By Jimmy Coakly, Storyteller & Local Historian, Born Tooreen 1915
“In the old days in the month of May in Tooreen, there’d be a bit of excitement because they’d be watching out for the French lobster boats.
Imagine the French in those days, they’d come all the way from France right under Tooreen for fishing lobsters. That was a long journey. They had no engine, no nothing, only a sailing boat.
They’d bring their own coal and divil knows what. And I remember, the longest memory in my head, I don’t think I was going to school, the grandmother took me out one evening and she said: “Oh God, look at the French lobster boats below, come on”, and she waved to the other women in the townland.
There were four houses in the town land and every house kept at least 30 hens, and they’d hold
onto them for a long time. I remember we had cow and she was 23 years, but anyway, straight away the women got a fist of yellow meal and they’d start calling the hens and bringing them in, and of course, they knew every feather on those hens. And they’d picked out this one and that one, and
they’d picked out nine or ten which were delicate and on the verge of dying, put ‘em into a bag with holes in them, and the other women would do the same thing, and the four women had four bags of hens. The four men would collect the four bags and they went down and shoved out their boat.
And they went out and they sold them. They used to get one shilling and sixpence, one and six old pence, for hen. And if they had any cabbage, which very rare they had, but the French were mad for cabbage. They used to grow cabbage in Tooreen, what they called cabbage gardens.
So on this particular evening they went out with the hens, during the
1914 to 1918 war, they sold their hens and they sold their cabbage,
they came away so they said it was a grand evening so we’ll go away out
towards the Head, way out. It was a nice evening and they were fishing
away, and there was
one young fellow on the boat with the four men, and the next thing they saw was the British battleship and she crossing north for Bere Island. The young fellow jumped up on the taft (seats that oarsmen sit on), and he had head of cabbage in his hand, and of course, he waving the Green to the British.
They got annoyed and like a click of your fingers they’d turned the battleship around and fired a shot into the horizon over their bow. The men nearly died of fright, naturally, the sound echoing on the rocks and cliffs. They swung the boat around and came down at top speed, and they rowed like hell into a cuas (small inlet) and the battleship was coming. They evacuated the boat and onto the rocks, and the battleship waited for hours – the lads couldn’t come out. They finally went away when it got dark, and they crawled on their hands and knees up from there to Tooreen.
The coastguard stationed at the Tower reported the matter and Gilhooly (the MP from Bantry) tabled a motion in the House of Commons about it, and the Minister apologised on behalf of the government. It’s in Hansard’s, and all over a head of cabbage.”
The Walk cuts diagonally across the turning table and ascends the
hill to the east. The first building you will encounter will be a
lookout station built during the Second World War, known in Ireland (a
neutral country), as “the Emergency”. Connected by telephone to Bantry,
the soldiers here were to
report any unusual ship or plane they spotted. This area is locally known as “the Camp”.
The Walk then goes past a new concrete Ordnance Survey marker and continues on this central ridge until you come to the ruins of a signal tower, which blew over during the gale in 1990. On your left is Doo Lough (“black or dark lake”).
The Walk then follows an old military road that services the Tower. It is the oldest road on the peninsula, and the modern road to Bantry incorporates portions of it.