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Arklow, County Wicklow – Historical Tales

The Earl of Wicklow was one of the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 1930s. Illustration by Derry Dillon, extracted from Past Tracks (2021).

The stories of the Arklow munitions factory, a 1920s party animal, an Olympic Gold medal winner, a spy called Agent ZigZag, a lady mariner, and an old world cure for Charles Stewart Parnell’s wounded hand. Extracted from Past Tracks.

 

MUNITIONS FACTORY

 

Arklow’s north beach retains few traces of the Kynoch explosives factory that stood here from 1895 to 1919. Occupying the site of the old Arklow Chemical Works, it was established by Birmingham industrialist Arthur Chamberlain, uncle of the British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, and the engineer A.T. Cocking. The factory made cordite, a smokeless explosive which had recently been developed by Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite. During the First World War, it employed nearly 5,000 people, manufacturing 100 tons of cordite a week. It was dangerous work; dozens were killed and many more wounded or poisoned. One workman was repairing the 70-foot-high chimney shaft when he slipped and fell. Fortunately, his coat caught on a large nail and he remained dangling until help arrived.

 

BRIGHT YOUNG THING

Shelton Abbey, 6km north-west of Arklow, was the ancestral home of the Earls of Wicklow. Billy Howard, the 8th Earl, was among the ‘bright young things’ of the 1920s and 1930s, partying with Evelyn Waugh, John Betjeman and the Mitford sisters. A happy-go-lucky intellectual, he briefly served as a curate to London’s poor before converting to Catholicism, for which he was banished from Shelton by his father. When he inherited Shelton in 1946, it had an indoor staff of 21. He ran it as a hotel (a dramatic failure) and sold off his art collection to sustain his lifestyle, hosting regular banquets at the Kildare Street Club. Billy sold the house in 1951. After 20 years as a training college for forestry students, it was established as an open prison.

 

AGENT ZIGZAG

Reg Kearon, a member of a distinguished Arklow mariner family, was master of a series of merchant vessels that transported vital supplies during the Second World War. Torpedoed twice, he was the last to leave his sinking ship both times. In 1943, he commanded a 3,000-ton merchant ship that sailed from Liverpool to Sierra Leone. Among his ‘crew’ was the British spy Eddie Chapman, Agent Zigzag, who jumped ship in Lisbon and spent two days gathering information at the German embassy in ‘neutral’ Portugal. To maintain his cover, Chapman pretended to blow up Kearon’s ship. He actually handed the Arklow man two of the Nazis’ latest explosive devices, which Kearon brought back to MI5, earning an OBE for his efforts. Agent Zigzag’s wife was closely connected to Kilkea Castle in County Kildare.

 

CHAMPION OF CHAMPIONS

In 1956, Ronnie Delany crossed the finish line at the Melbourne Olympics to win the 1500 metres and give Ireland its first gold medal in 24 years. Regarded as an outsider, Arklow-born Ronnie didn’t just beat his eleven rivals. He surged forward from 10th position at the bell to annihilate them in the last 400 metres, finishing in a record-breaking 3:41.2. He went on to win an unprecedented 40 straight victories on the indoor tracks in America, as well as the Wannamaker Mile at Madison Square Garden four times. He also broke the World Indoor Mile record three times.

 

SPIDER BANDAGE

During the late 19th century, the Parnell family of Avondale House ran the quarries at Arklow Rock, supplying Dublin Corporation with much of the granite used for its pavements. The nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell, dubbed ‘The Uncrowned King of Ireland’, once crushed his hand in a quarry machine. Arriving back to Avondale, he showed his bleeding hand to Mrs Gaffney, his elderly housekeeper. She applied a traditional first aid remedy, wrapping his fingers in cobwebs from the cellar walls to speed up coagulation. His hand recovered.

 

LADY MARINER

In the 19th century, one of the main shipping companies operating between Arklow and Wales was run by the Tyrrell family. Kate Tyrrell proved herself more than able in this back-breaking man’s world. Having started as her father’s bookkeeper, she became master of the Denbighshire Lass, carrying cargos of coal, bricks, iron ore and textiles across the Irish Sea. The shipping authorities were notoriously chauvinist but, after a lengthy and determined campaign, she was acknowledged as the ship’s owner in 1899. The ship was later the first to fly the new Irish tricolour flag at a foreign port.

 

AN tINBHEAR MÓR  (Translations by Jack O’Driscoll)

MONARCHA LÓN COGAIDH

Níl mórán den mhonarcha pléascán Kynoch fágtha ar thrá thuaidh an Inbhir Mhóir, áit a raibh sí ó 1895 go 1919. Bhí sí suite i seanmhonarcha ceimiceán an Inbhir Mhóir, agus ba é an tionsclaí as Birmingham Shasana, Arthur Chamberlain, arbh é uncail Príomh-Aire na Breataine Neville Chamberlain é, agus an t-innealtóir A.T. Cocking a bhunaigh an mhonarcha. An choirdít a dhéantaí inti, ar pléascán gan toit é a raibh Alfred Nobel, cumadóir na dinimíte, díreach tar éis a fhorbartha. Bhí beagnach 5,000 duine fostaithe sa mhonarcha le linn an Chéad Chogaidh Dhomhanda agus rinneadh 100 tonna coirdít ann gach seachtain. Obair chontúirteach a bhí ann nó fuair na scórtha bás agus bhí go leor eile acu gortaithe nó nimhithe. Oibrí a bhí i mbun cóir a chur ar sheafta simléir 70 troigh ar airde, sciorr sé agus thit sé den simléar. Ar ámharaí an tsaoil, chuaigh a chóta i bhfostú i dtairne mór sa titim dó. Ar crochadh ann a bhí sé ansin go dtí gur thángthas i gcabhair air.

 

GLIGÍN NA gCÓISIRÍ

Suite 6 chiliméadar siar ó thuaidh ón Inbhear Mór atá Mainistir Shelton, ar theach muintire Iarlaí Chill Mhantáin í tráth. Duine den “aicme ragairne” a bhí suas sna 1920idí agus na 1930idí ab ea an t-uchtú Iarla, Billy Howard, ógfhear a mbíodh leithéidí Evelyn Waugh, John Mitford agus na Deirfiúracha Mitford ina gcomrádaithe cóisire aige. Bhí cáil na héirime air ach é ag maireachtáil ar a mhaoile mhainge féin. Thug sé seal ina churáideach ag freastal ar bhochtáin Londan nó gur thiontaigh sé ina chaitliceach, rud a thug ar a athair é a ruaigeadh as an teach. Fuair sé seilbh ar Mhainistir Shelton in 1946, áfach; 21 duine a bhí san fhoireann tí um an dtaca sin. Rinne sé óstán den áit (rud ar thit an tóin as) agus reic sé a bhailiúchán ealaíne chun costas a nósanna drabhlásacha a sheasamh. In 1951 dhíol Billy an teach. É ina choláiste oiliúna foraoiseachta ar feadh 20 bliain ansin nó go ndearnadh príosún oscailte de.

 

CURADH NA gCURADH

Sa bhliain 1956, thrasnaigh Ronnie Delany an líne chríche ag na Cluichí Oilimpeacha in Melbourne chun an rás 1500 méadar a bhuachan agus an chéad Bhonn Óir a fháil d’Éirinn le 24 bliain. Ba as an Inbhear Mór do Ronnie, agus shíl mórán gur bheag seans a bheadh aige. Slad a rinne sé ar a chomhreathaithe, áfach – é ag teacht de ruathar mire chun tosaigh orthu ar an stráice baile. Rinne sé slad ar an gcuriarracht, leis, agus 3:41.2 ar an gclog aige. Daichead rás as a chéile a bhuaigh sé ar rásraonta faoi dhíon i Meiriceá, éacht nach bhfacthas a leithéid roimhe sin. Anuas air sin, bhuaigh sé an Wannamaker Mile in Madison Square Garden ceithre huaire agus sháraigh sé curraíocht Dhomhanda na Míle Faoi dhíon trí huaire.

 

ZIGZAG, GNÍOMHAIRE RÚNDA

Mairnéalaigh mór le rá san Inbhear Mór ab ea muintir Reg Kearon. Le linn an Dara Cogadh Domhanda, bhí seisean ina mháistir ar roinnt soithí trádála a raibh soláthairtí ríthábhachtacha á n-iompar acu. Tharla faoi dhó go ndeachaigh a long go tóin poill tar éis ionsaí toirpéid. Ba eisean an duine deireanach an long a thréigean sa dá chás. Sa bhliain 1943, bhí sé i gceannas long thrádála 3,000 tonna a sheol ó Learpholl go Siarra Leon. Cé a bheadh ar an gcriú ach an spiaire Briotanach Eddie Chapman, nó ‘Zigzag’ mar a thugtaí air. Agus an long ar ancaire i Liospóin na Portaingéile, tír neodrach, thapaigh Chapman an deis chun dul ag smúrthacht thart in Ambasáid na Gearmáine. Chun an dallamullóg a choinneáil ar na Naitsithe, dúirt Chapman leo go séidfeadh sé long Kearon san aer. Níor shéid ná é, ach rug leis dhá ghléas phléascacha úrnua de chuid an namhad. Bronnadh OBE ar Kearon tar éis dósan iad a thabhairt ar láimh do MI5.

 

DAMHÁN ALTRA

Le linn bhlianta deiridh an 19ú haois, ba iad muintir Parnell ó Theach Avondale a bhí i bhfeighil an chairéil ag Carraig an Inbhir Mhóir. Ba le leaca eibhir as an gcairéal sin a dhéantaí na cosáin i mBaile Átha Cliath. Charles Stewart Parnell, an polaiteoir náisiúnach úd ar a dtugtaí “Rí gan Choróin na hÉireann“, tharla, lá, go ndeachaigh a lámh i ngreim in inneall cairéil. Ar fhilleadh go hAvondale dó, thaispeáin sé a lámh fhuilteach don tseanbhean tí, do Mrs Gaffney. Bhain sise úsáid as leigheas traidisiúnta, is é sin, téada damhán alla ón siléar a chur timpeall a mhéara chun dlús a chur le téachtadh na gcneácha. Chneasaigh a lámh.

 

MAIRNÉALACH MNÁ

 

Le linn an 19ú haois, bhí an teaghlach Tyrrell i bhfeighil ceann de na cuideachtaí loingseoireachta móra a bhí i mbun seirbhíse idir An tInbhear Mór agus An Bhreatain Bheag. Chruthaigh Kate Tyrrell go raibh sí thar a bheith ábalta i ndomhan crua sin na bhfear. Ba leabharchoimeádaí dá hathair í sula ndearnadh máistir an Denbighshire Lass di, long a bhíodh ag iompar guail, brící, amhiarainn agus teicstílí trasna Mhuir Éireann. Bhí droch-cháil ar na húdaráis loingseoireachta faoina seobhaineachas ach aithníodh Kate mar úinéir na loinge in 1899 tar éis feachtas fada diongbháilte. Ba í an long sin an chéad soitheach a mbeadh bratach trí dhath nua na hÉireann ar foluain aici i gcalafort coimhthíoch.