Saturday, 13 August 2016

Remembering old houses on the banks of
the Dodder and some ‘Irish Times’ journalists

The Dodder Linear Park and the former grounds of Cherryfield House, once the home of ‘Pussy’ O’Mahony of ‘The Irish Times’ and his family(Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016; click on photograph for full-screen resolution)

Patrick Comerford

Earlier this week, on a damp and misty August morning, I walked some of the way into work along the banks of the River Dodder, from the weir at Firhouse through the Dodder Linear Park and the former grounds of Cherryfield House, to a point just past the junction of Firhouse Road and Knocklyon Road, by the travellers’ site at Cherryfield.

At a point on the river where Kilvare stands on the opposite bank, I came back up onto the main road just beyond the red-brick house once known as Saint Brendan’s and recently renamed Carrigburn, the former home of the actor and RTE radio personality, Ronnie Walsh, and close to the site of a house once known as Cherryfield.

Here at the bend on the river, the Dodder flows into a large pool famous for fishing called Pussy’s Leap, once a popular spot in the 1940s and the 1950s for fishing and swimming in the river.

Two more points along this stretch of the river that were once popular with swimmers were known in the 1940s and 1950s as Joe Alley’s Hole, close to Firhouse Bridge, and the Crusher, at Old Bawn. Closer to Pussy’s Leap, the Poet’s Pool took its name from former home of poet Austin Clarke at Templeogue Bridge.

The house that takes its name from Pussy’s Leap has been vacant for a few years (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Pussy’s Leap was at a point where the River Dodder flows at the back of Old Bridge Road. The pool was well known for trout fishing and was popular with swimmers. But in the 1980s a large part of the pool was washed away in Hurricane Charlie.

The pool has since rebuilt itself and now consists of a series of smaller pools that are still used at times by anglers and are known for holding trout. The house above that took its name from Pussy’s Leap has a ‘sale agreed’ sign outside but has been vacant for a long time.

Cherryfield House… once the home of Pussy O’Mahony (Photograph: Patrick Healy Collection, South Dublin County Council)

I sometimes wonder whether Pussy’s Leap took its name from ‘Pussy’ O’Mahony, who lived nearby in Cherryfield House, which was demolished in recent decades.

Pussy O’Mahony (1900-1948) was a colourful character in The Irish Times and in Dublin life for much of the 20th century. He was the General Manager of The Irish Times, a friend and drinking companion of Myles na gCopaleen (Brian O’Nolan, aka Flann O’Brien) and part of the literary and intellectual circles in Dublin life throughout the 1930s and 1940s.

Gerard John Cullen Tynan O’Mahony was born in Dublin on 1 January 1900, into a member of a family that was prominent in Irish literature and journalism. His father John O’Mahony, was a Cork-born barrister; his mother, Nora Tynan O’Mahony from Clondalkin, was a well-known writer and former women’s editor of the Freeman’s Journal. His aunt, Katherine Tynan Hinkson (1861-1931), who wrote under the name Katharine Tynan, was a poet and writer who is best known for her poem ‘All in the April evening.’ She was a close friend of WB Yeats, and it is said Yeats once proposed to her when he was a young man.

Pussy O’Mahony had two younger brothers: John Michael Finbar (‘Barry’) O’Mahony and Daniel (‘Donal’) J Patrick O’Mahony.

Because of one of his middle names, he was known to his family as ‘Cullie.’ But he was given the nickname ‘Pussy’ by his friends and contemporaries because of the bow ties he wore, said to be similar to a certain drawing of a kitten of the period.

O’Mahony was educated at Saint Mary’s College, Rathmines, the Catholic University School, Dublin, Claude Fulcher’s Military Academy and Trinity College Dublin.

During World War I, he was commissioned in 1918 as a second lieutenant in the Royal Irish Regiment from the OTC at Trinity College Dublin and he was posted to Egypt and Palestine.

After World War I, Pussy O’Mahony worked with the Ministry of Labour. He joined the Royal Irish Constabulary on 20 January 1921 and remained in the Auxiliary Division until March 1922. Then, through the British Colonial Office, he enlisted in the British gendarmerie in Palestine.

In Palestine, he was responsible with Major James Munro MC for drawing up defence plans for newly-built Jewish colonies in Galilee and Phoenicia, and for building a road across the Judean Hills, linking Samaria and Jaffa.

When he returned to London from the Middle East in 1925, he joined the commercial staff of the Daily News and later worked with the advertising and news departments of the Daily Express. In 1928, he moved back to Dublin and to The Irish Times, where he became the Arts Editor. Later he worked in the editorial, advertising, circulation and commercial departments.

In 1940, he became Assistant Manager, and when John O’Dockery died he was appointed Manager in 1942.

At some stage, he lost a leg, and for the rest of his life he used a wooden leg. In his history of The Irish Times, Hugh Oram recalls the story of O’Mahony going to a fancy dress party dressed as a toffee apple.

Pussy O’Mahony and Austin Clarke in ‘Dublin Culture’ by Alan Reeve, published in ‘The Irish Times’ in 1940

Both Pussy O’Mahony and his neighbour the poet Austin Clarke, who lived a little further east on the banks of the Dodder by Templeogue Bridge, were among the writers and journalists to feature in a well-known drawing, ‘Dublin Culture,’ by Alan Reeve, that was published in The Irish Times in 1940.

The cartoon shows the editor RM ‘Bertie’ Smyllie in the centre of a gathering in the back room of the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, where Smyllie liked to hold court. He is surrounded by some of the leading writers, painters, poets and critics of the day.

Back row, from left-hand corner: John P Colbert (with pipe), George Burrows, Francis McManus, Maurice Walsh, Patrick Kavanagh (standing), Brian O’Nolan (Myles na Gopaleen), Liam Redmond, Donagh McDonagh, John Chichester (standing).

Sseated right-hand corner: Austin Clarke, Padraic Fallon, FR Higgins.

Standing at left with camera: Alec Newman.

Seated at the table below Newman and camera: Ewart Milne, Lynn Doyle, Leslie Yodaiken, Roibeard O Faireachain, MJ McManus (in hat).

Standing centre left: barman Tom.

Centre table from left: RC Ferguson, Esmonde Little, Bertie Smyllie, Brinsley MacNamara, William Conor.

Looking at book: Seumas O’Sullivan.

Right-hand table far side: Cathal O’Shannon, Jerome Connor, David Sears.

Near side: George Leitch, Desmond Rushton.

Bottom left corner: Alan Reeve (bearded), ‘Pussy’ Tynan O'Mahony, AJ Leventhal, Edward Sheehy.

Front centre table: Patrick O’Connor, Harry Kernoff, Sean O’Sullivan.

Bottom right corner: three barmen Jack, Sean and Mick.

A copy of the cartoon still hangs in the back room of the Palace Bar in Fleet Street, where it was pointed out to me with pride soon after I joined the staff of The Irish Times about 35 years later.

In 1942, Pussy O’Mahony bought Cherryfield House, which stood on the site of an older house, ‘Cherrytree,’ where the ‘Templeogue Ballad’ was printed in 1730. The Fowler family extended the house and reclaimed part of the river bank.

In 1888-1889, the Sunday Literary Society met in Cherryfield, and those who took part included the poet Katherine Tynan, Maud Gonne and the future President of Ireland, Douglas Hyde. In 1897, the architect James Franklin Fuller (1835-1924) designed a gate lodge and greenhouse at the house for James Talbot Power (1851-1916), a surgeon major in the army. He was a younger son of Sir James Power (1800-1877) of Edermine House, Co Wexford, owner of the Power Disillery, while his mother Jane was a daughter of Pugin’s Irish patron, John Hyacinth Talbot. At the time, Cherryfield House stood in grounds extending to 174 acres, which were used as a stud farm. Power later moved to Leopardstown Park, where he died in 1916.

Cherryfield was inherited by John’s brother, Sir Thomas Talbot Power (1863–1930), and from 1909 until 1940, the Harrington family leased Cherryfield from the Power family. John ‘Borneo’ Harrington, who married Mary Seymour, owned the Tynt Arms in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow. He bought land in Dunlavin and Dublin, built a church in Grangecon, Co Kildare, and died at 5 Idrone Terrace, Blackrock, Co Dublin. Before buying Cherryfield he is said to have lived near Esher and to have owned a shipping company, Hope and Harrington. He is said to have brought the first shipload of cattle to Paris after the siege of 1870, and a large picture of a highland bull on the landing at Cherryfield House was supposedly a gift to him from Queen Victoria.

In 1940, the Dock Milling Company bought the house, and in 1942 it was sold to Pussy O’Mahony. He remained the general manager of The Irish Times until he resigned in 1948 because of a prolonged ill-health. He died a few months later.

His funeral in the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham, was attended by the Taoiseach, John A Costello, and he was buried in Saint Maelruain’s churchyard in Tallaght. The O’Mahony family continued to live at Cherryfield House until 1950.

Pussy O’Mahony married Jean Ballantyne Archer in Spanish Place, London, and they had three sons: Peter Cullen Tynan O’Mahony (1930-2000), John Robert O’Mahony (born 1933) and David Edward Tynan O’Mahony (1936-2005).

The youngest son, David Edward Tynan O’Mahony, was later known as the comedian Dave Allen. Another son, Peter Cullen Tynan O’Mahony (1930-1970), was Deputy Chief Sub-Editor and later Design Editor of The Irish Times and editor of The O’Mahony Journal. Peter and the late Ken Grey interviewed me in the mid 1970s for my first position in The Irish Times. He also edited the first book I ever contributed to: Eamon de Valera, ed. PT O’Mahony (Dublin: Irish Times Books 1976).

The Delaney family later lived at Cherryfield, and the house used to house a number of enterprise projects during the 1970s. The house was demolished in 1986 as the gardens, lawns and grounds made way for the Dodder Linear Park that I had walked along on Wednesday morning on my way to work.

In his last Christmas message, Peter described the ruined state of the 200-year-old farmhouse where his father and his family had lived. He described it as the genius loci of the Irish literary revival, and said it ‘stands in a ruinous state, neglected and vandalised, a sad and damning testament to the indifference of modern society to our cultural heritage.’

The name of Cherryfield survives in the traveller site beside Carrigburn.

The River Dodder close to the former site of Pussy’s Leap (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

4 comments:

Belinda Ratcliffe said...

My parents (Henry and Lammie Wheeler) were great friends of Austin Clarke. Also of Eileen O' Brien, who wrote A Social Sort of Column in the Irish Times.

Patrick Comerford said...

Eileen also wrote under the name 'Candida' on Mondays when she wrote 'An Irish Woman's Diary' which took the place of Quidnunc's 'Irishman's Diary'.

Anonymous said...

Hi just a quick few words to let you know I really enjoyed reading about pussies leap because I recently bought the house called the leap and I am delighted to know it has such great history , and rest assured it is in good hands now!
Cheers Ryan

Patrick Comerford said...

Good morning Ryan, I pass the house most mornings and it's great to see the lights on once again. May you have many happy times there. Patrick