Florence Wycherley

A Politician of West Cork

Polaiteoir De Chuid Iarthair Chorcaí


By   Vincent  Ó  Súilleabháin  (Céim an Fhia  agus  Beanntraí )


Ó bhíos im leaidin óg bhí suim ana mhór agam i gcúrsaí staire agus i gcúrsaí polaitiochta. Cloisinn m’athair go minic ag caint mar gheall ar Ted Riabhach O’ Súilleabháin, Dick Ó Néill agus Florence Wycherley.

Politics and the history of same were always a subject of great discussion, debate and even of argument, in my parents’ (Dan and Molly O’ Sullivan) house in Keimaneigh. When I was in Third and Fourth classes in Keimaneigh National School, my father used to talk about all the local political representatives and the names that mostly spring to mind from those far off days were, DickO’Neill, Fianna Fáil, Dunmanway; Séan Collins of Fine Gael, a nephew of Micheal Collins; Ned Cotter, F.F., Bantry; Ted Riabhach O’ Sullivan, F.F., Bantry and of course, the subject   of this article Florence Wycherley, Independent Farmer, Skibbereen. I also remember seeing posters in pre-election days of Charlie Bryan, Lisbealad, of the Farmers’ Party and Stephen Holland of Skibbereen. All were councillors for our area of Ballingeary South or Ballingeary (Dunmanway) as it is officially called , except Ted O’ Sullivan and Ned Cotter, who were councillors for the neighbouring Schull (Bantry) Electoral Area . Ballingeary (Dunmanway), as our District Electoral Division was called, was in Skibbereen County Electoral Area. Ted O’ Sullivan was a Teachta Dála (T.D.) for the whole Dáil cheanntair (or constituency) of Cork West . Ned Cotter would later take his  place. Flor Wycherley  first campaigned for the Cork County Council Elections in 1950. I remember vaguely, as a little lad, him visiting our house. I can still picture him talking to my father. The picture I remember is of two tall men both wearing hats. The heads were nodding and shaking vigorously but the hats never fell off. I also remember him calling to Cronins’ house and Alec Burkes’, two of our next door neighbours. The records show that he got a good vote for a beginner but was not elected. He again was a candidate in 1955 and this time was successful [being elected on the 6th count], I will return to this a little later but first a word or two about the electoral divisions of County Cork.


Electoral Divisions of County Cork

 Up to the year 1898, county administration was carried out by a body called The Grand Jury  and  towns and cities had  their own councils. After  the  passing of   the Local Government Act of 1898, the Grand Juries were replaced by County Councils , whose members were elected by voters in each of the County Electoral Divisions. In those days there was also a Rural District Council, located mainly around the chief towns of the county. These rural district councils also sent their chairmen to represent them at County Council meetings.


Electoral Divisions (areas) of County Cork

The very first Cork County election was on the 6th of April, 1899. Cork was divided into 32 County Electoral Divisions and Ballingeary (Dunmanway) District Electoral Division and Ballingeary (Macroom) District Electoral Division were both included in the County Electoral Division of Inchageelagh, which had six other District Electoral Divisions also, including the District Electoral Division of Inchageelagh itself. This continued until the formation of Dáil Éireann in 1919. In the local Government Act, 1919, the County was divided into 8 County Electoral Areas and our District Electoral Division of Ballingeary (Dunmanway) was placed in Bantry County Electoral Area. This lasted for another 20 odd years until, in 1942, Ballingeary (Dunmanway) was finally placed in the County Electoral Area  of Skibbereen. So it has remained ever since.





Skibbereen County Electoral Area 1942 – 2005

 Into this  arena of  Skibbereen County  Electoral Area , in 1950, stepped   Florence Wycherley. He was a brave man, because as an Independent he was taking on the might of   the  three big parties , Fianna Fáil,   Fine Gael and   Labour, with all their cumainn/branches and financial support. He had a small but enthusiastic body of supporters who helped in his campaign. He had a huge area   to  canvass . It stretched from Céim an Fhia in the northwest along the Sheha Mountains, along a line just west of Skibbereen town and south as far as Oileán Cléire (Cape Clear) in the southwest. The River Lee was its northern boundary, from Coomroe Forest Park, near Gougane Lake in the west, to Terelton in the east. From there it extended southwards to Barryroe and Seven Heads. The Atlantic Ocean was its southern boundary from Courtmacsherry Bay to Baltimore Harbour. It included the major towns of Dunmanway, Clonakilty and Skibbereen. In a word, it stretched from Gougane Barra to Galley Head. Many of the candidates in the 50s and 60s were, like my father, members of The Old I.R.A., but they belonged to the Third  Cork Brigade, whereas the   IRA  members in Ballingeary, Keimaneigh and Inchageela belonged to the First Cork Brigade. Our townland,  Ínse Bheag, lies along the dividing line of the two brigade areas. The top of the   Pass of Keimaneigh, Bárr a’ Chéama, is the boundary line between so many areas, both religious and secular. Another very interesting fact about Skibbereen C.E.A , is that it is the only county electoral area which has two separate Gaeltachts ,Oileán Cléire (Cape Clear) and Béal Átha an Ghaorthaidh (Ballingeary).

Before we proceed with the political career of Florence Wycherley perhaps a look at the history of Flor Wycherley and his family might be appropriate.


Florence Wycherley

Florence entered politics in1950. He didn’t succeed as we wrote earlier, but in 1955, he did . He was elected on 6th count. Also elected were John L. O’ Sullivan, Mick Finn,   and   Dick Ó Néill etc.There was great rejoicing in Skibbereen and Rosscarbery. In those years, I was away at school in Coláiste Íosagáin, Bhaile Mhúirne, where football was the main focus of  attention. It   was the golden age of   Munster  Colleges Senior football  in Coláiste  Iosagáin, now  sadly closed . But I was at  home in 1955 for  the long summer holidays, during the county  council  elections and many people in Keimaneigh and Ballingeary were delighted that Flor Wycherley was  elected . I can still remember the posters on the way up to Keimaneigh School Voting Centre saying: Vote Wycherley, Vote for Dick Ó Néill etc.


A voting poster from the election

In 1954, Florence had entered for the Dáil elections, but even though he wasn’t elected, he did remarkably well, finishing just a few hundred votes behind Sean Collins, FG., who got the third seat. Many people admired Florence for his courage and spirit as there had been a great sadness in his life. His mother had died at a fairly young age when he was growing up in Ardagh, Rosscarbery. He was born in 1908 and in 1937 he married Mary O’ Donovan of Gortnaclohy, Skibbereen an only child of a farming family, Fr. Pat Wycherley, his brother, was the chief celebrant. They bought a farm in   Westfield Aughdown. Five children were born here, 3 boys and 2 girls.Sadly, in 1948, Mary died leaving a husband and very young family. They moved  back to his wife’s  farm in Gortnaclohy , where the grandparents helped to rear the children and Flor ran the farm. Very soon, he began his political life in 1950. He was elected as we have seen , in 1955 to Cork County Council and was a candidate in 1954 in the General Election, finishing just behind Sean Collins F.G., Ml. Pat Murphy, Labour and Ned Cotter, FF. After being elected to Cork County Council in 1955, there were great expectations that he would be a candidate again for the General Election of 1957. I missed all the great excitement of the 1957 Dáil  contest, as I was away from West Cork at school in Dublin.

However, exciting news reached all of us West Cork boys that Ned Cotter, FF, Bantry had headed the poll and Ml. Pat Murphy, Labour got the 2nd seat.

But the greatest news of all was that Florence Wycherley had put Gortnaclohy on the map, and in a stunning and electrifying fashion had taken the 3rd seat, ousting Sean Collins, F.G. This result sent shock waves all over West Cork. So, there was  now a new Independent T.D. There were torchlight processions in Skibbereen and Rosscarbery  and  great  celebrations    .



Flor’s Family

By far the most glamourous of all the Wycherley family were his two beautiful daughters, Ellen and Julia. They were admired far and wide for their beauty and took part in many Beauty Contests all over the county. They were both participants in The Blarney Rose Contest of1963. Ellen emigrated in 1964. Julia was a finalist in The Blarney Rose contest in 1964, in those days one of Ireland’s most important contests. She was also a finalist in 1964 and 1965. She was a winner of the Dairy Queen Contest at Carbery Show in 1965 and went on to compete in the National Dairy Queen Contest, She found time to run the house in Gortnaclohy and she drove her father all over the constituency and often sat on platforms at pre-election rallies in the squares of towns and villages.

In 1967 she went to Trinidad and Tobago where she spent a year or two. She is now Mrs. Deasy of The Pike, Lisavaird having married D.J. Deasy in 1973. Her sister, Ellen, is now Mrs. Hollywood and she and her husband David live in Dundalk. The oldest brother, Geoffrey, is living on the original farm in Westfield, Aughadown. Sadly, two of the brothers , John and Fineen , died at a comparatively young age in 1978 and 1979.


 In 1960 , Florence again was an Independent candidate. It was my first time voting. He got a good vote and was elected to the 6th seat. He combined the duties of T.D. and County Councillor until 1961, when in the last of his Dáil elections , he was narrowly defeated for the 3rd seat. That signalled the end of Independents being elected in Cork South-West. In 1964, Flor Wycherley married Marie Murphy, who had nursed him in The Orthopaedic Hospital, Cork shortly before. Three sons George, Don Paul and Gordon were born to this second marriage. They all work in Dublin. Don Wycherley became famous as an actor in television and stage. He played the part of the young curate “Fr. Aidan” , in “Ballykissangel” , and of course he was one of the trio in “Bachelors’ Walk”. He played in the recent Christmas Show in the Abbey , “The Shaughrán” , by Dion Bouccicault.


Don Wycherley as  “Fr. Aidan “ .


In 1967, Flor Wycherley was a candidate for the last time in the County Council elections. He lost his seat. It was clear that the day of the Independents was coming to an end. He continued as President of Carbery Agricultural Society, who organised Carbery Annual Show in Skibbereen and also as Chairman of Skibbereen Gymkhana and Festival. Suddenly and unexpectedly, in 1969, he passed away while working on his farm. He is buried in The New Cemetery.

He will be remembered. His daughter Julia told me that the older people in Skibbereen still talk of his melodious voice when acting as announcer at the Show and Gymkhana. He was the first Independent T.D. to defeat the big parties in West Cork. The last time I saw him was at a football match in Skibbereen. My father had a brief chat with him. The last thing I can picture of that meeting ,was of two tall men in hats, nodding and shaking their heads. They both passed away within a few years.

Before I conclude, I have been asked, since I began compiling this article, to include a brief history of the Wycherley Clan in West Cork.


Wycherley Clan of West Cork

According to John Brawny Wycherley, of Middle Ring, Clonakility, who is a great family historian and a veritable mine of information, they were Normans who came to England and settled in Shropshire, in West England near the Welsh border.in 1066 . They were called De Wycherley then. In 1640, the first (and maybe the only) Wycherley to arrive in Ireland was Benjamin, an army captain who arrived in Clonakility with his regiment. He settled in Ahamilla, Clonakilty. They later spread to Rosscarbery. Like their earlier Norman ancestors who came here in 1170, they soon became more Irish that the Irish themselves, “nios Gaelaí ná na Gaeil féin”. They can be truly regarded as a West Cork clan because they are not found in any other county in Ireland. They married into the chief local families; O’ Donovans, McCarthys etc and became very nationalist in spirit. Some were Protestant for a few generations but their families became Catholic. Florence Wycherley’s great grandfather , an O’ Donovan was second – in – command to Tadhg an Astna at The Battle of the Big Cross in Shannonvale, in 1798. It is said that the Wycherleys of  Rosscarbery can trace part of their lineage to Tadhg  an Astna  O’ Donovan, himself. One of the Clonakilty branch became an eminent doctor in Cork City and practiced between 1830 and 1892. He became High Sherriff of Cork in 1883 and was created Sir George Wycherley in 1885 by Queen Victoria on her Cork visit. Wycherley Place (Wycherley Tce.) near College Road , is named after him. But most of the Wycherley clan were anti - landlordism and pro-Home Rule or Independence for Ireland.They gave priests and nuns to the church . Florence’s father, Geoffrey, was a farmer, poet and satirist who lived in Ardagh House. He was a member of Cork County Council from 1969 to 1920, his cousin Geoffrey  (Black Geoff), was also a poet and writer. He worked with “The Southern Star” and “Skibbereen Eagle”around the turn of the last century. He was instrumental in bringing O’ Donovan Rossa back from the USA to unveil the Maid of Erin Monument in 1904. Maud Gonne also attended

Photograph “Maid of Erin


This very rare photograph was taken on the occasion of the unveiling of the “Maid of Erin” National Monument in the Square, Skibbereen, on Sunday, November 27, 1904. The unveiling was performed by the great patriot Jermiah O’ Donovan Rossa, seen here third from left. Second from left is Mr. Tim Sheehy, Skibbereen, later “Father of the Dail”. On Rossa’s left hand is Geoffrey Wycherley, Rosscarbery, and beside him is Dan Burke, Skibbereen. The person on the left  is thought to be Eamonn O’ Neill, Kinsale, who delivered an address in Irish on the occasion. The person on the right is not known to us, though it could be a James Ronan of Cork who spoke on the day. The premises at rear  was Sheehy’s public house and shop. It was then a 3-storey building and was later demolished and rebuilt in the present 2- storey fashion.


Today Gearóid Wycherley ,of Rosscarbery (and now Kinsale), is a well-known entrepreneur and businessman. He is owner of the Celtic Ross Hotel in Rosscarbery.

But Florence Wycherley, T.D. M.C.C. was a trailblazer and will never be forgotten. Every 3 years beginning in 1998, then 2001 and 2004, a Wycherley Clan Gathering has been held in Rosscarbery in The Celtic Ross Hotel.

The next  Gathering  will  probably  be  in the  Autumn  of   2007 .




My  thanks  to  :

Mrs. Julia ( Wycherley) Deasy of Lisavaird for her great help in researching for this article, by supplying information , photographs and books. 

Also to John Brawny Wycherley of Ring, Clonakilty , for historical information.                                              Mairéad  O’ Sullivan  ,  Dromleigh  South ,  Bantry , for printing  text and photos  .

Mrs. Margaret  O’Sullivan ,  Dromleigh  South , Bantry , for guidance  and  advice  .

The Staff of Bantry County Library.

The Staff of “The Southern Star” .