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This rather Victorian-looking specimen has just joined my collection of items connected to Cork’s various national and international exhibitions of the 19th and early 20th centuries.

Polished in places to beyond a millimetre of its life, it appears to be a typical late-Victorian item (I’m guessing it started life as a wine cooler or ice bucket) of Sheffield plate. The mark to the base is for ‘J.H Potter Superior Silver Plate Sheffield’, a firm based from 1893 until 1940 at Rockingam Works, 65-71 Division Street in that city, so presumably it was at that address that the piece was made.

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But it is this inscription, below, to the cartouche that makes it of interest to me, denoting it as a prize awarded at the Cork International Exhibition 1902.

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In grandiose turn-of-the-century style, it reads: ” Cork International Exhibition 1902   1 Mile Cycle Hand’p   won by  G. F. ALLAN ”

The Cork Young Men’s Society sports day was held on Saturday, July 19 of that year, in the Cork cricket grounds immediately adjoining the exhibition venue on the Mardyke (the exhibition grounds today occupied by Fitzgerald’s Park and UCC Mardyke Arena). Admission to the general public was at a cost of one shiĺling, for which a programme of good sport was promised, along with the entertainment of a band – the No 1 Barrack Street Band. Visitors did not, however, get to enjoy the fine weather promised in that morning’s edition of The Cork Examiner for the ‘athletic and cycling carnival’.

“The weather was unfortunately of a threatening character, heavy rain fell at intervals,” the daily local title’s readers were informed on Monday morning.

The meeting progressed in spite of the poor attendance and the shortage of ‘old-time enthusiasm’ that resulted from the weather conditions. They also had an effect on the track, the rain on the track meaning that “there were not a few mishaps in the wheel event.” The two-mile open race saw no fewer than five of the nine starters fail to finish, one bringing down two competitors with him as he came a cropper near the closing stages.

Denis Power, a 39-year-old farmer and blacksmith from Ballywalter, was the handicapper and race starter for the afternoon, in which seven bike races were contested – including a 10-mile inter-county event won by Cork’s George Hutchinson, seeing off competitors from Kerry and Limerick.

Five cyclists lined up for the one-mile confined contest, with handicapping of between 25 and 90 yards separating them at the start. Having started with the middle-placed handicap of 50 yards, G Allan crossed the finish line with a full five yards to spare over J Hobbs, with J Moore close behind, and J F Olivere and E O M Leahy trailing further back. The prizes – including, I must assume, Allan’s – were presented by Miss M M O’Connor of Castle Street (perhaps Margaret, the 17-year-old eldest of widowed 37-year-old publican Helena O’Connor’s seven children?).

Allan finished last of four racers in the later two-mile race for club cyclists. My initial research since acquiring the cycling prize last weekend has not yet turned up information on his club or any personal information. But maybe he was 18-year-old George Allan, who worked with his father Peter as a hosier and outfitter and lived with the family at 45 St Patrick’s Street (where the Allan & Holden hosier business traded from the 1870s through to around 1902).

   THE  1916  CONNECTION

While running and cycling were the main attractions, field sports also featured on the gloomy day in question, including a number of hammer-throwing events. And the participants included a couple of names whose details were easier than Allan’s to establish.

An unsuccessful competitor in the ‘Slinging 56lbs without follow’ – won by T Ludgate, Lombardstown; M Ryan, RIC Cork, 2nd – was John Hales of Ballinadee. Sean Hales (formally John) and his hammer throwing at ‘the Camp Sports’ would prove one of the lasting memories for Patrick Colgan from Maynooth of the months they spent interned together at the makeshift prisoner camp in Frongoch, Wales in the latter part of 1916.
“Hales was a fine big muscular fellow, and it was really marvellous to watch him swing and twirl about the hammer, our eyes watching it as it soared from his hands in a flight that looked like taking it outside the confines of the field,” recalled another detainee, Dubliner Joseph Lawless, in his statement to the Department of Defence’s Bureau of Military History (BMH) in 1954.
“Again, to watch him pitch a fifty-six pound weight over the high bar made the thing look like child’s play. The only one who could come anywhere near him with the hammer was Mick Collins. Mick could manipulate it well, and make an excellent throw, but he could not equal the length of Hales’s throw,” said Lawless, then an Irish Army colonel and a member of the BMH investigating staff.
Hales and his brothers, most notably Tom, were instrumental in establishing the Ballinadee company of the Irish Volunteers and in helping Terence MacSwiney and others to organise the Volunteers in its earliest stages in west Cork. It was the strongest-armed Volunteers company of almost 50 which mobilised more than 1,000 men to various locations around Co Cork on Easter Sunday 1916, although most were afterwards frustrated to not have taken armed action (owing to the combination of the failed landing of the German-supplied guns aboard the Aud and a comedy of errors in the Rising’s Dublin organisers communication of their plans to provincial leaders like MacSwiney and Cork Volunteers corps commander Tomás MacCurtain).
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The other hammer contest (throwing 16lb hammer out of 9ft circle) saw R R Kent of Castlelyons emerge victorious. Then aged 22, he saw off the same policeman Ryan who had outperformed Hales in the other throwing event, bettering his 115-foot distance by a little over four feet. Kent was also a competitor in the day’s 120-yard hurdle race, losing out by just half a yard to winner JJ Curry.

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In the early hours of May 2, 1916, Richard Kent was shot outside his home at Bawnard House, Castlelyons near Fermoy, and would die two days later of his wounds, after he tried to escape a party of Royal Irish Constabulary (RIC). They had arrived in the early hours to arrest some of the Kent brothers as Irish Volunteers activists, in a general round-up that was ordered in the aftermath of the failed Rising that had been largely confined to Dublin. (In the same round-up, Terence MacSwiney and two of the Hales brothers were detained in the Hales home where the future Lord Mayor of Cork and IRA Cork No 1 Brigade commander had been in hiding. MacSwiney’s diary recounts the courtesy afforded him by one policeman who offered him a piece of leather to help keep together a boot that was in bad shape and laceless from an overnight trek from the city, wading the River Bandon and crossing river slob to evade arrest. All others of the arrest party were very much by-the-book, making his detainee ‘class him apart from the “hands-up” gentlemen’.)  The Kents were not so willing to be taken by police, the gun battle that took place before their eventual surrender – and 37-year-old Richard’s tragically unsuccessful escape – costing the life of Fermoy RIC Head Constable William Neile Rowe, a 49-year-old married father-of-five born in Wexford.

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Another Kent brother, David was wounded and sentenced to death by military court-martial when he was fit to face charges relating to William Rowe’s death in June, but that was commuted to five years penal servitude, although he would end up being released just a year later, in June 1917. William Kent was acquitted and released on the charges he faced within days of the shootout, of taking part in rebellion, rather than directly with murder, which David would be tried and convicted for the next month. Thomas Kent was found guilty of rebellion by a court martial on May 4 at Cork Detention Barracks where he was shot five days later by a firing squad charged with carrying out the sentence of death.

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He was buried in the detention barrack grounds but, following DNA analysis of remains found there last June in part of what is today Cork Prison, Thomas Kent will be buried in the family plot in the cemetery adjoining St Nicholas’ Church in Castlelyons following a State funeral this Friday, September 18, 2015.

While the events at Castlelyons were the only armed engagement by Irish Volunteers members with Crown Forces in Cork around the 1916 Rising, the Hales brothers’ Ballinadee company conducted their regular Sunday drilling the day after Pádraig Pearse formally surrendered in the capital following six days of fighting. The RIC’s County Inspector for West Cork Thomas Tweed reported to his Inspector General that on Sunday, April 30, the Ballinadee Irish Volunteers “held up and searched Sergeant Crean RIC Ballinspittal, and threatened to shoot him if he was seen near them again.” (Cornelius Crean, the Kerry-born brother of adventurer and explorer Tom, would lose his life in an IRA ambush in west Cork almost four years, to the day, later.)
Sean would go on to become Officer Commanding the 1st (Bandon area) Battalion of the Irish Volunteers/IRA Cork No. 3 Brigade, and his brother Tom would later be Brigade commander. But they took opposite sides in the Irish Civil War. Six-and-a-half years after Richard Kent died of wounds from police bullets – and 20 years after both threw hammer at Cork Cricket Ground during the Cork International Exhibition in July 1902 – Sean Hales (by then a pro-Treaty TD in Dáil Éireann, of which David Kent was also a member) was gunned down on a Dublin quay on December 7, 1922.

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Some sources / references / further reading:

The Cork Examiner, July 19 & 21, 1902

Guy’s County and City of Cork Directory for the years 1875-1876
Guy’s Cork City and County Almanac and Directory 1903

Census of Ireland 1901 & 1911, National Archives of Ireland

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Patrick Colgan, Bureau of Military History (BMH) Witness Statement (WS) 850, Military Archives (MA)
Joseph Lawless, BMH WS 1043, MA

Richard Kent image, National Library of Ireland (http://www.nli.ie/1916/pdf/9.8.pdf)

RIC West Cork County Inspector monthly report, April 1916. Colonial Office (CO) 904/99

Terence MacSwiney journal May 1916, typescript copy. Ms. 31,139 Florence O’Donoghue papers, National Library of Ireland

Barton, Brian, From Behind a Closed Door: Secret Court Martial Records of the Easter 1916 Rising (Belfast, 2003), pp 251-66

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