches for about 2 miles (3.2 km) and largely consists of two long streets, Main Street and New Street, divided by the Ten Arch Bridge, which also leads off to the suburb of Massey Town, further towards the village of Ballinagree and the Boggeragh Mountains.

Until the 1950s New Street was the town's economic hub and main street, and contained many small retail outlets.

Climate

Like the rest of Ireland, the climate is temperate maritime, heavily influenced by the North Atlantic Current, with mild winters and cool summers. Weather in Macroom is mild, usually warm, temperate and humid, with significant rainfall throughout the year, averaging at 1164 mm. Rain falls on average around 21 days of each month, peaking in December (average 24 days), and falling off slightly in June (average 21 days). Snow is uncommon; it tends to fall in January or February, for an average of 2-3 days per year. Wind speeds vary from c 80 km/hr avg in winter, to 50-52 in summer. The mean temperature is 10.1 °C.

Transport

Macroom is on the national primary route N22, approximately 38 km from Cork city and 48 km from Killarney. The nearest airport is Cork Airport.

A railway ran between the town and Cork city from 1866 to 1953, terminating in the mart grounds. By 1890 there were five services each way on week days and two on Sundays, with the running time taking just over an hour. Macroom railway station opened on 12 May 1866; it closed for passenger traffic on 1 July 1935 and for goods traffic on 10 March 1947, and was finally closed on 1 December 1953.

Gallery

  • Hart, Peter M. The I.R.A. and Its Enemies: Violence and Community in Cork, 1916-1923. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1999
  • How and Parsons. "Ireland, its scenery, character, etc", 1841
  • O'Reilly, H. "Survey of the Gearagh, an Area of Wet Woodland on the River Lee, near Macroom, Co. Cork". The Irish Naturalists' Journal, Vol. 11, No. 10, 1955. 279-286
  • Ring, Denis Paul. A Historical Geography of Macroom C.500-1995. Castle House Publications, 1995.
  • White, Gerry & O'Shea, Brendan. The Burning of Cork. Cork: Mercier Press, 2006.

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