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170-Year-Old Sundial Returns To Clontead

170-Year-Old Sundial Returns To Clontead Writes JJ Hurley

On Wednesday September 27th, a sundial hand carved in 1848 for the then Parish Priest of Clontead was returned to that Parish. The slate sundial, carved by John Deasy, a hedge schoolmaster who originally hailed from Rosscarbery and who arrived in the Clontead-Tracton area in the early 19th Century, was up to now in the possession of Mr. David Betson, of Celbridge, Co. Kildare. It is not known how it came to be in the possession of the Betson family, though it may be through their connection with the Coveney family of Tracton. Anxious to have the sundial returned to its proper home, Mr. Betson contacted Fergal Browne, a Belgooly native now resident in Kildare and it was arranged that the sundial would be returned to the Parish.

Through the organisational efforts of Nicola Desmond and using funds contributed by both Belgooly and Riverstick Community Centre committees, which were raised from the recent publication of the Clontead Local History Book – ‘In the Shadow of Sliabh Rua’, the sundial was mounted and framed together with a short piece relating its history, written by Fergal Browne.

The sundial contains the inscription: “Constructed A.D. 1848 Latitude 51.40 N for The Rev. Michael Bagley P.P. Clontade by J. Deasy” As a hedge schoolmaster, Deasy taught in farmers’ houses in the townlands of Kilpatrick, Granig and Boardee in the Parish of Tracton. He would stay a week in each farmer’s house and was paid whatever the parents of the children could afford to give him. As well as being a teacher and skilled craftsman, he was also well known as a poet – composing, among others, a poem called ‘The Tracton Supple Goalers’ celebrating the victory of Tracton over Carrigaline in a hurling match in April 1829. Aside from the Clontead sundial, he is known to have made at least one other, in 1843 for William Coveney of Tracton. Deasy ended his career as a teacher in a school in Barrack Street, Kinsale.

Fr. Michael Begley, the priest for whom the sundial was made, was born in 1794 and ordained a priest in 1819 at Maynooth. He served as curate in Glanmire and Caheragh before being promoted to Parish Priest of Clontead in 1845. He resided at Spring Mount, Belgooly. During his time in Clontead he laboured assiduously for the local population, who were grievously affected by the famine. He opened the first school in Ballingarry in a rented labourers cottage and succeeded in getting government funding for it in 1849. He also opened a new school in Belgooly village. He heavily involved in the Tenant Rights movement – the precursor to the Land League. He died on 18th November 1856 and was interred in the old Clontead Church. When this church closed in 1909, his remains were exhumed and reburied beneath the Mortuary of Belgooly church. A plaque to his memory which used to hang in Clontead Church can now be seen on the western wall of the Mortuary in Belgooly Church.

Accepting the sundial on behalf of the parish were Cathal O’Shea, John Scannell, Patricia Pounds, Christy Desmond and Fergal Browne. Unfortunately, Nicola Desmond was unable to be present. It is hoped that the sundial will be put on display in Belgooly Church in the near future.

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