Page 11 - Demo
P. 11

   First Published 2017
Picture by Don MacMonagle
 Pictured from left Teddy O’Neill, Jerome O’Leary, Joe Duffy & Ireland’s Oldest Cow Big Bertha in O’Neill’s Bar, Blackwater live on air on the Gay Byrne Radio Show in 1992
 Since opening its doors in 1884, O’Neill’s shop in Blackwater has been at the centre of the community for five continuous generations
Mairead Robinson pays a visit and chats with Teddy & Mary O’Neill
 O’Neill’s Shop
Denis and Catherine O’Neill bought the land in the late1870s and built a house back from where the Tavern is now. In 1884 they built a house nearer the road and opened up a shop. Now renovated as The Stone Cottage, this house is adjacent to the current shop and bar. Denis died in 1929 and his son John with his wife Nora took over the business and had five children, Denis, Mikey, Johno, Catherine and Mary. As Nora tragically died young, it was her son Mikey who ran the shop for years from a very young age. The current shop opened one hundred years after the original one, in 1984 and soon Denis’ son Teddy and his wife Mary Moriarty from Ballinskelligs were at the helm. Of their three children, Brian, Elaine and Kieran, it is the friendly young face of Kieran who is often seen behind the counter these days. That is when he is not playing for his local team, Templenoe.
Along with the present shop, The Blackwater Tavern also opened it’s doors in May of 1984. As well as being the stockist for farm supplies, a foodstore and bar, it is also now also the home of the Blackwater Post Office. It is as much an integral part of the local community as it ever was, providing every kind of service to the people of the area for 363
days of the year. (They close on Good Friday and Christmas Day, but if you are stuck, they won’t let you down!). They are renowned for live music and set dancing every weekend, and have hosted hundreds of local celebrations down through the years, from birthdays to weddings, including an RTE programme featuring the world’s oldest cow, Big Bertha with Joe Duffy on the Gay Byrne Show.
very far”. Even though her mother had died young, the five children had a very happy childhood, and dancing was something they, along with their neighbours loved most. The next generation continued the tradition, Mary’s brother Denis O’Neill and his wife Mary (nee Rice) reared seven children – John, Michael, Denis, Timothy (Teddy), Nora, George and Mary. John Patrick describes the fun they had growing up at The Shop in the fifties and sixties – “We met a lot of the neighbours every day; we knew everybody for miles around. Our shop was different from the shops of today, it was a shop/kitchen. There was a long stool in the shop where the customers used to sit while waiting their turn to be served.”
day was busy with “people coming and going. We thought Christmas Day was very boring altogether, as it was so quiet!” The opening of The Dance Hall” in 1948 was to have a huge influence on the family for the next sixteen years. And indeed it still does to this day, as it has been used in the last decade for drama productions, concerts and photography exhibitions.
 Herd on Liveline! Big Bertha leaves her mark to the amusement of Joe Duffy
So what was it like living and growing up in ‘The Shop’, as it has always been known, down through the years? Mary O’Neill (Scott) has documented her childhood there in the years since she was born in 1919. “Outside our house there was a fence called ‘the hedge’. On summer evenings when work was finished, the local lads met there for a chat. The older members went into the kitchen and sat around telling stories of bygone days. In the wintertime they played cards. We always had a good fire of turf and timber in the open fireplace. On Sunday evenings in the summer, we went to the Blackwater Bridge platform where we sat around and waited for the boys to ask us to dance”.
When it was opened by Denis O’Neill it was called a “den of iniquity” by the parish priest, however that was the view of the Catholic Church regarding all dancehalls at the time.
She spoke of the effect of the war in Blackwater. “Everything was rationed. Tea and sugar were missed the most, because everyone liked their cup of tea and two ounces didn’t go
He remembers what an extraordinary man his Uncle Mikey was as he worked in the shop, had a great head for figures, baked bread every day and helped neighbours with all sorts of situations, always friendly and kind. “I saw him carryatenstonebagofflouron his back. He was very strong, although not a big man”. John Patrick’s father Denis, as the owner of one of the few cars in the area was often away. “He could be gone for days, bringing people to Cobh for the boat”.
And as O’Neill’s Hall held card games which raised funds for the new Church, soon the religious attitude towards it softened. The local people loved it as it soon became the venue for great music, and the Sunday night dances were hugely popular with people coming from all around the area to attend them. There were plays, concerts and sketches held there as well as Irish language and dancing classes. “Teddy McCarthy had a mobile cinema there and showed films on a Saturday night”, reminisces John Patrick whose job was to “man” the mineral bar from the tender age of seven years where a Club Orange cost four pence. In 1954 when John O’Neill – John Patrick’s grandfather died, the hall was closed for
three months. It opened again in August of that year, and some of the greatest bands from the area played there including The Roughty Valley Band, The Golden Arrow Band and Jackie Healy-Rae and his band.
The tradition of great music and dancing continues at The
Blackwater Tavern to this day, where locals and visitors enjoy set-dancing and Irish music every Friday night, and often other nights too. It is true to say that O’Neill’s shop has been the heart of Blackwater for the past five generations, and hopefully it will continue to be for many more years to come.
Meanwhile all the children had their own jobs to do, every
  Teddy and Mary O’Neill, left when they opened the bar in 1984 and above in 2017
Picture by Don MacMonagle

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