Take a step back in time at Creedon’s of Inchigeelagh

If a warm Irish welcome could be bottled then Joe Creedon would surely be on the label. Ne’er a weary traveller has ever been turned away from the door of Creedon’s of Inchigeelagh with this big-hearted, down-to-earth, no-nonsense hotelier at the helm. A master of the art of conversation, as quick to blast out a ballad as spin a good story, Joe is part of the charm of this quaint old-style hotel where, over the years he has handled many a reunion and match or quietened quarrels with a few bars of a song. His great love of local history, art and antiques is evident everywhere writes Mary O’Brien, with bookshelves spilling over on to the eclectic collection of mismatched chairs – he admits to a slight addiction – and every nook and cranny filled with curios collected from his travels. The walls pay homage to his love of art mixed in with family portraits, Cork GAA wins and local heroes of the Irish War of Independence. The hotel has been in the Creedon family for five generations – Joe and his wife Ann have three sons and recently welcomed their first grandchild. A real step back in time, Creedon’s embraces the slower pace of life…you don’t check in, you simply arrive.

Ask Joe about Inchigeelagh, the land of poets and patriots, also known by the tribal name Iveleary, and he’ll take you all over the world, tracing ancestry and history of people and place. “I think every crossroads has a story, it just needs someone to tell it,” he shares passionately.

Framed by hills and lakes, with the River Lee sweeping through it, just a stone’s throw from Gougane Barra, at one time this wild and mountainous landscape was a popular tourist destination. For about ten years, in the fifties and sixties, Inchigeelagh was a bustling holiday village boosted by investment from Bord Failte, with members of the Catholic organisation, The Legion of Mary, running the show. In Joe’s memory “It was like a renaissance for the village, a huge success, with large groups of visitors arriving regularly from the UK.” While fishing has since declined, in those days Lough Allua was a popular spot with anglers from abroad. The centre of the village was transformed into a holiday resort with amenities like tennis and basketball courts and entertainment every evening. “Open air dancing, concerts, we even had Cork Ballet Company perform,” says Joe, who recalls how his father would often take visitors off for day trips to the beach or up the mountain in the back of his lorry.

Born and bred in the hotel trade, after completing his training, which included a chef’s course, Joe returned in 1972 to join his parents at the hotel in Inchigeelagh. He’s been running the show ever since, for many years continuing on the great tradition of weddings at Creedon’s, a trade his mother started off in what would have originally been the stables at the back of the hotel: In the heyday of its wedding trade, Creedon’s was known to host three in a day with great aplomb. “We handled everything,” recalls Joe “from the pipers at Gougane Barra down to the wedding cake.

Today the village is sleepier, with just one shop and Creedon’s at its heartbeat. But it’s a throbbing heartbeat, particularly come evening time, with Creedon’s renowned for the part it plays in promoting music and the arts in a rural setting. 

If you’ve met Joe, you’ve more than likely been treated to his rendition of ‘Inchigeelagh Lass’ or ‘Caith Keimaneigh’. Music was an important part of the Creedon household when he was growing up. “All 14 of us sang and entertained,” he shares. Today Creedon’s Hotel is home to an annual festival celebrating the arts, The Daniel Corkery Summer School, which runs for almost a week in the summer. The Inchigeelagh Folk Club is also based here, holding its monthly session on the second Wednesday of each month from 9pm, and attracting a variety of local ballad singers, songwriters, trad players, instrumentalists, storytellers and poets from all over West Cork. Joe’s son Eamonn regularly hosts live music concerts, with Irish folk singer-songwriter Ger Wolfe next on stage at Creedon’s on May 17.

Joe’s true passion in life however is history. He delves in to Inchigeelagh’s past starting with the O’Leary’s, who travel from the four corners each year to celebrate their heritage at the clan gathering held at Creedon’s hotel. Inchigeelagh is known as the homeplace of the O’Leary’s, their ancient clan driven North from Rosscarbery around 1300 AD by the Anglo-Normans to a district that became known as Uíbh Laoghaire. One of the settlements in this district is Inchigeelagh, its name said to have come from the Irish ‘Inse Geimhleach’, which translates to ’The Island of the Hostages’, where legend has it the O’Leary’s held some Danes captive. The descendants of these Danes today are the Cotters, Joe’s ancestors. His grandmother Nora Cotter was the postmistress of Inchigeelagh in the early 1900s. 

In Nora Cotter’s day, Inchigeelagh would have been a busy trading village with upwards of 14 shops and all roads leading to the village’s busy butter markets. Joe can trace his ancestors, transporters for these same markets, as far back as 1835. Transport is still part of the Creedon family business today.

Back in the late eighties, a member of the dynastic Kennedy family, Christopher, and his wife Sheila, were the fortunate recipients of the Creedon welcome, when they spent part of their honeymoon at the hotel. Christopher’s picture now hangs in Creedon’s.

“We had a weekly market here up until the 1960s,” shares Joe. “It would have sold mainly rabbits during the war years, later on fowl.”

The Inchigeelagh Dairy in Cork City, an outlet for cream, eggs, butter and other fresh produce from the farms of Muskerry was run by Joe’s grandfather, Con Creedon, a native of Ballingeary who made his money mining copper and silver in Butte Montana in the late 1800s. He bought the hotel in Inchigeelagh on his retirement from the dairy business in 1941 and it’s been in the Creedon family ever since.

Jump back to the 1800s and the village boasted three annual fairs at one time selling horses, cattle, sheep, and pigs. In those days Inchigeelagh and Creedon’s, then a coaching inn, was a stop on the busy coaching route to Kenmare and Killarney. Another hotel, now closed, was built in 1810 across the street from it to serve the horse-drawn coaches of tourists.

You can’t talk about Inchigeelagh of course without remembering the fugitive Art O’Leary, whose relatives lie buried in the old graveyard to the east of the village. Art was immortalised by his wife Eibhlín Dubh in the masterpiece of a poem ‘Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire’, described as the greatest poem composed in either Ireland or Britain during the eighteenth century. “In those days we weren’t allowed access to books or education and it shows how the Irish spirit could not be crushed by penal laws,” shares Joe “Eibhlín Dubh’s mother lost ten children and composed a lament for each of them so Eibhlín would have grown up around poetry.”

In Daniel Corkery’s book ‘The Hidden Ireland’, which celebrates the Irish language poets of Munster, ‘Caoineadh Airt Uí Laoghaire’ and other 18th century poetry is studied. A UCC lecturer, Daniel Corkery, 1868-1964, was a teacher, writer, poet, musician and propagandist of the Republican cause, who visited Inchigeelagh regularly in the 1920s, staying with Joe’s grandparents. The Daniel Corkery Summer School is now held every year in the village to celebrate his life. Comprising of music, workshops and lectures, the School, which is funded by donations and grants, offers activities that are mostly free of charge and open to all. “The idea was to hold a free cultural gathering in the village each year with the subjects covered those which interested Corkery himself: painting, poetry, music, history and politics,” explains Joe.

Carrying on in the tradition of local wordsmiths like Eibhlín Dubh, over the years the School has fostered a love of literature and art in many of Inchigeelagh’s residents, including Joe who, in taking part in the classes at the School, has discovered a natural talent for painting. On a break from his post at the bar, he’s often to be found at the side of a mountain with his easel, arriving home with a painted landscape or two, crammed into a car filled with treasures collected along his route. “I’m known to be a bit of a magpie when it comes to antiques and books…oh and chairs” he says with a laugh. 

Every stone has a story to tell in Inchigeelagh, in particular the stones of the old Protestant graveyard, where Joe gives guided tours. “It’s my favourite place in the village as it tells the whole story,” he shares.

Michael Moore, the last RIC Sergeant of Inchigeelagh Barracks will be the subject of one of the talks at this year’s Summer School. Three of his children are buried in the graveyard. “He resigned after the War of Independence and moved to Macroom with his family after the IRA threatened to shoot them,” says Joe. One of their sons went on to work with Oppenheimer on The Manhattan Project.”

He points to the street outside the hotel. “In 1920, an RIC man, Sgt. Daniel Maunsell, was shot dead right at that spot by the IRA,” he shares. Years later, past weaved with present, after Joe met his grandson at the Summer School: A reconciliation was arranged between Sgt Maunsell’s family and the families of the IRA men who had shot him.

On the topic of lives past, local hero Michael O’Leary comes up in conversation. A member of the Irish Guards, O’Leary singlehandedly killed eight German soldiers, taking another two as prisoners during WWI. His act of bravery earned him the Victoria Cross, the highest military honour achievable in the British Army and today – like so many other local names remembered – you’ll find a plaque in the village to honour his memory.

While Creedon’s Hotel still hosts the occasional wedding; good food, entertainment, and the warmth of its welcome is what it is best known for today. The hotel enjoys a bustling evening pizza trade from Monday to Friday and is a popular destination for Sunday lunch and dinner.

Over the years, so many people from all walks of life have passed over the threshold of this friendly country hotel. Back in the late eighties, a member of the Kennedy family, Christopher, and his wife Sheila, were the fortunate recipients of the Creedon welcome, when they spent part of their honeymoon at the hotel. “You come here for conversation, unexpected conversation,” shares Joe, who loves nothing more than meeting people and exchanging stories. “I don’t drink, people are my wine,” he adds laughing.

A home away from home, in today’s rapidly changing world, Creedon’s offers a welcome dose of nostalgia. “We are always reinventing ourselves however,” emphasises the hotelier with a smile. Still, an old favourite like Joe’s warm apple pie will always stand the test of time.

Mary O'Brien

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