By Keith Harvey & Mary Lambert
A portrait of Joe Creedon dominates the bar at Creedon’s Hotel in Inchigeelagh, a small town in West Cork about 16 kilometers from Macroom on the edge of the Gaeltacht.
We recently stayed for three nights at Creedon’s while visiting relatives and family places in the area. Each evening there was more or less spontaneous craic led and sustained by Joe, an excellent singer, who sang and told stories of local history and encouraged the moving feast of guests in the lounge to do the same. Joe is a third generation publican, his grandfather having established the hotel in the 1940s. Joe’s outgoing personality pervades the pub and he is ably assisted in running the hotel by his son Eamon and wife Anne. Joe is not only ‘mine host’ at Creedon’s, but also the pub’s chef, an able story-teller and willing singer and his artwork hangs in the pub’s lounge.
It was our second visit to the pub – the first was 38 years previously. We were visiting West Cork with Mary’s grandmother, Julia Creedon, then aged 90, who was born on a farm in nearby Ballingeary (Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh), in the Gaeltacht proper. Today, Ballingeary is well known as a centre for the promoting, teaching and learning of the Irish language and is the location of the long established Coláiste na Mumhan (Irish College).
The Creedon name is prominent throughout the Inchigeelagh – Ballingeary area. A number of businesses in Inchigeelagh are run by Creedons. According to Joe, one of fourteen children, the Creedon clan originally moved into Ballingeary in 1828 from a village a little further north, Baile Bhuirnie (Ballyvourney). Successive generations have spread the Creedon name through-out this area, and via emigration, through-out the world.
Julia Creedon left her Ballingeary home in 1910 to work in the post office in Caltra, in east Galway.
Little did Julia know it would be another 66 years before she would get to see Ballingeary again. After marrying Thomas O’Donoghue in 1912, Julia and her husband emigrated to Melbourne in 1914. They had five children. Now, one hundred years later in 2014, their Australian descendants number 150 and are part of the international Creedon diaspora from this section of West Cork.
Julia Creedon’s visit to West Cork in 1976 was her first and only trip back to Ireland since she left in 1912. After happily visiting the place of her birth, Julia passed away shortly after returning to Melbourne.
Over the years, Joe Creedon has worked to make Inchigeelagh and Creedon’s hotel a centre, not only for the Creedon diaspora, but in particular for the O’Leary clan.
For hundreds of years the O’Leary clan dominated this place, named for its connection with the family – the Parish of Iveleary or Uibh Laoire. The name O’Leary is the anglicised version of the original Gaelic patronym Ó Laoghaire or Ó Laoire.
The Ó Laoghaire clan is thought to have originated in the early Middle Ages on the south-West coast, in the area of Ros Ó gCairbre (Rosscarbery), where the O’Leary were hereditary lords. Later the clan was pushed north and settled in Inchigeelagh on the River Lee.
Creedon’s hotel is the centre and heart of the promotion of O’Leary and local history. Joe has hosted a number of very successful gatherings of the O’Leary clan over recent years.
The O’Leary clan has a number of notable members. On our third night at Creedon’s we met two members of the Columbian branch of the O’Leary clan! A mother and adult daughter, they were descendants of Daniel Florence O’Leary, who left Ireland in 1817 and ended up as a Brigadier General in the army of Simon Bolivar, liberator of South America from Spanish rule.Daniel O’Leary took part in battles which led to the creation of modern Venezuela and married the daughter of the future president of the new nation before eventually settling in Bogota, Columbia, where he became the English Consul general.
With his wife Soledad Soublette, O’Leary had nine children, thus fathering the Columbian branch of the O’Leary clan. One of these descendants, Peter O’Leary, returned to Inchigeelagh in retirement and founded the O’Leary clan gatherings hosted by Creedon’s hotel. Peter O’Leary died in 2013 but his work is being continued by Diarmuid O’Leary, whom we met during our recent stay at Creedon’s Hotel.
Emigration has been a feature of the Irish experience for generations, often driven by political and religious oppression, famine and other factors. Sadly, it continues to be so as a result of economic conditions, however, this phenomenon has led to a vibrant, colourful and varied Irish diaspora.
As the descendants of these Irish emigrants investigate their heritage, many more will surely end up at Creedon’s Hotel in West Cork and experience the enthusiastic welcome of Joe Creedon.
Keith Harvey has worked in the Australian labour movement for many years. He is currently editor of The Debate, the journal of the Australian Institute of Employment Rights and is a trustee director of an industry superannuation fund.