Mícheál Ó Cuill

1888-1955

Mícheál Ó Cuill was born in Lománach Mhór, Cúil Aodha on the 22nd of March 1888. His father Patrick was a farmer, and his mother, Mary Harrington (Máire Ní Urdail), was from the townland of Cluainte Cárthaigh, parish of Cill na Martra. In 1895 there were only 2 farms in Lománach Mhór: Patrick (Patsy) Quill had 125 acres, 1 rood and 10 square perches. Patrick is believed to have been involved in Macroom Urban District Council which was set up by the Local Government Act of 1895. Baptisimal records have been computerised by Mallow Heritage center down to 1895, and the following children appear there: Timothy, 189; Julia, 1892; and Denis, 1895; all born in Baile Mhúirne parish (i.e. Lománach Mhór). In 1901, according to the census of that year, the family lived in Cac an Fhóid, Cluain Droichead, his mother was 35 (recte 42) years and a widow, describing herself as farmer by profession, Mícheál (‘Michael’) was 13, his brother Timothy was 13, Julia, 11, Denis 6, Patrick 3, and sister Mary 1 year; the widow’s brother in law Timothy, described as an agricultural labourer, was also present, along with Jeremiah Buckley and Norah Buckley who were described as farm servant and domestic servant respectively. Neighbours who know the location of the ruin of the house are convinced that it is located in Muileann Rua. However, Mícheál’s daughter, Máire, tells me that they always referred to the place as Cac an Fhóid. It is at the foot of Muisire mountain. Their holding consisted of 27 acres, twenty of which were not arable. Mícheál’s father died about 1900 when Mícheál was 12. A sister of Mícheál’s father had been married to Stephen Murphy who lived across the road in Muileann Rua. In 1901 Stephen  was also a widower of 52 years with 5 children, the eldest of whom was 15. The two farms were originally one, probably that of 142 acres, 1 rood, and 14 square perches owned by Timothy Quill in 1895, according to the Rate Book of that year. Timothy was undoubtedly a relation, and it is likely that the family were provided with a home there after the death of Mícheál’s father, and in view of the two able bodied men and one servant girl in the Quill household, the entire original holding may still have been run as one unit. According to Griffith’s Valuation there was no Quill in wither Muileann Rua or Cac an Fhóid in the early 1850’s.

Mícheál while still quite young began to work as an Irish teacher and remained involved in the teaching of Irish in one form or another for the rest of his life. Before his father’s death he felt attracted to the priesthood, but subsequently his financial circumstances made this impossible. In Fé Bhrat an Chonartha (Oifig an tSoláthair, Baile Átha Cliath, 1944, pp.320-21) Peadar Ó hAnnracháin wrote of finding Mícheál Ó Cuill teaching an Irish class in Muine Fliuch, Cluain Droichead, in 1905 when scarcely 17 years of age. It was extremely difficult for a local man to successfully keep an Irish class together, but Mícheál was doing so by his sincerity and commitment. In July 1908 Mícheál wrote a letter to An Claidheamh Soluis complaining about some travelling Irish teachers who danced a ‘Set of Quadrilles’ in a house in Carraig an Ime, contrary to Gaelic League policy which regarded them as foreign dances. He signed himself as Mícheál Ua Cuill, Múinteoir Taisdil’. In the 1910 Feis na Mumhan, held in Cork, Mícheál Ó Cuill, still describing himself as of the Muine Fliuch Branch of Conradh na Gaeilge, entered a story-telling competition ‘don sgéaluidhe is feárr ineósaidh de sgéaltaibh gearra pléisiúracha a bhainfidh gáirí as a lucht éisteachta’. Peadar Ó hAnnracháin says that in 1914 when he visited Muine Fliuch he found the Irish language in a poor state there.

It seems likely that Mícheál moved to Cork in 1910 or shortly afterwards, initially working for the railway. He cycled to Kinsale, along with Tomás Mac Curtain, in order to join the I.R.B., and did so. Tomás needed more time to think it over, and returned a few days later to take the oath. Mícheál, along with Countess Markievicz founded Fianna Éireann, the Republican scout movement, in 1911, and was involved in the organisation of the Fianna for some years. A few years later he played a major part in establishing Cumann na mBan (F. O’Donoghue, Tomás Mac Curtain, 1959, 10, 11; ‘Death of Mícheál Ó Cuill’, unidentified newspaper clipping, 27, September, 1955). He found employment for the rest of his family, except for Tadhg (‘Timothy’) who had probably emigrated to America by that time. The family never again heard from Tadhg. Julia went to work in Macroom Dairies (in Cork), Mary (Molly) and Patrick (Patsy) died of the flu epidemic in 1918. Julia later lived in Red Abbey Street with her mother and, after her marriage to Patrick Sheehan who had returned from America, at Denroche’s Cross (1 Ardnacarrig, Bandon Road) where they had a small grocery shop. Mícheál’s mother died there on the 18th of January 1947 aged 88 (mortuary card).

In  January 1916 Mícheál suggested to Tomás MacCurtain that the autumn would be the best time for rebellion, while food supplies were plentiful. MacCurtain later told him that he had passed this on to the authorities, and Mícheál concluded that his suggestion had met with little enthusiasm. In Holy Week 1916 Mícheál told Tomás MacCurtain and Terence MacSwiney that he was going to go to wherever the fighting was, regardless of Eoin MacNeill’s countermand. On Holy Thursday he left Cork, having satisfied himself that there was not likely to be any action there. He wrongly believed that there was a rebellion in Tipperary, and, armed with a revolver, he went by train to Mallow, and continued to Tipperary, possibly by car. Finding all quiet in Tipperary he continued by train as far as Sallins Cross on Good Friday. From there he walked to Dublin. From this incident he is still remembered as ‘the man who walked to Dublin’. In Dublin he was arrested by a curfew patrol. The officer was kindly and wanted him to make a reasonable excuse so that he could be released, but a private was threatening and harsh. Mícheál refused to co-operate and was arrested. In what is, perhaps, a version of the same incident, according to M. Chavesse (Terence MacSwiney, Dublin, 1961, p.61) the soldiers threatened to shoot him if he did not join the British army. He refused and was taken to a yard, as if to face the firing squad. He was left there for a few hours. He was detained first at Richmond, then at Lewis Barracks, and was finally sent to Frongoch in Wales. In Frongoch he was the secretary of a branch of Conradh na Gaeilge called Craobh na Sróine Deirge, as one of the detainees, Liam Ó Briain of the French Department in U.C.G., had informed them that Frongoch was Welsh for ‘red nose’ (F. O’Donoghue, Tomás MacCurtain, 1959, pp.6, 107, 120).

Peadar Ó hAnnracháin describes Mícheál as being quiet and easygoing, not very tall or athletic, but nevertheless a man of action. Seán O’Hegarty was on the run from Céim an Fhia, and Mícheál heard he needed a gun. He set out on foot from Cork with his gun, running the gauntlet of Black and Tans and Military, checkpoints and patrols, often completely avoiding roads until he delivered the firearm. Séamas Ó Maoileoin in B’fhiú an Braon Fola (1958) says of Mícheál that he was one of a small group of volunteers operating independently before the War of Independence was sanctioned by the I.R.A. leadership. They considered the leadership at that point to be too passive in the face of Government aggression.

On the 8th of March 1919, a summary of a talk given by Mícheál in Cork on the poet Seán Ó Tuama an Ghrinn was published in Fáinne an Lae.

It was decided to hold the Ardfheis of Conradh na Gaeilge and the Oireachtas in Cork in 1919. Mícheál was on the Cork Oireachtas committee (D. Ó Súilleabháin, Scéal an Oireachtas 1897-1924, Baile Átha Cliath, 1984, p.39).

In January 1920 Mícheál was elected to Cork Corporation. It was he who, speaking in Irish, proposed Tomás MacCurtain for the office of Lord Mayor on the 30th of that month; this was seconded by Terence MacSwiney (O’Donoghue, op. cit., p.161). Séamas Ó Maoileoin wrote that he received a warning from Detective Young, who was passing information to the volunteers, that there was going to be police activity in the Blackpool area, where Lord Mayor MacCurtain lived, and that he and Mícheál arranged to meet him, and tried to persuade him to go to a safe house, but he refused, saying it was his duty as Lord Mayor to stand his ground (B’fhiú an Braon Fola, pp. 132-133). The Lord Mayor’s courage and sense of duty led to his being shot dead by the R.I.C.

When MacCurtain’s successor, Terence MacSwiney, was arrested on the 12th of August 1920, he appointed Mícheál as acting Lord Mayor Mícheál was later replaced by Dónall Óg Ó Ceallacháin. Mícheál thought that a less uncompromising Lord Mayor might achieve more, and agreed to the selection of Dónall Óg. On MacSwiney’s death Mícheál was sent to be among the Guard of Honour to the dead Lord Mayor. While on board the mail boat to Holyhead, in the company of Liam Russell, a detective touched him on the shoulder , and placed him under arrest, but Barry Egan, the Patrick Street silversmith intervened and he was immediately released.

On another occasion Mícheál was arrested by the Military while walking in the South Mall. He was sent to Ballykinler camp, where he taught Irish class.

In 1922 Mícheál was appointed by the executive committee (an Coiste Gnótha) of Conradh na Gaeilge as Munster representative to a commission set up to consider means of improving the Conradh’s organisation and efficiency (A. Ó Muimhneacháin, Dóchas agus Duainéis, Cló Mercier, Corcaigh agus Baile Átha Cliath [(?) 1974], 13). The country had been in a state of war: curfews and military roadblocks were not conductive to Gaelic League activities. At this stage he was secretary of Craobh Uí Ghramhnaigh of Conradh na Gaeilge, located at Dún na nGaedheal, Queen Street (now Fr. Mather Street).

Mícheál supported the Treaty, but disappointed of the Civil War, preferring to remain neutral. He was secretary of The People’s Rights Association, a group of leading citizens, and wrote on its behalf to Liam Lynch and to Michael Collins in a vain attempt to make peace (E. Neeson, The Civil War in Ireland, Cork, 1966, pp. 146-47). He had tremendous respect for Michael Collins. He had more respect for DeValera than for William Cosgrave, and his sympathies lay more with Fianna Fáil once they decided to participate in constitutional politics. He was approached by friends on both sides of the political divide to stand for a Dáil seat, by Seán Moylan on behalf of Fianna Fáil, and by Richard Mulcahy of Cumann na nGaedheal, and by others at different times, but declined the offers. Active participation in politics was a duty for him as long as freedom was at stake; he had little enthusiasm for party-political squabbling.

On the 25th of July, 1922, Mícheál married Maighréad Ní Éalaithe (Margaret Healy) from Cork City. Her parents came from the Kanturk or Millstreet area. They had seven children, Máire, the eldest, was born in August 1923, in ‘Maryville’, Friars’ Walk. Nóirín, whose paintings were admired by Dónal Ó Corcora, died unmarried in 1993. Máire, Pádraig, Tomás and Tadhg live in Cork; Síle (now Nolan) is in Bermingham and Donncha lives in Limerick. Pádraig, Tadhg, Síle and Donncha have families: in all Mícheál’s grandchildren number 14. About 1925 Mícheál moved to Sicilly in Kinsale, where he had a teaching post in a convent. Maighréad loved Kinsale, but Mícheál felt isolated from his friends in Irish language and political circles. They shortly moved to East Gate, Ballincollig, where Mícheál was employed was employed as a travelling teacher, with classes in Ballinora, Killumney and Ovens. He was friendly with Dónal Ó Corcora who was Irish Organsier (Timire Gaeilge) for the V.E.C. He assisted Ó Corcora in two ways: firstly he gave him much useful information about Irish folklore etc. which Ó Corcora used in his book Munster Twilight, and he also helped with his office work. In 1931 Ó Corcora was appointed to the chair of English in UCC, much to the disappointment of his rival, Seán Ó Faoláin. Mícheál replaced him in the V.E.C. which which was based in Tuckey Street. In March 1933 the family moved to Hartland’s Road in Cork. Mícheál’s new post involved inspecting the teaching of Irish in Vocational Schools. Máire Uí Chrualaoi remembers Mícheál’s inspections of her father, Domhnall Ó Ceocháin: if alone he used to call to the house in Cúil Aodha and relax with his old friend. Máire remembers him as being gentle and pleasant. Among Mícheál’s new duties was to teach a summer course for Irish Teachers in Coláiste na Mumhan, Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh, in the month of August. He also taught second level pupils in July, but gave up the July course after some years, as it meant being parted from his wife for most of the summer. Paddy Lehane of Muileann Rua got to know Mícheál while on a scholarship to Coláiste na Mumhan in 1935, and found him to be very sincere, often lost in thought, and practically oblivious of his surroundings while in a contemplative mood. Peadar Ó hAnnracháin tells us that he suffered poverty at times, but was always faithful to the Irish language.

Mícheál was known as an exceptionally accurate and able Irish scholar. When the Dáil translators and Civil Servants experienced difficulties Mícheál was always consulted when all else failed. When the national airline was set up he was asked to suggest an appropriate name. He supplied Aer-Loingeas, meaning ‘air-fleet’. It was accepted but it was thought necessary to spell it Aer Lingus to make it pronounceable in foreign airports and travel offices. A collection of Mícheál’s stories was published in 1946 by the Government Publication Office; he used the pen-name ‘Muisire’.

Mícheál retired from his post, probably in March 1954, having been in poor health and appreciating the able assistance of the man who was to be his successor, Diarmuid Ó Drisceoil of Oileán Chléire.

Mícheál suffered a heart attack while in a restaurant on the corner of Marlborough Street and Oliver Plunkett Street on the morning of Sunday the 17th of September 1955. He had been to 10 o’clock mass. He was taken to the North Infirmary, but was dead on arrival. He is buried in St. Finbarr’s Cemetary. Maighréad, his widow, lived until the 22nd of March 1982 when she was 84 years of age.

*Mo bhuíochas caoin le Máire Ní Chuill, Corcaigh, le hEibhlís Stuart, Corcaigh, agus le Paddy Lehane, An Muileann Rua, as eolas roinnte go fial.

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