Recently, the community of Callan, turned up in great numbers outside Cottage number 22 in Skeagh, where Ivy Corcoran unveiled a plaque to remember the first group of men who took up residency in Skeagh & Minnauns from September 1922 following the completion of 25 Type 2 cottages by the Irish Sailors & Soldiers Land Trust (ISSLT).
Ivy is the grand-daughter of Michael Corcorcan, one of the first tenants in the cottage number 17 and of which the Corcoran family still reside in since September 1922.
Before the unveiling there were two speeches, first from Patrick Hugh Lynch, who has carried out extensive research on the ISSLT especially the situation in the Killester Colony from 1931-1934. Patrick detailed the important and uniqueness of the ISSLT scheme, which was devised from a recruitment issue the British army had from 1915 and 1916. This scheme was initially labelled the ‘Homes for Heroes’ scheme. Contrary to belief at the time, the men who occupied these cottages never posed a security threat to the state. They were decent law abiding people who had gone through the horrors of WW1. These were men who came out every November to remember their fallen comrades. These men came back to a different Ireland and these cottages provided safety and stability to them and their families, when in essence the state and society had turned their backs on them.
Following Patrick’s speech, Mary Anne Maher, gave an overview on the history of the cottages.
Mary Anne welcomed everyone to the unveiling of a plaque to acknowledge the men and their families that took up residency in these cottages 100 years ago and those ex-servicemen and families who resided in them in the subsequent years.
From Ballingarry , Mry Anne explained she had no connection with the cottages other than for many years when passing them, she often wondered what the history was around their building. Mary Anne had two Great Grand uncles both killed during WW1- John Cleere in September and John Brennan October 1914 – she had always been interested in the social history of the men who served in WW1. In 2019/2020 she undertook a course in Local Studies in NUI Maynooth, where she decided that she would research the history of these cottages.
Records note that Callan was one of the first schemes put in place after the passing of the 1919 Irish Land (Provision for Soldiers and Sailors) Act and the Cottages were accordingly built before the general re-organisation of Scheme under the 1923 Land Trust Act which established the Irish Sailors’ and Soldiers’ Land Trust (ISSLT).
When the Callan scheme (No 20) was originally approved, it was proposed to build 25 Cottages, in Blackstaff (which is a half a mile from Callan town, on the Kilkenny Road) but for some reason this was changed to Skeagh, local belief is that the land in Blackstaff was of better quality.
Fourteen acres were purchased on behalf of the Trust from Messrs. Pollard from Callan and one acre from Colonel William Mahony Butler in Minnauns, one mile from Callan town.
Messrs. Connolly and Cullen of Kilkenny were awarded the contract to build the cottages in Callan. Instead of the conventional method of wall construction, using quarried stone and lime and sand-mortar, these cottages were built of concrete blocks, which were manufactured on the site. The gravel used was from local pits at Westcourt, Callan, owned by Walker and Graingers. A well was sunk to provide water for the site and the well and pump were constructed by the Bergin family of Callan who were specialists in well-sinking. Gravel was transported to the site by horse and cart. The blocks for Skeagh were T-shaped and L-shaped which interlocked, forming a half cavity in the centre. These measured 24 inches long, 12 inches high and 3 inches thick. They were very heavy. The chimney was in the centre of each semi-detached unit and it had eight flue liners, four per house.
The cottages design was of the Type 2 – which had four rooms and a pantry, with a front and back garden. There was no running water in the Skeagh and Minnauns cottages. Only 60 per cent of the overall Irish housing schemes had running water. Each house had a shed in the back garden. The roof was slightly gabled and purloined and covered with asbestos slates, which were joined with mortar. The windows were iron framed.
The Trust derived no commercial advantage from its housing. Rents were sufficient at 5s per week, the Trust claimed, only to cover administration and maintenance costs. However, from the start of the scheme trouble was brewing in Callan in respect the location and rent amounts being acquired for the cottages.
Following prolonged social and political disturbances across the country, many of the schemes were rushed to be completed, either delayed or curtailed, which resulted in a large number of ex-servicemen emigrating and left the remainder in an impoverished condition. As a consequence, the Trust found themselves burdened with 25 Cottages in Callan, which in the light of later developments would not have been built.
In May 1923, the tenants were refusing to pay any more than 2/6 a week due to issues around the quality of the cottages, flooding, lack of amenities, refusal of the local doctor to make calls to tenants, lack of local employment for tenants able to work. The tenants representatives had on several occasions been communicating with the Trust, with a view to getting them to recognise their obligation but to no effect. On the 16 May 1923, the tenants were advised by the Trust, that their refusal to pay rent should be taken as a surrender of their tenancies and the Cottages sold to the highest bidder.
The main thing that we can all take away from Sunday’s unveiling, is the important historic legacy and how these cottages have been imbedded in the social fabric of many Irish parishes, towns and cities.
Even now driving around the county and further afield around Ireland, even with elements of modernisation it is still easy to spot the design of these cottages and remember that at one time an ex-serviceman once lived in it.
The organisers wish to thank everyone who turned up to pay their respects to the men who occupied these cottages from and since 1922. Larry Scallan for playing the Last Post, Donal Croghan for reciting the Exhortation and Dedication, to Ivy Corcoran for unveiling the plaque and to the Stuart family for allowing the plaque to be placed on the wall outside their home. Thanks to Patrick Hugh Lynch for traveling from Dublin and giving a lovely speech and talking the photographs of the ceremony and to everyone who laid a wreath, Gareth Lloyd for carrying the standard of the 18th Regiment of Foot Royal Irish Regiment (and South Irish Horse) Association Standard of which man of the occupants served under. A special thanks goes to Michael Mc Loughlin for organising the plaque & Pat Murphy & Tommy Dermondy from Molloys, Callan for designing, making & erecting plaque & to Kilkenny County Council for their assistance.
Hopefully by Callan taking this step to commemorate and remember the ex-servicemen who lived in these cottages that we will see other communities and groups commemorating the ex-servicemen who lived in other ‘soldiers cottages’ around the county.