Castletownroche, Co. Cork – labyrinths, dinosaurs, and spies.

At the labyrinthos site article about Irish labyrinths,  I came across a discussion of a labyrinth no longer visible but nevertheless preserved in a farmhouse in Castletownroche, Co Cork:

A further example of an ancient labyrinth design in Ireland comes from Bridgetown House, a large farmhouse to the south of Castletownroche in County Cork. It is formed from river worn pebbles laid as a cobblestone floor in the kitchen of the farmhouse. Only 5½ by 4½ feet (1.68 x 1.37 m) in diameter, the ‘walls’ of the labyrinth were created by laying larger, flattened, stones at an angle to the smaller stones that form the ‘pathway.’ Its design is of the widespread Classical type, with seven concentric paths surrounding the goal. The story of how this little labyrinth came to be created is quite remarkable.

The farmhouse was built in 1782 and sometime in the 1790’s a family wedding party was held at the house. At the height of the festivities, the assembled folk were dancing in the kitchen when the original wooden floor collapsed, sending everyone tumbling into the cellar beneath! Apparently nobody was seriously injured, but to avoid a repeat of this unfortunate incident, it was decided that the cellar would be filled in and a local paver, Joe Knott, laid the cobblestone floor. Presumably he chose the labyrinth motif as a good luck charm, or maybe as a way of commemorating the unusual circumstances that lead to the construction of the floor (Saward, 1984).



The new floor was evidently sturdier than the original and was quite well known locally, but over the years the floor settled unevenly and during the 1960’s the owners were forced to pour a new concrete floor over the original cobblestones. Fortunately they appreciated the value of the original floor and had the foresight to photograph the labyrinth and cover the cobbles with a layer of plastic sheeting and sand before the concrete was poured, so it should be possible to recover the labyrinth at some point in the future.

I visited Castletownroche, near Fermoy, a few years ago with my family – mainly to visit the Dinosaur Cafe. The blog I linked to carries a good description of the museum as do these photos. The New York Natural History Museum it ain’t, but there is a certain charm and spirit to the enterprise, all quite unexpected in the context of an Irish village.

dinocafe profile

Another reason that Castletownroche is notable (I am sure there are many) is the brief career of the  Nazi spy, Oskar Metzke. This article  summarises what happened:

Retired schoolteacher, Richie O’Grady, now living in Fermoy has vivid memories of that long ago day. He was only twelve years of age at the time, but can still recall the hue and cry in the Village. As Richie remembers, the stranger sought lodgings at the house of a Mrs Casey, near the Church. Apart from the strange accent, this lady saw nothing untoward in the visitor and he arranged to stay for the night. He is also known to have called to the local Presbytery, where he met Rev. Fr. James Sheedy, the Parish Priest. He represented himself to Fr. Sheedy as being a Czech National on his way to seek work in Mallow Beet Factory. Fr. Sheedy gave the stranger some money and he was next seen in O’Connor’s Shop in the Main Street where he bought some bread and cheese. By a strange quirk of fate the Local Garda, Jeremiah 0’Sullivan called to the shop as Oskar Metzke was being served. The stranger immediately attracted the attention of Sergeant 0’Sullivan and this is understandable as the country was in a state alert at the time.
Oskar Metzke was then escorted to the local Garda Station where he again claimed to be on his way to seek work in Mallow Beet Factory. He gave his name as Oskar Metzke and said that he had been discharged from The British Army as being medically unfit. In support of this he produced a British Army Servile Book which appeared to be genuine, but Sgt. O’Sullivan insisted that he empty his pockets. What came to light sealed the fate of Oskar Metzke.
In his possession were found a map with aerial views of the North Cork Countryside, a compass, a combined torch and fountain-pen and most damning of all, the standard equipment of every German Spy, a Luger revolver. Realising that a potentially explosive situation was developing, Sgt. O’Sullivan decided to contact his Superior, Superintendent Moore in Fermoy. In the meantime Oskar Metzke was left in the care of the Barrack Orderly, Garda Francis Mannix. Garda Mannix is now dead, but his son, Billy, now living in Mallow, takes up the story

“I was a very young boy at the time, but the story was often repeated to me by my father. Oskar Metzke was sitting quietly by the fireplace, when he asked Garda Mannix if he could eat some of his bread and cheese. On receiving permission, he walked over to the table where it lay. He started to eat his frugal meal, then turned his back on the Garda. Seconds later Oskar Metzke was in convulsions, it was obvious that he had swallowed something lethal and my father, Garda Mannix, did his utmost to retrieve it from his mouth, but already the German was unconscious. Within a matter of minutes Metzke was dead, but just before he expired he received a blessing from the man who only a short time before had been so kind to him, Fr James Sheedy. Dr Jeremiah Foley arrived soon afterwards, but by this time Metzke was beyond all human aid. A post-mortem was carried out by the then state Pathologist, Dr John McGrath and at the subsequent inquest Coroner Nagle of Buttevant revealed that Oskar Metzke had taken a deadly poison, cyanide of potassium”.

There is a rather touching quality to this story and one wonders how much is really known about Oskar Metzke and why he died in a small country town in North Cork – and why he was there in the first place.

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