A Cork village buys back a piece of its past!

The nineteenth century Irish shillelagh.

By Paulin Murphy

During the summer of 2019, a shillelagh used in an infamous County Cork faction fight went under the hammer at Foinse Mealy Auction Rooms in Kilkenny. It was described in the auction catalogue as “an important nineteenth century Irish shillelagh.”

It also has an engraved plaque inscribed with the following: “ Retrieved after Fair Day massacre, Ballinhassig 30, June ’45”. The ‘Fair Day’ massacre would go down in history as the bloody Ballinhassig Faction Fight of 1845.

When the Ballinhassig Village Association heard that a rare piece of local history was up for auction, they decided to bring the historic item back home. The faction fighting weapon had an estimated hammer price of €500 but interest in the rare item was great. In the end, the Ballinhassig Village Association won out, after a strenuous bidding process which saw them secure the shillelagh at a price of €6,200!

The Ballinhassig Facton Fight of 1845 may be a now forgotten piece of Irish history, but at the time it made headlines across Ireland, Britain and afar. It caused consternation in the Houses of Parliament in Westminster and was reported in newspapers as far away as the gold mine fields of Australia.

Summer 1845

On that summer’s day in 1845, a fight had been arranged to take place on the fair green in Ballinhassig Village between a Ballinhassig village faction. Arranged fights between rival villages or even rival families were very common in rural Ireland in the early nineteenth century and the authorities tried in every way they could to put a stop to them.

The authorities knew of the impeding faction fight at Ballinhassig Fair Green and the Royal Irish Constabulary were drafted into the village in great numbers. Hundreds had gathered on the fair green and as the two factions arrived for a showdown the RIC moved in.

Constables grabbed the leader of the Ballinhassig faction, Ranter O’Sullivan and dragged him into the nearby dispensary. Angry crowds gathered outside it and began throwing stones at its roof and windows. This resulted in the RIC coming out and shooting them.

Panic erupted in the village as people fled in all directions. The constables then fixed their bayonets and charged towards the crowd.

By the end of that day, eleven dead bodies lay scattered across Ballinhassig Village.

Today, a plaque on the wall of the village shop, where the dispensary once stood, commemorates the ten men and one woman who lost their lives on that June day in 1845.

Now, thanks to the determination of the Village Association, a rare piece from that historic day will now return to Ballinhassig, where it will be on display, as a reminder of an often forgotten chapter in Irish history.