2nd September 1999

Olive Walls continues her conversation with Michael O’Hanlon and tells us about the Fr. Sheehy story ...

If you missed last weeks first part of this interview, it is available here.

My great, great, great grandparents were the Griffith’s and they lived near Clogheen in County Tipperary. It was way back in the murky times of the seventeen hundred’s, the Whiteboys were very much at large and there was terrible oppression everywhere. I’m so glad I wasn’t around in those days. Those were the times of the most awful degradation and suffering, there was sickness and sorrow in every direction, life was so incredibly hard for everyone, for rich and poor, for, clergy as well as the peasantry.
Fr. Nicholas Sheehy was carrying out his priestly duties in the parish, we don’t know much about his history but we do know he went on the run from the authorities and he sought help not from a Catholic family in the parish, which would probably have been too obvious, but from the Griffiths who were Protestants. The Griffith in question was married to a lady named Baylor which of course is where the family connection comes from. At any rate, Fr Sheehy arrived at their small holding one night and asked for refuge and was duly taken in. The family fed and clothed him, and during the daytime they hid him in a vault in the local Shanrahan graveyard. At night when he children had gone to bed they brought him in through a little window in the farmhouse, given food and a bed to sleep in. That window can still be seen in the ruins of the farmhouse to this day How long Fr. Sheehy was there I don’t know, but I do know he was betrayed by a man named Dunlea. Maybe that’s why you will never see a Fr. Dunlea. I said it to Fr.Hodnet to see if he could find one and he couldn’t, my sister who is a great historian says there has never been a Fr. Dunlea ordained.
Anyway back to Fr. Sheehy, apparently there was a child, of an unmarried mother, who was reared in the locality, found abandoned, and was subsequently murdered, and Fr. Sheehy was implicated. The priest was to suffer a sham trial at which paid informers helped convict him. He was later hung, drawn and quartered in Clonmel. Why the local bishop never spoke up for him remains a bit of a mystery, but it is recorded that after his death, loyal parishioners dipped their hands in his blood and used it to make the sign of the cross on the door of the episcopal house.
Fr. Sheehy was a poor man, he had no money, but he wanted to repay the Griffith family for their kindness and the only way he could do that was to give them the secret of the herbal cures of which he had knowledge and which he had used widely throughout the area to help victims of burns, jaundice, eczema, psoriasis, cirrhosis and ulcerated limbs. The conditions that Fr. Sheehy laid down were that the cures should never be written down, never leave the family and should be passed on from generation to generation, and they should always be freely available to those in need of them. So the cures passed into the care of the Griffith family, and in the intervening decades on to the Baylor family, and to this day they are being used to alleviate suffering all over Ireland and further afield
The cures of course are secret, but all the ingredients are available locally, I know exactly what goes into them but I can’t say, but I will hand them down. My mother, father and sister cured people all over Ireland and even America. My mother got jaundice and cured herself of it. The doctors in Fermoy used to even send patients over to my father. There were three cases of jaundice where the doctors said there was nothing they could do and my father cured them. There is a monument to Fr. Sheehy in Clogheen churchyard, and I have a photograph of my mother and father talking to DeValera at the unveiling. That’s about as much as I can tell you about Fr. Sheehy and the cures that were handed down to us.
Back to my own story, as I was saying I went to the Lorreta Convent in Fermoy and when I left school I went to England to do nursing, over to my grandmother in Plymouth. It was just three weeks after the war broke out. It wasn’t a very nice place but I never regretted a moment of it. Being there was a wonderful experience and I stayed on in training until 1945. My sister was in the W.R.A.F., and my brother, he was only twenty one, he was in the R.A.F. and he was killed on the fourth of April 1945 just before the war ended. I came home to be with my parents. After my brother was buried a man in Midleton wrote a poem which I still have; “Can an airman’s death be reckoned / Only a mere dying / Rather say god beckoned / And his spirit went on flying”.
I decided to stay in Ireland. The first job I got was as a matron in Dublin. After two years I was matron in Rochelle. I met my husband at a Victoria Hospital dance, got married and had three lovely daughters. One is in Indonesia, one in Hawaii and one is in London. When they were young I got involved in student exchange and this led to setting up a school in Ballincollig, I didn’t retire from that until about three years ago.
In 1962 I was elected a trustee of Skiddy’s Home, this was to take up a lot of my time and still does. The history of Skiddy’s goes back to the year 1100, I have one book on it but the full story would take volumes. Suffice to say Skiddy was a wine vintner whose castle was by the North Main Street. On the Lord Mayor’s chain there’s an emblem which is the gate of Skiddy’s castle. In the bgginning Skiddy had three houses in Cornmarket Street to house the ‘poor and honest’, this led to an alms house up near Shandon. In the sixties we built ten houses in Pouladuff and these were opened by Jack Lynch. We got some land from the Corporation and built in Vickers Court. Today we cater for twenty two elderly people who have no dependants. The Rotary Club give each one a gorgeous hamper every Christmas. And every year we have the bread giving ceremony, in which the Lord Mayor makes a presentation to mark the tradition of when everybody got a loaf of bread and five shillings for the year.
I’ve been a trustee now for thirty seven years and I was made Chairperson ten years ago, I love caring for the elderly and I devote all my time to them. Perhaps one of my proudest moments was when I was given the Paul Harris award. That’s the highest award that the Rotary Club can give to someone in recognition for service to the community. The Pope has one, Mother Theresa got one, Bob Geldoff and Princes Anne got one and also the late Mrs Goldberg. I enjoy doing what I do, and if I had to start all over again I couldn’t see myself doing anything else.