Skibbereen Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann

    Skibbereen, Co. Cork

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Canon Goodman Memorial Project


This Project consists of four objectives:


The restoration of the Goodman Burial Plot at Creagh Cemetery, Baltimore where Canon Goodman is buried

The completion a historical paper of Canon Goodman’s lifetime

To erect a life-size bronze statue of Canon Goodman, as an Uilleann Piper, which will be located adjacent to the existing Canon Goodman Arch at the entrance to Abbeystrewry Church

The development of a cultural centre in his honour, where the playing of the Uilleann pipes can be encouraged along with the promotion of the Irish language.




The above Committee has been formed to honour the life and work of James Goodman, Rector of Abbeystrewry from 1867 until his death in 1896.   James Goodman was a native Irish speaker, born near Dingle and a great lover of Irish music, in particular the uillean pipes.   He was ordained in 1851 and the following year was appointed Curate of Creagh Parish, where he lived until 1858. He was then made Curate of Killaconagh Parish in the Beara Peninsula. It was during this period that he learnt to play the uillean pipes and commenced his great collection of Irish music.   His first volume was completed in May 1861 and contained nearly 700 tunes.  


In 1867, he was appointed to Abbeystrewry “an important Protestant living”.   He rebuilt the Church, much of it with his own money,which is in use today.   His knowledge of the Irish language was widely recognised and in 1879 he became Professor of Irish at T.C.D.  He died in January 1896, aged 67 and is buried in Creagh Graveyard.  


The archway at the entrance to Abbeystrewry Church was erected by the parishioners and townspeople in his memory.


The Committee is now investigating ways to honour his vast contribution to the Irish language and Irish music.   Members of the Committee represent Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann (represented by Con McCarthy and Yvonne O'Regan), Glor na nGael, Skibbereen Historical Society and the Church of Ireland Parish


Here are two articles which detail Canon Goodman's life curtousy of Abbeystrewry Parish Website


Article 1:


Rev. Canon James Goodman,M.A., was the man responsible for the rebuilding of Abbeystrewry Church which by 1891 had cost£3,500.    


                   The following is a brief summary of his life:


James Goodman was born in 1828 at Ventry, near Dingle, Co. Kerry, where his father was rector. He had an attractive personality and was well-liked and popular. In those days Ventry was still an Irish-speaking area so James grew up bilingual. He was very musical and while still young became a devotee of Irish music and learnt to play the flute and uillean pipes.

  He entered Trinity College, Dublin in 1846 where he distinguished himself in the Irish language, gaining the Irish Scholarship in 1847. He graduated B.A. in 1851 and was ordained Deacon that year in Limerick. The next year he married Charlotte King who was also from a clerical background and they went to live at Creagh on the Skibbereen to Baltimore road, where he was made Curate.


He was ordained priest in 1853. While at Creagh, the Goodmans had three sons, one of whom was drowned when he was a student. In 1860 the Goodmans moved to Ardgroom, a village on the Kenmare River which also was an Irish-speaking area. While there as Curate of Kilaconenagh (Castletownbere), he made a collection of about 2,000 Irish traditional melodies which, but for him, would have been lost. The scores are still lodged at Trinity College in manuscript form.

An old piper friend from Ventry followed him to Ardgroom and from him, Goodman took down literally hundreds of tunes. Being of such a friendly disposition, many of the local farmers and fishermen came to him with their songs and tunes. He must have been a resourceful man for while he was Curate at Ardgroom an impressive steam yacht anchored in Castletownbere Harbour.


On the Sunday, James Goodman was aghast to be told that a distinguished company, including a well-known historian, was coming ashore to attend morning prayer in his church. He felt very nervous at the thought of having to preach to such important people so he delivered his sermon in Irish, knowing that they would not understand it. Shortly afterwards an article appeared in an English periodical stating that Irish was still so much in use in outlying districts in Ireland that it was Customary for clergymen in some Church of Ireland churches to conduct the service in English and to preach in Irish.


In 1866 James Goodman was made Rector of Skibbereen and Canon of Ross.


In the early 1880s, he was appointed Professor of Irish at Trinity College, Dublin. From that time on he spent six months in Skibbereen and six months in Dublin, with the curates to help in Skibbereen. There is an unverified story that he would come to his gate and two or three of the unemployed (of any persuasion) would meet him there and he would tell them to go around the ring - down Mardyke and Townshend Street and back to the rectory - and he would give them six pence, which in those times was about a day's wage.

  Canon James Goodman died at Abbeystrewry Rectory, Baltimore Road, Skibbereen on 18th January 1896. To quote the (Skibbereen) Eagle and County Cork Advertiser: "The funeral ... was of enormous dimensions, the procession, composed of all classes and creeds in the community, being a singularly sad and imposing one. Signs of universal grief were everywhere observable, all the shops being shut and shuttered, as a mark of respect to the memory of the venerated deceased, who endeared himself to all by his charity, humility and kindly disposition."


He is buried at Creagh Churchyard. The parishioners, after some debate about a suitable memorial, decided on an arched gateway the church grounds, which stands to this day. It was after the death of Rev. James Allen, Rector of Creagh, in hat the two parishes of Abbeystrewry and Creagh were united with a total of about 470 parishioners

An Outline of the Life of Canon Goodman (1828 – 1896)


Cérbh iad na rudaí sa tsaol is mó a spreag Séamas Goodman?  Trí rudaí is dócha, an creideamh a bhí aige, an Ghaeilge agus go háirithe ceol na tire.


(Art Ó Beoláin, Iris na hOidhreachta 2)


This outline of his life and work will show how he fulfilled these three cherished objectives.   The Goodman family tree can be traced back to Ruthen in North Wales, and one branch of the family settled in Ireland early in the 17th century.  At least three generations of Goodmans, before James, lived in the Dingle Area in Co. Kerry.  He was born in Ballyameen, near Dingle, on 22/9/1828.  He was the third child in a family of 5 boys and 4 girls.  His father was the Rev. Thomas Chute Goodman (1793 – 1864); his mother was Mary Gorhan from Castleisland.  “An Seabhac” (Pádraig Ó Siochfhradha) described the family as leath-uaisle (minor gentry) and “they were not at all like any other strangers in the district”.  Irish was the language of the people and James spoke it from an early age with native fluency (ó dhúchas).


 He was imbued from his youth with a love of the Irish Language and Music.  In 1875 he wrote:


…ionnus nach raibh aon nidh dob annsa liomsa óm óige, ná bheith ag éisteacht le seaneachtraighthe agus sgéalta fiannuigheachta; ná ceól ba bhinne am chluais ná ceol sármhilis na hÉirionn.  (…so that there was nothing dearer to me from my youth than to be listening to the old tales of adventure and the stories of Fionn, nor any music sweeter in my ears than the surpassingly sweet music of Ireland).


In preparation for his University studies he was tutored by Mr. Joseph King from Ventry.  He entered Trinity College, Dublin, in 1846.  He was a brilliant student winning a scholarship in Irish and a prize in Hebrew.  He got his degree in 1851 and was ordained a Deacon the same year. In 1852 he was appointed Curate at Creagh, Baltimore, Co. Cork working for the Irish Missionary Society.  In October of that year he married Charlotte King, daughter of his former tutor.  The family lived in Creagh until 1858; their three children (Francis George, Godfrey and James) were born there.


 He was ordained a Priest in May 1853.  He also assisted his father, who was Rector in Dunurlin Parish, Co. Kerry, from time to time.


  In 1858 he was appointed Curate of Killaconagh in the Beara Peninsula.  The Goodman family lived in Ardgroom, which at that time was just as Irish speaking as his native Dingle. His fellow curate was Rev. John Holohan who gave him a set of Uillean Pipes.  It was here, at the age of 30, that James Goodman learned to play the pipes and commenced his great collection of Irish Music.  Volume 1, which is dated May 2nd 1861, contains nearly 700 tunes of every description.  He copied some from other sources but the majority were notated by himself from the playing of Munster pipers.  He tells us that the dance music for the most part had been taken down from the playing of Tom Kennedy, a piper from Dingle, who had come to live nearby.


This volume has been edited by Hugh Shields and published in 1998 as “Tunes of the Munster Pipers”.  At the end of this collection he wrote “This work was finished by me on the twenty-sixth day of September, 1866 at Ardgroom in West Cork”.  While he was there he also published a Hymn Book in Irish.


In February 1867 he was appointed Vicar of Abbeystrewery, but in actuality Rector of Skibbereen.  The parish had at that time a large important Protestant element and was described as “an important urban living”.  He entered his long Ministry in his new parish with both learning and zeal, broadmindedness and absence of bigotry.  The church itself was described in the “Eagle and County Cork Advertiser” as “uncomfortable, unsightly and unsuitable” and Goodamn himself referred to it “as a bundle  of absurdities”.  It was his ambition to “see a suitable edifice erected for the worship of God a building that would be a credit to the town and a lasting memorial to the religious fervour of the parishioners”.  The old building was taken down, with the exception of the tower, and re-erected on its present North-South axis.  The cost was £3,000 of which the Rector himself contributed £700.  The new church opened for worship on 18th of December 1890.  He had a very full and active life but he was not immune from personal tragedy, and in his new church he had erected over the Baptismal Font a beautiful stained glass window to the memory of his wife and son.  His son, also called James, died as the result of a drowning accident in 1881, at the age of 24 years.




James Goodman was noted for his generosity to the poor of all denominations.  Each Monday they would call to the Rectory door, and the Canon would tell his house-keeper (Lizzie) how much to give to each person; they were known as “Goodmans Pensioners”.


For relaxation he would sit under the trees in front of the Rectory and play his Uillean pipes for anyone who would care to listen.  Several itinerant pipers called to him from time to time to share a tune or to have their pipes repaired.


He always maintained his interest in the Irish language.  We find that on St. Patrick’s Day, 1853, while he was still a Curate at Creagh, he attended the inaugural meeting of the Ossianic Society in Dublin.  He served on its Council with the most distinguished Irish scholars of the day viz. John O’Donovan, John Windele and Standish Hayes O’Grady.


He also had a talent for Irish poetry – usually with a religious message.  He wrote a long poem “Agallamh Bhriain agus Art” (Dialogue of Brian and Art) in which Brian defends the Catholic faith and says “Is mairg, a Art, do threig an t-aon chreidimh coir”.  Art a convert, defends his decision.  The poem is an Aisling (vision poem), but in this case the Spéirbhean (literally, skywoman) personifies the Bible.  She holds out the vision of a land of full and plenty when the people become Protestants.




                   Beidh síocháin ghrámhar againn le chéile,


                   Beidh againn cuigeann is cruach is maothal,


                   An Bíobla naofa líofa á léamh linn,


                   Fairsinge, flúirse is beannacht Dé again.






                   We will have love and peace with one another,


                   We will have churn and reek and new milk,


                   Reading the holy Bible fluently,


                   We will have generosity and plenty and the blessing of God.




                                                                                                (Famine in West Cork:Patrick Hickey)




His knowledge of Irish was obviously widely recognized, and in 1879 he was appointed Professor of Irish in Trinity College, Dublin.  For the rest of his life he spent 6 months in Dublin and 6 in Skibbereen.  He numbered amongst his students Douglas Hyde and John Millington Synge. While he was there the Gaelic League was founded but he had no part in it.  Hyde states “Bhí grádh aige don Ghaedhilg ach ní raibh daon bhlis de spiorad na náisiúntachta ann saoilim, bhí mórán daoine den tsort san”.  In fact he remained a unionist all his life.




John Hingston from Skibbereen was an officer of the college at that time and they brought to it the “atmosphere of West Cork.”  He would play his pipes in his rooms for all who would care to listen.  Several of the other professors of the College were among his audience, notable John Pentland Mahaffey, who later became Provost.  


Canon James Goodman, Pastor, Preacher, Poet and Professor, Church Builder and Collector of Irish Music, a truly Irish Renaissance Man, died on January 18th 1896 aged 67 years.


Tributes were paid to him by all sections of the local community, and by the local and national press.  


The Southern Star : His demise is deeply regretted, not alone by members of his own Church but by the public in general to whom he had endeared himself by his kindly charitable and warm hearted disposition.  


The Eagle: Truly his was a well balanced mind, for while he held firmly to his own views and faithfully to his creed, he was never known to use a harsh or hurtful word towards those who differed in faith and politics.


The Irish Times:  The announcement of the death of this popular, esteemed clergyman will be received with deep and sincere regret far outside the limits of West Cork where he was so well known and respected by all creeds and classes of society.


An Irish Class at 51a Dawson Street adopted the following resolution:   “The class has seen with sorrow the report of the death of Rev. Canon Goodman, whose love of  the old language and music of his country endeared him to the heart of every true lover of Erin’s traditions who knew him, whose charity knew no bounds and whose generosity was unsurpassed.


Is truagh gan oidhron-a bhfarradh.  A Dhia déan trócaire air.  (Tis a sorrow that his equal lives not after him.  O God, have mercy on him).