Market Street is a relatively new street in the town of Skibbereen and was constructed in the late 1850s, after the Famine.
A building adjacent to what is now Connolly’s Electrical Shop at the Square was demolished to allow access to area behind it. In 1853 Table Lane, which runs from High Street to Market Street, had fourteen houses. Some of these may have been demolished in the opening of the new street.
Table Lane most likely owes its name to the fact that stall holders at the Market at the Square stored their tables there.
In 1863 a Butter Market was built on the site of what is now Cara House. This quickly developed into a very comprehensive market and coincided with a period of prosperity for the Irish dairy industry. It was from this butter market that Market Street got its name. For a time, Skibbereen had one of the biggest butter markets in County Cork, but by the end of the nineteenth century it had long since been defunct and the site had become vacant.
In 1932 a new Boys’ National School opened on the site. That school was in operation for fifty years and was closed in 1982 when a new boys’ school was built at Cork Road.
In 1985 the old school building was acquired by Skibbereen Geriatric Society. The building was completely remodelled to accommodate seven flats and a new Meals and Wheels kitchen was constructed. In 1993 an eight-bed supported care unit was added to the development at Market Street.
Bank of Ireland
One of the landmark buildings in Market Street is the Bank of Ireland. In 1877 the Bank of Ireland established a branch in Skibbereen and at the same time opened a Sub-Office in Drimoleague.
The three-storey, three-bay branch bank with agent’s residence at Market Street was designed by Sandham Symes, the well-known Dublin architect. In 1854 Sandham Symes was appointed architect to the Bank of Ireland. In this capacity he designed branch banks all over Ireland. Symes’s nephew, Percy Swan, was the first agent at the bank in Skibbereen.
We can scarcely pass the Bank of Ireland in Market Street without thinking of one of our favourite writers of all time. That is William Trevor, who has a tenuous connection with Skibbereen and the bank.
William Trevor spent a few years as a boy living in Skibbereen. William Trevor Cox was born in Mitchelstown on 24 May 1928. William’s father, James William (Bill) Cox, was a clerk with the Bank of Ireland and, as was the case at that time, bank clerks were moved around quite a bit. The Cox family moved so often that by the age of 14, William had attended 13 different schools.
The Cox family moved from Youghal to Skibbereen in the mid-1930s when Bill received a promotion. They lived in a Bank of Ireland house at the top of Cork Road and Bill worked at the Bank of Ireland branch in Market Street.
In his book, Excursions in the Real World, a collection of autobiographical essays published in 1993, William Trevor wrote: ‘My earliest memories are of County Cork: of sunshine and weeds in a garden in Mitchelstown, Civic Guards in the barracks next door, a tarred gate; of dark limestone steps in Youghal, and a backyard tap in Skibbereen’.
William Trevor attended the Methodist school in Skibbereen, which was adjacent to the Methodist Church in Bridge Street.
Some years ago, we think it was round 1990, BBC Northern Ireland made a half-hour documentary which featured William Trevor visiting some of the places he lived in as a boy. It included Skibbereen and had some great footage of the town. It is well worth a look at if you ever come across it.
The Bank of Ireland was not the first bank to open in Skibbereen. A branch of the Agricultural and Commercial Bank of Ireland was opened in Skibbereen in 1835. Four years later, in 1839 a branch of the Provincial Bank of Ireland opened in Bridge Street. The first manager there was John William Clerke who was at one time secretary and treasurer of the local Relief Committee during the Famine, and it was in that building in Bridge Street that the two extraordinary sisters Ellen and Agnes Clerke were born.
The Provincial Bank moved to a new purpose-built bank and residence for the manager at the top of North Street in the late 1850s where in continued in business for over a century. In 1958, the branch moved its location in Skibbereen to No 9 Bridge Street and this establishment has since evolved into Allied Irish Bank.
The old bank building in North Street became part of the Bishop Kelly Memorial Technical until 1983 when the Vocational School moved to its new location and became known under the new name of Rossa College. The building is now the Sutherland Centre.
Another building on Market Street with an interesting history is the Catholic Young Men’s Society (CYMS) Hall. The CYMS was a very active organisation in Skibbereen for many years. Indeed, a full history of the Society would add greatly to the social history of the town.
The Skibbereen Catholic Young Men’s Society was founded as far back as 1876 and, needless to say, many of the prominent Catholic men of the town at that time were associated with it. The original Society was founded for the purpose of promoting the spiritual and temporal welfare of the Catholic young men of the town, and the Church of Ireland and Methodist communities in Skibbereen had similar organisations to cater for their congregations.
The first president of the CYMS in Skibbereen was Dr Daniel Donovan, jnr., who was appointed at the inaugural meeting in April 1876. Dr Dan Jnr. was a son of Dr Donovan, the famous Famine Doctor in Skibbereen during the Famine.
Daniel Donovan was a great man of letters and in 1876 he published a book Sketches in Carbery, a collection stories about ‘some of the remarkable places in Carbery and its Hundred Isles’.
The inaugural address for the CYMS Skibbereen was delivered by Dr Daniel Donovan to a packed gathering at the Town Hall on 16 May 1876.
A few years ago while doing research at the Local Studies and Reference Library at the County Library Building, Carrigrohane Road, Cork, the incredibly knowledgeable and always very helpful Librarian, Kieran Wyse, brought this writer’s attention a copy of that inaugural address by Dr Donovan. Kieran was good enough to copy it for us. It is a very comprehensive and quite magnificent address, very varied, but mainly is a history of mankind. One hundred and forty-four years later, it is still a great read.
For some years the CYMS held their meetings and activities in the Town Commissioners’ Town Hall but such was the success of the Society that they needed more spacious accommodation.
In June 1897 the CYMS applied to Skibbereen Town Commissioners for a portion of the building ground in Market Street, of a frontage of thirty feet, opposite Bank of Ireland, for the purpose of building a hall and rooms. The Commissioners agreed to the request, with an interesting proviso: ‘That if the Society ceases to exist and continues so for two years, or if the premises for a like period cease to be used as a Young Men’s Society Hall, the buildings thereon to revert to the Town Commissioners’.
It is a long time now since that hall was used for its intended purpose!
Rev. T. Kearney, Adm., Skibbereen, was the man who spearheaded the campaign to build the hall, and an extraordinary success it was. In 1899 the CYMS opened their new hall at Market Street. It was built for the grand sum of £388 19s 2d. On top of that, the Society had enough money to buy a new billiard table. It was some achievement then that at the AGM in September 1899 the CYMS committee reported that they were practically clear of debt.
In this new hall there a Reading Room and a library upstairs. The Society organised lectures, debates, and even started its own band. Downstairs there was a billiard table, and in latter years a second billiard table was provided.
Long after it had outgrown its original raison d’être of promoting the spiritual and temporal welfare of Catholic young men in the area, the CYMS hall became a great social hub for many years – open to young men and women of any or no denomination. Many a fine snooker and billiard player learned their skill in the CYMS Hall, and it was a place well renowned for a good game of poker.
Wouldn’t a facility like that for the youth of Skibbereen be very welcome now?